But that’s not what he finds when he looks outside.
I read the message from Ashley three times to make sure I didn’t misunderstand. It read:
I could see why she sent me an email instead of phoning. Now I had to decide what new information I needed to tell Adam about her cause of death.
I had to talk to Ashley. It was probably too late to reach her at the Paradise police department, but I decided to give it a try.
“Paradise Police Department. How can I direct your call?”
“This is Rick Decker with Child Protective Services in Pleasant Hill. I’d like to speak to Sargent Ashley Allisonn, please. It is about the June Rios case.”
“I’ll see if she’s available.”
Well, that was positive! I expected that I’d be told that Ashley wasn’t in the office.
“Hello, Ashley. I’ve glad that I’ve reached you. I’ve been out today and just returned and have read your email. I read it three times to make sure I fully understand the implications.
“Is Ted Loaming considered a suspect? If so, did you know that he attempted to break into June Rios’ home again? He was found by the Walnut Creek police while attempting the break-in and was arrested for felony attempted burglary. He was carrying a handgun with a silencer, which is also a felony. He’s in the Contra Costa County jail in Martinez, awaiting his arraignment hearing next week. He’s currently being held under the terms of a no-bail warrant.”
“Excellent. I was not aware that he had been jailed. If it’s okay with you, I’ll say goodbye now so I can phone the Walnut Creek police department now and talk to Lieutenant Brian Jackson.”
“That’s okay, so I’ll say goodbye, too.”
“Thank you for calling with the information about Ted Loaming. Bye, Rick.”
The call ended.
I forwarded Ashley’s email to Jared and then printed a copy for my office file. The June Rios case was now in the hands of the police.
It also meant I’d be able to apply for a fast-track adoption of Adam, now that he had no known relatives. Ted Loaming’s claim that he and June Rios had been married was unsubstantiated. Adam’s grandmother had Alzheimer’s and is in a care home. And Adam had no other family members. So I could talk with Jared about starting the adoption process.
I’d need certified copies of Joan Rios’ death certificate. I’d have to follow up with the Butte County medical examiner to determine when and how many they would send.
I’d also have to show Adam his mother’s death certificate once I received it and once I’d seen what was listed as the official cause of death. When I talked to Jared, I’d ask him for ideas about doing that, too.
It was just before seven-thirty, so I returned to the family room to see what the boys were doing. They weren’t there, so I checked Adam’s room. They were playing a video football game, Adam versus Eric and John.
“Hi, guys. What are you playing?”
“Madden College Football,” Adam said.
“Does it work with three players?”
“Not really, but Eric and John have never played it, and I have, so this makes it more even.”
“More even?” John complained. “He’s like totally winning the game!”
“What teams?” I asked.
“They picked Stanford, so I picked Cal. That’s a good rivalry, and historically Stanford has won more games than Cal,” Adam replied.
“What’s the score?”
“Stanford 14, Cal 35.”
“See what I mean?” John said. “Adam knows how to play, and he’s wiping the field playing against Eric and me.”
“They’re getting better,” Adam said. “I’m real easy on them so they can learn how to pick plays.”
I looked at John. “Is that true?”
“Yes. But he knows lots more about how to play than we do. We suck.”
“Play a different game. A racing game, for example. You’d have to rotate players, so everyone gets a chance.”
Adam sneered. “I keep telling them that’s what we should do, but they’re being stubborn and want to learn how to play Madden Football,” he said. “Winning all the time is boring!”
“Watch TV, then,” I suggested.
Adam shook his head. “There’s nothing good on TV Saturday nights.”
“Yes, there is,” I said. “Football games. Real college football games. Maybe even Stanford versus Cal.”
“Let’s see if it’s on,” Eric said.
Adam switched his TV to show cable input instead of Madden College Football and selected the Pac-12 Network channel.
Adam was enthusiastic. “There’s no Cal game. There’s no Stanford game. But there’s a game with U.C. Davis — that’s the University of California at Davis, the university in the city of Davis where Eric and John live and go to high school. They’re playing Southern Utah. Let’s watch it in the family room. That TV’s got a lot bigger screen than mine.” He turned off his TV, put the Madden Football game away, and the boys rushed into the family room. Adam turned on the TV and picked the Pac-12 channel that had the game. The three boys were sitting on the floor, leaning back against the front of the sofa.
I sat in my recliner, and all four of us watched the game. At the first break for commercials, Adam and I went to the kitchen and got a can of root beer for each of us and a bag of Trader Joe’s Organic Blue Corn Tortilla Chips. The snack was relatively healthy; there weren’t any long chemical names in the list of ingredients for the tortilla chips and only a modest amount of sodium.
The game was exciting. Unfortunately, Southern Utah won 37 to 27. I say unfortunately because all four of us were rooting for U.C. Davis
After the game was over, I tuned to the eleven o’clock news. The boys said they were tired and would get ready and go to bed. I said good night to them and continued to watch the news, then showered and went to bed.
I was up at eight a.m. Sunday morning. I assumed the boys would appreciate something different for breakfast, so I put on a pot of coffee, prepared the batter for waffles, started frying a pound of thick-cut bacon, and warmed a bottle of real maple syrup in the microwave.
The first in the kitchen was Adam.
“Wow, that smells good, Dad! Can I help?”
“How about you set the table in the dining room?”
“Okay. Is it okay if I have some coffee?”
“Sure. I didn’t know that you liked coffee.”
“I like it when I’m having this kind of breakfast. Black, and only about half a mug, please.” I poured Adam’s coffee and handed him his mug.
The next to arrive was John.
“Bacon always smells so good!” he enthused. “Are you making waffles? From scratch?”
“Yes. Well, that’s a yes if you consider that I added oil, eggs, and milk to boxed pancake and waffle mix as making it from scratch.”
“Sounds about right to me,” he said with a grin. “Can I help?”
“I’m going to start making the waffles. If you’ll watch the waffle iron and when the red light turns green, that means it’s done, and you can let me know.”
“This is like the waffle iron we have at home. I know how to get the waffles out and put more batter in, so I can do that if you want.”
“Okay, stack them on the platter that’s in the oven. It’s set at the lowest temperature, but it’s going to be hot, so use a hot pad when you take it out and put it back. I’ll finish cooking the bacon.”
“Would you like some coffee?” Adam asked John.
“Milk or sugar or both or black?”
“Just black, please.”
Adam put a hot pad on the kitchen table for the coffee pot and got a mug for John. “Okay, coffee is ready for you to pour however much you want.”
Eric walked into the kitchen and looked around. “Who are all these strange people who are up and busy so early on a Sunday morning?”
“Good morning to you too, Eric,” I said.
“Sorry. Good morning, everyone.” He grinned and waved.
Adam looked at Eric as he sat down at the kitchen table. “You sound and look sleepy,” he said. “Do you want coffee?”
“Please. Just black. I hope this isn’t decaf.”
“It’s not,” I assured him.
Adam handed him a mug and pointed to the table. “The coffee pot is right here, so you can have as much as you want.”
John had taken over making the waffles. He added the right amount of batter to the waffle iron each time and transferred the finished waffles to the platter in the oven. He didn’t need my guidance.
Meanwhile, I’d rinsed a package of fresh blueberries and put them in a bowl on the dining room table along with butter and the warmed maple syrup. Then I put the bacon on a plate, and John brought out the platter of waffles, and put them on hot pads that Adam had put on the table.
“These platters are very hot. Don’t touch them, please. Rick doesn’t want to transport anyone to the ER to take care of their burned fingers,” John announced.
With that, we sat down, and everyone dug in, raving about how good the waffles were. “Especially with blueberries and real maple syrup,” John said.
“Since the rest of you fixed breakfast and I didn’t do anything but eat it,” Eric announced, “I’m going to be responsible for cleaning the kitchen. Except for the waffle iron. I don’t know how you clean it, Uncle Rick.”
“I’ll take care of that,” I said. “So, what do you guys want to do today?”
“Watch football,” Adam said.
Eric looked at John. “That’s okay with us,” Eric said.
“How about Tampa Bay and Miami?” Adam asked. It’s just getting started.”
Then Eric made an announcement. “If it’s okay, John and I will leave as soon as this game is over. That should be at about one-thirty or so. That way, I’ll be home early enough to drop off John at his house, then talk to my folks.”
“That’s a good idea, Eric,” I said. “Good luck getting together with your parents.”
When the game was over, Eric and John finished their packing and said goodbye to Adam and me.
“Good luck, Eric,” Adam said. He hugged Eric, then John. “Come back sometime soon, okay?”
“We will… now that I have a cousin to come and visit. I’m not forgetting my uncle, of course!”
“Eric, call or text and let me know how it went with your folks. And John, you’re welcome here anytime you want to visit.”
“Thanks, Rick.” We hugged.
“I’ll be thinking about you, Eric,” I said. “I think that it’s going to be okay when you tell your folks that you’re gay and that John is your boyfriend.
“If for some reason things don’t go well, you’re welcome here, and I’ll give your folks a talking-to and straighten out their thinking. And I’ll do it as a CPS manager. However, I don’t think that’s going to be necessary.”
After they’d left, Adam squeezed into the recliner next to me. It wasn’t squeezing ‘in’ because there wasn’t room for the two of us, no matter how much I moved to my left. He was half-sitting on my right leg and half-crammed into what little space was available on the chair’s seat. He put his arm around my shoulders.
“You’re a great Dad and a great Uncle for Eric. I just know that it’s going to work out for him and his folks.”
“Would you please do me a favor, Dad?
“Yes, of course. What’s the favor?”
“Help me get out of this chair!” We both laughed.
It was straightforward. I put my hands under Adam’s armpits and pulled him up. That popped him out of the space where he was stuck, and he stood up.
“Adam, remember tomorrow you and I are going to meet with Susan Gibbons, the principal, and with Marcus Richardson, the new vice principal, to talk about those three bullies. Tomorrow’s the day they are supposed to return to school.”
“Sounds like a good idea. Why are we meeting with the new vice principal after we’ve met with the principal?”
“We’re meeting with Principal Gibbons first because she and I had an agreement that we’d have a follow-up meeting after Arvin, Beasley, and Kilpatrick returned to school. Tomorrow is the appropriate time to have that meeting. Then we should meet the new vice principal.”
“So, out of the gate like three birds with one stone, right?”
“Okay, that means I’ll have to get up extra early because we’ll need to leave home at about seven-fifteen.”
“Yes, that sounds about right.”
“Then tomorrow afternoon, you’re going to pick me up at two-thirty to go to the courthouse in Martinez for the legal guardianship hearing. I’ll make a copy of the note you wrote for the attendance office and take it to Coach Green as long as we’re there. That way, he’ll know it’s official, and they can write me a pass. Or the attendance office could send a pass to Coach Green. If the office says that’s what they’ll do, I won’t have to give him a copy of your note.”
“That would simplify things, and you wouldn’t be delayed waiting to see him at the start of seventh period.”
I returned to the book I’d been reading on my Kindle app. I lost track of time until my cellphone ringtone played. The call was from a 503 area code. It was marked with a (2) showing I’d received a call from that number at some point. That made me realize it must be Eric’s new cellphone number. I’d have to remember to update his contact information on my phone. I checked the time — it was four p.m.
“Hi, Uncle Rick.”
“How’d it go, Eric?”
“You and John and Adam were all right-on about how my folks would react. They said they’d been waiting for me to tell them. They said they’d figured it out a couple years ago. Then when John started coming over and I went to his place a lot, that nailed it. They insisted that I ask John and his folks to come over, so I did, then they did. It was like a big love fest. It was so embarrassing!”
“Why was it embarrassing?”
“Everyone was crying. Happy crying.”
“Including you, of course!”
“I’m so glad for you.”
“You’re not going to say ‘I told you so’ then?”
“Nope. When you tell Adam, he’ll probably say it for both of us.”
“Ugh! You tell him then,” Eric said, and I heard him laugh.
“I think you should tell Adam yourself.”
“I agree. I was just kidding.”
“Did you get any rules and regulations about open bedroom doors and no sex and so on?”
“Yes. I don’t want to talk about it. It was the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to me in my entire life. Uh… hang on a minute.” I heard talking in the background. The last thing I heard in the background was, “Okay.”
Eric returned to the phone. “My mom wants to talk to you. I’m going to have her call you from her phone. I don’t want mine tied up for hours while you two talk about me.”
“Okay. Let her know.”
“I did. For now, I’ll say goodbye, and I’ll phone Adam. I love you, Uncle Rick.”
“Bye, Eric. I love you, too. I’m so glad that it worked out the way you hoped it would. And please say hello to John for us.”
“Thanks. It sure did work out! And I will say hello to John for you guys.” He ended the call.
My sister Beth phoned, and we talked for about a half-hour.
“Sean and I had suspected that Eric was gay when he was twelve years old. We were sure about it by the time he was thirteen. He’d never shown any interest in girls. Then when he and John seemed to be inseparable, that was the final proof for us.”
“Are you and Sean all right with Eric being gay?”
“Yes. These days it’s not a problem like it was when you and I were in high school.”
“I agree with that even though there are still a few homophobic kids that don’t like gays. Adam had a problem, but now it’s been taken care of by the school.”
“Regardless, we’re okay with Eric being gay. We didn’t want to out him nor confront him about it. We were waiting for him to tell us. John is out to his family, and Eric was out to John’s family but wasn’t out at home. We are friends with the Ito family, and we’d been talking about it with them, so it was very frustrating.
“I didn’t realize that they were doing it, but John and Candace conspired together, and she suggested to Eric that he and John should visit you, his favorite uncle. He took the bait, and they figured, correctly, that you and John would talk Eric into coming out to us. And it worked.”
“Adam was a big help, too. Eric saw how open Adam is about being gay, and he’s only fourteen years old. Anyway, Eric had a point of view that none of us supported, and we overwhelmed him with facts. He finally agreed to tell you.
“By the way, Adam suggested that he and John would be cousins-in-law.”
Beth laughed. “I don’t think it works that way.”
“That’s what I told Adam. But, it’s a cute idea, and it’s okay with me if Adam and John refer to each other that way.”
“I don’t see any problem with that. Well, we’re getting ready to go out to dinner, all of us. That’s nine people, the four in our family and the five in the Ito family. So, I need to change and make sure everyone else is presentable. Next time you can give me a call and tell me all about adopting Adam, which Sean and I think is wonderful. We want to meet him.”
“I’ll keep you updated on the adoption, and I’ll give you a call next week. In any case, we will be coming to your place for Thanksgiving, and you’ll meet Adam then. Please make me a motel reservation for two rooms for Wednesday through Saturday nights. Okay?”
“I think that could be a problem. I’ve heard from one of our neighbors that everything in Davis is already booked during Thanksgiving week. We have two guest rooms. Just stay with us.”
“Are you sure?”
“Okay. You have two roomies from Walnut Creek arriving the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and leaving the Sunday after.”
“That’s great. Okay, bye for now.”
We ended the call. I got up and went to Adam’s room.
“I have news for you.”
“Eric came out to his folks, and it’s all good. Right?”
“Exactly. And I didn’t tell him ‘I told you so’ because there was no reason to rub it in. I’ll leave that for you to do if you want.”
“Eric called, so I already talked to him. I didn’t rub it in.”
I told him about my conversation with Beth. Adam had been thinking about it and agrees that a trip to Davis over the Thanksgiving holiday would be excellent.
“We’ll be staying at their house, right?”
“Yes, we will. You’ll meet your aunt Beth and uncle Sean and your cousin Candace. And you’ll see your other cousin, Eric, again.”
“You won’t see John. His family is visiting relatives in Seattle for Thanksgiving.”
“I know. John told me before they left. It gives us another reason to go to Davis sometime after Thanksgiving.”
Monday morning, I took Adam to Lincoln High and found a place to park in the visitor lot near the administration building.
We walked to where I’d been to see Susan Gibbons the last time I was here. We stepped up to the receptionist.
She looked up and smiled. “Can I help you?”
“Yes. I’m Rick Decker from Child Protective Services, and this is Adam Rios. Ms. Gibbons suggested that I stop by to see her today. As I understand it, the boys who had been bulling Adam are returning today.”
“I’ll let her know that you’re here.” She spoke briefly on the phone.
“She’ll be right with you.”
A couple of minutes later, Ms. Gibbons came out of her office.
“I’m glad to see you, Mr. Decker. And this must be Adam. It’s nice to meet you. Let’s continue talking in my office. I invited Marcus Richardson, our new vice principal, to join us.”
She closed the door and we all sat down.
“I assume you’d like to talk about the return of Charles Arvin, Jack Beazley, and Ryan Kilpatrick.”
“Yes. I want assurance that Adam will be safe when he’s at school and won’t be attacked or hassled by any of those three boys.”
“I advised the parents of Arvin, Beazley, and Kilpatrick that any bullying by those three boys would result in immediate expulsion,” Mr. Richardson said.
“I saw Charles Arvin and his father walking across campus when he was here on Friday,” Adam said. “They didn’t seem happy.”
“Yes. I informed him that his attempt to force us to let his son return to school on Friday was not appreciated. The terms of the suspension order were obvious. Besides being suspended through today, none of the three boys can return to the football team this year,” Mr. Richardson told us.
Ms. Gibbons added, “The return of Arvin and Kilpatrick to the team next fall depends on having a clean record with no suspensions the rest of this year; Beazley is a senior this year, so returning next year isn’t a factor.”
“To be honest, Ms. Gibbons, I’m worried most about Charles Arvin. He was the ringleader, and I don’t trust him,” Adam said.
“The president of the Board of Education has mailed registered letters to Mr. Glenn Arvin and to his son Charles Arvin confirming that any proven bullying of any student at Lincoln High School by Charles Arvin will result in his immediate expulsion. The school district’s legal representative countersigned the letters.
“Also, I’ve arranged for some members of the football team to follow along with Adam between his classes. Members of the wrestling team will be with him in the cafeteria and follow along with Adam to his next class. I have a list of the boys who will do the follow-along with Adam. Here’s a copy for you, Adam.”
“What do you mean by ‘follow-along’ with Adam?” I asked.
“Vice-Principal Richardson and I felt that Adam would feel better if he wasn’t being guided from class to class. A ‘follow along’ means each boy assigned to Adam will follow behind him far enough that he can watch out for him, but it won’t look like he’s holding his hand as he walks him to class.”
“I like that,” Adam said. “That way, I won’t look like some defenseless little kid being taken to class.”
“As long as you’re sure, Adam,” I said.
“I’m sure. Anyway, we’ll see how it works.”
I thanked Principal Gibbons and Vice-Principal Richardson for their cooperation. We said goodbye, and Adam and I left.
“Now, we should go to admissions and see if they need to be advised that you’re going to leave early today.”
As it turned out, taking my note to the admissions office was required by the school. That way, they could verify that the absence was valid, prepare a pass to allow Adam to leave the campus, notify the teachers for the classes he’d either miss or need to leave early, and that it was approved. That was the procedure for any approved absence like our court hearing or a doctor or dental appointment or whatever.
The approval confirmed that I’d be able to pick up Adam at two-thirty. We’d have more time to find parking and walk to the courthouse in Martinez and arrive in time for our four p.m. court time. We might even be early enough to have a snack and something to drink before the hearing.
We had arrived early enough and the meeting was short enough that Adam said he’d be able to get to his first period class before it started at eight thirty-five without needing a pass. We said goodbye, and I left for my office.
As soon as I arrived at work, I went to Jared’s office. He was on the phone and gestured that he’d join me in a few minutes. About five minutes later, Jared came into my office and sat down.
“Hi, Rick. Do you have questions about the hearing today?” Jared asked.
“No. I’m all set, and so is Adam. Did you read the email from Ashley Allisonn?”
“Yes. I’m wondering if Ted Loaming had something to do with the drug injection — if there was a drug injection. It was a little ambiguous in her email.”
“I’m wondering the same thing,” I said. “However, the reason I wanted to talk to you is about Adam and is related to the email from Ashley. Should I tell him that his mother was poisoned and didn’t die from drowning? If so, when and how? What would you do if you were in my position?”
“Let me think about this for a few minutes, then I’ll come back to see you.”
After several minutes, Jared returned to my office. “I don’t know how to answer those questions,” he said. “Rick, I’m wondering if it’s necessary to tell him now. Is there a problem holding off for a while? Didn’t you already tell him that she had drowned?”
“Yes, I told him she’d drowned. If I wait, he might ask why I didn’t tell him as soon as I knew it wasn’t drowning?”
“Good point. But how would he find out when you’d known she’d been poisoned?” Jared asked.
“It depends on what’s on the death certificate. It could be listed as undetermined, or drowning, or murder caused by the injection of an unidentified agent, or something else. We won’t know until we get the death certificates later this week.”
“Would Ashley Allisonn know already?”
“I’m not sure. The thing is, I want to delay it as long as possible. So maybe it’ll be best if I wait until we receive our certified copies of the death certificate. Then I’ll tell Adam what’s listed as the cause of death, even if it’s not listed as death by drowning.”
“That’s good. You’re showing Adam that you feel he’s mature enough to learn the truth about his mother’s death. I think that’s important because of your relationship.
“On the other hand, if the death certificate reads death by drowning, you won’t need to do anything because you already told Adam she drowned.”
“Thanks. Just to confirm, that’s what I’ll do. I’ll wait until I get the copies of the death certificate. If it shows something other than death by drowning, then I’ll show it to Adam.”
“I think that’s best,”
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