But that’s not what he finds when he looks outside.
The Paradise police report about finding June Rios’ car Saturday morning was forwarded to me by Lieutenant Brian Jackson of the Walnut Creek Police Department. The report stated that her car had slipped sideways off the edge of a narrow private road. There were four houses on the road, and the area with the houses was mostly flat. The report didn’t explain what conditions caused the car to slide off the edge of the road.
Her car was found by a resident of an adjacent house when he was walking his dog. The dog ran off and barked when they were above where the car was located.
Her car was about twenty feet below the road but hadn’t been appreciably damaged even though it would have to be pulled up to the road by a heavy-duty tow truck.
Footprints were leading downhill from the car instead of uphill back to the road. Going downhill led to a rugged forested area above the West Fork of the Feather River. Unless the person was used to and dressed for hiking, going downhill, while easier, wouldn’t have been advisable. The footprints faded out as the area became rocky, and the police lost track of where they led. Assuming the footprints were June Rios’, it wasn’t known where she might have been going. The Paradise police were planning to bring search dogs to comb the area on Monday.
After dropping Adam off at school Monday morning, I headed to the Rios house to meet with Lieutenant Brian Jackson. I arrived just as he was pulling up. He was with a man in civilian clothes carrying a camera.
“Thank you for being so prompt, Mr. Decker,” he said.
“How about you just call me Rick. It’s too formal for you to call me Mr. Decker.”
“Okay, and you can call me Brian. This is Paul Livingston, our staff photographer.” We shook hands.
I took my key out of my pocket. “I’ll unlock the door, disable the alarm, and let you in.” That’s what I did. Fortunately, I remembered the alarm code.
“Would you prefer that I stay outside?” I asked.
“If you don’t mind. We have the photographs from Mrs. Billingsley to let us determine the rooms where we should photograph.”
“I want you to see Adam’s bedroom,” I said. “We removed the desk, two chairs, and a bookcase with all the contents. We also took all of his clothes. We took the TV and stereo system and CDs and DVDs that we found in the garage. Adam was the exclusive user of that equipment and the media, and it’s all in the bedroom he’s currently using in my home while he’s being fostered.”
“Is it usual that you do that?”
“Yes. We always have the child point out things that are his or hers and remove them from where the child had been and move them to where they will be fostered. We have a list of what we took. Here’s a copy for you.” I handed him a copy of the inventory list that Adam had made. “I’m fostering him because we needed to place him immediately and I have an emergency fostering license.”
“This list will be a big help. How about you show us Adam’s room now.”
I did and pointed out his bed and other bedroom furniture that hadn’t been moved out by Ted Loaming. Then I showed them where the TV, the stereo and speakers, and CDs and DVDs had been stored in the garage. I pointed out the items we’d taken on the inventory list.
They were satisfied, so I returned to my car and sat with my tablet reading email and notifications while the police took pictures in the house.
I saw them coming out, so I joined them.
“We’ve finished,” Brian said. “Please check that all the doors and windows are closed and locked, then set the alarm and lock the front door.”
I did, and that took about fifteen minutes. After I finished, we said goodbye, and I headed to the office.
When I got there, I reviewed the dates and times of wrestling practice sessions and meets, and Jared said he’d use it to contact the court and schedule the hearing for Adam.
I picked up Adam Monday afternoon at three-thirty in front of Lincoln High. He was with a group of kids, and they were all smiling. Good! I liked that for two reasons. First, he was smiling, which meant his day went well. Second, he was with a group of kids who I assumed were his friends.
He saw my SUV and ran over and got in. “Hi, Rick. I had a great day. No bullying. There’s a rumor that Charles Arvin is transferring to Central Christian High. I don’t know if that’s true. There’s also a rumor that the other two bullies have been booted off the Lincoln High football team. I don’t know if that’s true, either.
“Mr. Cavalli wasn’t at school today. There’s a rumor he’s been transferred to Richmond High. I think that one is true because I overheard two of my teachers, Ms. Carpenter and Mr. Kohler, talking about it. They didn’t say anything about a replacement, but I assume we’ll have a new vice-principal real soon.
“I ate lunch at the wrestlers’ table today, and all of them were glad that I was there. They were friendly and welcomed me. That was great. They talked about wrestling positions, and each of us was told things that we can do to improve. I wish I’d realized that I could sit with them at lunch every day right from the beginning.”
“You had said that they sat with kids from their class, like junior with juniors, and so on. Where had you heard that?” I asked.
“Let me think…. Like on the first day or two of school, someone told me the guys that go out for sports sit with kids from their grades. Oh, Linda Cunningham — yeah, she’s the one who told me. She said her brother went to Lincoln, and he told her.”
“Who is she?”
“I knew her from middle school.”
“Do you figure that she didn’t know what she was talking about?”
“No, but now I think that’s for sure!”
“Do you have much homework?”
“Yeah, but I finished some of it in class. So I’ll be able to finish most of what’s left tonight, and what’s left is for my Wednesday-Friday classes, and I don’t have to finish it until Tuesday night.”
“Okay, I understand what you’ve described; your class schedule is based on block scheduling, isn’t it. Still, it seems pretty complicated for younger kids, like freshmen.” I bit my tongue to keep from grinning.
Adam gave me a snarky look. “It’s probably too complicated for anyone who has EOA to understand.”
“And just what is EOA?” I asked.
“Early-Onset Alzheimer’s.” Adam couldn’t hold back his laughter.
“Ooo! A dirty word! Don’t we have to put a dollar in a jar each time one of us says a dirty word?” he asked.
“Sounds like a good idea. I’ll get two jars and label them, and we’ll start using them when we get home. But, we’re not going directly home. I’m taking you to the Pleasant Hill CPS office because we have some things to discuss about your mom.”
Adam had a worried expression. “Am I going to have to move in with my mom and Ted? I don’t want to do that. I want to stay with you!” Now he looked like he was about to cry.
“It’s not that. “There is something we want to do to protect your rights, Adam. Jared Wong, you, and I will go to court and get a judge to establish a non-related legal guardianship for you and assign it to me so I can maintain your rights and property since I’m fostering you. Jared wants to talk to you and make sure you understand what’s involved and that it’s okay with you, and that you’re willing to appear in court and answer the judge’s questions. That’s why we’re going to the Pleasant Hill CPS office now.”
“I don’t know what this guardianship thing is all about.”
“Jared Wong is our staff attorney. He will explain it in detail, and you can ask him all of the questions you have. To summarize, it’s what a guardianship will be responsible to do and what it means to you, and how it will protect your right to your mother’s and your own property if someone tries to take ownership of it.”
“Like Ted Loaming?”
“Yes. Especially Ted Loaming.”
When we arrived at the CPS location in Pleasant Hill, I showed Adam my office. Then we walked to Jared’s office, and saw he was on the phone. I knocked on his doorframe, and he looked up and waved us to enter.
He finished his call and stood up. “Hi, Adam! Hi, Rick,” he said.
“Hi, Mr. Wong,” Adam replied. Adam turned to me. “By the way, I know Mr. Wong. He’s Brian’s father.”
“Rick, Adam, let’s go into the meeting room and we can talk about the plan to assign guardianship so Adam’s assets are protected.”
When we got there, Adam was quick to say, “I don’t know anything about that guardianship thing. What’s it all about?”
That was Adam. No beating around the bush, right to the issue at hand.
Jared had an engaging approach with kids, so they’d feel at ease talking with him. We spent almost an hour as Jared explained that a guardianship would protect Adam and all of his assets, including inherited assets, and how it worked. He also explained what an asset was and answered all of Adam’s questions.
Then Jared talked about what would happen when we went to court. “Adam, to make everything legal, we’ll assign a guardianship to Rick to maintain your rights. We’ll go to court and meet with a judge to establish what’s called a non-related legal guardianship for you and assign it to Rick. Then he’ll be required to maintain your rights and property since he’s fostering you.”
“Let me explain what the non-related legal guardianship means,” Jared began, then he got into the details.
“Okay,” Adam said when Jared appeared to be finished.
Then Adam had questions, including what would happen if he had to move back with his mom; what would happen if she didn’t want to have him live with her; what would happen if he didn’t want to live with her; what would happen if she died; what would happen if they didn’t find her, dead or alive.
He wanted to know what the judge would ask him when we went to court; what if the judge said ‘no’ to having a legal guardianship. And more. They were all good questions that Jared answered. Adam said he understood what the answers meant. Jared said it was unlikely that the judge would say ‘no’ to having Adam’s legal guardianship assigned to me.
Adam asked if Jared could schedule it so he could go to court without interfering with his classes.
“I’ll apply to juvenile court for a hearing for the non-related legal guardianship for you. The hearing usually takes less than a half-hour. I’ll try to schedule it so it’s after school gets out, around four o’clock. And if possible, not on a day you have a meet or a practice scheduled.”
“Okay,” Adam said. Jared then talked about the questions the judge would ask both Adam and me and that Jared would be in the court to advise us. Jared also said he would be available to answer any of Adam’s questions before the court hearing.
When we were finished, I was sure Adam understood as much about guardianships as I did, if not more.
Jared knew I needed to talk to Adam privately, so he said he had work to do and excused himself, closing the meeting room door as he left.
“Adam, do you have any other questions or concerns?”
“No. Everything I wanted to ask was answered.”
“Good. If you have any questions tomorrow, you can ask Jared before the hearing starts.
“Now I have some bad news. Your mom’s car was found yesterday. It had slid off the edge of a private road in Paradise; that’s a town in the hills twelve miles east of Chico. The police in Paradise and county sheriff’s officers are searching for her. Until then, your mom is officially a missing person.
“The area has few houses, it’s in rugged forested hill country above the West Fork of the Feather River.”
“Why would she be there?” Adam asked.
“We don’t know. The Paradise police think it’s strange that she didn’t attempt to climb back up to the road when her car slid downhill. Instead, she walked further downhill, which was steeper and longer than climbing up. As she approached a trail just above the river, her footsteps ran out because it became rocky. Perhaps she was disoriented. We may know more later today or tomorrow when they bring in dogs to help the searchers.”
“Is it possible she could be dead?”
“Yes, but they will continuing to search for her. Hopefully, they’ll find her.”
“She isn’t a very good mother, but she is my mother. I’ll be sad if she died, especially if she got lost in the woods somewhere. She didn’t like being in the woods or hiking. I think it’s weird she’d be there.”
“Let me know if you have any questions, okay?” I asked.
“Okay. I don’t have any questions now.”
“Then it’s time to head home. Is that okay?”
He nodded and was silent during the trip home.
On the way home, I felt it was necessary to talk to him about his mother.
“Adam, I think you need to prepare yourself in case your mom isn’t found alive.”
“I’ve been thinking about that. I think I’m prepared.”
“I’ll be here for you, Adam. No matter what happens.”
He turned and looked at me for several seconds. “You’re the first person who’s ever said that to me. I believe you, Rick.”
“I’m glad. That comes from the fact that you and I trust each other. And despite that we’ve only known each other for a few days, I’ve come to love you.”
“I love you too, Rick.”
He turned away and faced the passenger side window. I thought he might be leaking a few tears. I knew that fourteen-year-old boys don’t like to talk about their feelings. That was fine. If he wanted to tell me his thoughts about the possibility that his mother might not be found alive, I felt confident that he would. And if not, I wouldn’t apply pressure to get a response from him. I knew that wouldn’t be productive.
As we approached my home — no, our home, mine and Adam’s — I asked, “Are leftover chicken with some veggies and a salad going to be okay for dinner?”
“Sure.” He turned and looked at me with a grin. “What will we have for dessert?”
“Ice cream by itself might be getting a little boring. What if I stop at Safeway and buy a frozen apple pie and put it in the oven. Hot apple pie is always good. Especially with a little vanilla ice cream melting into it.”
“Okay! That sounds great.”
I made a detour to Whole Foods and put the frozen apple pie and a carton of Tillamook vanilla ice cream in the cart. I bought a large package of stew meat for future meals; beef stew would be tasty, and there’d be leftovers for several meals.
“What vegetables would you like?”
“How about Brussels sprouts? I like those. And if they have them, I like rutabagas. I remember that my grandma used to mash them like potatoes or cut them into cubes. They are good with lots of butter and salt and pepper. Better even than potatoes because they have more flavor.”
I was surprised and pleased by his choices.I put both in my shopping cart along with some others like carrots and green beans.
“How about cereal? I think we’re close to being out of corn flakes. What do you like?”
“Cheerios, the plain kind. I like them with blueberries.”
I added a large blister pack of fresh blueberries and two large boxes of Cheerios to our cart. Then I added other staples, including bread, asiago cheese bagels, butter, eggs, bacon, sliced sharp cheddar cheese, peanut butter, strawberry preserves, and other things I thought we might need for breakfasts and lunches.
The grocery shopping trip turned out to include a lot more than the frozen apple pie that I’d planned.
When we got home, Adam was eager to help me fix dinner. About a half-hour later, we were ready to sit down at the table and eat. Just before we sat down, I put the frozen pie in the oven. That way, when we were ready for dessert this evening, it would be finished baking and would still be warm.
After we finished cleaning up, Adam announced, “I’m going to finish my homework that’s due tomorrow. I think I’ll finish before we have dessert.”
“Sounds like a good idea.”
I checked the mailbox. There were two bills, and the rest was junk mail. I took the bills into my home office and checked the phone; there were two voicemail messages. One was from the furnace company wanting to schedule the regular pre-winter checkup. The other was from my nephew Eric. I returned his call.
He answered after one ring.
“Hi, Uncle Rick!”
“Hi to you, too. How’s school? You’re what, a sophomore now?” I chuckled.
“Jeez, your memory is fading! I’m a junior now. And school is excellent. I like most of my classes.”
“Yeah.” That was a surprise. Eric usually liked and got A’s in his classes.
“What class is the problem?”
“AP Psych. Maybe you can help me with it? You took psychology at Cal Tech, didn’t you? At least that’s what my mom says.”
“As usual, your mom is correct. What’s the problem?”
“All of the psychobabble jargon. The class is moving fast, and I’m starting to have problems keeping up.”
“That’s unusual for you. You’re usually right on top of all of your classes.”
“I think my problem is a combination of the textbook and the instructor. It’s like he’s structuring his lectures around a different textbook than the one we’re using, so things don’t line up. It makes studying for tests a lot tougher. I’m not the only one having that problem, either.”
“Have you talked to him about it?”
“No. He’s not very… personable. Actually, he has a rotten bedside manner and a terrible attitude when he’s talking with students.”
I laughed. “How about trying this. Get together with one or two of your classmates — not more than that — who are having the same problems. You and your classmates should work on a list of the problems. Schedule an appointment to sit down with him during his office hours, then have a calm, well-planned discussion about everything that’s on your list.”
“There are a lot more than three of us having the same problems.”
“The thing is, at this point, it’s better for a few of you to talk to him. More than three will look like you’re ganging up to confront him. You want it to come across that the two or three of you want his assistance so you can pull fives on the AP exam. Explain the problems you’re having. See what he says.”
“Okay. That makes sense. There’s one other thing.”
“Will you be available for me to visit you this coming weekend then go home on Sunday? I have something to sit down and talk to you about.”
“Something that you don’t want to talk about over the phone?”
“That’s fine. There is one thing I need to tell you. I’m temporarily fostering a boy. His name is Adam Rios and he’s a freshman at Lincoln High. He’s using the bedroom you used when you’d come here to visit. So, we’ll have to adjust where you’ll sleep. You’ll be in the guest bedroom. Is that a problem?”
“Don’t see why. I’ll only be there two nights, Friday and Saturday, so it’s not a biggie. Or, he and I could share his bed — it’s a king, isn’t it?”
“Yes. You can talk to him about it when you get here. By the way, I think he’ll be eager to meet you. I told him about you because when he got here, he needed some clothes. So I loaned him one of your T-shirts and sweatshirts, a pair of your sweatpants, socks, and your bathrobe. They’ve been washed, in case you want to use them while you’re here. They and your other clothes have been moved to the wardrobe and closet in the guest bedroom.
“And Eric, since I’m fostering him, please don’t ask him questions about what happened and why he’s being fostered. Okay?”
Okay. I’ll just ask things about school and his classes and what sports he likes, movies, TV shows, books — is he a reader?”
“Yes, he reads a lot. He likes science fiction and mysteries.”
“Okay. There won’t be any problem with me asking questions that would pry into his life, ‘cause I won’t ask any of those .”
“He’s a nice kid. I think you’ll like him.”
“He’s a freshman, so he’s what, thirteen? Fourteen?”
“Fourteen. He’s smart and has maintained a straight-A average since he started going to school. He’s like you. Except, he’s on the varsity wrestling team.”
“You’re kidding! He’s a freshman and is on the varsity wrestling team? What’s he weigh?”
“115 pounds. He wrestles in the 120-pound class.”
“That’s… amazing. So, is it still okay for me to come so you and I can have a private conversation?”
“Yes. Why not? It’ll be good to see you.”
“Ditto, Uncle Rick. Bye, and I’ll see you Friday. I’ll leave from school. I’ll be there in time for dinner, of course.” He laughed.
“Of course! See you then. Bye, Eric.”
I went to Adam’s room and sat at the end of his bed. He looked up. “Hi. You have something to ask or tell me?”
“A little of each. My nephew Eric is coming to visit this weekend. He’ll get here in time for dinner Friday evening and drive home Sunday afternoon or evening. He wants to sit down and talk to me privately. He’s taking AP Psychology, and he said he and some of the others in the class are having problems with the teacher and the textbook. I took psychology at Cal Tech, so my guess it’s something about that.
I told him you were looking forward to meeting him. When he’d visit, Eric usually slept in what is now your bedroom.
“Where’s he going to sleep since I’m in the room he used to use?”
“He’ll use the guest bedroom.”
“That’s cool. Is his friend, the one who’s gay, coming too?”
“I don’t think so; I’m sure that Eric would have told me. Dave usually comes with Eric in the spring when they want to go hiking.”
“Do you have a picture of Eric?” Adam asked.
“Yes. I have several on my phone, including some that include Dave.” I opened the gallery app and found a group of pictures I’d taken of Eric and Dave.
“The one on the left is Eric; the one on the right is Dave.”
“Half Asian; his dad, my brother-in-law, is Chinese.”
“Cool! You know, the bed that I’m sleeping in is huge. It’s a king-size, isn’t it?”
“Well, if Eric doesn’t mind, I can share the bed with him. I don’t mind.”
“When he gets here, you can suggest it.”
“Okay. I’m sort of nervous about meeting him.”
“I don’t know. He’s your relative, and the first of your relatives I’ll meet.”
“I know Eric will like you, Adam. He’s easy to talk to. He’ll probably have all kinds of questions to ask you. I asked him to avoid questions about why you’re being fostered. But you can tell him about what it’s like being on the varsity wrestling team, and books and movies and TV shows you like. Things like that. That’s entirely up to you. Just don’t talk about why you’re being fostered. It’s a private matter.
“Also, I haven’t told Eric that you’re gay. That’s something that’s up to you, whether you want to tell him or not.”
“Okay. Now, I have something to tell you.” He grinned.
“Alright, I’m listening.”
“I have wrestling practice after school tomorrow. Then we have a meet on Wednesday at three o’clock against Campo. It will be at Lincoln High. So, both days, I need to find a way home from school.”
“What time will your practice be over tomorrow?”
“Between four-thirty and five. The coach wasn’t any more precise than that. If you can pick me up a little after five, I can wait until you arrive if we get out earlier. Or, if you can’t pick me up, how can I find out if there’s a bus I can take to get home?”
“We can look it up on the internet. But you won’t have to take the bus home either Tuesday or Wednesday nights. I’ll pick you up tomorrow night. I’ll be at the pick-up area about ten minutes after you call me that you’re ready. On Wednesday night, I’ll be at your meet, mostly to watch the matches you’re in.” I smiled. “I’ve never been to a wrestling meet. It should be interesting.”
Adam looked at me with a small grin that turned into a big smile. “My mom never came to any of my meets. You’re coming, and that’s fantastic!” He jumped up and grabbed me in a hug. “Thank you!” Then he sat back down.
“You’re welcome, Adam. I’ll try to be at all of your meets that are at Lincoln High.”
“About half our meets are away. You probably wouldn’t want to go all the way to Riverview or Clayton high schools to see a meet. We get bussed to them, and we’re required to return to Lincoln High after the meet is over. That means you could pick me up at school when we get back. That’s usually around six or seven o’clock and sometimes later, depending on where the meet is held. What I’d do is call you when we get about twenty minutes from school. The bus drivers always let us know at about that time.”
“When is your first away meet?”
“The seventeenth. It’s at College Park High. I have our schedule for the rest of the season. I made a copy for you.” He handed it to me.
“Thanks.” I looked it over. “I’ll be at the Campo and Valley meets since they’re at Lincoln High. I’ll also go to the meet at College Park High since it’s in Pleasant Hill. That’s close to my office.”
“That’s great! We don’t get much of a crowd coming to watch our meets, and there are seldom many parents. It’ll be cool to have you see our matches.” Adam looked at me for several seconds. “It’s like I have a dad again. I like that a lot!”
That made me feel good. It made me feel like I was already Adam’s dad.
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