It was not quite two a.m. when the scream awoke Jacob and Laura. They were instantly awake, Jacob's military training allowing his mind to clear faster than his wife's. She was not far behind him, however, as they leapt out of bed and hurried to the study.
"Mommy! Daddy! Mommeeeee!" Daniel was wailing, tears coursing down his cheeks.
Laura was across the room and on the mattress in a flash, gathering the child up into her arms.
"It's okay, sweetheart," she said, tears in her voice. "It's okay. Shhh. Don't cry, baby. Don't cry." She began rocking back and forth with Daniel, whispering soft, soothing sounds.
Slowly, Daniel's heartbreaking sobs became whimpers and then faded into silence. Laura continued holding him, stroking his hair. At last, he lay quietly in her arms, appearing to be sleeping peacefully.
Laura looked up at her husband, whose eyes were dark with emotion.
"How many times has this happened, Jacob? How many nightmares has he had to live through and had no one there comfort him?"
"I don't know," Jacob said in a tight voice. "I probably don't want to know." He looked down at the boy. "He'll probably be okay now."
Placing a kiss on Daniel's forehead, Laura attempted to lay him back down, but found that she couldn't. The child's hands had grabbed hold of her nightgown and, even in sleep, wouldn't let go. When she attempted to gently release his grip, he whimpered and pressed himself tighter against her.
Laura met her husband's eyes, and a silent message passed between them. Holding onto Daniel, the woman got up and carried the little boy to the master bedroom, Jacob following her. They lay down on the bed, Daniel between them, still clinging to Laura like a leech.
Husband and wife shared a look over Daniel's head, then closed their eyes and returned to sleep.
Jacob was the first to awaken. There was a body lying pressed against him, and it wasn't his wife's. Recalling the events of the night, he cracked his eyes open and looked down to see the small form of Daniel lying beside him. Lost in peaceful sleep, the innocent, beautiful face looked like that of a much younger child.
Jacob looked up to see Laura watching him. A little smile came to her face.
"It's been a while since we've done this," she said.
"Yes, it has. We stopped letting Sam sleep with us back when she was five, I think."
"She was six the last time, after you foolishly let her watch Frankenstein on Halloween night."
"Ah, yes. I remember." That made Jacob think about the bad dream that resulted in their present situation. "That nightmare last night was a bad one. I really hope they're not all that bad."
"Me too. But they'll go away eventually, won't they?"
"Eventually, though probably not for quite some time." He looked back down at Daniel. "We should put him back in his bed. He'd probably be embarrassed and uncomfortable if he found out that he slept with us."
Jacob carried Daniel back into the study and tucked him into his bed as Laura went to the kitchen to get the coffee started.
They were surprised when Daniel got up only an hour later, especially since everyone had gone to bed so late.
"Good morning," Jacob greeted. "I see that you're an early riser."
"We always had to get up early when we were on a dig so that we'd get lots of work done before it got hot."
"Yes, that makes sense."
The boy looked back and forth between them nervously. "Did you wake up when I had my nightmare?"
"Yes, we did, honey," Laura replied, "but that's okay."
Daniel hung his head. "I'm sorry. I don't know how to stop having them. When I kept having them in the hospital, the nurses got kind of mad."
Jacob stiffened. "What do you mean?"
"They were nice at first. When I had one, they came in and woke me and told me I was having a nightmare. But when I kept having them, they got impatient. They told me it was disturbing the other patients. But I couldn't make myself stop having the bad dreams, so they started giving me medicine that made me sleep all night long without the nightmares."
Jacob was holding onto his temper with an effort. They drugged him?! The captain had half a mind to go to that hospital and rake the nurses and doctors over the coals. What kind of treatment was that for a traumatized child? He could tell that Laura was just as upset. She knelt before the boy and took his hands.
"We weren't mad, Daniel," she said. "We would never get mad over that. But we were worried about you. Was it an especially bad nightmare?"
"No, I've had it before." Daniel frowned. "But, this time, it became a good dream. It's never done that before."
"How did it become a good dream?" Jacob asked.
"My mom came and held me and told me not to cry."
Laura was struggling very hard not to lose control. Jacob saw her distress and figured that he needed to distract Daniel.
"Well, I'm really glad to hear that, Daniel. Come on. Let's go into the kitchen and get you some juice or maybe some milk."
After supplying the boy with a glass of orange juice and seeing him settled at the table, Jacob went to see to his wife, who was nowhere in sight. He found her in their bedroom, wiping tears from her face with a tissue. He put his arms around her and held her close.
"Oh, Jacob. It just breaks my heart," she whispered.
"I know. I feel the same. Nobody should have to go through what that boy has, let alone a little child. The more I hear about what he's suffered this past month and a half, the more it makes me want to hit something . . . or someone."
"They drugged him, Jacob! How could they do that? They should have been comforting him, helping him. Instead, they drugged him."
"Yeah. You know, considering everything, he's probably lucky that someone didn't throw him into an institution, write him off as mentally irreparable and be done with it."
Laura shuddered at that thought. She dried her face.
"Are you going to be okay?" Jacob asked, gazing at her in concern.
Laura nodded. "It's just hard. As a mother, the thought of Daniel being neglected and mistreated like that makes me so angry. I know it could have been worse. He could have ended up in one of those abusive foster homes that I've heard about. But it still bothers me to think about what he's already suffered and what else might happen to him in the future."
"I know, Laura. It bothers me as well."
The fact that the other kids were still sleeping gave Jacob and Laura the opportunity to talk alone with Daniel. It was certainly not the usual kind of conversation you'd have with an eight-year-old. They found that the boy was quite aware of and had very definite opinions about certain world issues, such as war, world hunger, crime and pollution. Apparently, Daniel's parents had talked about these things openly with their child and given their own opinions on them. The boy had actually witnessed the effects of famine in some of the countries he'd been to and had the strongest opinion about it, stating that all the countries that had plenty of food should give food to those that didn't "regardless of all the stupid politics and how much it costs." That last statement just about had Jacob cracking up.
'Out of the mouths of babes,' he thought.
When they got on the subject of war, Daniel asked if Jacob fought in Vietnam.
"Yes, I did. I did two tours."
"A tour of duty. That's a period of time that someone in the military is on a specific duty or at one place. A tour usually lasts around a year, depending on what branch of the military you're in."
"You're in the Air Force."
"Then you fly planes?"
"Whenever they let me. Unfortunately, flying is only one part of what I do. There's also a whole lot of boring stuff."
"Sam told me that I should call you Captain Carter instead of Mister Carter. I'm sorry I made a mistake before."
Jacob smiled. "That's perfectly all right, Daniel. I didn't mind you calling me Mister Carter. I am a 'mister', too, after all."
It was 9:30 when Jacob decided that it was time for the other kids to get up. When he tried to rouse Sam, however, he didn't have much luck. He decided to get some help.
After fetching something he figured might be of use, he brought Daniel into Sam's room.
"I think I need help waking Sammie up. Would you like to help?" he asked the boy.
"Okay. What do I do?"
With a grin, Jacob handed him a squirt gun. Like the well-trained military man that he was, he showed the boy the proper way to hold the gun and the correct stance to take.
"Now, pick your target," he said, standing behind Daniel. "That's it. Steady now. Okay. Ready, aim . . . fire!"
The stream of cold water hit Sam square in the face. She woke up with a shriek, nearly launching out of bed.
"Daddy!" she yelled.
Jacob burst into laughter, Daniel grinning broadly.
Sam glowered at them, wiping the water from her face. "That was so mean!"
"I think you'll survive," Jacob said, still chuckling. "Come on. Up and at 'em. We're all starving, and, if you don't get up, you get no breakfast."
Pouting, Sam got up and stomped off to the bathroom.
Daniel looked up at Jacob, his expression now concerned. "Is she mad at us?"
"Oh, maybe a little, but she'll get over it. Don't worry, Daniel. She's a lot madder at me than she is at you."
Sam's anger was gone by the time breakfast was on the table. The skies had mostly cleared, so they'd be able to play outside today.
"Daddy, can we go to the creek?" she asked.
"Sure. That sounds nice."
Sam turned to Daniel. "It's just a little creek, but it has fish in it. In the summer, we can put our feet in it, but they won't let us swim in it. It's really close by, just right over that way." She pointed in the proper direction.
After breakfast, Jacob took Sam and Daniel to Three Mile Creek, Mark deciding that he didn't want to go. The creek was, indeed, quite close, just a few dozen yards from the Carters' house. It was basically a storm water drainage ditch used to receive runoff from the south side of the base, but, as Sam had said, it did have fish in it and fishing was allowed, both on base and off, although most of the fish were so small that not many bothered.
It was too cold for the kids to even put their hands in the water, so they just sat on the bank and tried to spot fish. Jacob noticed that Daniel was squinting a little and wondered if the boy might need glasses.
Sam soon grew bored, and they went back to the house.
"Sam?" Laura called when they came in the house. "You didn't make your bed this morning or pick up your dirty clothes. Go and do it."
"But Mom! Daniel's here."
"So? Having guests in the house doesn't mean that you get to have a messy room."
"I can help," Daniel offered.
"No, keeping her room clean is Sam's responsibility," Laura responded.
As Sam unhappily went off to her room, Laura approached Jacob.
"Mark's friend, Tony, called a few minutes ago," she told him. "He asked if Mark could come over. I told Mark that the decision was up to you."
Jacob frowned. "I told him that I wanted him to stay home today and share the day with us. I've barely seen him during these two weeks, and my leave ends tomorrow."
"I know, but you need to be the one to tell him."
Jacob went to his son's room. The boy was sitting on his bed, reading a comic book.
"Your mother tells me that one of your friends wants you to come over."
"Yeah, Tony. He got a new bike for his birthday, and we were going to go riding together."
"Mark, I told you that, if I allowed you to spend Saturday at Lieutenant McGregor's with his son, you needed to spend the whole day today with us."
"But, Dad. Why do I have to stay here?"
"Because I said so, that's why," Jacob replied sternly.
Mark threw the comic book on the floor and jumped off the bed. "I never get to keep any of my friends because we're always moving, and, now, you won't let me play with the ones I have! I hate you!"
He ran out of the bedroom and kept right on going, out the back door.
Daniel had heard the raised voice and seen Mark run out. He turned and watched Jacob exit the boy's bedroom, looking very sad. Daniel didn't like seeing him sad. He was a nice man who'd been very kind to him.
Daniel wondered why Mark was so angry. He hadn't heard everything the older boy said, but he did hear one thing quite clearly: Mark saying that he hated his father. How could you hate your own father?
Daniel went out into the backyard. Mark was angrily hitting the leg of the swing set with a stick. The younger boy cautiously approached him. Maybe he could think of something to say that would make Mark less angry.
"Why are you mad at your dad?" he asked.
The older boy glared at him. "Why do you want to know?"
Mark threw away the stick. "I hate it because we're always moving. I make new friends, and I start liking my school, and then Dad comes home and tells us that we have to move. And I never get to keep any of my friends. I hate the Air Force, and I hate my dad!"
Daniel didn't know what to say. He didn't think that Mark really hated his dad. The boy was just angry. Mark didn't know how lucky he was to have a father, especially a nice one like Captain Carter.
"My parents and I traveled a lot," Daniel said softly. "We had a place in Cairo, but we weren't there very much. I didn't have any friends except, sometimes, the diggers had their families with them, and I also sometimes went to private schools for a little while. But it was okay that I didn't have a lot of friends because I had my mom and dad." Tears filled Daniel's eyes. "I wish I was you because you're lucky. Your parents are still alive. You shouldn't hate your dad because, someday, he could die like my mom and dad did, and then you won't have him anymore."
Turning, Daniel fled, leaving a stunned Mark in his wake. The boy stood there, Daniel's word sinking in. He got to thinking about how he'd feel if he lost his parents, if, someday, they died. He'd been so angry at his father because he blamed the man for all the friends he had to say goodbye to, but thinking about something bad happening to his dad scared him. Jacob was in the military, and, any day, he could be sent off to fight in some war, where he could get killed. Mark knew a lot of kids whose fathers had died in Vietnam. He knew that death was permanent, that you never came back. If his dad died, it would be forever. Mark would never see him again.
Getting upset, Mark went into the house and to his room, sitting on the bed. He thought about what he'd said to his father, and he felt ashamed. He didn't really hate him. He didn't.
There was a knock on his door. Mark quickly picked up one of his toys and pretended to play with it. The door opened, and Jacob came in. He sat on the bed beside his son.
"Mark, I know these frequent moves have been hard on you and Sam. I understand how tough it is leaving friends and having to start over someplace new. I've had to leave friends, too. I wish things could be different, but this is the way it is. It's a part of being in the military. It could be a lot worse. I can be grateful that I'm not being sent overseas. I can't promise that it will get better, Mark, at least not any time soon, but I do love you, Son, and, well, I hope that you can forgive me and come to accept this part of our lives."
Mark really didn't want to cry. He was too big to cry. That was for little kids and for girls. But his stupid tear ducts weren't listening.
"I'm sorry," he whispered, ducking his head to hide the tears in his eyes.
Jacob saw the tears anyway. "Sorry for what?"
"For saying I hated you. I didn't really mean it."
Jacob gently pulled Mark close. "I know. We all say things when we're angry that we don't really mean. I've done the same thing."
Mark sniffled. "Are you ever going to get ordered back to war?"
Surprised by the change of subject, Jacob hesitated before replying. "I . . . I don't know, Mark. I won't be called back to Vietnam since we're no longer part of the fighting there, but if there's another war, then, yes, I might be called to serve in it."
"But you could get killed."
Jacob stared at him. They'd never talked about this before. "That's always a possibility, Mark. But then, I could die tomorrow in a car accident. You never know when something might happen. What brought this on?"
"I was talking to Daniel. He told me I was lucky and he wished he was me because my parents were still alive. He said I shouldn't hate you because, someday, you could die, like his parents did."
Damn. Where was Daniel? The last time Jacob saw the boy, he was going out the back door.
"You shouldn't think about that, Mark," he said. "It's not good to think about bad things happening. Adults do that all the time, and it's not pleasant. Um . . . Mark, where is Daniel?"
The boy shrugged. "I don't know. He ran off. He was crying."
'Oh, no.' Jacob was now getting worried. "Come on. We need to find him."
As Jacob and Mark left the room, Sam came up to them.
"Daddy, do you know where Daniel is? I can't find him. He's not in the backyard."
"I don't know, but we're going to find him."
They all went out onto the front porch and looked around, but there was no sign of Daniel anywhere. Jacob called the boy's name and received no answer.
"You guys start looking around," he told his children. "Take a look down the street and see if you can spot him. But don't go anywhere. I need to talk to your mom for a second."
Jacob quickly explained to Laura what was happening, and she was instantly alarmed. He told her to wait in the house in case Daniel showed up.
The captain went outside. Mark and Sam were standing on the sidewalk in front of the house, calling Daniel's name.
Sam turned to her father. "We can't find him, Daddy. Where did he go?"
'Okay, don't panic, Jacob,' Jacob told himself. 'We're on a military base. He'll be fine, and he can't go far.'
Still panicking, Jacob joined his kids, peering in all directions with the desperate hope of seeing Daniel.
"Hey, Jacob," called Captain Hampshire from across the street. "You looking for that boy that's been staying with you this weekend?"
"Yes. Have you seen him?"
"Yeah, he went hightailing it off that way. I think he was heading for the creek."
Jacob, Sam and Mark immediately went to the creek. Within seconds of arriving, they saw a little figure huddled near the bank. He was hugging his legs close to his body, his face hidden by his knees.
"Stay here," Jacob told his kids, then he slowly approached the distraught child.
"Daniel?" he inquired gently when he was a few feet away. He covered the rest of the distance and knelt by the boy. He laid a hand on Daniel's hair. He could feel the quiet sobs shuddering through the child's small frame, and, more than anything, he wanted to scoop the boy up into his arms and hold him.
"They're dead," Daniel said in a voice of such heartbreaking sadness. "It fell on them, and they're dead, and they're never going to come back."
Jacob couldn't stop himself from gathering the grieving child up into his arms. Daniel sobbed against him. Jacob just held him, saying nothing. What could he say? That it would be all right? That everything would be fine? Maybe, someday, it would be, but not for a long time, not for this child.
Daniel stopped crying after a few minutes. He sat quietly in Jacob's arms, sniffling.
"Daniel, I know how much it hurts to lose your mom and dad," Jacob murmured. "My mom died when I was only nineteen. I lost my dad last year. It hurts, and it takes a long time for the pain to go away. But you have to keep remembering how much they loved you and how great the years were that you had with them. They'll always be in your heart and your memories, Danny. Always."
A few fresh tears rolled down the boy's face. Jacob gently wiped them away. He waited until he thought that Daniel had recovered enough, then asked if the boy was ready to go back to the house. He was answered with a small nod.
Daniel kept his gaze on the ground as they walked back to the house. Sam was really upset that her friend had been crying and wanted to hug him, but her dad had given her a look and shook his head no.
As soon as they were in the house, Daniel went to his temporary bedroom.
"Daddy?" Sam said, looking at the closed door.
"Let him have some time alone, Sammie," Jacob told her. "He'll come out when he's ready."
"Dad, what did Daniel mean when he said it fell on them?" Mark asked. "Did something fall on his parents?"
'Oh no.' Jacob caught his wife's gaze and saw his dismay reflected there.
"Um . . . yes," the captain replied hesitantly. "There was an accident at the museum they were in. One of the displays fell, and they were killed."
Sam had thought that maybe they died in a car accident or something. It was way worse that something big and heavy fell on them.
"Was Daniel there?" she asked.
Her father's whole body went stiff, his face going stiff, too.
"We shouldn't talk about this, Sam," he said without any emotion in his voice. "It's not good to talk about things like that. Come on. Let's go fix some hot chocolate. Daniel will like that."
Sam watched her father walk away into the kitchen, wondering why he was acting like that. She looked at her brother.
"How come he got all stiff like that?" she asked. "Why didn't he answer my question?"
"I bet Daniel was there, and Dad doesn't want us to know. I bet Daniel saw his mom and dad get squashed."
Horror filled Sam. Daniel saw his parents get killed?
Jacob saw his daughter flee the living room and came out to find out what was going on.
"What's wrong with your sister?" he asked his elder child.
"I told her that I think Daniel saw his parents get squashed."
Jacob's temper blew up. "Dammit, Mark! Why would you tell her that?!"
The boy cringed. "I'm sorry."
Jacob hurried to his daughter's room, intent on doing some damage control. She was lying on the bed, hugging one of her stuffed animals, tears running down her face. Jacob sat on the edge of the bed.
"Daniel saw his mom and dad get killed, didn't he. They got squashed under something big and heavy, and he saw it."
Jacob gave a sad sigh. "Yes, sweetheart, he did."
"Is that what his flashback was about?"
"That's so awful."
"Yes, it is. Sam, we can't talk about this around Daniel, not ever. It would really upset him. I don't ever want him to know that you know this. You understand? You're not to say one word about it."
Sam nodded, wiping her face.
"Now, come on. Let's go make that hot chocolate for Daniel."
At the dining room table, Mark sat staring at his lap, positive that he was going to get grounded for a really long time. His dad had gotten angry at him before, but never that angry. Mom was mad at him, too. She'd told him that what he did was irresponsible and thoughtless.
Jacob came up to him. "Mark, do you understand why I got mad at you?"
"Yes, sir. I shouldn't have said what I did," the boy mumbled.
"No, you shouldn't have. You need to think before you speak, Mark. You're old enough to start learning that."
Jacob nodded. "And I'm sorry I yelled at you. Now, I've already told your sister this. I don't want a single word of what happened to Daniel's parents to pass your lips, not around him, not to your friends, not at any time. You got it?"
Jacob gave the boy a brief hug to let him know that he wasn't still mad, and they all joined Laura in the kitchen, where she was busy making the hot cocoa.
The cocoa was ready when Daniel shyly came out of the study, not looking at anyone. It saddened Jacob and Laura to see him yet again sad and withdrawn.
"We made some hot chocolate," Sam said. "Mom makes the best hot chocolate. You'll really like it."
Daniel didn't say anything.
"Daniel, do you want to go home?" Jacob asked.
"Please don't go," Sam pleaded. "I want you to stay."
"Don't go," Mark said, surprising his parents. "I can show you my comic book collection."
"Sam, if Daniel wants to go home, we should let him," Laura told her daughter gently.
A few seconds had passed when Daniel very quietly said, "I can stay."
Sam stepped forward and grabbed his hand, leading him to the mugs of hot chocolate. She gave him one.
"Careful. It's really hot," she warned.
It took Daniel a while to reemerge from his shell, but he finally got there, although he wasn't quite as lively as he'd been earlier.
As promised, Mark showed the boy his collection of comic books.
"I like Batman the best," he said, "because he's got a cool costume, and a really cool car and lots of great gadgets that he uses to fight crime."
"I like Wonder Woman best," Sam stated. She had been allowed into Mark's room with the boys at Jacob's insistence.
"That's because she's a girl." Mark looked at Daniel. "Which superhero do you like best?"
"I don't know. I never read any comic books. I don't know very much about them."
Mark took it upon himself to tell Daniel all about the different comic book heroes, who they were, where they came from, their history, what special powers and abilities they had, and other facts.
"So, who do you think you'd like best?" he then asked.
Daniel gave the question some serious thought. "I think I like Spider-Man the best."
"Why Spider-Man?" Sam asked.
"Because he was a normal person who got his powers by accident. He's not perfect because he made mistakes, but he decided that, now that he has special powers, he should use them to help people. Superman can't get killed unless there's Kryptonite nearby, so he can do dangerous things and not worry. But Spider-Man can get killed, yet he still does dangerous things to help people. That's being a real hero."
Jacob, who had been watching from the doorway for a while, was surprised by the wise and well thought out answer. Daniel appeared to understand the true meaning of courage, that it was not doing something fearlessly but doing it in spite of fear. The captain was also pleased that the boy had picked his favorite superhero.
"So, if you don't read comic books, what do you read?" Mark asked Daniel.
"All kinds of books. I like stories that take place a long time ago the best. The last book I read was The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling. It takes place in India. I like history books, too, especially about ancient Egypt."
"He has a big book about ancient Egypt that's really neat," Sam said.
Daniel glanced at Mark. "Would you like to see it?"
Daniel fetched the book out of his backpack. He sat between the two Carter children and began turning the pages. As he came to each god, pharaoh and other important person in the book, he talked about who they were and the important things they did. He explained why the pyramids came to be and why they eventually stopped being built. He talked about the Valley of the Kings and other important archeological sites. Jacob had been joined by Laura, and they both listened with great interest, the boy bringing the people and culture of that long ago time to life.
"Ancient Egypt was pretty cool," Mark said at the end. That made Daniel smile.
"It sure was," Sam agreed.
It was four o'clock when Jacob decided that he needed to get Daniel back home. It was no surprise that Sam was extremely unhappy about it. What was surprising was that Mark was unhappy as well. Apparently, something had happened to make him like the younger boy.
"Did you have fun with the Carters?" Diane asked when Daniel and Jacob arrived.
"Uh huh," the boy answered. "We did lots of fun stuff."
"That's good. Did you thank them for having you?"
Daniel turned to Jacob. "Thank you for having me as your guest."
"It was our pleasure, Daniel. We'd be happy to have you come over again."
"Go on and get your things put away, Daniel," Diane said. After the boy was gone, she turned back to Jacob. "How was he? He seems happy."
"He had a very good time, from what I could tell. It was great to see him smiling and hear him laugh. He did have a nightmare last night, and there was a little incident this morning that brought up the whole thing with his parents and upset him, but he appears to have recovered from it."
"That's great to hear. I've made the arrangements with Daniel's new caseworker. She'll be coming tomorrow at eight, like we agreed."
"I'll be here. Does Daniel know about this yet?"
"No. I didn't want to worry him. I'll tell him after school tomorrow. Thank you for giving Daniel a nice day, Captain."
"It was our pleasure. Daniel is a wonderful boy."