On Monday morning, Sam sought Daniel out, finding him at the lockers.
"Hi! Guess what?" she said.
"We all talked last night, and Mom and Dad said that you could come trick-or-treating with us on Halloween."
"I've never been trick-or-treating before."
"You haven't? It's so much fun! You get to dress up in costumes, and you get lots of candy from all the people, and some of the houses are made up really scary. Maybe you can help us put our Halloween stuff up."
"Can I wear any costume I want to?"
"Sure. I want to dress up like an astronaut. You know, like the guys who went to the moon. What would you like to dress up like?"
Daniel smiled. "A pharaoh."
"You'll have to ask your foster mom to help you find the right costume."
Just then, Daniel's body stiffened, his eyes fixed upon something behind Sam. She turned to see what he was looking at and saw Bud Whitman. The older boy spied them and came striding over, the other kids quickly moving out of his way.
"My dad hit me because you got me in trouble," he said, glaring at them. "He told me that he's going to send me to military school next year, and it's your fault."
"It's not our fault; it's your fault for being so mean," Sam declared. "If you weren't a bully, you wouldn't get into trouble."
"And you're a stupid, wimpy little girl who plays with retards."
Daniel stepped forward, his chin lifting and a touch of fire in his eyes. "No she's not."
Bud stared at him in surprise. Then his former sneer returned. "Hey, look. The retard can talk."
"He's not a retard," said a timid voice. The three turned to see the little black-haired boy who had spoken to Daniel on Friday.
"He's really smart," the boy stated. "He can speak a bunch of languages, and does schoolwork for kids in fourth and fifth grade, and writes really neat stories."
"You're lying," Bud said.
"No, he's not," said another kid, who was also in Daniel's class. "He's in the same class as me now, and Mister Greer told all of us what he can do and read a story he wrote."
"Daniel's a genius," Sam declared, smiling proudly. The comment made the subject of it blush.
Bud glared at the kids sourly, seeing that a lot of other children were watching him. He stormed off, his shoulders tight.
Daniel turned to the two boys who had defended him. "Thanks."
"Bud is a jerk," said the boy that Daniel believed was named Nathan. "He picks on a lot of us."
"He stole my lunch money," said the other boy.
At that moment, the bell rang. Sam headed off to her class as Daniel and the two boys went to theirs, talking on the way. Daniel learned that the smaller boy was named Kenny Robinson.
As the morning progressed, Daniel became aware that one of the girls in the class kept staring at him. Every time he looked at her, though, she blushed and looked away. He wondered why she was acting like that.
The weather was cold and dreary, so Daniel and Sam chose to have their lunch in the cafeteria. Nathan and Kenny came over and asked if they could join the pair.
"Okay," Daniel replied.
As they all ate and talked, Sam found herself starting to get jealous. Up until now, Daniel had been her special friend, and she had him all to herself, but, now, he was making other friends, and he wasn't talking only with her.
And then something happened that made Sam even more jealous. Two girls walked by. They looked at Daniel, smiled and said, "Hi, Daniel," then giggled and kept walking. The boy just blinked and stared at them, perplexed.
Sam did a lot of frowning throughout the rest of the meal. Daniel noticed that she seemed to be unhappy about something, but didn't know what it could be. He decided to ask her later.
He was surprised that other kids seemed to want to make friends with him. Was it because he was talking now or was it because they now knew that he wasn't dumb? He liked Kenny. The little boy was shy and timid, but when you finally got him to talk, he spoke with quiet passion about the things he loved, which, above all, was music.
Nathan was nice, too. The opposite of Kenny, he was outgoing and friendly. During the meal, a lot of kids stopped by the table and said hi to him. Apparently, he was pretty popular. It turned out that he knew some German, having learned it from his maternal grandmother, and he and Daniel spoke for a moment in that language, which, unbeknownst to Daniel, made Sam even more jealous. She was actually glad when the lunch break ended.
Laura could tell that something was wrong when Sam got home. She stomped into the house with a sour expression and barely said a word before going off to her room to do her homework. That evening at dinner, Jacob spent a lot of the time staring at his daughter, wondering what had gotten into her.
It was after the meal that her parents decided it was time to find out what was going on. They went to Sam's room.
"Okay, so why the sourpuss?" Jacob asked.
"I don't have a sourpuss," Sam muttered.
"Oh, I beg to differ. I've seen lots of sourpusses in my day, and you are definitely wearing one."
"Did something happen at school?" Laura asked.
"I don't want to talk about it."
"Is Daniel all right?"
To the complete surprise of her parents, Sam's expression darkened even more. They shared a glance.
"Sam, did you and Daniel have an argument?" Jacob asked.
"Did he say or do something to make you mad?"
"No . . . not really."
"But this is about him, isn't it," Laura said.
"He's got new friends now," Sam blurted out. "They ate lunch with us, and Daniel talked a lot with them. He even talked in German with one of them."
Light was now dawning on the problem.
"Ah, I see," Jacob murmured.
"And some of the other girls like him now, too!"
That statement had her parents hiding smiles. They sat on the bed on either side of her.
"Sam, don't you think that Daniel deserves to have other friends?" Laura asked gently.
"Well, yeah, sure he does."
"Then why are you mad?"
Sam shrugged. "I don't know," she mumbled. "I liked it when he was my special friend, and it was only the two of us. I was the one he talked to first."
"Sammie, Daniel will always be your special friend," Jacob told her. "It doesn't matter how many other friends he gets. And, yes, you are the first one that Daniel talked to, which is something special that will always be between you." Jacob smiled. "Now, as to those other girls . . ." He met his wife's eyes and saw that she was also smiling, "we'll talk about that another time."
A while later, Jacob headed over to Daniel's foster home, curious about what the boy's new caseworker would be like.
When he met Paul Underwood, Jacob was not very impressed. The man was rather impatient about the necessity of the meeting with the caseworker and seemed to have little interest in Daniel and the other foster children in his house.
The caseworker arrived a few minutes after Jacob. Lucy Merrick was a woman who looked to be pushing sixty. With her round body, equally round, rosy-cheeked face, and small, wire-rimmed glasses, she looked like she belonged in some kind of children's show, playing the part of the kindly grandmother. But the hand that gripped Jacob's was surprisingly firm and strong, and the look in her eyes was sharp and intelligent.
"Captain Carter," she said. "So, you're the man who terrorized Stan Babcock, eh?"
"I wouldn't call it terrorizing, ma'am," he responded with a smile. "I was just stating my mind."
"Well, I like a man who doesn't beat around the bush." She looked at the Underwoods. "Shall we go sit down?"
They all settled in the living room.
"Do you want me to get Daniel?" Diane asked.
"No, not yet," Lucy replied. "Let's talk for a while first. First of all, I would like to apologize for some mistakes and oversights that were made in Daniel's case. There are certain facts that we were unaware of that led to errors in judgment."
"Errors in judgment?" Jacob repeated. "Daniel is a severely traumatized little boy who was given no treatment of any kind. He was tossed into the foster care system while still in a traumatized state and put in first grade because no one bothered to test him and find out that he actually has a genius IQ. It seems to me that there was more than errors in judgment going on."
Lucy sighed. "I understand your anger, Captain Carter. I'd like to explain something to you. A lot of the children that we deal with are traumatized in some way or another. Many of them have been taken from abusive homes or places where one or both parents used drugs or simply didn't care enough about their kids to bother with them. Some of the children have had a history of abuse or neglect that goes back to infancy."
"And none of them get any kind of therapy?"
"A few do, those who display severe emotional problems, such as bouts of violence or acting out in other ways."
Jacob frowned. "Yet Daniel wasn't one of them."
"No. I'm sorry to say now that he wasn't. From what I've been told,, when Daniel arrived, he was clearly very withdrawn, and the fact that he would not talk was a concern, but it is not unheard of for children to stop speaking for a while after the death of a parent. It only becomes a concern if it continues for an extended length of time."
"And you didn't think the fact that he'd seen his parents violently killed would be traumatic enough to warrant some kind of therapy?"
"Obviously, everyone realized it would have been traumatic, but it was hoped that, because Daniel had lived in a stable family environment beforehand with no history of abuse or neglect, he'd be able to recover from the incident without any lasting problems. Children are really quite resilient, Captain Carter. It's amazing what they can recover from. Now, there's something I want to clarify. You told Stan that Daniel has been having flashbacks."
Jacob nodded. "I witnessed one he had around a week and a half ago. He admitted to me that he's had two others. He also had an extremely bad nightmare last weekend about the accident, and my wife had a hard time calming him down. From what Daniel has told me, he's had a great many others."
"He has had several since coming to live here," Diane admitted timidly.
Lucy frowned. "I see. Let me assure you that none of us knew about the flashbacks. The hospital did not report them to us. Perhaps they didn't know either. Daniel's chart did mention that he'd had nightmares, but we didn't know the severity of them." The woman turned to the Underwoods. "Has Daniel not spoken in all this time?"
"Oh! I didn't think to tell you," Diane replied. "He finally started talking. It just happened suddenly."
"We might have my daughter to thank for that," Jacob said. "She has developed a close friendship with Daniel, and I think that's what finally encouraged him to begin talking. She's the first person he spoke to."
"Really." Lucy smiled. "I'm glad to hear this. It shows that Daniel is making progress."
"He is coming out of his shell," Jacob stated. "I've seen that for myself. He was very shy and withdrawn when I first met him. He seems more confident now, and he's becoming quite the conversationalist. He had a bad moment last Sunday. He spent the weekend with us. There was an incident with my son, and Daniel got upset over his parents. He was okay after a while, but that kid's still in a lot of pain."
"I have no doubt that he is," Lucy said. She studied his expression. "I do understand the special needs and circumstances of Daniel's case, Captain Carter."
"Forgive me for saying this, Mrs. Merrick, but, when I talked to Mister Babcock, he didn't seem all that concerned about Daniel, even after I mentioned the flashbacks, and didn't seem to believe that the case warranted any special attention. Ironically, it wasn't until I talked about Daniel's advanced intelligence that Mister Babcock's tone changed."
Lucy gave another little sigh. "Stan has successfully handled many cases since joining our department, but he's never handled a case anything like Daniel's before. I will be the first to admit that he can be rather cold. We can't afford to let ourselves get too emotionally invested in the children we work with, but Stan takes the objectivity to extremes. You're not the first person to complain about his attitude."
"And what about you? Do you have experience with cases like Daniel's?"
"I've been with Child Welfare a good many years, Captain, longer than anyone else presently in our office. And, yes, I have had a great deal of experience with severely traumatized children. I've sat in the hospital with more than one. I'd probably have been the one Daniel was assigned to right from the start if I hadn't been on vacation. Knowing what I do now, I wish I had been. I'd have requested to be given his case. After your phone call, Stan reported the new developments to us, and it was decided that it would be best for Daniel's sake if I took over his case. Stan was in agreement with the decision."
"So, what does this mean?" Diane asked. "Will you be able to get Daniel some therapy?"
"We will have a therapist do an evaluation. If they believe that Daniel needs therapy, then, yes, we will provide it at no cost to you."
"That's good to know," Jacob said. "I noticed that you haven't said anything about the blunder in regards to Daniel's intelligence."
Lucy gave a nod of her head. "Yes. That was clearly another oversight on our part, although, in our own defense, since Daniel was not speaking, it would have been difficult for us to gauge the level of his intelligence without running him through tests."
"Mrs. Merrick, I figured it out just by spending a few hours with him at a park and asking him a handful of questions. It was really quite easy. Didn't anyone in your office spend more than a few minutes with him? Didn't anyone really try talking with him? Before he began speaking again, he was communicating with my daughter via written notes and did the same with us later. I think it's pretty sad that an eight-year-old managed to do what your office full of professionals failed to. It seems to me that you people were in such a hurry to get Daniel processed into the system that you didn't stop to take the time to get to know him even a little. Just one day with him would have told you a lot. Maybe then, all these mistakes wouldn't have been made."
There was a long moment of silence before Lucy replied. "I won't make any more excuses, Captain. You're right. Not enough time was spent with him before he was sent here. The initial processing was done in New York City, the case being transferred to our office once it was decided that Daniel wouldn't be kept there. Even so, Stan, as his caseworker, should have put more effort into trying to communicate with him. But the blame isn't his alone. Looking back on it now, it's clear that we should have had a psychologist do a more detailed evaluation of him. Mistakes were made, and, unfortunately, it was Daniel who paid the price. We can't change what was done. We can only move forward and see that Daniel receives the care he needs. That's the best we can do."
Jacob gazed at her a moment longer, then nodded, satisfied that the woman recognized their screw-ups and was really going to try fixing them.
Lucy settled back further into her chair. "I'd like to speak with Daniel now."
Diane went to get him. As the boy was brought into the living room, Lucy's entire demeanor changed. Her face softened, a gentle smile coming to her lips.
"Hello, Daniel," she said. "My name's Lucy. Did your foster parents tell you that I'm the new person who's going to make sure that you have everything you need?"
Daniel nodded. "You're my new caseworker."
"That's right. Come sit beside me." The boy perched on the edge of the couch. Lucy touched his left cheek. "It looks like you must have had quite a bruise there. What happened?"
"A boy at school hit me."
"Really? That wasn't very nice. Did you hit him back?"
Daniel glanced at Jacob, then at the Underwoods. "He pushed Sam down and was going to hit her, so I . . . so I jumped on top of him and started hitting him. But he threw me off and hit me."
"Sam's my daughter," Jacob explained. "The boy is the school bully and was picking on Daniel. Sam got mad, and it escalated into a fight."
Lucy smiled very faintly. "Ah." She turned back to Daniel. "So, other than bullies, how are things at school?"
"Okay. I like my teacher. He's really nice and gives me schoolwork that's for older kids."
"Really? And do you like that?"
Daniel nodded. "I was bored before because all the work was too easy."
"So, you like school."
Daniel hesitated before replying. "I like learning things."
Lucy noted the hesitation. "What about the other students? Do you like playing with them?"
Daniel's head ducked, and he didn't reply.
"It's okay, Daniel. You can tell me."
"I don't play with any of them," Daniel admitted in a low voice.
"Because they didn't want to play with me. But that's okay because I didn't want to play anyway."
Lucy exchanged a glance with Jacob and Diane.
"Why didn't you want to play with them, Daniel?" the caseworker asked gently.
Daniel shrugged. "I didn't feel like playing."
"Because you were sad about your parents."
Daniel's head ducked even further. His arms went around his body in a self-hug that Jacob had seen before.
"It's okay that you felt that way, Daniel," Lucy said. "I can understand why you wouldn't want to play. If I'd been you, I wouldn't have wanted to either. How do you feel now? Do you like to play now?"
"I played with Sam, and Mark, and Mister and Mrs. Carter on the weekend, and it was fun."
"I'm very glad to hear that. I know that Sam is your friend. Are you making any other friends in school?"
"Yeah, I guess. Kenny and Nathan ate with me and Sam at lunch today, and they were nice. Kenny likes music and birds, and Nathan likes soccer and camping, and he can speak some German."
"Well, that's great to hear. I'm happy that you're making new friends." Lucy turned serious. "Daniel, I understand that you're having a lot of bad dreams. Is that true?"
Daniel nodded, not looking at her.
"Are they about your parents?" She got another nod. "Captain Carter also told me about something else that's been happening, when you sort of have a nightmare while you're awake."
"He said they were called flashbacks."
"That's right. Have you had any lately?"
"Not since the one at the park. They only happen when I hear a really loud crash or bang."
"I see. I should imagine that they're very frightening."
Daniel didn't reply to that, keeping his head down.
Lucy looked up at the Underwood. "I'd like to speak with Daniel in private for a few minutes, please."
"You can go in his room," Diane responded.
Lucy went into the room with the boy and shut the door. She sat on the bed and told Daniel to sit beside her, which the boy did a little shyly and nervously.
"So, how do you like living with the Underwoods? I'd like you to be honest with me."
There was a long pause before Daniel replied. "They're okay. Mrs. Underwood is nice."
"And Mister Underwood?"
"He doesn't talk to me much. He works all day and likes to read the paper and watch TV after he gets home."
"What about the weekend? Doesn't he ever play with you and the other kids?"
"No. If there's a ball game on, he watches that, or he works on this old car that he's fixing up."
"Hmm. And what about Mrs. Underwood?" Lucy asked. "Does she play with you and the other kids?"
"She sometimes draws with the other kids or plays games with them, and she reads books to them. They're all little kids."
"And what about you?"
"I like to go to my room and read." Daniel smiled. "Mrs. Underwood took me to the library last week, and she let me get all the books I wanted, including from the part of the library that's for grown-ups." He pointed at a big stack on the desk. "I got all those."
"Wow, that's quite a lot." She studied Daniel's face. "Have they ever spanked you, Daniel?"
The boy shook his head immediately. "No."
"They've never punished you in some way?"
"Uh uh. I thought that they might spank me when I got into the fight at school, but they didn't. They didn't even yell at me."
"I never got spanked very much by my mom and dad."
Lucy smiled. "Well, I'm sure that's because you're a very good boy." Her smile faded. "Daniel, are you happy here?"
She got no reply to the answer. Daniel's head had ducked low once again, his face turned away.
"Please answer me, Daniel. Are you happy here?"
The boy's head shook ever so slightly.
"Can you tell me why?"
"Because I want to go home," Daniel whispered. "I want to be with my mom and dad and be back in Egypt."
Lucy sighed. She stroked the boy's hair. "I know, Daniel. I wish you could have that. I really do. If there was any way that I could arrange for you to go back to Egypt and live with a family there, I'd do it, but that just isn't possible."
Daniel sighed. "It doesn't matter. Mom and Dad wouldn't be there anyway."
His voice was so sad that it nearly broke Lucy's heart. "Isn't there anything in your life now that makes you happy?"
"Sam makes me happy. She's my best friend ever. And I'm happy that Mister Greer is giving me different schoolwork. He's really nice to me and talks with me about things. And I really like Mister and Mrs. Carter. It was fun playing at their house."
Lucy frowned slightly at the brevity of the list. "Isn't there anything else?"
"I like books. Reading makes me happy. I wish I could finish learning Italian. I really liked learning languages."
"Well, perhaps we could arrange to let you borrow some language tapes. I'll have to look into that."
They returned to the living room. Mrs. Underwood looked a little nervous. Her husband looked bored, as he had throughout most of the time Lucy had been there. From what Daniel had said and from her own observations, it was clear that only Diane was actually being a parent to the kids. It wasn't an ideal home for any child, much less one with Daniel's special needs, but it was a great deal better than some of the homes from which Social Services had found it necessary to remove kids. It wouldn't benefit Daniel to be placed somewhere else at this time. That would just add more uncertainty and instability to the boy's life.
"Well, it's getting late, and I'm sure it's getting close to Daniel's bedtime," the social worker said. She looked at Diane. "I'll be in touch with you over the next few days." She shook Jacob's hand. "Thank you for coming, Captain, and for all the help you've been."
"You're welcome. I should get going, too. I'll walk you to your car." Jacob looked down at Daniel. "We'll see you later, kiddo. Okay?"
The man and woman left the house and walked to Lucy's car.
"Um . . . look. I'm sorry if I came on a bit strong in there," Jacob said. "I just care about that boy, and it pissed me off that things weren't done the way they should have been."
"I understand, Captain." They stopped at the car, and Lucy turned to him. "I have to say that it's unusual for someone who isn't connected to the case to become so personally involved."
"That's thanks to my daughter. I don't know why, but she was drawn to Daniel from the first day she met him, and she drew us into his life right along with her. She really does care about Daniel a lot, more than I've ever seen her care about any other friend." Jacob sighed. "I'm not looking forward to the day I get transferred again. Sam's heart is going to be broken."
"You get transferred often?"
"Lately, yes. I'm hoping that will stop soon. It's so hard on the kids. It's hard on all of us."
"Yes, I can imagine it is. Well, it was nice meeting you, Captain." Lucy smiled. "Somehow, I have the feeling that we'll be seeing each other again."