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Flood - by Angela Mull  

Part 2/4
November 1990

Richie tossed his bags on the bed. It was a nice enough house, but he wouldn't live here for too long. He rarely stayed in foster homes for more than a year. He was tired of the whole routine, and although this couple seemed nicer than most, he wasn't about to get too comfortable.

As Richie stood in his new bedroom, he thought about what little he knew about the latest temp family. Grant and Sherri Davis were good-looking and in their mid-30s. Grant had a good job at a software company. Tall, muscular and quick to smile, he had short blonde hair cut close around his ears and light blue eyes.

Sherri stood only a few inches shorter than her husband, with shoulder-length chestnut hair that fell in waves against her face. Her hazel eyes glittered even when she didn't smile.

The couple had told Richie at the orphanage that they couldn't have kids of their own, and thought it would be nice to give a foster kid a home. Sherri said she would be able to spend a lot of time with Richie, since she was a full-time housewife.

*Just what I want, a baby sitter,* he'd thought sourly.

"Let me show you around," Sherri said brightly, her cheery voice contrasting with his bleak mood.

They had a three-bedroom house modestly decorated with art deco paintings and furniture. Richie smirked as he realized he was cataloguing all of their belongings by their estimated net worth. He couldn't help it; appraising the street value of people's stuff was something the small-time thief did automatically, although he usually checked out what was inside a person's car.

After they finished scoping things out, they went to the dining room where Grant laid out dinner. Richie's mouth watered at the sight. Big, juicy cheeseburgers, potato salad, pickles and potato chips. He sat down at the table and plowed hungrily into his food.

"I think this is going to work out fine, don't you, Richie?" Grant asked, smiling.

Richie offered a fake grin. "Sure thing," he said.

*Work out fine? Yeah, right. That's what they all say.*

***

Thanksgiving and Christmas passed quickly. Richie liked Grant and Sherri in spite of himself. They didn't try to make him into the perfect son or overwhelm him with any mushy crap. Still, he didn't want to get too attached, in light of what had happened at the other foster homes. Had he been overly-concerned with impressing the couple, he would have stopped stealing car radios to avoid the chance of them catching him and kicking him out.

Stealing was a habit Richie had developed when he was 13. He usually did it when he was upset about something, and lately he was upset about school. He couldn't seem to get higher than Ds and the occasional C, and the teachers made him feel like a moron.

Richie didn't think Grant and Sherri had any idea he was stealing, and he didn't care if they did. It was like he was daring them to find out and ship him back to the orphanage.

One day in January 1991, they found out. Richie was unfortunate enough to bust into the car of an off-duty cop who was quick on his feet and caught up to Richie only a block away.

Since Richie was a juvenile and it was his first recorded offense, the judge gave him probation. Lieutenant Powell gave him a speech. Now all that was left was for the Davises to give him a one-way ticket back to the orphanage. After all, that was what John and Becky Evans did to him after he got caught trying to steal a teacher's perfume when he was 8 years old.

When Grant and Sherri took Richie home and didn't speak to him on the way, he figured he was about to get kicked out, which was fine with him. It'd save him the trouble of getting hurt later on.

Once home, Grant sternly ordered Richie to sit down at the dining room table. Richie did, slouching in his chair, his head cocked to the side in a defiant manner. He stared coolly at the couple and waited to see who would be the one to say, "See ya."

"Richie, I think it's time I told you why we wanted to take in a foster kid instead of adopt a baby," Sherri said quietly. "I spent almost six years in and out of foster homes. My parents were killed in a car accident, and my relatives didn't want anything to do with me because I was having emotional problems."

Richie stared at the table. He'd never suspected that Sherri had been a foster kid. "What kinds of emotional problems?"

"I didn't talk," she said and stood up. He watched her walk to a window and look out, her back to him. "My aunts and uncles couldn't handle it. They could barely handle their own grief."

"So they shipped you off to an orphanage," Richie finished.

Sherri turned around, her eyes clouded with bitterness. "Yes. And I hated it. Even after I started talking again, I couldn't find a home where I fit in."

Richie nodded his head, amazed at how similar their experiences in the system were. "What finally happened?"

"I turned 18 and left. Spent the next six years going through college. I went on a scholarship and worked full-time to save money." Sherri paused and smiled at her husband. "Then I met Grant and we dated for four years before getting married."

Richie looked down at his hands, not sure where the conversation was going.

"Richie, I just want to help you. You can have a normal life. We'll give you a normal life."

Looking at her face, Richie saw nothing but honesty there, and it made his eyes smart with tears. Even after all of the disasters with other foster homes, he still dreamed about living like he really was one of the family.

"But I'm a criminal," he said.

Sherri walked over and knelt down on the floor by him. "You're not a criminal, Richie. You've made mistakes, but you can put them behind you." She placed a hand on his arm. "I'll help you."

"We'll help you," Grant added.

Richie nodded, too overcome with emotion to speak. Grant and Sherri weren't just offering to let him stay in their house, they were offering him a home.

***

Winter turned into spring, which turned into summer, which turned into fall. Richie watched each season change as though in a dream. He had never felt this at home with the other foster families. Grant was cool to hang out with, and Sherri...well, Sherri was the closest Richie had found to a real mother. Which meant that sometimes she was his best friend, and other times she drove him nuts. He squirmed when she asked about girl stuff, and didn't open up much about the other foster homes. That was one area he didn't feel comfortable sharing with her, and whenever she tried to coax him into talking about it, he backed off quickly.

She occasionally nit-picked him, but overall things were working out well. As time passed, Richie's grades went up and he stopped stealing. Life was going pretty smoothly until late November rolled around.

Night after night, Grant came home late from work, tired and cranky. The company he worked for was laying off employees right and left, and Grant was convinced he'd be next since he didn't have much seniority. To make matters worse, his mother was dying from lung cancer.

Richie saw how worried Sherri was, and did his best to lighten the mood for all of them, but he was at a loss for words on Thanksgiving Eve when Grant was told that his mother had died.

Grant and Sherri flew back to Kansas for a week, and when they returned, he was haggard and she exhausted. Richie did what he could for the couple, fixing dinner and cleaning up around the house. But he knew things were falling apart when he overheard Grant tell Sherri he'd have to clean out his savings account to pay for his mother's hospital and funeral bills. Grant was an only child, and his father was in a nursing home and had no money to contribute to paying for the expenses.

Richie heard Grant say he was worried about what would happen if he lost his job, since he'd have no money in savings.

Things got worse toward the end of the first week of December. Richie and Sherri sat at the table arguing about square roots when Grant came home and slammed the door. His eyes were bright red, and he could hardly look at his wife. She went to him and reached out, but he jerked back.

"Two weeks," he said bitterly. "They gave me two weeks' notice. I have to find another job. I don't know what to do."

Grant stormed off to his bedroom, and Sherri followed. Richie sat at the table, fiddling with the pages of his math book and wondering what else would go wrong.

***

Grant spent the rest of December looking for a job, but didn't find one. To help with the income, Sherri took a job as a sales clerk at a bookstore. Richie filled his time shooting hoops at a local boys and girls club. He'd offered to get a job, but Sherri said he couldn't because of his grades, and because she didn't want him to have to work. She said he should have some free time. It made him feel like he was a little kid, but he didn't argue with her. She was on edge enough as it was.

Christmas was a miserable affair. Despite the gifts and food, nobody seemed to be in the holiday spirit. Richie didn't know what was worse: watching Grant fail to find a job, or watching Sherri struggle to maintain a connection with her husband. Richie saw that no matter how attentive and patient Sherri was with Grant, he pushed her away.

Richie saw the household disintegrate even further a few days after Christmas. Grant stayed out until almost midnight while Sherri paced up and down in the living room. When Grant came home, his eyes were brighter than usual, and he was chattering excitedly about nothing in particular. Richie guessed right away that the man was using some kind of drugs, probably cocaine. Richie had seen people high on it, and they often acted hyped up like this.

Almost daily, Richie heard Sherri and Grant argue about the drugs. She'd ask him to admit he was using, but he wouldn't. Neither Sherri or Richie could prove it, either. They never found any trace of the stuff in the house.

Sometimes when Sherri questioned her husband, he got angry and yelled at her, which made Richie furious. But when Richie told Grant to back off, the older man would scream at Richie to keep his yap shut.

"What are we going to do?" Richie asked his haggard foster mother one night in mid-February. "He has to admit he has a problem or he'll never get help. Maybe we could check him into a clinic."

"No!" Sherri said sharply. "Richie, those places aren't going to help him unless he wants help. And right now he doesn't. I just have to be patient. He'll come around."

Grant didn't come around. In fact, he rarely came home at all. Meanwhile, money was in short supply. Richie knew some of the cash was funding Grant's new-found drug habit, and he didn't see any signs of Grant letting up. He watched as Sherri sold one of the cars, took out cable television and began holding weekly garage sales to root out extra cash.

Richie thought about leaving. All he had to do was tell the social workers what was going on and they'd yank him out of there. But he said nothing. He couldn't leave Sherri alone to deal with Grant. She'd been good to him, and he owed her more than that.

*** March blew in with rain and high winds, and Grant got hired as a grocery store cashier. Richie knew he only took the job to get money to feed his habit, but Sherri said the job would restore Grant's confidence and get him sober.

It didn't.

A few weeks later, Sherri asked Grant one too many times to seek help for his drug problem. Grant back-handed her across the face, hard. Richie saw it, and shoved the man backwards.

"What the hell's wrong with you? She's your wife!"

"Back off," Grant said. "It's none your business."

Sherri, still holding her face with her right hand, grabbed Richie's arm with her left. "Stop," she sobbed. "Please, Richie. Let's go outside."

Richie glared at Grant one last time before following Sherri into the backyard.

"We have to call the cops," he said, his voice shaking with anger. "This has gone too far. We've gotta get out of here."

"You should go," she said simply.

Richie's face scrunched up in puzzlement. "What do you mean, I should go? We should both go, before he does something totally nuts."

Sherri let the tears fall down her cheeks and didn't move to wipe them away. "I can't go, Richie," she said, her voice breaking. "He's my husband. My Grant is still in there somewhere. I have to stay with him. I have to help him."

"That's insane," Richie said, banging his fist on a tree and kicking at the grass. "What if he hurts you again?"

"He's hardly ever home," Sherri said somewhat bitterly. "He doesn't have the time to come after me."

Richie shook his head, his mouth set in a grim line and his face dark. "I'm not leaving you alone here with him. No way. I'm not going to let anything happen to you."

As Sherri wept, Richie held her, rocking from side to side as the thunderclouds overhead rolled across the sky.

***

Frank Morales turned into Richie's personal confessional. The man had encouraged Richie to hang out at the boys and girls club a few months ago and become a good friend. One day after they finished shooting layups, Richie found himself telling Frank about what was going on. It felt good to get it off his chest, and he hoped Frank would have some advice for him. Maybe Morales could tell him how to fix things.

"You have to tell the social workers," Frank said as they reclined on a bench.

"No way," Richie said, shaking his head and wiping the sweat from his brow. "I can't. They'll take me back to the orphanage, and Sherri will be all alone with him. He scares me, man. People do whacked-out stuff when they're high. Someone needs to stick around for her."

"Fine, but let it be someone else. Convince her to stay with a friend or some relatives, and get out of there."

"She won't leave him," Richie said, sighing heavily.

"And I suppose that means you won't leave her?"

Richie nodded and pulled at the tank top that was pasted to his back with sweat.

"Richie, I really think you should get out of this whole thing right now. And if you can't bring yourself to do it, maybe I'll do it for you."

Richie's head snapped over and he looked at Frank coldly. "Don't. I didn't tell you so you could go rat us out to the cops or the social workers. I came here because I thought you were my friend and wouldn't snitch. Was I wrong?"

Frank broke their gaze and picked at his tennis shoes. "No, Richie." He paused for a minute before continuing. "I don't like it, but I'll keep quiet. For now. But if things start getting really out of hand, I'm not making any promises. OK?"

"OK."

"And as for Grant," Frank said, standing up, "you better hope he wants to get help, and soon."


End of Part 2

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