When we woke the next morning, I discovered the power had gone out during the night. No power no heat so it was very cold in the room. Bob stood up and stretched and headed for the restroom like it was seventy degrees. I cowered in the bed with all the covers piled on top of me and I was still cold.
Bob returned with Jeans and a t-shirt and reaffirmed my assessment that he was not somebody you’d want to be mad at you. He didn’t look fat anywhere except a little pot just above his belt.
He picked up his keys and I heard his truck start up outside the window. I could hear the Cummins diesel purring away.
"Okay Porter, you need to hop up and get yourself dressed. Do you have dry underwear in your pack?"
I told him I did and asked why.
"You got sweaty last night and you caught a bad chill when you got out of those extra clothes. The undies you have on are still damp so you’ll want to change."
He reached down and picked up my pack and handed it to me. I found my dry briefs and a tee and withdrew under the covers to change.
After that was done all I had to deal with was my close to bursting bladder and the accompanying pee boner.
"For whatever reason the water is still hot, so make your way in there and drain out. And if you’re worried about me seeing your erection, it’s nothing I haven’t seen before."
His logic and the need to pee overrode my modesty and threw the covers back and hustled to the toilet. He had been right, the dry undies helped with the cold. I went out and got dressed and put on my shoes. Then I went back in and brushed my teeth and all that stuff. I was glad we had showered the night before.
"Make sure you have all your stuff packed up and we’ll hit the road, we have to back track to the eighty-nine so we don’t have to do that big loop through Reno. Plus, there’s a great place for breakfast on that road. If you will be so kind as to put our bags in the back seat, I’ll go check us out."
He told me later that they were terribly sorry about the power going out and gave him a discount. They were running their office off of a back-up generator so they could still do business but they had a lot of unhappy customers. Like it was their fault the power went out in most of the town.
All the signals were out on our way back to I-80 and the only other vehicles on the interstate were semi-trucks. When I saw we were getting off on Donner Pass road I chuckled.
"What’s funny," Bob asked.
"Well if you were a serial killer this is the exit you’d take so you could kill me and rape me."
"Well, you’ve got that all wrong; it’s rape first kill later. Besides I’m all out of plastic sheeting and I’ve only got half a roll of duct tape left."
I nearly tore something laughing, I guess I needed something to laugh about and that appealed to my own warped sense of humor.
I was still chuckling a bit when Bob came to a turn-off and slowed down. He turned onto the side road and drove to a big clearing that was actually a parking lot for this big lodge like hotel and restaurant.
Inside the place looked like it was out of a Hemmingway novel. A girl younger than me showed us to a table and then kissed Bob on the cheek and squeezed his neck.
"And how are you doing Charlotte?"
"I’m great, Mom said I could do the greet and seat on weekends and maybe later I can take orders. But Markie will be over in a little while to see what you want. How’s Maddy?"
"Maddy is doing great; she’s working on a piece for Sparks' city hall."
"Is this one of your grandsons? He’s a new one."
"No, he’s a friend sweetie."
"Uh-oh, I gotta go, more customers," Charlotte scampered back to her post and greeted a man and woman and a couple kids.
Bob excused himself to go and wash his hands and while he was gone a boy came over and introduced himself as Mark and asked what I’d like to drink.
I asked for iced tea and a hot chocolate, I told him I didn’t know what Bob wanted.
"That’s okay, I know what he wants, and he always has the same thing. Are you one of his grandkids?"
"No, he’s helping me get to my Uncle’s place. He’s a pretty nice guy."
"You bet, I’ve known him since I was a baby and he’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met."
"I’ve never met anyone like him in my whole life."
"I think he was put on this earth to be a professional Grampa."
Mark didn’t see Bob approaching but he didn’t flinch when Bob hugged him from behind."
"Grampa Bob, I was just talking about you with your friend here."
"Mark, this is Porter. I see you’ve already met and Porter no doubt told you what we’re up to."
"Yes sir, can I get you your usual?"
"That would be great Mark, and then we can find out what Porter is going to eat."
Bob told me they had great biscuits and gravy and their waffles were good too.
A lady appeared out of nowhere and kissed Bob‘s cheek.
"Hi Bob, how are you and how are Maddy and little Loren."
"I’m great and so is Maddy and Loren. This young man is Porter; he’s trying to make his way to his Uncle’s place."
"You’re in good hands here son; Bob and Maddy are the best kind of people."
They chatted awhile and I pulled out my phone to see if Evan had messaged me or Mom or anyone but there was no reception and the last time it updated location was Soda Springs the night before.
"Sorry son, you won’t get any reception until you hit Tahoe city, we have payphones by the restrooms if it’s urgent."
"No ma’am I’m fine. I was just checking for messages." I told her.
"Coming through Mom," Mark and Charlotte both approached the table with trays of beverages. Mark had the Iced Tea and a pitcher of orange juice while Charlotte carried two hot chocolates and a pitcher of water and a few empty glasses.
Charlotte and Mark both joined the conversation while Charlotte watched for people coming through the door. Mark asked what I wanted to eat and I decided on the biscuits and gravy with bacon. I asked where the restrooms were and Mark told me to follow him. He showed me down a narrow hallway and pointed them out. Then he put a hand on my shoulder and said, "Hey Porter, you’re in good hands. Whatever you’re up against Bob will help you through it."
I could feel my cheeks burning but I said "thanks, that’s good to know."
When I got back to the table it was just Bob so I asked him, "Is this a regular thing for you, rescuing kids like me."
"It has happened before. I seem to have a knack for meeting what they call at risk children."
"Were you able to help all of them?"
"Not all, a few just wouldn’t be helped and they moved on and I can only hope they found what they needed."
"Why, I mean what’s in it for you? Are you real religious and this is your mission?"
"No Porter, as a matter of fact I never really subscribed to the whole "Magic Show" I’m more of a secular humanist. I don’t begrudge people a relationship with their god as long as they keep it to themselves and fulfill their social obligations."
"So you just do stuff like help me because you think it’s morally right and not because some god tells you to?"
"That’s reasonably accurate, yes."
"What century are you from? I never met anybody like that before. I’m sorry; I just never met anyone with that philosophy before." I told him.
"Well, I’m from the twentieth century near the middle and I came from a big family. We never turned away a hungry child or one that needed a roof over their head. I have five actual brothers and a bunch of unofficial ones. Some are still close and others drifted away after they graduated high school. We farmed alfalfa and dairy cattle and everybody on the place helped in some way. Some of the girls helped Mom in the house and some worked the fields with us boys. Even little guys had chores like separating the milk from the cream or helping the milkers tend the cows. I had a knack with machinery so I worked on that and did other things. Some of the kids at school didn’t understand why we did what we did or their parents told them we were in a strange cult. Usually it just took inviting them to our place for an overnighter to get them in our camp."
"So even though your parents were doing the right thing people still gossiped about them?"
"Oh yeah, some of them thought Dad was a closet Mormon or Hutterite or some weird sect. None of them would ever say anything to his face though, and he had more friends than enemies. Over five hundred people showed up to his memorial service."
"He must have been something else to live with. Was he good to you?"
"Oh yes, he was the best. He never spanked any of us as far as I know. He told me he gave me a swat or two to keep me away from the outlets on the wall and once when I was trying to get into the back of the T.V. set. That was back when they used tubes and you had to take your tubes in to town and get them tested in a machine. But that meant leaving the back of the T.V. loose so you could get at them."
"Oh wow, I never knew about that before. You must have really loved him."
"Yes I did, even when we argued about things."
"That sounds so cool," I said.
Mark returned with breakfast and jeez, what a spread. Not just biscuits and gravy but cottage fries, a pile of fruit chunks and cottage cheese plus three eggs and a bunch of bacon and it was cooked just right. Bob said they bake it and it’s always good.
Bob watched me eat and I was really shoveling it in.
"Slow down Porter, we’re not on a schedule. Take your time and enjoy it."
"This is so good; I’ve never tasted food this good before." And I wasn’t kidding, Denny’s couldn’t touch this.
"Well they have another place closer to our place and Maddy and I go there often."
I guess I didn’t pick up on what that meant right away, what I really wanted at that point was a nap.
Bob paid the bill and we got on the road after saying goodbye to Mark and Charlotte and their Mom. We were barely out of the parking lot when I dozed off. I woke when we came to a stop kind of sudden. When I looked there was a herd of deer in the road crossing leisurely with a big old buck watching traffic. They eventually cleared the road and Bob started up again as he reached down a flipped off a switch. I hadn’t even noticed the light bar on top of the truck; maybe because I wasn’t that tall. Oh well.
We drove along until we were stopped at a Highway Patrol check point. They were making people without snow tires either chain up or turn around. I guess that’s why I was seeing so many Subaru Outbacks, Bob said they’re really good on snow and ice if you have the right tires.
"Hi Jimmy, are they keeping you busy today? Bob said to the officer that was manning the checkpoint."
"No as a matter of fact you just missed a great snowball fight. We were ambushed by some kids but we drove them off."
"This is Porter and he’s a guest."
"Oh I see, well nice to meet you Porter, see you later."
"Okay Bob, Gloria and I will see you guys soon for dinner. Be careful, there’s been a little black ice in the big bend. It shouldn’t be bad they sanded the whole curve this morning."
"Take care Jimmy, and thanks, we’ll see you soon."
"What’s black ice?" I asked once we were rolling again.
"It’s ice that forms in shaded curves; and looks like a wet road instead of being shiny like regular ice. It can sneak up on you if you aren’t paying attention."
The trip was beautiful; I had never seen scenery like that, and once we went through the curve it got better. Lake Tahoe could be seen out the left side of the truck and it was something else. Little cabins here and there with smoke rising from the chimneys occasionally I saw kids out pulling sleds or throwing snow balls at each other. We stopped at a rest stop to off load some iced tea and it was a long trough with stalls and they were filthy. I stood at the trough and unzipped but the cold had really done a number on my monster. Everything had shrunk back, I warmed it up with my hands until I had enough to aim and then I was okay.
"The cold will do that, but you’ll get it. I’ll see you in the truck. Oh, don’t rinse your hands in here I have sanitizer in the truck. No point in freezing your fingers."
I crawled back in the truck and he handed me a squeeze bottle and I rubbed some of the stuff on my hands. I had completely relaxed around him after meeting Charlotte and Mark. He couldn’t be a pervert serial killer and have kids love him like that.
Bob is no speed demon and it was almost noon when we pulled up in front of his gate. He pushed a button on the dash and the gate swung open and a pack of dogs ran from the house to greet him. They circled the truck and ran back to the porch and sat patiently.
The first thing I noticed was that it wasn’t as cold even though there was snow on the ground in patches. The second was a woman and a little boy on the porch. The woman looked much younger than Bob and I presumed that she was the Maddy he had talked about with other people. Next to her was my clone, I mean he looked exactly the same as me at ten years old. Big blue eyes loosely curled blond hair with the same face shape and nose. So that’s what people meant when they said I was adorable at that age but I was never comfortable with my appearance.
"So this is Porter, what a nice looking boy. You look so familiar. Are you okay? You look like something’s upsetting you." She looked in the same direction I was.
"Loren sweetie come say hello to Porter."
The way she said the name was very French but she didn’t have a French accent. It came out like "Lowraun" or close to that.
The kid grinned and said hello and held out his hand and I shook hands with him.
Bob stepped up and hugged and kissed Maddy in a very steamy fashion and Loren watched and grinned even more. I discovered I was smiling at the spectacle myself.
"Glad your home Baby, give Loren a hug and a kiss and go say hi to the dogs. I’ll take Porter in and start the third degree."
Little Loren jumped into Bob’s arms and squealed "Papa!" Bob hugged him and kissed his cheeks and ruffled his hair. So I could tell right away he was abusing the little guy. Hah.
Maddy showed me the way in through the big door of the house. It looked like it had a porch all around it and there was a second story but that was just what I saw driving up. There was more to it than that.
"So Porter, Bob told me about your situation but I’d like to hear it from you. Is that okay?"
I shrugged my shoulders and spilled my guts and even told her why I was staring at Loren so hard.
"That’s not very good. Is your friend okay?"
"I don’t know. His parents didn’t want us seeing each other anymore and I haven’t gotten a message from him but it was just yesterday morning when this started."
"What were you doing in Stockton?"
"I was trying to get to L.A. I thought I could live there but I was kind of not thinking really well at the time."
"No you weren’t, that city would likely have chewed you up and spit you out as a drug addicted diseased wreck in just a couple years."
"Yeah, that’s what Bob told me and he mentioned getting raped a lot as well."
"Well it’s true, there are people who troll the major roads and truck stops and bus stations looking for youngsters headed for the big city. Believe me when I say they don’t have your best interests at heart."
"Where are you from? I don’t recognize your accent."
"Oh I’m from Galway in Ireland. I came here as a teenager with me Da after me Mam doyd." No kidding, that’s how she said it.
"I’ve never heard an Irish accent before except on T.V. and they didn’t sound like that. It’s nice."
"I’m glad you think so; most Americans wouldn’t understand Irish people if we didn’t tone it down for them a bit."
"But back to your situation, I used to work for C.P.S. do you know what I mean?"
"Child protective services right?"
"Precisely, I still help out the agency but I’m actually retired and now I do sculpture to entertain myself. I have to ask you this, do you have anything in your bag you want to tell me about before Charley finds it?"
"That big brown Lab you saw, he’s a retired drug dog and he’s still really sharp. I won’t have drugs around Loren."
"No, I could never afford that crap and I really didn’t have any interest in it. Everybody I knew that smoked pot was kind of useless so I just left it alone."
"I had to ask and I believe you."
"So what now? How do I find my Uncle? All I have is his phone number and a city. I’m guessing that Reno isn’t exactly small."
"True, but we’ll start with the phone number and run it through the system Monday. Does he have the same last name as you?"
"Yeah, I think so. I don’t actually know for sure."
"Okay, we’ll work with that and see what we find."
"Have you tried calling him again since you spoke to the woman that told you he was in care?"
"No, I didn’t think there was any point and I haven’t had any bars since Bob and I discussed it."
"Well let’s let that lie for a while, I want to clue you in on Loren. He came to us because of a language barrier when he was six. His parents were killed during an accident and the French Government was unable to locate anyone who wanted to bring him back to France and care for him. Since Bob and I both speak French we took him in and adopted him when he was eight. It took a little wrangling adopting a foreign national but the French signed off and so did Immigration and that was that. He’s very affectionate and you might find it overwhelming. He likes to cuddle but you aren’t required to indulge him; just please don’t be rude."
"He’s way too cute to be mean to and not just because he looks like I did. I don’t think I was ever that sweet natured at that age."
Bob walked through the door with Loren riding his back. Loren was wearing my Back pack and Bob had his bags.
"I have the room ready next to Loren’s it’s all set up so drop his bag in there. Why don’t you follow them up sweetie; and you can see your room."
I thanked her and followed Bob and Loren up the stairs. I marveled at how strong Bob must be. Loren had to weigh at least fifty-five pounds and my pack weighed another twenty so he had a load but you would never know it. I watched him hunch so Loren wouldn’t hit his head at the top.
It was a really nice room with a queen bed and there was a nice chair by the window and a good sized closet and a desk in the corner. There was what’s called a Jack and Jill bathroom between my room and Loren’s and the door had a sign on both sides that read "Knock". I noticed the same sign on the other door, it made sense.
The toilet was in one corner and there was an exhaust fan so that was nice. I had an attached bathroom at home but Albert would use it and stink up my room.
I wondered briefly if he had gotten out of jail.
I decided I would call my Mom when everyone left me alone.
Loren and I shared a small balcony and each room had French doors leading to it.
"We’ll let you get settled in and comfortable and then we can have some lunch if you’re hungry."
They went downstairs and I visited the toilet first thing.
I sat in the chair by the window and sent a text to Evan asking if he was okay.
My phone rang just a minute or two after. It was Evan’s sister.
"Evan can’t talk to you or text you but you can text me and I’ll relay them to him," She blurted.
"Is he okay was he hurt badly?"
"He has a ruptured ear drum but they think it will heal after surgery. But that Albert guy is in all sorts of trouble. Mom wants him dead and dad is willing to kill him. I don’t think that they’re really mad about you or the kissing. It’s just that you are associated with that jerk whether it’s your fault or not."
"I understand; when you see him tell him I’m safe with some nice people in Nevada. And tell him I’m sorry Albert hit him."
"I will Porter; you’re a nice guy I’m sorry you guys can’t be together anymore."
"So am I Angie, your brother is a nice guy."
"I know; I gotta go before they notice I’m using his phone."
And she was gone. Angie was a good person, I never thought she even cared if I existed but I guess she likes her brother and I kept Albert from hitting him again.
I dialed again and my Mom answered.
"Hello Mom, I just called to tell you I’m safe. I’m guessing since you answered Albert is still in jail."
"Yes, he’s still there. He’s got two states wanting to extradite him on fraud charges."
"You should get clear of that asshole while you can. He’s nothing but trouble. He’s probably got another wife or two hidden away." I told her
"He’s my husband and I have to stand by him."
"It’s only a matter of time until he hits you. He tried to punch me and Evan has a ruptured eardrum. I hope your renter’s insurance will cover that or they’ll sue you for damages."
"He didn’t mean it Forrest; he was just shocked when he saw you kissing that boy, it’s a sin."
"So shocked he wanted to punch me? Did you not hear me, he really hurt Evan. He’s looking at a felony in California now. He’s not going to be around to take care of you and neither will I. Look I have to go, someone is knocking at my door."
I got up and answered the door, it was Bob and I just collapsed emotionally. I threw my arms around him and cried. He hugged me back and patted my back. I was able to rein it in a bit and let go and stood up straight.
"Are you okay now?" Bob asked.
"Yes, I think so, I just checked on Evan and then I called my Mom. How can she be so stupid? She’s staying with that idiot. I told her he’s going away because Evan was really injured. It’s like I don’t matter anymore. Maybe I never really did."
"I’m sorry Porter, that’s a tough situation to be in. Maybe Maddy can shed some light on your mom’s thinking process."
"Maybe I’ll ask her but right now I just don’t care about mom’s problems."
"Okay son, I just came up to see if you’d like some lunch."
"That sounds really good, thanks."
"We will have to contact her though; we’ll have to get her to sign off to get you into school in this state if your Uncle is unavailable."
"Yeah but if he’s not available where can I go?"
Bob stopped and put his huge hands on my shoulders. "You won’t be the first child we’ve taken in. As long as you do your part, you’re welcome here, Fair enough?"
"Yes sir, but what’s my part?"
"Nothing arduous son, we’ll talk about that later. It’s mostly a code of behavior."
"Okay, I think I can behave pretty good."
"I think so too. In fact, I think you’re quite a nice kid. Maybe we can give you a safe place to just be you."
I put my hands on top of his and squeezed because I couldn’t talk and my eyes went all swimmy. He seemed to realize this and patted my back and we went on down stairs. He pointed at a box of tissues on a hall table and I grabbed a couple.