But that’s not what he finds when he looks outside.
After dropping Adam at Lincoln High the next morning, I drove to Mrs. Billingsley’s house. She’d called me before I left for work and came out on her porch as I drove up.
“Here you go.” She handed me a stack of mail wrapped in two rubber bands. “There was an extra delivery yesterday evening, so there’s a lot more than usual. So, what’s new with June Rios and Adam?”
I updated her about June Rios, saying only that she’d slipped into the river and drowned.
“Oh, that’s so sad. It’s too bad that she wasn’t the sort of loving mother that Adam deserved.”
“I have to agree with you about that. Adam recognizes it, too.”
“Is there going to be a funeral?”
“There’ll be a small memorial service, and Adam is thinking about burying her ashes under a tree in the backyard that he says she planted just after he was born.”
“Yes, I know that tree. June was more sentimental about that than anything else I can remember. Unfortunately, ‘anything else’ included Adam.”
“We were wondering if you could give Adam some tips about what to do at a memorial service. If that’s not too much of a bother.”
“I’d love to help him plan a memorial for her. I assume you’ll invite people from where June worked at John Muir Hospital. Some of the neighbors around here should be included. And the mailman. He’s always very friendly with those of us who have lived here for a long time.”
“That’s very gracious of you, Ruth.”
“Will Ted Loaming be invited?” she asked.
“Absolutely not. Ted’s in jail awaiting trial for breaking into the Rios’ house twice. The first time was when he stole the furniture. The second time was when he tried to break in again, and was stopped by the police who found he was carrying a gun with a silencer. That’s when he was arrested. He’s being charged with two felonies. You shouldn’t see him again.”
“I’m certainly glad about that. So, how is Adam?”
“Adam is doing great. Now that his mother has passed away, I’m going to adopt him. He’ll be my son.”
“Oh, that’s wonderful! I know he cares about you.”
“Thank you. Adam and I have known each other for less than three weeks, and yet I’ve come to love him.”
“How long will it take to complete the adoption?”
“Usually, there’s a six-month period to get to know each other and make sure it’s a fit for both the child and the adopting parents. However, Adam can be defined as NKR, which means No Known Relative. He has only one relative, his grandmother, June Rios’ mother. Unfortunately, she has Alzheimer’s and didn’t recognize either June or Adam the last time they visited her.”
“Yes, that happens to many elderly people. Fortunately, I don’t seem susceptible to that affliction.”
“I’m very glad about that. I’d never wish it on anyone.”
“What about other relatives, maybe on his father’s side?”
“His father was an orphan with no known relatives. So there are no other relatives, and the adoption can be fast-tracked. I expect that it will be finalized sometime in January.”
“Will you have a little ceremony to celebrate his adoption?”
“I hadn’t thought about that. That’s a good idea. I’ll be sure to invite you.”
“Thank you. I’d like that.”
“I’ll let you get back to whatever you were doing. Thank you for collecting the extra mail.”
“It’s no problem at all. Have Adam give me a call when he has time to chat about the memorial service,” Ruth asked.
“I will. Next weekend, when I come to pick up the mail, I’ll bring Adam with me. Now I’d better head to my office. Mondays always mean a lot of email and voicemail messages. As usual, most of them will need to have responses. I’m glad we had a few minutes to chat.”
“It was very nice to see you, Rick.
“Thank you, Ruth. Bye for now.”
When I arrived at work, I checked to see if Jared had arrived. He wasn’t in his office, and Rebecca, our receptionist, said he hadn’t signed in yet.
It was too early to check with the Butte County Sheriff’s Office or the Walnut Creek police about Ted Loaming. So I called Donna Joiner to discover if everything was in place for the Elliott’s to take the evening training classes to qualify for a fostering license. She assured me it was, and the three kids, Patricia and Elicia Knox and Ricardo Arragon, were handling their temporary placement at Clement House without any problems. They seemed to like it there since there were other kids they could play with, and they were going to the same school they’d been attending previously.
I checked with my supervisor at CPS headquarters in Sacramento to determine the Rodriguez fostering license status. Lauren and George Rodriguez had been served with a notice that their fostering license had been revoked effective at one minute past midnight on Monday, November 25, 2019. I emailed Jared, Donna, and Jennifer, advising them about the license revocation. Since there was no attorney representing Lauren and George Rodriguez, that closed the case.
I went through my voicemail messages and my email. By the time I’d finished, I was ready to check on other complaints by caseworkers in Contra Costa and Solano counties. I responded to several and then heard someone rapping on my door, which was open. I looked up and saw Jared.
“Come on in, please close the door and have a seat. I have some things to tell you. A few are personal.
“First, I talked to Adam about going out to dinner following their meet on Wednesday. He suggested that you and Brian come along, and I thought if Joyce was coming to the meet, she should come to dinner with us. Adam wanted to know where we would go to eat. He suggested Counter Burger, but I said if Joyce were going to join us, maybe The Cheesecake Factory would be better. So, does that sound okay?”
“Yes. It’s funny because Joyce and I were talking about going out after the meet. We never got around to discussing where to eat. Cheesecake Factory is a good choice. The boys should love it.”
“Adam’s never been there,” I said. “I think he’s going to be impressed. I told him that he and Brian are lucky they don’t have another meet for a week. That way, they’ll recover from the carb overload when they have tomorrow night’s dinner, and if they aren’t too full, maybe even cheesecake for dessert.”
“Have you ever known them to bypass dessert?” Jared laughed. “Count us in. It’s always fun to have dinner with two teens with hollow legs and watch them eat. We’ll go to The Cheesecake Factory, and I’ll let Joyce know.”
“Second, I haven’t told Adam that an injection of an unknown substance might have contributed to his mother’s death. I won’t do so until we receive the certified death certificate. My question is this. How do I tell him if the death certificate shows that she was poisoned or her death was a murder?”
“That’s a tough question to answer. I’ve never faced having to do something like that. You took psychology in college. Didn’t they discuss things like that?”
“If they did, it would have been in a counseling course. I don’t remember being told how to tell a teen their mother was murdered.”
“Maybe you should Google it.”
“I’ll think I’ll wait until I see what is actually on the death certificate.”
“That’s a good idea.”
“Third, Adam wants to hold a memorial service for his mother in the backyard at their house. There’s a tree that June Rios planted soon after Adam’s birth. She told Adam that when she died, she wanted her ashes buried under that tree. That’s what he wants to do. That’s fine with me. He’ll have their next-door neighbor, Mrs. Billingsley, help with the planning. He may ask Brian to come to the memorial. What do you think about that?”
“I think that will be up to Brian. If he asks me or seems uncertain, I’m going to recommend that he be there to support Adam. After all, they are boyfriends now.”
“Thank you. I agree. It will be a short ceremony with people from where she worked and a few of her neighbors. I assume that Mrs. Billingsley will plan to have some things to eat and drink after the service.
“Fourth, I’ve never been involved in arranging for a cremation. Do you have any suggestions, or should I just Google it?”
“I recommend you ask the Butte County coroner or the medical examiner. They should have the names of mortuaries that can take care of the cremation. They’ll also arrange for copies of the death certificate. You’ll need twenty to twenty-five copies.” He saw my rather shocked expression. “It’s important because of all of the financial and legal organizations that are going to need her death certificate. Like what the court needs for your non-related legal guardianship for Adam. And even when Adam is older, he might need her death certificate if someone requires it, like if he rents the house then sells it in the future.”
“I recommend that all of the additional copies be certified by the Butte County recorder. It’ll cost more, but it’s a lot less expensive than going back to get more copies later.”
“How do I arrange to I get additional copies?”
“Contact the mortuary that will be doing the cremation.”
“So, do I need twenty or twenty-five from the mortuary?”
“Yes. You’ll find that lots of people will want a copy. The bank so Adam can have access to June Rios’ accounts, the county to change the ownership of the house from June Rios to Adam Rios, Juvenile Court for your adoption of Adam, the school district so you’ll be registered as his foster father. Later so you’ll be registered as his adoptive father, and so on and so on. And when he’s adopted you’ll need copies for his last name change.”
“Okay. I’ll get twenty-five copies from the mortuary. Can I assume the Butte County Recorder will certify them?”
“Yes, but be sure to tell the mortuary that you require certified copies.”
“Fifth. How do I find out if June Rios has a safe-deposit box at her bank?”
“I can do that for you. What bank did she use?”
“Central County Bank.”
“That makes it easy. What was her full name?”
“June Maria Rios, maiden name Flores.”
“Do you have her bank account number?”
“Yes.” I unlocked the drawer in my desk and took out June Rios’ checkbook. I read the number to Jared, and he read it back for confirmation.
“Why did you say that because her account was at Central County Bank, that makes it easy?” I asked.
“If it was one of the large banks with branches nationwide, it’s much harder to get this kind of information. They have to standardize things to protect their customers, and that standardization often — maybe even usually — gets in the way.
“Do you have a key for her safe-deposit box?”
“I can find out if she has a safe-deposit box, but we need a key or a court order to get into it.”
“Okay. I’ll let you know if Adam knows where she might have kept it.”
“Yes. I want to start the process to adopt Adam. He’s an orphan now. He has a grandmother, but she’s very elderly and has advanced Alzheimer’s. She’s in a care home in Brentwood, Covenant House.”
“You’re sure about the adoption, Rick?”
“I’ve never been more sure about anything, Jared.”
“Good. I can tell that Adam loves you, and you’ll make a great father for him.”
“Thank you.” I smiled. “It’s going to be an interesting voyage of discovery for both of us. I’ve never had a child, and Adam lost his father about five years ago. He served in the millitary and was killed overseas during his Army service.”
“I think you’ll be fine. And anytime you have parenting questions, you can call on Joyce and me, and we’ll do our best to answer them.”
It was time to pick up Adam at school. I pulled up and stopped at the pick-up area. I didn’t see him, but Brian was standing in the bus area. I opened my door and called out, “Brian!”
He turned and saw me, then waved and ran over to my car.
“Do you know where Adam is? I thought he’d be out here waiting for me.”
“Coach Green wanted to talk to him after he showered. He should be here in a few minutes.”
“Do you want a ride home?”
“Get in, and we’ll wait for Adam.”
Brian put his bike in the back of the SUV and got into the second row of seats and pulled the door closed.
“Adam was telling me about the new laptop you got him yesterday. He said it has the full version of Office, and you’re going to install the student version of the Adobe apps. And you got him a color printer that’s a copier, too. And there’s a stylus for drawing on the screenl He was real excited telling us about it at lunch today. It’s his first computer of his own.”
“He needs to have a good PC for his classes, especially for doing graphics and web design.”
“I know you know it already, but I want to tell you that he loves you, Mr. Decker. He tells me that all the time, and how lucky he is that you’re going to be his father.”
“I know he does, Brian. And I love him, too. And please try to remember that you’re supposed to call me Rick, not Mr. Decker.”
“I’ll try. It’s going to be difficult since it’s been pounded into my puny brain that I’m supposed to call adults using Mr. or Mrs. or Ms. and their last name, including our teachers.
“Here comes Adam!” Brian opened the door and shouted, “Adam, over here!”
After deciding there was enough room for both of them, Adam got in next to Brian. “Hi, Dad. Coach Green was telling me about the guy from Valley High that I’ll be wrestling in my match tomorrow.”
“Is there a problem?”
“Nope. He had some tips for me. He said Jordan Barnes, that’s the guy’s name, is the best wrestler on their team. He’s a senior, and he weighs about three pounds more than me. Jordan has won all of his matches, even though they’ve lost all but one of their meets.”
“How did your coach find out about who you’d be wrestling?”
“Two of the guys from our JV team went to the Valley High meet at Eastgate and reported back. We were spying on them!” Adam and Brian laughed.
“I assume the other teams do the same kind of spying on you guys.”
“Yeah, I’m sure they do that,” Brian said. “They’d be foolish if they didn’t.”
“Unless they know they’re going to lose to us anyway,” Adam said.
That started a new round of laughter.
“By the way,” I said, “we’re all going out to dinner tomorrow night after your meet. Brian, by all I mean you and your mom and dad, too.”
“Do you know where we’re going to eat?” Brian asked.
“The Cheesecake Factory,” I replied.
“Great! Have you been there, Adam?”
“No. My dad said the servings are large, and they have cheesecake for dessert. I’ve never had cheesecake. Is it good?”
“The servings aren’t large. They are huge!” Brian responded. “And they have a ton of flavors of cheesecake. My favorite, if they have it, is pumpkin. If they don’t have pumpkin yet — they usually have it starting around Thanksgiving — then my next favorite is key lime. Oh, god, they are both sooo good!”
I dropped Brian off at his house, Adam moved to the passenger side of the front seat, and we headed home.
“How was practice today?”
“Good. We went over some new moves that I hope will help me in my match with Jordan Barnes. The moves weren’t just for me; all the guys can use them.”
When we got home, Adam went online to see if there was a response from Adobe. There was. His application for a student license for the Adobe Creative Cloud apps was approved. I sat down at his computer and filled out the payment information using my credit card. When this was finished, I pointed to the screen.
“This is the Creative Cloud icon. Click on it.” Then Adam had to log in with the email address and the password he’d created when he sent in his application. He looked at me with a big grin. “It worked! How do I install the programs?”
“I recommend that you don’t select all of them at once; otherwise it will take way too long waiting for all of them to be installed. The two you need the most are Photoshop CC and Lightroom Classic CC. Click on the install icon for Photoshop CC.” I pointed to it on the screen. It started the download and install process. “Now, click on the Lightroom Classic CC install icon.” It also started but said it was waiting. “It probably won’t start until the Photoshop download finished and the installation is underway. That’s why you don’t want to click on a whole bunch of them. It would take forever, and you can’t use your laptop until they are all installed. My recommendation is to install one at a time, then make sure you can open and use it. Then pick another you want, like Bridge, and click on the install icon. When it’s installed test it, then pick another app, and so on.”
“There are two Lightroom icons. Lightroom CC and Lightroom Classic CC. Why are there two versions?”
“Lightroom CC is cloud-based, so you have to be connected to the internet to use it. Lightroom Classic CC will run on your laptop, which means you can use all of its features without having to be connected to the internet.”
“Okay, I see why you had me install Lightroom Classic CC.” He clicked on the Bridge CC icon.
“What else do you need for your current classes?”
“Those three are most important, but I also need Dreamweaver CC.”
“Okay, Photoshop is loading, so scroll down to the Dreamweaver CC icon and click on it.” Adam did that.
“Now, let’s get ready to have dinner, and when you come back after we’ve finished eating, you can begin using the Adobe applications you selected. All four should be installed by then.”
“Works for me. I see what you meant about the installations taking a long time. Photoshop is only 37% finished.”
“Don’t forget that’s because these applications haven’t been pre-installed on your laptop. In the future, it will take a lot less time because you’ll be installing an update.”
“Okay, that makes sense. What’s for dinner?”
“Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, carrots, and crookneck squash.”
“Mmm! Sounds good. What can I do to help?”
“How about setting the table first, then you can get the carrots and squash ready to cook.”
While we were getting our meal ready, I asked Adam, “Do you know where the key to your mother’s safe-deposit box is? We need that to open it and see what it contains.”
“I don’t have the key, but I know where she might have kept it. There’s a key taped to the bottom of the junk drawer in the kitchen. Maybe that’s it.”
“Would it still be there?”
“I’m not sure, but it should be. I don’t think Ted would have known about it. He didn’t take anything out of the junk drawer, so I don’t think he would have gotten down on the floor to see if there was something taped on the bottom of the drawer.”
“Why wouldn’t he have just pulled the drawer out and turned it over?”
“None of the drawers can be pulled out. That keeps the stuff in a drawer from falling out if you accidentally opened it all the way. It takes a screwdriver to remove the latches on each side to pull it all the way out.”
“Ah. Now I understand. We need to check if the key is still there.”
“Okay, when do you want to do it?”
“Let’s think about it and after dinner we can decide when to look for it, okay?”
After dinner, Adam disappeared into his bedroom; he was working on his laptop the few times I peeked in to see what he was doing. Then I went to the family room and turned on the TV to watch the seven o’clock news.
Adam walked in and stood right in front of me, blocking my view of the TV, and grinned.
“Hi, Adam. Do you have a question?”
“Uh-huh. Do you want to see what I drew using Photoshop and the stylus on my new laptop?”
“Sure.” He led me into his bedroom. He’d drawn a picture of two boys wrestling, one grinning and facing the viewer while holding the other boy pinned to the mat.
“That’s you!” I exclaimed. I was amazed. He’d drawn himself as the winner in a wrestling match. It looked like him, and he had the slightly sideways grin I saw so often.
“That’s amazing.” I looked up at him. “I didn’t know that you’re such an accomplished artist.”
“I didn’t have a way of easily doing drawings before. Now I do. I printed a copy for you.” He handed me the image on an eight-by-ten-inch sheet of glossy photo paper.
“The printed version is even better than seeing it on your laptop. It’s more detailed.”
“That’s because the laptop screen doesn’t display as many pixels as what my new printer can reproduce. Of course, it took almost five minutes to print. Thing is, most of the printing I’ll be doing will take a lot less time. Like a few seconds if I’d written a short story and had to print it.”
I looked at him. “I’m going to have this framed. Then I’m going to put it on the cabinet next to the TV in the family room. Do you think that’s a good place for it?”
“Sure. There’s good light there, but it doesn’t get direct sunlight, so it won’t fade.”
“When did you take an art class?”
“When I was in the sixth and seventh grades. But we didn’t have any way to make digital drawings that I could print like I can now.”
“So the class you’re taking now, that’s the digital art class?”
“Uh-huh. Digital Art is this semester. Then next semester, I’ll take Web Design.”
“Have you thought about taking a more advanced digital art class?”
“Yes. I think I’ll take AP Digital Design next year. It’s a full-year class, and I’ll also get college credit for it. Then when I’m a junior or senior, I can take AP Digital Design 2.”
“You constantly surprise me, Adam. And that’s a good thing.”
He grinned. “Thanks, Dad.”
“Do you have any more homework to finish?”
“Just some reading. I finished everything else.”
“Do you want dessert?”
“I don’t think so. I ate a lot of meatloaf. And we’re going to The Cheesecake Factory tomorrow night. I don’t want to get overweight and have to change my weight class.”
“I’d think if you did, it could be a big problem, right?.”
“Yeah, it could, but what’s worse is coach would really be mad. So, no dessert. Also, I’ll eat less during dinner tomorrow night and bring the rest home. That includes only eating part of my dinner and cheesecake.”
“That’s what I always do if I eat at a place that has oversized portions like Cheesecake Factory. So we’ll both have food to bring home. That means we won’t have to cook on Thursday night.”
“Dad, do you want to go to get my mother’s key now?” Adam asked. Do you have time?”
“Sure. It’ll only take us about fifteen or twenty minutes, anyway.”
We left and arrived at the Rios house. “Let’s let Mrs. Billingsley know we’re here.”
We rang her doorbell, but there was no answer. “She must be out,” Adam said. We went to what had been Adam’s home, unlocked the front door, and disabled the alarm. We turned on the lights, and we went into the kitchen.
“I’ll open the junk drawer,” he said, and when it was open, he laid on the floor underneath the drawer.
“I see the key. It’s taped to the bottom of the drawer with duct tape.”
He peeled off the tape and handed it to me with the key still stuck to it. He closed the drawer and stood, dusting off his jeans.
I pulled the safe-deposit box key off the tape and threw the tape into the trash can under the sink.
“Success!” Adam said.
“Anything else you want to check on or get while we’re here?” I asked.
“Nope. Let’s go home so I can play with my new laptop.”
We closed up the house and got home a little less than twenty minutes after we’d left.
“See, I told you it wouldn’t take long, didn’t I?” he kidded, and we laughed as we walked in.
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