Outside Lin’s office window, blue and purple hues enfolded the sky as the sun nearly disappeared completely behind the horizon. Ethan and Lindsay sat next to each other, both staring out the window and admiring the sunset. Lindsay devoured a candy bar that he had purchased for her from the vending machine, melted chocolate glazing her lips.
Lin pulled up a list of available foster homes on her computer. “Come take a look, Ethan.”
Ethan walked over to stand behind Lin’s chair. Scanning the foster home registry on her computer, he chose a home that had the fewest amount of children residing in it so that Lindsay would get the attention she deserved. There was one home currently housing a twelve-year-old girl and a four-month-old infant. The foster parents were willing to house three children.
“Do you know these foster parents?” Ethan said, pointing at the computer screen.
“We haven’t dealt with this particular home before. The children there were placed by another agency.”
“Damn. I hate placing children with foster parents I’m not familiar with.”
“I understand that not being familiar with the capabilities of foster parents makes you uncomfortable, but this looks like the most beneficial opening we have right now.”
Ethan called the foster home to request their assistance and a woman’s voice answered. “Hello, this is Carly.”
“Good evening. This is Ethan Harper with Child and Family Services. I have a four-year-old here that needs a home. Would you be able to take her in tonight?”
“Oh, of course. We would love to have her. I’m taking a late shift tonight, so my fiancé, Chris, will be home when you get here.”
Ethan hesitated. “Uh, has he been certified through the foster parent training?”
“Yes, I had him become certified after he proposed to me two months ago.”
“Okay then. I’ll be there in about a half hour. Thank you so much for being so accommodating and making this whole process simple. This little girl has been through a lot.”
Placing his cell phone down on the table, Ethan sighed, exhaling loud enough to grab Lindsay’s attention. She looked up from her coloring book for a moment, smiled at him, and then went back to coloring. She did not personify a child who had been neglected in the terrible way that she had been. She was jovial rather than melancholy, and didn’t seem to have a care in the world.
Images of Renee materialized in his mind. He hoped that she would have the same attitude as Lindsay through any adversity she may face. He would do everything in his power to prevent anything bad happening to her, but was terrified by the thought that as a child ages into adulthood, a parent’s power over them naturally deteriorates.
“Ready to go?” Ethan said.
“Okay, but can I take my art?”
Ethan smiled. “Of course you can.”
Walking Lindsay out to his car again, his stomach grumbled. Since he had not eaten all day, he began to feel lightheaded. He pictured gulping an entire dinner meal off his plate in one large bite like a cartoon character, his jaw opening far beyond its physical capabilities.
The silver Escape sped down the highway at ten miles over the speed limit, driven by hunger and exhaustion. Lindsay sat calmly and quietly in the back seat, her eyelids becoming heavier each time she blinked, slowly closing into a peaceful slumber as he looked back at her.
Ethan pulled up to the curb in front of the foster home. It was a townhouse located in the lower income part of town, but the small yard and the area around the home were well manicured. The building had not aged as poorly as several of the other buildings along the street.
He knocked on the door with Lindsay standing close to his side, as if she was using him as a shield to protect herself from whomever was about to open the door.
“Uh . . . just a minute . . . I’ll be right there,” a male voice said.
A minute turned into three, causing Ethan to become suspicious, especially since their arrival was expected.
A young man opened the door to greet them. He was in his late twenties, unshaven, hair astray, and looked nervous. “Come on in,” he said, pointing the way toward the living room. “Please make yourself at home, dear.”
Ethan walked Lindsay into the home, her grip tightening around his hand. He hated having to put her through further unease by leaving the scared and nervous young child in the care of strangers.
The twelve-year-old girl that was currently living in the home sat on the couch watching a teen soap opera on television. He sat Lindsay on a couch opposite the teen and walked with Chris into the kitchen. “So, Lindsay was just taken from a home where she was seriously neglected. I’m hoping you guys will be able to give her plenty of attention while she’s here.”
“Oh, for sure, buddy,” Chris said. “I’m sure Camryn will treat her like a little sister, won’t you, Camryn?”
Completely ignoring Chris, not to mention their very presence, Ethan knew she wouldn’t likely make Lindsay feel at home.
While speaking to Chris, he noticed sweat beads running down the sides of the man’s head as if he had just returned from a run. It wasn’t particularly warm in the home either, so Ethan assumed something was amiss. “Where’s the infant? Your fiancé accepted a four-month-old a few weeks ago, isn’t that right?”
Chris paused with his mouth hanging open while he pondered a response. “Yes, that’s little Tomi. He’s upstairs sleeping in his crib. Took me a while to get him asleep, but you could say I have a way with kids.”
Ethan could not deny that Chris looked and acted paranoid, so he decided to be extra careful while inspecting the home. Even though he was exhausted and ready to get home, he felt it necessary to check on the infant. “Would you mind if I go up and check on the little guy? I’d love to meet him. I’ve always thought that Asian babies were the most adorable.”
Chris reached out and nearly grabbed Ethan by the arm, but refrained from making physical contact at the last minute. “I wish you wouldn’t. He was pretty cranky before falling asleep. I could use some peace and quiet for a bit.”
Knowing how upset babies become when woken from their slumber, and observing Camryn completely unconcerned about anything other than her television show, Ethan decided to call it a night despite his better judgment. “Alright, Chris. Make sure you take good care of these kids.”
Ethan walked into the kitchen and heard a faint, muffled scream. He stopped in his tracks and stepped back into the kitchen, carefully listening for the sound again. Chris tried to start talking again, but Ethan quickly held his hand up and gestured for him to be quiet.
“We’ll take really good car—” Chris said, speaking regardless of Ethan’s objections.
“Shut the hell up, Chris!”
The sound he had heard became louder once stepping back into the kitchen. He slowly stepped toward the sound, pinpointing the location by following the escalation in volume with each step. While still faint, the sound was much clearer once he found himself standing in front of the refrigerator.
Ethan reached out and opened the refrigerator door. He found nothing unusual, so he then opened the freezer.
Chris put his hands on his head and began whining. “It wouldn’t shut up. I didn’t know how to shut it up. I was going to take it out soon, I swear.”
Ethan’s hands reached into the freezer and pulled out the tiny, baby boy who was screaming at the top of his lungs. Tomi’s scream stuttered from his vocal cords being over stressed. The child’s skin and lips were a pale shade of blue. There were ice cubes frozen to the skin on his back, legs, and back of his head having been placed on top of the ice cube tray.
Ethan wrapped the baby in a blanket he grabbed from the arm of the living room couch. He knew that he would have to let the ice cubes thaw, for pulling them off would peel the skin along with them.
Chris just sat at the kitchen table with his head down on his arms, sobbing and repeating himself. “I’m sorry. It wouldn’t stop crying. I was going to take him out.”
His energy for the day completely drained, Ethan still became livid with Chris for what he had done. Patting and rubbing the baby rolled up in the blanket, he marched over to the television and shut it off.
“Hey, I was watching that,” the twelve-year-old said immediately after the screen went black.
“Would you please take Lindsay to her room? You two can get to know one another.”
The girl sat still for a moment, not realizing what had just happened. Ethan pointing toward the staircase was enough to convince her, having pointed his finger with authority. “Okay.”
The baby stopped crying and began to fall asleep as Ethan rocked him back and forth. He could feel the blanket dampening as the ice cubes melted. Deciding he could put Tomi down to sleep, Ethan walked past a sobbing Chris to find a crib.
He found the crib in the master bedroom and wrapped the infant in a new blanket that he found hanging over the railing. Very little ice was left to melt and the child had regained most of its natural, pink tone. Tomi had worn himself out by crying at the top of his lungs.
Ethan called the police as he looked down at the sleeping infant, aching to get home to his own daughter. He spoke to the same dispatcher from earlier in the day, which might have been humorous under different circumstances.
After Ethan got off the phone with emergency services, he couldn’t help but imagine Chris placing Renee in the freezer. The thought angered him, driving him to march back into the kitchen to confront Chris.
Ethan charged toward Chris and yanked on the back of his chair to throw him to the ground. Chris fell backward in his chair, hitting the floor hard and causing a thunderous crash. Ethan stood over him, reaching down to grab Chris’s shirt collar. He pulled Chris to his feet.
“What the hell are you doing, man?” Chris said, clearly shocked at Ethan’s reaction.
Ethan pushed Chris against the refrigerator, swiftly punching him in the stomach. As Chris leaned forward and gasped for air, he slapped Chris’s head up against the fridge. “If I didn’t get here when I did, that infant would be dead, making you a murderer. You’re still going to do some time for child endangerment and likely for attempted murder.”
Chris’s eyes grew wide in terror, reacting just as Ethan had hoped. Shaking his head with a perplexed expression, Ethan felt the need to ask him a question that he knew would go unanswered. “Why would you do that? You’re supposed to take care of these children, not endanger them.”
Chris looked back at him with tears in his eyes. “I’m sorry. I just couldn’t stand its crying. I couldn’t make it stop.”
“That’s no excuse!” Ethan shouted. He wanted to lay into Chris. So much anger had built up throughout the day that violence became the only acceptable outlet.
Sirens arrived outside, preventing him from beating Chris to within an inch of his life. After letting Chris go, the guy just curled up into a ball on the kitchen floor.
Ethan took a few deep breaths to compose himself. Once he was calm, he pulled his cell phone out to call Lin. She answered just before the call went to voice mail. “Hey, Lin. We’re going to need a new foster home. Please contact the agency responsible for Camryn and Tomi, and let them know that the EMTs are taking the infant to the hospital so they can monitor him through the night.”
“Wow, Ethan. You’re on a roll today. What the hell happened? Wait, just tell me about it when you get the kids back here. I’ve got to make some phone calls.”
After hanging up with Lin, Ethan called Maria to let her know his status. “Hey, honey. I’m going to be a little late tonight. It has been one hell of a day. Don’t bother leaving any food out for me. I’m going to have to pick something up quick before I die from starvation. I love you.”