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
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
*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
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
Richie looked down at his hands, not sure where the conversation
"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
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
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
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.
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
"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
"That's insane," Richie said, banging his fist
on a tree and kicking at the grass. "What if he hurts
"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?"
"And as for Grant," Frank said, standing up, "you
better hope he wants to get help, and soon."
of Part 2