It was shortly after 10pm when what I thought might have been the doorbell snapped me back from the nap I had slipped into. After 'one of those days' at work, and spending most of my evening doing all the last minute things a single parent does two weeks before Christmas, I was dead to the world. I had crashed in my recliner shortly after tucking my twin 14 year old sons into bed, to watch the local news, only making it through the first couple of headlines before nodding off. "Its exactly 32 degrees right now!" was the last thing I remember hearing. I had to shake my head a couple of times wondering if what I had heard was the door bell or the seldom used, more responsible side of my brain, telling me to go drip my outside pipes before they froze and burst. Bandit, our King Charles Spaniel's high pitched bark told me it was the door bell, all 22 pounds of his fighting weight storming down the hall to fend off whatever intruder was encroaching on his turf. Binki, our almost five pound Dwarf Rabbit right behind, covering his flank.
A second, seemingly longer chime of the doorbell further confirmed some fool was outside. Reminding myself not to be too harsh, that whoever it was had to be somewhere between slow and just plain stupid to come calling this time at night unannounced, I dragged my 50 year old slightly overweight bottom out of my wonderfully comfortable recliner and peeked out the front door's spy glass. I was totally unprepared for what I saw. A boy named Carl,about two years younger than the twins and a friend of theirs and frequent visitor in our home, was standing at my door. Wearing only jeans, a tee shirt and a light jacket, he was jumping up and down, shivering like a leaf in the wind. Forgetting to turn on the porch light I grappled around the door frame trying to find the emergency key to the door's deadlock finally getting the door open just as Carl struck his third, even longer chime of the doorbell.
The thin blond boy rubbed his hands against his upper arms and chest as he looked up at me with his 10 miles deep blue eyes that had always fascinated me. "Ah, are Jerry or Jeff home?. . . sir?" Still engaging my brain I started to tell him 'no stupid, my 14-year-olds were out partying all night like on any school night', but opened the screen door telling him to come inside out of the cold. As soon as he came inside and I got a look at him in a light room I knew this kid was in some traumatically major trouble. His face and hands were bright red, so red his usually bright freckles had disappeared. His hands and knees trembling terribly, those beautiful eyes of his blood shot. His tear wet cheeks and frightened looked made him appear more like a terrorized animal then the polite little boy that had visited us so often.
"God, come in here" I muttered, guiding him into the kitchen. He instantly pressed his frozen body against mine as I put my arm out, causing me to stiffen when his cold jacket touched my skin. I bumped the furnace thermostat up a few degrees as we passed it. "What are you doing out this time of night? Do your parents know where you are?"
He rolled those wonderful blue eyes up at me and started shivering even more. I put my hand to his forehead and almost pulled back, he was cold as ice! Guiding him into a chair I told him I would be right back, rushing to my bedroom and grabbing a comforter off my bed. I made him stand up while I removed his jacket and wrapped him in the comforter.
I had just started some instant hot chocolate in the microwave when I heard footsteps from the bedroom hall. "Pop, what's going on? Pop?" Before I could answer Jerry, one of my twins, appeared from a bend in the hallway. He sleepily shuffled a few more steps toward the kitchen before seeing Carl. He stared for a couple of seconds before seemingly snapping awake, rushing back down the hall calling out "Jeff, Jeff get up! Get up Jeff!!!" I had just poured Carl some hot chocolate when both twins came into the kitchen, clad only in their briefs and the orthodontic headgear that they slept in as part of their treatment.
Right after them my dad appeared. Also a widower, dad moved in with us about 3 years ago, a few months after I lost my wife and oldest son to a car accident. Besides being the twins' grandfather was sort of their 'nanny', caring for them when I was away at work. Anytime either the twins or I wanted to stir him up we just had to call him Nanny, automatically triggering a major blowup from the 77 year old retired Army Colonel and career Policeman.
Accepting this was going to be a LONG night I started more hot chocolate for the kids, coffee for my dad and opened a beer for myself. Carl started to thaw after his second hot chocolate (and probably the body heat from the twins, they were all over him) He wanted to talk to the twins privately but my dad and I insisted we know what is going on first, why did this 12 year old appear at our door late on a freezing night. It took a third round of cocoa before Carl would respond, when he did I heard what I thought at the time, but not for long, to be the most shocking story I had ever heard.
When Carl got home from school yesterday afternoon his parents were gone (which he was used to, they seemingly often disappeared for several days at a time) and the electricity to their house had been disconnected which also seemed routine to him. He did his homework on the patio, scraped up a supper of potato chips and crackers and went to bed. This morning he dressed himself and went to school as usual (If I remember correctly the overnight low was about 35 F that night). When he got home from school earlier today still no mom or dad, also no electricity, so he again did some homework on the patio, eating more chips and cold beans for 'supper'. The house got as he put it 'sort of cold' so he went to bed, but kept he kept getting colder and colder so he came here.
My dad and I stared at each other for probably a full minute in utter disbelief, all three boys giving us 'well? ? ?' looks, the twins flashing glances then almost glares at me. Finally I suggested "Carl you are still half frozen, let's get you a hot shower. Boys, get him a towel and find something to sleep in tonight, okay? And you two get some clothes on!" I'm sure the only time I have seen my twins happier was Christmas mornings as they escorted their still comforter wrapped friend down the hall.
Carl had always been something special to me every since he began hanging around the twins. A thin lad no more than four foot eight inches tall, short for his age, he just had a certain beauty about him, he was just cute. He in many ways was an exceptionally intelligent boy, but also immature emotionally seeming always to be staving for affection. Often when he would come to the house it almost seemed like he came to visit me, constantly under foot leaning against and seizing any opportunity for physical contact and calling me Pop. Although the twins were also small for their age he was an unlikely companion for my kids, two years older, but something jelled between the three of them.
He had stolen a pretty special place in my heart early on. It didn't take long before while he was at the house and I was leaving or returning when the twins lined up for a hug Carl fell in with them. I was sure his parents didn't have much if any money by his appearance, although he was always very cleanly he was most times in worn out clothes. The way he begged for affection I knew he didn't get much at home, but no one could treat their child like this!
"What are you going to do?" Dad asked breaking a long silence.
"Shit I don't know! I don't believe this is happening!" I responded snapping back from my thoughts.
"Well we have to do something. There is no way that boy is going back to his parents after this" Dad explained, the authoritarian snap from his military career returning to his tone. "It's only two weeks before Christmas, THIS IS NOT TO BE TOLERATED! THE THOUGHT OF. . ." he paused as if trying to calm down. "Well we've got to do something," Pausing again he continued. "I think you better call Tim."
He was right. Tim Young was an across the street neighbor and a high ranking supervisor with the local office of Children's Protective Services (CPS). Glancing out the window I was relieved that some lights were still on at Tim's house and after calling him he was at my door in about five minutes. When we filled him in on the night's events he suggested Carl be taken to one of his shelters at least for tonight. Dad and I both objected to this suggesting it would be far less traumatic for him to in familiar surroundings, with friends, could continue to attend school etc. (well on the second try dad didn't put it anywhere near that tactfully. . ) Tim thought for a minute and excused himself, saying he had to get a few things. To my surprise he was back in about two minutes with his laptop computer bag.
At Tim's request I asked the boys to join us. Jerry, then Jeff and finally a freshly scrubbed Carl filtered into the kitchen, the color and his wonderful freckles returning. Carl now wearing an oversized warm-up suit that belonged to one of the twins and was also wearing one of the most frightened facial expressions I have ever seen.
Tim was good with kids, better then I had any idea he could be. Tim and I, both old bikers (Pot smoking Harley Davidson motorcycle riders) were more like brothers then neighbors, both reluctantly being forced by marriage and childbirth to grow up and enter career and family life. We have been the closest of friends for over 20 years, ever since he moved into his house. He even rushed my wife to the hospital, his wife substituting for me as her birthing coach when she went into labor for the twins, as I was away. We used to even ride together before careers and little league games took over all of our free time. Tim, at 6' 2" showed his biker days much more then I. His size, slow deep, voice along with his no nonsense attitude made him the least likely child welfare professional I would have ever imagined.
After telling Carl who he was he showed him his CPS badge (something I didn't know he had!) and ID card. He clearly expected Carl and the twin's reaction telling them he was not a regular cop but a kid protection cop, he never busted kids just bad parents (he was great at getting them to relax, a skill I had no idea he possessed much less was such a master at) They calmed until he asked if there was somewhere he and Carl could talk for a minute. All three boys froze as if the final coming was upon them. Tim seemingly ignored their reaction, walking to our refrigerator withdrawing a can of beer. "Come on Carl, let's go talk" pointing toward our family room.
Tim talked to Carl then each of the twins for a few minutes each before returning to the kitchen. After powering on his laptop he turned to Carl saying "Carl, do you know what a foster parent is?" Only getting a weak 'sorta' as a response he continued "Foster parents are substitute parents, they take care of boys and girls like you, kids who's regular parents are having problems and need someone to take care of their kids for a little while, do you understand what I am saying?" After getting a frightened nod from Carl he said "Mr. Miller and Colonel Miller want to be your foster parents for a few days until we get things sorted out with your parents, how do you feel about that?"
Carl just stared blindly into space but the twins almost freaked out, jumping between my dad and I hugging us yelling 'YEA, WOW' and such. When we settled down at least somewhat Tim pulled Carl close to him saying "There is a catch. If I make Mr. Miller your foster dad that means for now he IS your dad. He's not going to replace your dad but just fill in for him right now, but you have to agree to do exactly what he says, just like Jeff and Jerry you are his son for right now. Is that what you want, can you live with that?"
Carl continued to stare at the wall for a couple of seconds before exchanging glances with one then the other of the twins, each of which my dad and I now were holding in an almost death grip. "Well, does that mean I get to live here?" he finally answered. I'm not sure if Tim had a chance to respond or not before Carl threw his arms around Tim's neck pressing his face against Tim's.
Tim perched Carl on his lap and after calming him down asked him questions about Carl's full name, birth date etc. entering all this into his laptop. Next he asked and entered two or three minutes of data about me, finally popping a floppy disk out. Calling the twins to him he give them the floppy asking them to go print it out. All three boys rushed into the family room, the closest printer.
Tim told my dad and I that he had given me an emergency, temporary foster parent license and had drawn up the paperwork for that and for my having custody of Carl. He explained this covered everyone legally and gave Carl Medicaid health coverage in case he got sick or hurt. "If this lasts more then a few days and you still want to keep him you will have to take foster parent training, background checks and everything, but that is no problem." he said, holding up his beer.
Shortly the boys returned with several pages of print out. Tim signed a couple of them giving me temporary custody of Carl. Saying it was getting late gently slapped Carl on the back of the head saying "see you soon, okay?" Finally, shortly after 1am I got everyone into bed and after starting Carl's tattered jeans and such in the washing machine, went to get some sleep myself.
The next day was just as busy. Dad and I somehow got the boys up, although I thought I might have to hire a winch truck to get them out of bed. I had several meetings starting at 7:30 that morning and somehow managed to function during them. About 1am1my cell rang. It was Tim asking how soon I could meet with his caseworker who was assigned to Carl's case. I joined Roy for lunch about an hour later and learned the latest chapter of what I was still wondering of how it could happen in real life.
Roy began by telling me Carl's dad had several arrest warrants outstanding for hot checks, which didn't really surprise me. They had contacted the landlord the parents were renting from and learned he had started eviction proceedings a few days ago, not any great surprise either. Then he told me earlier this morning, after interviewing Carl again at school he, Tim and the local police went calling at Carl's house equipped with a search warrant. As they went through the house it became apparent the parents had removed all their clothes and personal belongings from the dwelling; the furniture and such were still there but he was sure mom and dad had moved out. "We are sure they abandoned him. I think you should know too that Carl is failing three of his classes at school, his teachers think he is capable of doing the work but won't. We also found some things we are still evaluating, but Tim will be getting back to you regarding them." he concluded.
"What happens now?" I asked.
"Its somewhat up to you I guess," Roy began. "I have to inform you it looks like this could stretch out to be a rather protracted case, we don't picture placing Carl back with his parents anytime soon if ever. If what we found this morning is authenticated we suspect Carl needs to be moved to a Residence Treatment Facility. We could move him into a shelter or if you won't mind keeping him a day or so we can get him directly into a treatment setting."
I reflected briefly and not fully realizing it something inside of me responded "We don't think we it would be good for him to go through something like that over Christmas. I want to keep him until after the holidays. Can we do that?" Pausing I continued "If this is protracted as you predict, you will have to find a home for Carl, but not over Christmas. I can't take on raising another kid, but let's wait till after the New Year to move him."
"I respect your concern, but. . . Well I need to talk to Tim. The emergency foster parent certification Tim gave you is only valid for 10 days so I'm not sure if you can keep him until Christmas." I informed Roy that I, then correcting myself to say my dad and I, would do what is needed to assist in allowing the boy to enjoy as close as possible to a normal Christmas. He said he understood but asked me to talk to Tim before taking any action. "Tim has some details that I'm not authorized to discuss, please talk to him."
As we left the eatery Roy gave me a trash bag containing Carl's clothes and such they had recovered from his house. I worked less then an hour after lunch before saying screw it, with my mind a million miles away from my work. I wasn't getting anything done anyway so I went home. As soon as I got home I sorted through the bag Roy had given me, washing the few garments worth wearing and setting the rest off to the side. As I had often wondered, Carl only had one pair of jeans that were not worn so badly they would be rags to most kids, and even they were a size too small. Whenever he wore them to the house I couldn't help noticing they were skin tight, even showing the crack of his pre-teen biscuit butt. In a quick trip to Wal-Mart I bought a couple of packages of new underwear and socks, two pair of jeans and a couple of tee shirts for him, getting them washed and folded only about 10 minutes before dad and the boys arrived, dad having picked them up from school.
Carl was a totally happy kid when they got home interacting with everyone as if he was born here. As soon as they put their back packs in their bedroom they, as usual, with almost the speed of light, munched through what seemed like10 pounds of snacks and over a half gallon of milk. As usual the twins asked what was for supper - they would be hungry again within the hour.
They disappeared outside to play as I brought my dad up to date regarding my meeting with Roy and we began cooking supper. We had only begun discussing all that I had learned when the doorbell rang. Before either of us could move the door burst open and Tim, Carl slung over his shoulder like a sack of grain (and giggling like a two year old), entered, the twins right behind. "Get me a cold beer." he told Carl as he sat the boy back on his feet. One for Colonel and Mr. Miller too."
"How much does he know?" Tim whispered as Carl rushed to the frig. Shaking my head to tell Tim we had not talked. Carl appeared with beers for all of us. Accepting them Tim asked Carl a few questions about his day at school, picked on the twins a little then popped Jerry on the butt saying "You guys go play, I want to talk to dad and gramps." The boys went back outside as we sat down to the kitchen table.
"Girls, I know you want to protect Carl, but do you know we might be in for a long ride here? I think you could be getting in way over your heads." Tim began. "From what we found this morning Carl has been subject to some major abuse and his parents are going to face some VERY major legal problems when we find them. It's very possible Carl could vote a couple of times before he gets to see either of his parents outside of prison walls." he took a long swallow of his beer before continuing, "Based on evidence we found this morning we are sure Carl was subject to some frighteningly serious abuse, abuse that we know leaves terrible emotional scars behind. Christian, Colonel Miller. I think the boy needs professional help, we have treatment centers that can help kids that have been through what Carl has."
"Its Sam like its been since I met you, don't call me Colonel until AFTER you've pissed me off!" my dad barked. "Well you are close. . . Its two weeks before Christmas, this kid just had his world fall apart and you want to help him by locking him up somewhere?" Dad stood up before continuing "I know you are doing your job but, well NO! What that boy needs is a family!" Dad passed several more graphic adjectives that I'm not going to repeat on to Tim before he sat down.
Tim and I stared at each other for what had to be a couple of minutes before he said, in his best old biker voice "Dude, you know your getting into what might be a really bad trip?"
"Whatever" I replied, "You gotta do what you gotta do, can we keep Carl until after the holidays? Can you fill us in a little more?"
Tim studied me briefly before downing the last of his beer and continuing "Christian, if what we know is true is proven, Carl needs a lot of help and you are getting into some shit I'm not sure you have ever considered trying to deal with, losing Sherry and Sammy could end up being mild compared to what you could be getting into here." I stared at him in shock, Sherry was my deceased wife and Sammy (Samuel Miller the second, named after my dad) was the son I lost in the same car accident.
He got fresh beers for each of us. He scanned my face for what had to be at least a minute before he continued "Dude, you don't even want me to go any further!" Pausing again. "Okay, I warned you. We have evidence Carl was prostituted by his dad, probably multiple times, probably over the last year or longer." I had to fight down a mass of vomit pushing into my mouth as I digested Tim's words. "He needs help, Christian, to get over this." Tim concluded.
"He also needs support, and a normal family, someone to love him." dad answered. "He's a great kid, I don't care what some F*** Heads did to him everyone here loves him and he knows it." I became more confused, dad objected to cheek kisses from the twins, 'unmanly' he called them. He only used the word love when talking about my mother, I think the only time I even hugged the good Colonel was right after my mother, his wife died about 10 years ago. A hug he didn't return.
I recovered a little. "Do you think he could be a threat to the boys?" I asked. When Tim answered in the negative I paused before saying "Dad's right, Carl has had a lot of things done to him, he didn't do anything. What do we have to do to keep him over the holidays, do I need to get a lawyer?"
We talked for a few more minutes Tim carefully dodging my questions asking for more details about his investigation. I walked him across the street to his driveway, watching Carl playing happily with the twins, Timmy (Tim's 13 year old) and several other neighbor kids, just being an innocent little boy. "Tim, I know you are good at your job but you've got to be wrong this time." I commented.
He swung around, the snarl spread across his face made me think he was going to take a punch at me. Instead he turned away opening the door to his pickup truck. Pulling his brief case from behind the seat he withdrew an envelope and handed it to me, his expression relaxing. "You decide" he snapped. I was still trying to believe the several photographs of Carl, totally naked, in very provocative poses were real when he continued "These are from some floppy disks we found at Carl's home. We are waiting for confirmation but the FBI is all, we're but sure they are copies of just some of the pictures posted on the web, in the 'classified ads' and from a local IP. We are sure papa also whipped the shit out him more then once. " He gently moved me so I was leaning against his truck before recovering the photos. "Sorry dude, but now you know. Still think you can take care of him?"
It took a minute or so to recover, but I'm sure to Tim's surprise I said Carl WILL stay with us over Christmas. He surveyed me head to toe before saying "Okay dude. I don't think I would risk this with anyone but you and Sam, but I will make it happen." Pulling some more papers from his pocket he continued "This is the paper work for your background checks. There are two copies of an examination, one blank and one with answers. State Law requires you attend foster parenting classes before you are licensed" he explained. "You attended these with me over the last couple of nights, didn't you? Fill all this out and I will get you certified by the weekend, okay?" He informed me Carl would have to attend several examinations over the next few days, he would have Roy contact us before going in his house.
Dad was finishing supper when I went back in the house. I giving him an vague overview of my conversation with Tim. I left out the porn pictures knowing dad would come completely uncorked, I didn't want to see the top of his bald head pop off and ricochet around the kitchen.
Supper was wonderfully relaxed, the boys talking a little about their day at school, the only contribution Carl had was that Roy had called him out of class and talked to him for a few minutes. It wasn't until the kids were loading the dish washer I got to ask Carl what he thought of Roy, Carl just saying he was a nice man. Over the next couple of hours the kids did their homework, got their baths out of the way and such while dad and I started on Tim's background check and exam paper work. I was rewarded with a long hug and string of thank-you's for the new clothes right after Carl discovered them. We got the boys stuffed into bed about 9:30, allowing all three to sleep in the twin's room. I was please that as I tucked them the magic twinkle returned briefly to Carl's eyes, when I kissed his forehead I was rewarded with one of his sweet little smiles. I wanted to watch the news but after checking on the boys (all three of them crashed in the same twin bed) said screw it and all but dived into my waterbed. 'Please God' I thought as I lay down 'even if you need something from me, please let it wait until tomorrow!' I'm not sure my head had hit the pillow before I was asleep.
I have no idea what time of night but I stirred from my slumber as I felt Sherry's body press against mine. Still dreaming I grasp the wonderfully perfect butt cheeks I had missed for so long, holding on for a few seconds before snapping to reality. I cracked one of my sleepy eyes slightly open to discover it wasn't my lost wife in my hand but Carl. Jerking my hand away I stroked his forehead with my other hand until he opened his eyes asking "Hey turkey, you're supposed to be in bed!"
He looked at me wide eyed for a second before stuffing his face under my arm (the WORST place on Earth anyone would want to put their nose after today, I'm sure sewer plants smelled better!) I didn't have time to think toward an answer before Bandit started licking my leg and Binki, perched on my pillow, started licking my nose. "What's wrong?" I asked more to the group in my bed.
"Well, I'm well I'm sort of scared.. . . sir." He molded his body even tighter against mine before continuing "I really like it here but Roy said he's going to take we away but you said maybe I can live here some but. . ." he was crying so hard his tears were running down my armpit like I was in the shower. "Please sir, I will do whatever you want if you let me say here, please?" he whimpered, moving my hand back to his butt.
"Here he is!" Jeff yelled "He's okay!" I didn't get time to turn my head before Jeff did a dive on my waterbed landing right next to Carl, Jerry was right behind . Bandit jumped between the twins Binki hopping over my head to join them. Everyone instantly relaxed as if everything in the world was great. Carl rolled over and snuggled between the twins and I. I stared at them for a minute or so and rolled over, extending my arm across all three boys. Soon I drifted into what was almost the eternal rest, I don't think I have slept so well since Sherry and Sammy were ripped from my life.
My alarm clock rudely informed me I had not gone to join Sherry and Sammy as I had dreamed, that I had to report to work soon. As my eyes began to focus I saw a mass of kids and pets next to me, Binki staring back at me. He twitched his nose and said "Oink". - Binki (well Rabbits actually) "Oink" much like a pig, just higher pitched, when they are happy -
I slowly crawled out of bed, down the hall to the coffee pot. Dad soon appeared and we sent Bandit to wake the boys as usual, also one of his favorite daily 'chores'. I showered and dressed, surprisingly on time, for my usual 6:30 AM departure for work. As I left I asked Carl to walk me out to my truck.
"We didn't get to finish our talk last night." I began, wrapping my arm round his bony shoulder. "Son, I know things are completely crazy right now, they are for me and I'm sure 100 times that for you. Neither of us have ever gone through anything like this, right? I didn't get to respond last night, but for now, probably until after the new year you are going to live here. I should have told you but Mr. Young approved that before supper yesterday. Will that work?" He turned toward me thrusting his arms around me and pushing into a hug so hard he pushed me against the truck. I put my other arm around him as he began to sob. He was crying so hard I could feel my stomach getting wet through my coat. "Are you okay? You're going to live here while we sort all this out, okay?"
He pressed against me for maybe three minutes sobbing. "Thanks sir." he whimpered. With a little bit more composure he continued "I don't want to go back with my dad.. . I want to live here with you Mr. Miller. I'll be real good sir and I'll do anything you want, ANYTHING!"
Vomit began pushing against my throat as I thought back to Tim's pictures then Carl maneuvering my hand to his bottom last night. I just hugged him for a minute or two before, after some effort pried his head away from my stomach enough to tilt his head back making him look up at me. "Hey turkey, what happened to 'Pop' like you always call me?" I stroked the back of his head a couple of times before saying "You'll do anything I want to stay here?" he nodded yes, his eyes zooming in on mine. "What about trying really hard at being the best kid you can? That means trying hard at school and being the kid Gramps and always I love having here, can you do that?" He stuffed his face back against my body, pushing into another tight hug.
After whimpering instead of crying a couple of times he said "I love you sir... I mean Pop." I rubbed his back and shoulders for a few seconds before telling him I was late to work (about 15 minutes by now!) saying I had to go. He let go and walked back inside turning to wave a couple of times.
Thankfully things were fairly quiet at work, I resolved a few issues I should have yesterday, and actually addressing current ones as they came up the first couple of hours. I polished the forms Tim had given me last night and faxed them before nine o'clock. During lunch I went to a near by mall and purchased the first load of Christmas gifts for Carl, an expense I hadn't planned but oh well. That afternoon I caught some teasing from my co-workers. As a Civil Service employee at one of the local military installations we got away with doing a lot of things not job related while on duty, but wrapping Christmas presents in my cubicle was sort of a first.
Roy called me on my cell while I was driving home. He had made appointments with a pediatrician and a child psychologist for tomorrow and would be checking Carl out of school mid- morning. He also said he had told the school Carl was with us now.
To Be Continued…