Julio walked up the path to the yellow house with green shutters and knocked on the door. Mrs. Kerrigan answered, her hair hung partially out of her ponytail, her face appeared flushed, and a sheen of perspiration dripped from her forehead. She wiped her forearm across her brow. “I hope you’re not expecting more than PB&J for lunch today. I’m packing.”
“No, Mrs. Kerrigan, PB&J is fine. I want to see Richard. We don’t have much time left.” She swept her hand over her forehead again, to brush her red bangs out of her eyes.
“We’ll have you out to Chicago, and Richard can come back to visit.” She kept glancing at the boxes in the kitchen. She didn’t have time to talk to him.
“In the den. I’ll make sandwiches at noon.” Julio walked down the stairs to the lower floor of the split-level. Richard remained focused on the TV screen, playing Tomb Raider.
“Hey, Julio, check this out.”
Mrs. Kerrigan served their PB&J and a glass of cold milk in the kitchen. Richard waited for his mom to go back to her packing and whispered to Julio, “If we were at your house, we could play Tomb Raiderwhile we ate.”
“It’s nicer eating at a table. And this way you don’t spill milk on the game controller.” Julio teased Richard about last year’s mishap.
By the end of the afternoon Richard won seven times and he had come close only once. “Score,” Richard said as Julio went down for the last time.
“Richard, you’re such a geek.” Julio pouted.
Richard looked up at Julio and said, “Yep.”
At four o’clock, Richard’s mother came downstairs and asked Julio, “Could you wait for your mom out on the step? I have to pick up Richard’s dad from work and then we’re going out to dinner. Your mom and dad should be here in a few minutes.”
“No problem, Mrs. Kerrigan, my parents will be here any minute. They’re never late. I have no problem waiting on the step.”
“Well, good-bye, dear, I’m sure we’ll see you tomorrow. Richard will want to play his new game again.”
Julio walked halfway up the stairs and turned shouting down to the den, “See you tomorrow, Richard.” There was no answer. Richard was immersed in the game.
“Of all the things we have to do as a cop, this is the worst,” Officer Joe Pennetta told his partner, Mike Dolan.
Dolan straightened his holster. “Yeah. I spoke to the neighbors when we stopped at their house after we tried to make the notification. The neighbors said there was no other family. He’s at the Kerrigan’s house around the corner. The one in the house on the right told me in confidence that the poor kid is gay. There are no foster homes that want to take gay kids around here so he’s headed for the group home over in Fulton. He won’t even be able to stay in the same town, never mind the same school.” Dolan sighed. “Maybe his friend’s parents will take him in.”
Pennetta turned on to Clover Street. “Maybe…” He doubted that they would get anyone to take the kid except for the County group home. A social worker waited at the stationhouse for Julio. Their job was to notify the survivor and bring the kid in, that was it. But he hated the looks on the people’s faces when he had to break the news.
Pennetta and Dolan pulled up to Number Twenty-two Clover Street. A kid sat on the step, crying. The officers got out of their vehicle and walked toward the concrete steps that led to the house.
Pennetta, as the senior partner took the lead. “I’m looking for Julio Reyes.”
The kid sniffled. “That’s me.”
Had someone else told him about his folks?
“Why are you crying?” Dolan wasn’t the most sensitive of men.
“My parents said they’d come for me at four. The Kerrigans had to leave. I think my parents are mad at me because I didn’t want to go fishing today.” Julio wiped his nose with a tissue.
“Kid, your parents aren’t coming.”
Pennetta kicked Dolan.
“Why? All I did was ask them not to take me fishing. They couldn’t leave me because of that. I kissed them both good-bye. They didn’t look angry.” Tears poured down Julio’s cheeks.
“Your parents weren’t angry at you.” Pennetta sat down next to him on the step. “There was an accident…”
“Are they okay? When can I see them?”
The kid panicked and now he was about to deliver the killing blow.
“They drowned in Lake Ontario in the wake of a fishing trawler. We sent divers down, but we couldn’t recover the bodies. Do you have anyone you can stay with?” Dolan asked.
Pennetta kicked Dolan again and hissed, “Give the kid a chance to process what we told him.”
“I should have gone with them. They should have made me go,” Julio shouted in rage, almost hysterical. “Then I’d be with them.”
“Calm down, kid. There’s nothing you could have done. They’re gone. You have to deal.” Dolan turned toward the squad car.
Pennetta scowled at Dolan then turned to the boy. “Your name is Julio, right? We have to take you down to the station house. A social worker will be waiting there, and they’ll help you decide what to do next. It won’t be too bad.” They walked to the squad car, Julio trailing behind them.
Dolan muttered, “At least I didn’t lie to him. Fulton is going to be awful for a kid like that.” Julio sobbed behind them.
Pennetta elbowed Dolan. “Give the kid a break. At least let him grieve before he knows what’s in store for him.” He shook his head.
“Can I at least pack a bag?” Julio asked amidst his sobs.
“Yeah, we’ll take you over to your house to get some of your things. Social services will help you deal with the rest of it.”
Julio got into the patrol car and never saw the Kerrigans again. By the time they held a service for his mom and dad, Richard was in Chicago with his parents, and he was in a home where the boys referred to him as fresh meat. Had the Kerrigans known where they took him? If so, Richard would have at least called. With both his parents and Richard gone, he had no one.