Home Is Where The Heart Is

Chapter Two

Bert's side of the conversation was a bit on the scary side. It was all, "Oh God No" and "Will there be time for us to get up there?" And "We'll make arrangements and get up there as soon as we can." He turned around to Dan with tears streaming down his face, telling him that his mother was at death's door and the nursing home thought if they wanted to say their goodbyes, they should return to DC to be with her in her final hours.

Jake and I looked at each other and Jake was getting a little weepy himself, so I started to tell the guys that we'd keep our commitment and come back tomorrow and finish the back, when Dan cut me off and said that, as we had heard, they had to make a rush trip up to DC and they didn't know when they could get back, so they asked me to call home and ask if I, and maybe Jake if I wanted, could stay at their house for them and kind of keep an eye on it for them, like taking in the mail and keeping the pool filters clean. Making sure a few lights were on at night, to make it look like someone was home.

He said we could use whatever food in the house we wanted, and they would pay us for staying there. This way we would be able to talk on the house phone line with each other and they could let us know about their return and we could call them with any questions we had. He handed me the phone and he asked me to check at home to see if it was alright with our folks and if need be, he'd come and talk to them, but right now he and Bert had to get online to book their flights for this afternoon and evening.

Both Jake and I had been nodding through all this so he knew we were in agreement, and as he walked with Bert out of the room, I dialed a random number, cutting off the call as soon as they were out of the room and then began a fictitious one way call, just in case they could hear us from wherever they were. Jake was looking at me in a kind of awe as I carried on this imaginary conversation and when done I called out that all was well on the home front, all we had to do was go home and get some clothes for a few days and give their phone number to them so they could call us if need be.

Dan came back in the room and asked if we could come back about three and plan to stay from then on. They had a cab coming for them at three as they had been able to get seats on the four thirty flight to Atlanta and a seven fifteen flight from there to DC. They hadn't booked a return flight as they didn't know what they were going to find at the nursing home when they got up there, but they would call us in the morning to let us know what was going on. He said that he and Bert would have everything arranged for us when we got back.

We had just over an hour before we were expected back so Jake and I left our gear there and returned to the van and I drove us over to the museum where we had to wait a few anxious minutes before entering quickly. There were a bunch of tourists milling about on the museum dock and we had to wait until they moved off before it was safe for us to use our key and enter. After turning off the alarm we gathered our other big backpack and loaded it up with our laptops and clothing, even the dirty stuff. I figured we'd get a chance to do a load of wash if Dan and Bert were going to be gone for at least a few days. Once everything was packed, we made sure we had our perishable food bagged up and we then eased our way out, resetting the alarm behind us leaving a quickly cleaned space behind us.

We returned with about fifteen minutes to spare, but I knew that Dan and Bert would want at least that amount of time to go over stuff with us before they took off. I had parked around the corner again and once the van was again locked up, I took the loaded backpack up and we went to the big house on Eaton street.

Bert and Dan had also spent our separated time packing and one of them had written down a couple of important numbers for us on a pad left on the kitchen counter by the phone. Each number was labeled, everything from the phone number of the house in Alexandria they would be staying at (Bert's mother's home), the nursing home his mother was in, a lawyer friend of theirs here in town, to the phone number for a pair of friends of theirs also here in town, Rusty and Glenn. I took a baggie I had packed from our backpack. It had granola bars, a couple of candy bars with nuts in them, and two packets of tissues, I had thought that they might be so rushed they wouldn't stop to eat something, and the tissues were for, well, they seemed like such caring guys I thought that considering the reason for their trip they just might need them along the way. Jake and I had used almost all the other packets from a multi pack during our own Mom's wake and funeral.

They were very appreciative of this small gesture on our part, but then Dan went over a few things on his own list, like how to adjust the central air in the house, where in the shed the clean filters for the pool were, if they needed to be swapped out instead of just being rinsed off with the hose, and where the washer and dryer and a chest freezer were in a converted pantry off the kitchen hallway. They thanked us a lot for agreeing to stay until they got back, so much that I felt weird that they didn't know just how much they were helping US out by letting us stay here if just for a few days. Just before their cab pulled up out front Bert put about two hundred dollars by the pad near the kitchen phone, telling us to use it for whatever came up while they were gone and that they would call us tonight once they got settled in the Alexandria house.

Then they both did something we didn't expect, they hugged us both, thanking us again for helping them out, just as the cab tooted to let them know it was there to take them to the airport. We walked them out to the front curb and stood and waved them off as the cab pulled away. I put my arm around Jake's shoulders as we slowly walked back up to the front door and I swear we both had tears in our eyes as we did so.

We had been told to use any of the unused bedrooms in the house, so we took our big backpack upstairs to the second floor to pick out where we would be sleeping on real beds for the first time since we had fled from Derrick. Jake liked the smaller single bedroom at the far end of the big hallway, and I chose the double bedroom just down from that one with a full bath between them. Once we had done that, we gathered what needed to be washed and we went to the laundry room and began our load of wash, wanting to get that out of the way. Jake ran out and got our swimsuits and beach towels from earlier and I tossed them in too. Then we went into the kitchen and checked out what was in the fridge for dinner.

There was a whole chicken on a plate in there, obviously what the guys had planned for their dinner, so I checked the label one of them had saved on the plate and figured out we had enough time to roast it in the oven along with some potatoes that were all washed and on the same shelf as the chicken. Once I had the bird in the oven, we took a walk around the first floor of this big house. There were rooms that were very formal, loaded with antiques, and some very casual, like the TV room where we got to watch our first shows in over a week on a big TV. During the local news, we learned that Derrick had been arrested for drug use and possession, while at work with others on his road crew. Jake said that he wouldn't be surprised if his co-workers had turned him in if he was as nasty to them as he had been to us, I had to agree with him on that one.

Once dinner had been eaten (man that chicken tasted so good) and the kitchen was once again spotless, we settled in again to watch some more TV before bed. We talked about Bert losing his mother for a while and we decided we would try to think of something nice to do for him, since we both knew about the loss of your only real remaining parent (we didn't count Derrick as a parent), and just as we were making sure there was a visible light on from the outside and the house secure for the night, the house phone rang and it was the guys calling to check in with us. Bert's mom had suffered a stroke, and they had given her some new drug that was supposed to halt the aftereffects of stroke, but she was so out of it by the time they had reached her they wouldn't know until the next day if she was going to pull through.

I tried to be as reassuring as I could over the phone and Bret seemed to appreciate it. I told them that Jake, and I were going to finish the backyard spaces tomorrow and then maybe just hang out around the pool for the afternoon and maybe stop at the library before it closed. Dan spoke up and said that if we did go to the library, he had a book that he should renew, and could we do that for him and I told him I was pretty sure I could handle that for him. They left it that they would be in touch tomorrow night, just about the same time, they thought.

Jake and I got a really good night's sleep, and, in the morning, we were raring to go, so after a light breakfast we tackled the backyard. As I said before there really wasn't much grass to cut back there, but what there was done in about two hours, and after dumping the cuttings I helped Jake with the flowerbeds. There must have been a dozen of them or more and that took us to midday to get looking really good.  We both noted that there were some shade-loving plants in full sun and vice versa and we made the suggestion on paper that we could move them around if the guys wished us to do so.  We swam for a bit and after that, we made our lunch and cleaned the kitchen good after that was over.

We dressed into some of our newly cleaned clothes and went to the library to renew Dan's book and I had a plan now in case either of us wanted to check out something for ourselves. I didn't dare use one of our own library cards from the branch in Big Pine, but should we find something we really wanted to finish tonight or tomorrow morning I could just add them to Dan's account when we renewed his book.

I know, I know, it wasn't the right thing to do, but it was only for 1 night.

As it happened, we didn't need to check out anything, but it was a good afternoon. Jake got to spend some time with his friend Jim, and I read the last chapters in a duplicate book of the one I owned at home, but had forgotten to pack in the backpack when we took off. When we left the library, we walked back to Dan and Bert's, talking over what we should fix for dinner, and Jake asked if we shouldn't eat the leftovers of last night's dinner, not wanting to leave a trail of leftovers for Bert and Dan to come home to. I agreed he made sense, so I set the rest of the chicken and some of the already baked potatoes in the oven to reheat and a can of green beans in a saucepan to heat up. For basically a meal of leftovers, it was a good meal, and I thanked Jake for suggesting it. Once again, the kitchen was spotless as we left for the comfortable room with the big TV in it.

We were watching the evening news when the weather report caught my attention. The report said there was a strong chance that a category 2 hurricane would turn up in the next few days. The storm had formed off the coast of Mexico in the Gulf of Mexico, and looked like either a direct hit near Tampa on the mainland, or a shift could happen and it could end up hitting the Florida Keys directly, with the Dry Tortugas and then Key West taking a head-on hit. The report further stated that sometime in the next twenty-four hours they would have a much more definite idea of where the storm was heading.

Jake was looking a bit worried, but I reminded him we were in a house that had been around for well over a hundred years and had withstood all the storms that had occurred during that time. He relaxed a bit and then came our nightly phone call from Dan and Bert. Bert's mother was not doing so good after her stroke the other day and Dan told me that he didn't think she would last the night. I didn't want to add to their worries, but I went ahead and asked him what we should specifically do in case the new tropical storm did come our way. I wrote down what he asked me to do and then he thanked me for being mature enough to handle all that, but if we needed help to remember they had left us phone numbers for two guys he thought would be glad to help Jake and I do the storm prep.

On the list of the important things to do was take in all the patio furniture and get it into the pool house, the shed, or in the housekeeper's cottage, since that was unoccupied right now. The second thing was to secure the window shutters in the closed position. These were the solid wood exterior shutters on all the exteriors, including the shed, pool house, and the cottage. I figured out that the furniture outside should be dealt with first, and then securing the outbuildings. We would need the light from the windows to stow the furniture correctly in the spaces we could find for it. The loose flower pots could also go in the outbuildings and the ones from the front porch could go in the big entry hall in the main house, as well as the  rocking chairs from the big porch out front. With a plan in place I was able to fall asleep and, in the morning, we began our full day of storm prep after checking the weather forecasts.

Yes, it sure did look like we were getting some bad weather in a day or two, as the storm had shifted in the gulf and was now coming toward us over warm water, which could bump it up to a category three or four. So, I made the decision for us to try shifting all the big stuff into the roomiest spot first, the cottage. Down came the sun umbrellas for all the five patio tables and we lay them behind the sofa in the smallish living room, then the tables themselves. These were awkward, but not excessively heavy so we toted them in upside down and were able to stack them, putting the biggest one upside down first and then the next size and so forth until they were stacked neatly, and we now had room for the chairs. You've all seen or had these aluminum furniture pieces, so you know they aren't heavy, and we were even able to stack the chairs, so we had plenty of room for almost everything in the cottage as far as the furniture went.

We needed a rest after all that but not a long one as now we needed to gather the pool stuff and get that all into the shed, so floats, skimmers and the water vacuum were gathered up and undercover even before I had figured out the cover for the pool. Dan had told me the key for the motor for the cover was on a nail just inside the shed and once I started it the thing groaned a bit, but the cover started inching over the pool and we even had time to get about ten good sized pots into the shed before the cover was in place and the whole pool and its surrounding patio was covered.  We ate some lunch, even though it was only about eleven as we really wanted to get started on the front porch pots and chairs but I soon realized that most of the pots weighed about as much as I did, so while Jake brought in the smaller pots and put them on a rubber mat with a plastic cover on it in the big hall I went to the phone in the kitchen and called those two guys Dan had left the number for, Rusty and Glenn. A deep voice answered the phone and when I explained that I was Terry and I was one of the brothers house sitting for Dan and Bert the voice softened and he said he was Rusty and what could he do to help.

I asked if he was familiar with the big potted plants on the stairs leading to the front porch and he said he was, so I explained that I couldn't shift them into the front hall as Dan had asked. He told me not to worry, that he and Glenn would be right over to help. I thanked him and then went to help Jake move the ten rocking chairs into the hall, leaving them on the wood entry floor and the plastic and rubber mat for the rest of the pots. That took us about 20 minutes and by the time we were done with that these two guys, about Dan and Bert's ages came up the front walk. I couldn't believe it, one of the guys was a friend of our mother's, and I guess Jake recognized him too as he ran down the front stairs and threw himself at "Uncle Red", with me following close behind. I guess us calling him Uncle Red made him realize just who we were as we were all hugging and weeping in no time. In a moment or two, we could feel arms around us three, guiding us to the front stairs to the porch, it was the other guy, Glenn.

Red first spoke coherently, Jake and I still a bit shocked that someone who we knew as little kids was still around, and we wouldn't have even known if we hadn't been at Bert and Dan's. Red explained that he went as Rusty now, and had done so for several years. He said how sorry he was about our mother's death and that he never got to come to her wake or funeral as he was still working then. Then he had some hard questions, what were we doing here in Key West? What were we doing at Dan and Bert's, where was our ugly stepfather? Glenn suggested we get the big pots moved inside, then we could all sit down, and he could get introduced to Red's boyfriends.

Glenn was a big guy like Dan, but I guessed a bit stronger as he hefted up one of the pots and asked where I wanted it. I showed him to the spot reserved for the big pots and he had them all inside in a few minutes.  While he and I were doing the pots, Red (Rusty) and Jake were in the kitchen putting together a snack for us all and Glenn and I joined them there after the pots were all safe indoors and I had shaken the plants to make sure no lizards had come indoors as well.

Once we were all sitting at the kitchen table Rusty introduced Jake and me to Glenn, who he introduced to us as his husband. Rusty explained to Glenn that we were the sons of his friend Terry who had died just about a month ago. Glenn asked if we were the boys in all the pictures in their living room and Rusty told him we were.  Rusty told us he used to be in a lot of drag shows here in town and I remembered sometimes Mom would be shopping with us at a resale shop and hold up a scarf or a dress or gown and say how much Red would like that and buy it.

Glenn asked if we had moved to Key West with our stepfather, and I guess Jake was so excited to see Rusty that he just blurted out that we hated him and we had run away a few weeks ago, after Derrick had punched me in the back and tried to beat me, but I had knocked him out cold and we had taken off. The two guys sat back in their chairs, absorbing what Jake had just blurted out. Finally, Rusty asked me if I was hurt and I told him it was sore for a few days and Jake piped up and said that there was still a bruise there and Rusty made me pull up the back of my shirt to show them the big area on my back I didn't know had even discolored.

I heard a few clicks and then realized the two older guys were snapping shots of my back on their phones. Rusty said to Glenn that the blotch looked even bigger than the shot that Dan had sent them of me the other day when we were all out at the pool. Glenn wanted to talk some more, but I reminded both him and Rusty that we still had to get all the windows shuttered and Glenn suggested that since they lived in an apartment around the corner, and everything was done by their maintenance crew there, he thought we should all ride out the storm here. He speed dialed Dan, and they talked in another room for a few minutes and he came back and handed the phone to Rusty and Rusty walked into another room and Glenn came back to us at the table and told us that Bert's mother had just passed and they didn't see themselves getting back for a week or more.

So, while Rusty and Glenn left to pack themselves a suitcase to bring back, Jake and I began upstairs to open the windows and close each one's outside shutter and then shut and lock the window and move on to the next. We were half way through the second-floor windows when they returned and brought their suitcase upstairs to pick one of the bedrooms for themselves to use. They got themselves settled in and then pitched right in helping to get the house secured and then we went out to the outbuildings, and the cottage windows were the same as the house and the shed had a big drop down one that had to be screwed into place, and the pool house had a sheet of plywood that slid into a track and then was screwed down in place.

Since one of the first things to go in a big storm was the electricity, we checked on the whole house generator and found its backup batteries showed a full charge and that someone, probably Dan or Bert, had stowed back up fuel in sealed containers within a protected box in the corner of the enclosure for the generator. Now we all moved into the kitchen and saw that Glenn and Rusty had brought a whole bunch of food with them as well. We all sorted what they had brought on the countertops and compared that with what was in the house already, deciding on what we should cook while we still felt like cooking meals from scratch, and maybe cooking more things that we could make other meals out of later in the week.

We all did a bit of cleaning up and then Rusty and I started cooking and Glenn and Jake went to check up on the late afternoon news until we had dinner put together. We tried to use an assortment of perishables and as Rusty went through the fridge he came across the carcass of the chicken I had been going to make chicken salad from, once I had scraped the last of the meat off it to use for sandwiches. Rusty plucked a piece of the meat off to nibble on and he said he hadn't tasted chicken like that in years and I admitted I had cooked it the other night. He said my Mom had made chicken that tasted a lot like that, and I told him she had taught both Jake and me a lot of cooking skills before she died.

Rusty and I talked a lot while we cooked various things and he told me what he had done for a living, not that I hadn't guessed some of it already. He told me he had performed in drag shows in the gay clubs here in town for many years, and I told him about going shopping with Mom and her buying things for him. He said that until she started dating Derrick, they had been very good friends, but no one in their group of friends could stand Derrick, but my mom had cleaned him up and got him back to working a legitimate job and none of that had really improved him at all. He was very arrogant and self-important, but that was the kind of guy my mother went for. Rusty told me about meeting Glenn a few years ago while Glenn was doing his walking patrol through the neighborhood the gay bars were in.

I kind of made a shocked sound, and Rusty laughed and told me he wasn't a patrolman any longer, he was a detective on the police force, and they had married and Rusty had "hung up his heels"(retired) at the same time. He now worked as a social worker, something he had gone to school for years ago. All he had needed was a few refresher courses and he was able to obtain his certificate to work for the state of Florida, helping kids in the system of the Child Welfare Department.

Over our very unorganized dinner (we had cooked a lot of different things to make sure nothing in the fridge was going to go bad or just to waste), Jake and I were encouraged to tell Glenn about our previous life with our Mom, and how that all changed when Derrick came into the picture, with Rusty filling in the gaps. Not exactly good dinner conversation, but as Rusty said, we were going to be spending at least a few days together and if we used these "sit down times" to get to know each other it would help us all to take our minds off the storm we were expecting to shake things up for a while. Rusty and I let Glenn and Jake handle the clean-up and we went to the TV room to catch the latest news and weather reports. At one point we both burst out laughing as Jake was telling Glenn that he hadn't cleaned the counter near the stove good enough and to do it right or we'd have a bunch of bugs invading us.

Rusty and I learned the storm was definitely coming right toward us and we'd start to experience storm force winds sometime late in the day tomorrow. The forecasters were predicting a head-on hit, which in a way was good because as in most hurricanes the most damaging winds and rain were on the right side of a storm, but that didn't mean we were in the clear, we could expect winds up to 110 miles an hour for sustained amounts of time and possibly three to four inches of rain in the two hours it would take for the top currents of the big storm to cross the island, then a calm period as the eye of the storm passed over us, then reversed winds and more rain as the rest of the storm also passed.

About a half hour after the news the house phone rang, and Jake answered in the kitchen and called out it was Bert and Dan. He filled them in on our dinner and then he passed the phone to me and I told them that the house and outbuildings were now all secured and we had checked out the generator and we were just about ready for anything the storm could bring us, that we still had water to get from the store tomorrow,  and that is when Bert told me to look in the front hall closet and I might not have to go to the store after all. I told him how sorry we all were about his mom passing and then Dan asked to speak to Rusty and Glenn. While they talked, I took Jake and we went to the front hall and after moving some of the stored rocking chairs out of the way we opened the big front hall closet and saw it had about ten five-gallon bottles of water and case after case of regular bottles of water stored in there.

The realization we had back up water was such a relief. The generator would only supply power to the house, not the city's water pumps which ran the drinking water through the pipes in the house, nor the water necessary to flush the toilets, so having the big 5-gallon jugs to use to flush, and the bottled drinking water to drink, wash up, and cook with was a huge bonus. Of course, I then thought that maybe we shouldn't waste the five-gallon jugs on the toilets, I could always retract the pool cover a bit and scoop out pool water to flush with. I went to tell Glenn and Rusty my thoughts and they were just finishing up with Dan and Bert on the phone.

They thought that I had come up with a really good plan so Glenn and I went out to the shed where there were two of the empty five-gallon jugs and we took them up to the bathrooms we would be using and we filled them from the tub faucets and left them there for when we might need them, no need to lug bottled pool water up through the house to the upstairs bathrooms! Now all the water stored in the hall closet could be used for drinking, washing and cooking.

We sat around the TV room watching a few shows and also the updates on the hurricane scrolling across the bottom of the screen. The estimated "hit" time was now late in the afternoon tomorrow. That was for the outer bands of the storm with the "bad" stuff hitting during the evening. Rusty suggested we select some videos to watch from Dan and Bert's extensive collection, and Glenn said he would most likely get called in to do something tomorrow morning, but during the storm itself he expected to be here at the house with the rest of us until he got notified he was needed for some kind of duty after the storm force winds died down. He had brought a police scanner with him, as well as a multi band shortwave radio. And he had located three regular radios in the house already, so we all could keep up with what was going on outside as the days went on.

In the morning, after breakfast was cleared up, Rusty took Jake and me for a walk after Glenn reported for duty. We were walking around the block and then stood and watched as  a work crew installed the storm shutters on the library. We realized that the building was still open to the public and as we got closer we saw that they were closing at noon according to a big hand-printed sign on the front doors.

Rusty suggested we might want to select some DVDs of our own from the extensive age-appropriate selection they had in the library and I had to ask if he had a library card and he said he never left home without it, and we could check out whatever we wanted on his card.

Once inside, the place was a bit busy with people making their selections to tide them over during the storm and for the few days, everyone hoped the library would only be closed for because of the storm. Jake and I went to the kids' room where I went to the young adult section and he went to the youth section to see if anything caught our attention. I found three movies and three books and Jake came and asked me about one of his choices and it was then that we saw his friend Jim curled up on one of the window seats fast asleep. The window was now shuttered, but we could clearly make out that Bill had a couple of bad looking bruises on his cheeks and angry looking red blotches on his arms, some of them even going up under the short sleeves of his T-shirt.

Jake looked up at me and then the sleeping Jim and he started crying, the tears streaming down his cheeks. I kept my arm around Jake's shoulders as I thought this through. Jake had told me all about his buddy and I knew that Jim lived with his mother in a really poor part of Key West, one that I kind of was familiar with as I had been with my Mom when she had made certain curbside purchases in the past. Jim had told Jake that she was barely functioning at the best of times and she got really abusive toward Jim when she was high, and it looked very much like last night she was really high just judging by the amount of bruising on Jim today.

This was beyond what I alone could fix, I mean if Jake and I were still alone I would have walked him out of there with us, but somehow things had taken an unexpected turn and we now had not one, but two adult couples looking out for us. Was it fair to ask them to look after one more? One more look at Jim and I knew what I had to do, so I whispered to Jake to sit with Jim and if he woke to just hold him there, I was going to get Rusty to have him help us with Jim. Jake nodded up at me and then I used my T-shirt hem to dry his tears and told him I'd be right back.

I found Rusty looking through the DVDs in the adult section and he looked at my worried face as I approached him. He asked me what was the matter and I told him that a friend of Jake's had a problem and I thought we should try to help him out in some way, but I needed to give Rusty some background first. We moved over to the farthest row of the stacks (rows of bookcases holding the books in the library's collection). I explained about Jim and what we knew about him and how attached he and Jake were and when I got to the part about the condition we had just found him in Rusty told me to take him to Jim right away, just so he could make sure Jim didn't have a concussion or worse.

I led him into the children's section and over to the window seat both Jake and Jim were now sitting on, Jake had his arm over Jim's shoulder and Jim had his face on Jake's shoulder, I'm sure filling Jake in on what had happened.  Rusty pulled one of the small chairs over to them and sat right in front of Jim and held both of Jim's hands and asked if he could look at his contusions. Jim finally smiled and asked what those were, and I told him that our friend wanted to look at the bruises and into his eyes to make sure there wasn't more damage than what was just visible. Jim slowly nodded and Rusty was introducing himself as he tilted Jim's head one way and then the other under the overhead light in the window seat, and then he looked at the visible contusions and asked if Jim would just lift his T-shirt up a bit. There were signs of Jim having been slugged in the belly as well as the visible places we had seen and then Rusty did something really nice, he held Jim close to him and told him that nothing like that would ever happen to Jim again, he could promise him that.

I'd say that within fifteen minutes Glenn had arrived after Rusty had called him. Rusty had also called his boss at the local office of the Children's Services Department and Glenn and Rusty went off in a corner of the room and talked for a few minutes, Rusty forwarding the pictures he had snapped of Jim's injuries to Glenn's phone, and them having a heart to heart discussion as this went on. Glenn left to meet with the investigator for Rusty's department and Rusty talked to Jim for a few more minutes and then had an armful of Jim. Rusty and Jim both calmed down and came over to the table Jake and I were sitting at and told us it had been arranged for Jim to come stay with us at Dan and Bert's, for several days.

We all checked out our choices on Bret's library card and we walked back to Dan and Bert's where Rusty asked Jake and me to help Jim pick out a bedroom for his stay with us. Over the next few hours I learned that Jim's mother was arrested on several charges and placed in the county jail until she could be arraigned after the courts were open again after the storm, but a judge had OK'd that and the removal of her parental rights, as there was no father in the picture, nor had there ever been. Rusty and Glenn had been appointed his temporary guardians and after the storm, paperwork would be filed for them to become his permanent guardians.

I must have looked like I was forcing a smile when I congratulated Rusty, because he held me close and whispered to me that other plans were already in the works for both Jake and me, but he was sworn to secrecy and couldn't tell me what, at least until Glenn was home, or Dan and Bert called. That certainly had my interest, but I instinctively knew that Rusty wouldn't budge an inch and reveal anything to me just then, so at his suggestion the younger boys and I went around the grounds of the house, making sure anything left lying around that the wind could pick up was secured in either the pool pump house or the shed. I took one more, empty five-gallon jug upstairs and filled that one from the tub faucet, figuring we now had one more person that would possibly need water for flushing if the city's power did go out.

It's funny how when you are distracted time seems to go either slowly or faster, and before long it was four in the afternoon and Glenn came in from work, telling us he was officially off until after the storm unless something really bad happened and he got called in. He sat us all down and explained that two arrests had been made today that he was directly involved with, along with some of the Deputy Sheriffs for the county. One was the arrest of Jim's mother on several charges and a judge had removed her parental rights, she was being held without bond until the courts opened again after the storm passed. The second arrest was of Derrick. Virtually the same charges, including another drugs charge. He had been out on bail for his first arrest on drug charges, but now there was evidence of child beating, child neglect, and felony theft. It turned out that he had tried to get the house in Big Pine placed in his name and had even convinced a loan officer to grant him an advance on what he expected to get for the house once it was officially in his name.

Our Mom, he informed Jake and me, had made it clear in her will that the house was to go to Jake and me after her death, he was just to be our caretaker until my 18th birthday and then everything would revert to my management for Jake and my futures. Any rights Derrick had, were removed in court early this afternoon and he was now in the county jail lockup awaiting arraignment, just like Jim's mother. He explained that he and Rusty had temporary custody of us on an emergency basis, but two other guys had already filed to become our permanent guardians, and we knew them. I hopefully asked if they were Bert and Dan, and Glenn and Rusty just grinned at us, nodding their heads in unison.

After that revealing talk, Glenn asked me if I could help getting the thick plywood sheets installed over the panes of glass in the two big front doors and I gladly jumped up to help and Rusty took the two 9-year-olds into the kitchen to start dinner preparations. Glenn told me as we worked that he had talked to both Dan and Bert on the phone a few times today and that was how he knew about their intentions to foster Jake and me, and they had told him about the pre-cut plywood to cover the ornate etched glass in the front doors. We had just put the tools we had used away when the house phone rang as the first bands of rain began to fall and the wind started to pick up.

On the phone were Dan and Bert and they wanted to talk to Jake and me both first so Jake used the kitchen phone and I used the one out in the big front hall. We both had a good talk with them and we learned that they had suspected something when they had first met us, but they had liked us both a great deal and they had started their own investigation of our situation, especially after following us to the Turtle Museum in their own car and making note of the license plate of the van I had been driving. Through their contacts, they had learned all about us and our situation, and had made note of the bad discoloration on my back from Derrick's punch our last night at our old home.

I did get to ask when they might be home and they said that as soon as the airport in Key West opened up, they would be home. Probably sometime Saturday or Sunday. I asked Jake about all this and he was really pleased that we might get to stay here with Dan and Bert, he too thought they were great guys, and he was happy for his friend Jim who it looked like was finally going to get to live in a home where he would not only be cared for, but wanted. After our part of the conversation was over, Glenn and Rusty spoke to Dan and Bert about the storm and how we were as prepared as possible. Both adult couples knew that cell phone service might be one of the first things to go out for a while and Glenn assured them all that hopefully, all would be well, but he did have a satellite phone he needed for his job and if worse came to worse he could always get in touch with them that way.

Even as we ate dinner after the long phone call was over, we could all hear the storm intensifying.  We all pitched in to clean up after dinner and then we all huddled in front of the TV to distract ourselves from the raging wind and rain pelting the exterior of the house. We did once all go out to the back porch and as Glenn held the back door open, we could all huddle in the doorway to look out over the back-yard space and see just how ferocious the storm was. Chunks of tree limbs were swirling around in the air and leaves and other debris seemed to be caught in whirlpools all over the place. Rain was being splattered, you really couldn't say it was falling, it too was being swirled around all over the place and even splattering us in the porch doorway.

We returned to the TV room and tried to settle in again, but there was an unsettling nervousness among all of us. Jim was lucky, he had two adults to cuddle with on the couch, so I nodded to Jake and he was soon on my lap in the armchair I was sitting in. Around nine thirty the lights flickered a few times, but never went totally out and I wondered if the power from the city's electric company had gone out and the generator had kicked on, but Rusty told me that we would know when the generator came on as there was a distinctive noise, more like a lawnmower kind of noise we would hear even inside the house. I think the day, and the worry was catching up with all of us and a short time later the two nine-year-olds were nodding off.

We got both of them up to their beds and I turned in with a book shortly after and as I read for a short time in bed, I heard Rusty and Glenn heading to their bedroom also. It was just about a quarter of one in the morning by my bedside clock, and at first, I wasn't sure what had woken me, but as I lay there in the dark, I could hear a snap, crackle and popping noise. It wasn't in the room with me, but still, I figured that it couldn't have woken anyone else, it seemed to be coming from right outside my shuttered bedroom window. The storm was no longer raging outside, and I realized we must be in the storm's eye about now.


Comments appreciated at Art West