But that’s not what he finds when he looks outside.
I returned to my office and went through my voicemail messages, email, and postal mail. I’d expected something from Gail Leaf, the Rodriguez attorney for the Arragon and Knox foster children, and our decision to terminate their fostering license. There was no message from her.
We’d received the completed forms and other material for the Elliott’s fostering application. It all appeared to be in order. They would be doing their twelve hours of pre-certification training starting this evening. They elected to take evening classes; the classes would be for three hours each for four evenings. Anne Elliott was a book editor and worked from home, so she’d be present every weekday and take the kids to and from school, necessary because of their ages. Ricardo was twelve, and the twin girls, Patricia and Elicia, were ten. The kids would have to change schools, but when interviewed, they said that was okay as long as they could go to the same school together. All three had been moved from school to school several times while they were being fostered. With the Elliotts, they’d be in a stable school environment in a highly rated school district.
Donna Joiner wanted to talk with me about her opinion of the Elliotts. She said she’d met with their neighbors and some relatives and came away impressed. She wanted to know if I had any reservations about them. I assured her I didn’t.
It was time for lunch, and I wanted to get some fresh air, so I walked to the fish and chips place near the office. When I got back, Jared was waiting for me. He was grinning.
“What’s amusing?” I asked.
“Remember Gail Leaf? She just emailed me advising us that she was no longer the attorney for Mr. and Mrs. Rodriguez.”
“That’s interesting. Did she provide the name of their new attorney?”
“No. It was just the official notification that she has resigned and was no longer representing them. There was no reason given, which is not unusual. Gail Leaf filed with the court to withdraw, and her withdrawal was approved. So there’s nothing to impede the children being fostered by the Elliotts as soon as they are licensed, and then being adopted.”
“Have the Rodriguez’ applied for a public defender?”
“No, at least not at this time.”
“That’s good news. I’m sure that Donna will be pleased to hear this.”
“I’ll send her an email with a copy of Gail Leaf’s email and send you a copy as well.”
“Please send Jennifer a copy, too.”
I returned to my email messages that needed responses.
Finally, it was two-fifteen and time to leave to pick up Adam so we’d be on time for the court hearing on the non-related legal guardianship and having it assigned to me.
I arrived at the pick-up area. It was early, and I was the only car there. At two-thirty, Adam came out, waved, and ran to my car.
“Hi, Dad!” He got in the passenger seat and buckled his seat belt. I pulled out and headed for the 680 freeway.
“Hi, Adam. All set for our court hearing?”
“Sure. Piece a cake. No hay problema.”
“How were your classes today? Any tests? Much homework?”
“I had a quiz in World History and Geography. I’ve got homework for all of my classes except Digital Arts and Web Design, and we never have homework in that class. Oh yeah, and none for PE, either.” He grinned.
“That still sounds like quite a bit of homework.”
“Yeah, but I only have two things due tomorrow. First, read the next chapter in my World History and Geography textbook for a quiz tomorrow; I already did that because I’m keeping a chapter ahead in that class. All I’ll have to do is skim over the material just before class. I had a short story to read for English 1, then fix a bunch of errors and typos and turn it in. I finished that during class. It was easy.
“For Wednesday, I’m ahead in geometry, and I’ve done all the problems, and I turned them in on Blackboard. The only other thing I have is to read the assigned chapter in Living Earth and answer the questions at the end.
“For Thursday, I have to learn a new list of Spanish verbs and be able to conjugate them when we’re called on in class. I still have to do that.”
We pulled into one of the parking lots near the Contra Costa Family Court. I had a county permit sticker on my windshield, so parking would be free. I found a space and parked.
“We’re early. Would you like something to drink?”
“Let’s put your backpack in the storage space so it won’t be a temptation for someone to break in to my car.”
“Does that happen here, right next to the court and the jail?”
With Adam’s backpack safely hidden in the locked cargo storage space and my car alarm enabled, we walked to a small restaurant three blocks down Main Street that was open until four p.m. Adam had a cinnamon roll and a small cappuccino, and I had black coffee.
“Are you ready for the hearing?” I asked.
“Yup. Mr. Wong answered all my questions about what it was about and what I’d be asked. I’ll answer the questions the judge asks me and won’t add anything that’s not part of the question. Should I say my mom’s dead if he asks?”
“I plan to tell the judge what happened to her. But if he asks you, tell him what you know.”
We finished and walked to the Family Court building. We signed in, entered the courtroom where we were directed, and sat down. At four o’clock, the judge entered the courtroom and sat at a desk.
The court clerk stood and read, “Docket eleven dash twenty-three, an application for a non-related legal guardianship requested by Richard Alan Decker of California Child Protective Services for Adam Keith Rios, a minor child. Judge Philip Campbell is presiding.” He directed us to stand behind the chairs across the desk from the judge.
We were each sworn in, and that made Adam grin. I could almost read his mind: ‘Just like it’s a cop show on TV’ and that made me smile, too.
“Adam Rios, Mr. Decker, please sit down,” the judge requested.
“Mr. Decker, are you familiar with non-related legal guardianship hearings?”
“I’ve been informed about how it works and read explanatory material about it, your honor.”
He asked me to state my full name, Richard Alan Decker, my birthdate, place of birth, home address, and business address. Then he asked Adam to state his full name, Adam Keith Rios, and the same information he asked me, but instead of the business address, he asked Adam to name the school he attended and his grade.
“Adam, I see that you are residing at the same address as Mr. Decker. Why is that?”
“He’s my foster father.”
“Is this an acceptable arrangement for you?”
“Yes, very acceptable. I think of him as my dad. I’m really happy living with him.”
“Do you trust Rick Decker to do what is in your best interests?”
“Yes. He’s going to adopt me. That’s going to be the best thing that ever happened to me. I love him, and he loves me.”
“Adam, do you understand what a non-related legal guardianship means for you and the rights you have while protected under the terms of the guardianship?”
“Yes, your honor.”
“How were you informed of those rights and protections?”
“I met with Mr. Wong at the CPS office in Pleasant Hill, and he explained all the details about what it means and how I’ll be protected so no one can take anything that is legally mine.”
“Mr. Decker, who is Mr. Wong?”
“Jared Wong is the staff attorney at the Pleasant Hill Child Protective Services office.”
“You can also refer to it as CPS, as Adam did, from now on.” The judge said, then he smiled.
“Mr. Decker, where are the parents of Adam Rios?”
“Both are deceased. Adam Rios’ father died in a traffic accident when he was serving in the Army, and that was on June 14, 2012. Adam Rios’ mother was walking on a trail along the West Fork of the Feather River last week, and it appears that she slipped off the trail and fell into the river, was carried downstream by the current, and drowned. Her date of death is approximately November 9, 2019. We’ve been advised that the certified death certificate will be available from the Butte County coroner later this week.”
“Adam, do you have any other relatives now that your parents are both deceased?”
“Yes, your honor. My grandma, my mom’s mother. Her name is Maria Flores. She’s my only relative now. But she has Alzheimer’s and is in a special home in Brentwood for people who have that. When my mom and I went to see her, she didn’t know my mom or me. She didn’t talk much at all.”
“Adam, did your father have any relatives that you know about?”
“No, your honor. He told me that he was an orphan, and when he was born, he was left in front of a church in San Francisco. They never found out who his mother was.”
“Do you know what church that was?”
“No, your honor.”
“Mr. Decker, one of the reasons you’re asking for the non-related legal guardianship is because Adam Rios is now an orphan, and you are his foster father. I see that you provided an amendment to the application stating that his mother is now deceased, which was not known when the application was originally submitted. When do you expect that I will have a copy of her death certificate?”
“Your honor, she died in Butte County. The medical examiner and coroner advised Sargent Ashley Allisonn of the Paradise Police Department that the death certificate would be available on Wednesday of this week. The Butte County Clerk will certify all copies, and they will be mailed to the CPS office in Pleasant Hill. I was told that the Butte County coroner advised Ms. Allisonn that four certified copies of her death certificate would be mailed to your attention at the Contra Costa County Family Court. Will you require any additional copies?”
“The four copies being sent to the court will be sufficient. The court clerk will give you the address to use. I see that you have included copies of the birth certificates for Adam Rios, his mother with the birth name June Maria Flores, and his father, Jason Adam Rios, and a copy of the death certificate for Jason Adam Rios.
“Adam, do you agree that Mr. Richard Decker, your foster father, should have the non-related legal guardianship responsible for your rights and property until you have been adopted or you turn eighteen, whichever comes first?”
“Yes, I do, your honor.”
“Pending receipt of the death certificate for June Rios, I hereby certify the application granting assignment of Mr. Richard Decker as the non-related legal guardian responsible for the rights and property of Adam Keith Rios, a minor child. Mr. Decker and Adam, as soon as it is available, you will each receive a certified copy of the document granting these responsibilities.”
He stood up, and the court clerk announced, “This completes Docket eleven dash twenty-three, an application for a non-related legal guardianship requested by Richard Decker of California Child Protective Services for Adam Keith Rios, a minor child.”
After the judge exited, the court clerk handed me a card with Judge Philip Campbell’s mailing information. It was the same as the address we’d already sent to Butte County for the death certificate to be mailed to the judge.
We returned home. Adam was eager to talk about what happened.
“This wasn’t like a regular court case, was it,” he stated.
“That’s right. It was a process to grant legal approval for me to have a guardianship to ensure that your rights and property belong to you to prevent someone from making claims that they have rights that supersede yours and allowing them to claim your property as theirs. For example, say Ted Loaming claimed that he was married to your mother — which, by the way, he was not nor can he prove he was married to her. Anyway, if he tried to get a mortgage company to loan him money on the house you lived in with your mother, the transaction would be blocked because it’s under my guardianship. The mortgage company wouldn’t be able to encumber the ownership of your house.”
“So that means he’d be screwed, and I’d still own the house. But do I own the house now?”
“Not yet, but the title to the house will be transferred from your mother to your trust. To do that, we’ll take the guardianship and your mother’s death certificate and go to the Contra Costa County recorder and establish the title in your name as your mother’s only beneficiary. Then we’ll put the title for the house into your trust.”
“It is in a way, but we’ll get Jared Wong to assist us in transferring property that belonged to your mother to you and move it into your trust. Other properties, including her bank accounts, her 401K retirement account, and so on, are in her name, with you listed as the beneficiary; those will also be moved to your trust.
“We’ll need to recover her missing property, including her car and the furniture that Ted Loaming removed from your house. That will involve the police in Walnut Creek, Paradise, and Chico, and the Butte County sheriff’s department.”
“Why both the police and the sheriff?”
“The police will investigate and be responsible for finding the car and furniture. The sheriff will be responsible for verifying if those items are still located in Butte County, which is where we think they had been moved, and seizing and returning them to you in the care of your trust. Then the police will charge Ted Loaming with burglary or theft or both, whatever applies.”
“So, the police do one thing, and the sheriff does something else?”
“That’s correct. There’s an additional item. You will own the house. But there are costs when you own a house. Property tax, for example. Utility bills. Maintenance and repair. You’ll have to decide what you want to do with the house. You could hire a rental agency and have someone rent it. You could contact a Realtor and sell the house, putting the proceeds into investments and holding them in your trust. Either renting or selling the house means there will be income, which means federal and state income taxes, which have to be paid. Or, you can keep the house to use it or do something with it in the future. So, before deciding what to do with the house, you and I need to talk to investment and tax advisors who can determine what will result in the most money for you in the long term, and give you their advice.”
“Whoa! I don’t have a clue how to do any of those things.”
“That’s okay. I’ve been granted — or will be granted as soon as the judge receives the four copies of your mother’s death certificate — with the legal guardianship responsible for your rights and property. You and I will do these things together with the trustee of your trust account, and we’ll both give you advice based on what we learn from others. For example, if you decide to rent or sell your house, we would discuss it with a Realtor, your investment and tax advisor, and the trustee of your account. Then you will make the final decisions.”
“What happens after you adopt me?”
“Everything that predated the adoption is separate. If it wasn’t, a person or couple could adopt a minor and spend everything the minor owned or inherited prior to being adopted. I’m legally bound to treat your assets and rights that predate the adoption individually and separately. And I would in any case. If I didn’t, I could end up going to jail. Besides, your trust would have that recourse. It’s for your protection, Adam.”
“Wow. It’s a good thing you’re not Ted Loaming. He’d be out to screw me, wouldn’t he.”
“I certainly wouldn’t trust him. But now, he doesn’t have any access to your rights and property. Did you know that Ted Loaming claimed that he and your mother had been married?”
“No, I didn’t. I think that’s bullshit.”
“I agree, but he did make that claim as a reason he had the right to enter your house in Walnut Creek and remove the furniture and whatever else he took. When asked for the marriage license, he couldn’t produce it. Then he claimed they were married in Mexico, and they don’t have marriage licenses in Mexico. That’s incorrect, they do have marriage licenses in Mexico, and Lieutenant Brian Jackson of the Walnut Creek police department knew what Ted said was a lie.”
“Shows that Ted’s a jerk.”
“Do you know if your mother had a safe deposit box at her bank?”
“No, I don’t know about that.”
“That’s something I’ll ask Jared Wong to determine. We found that your mother had a bank account at Central County Bank. Do you know of any other bank that she used?”
“No. She set up a savings account for me at Central County Bank. Her MasterCard was from Central County Bank.”
“Is that the only credit card she had?”
“I think so. I don’t know about any other credit card.”
“Thinking about credit cards, we should visit Mrs. Billingsley and pick up the mail. There might be bills that need to be paid.”
“Will I have to pay the bills?”
“No. We’ll work together with Jared Wong and decide which bills are to continue, including the utility bills and property tax. They will be paid automatically from your trust once we set up a payment schedule. Again, you’ll be involved in and approve whatever we do.”
“Can we call Mrs. Billingsley when we get home?”
“Sure. In fact, why don’t you call her now? I know she’d like to hear from you. She likes you.”
Adam blushed. “Okay, I’ll call her. I have her number on my phone. Hey, that’s one of the bills that might need to be paid. My mom had a cellphone, and I have mine, and they’re on the same account.”
“We need to find her phone and cancel her number, so someone can’t use it to place calls and buy things online.”
“I oughta make a list of everything we need to do. I’ll put it in Excel so we can sort it by what’s most important. Like, the cellphone should be at the top of the list.”
“That’s a good idea. That also reminds me that I need to buy you a computer.”
“Really? You know, I could use your laptop.”
“I need my laptop, and you need your own computer. Let’s go to BuyMart right now and get you something that’s powerful enough to do what you’re doing in your computer and digital arts classes and be lightweight enough to be able to carry to school when you need to use it there.”
I turned off the freeway and headed to BuyMart. I thought about something Adam had said when I first met him.
“You said your mother had a computer, right?”
“Yeah, that’s right. It was an old laptop. She didn’t want me to use it because she didn’t have it password protected and didn’t want me to mess with it, she said. I think she didn’t want me to mess with it otherwise I could see what was on it.”
“We need to find it. That’s another thing we need to do the next time we go back to your house.”
When we got to BuyMart, Adam was like a kid in a candy store… more correctly, he was like a kid in a computer store.
“You do a lot with PhotoShop, don’t you.”
“Let’s look at models that have a touch screen that you can draw on with a stylus.”
“That’d be great. But aren’t they expensive?”
“I’m going to get you what you need, and we’ll consider this an early Christmas present. So, don’t worry about the price. I’m about to be your father, and you’re about to be my son. I’ve got to make sure that you have what you need.”
Adam looked at me as we pulled into the parking structure at the mall. “I love you, Dad.”
“I love you too, Adam.”
Some laptops were under $400, and a few were well over $5,000, but some models met Adam’s requirements and were more reasonably priced. A Dell model with a 15 inch 4K Ultra HD touch-screen with an optional stylus for drawing on the screen, an Intel i7 processor, 16 gigabytes of RAM, a 1 terabyte SSD drive, a backlit keyboard including both a ten-key numeric keypad and a touchpad, Windows 10, and a one-year BuyMart carry-in repair-or-replace warranty. It was on a close-out sale for $1,449.99 with the stylus, a mouse they threw in for free, plus sales tax.
“You know what’s missing?” I asked.
“A printer.” He wiggled his eyebrows.
“Yes. I suggest that we get a printer that has reasonably priced ink cartridges.”
I checked a review of inkjet printers on my phone, and Epson had a highly rated printer that could also scan and make copies and automatically print on both sides of a page. It had excellent color and black and white printing performance ratings and low priced ink cartridges. The clerk told us it came with a set of ‘starter’ ink cartridges that had lower capacity, and that Epson did that to reduce the list price of the printer. So we added a set of high-capacity cartridges, two reams of standard 8-1/2 by 11 printer paper, and a selection of glossy paper in different sizes for printing photographs.
Because everything was in stock, we were able to put all of the boxes containing what we had purchased in the SUV’s cargo storage space and in Adam’s backpack which he carried over his shoulder.
I asked Adam, “Since you’d said your homework that’s due tomorrow was finished, why don’t you call Mrs. Billingsley now? If she has any mail to pick up, we can drop by her house on our way home.”
As it turned out, there was some mail to pick up. We stopped at her house and she said stepped outside, said “Hi,” to both of us, and handed Adam his mail. Then we drove home.
“Okay, this way you can concentrate on getting your new laptop and printer set up when we get home. And when you’re ready, I’ll get you hooked up to the WiFi on our router so you have internet connectivity.”
Adam looked at me. “I love you more and more every minute, Dad.” He hugged me, and I hugged him back.
When we got home we unloaded the boxes of computer equipment and accessories, and Adam moved them into his bedroom and opened all of the boxes.
“Hey, Adam, do you want something to drink?” I asked.
“No. I want to be careful and not spill anything on my new laptop. So I’m okay. Maybe later.”
I went into my office to see if I had any email messages. In a few minutes, Adam stepped into my office. “Dad?”
“Hi. You ready to hook up your laptop to the internet?”
I logged on to my router and created a login ID and password for Adam. I wrote down the information on a 3x5 card and handed it to him.
“Here you go. If you have any questions or problems, let me know.”
He left to finish setting up his new laptop, and I went into the family room and turned on the TV to watch the six o’clock news. After about a half-hour, Adam walked into the family room.
“There are two things I need that the new laptop doesn’t have. The first is Microsoft Office. It has a temporary copy with a thirty-day license, so it has to be activated, or maybe we could find a full copy on Amazon or somewhere if it’s if it’s cheaper. Second, I need the Adobe software with at least Photoshop, Lightroom, Illustrator, Bridge, Dreamweaver, and Adobe XD. It would be a lot better if it had Premier and After Effects, too, so I’ll be able to edit videos when we get to that part in my class.”
“I can get you the entire Adobe suite at student pricing. It’s a lot less expensive,” I said.
“I never heard that Adobe had a student version. I would have thought that Mr. Farinholdt would have told us about it. He’s my Digital Arts and Web Design teacher.”
“He might feel that the parents of a lot of the kids wouldn’t be able to afford even the student version. If someone asks if there’s a way to get the complete suite of Adobe software at a lower price, then he should tell them about it.”
“He tells us about Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements. The thing is, I couldn’t find Dreamweaver Elements.”
“Unfortunately, there’s no Dreamweaver Elements, just Dreamweaver and that’s in the full set of Adobe applications. So, let’s get you set up with the student version of the full set of Adobe applications.”
“How much does it cost? I’ll bet it’s really expensive.”
“Let’s look it up after your laptop is ready to connect to the internet.”
Adam grinned. “It’s already connected to the internet.”
“Okay,” I said, “I’ll replace the trial version of Microsoft Office with the serial number of my copy. It’s the subscription version, Office 365, and can be installed on up to three computers.” I opened Microsoft Office on his laptop and went through adding it to my licensed copy. That took just under thirty minutes, most of it to download and install the latest updates to Office. At the end of that time, Adam had a fully functional copy.
“Wow! This is so cool!”
“Now, let’s see about installing the student version of Adobe’s applications.”
That took a lot longer. We had to prove that Adam was a student in a high school or college. That meant we had to fill out a student application with his personal and school information, scan his student ID card, include the scan with the Adobe student application, and email both to Adobe.
“Well, now we’ll have to wait until they email you, then I’ll pay for it with my credit card.”
“What applications will it include?”
“All of them that run on Windows.” I grinned. “There’s an app titled Adobe Creative Cloud. It lists all of the applications. After your student application is approved and I’ve paid for the license with my credit card, you’ll be able to install the applications you want to use. There’s also Adobe Stock where you can purchase existing images from a huge catalogue of existing images; come and ask me when you want to do that because the images are priced, usually based on size, and will be charged to my credit card.”
“How much do all the apps cost?”
“First, every app can be downloaded, and there’s no extra charge based on which apps you’ve downloaded. There’s an annual fee for the student version. Don’t worry about cost. It’s worth it if you need it. And you can use it from now to the time you graduate from college.”
“What happens when they come out with an update of an application, like Photoshop?”
“You’ll be notified automatically. You’ll have to download and install the update, but that’s as simple as clicking on that application in the Creative Cloud app. So, as long as you install the updates as they come out, you’ll have the latest updated version of each program you had originally installed. And you can add other applications that you hadn’t originally installed. The cost for updates and added applications is included in the price of the student software license.”
“Speaking of your classes, what’s your wrestling schedule for this month?”
“We have practice tomorrow during PE, then we have a meet with Valley High at home on Wednesday, then practice on Thursday during PE.”
“Where’s Valley High School?”
“That’s a non-league meet?”
“No, they’re in our league.”
“Seems like they’re quite a distance from Walnut Creek.”
“Yeah, they are. But it’s a new school, and the league down there has too many teams already, and we had room for a couple more teams in our league. So, they stuck them up here with us.”
“What’s their record?”
“They lost both of their non-league meets, then lost their first league meet against Campo and won their second against Eastgate. We’re meeting Eastgate a week from Wednesday; it’s an away meet. Eastgate doesn’t have very good wrestlers. They’ve lost all of their meets so far.”
“Sounds like you’re confident you’ll win your meet against Eastgate. What about Valley High?”
“We’ll probably win that meet, too. The thing is, either team could have good wrestlers in some of their weight classes, like Brian’s or mine, and not so good in others. We’ll find out about Valley High on Wednesday. Anyway, the meet with them starts at three o’clock.”
“I’ll be there to see your meet.”
“So will Brian’s dad. Maybe we could go out to eat after the meet?”
“Sure. I’ll set that up with Jared. He might want his wife to come along. You know her, right?”
“Uh-huh. She’s nice. Her name’s Joyce. Do you know her?”
“Yes. Any preference about where we eat?”
“How about Counter Burger? I liked that place.”
“I’ll see what Jared thinks about that. We might want to pick a place with more than just burgers if Brian’s mom is coming.”
“That’s fine with me. I don’t know about very many restaurants. My mom and I usually went to fast food places like Habit and Burger King, and going to Buckhorn was like a fancy meal for us.”
“How about The Cheesecake Factory?”
“I’ve heard of it, but haven’t eaten there. Is it good?”
“Yes. The size of the servings is large, and they have cheesecake for dessert. It’s probably good that you don’t have a second meet this week. If we go to The Cheesecake Factory you’ll have time to work off all the carbs from the food and dessert you’ll be eating.”
“Sounds okay to me. It’ll be fun eating somewhere I’ve never been before.”
“I’ll talk to Jared at work tomorrow and make sure that The Cheesecake Factory will be okay.”
“Will Brian be there, too?”
“I assume so, but Jared didn’t say. When I talk to him tomorrow I’ll find out and I’ll send you a text. Now, how about you show me your new computer?”
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