It hadn't been easy, but they managed to get Sam off to school. The chance that she'd be able to see Daniel tomorrow had brightened her mood somewhat. Laura just hoped that Daniel's doctor didn't change his mind.
"Good morning," Laura greeted the boy as she came into his room. She pulled out an envelope from her purse. "I have something for you here. It's a get-well card from all of us, including Sam and Mark." She didn't fail to notice how Daniel reacted to the mention of Sam's name. He took the card and read the message, staring at the names signed below.
"Thank you, Mrs. Carter," he said softly.
Laura sat down, watching as Daniel laid the card on the table. His reaction did not bode well for his reconciliation with Sam.
Because they couldn't get their daughter in to see Daniel, Laura and Jacob had considered having Sam write a letter to him, but they both decided that what she had to say needed to be spoken in person. Regardless of how heartfelt, a letter would not really show Daniel the sincerity of Sam's words. He would not be able to see the emotions on her face nor hear them in her voice. A call really wouldn't be enough either, even if there was a phone in the room. No, Sam had to do this face to face. It was the only way.
Physically, Daniel was doing a lot better today, the antibiotics doing what they were supposed to and ridding his body of the bacteria that had made him so ill. Emotionally, however, he was pretty much the same. Throughout the morning, he never smiled, and Laura was concerned that her husband was right about him seeking to distance himself from everyone.
The morning was spent mostly with Laura reading her book to Daniel. They were getting close to the end when it was time for her to leave for her appointment.
"Your foster mother is going to be here in a little while," she told Daniel. "Mrs. Merrick will be coming at around four, and Jacob will come over later after he gets off duty."
"It's okay for me to be by myself, Mrs. Carter. I already told Captain Carter that."
"I know you did, Daniel, but we don't want you to be by yourself here in the hospital. You will have to be for a while today, but, hopefully, not long, and we're all hoping that you can go home tomorrow."
After Laura left, Daniel resumed reading The Jungle Book sequel. He hadn't been at it for long when his favorite nurse came in.
"And how are you doing today?" asked Nurse Branam with a bright smile.
The woman frowned. "Just okay? Well, that's simply not good enough, not good enough at all." She reached into her pocket. "You know, I might just have something here that will improve the situation." She pulled out a little package of chocolate chip cookies and handed them to Daniel.
"Thank you, Nurse Branam."
"You're very welcome. Now, mum's the word on those cookies, Daniel. I wouldn't want to get a scolding."
"I'll be really careful and won't tell anybody," Daniel promised, hiding the cookies under his covers.
The nurse checked Daniel's vitals and asked him how he was feeling, if he was breathing okay, if his chest still hurt. She was pleased with the answers.
"Well, it certainly looks like we'll be sending you home tomorrow," she said. "Of course Doctor Probst will have to decide on that. I bet you're eager to get out of here."
Daniel gave her a nod.
The nurse looked at him more closely. "I heard from the night nurses that you had a nightmare last night."
Daniel's gaze dropped to his lap. Last night's nightmare had been different. In it, Sam had been there in the museum with Daniel. After the coverstone fell, she suddenly disappeared, and Daniel had found himself crying out not only for his parents, but for her as well. One of the nurses had awakened him and gently soothed him until he'd calmed down.
"I'm kind of getting used to having them," he said.
"Oh, Daniel," Nurse Branam sighed. "You should never get used to having nightmares. That's just not right." She brushed the hair from his brow. "Would you like to talk about it?"
Daniel immediately shook his head. He didn't like talking about his nightmares.
"Well, if you change your mind, just push your call button."
Daniel's foster mother arrived around half an hour later. She gave him a hug and apologized for not being able to visit him sooner. Daniel told her it was okay.
"How's Susy?" he asked, knowing that the little girl had been sick.
"Oh, much better, and, so far, it looks like none of the kids have caught your flu. I certainly do miss having you there, Daniel. You were such a good helper."
The comment made Daniel feel good. He was happy that he'd been of some help to her.
"When they let me go home I can start helping again," he said.
"Oh, I'd love that, but you're still going to be too sick, honey. You'll have to stay in bed a lot of the time."
"Oh. How long before I won't be sick anymore?"
"I don't know. I'll have to ask the doctor."
Diane had brought her knitting, which she worked on as Daniel read. She was only able to stay a couple of hours, explaining that it's all the time the babysitter could remain.
"Mrs. Merrick will be here in around an hour," she said. "I think she'll be able to keep you company for a while."
Daniel, who was feeling tired, nodded. Diane told him that he should get some sleep and lowered the bed, tucking him in. She gave him a light kiss on the forehead and said that she'd see him tomorrow.
Saying goodbye, Daniel closed his eyes. Moments later, sleep took him.
Lucy headed down the hospital corridor. It was not the first time that she'd come to a hospital because one of "her kids" was there, and she knew that it wouldn't be the last. Thankfully, this time, she wasn't there because a child had deliberately harmed themselves or been hurt by someone else. Even so, the situation with Daniel was serious. Intellectually, the child had so much potential, but, emotionally, he was a disaster waiting to happen. Not that he'd ever become self-destructive. He didn't strike Lucy as the type to go down that road. But he could develop antisocial tendencies, become reclusive. Now was the time to do all they could to prevent that from happening.
As Lucy came to the door of Daniel's room, she stopped dead in surprise. Sitting beside the sleeping child was a man she didn't recognize. It was tough to tell for sure in the seated position, but he looked to be at least six-foot-five, weighing in at around two hundred fifty pounds, and virtually none of it was fat. With his huge shoulders, big chest, and rugged features, he looked like the kind of man you really wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley, yet there was a look of such tenderness on his face that it had the social worker staring in amazement. One of his hands was stroking Daniel's hair, the other covering the boy's lax hand.
At that moment, he became aware of Lucy's presence. He got to his feet, and she saw that she was right about his height.
She stepped forward. "Hello. I'm Lucy Merrick, Daniel's caseworker."
The man smiled and came around the bed to shake her hand. "I'm Quentin Greer, Daniel's teacher."
That surprised Lucy. She'd never known of a teacher coming to visit one of their students in the hospital, although it probably wasn't unheard-of.
"It's nice to meet you, Mister Greer. Daniel has told me that he likes your class."
"Well, I'm happy that he does." Quentin looked over at the child. "I've been worried about him. The poor kid's been through so much."
"Yes, he has, and we're all worried about him."
Quentin turned back to her. "How much do you know about this latest incident?"
"You mean about the Carters' daughter? Pretty much everything."
The teacher sighed. "He was doing so well, answering questions in class, really coming out of his shell. I was so happy to see it. I can't stand the thought of all that being undone."
"Neither can I, Mister Greer. We're just going to have to do all we can to see that it doesn't happen."
They both sat down, Quentin moving the other chair around to the same side of the bed. As they waited for Daniel to awaken, Lucy learned a bit about the teacher. He'd been teaching for nine years now, most of that time with second-graders. He had a pretty impressive academic background, and Lucy was not surprised to learn that he'd played college football.
"My original plan was to be a college professor," he said, "but I decided that I'd prefer teaching younger children, young minds that were still open enough to be taught how to love learning. I've never regretted the decision. I love my kids, and I love seeing the excitement in their eyes when they learn something new and realize that learning can actually be fun. This year's class has a few more stubborn ones than usual," he smiled, "but I'm working on them."
Lucy also smiled, recognizing in this man a truly dedicated teacher, one who would go the extra mile for his students.
A movement from the bed alerted the adults to the fact that Daniel was awakening. He blinked his eyes open, surprised to see his teacher there.
"Yep. Hey, I said that I'd stop by after school, didn't I?"
The blue eyes went to the other person in the room. "Hi, Mrs. Merrick."
"Hello, Daniel. How are you feeling?"
"A lot better than I was when I first got put in the hospital."
"Well, that's good to hear."
Quentin picked up one of the books on the table. "I couldn't help but notice the bookmark. I guess I was right that you'd pick this one first."
Daniel nodded. "I like it, especially the stories with Mowgli."
"Me too. Which is your favorite so far?"
"'Letting In the Jungle', I think."
Lucy saw something flicker across the teacher's face, then he smiled.
"Yes, that's a good one," he said.
"So, what is this book?" she asked. "Is it The Jungle Book?"
"The Second Jungle Book," Daniel corrected with something that was quite close to being a smile.
"I didn't know there was a second Jungle Book."
"I didn't either until Mister Greer brought me his copy."
"May I see it?"
Quentin handed her the book. She glanced through it until she came to a typewritten page. "What's this?"
"Oh, those are the first five hundred words of one of the stories in the book," Quentin explained. "The first edition was accidentally printed with the first five hundred words of 'The King's Ankus' missing. They fixed the error in later printings, although the mistake was repeated in some later editions."
Lucy went to the front of the book and saw that not only was the book a first edition, it was also a first printing. And it was in excellent condition, almost like new. She had to wonder what it was worth.
Lucy wasn't surprised that the teacher would have this book, especially since one of his master's was in English Literature. What did surprise her was that he'd entrust such a valuable book to the hands of an eight-year-old.
She handed the book back to the teacher, who returned it to the pile.
Quentin stayed for the next half-hour, talking with both Daniel and Lucy. The social worker was happy to see the rapport that existed between the boy and his teacher. Such relationships were good for Daniel. On the other hand, it was going to make it very difficult for him when he was removed from that class. She wondered if Quentin knew yet that, come January, he was going to lose a student for whom he clearly had fond feelings. She was certain that Daniel didn't know.
"Well, I'd better get on home," Quentin finally said. "You know, Daniel. One of these days, you'll have to come to my house to see my library."
The boy's face lit up. "Really?"
"Sure. I've got some pretty interesting old books there, and some interesting newer books, too."
"I'd like that, Mister Greer. Thank you."
Quentin smiled at him. "You're welcome. Once you're all better, that's what we'll have to do."
Lucy accompanied the teacher out of the room.
"Thank you for spending some time with him," she said.
"It was my pleasure."
"I was curious about something. When Daniel mentioned which of the stories in that book was his favorite, you got an odd look on your face for a moment."
"Oh. In that story, Mowgli saves his adoptive parents from being killed. Considering Daniel's history. . . ."
Lucy sighed. "I see what you mean."
"It makes me wonder if Daniel believes that there might have been something he could have done to save his parents."
"Of course there wasn't."
"No, but that wouldn't stop him from thinking it."
"You're right. That may be one of the questions the psychologist needs to ask."
Lucy was still with Daniel when Jacob arrived.
"Hello there," he said. "So, how is everyone today?"
"The doctor said I could go home tomorrow," Daniel replied.
"Well, that's great news. I bet you're happy about that."
The boy nodded.
Jacob could only stay for a little over half an hour. Lucy had to leave as well, so both adults bid the boy goodbye. They left the hospital and walked to the parking lot together.
"If he is discharged, are you going to bring your daughter to see Daniel tomorrow?" Lucy asked.
"That's going to depend on him, I guess. I've arranged to get off duty early tomorrow, and Laura and I will take Sam over there, but if Daniel refuses to talk to her, we're not going to push it. Sam is eager to take the first step, but Daniel is the one who has to let the reconciliation happen."
"And do you think he will?"
"I honestly don't know. He was pretty deeply wounded by Sam's actions. He needs to be convinced that she is still his friend and that he can trust her. If this was an ordinary situation with ordinary kids, it would be a different story, and I wouldn't worry so much, but, in the case of Daniel, with his history and emotional state. . . ." Jacob shook his head. "All we can do is hope and pray that it all turns out well."
Daniel was released late the next morning. By eleven, he was settled in his room with a glass of orange juice and plenty of books, paper and pencils. Diane offered to bring the little black and white TV from the master bedroom in there, but the boy was happy with his books and writing things.
Except when he stopped for lunch, Daniel spent the afternoon reading and writing. He'd decided to write a book report for Mister Greer about the Second Jungle Book. He was hoping that the teacher would bring the history book soon.
It was not quite four o'clock when the doorbell rang. A couple of minutes later, there was a knock on Daniel's door. Jacob stuck his head in.
"Hey there, Daniel. It's great to see you back home. I bet you're happy to be out of that hospital."
The man came in, shutting the door behind him. He walked up to the bed and sat on the edge.
"Daniel, Sam is here."
With a leaden heart, Jacob watched the boy's entire demeanor change. He appeared to draw in upon himself, his eyes now cast downward.
"Daniel, she wants to apologize to you. Will you let her do that?"
It took several seconds, but the boy's head finally nodded. Grateful at least for that, Jacob went to get his daughter. He knelt before her.
"Okay, Sam, he's going to let you say you're sorry, but you need to understand that he's still hurting over what you did. He still thinks that you're no longer his friend. So, you have to go easy. Don't run over and try to hug him or anything like that. All right?"
"Okay," Sam responded in a little voice, so afraid that she couldn't fix this, and she'd lost Daniel's friendship forever.
Jacob and Laura accompanied their daughter to the room. When they opened the door, they saw that the boy was in his self-hug position, head dipped low.
The moment Sam saw her friend and the way he was acting, she started crying.
"I'm sorry I was mean to you and didn't talk to you," she sobbed, "and I'm sorry I was jealous, and I was a horrible friend, and a terrible, mean person. Please don't not be my friend anymore. You're my best friend in the whole world, and I'll never want any more friends if you don't want to be my friend again."
Sam turned away and buried her face in her father's shirt.
Daniel lifted his head slightly and looked at Sam as she cried so sadly. Could he believe her? Could he believe that she really was still his friend? He wanted to so much, but he didn't know if he could. He was so afraid that, if he let her be his friend again, something else would happen. She'd get mad and stop talking to him again or, worse, she'd go away and never come back, like in that dream he had. And it hurt so much when people he loved went away. He didn't want to hurt anymore. If he didn't care about anybody, then it wouldn't hurt if they went away or stopped liking him.
But it had felt so good being Sam's friend. It had felt good to talk with her and play with her and know that she really liked him. But if she really did like him, would she have done what she did? Captain Carter had said that, when people got jealous, they sometimes did stupid things and hurt people.
Daniel remembered one time when he was a lot littler and his parents were working on a dig. He wasn't allowed to go on this dig because the man in charge wouldn't let children be there. He was left with a woman for hours and hours, and, even after they got home, his parents were still talking all about the dig with each other and hardly spent any time with him. One day, he got really mad at them and ran away, intending to go back to their previous dig, where he'd been allowed to be. By the time his parents found him hours later, it was night, and he was scared. They'd been angry at him and scolded him a lot. But then they'd just held him for a very long time, and his mom had cried. When they found out why he ran away, they started spending more time with him.
Was that the way Sam had felt? Captain Carter said she was jealous because Daniel made new friends, so maybe she was jealous because he was talking with them sometimes and not just doing things with her, like he was jealous because his mom and dad were spending so much time working.
Jacob held his daughter as she cried, his eyes on Daniel. The boy was looking at Sam furtively, but the U.S.A.F. officer couldn't read his expression. Jacob was tense, waiting for the verdict to be handed down. He wasn't quite sure what he'd do if Daniel rejected Sam's apology.
"Why were you jealous?" Daniel suddenly asked in a voice that was barely more than a whisper. Even so, Sam heard. She turned her face to him.
"B-because you had new friends, and you were talking to them, and you weren't just my friend anymore. But it was wrong that I wanted you to be only my friend, and it was mean, and I'm sorry, and you can have as many friends as you want to, and I promise that I'll never, ever get jealous again."
Daniel's gaze returned to his lap, and he hugged himself even more tightly.
Laura decided it was time to step in. She sat on the edge of the bed. She knew fear in a child when she saw it, and that's what was on Daniel's face, not fear of physical harm, but a different kind of fear.
"Daniel, honey, what's wrong? Why are you afraid?"
Daniel's chin dipped all the way to his chest, his knees coming up to partly hide his face.
"I'm afraid to be her friend again," he admitted in a tiny voice.
"Because it hurts."
"It hurts when I love people, and they go away. If I don't love anybody, then it won't hurt."
Laura felt pain tear through her heart. She changed her position so that she was seated next to Daniel instead of facing him. She pulled the boy into her embrace.
"Oh, sweetheart. I know it hurts when we lose people we love. I've lost family and friends, too. But if we don't let ourselves love anyone, we just end up being sad and lonely. You can't be afraid of love, Daniel. You have to let it in."
Daniel said nothing for quite a while, then, "I want to be by myself."
"Okay, Daniel, we'll give you some time alone," Jacob responded. He, Laura and Sam left the room. Sam broke away from Jacob and ran out the front door, leaving it wide open. He saw her run to the car and throw herself onto the back seat. With a sigh, he turned to Diane.
"It didn't go well?" she asked.
"The jury is still out. Call us anytime if Daniel decides that he wants to speak to us or Sam. And I mean anytime at all."
When her parents got to the car, Sam was crying wretchedly, lying across the back seat, face buried in her crossed arms.
"Sam?" Laura inquired.
"He's never going to be my friend again," she wailed. "He doesn't want to be friends with me."
"He just needs time to think, Sammie," Jacob said. "Daniel is afraid to love people because it hurts to lose them."
Sam's head lifted. "He's afraid to love me?"
"Will he ever not be afraid?"
Jacob sighed. "That's the big question, Sammie. We all hope the answer is yes."
Sam was miserable and inconsolable throughout the rest of the day, and her parents weren't feeling much better. The two adults knew how much was riding on what Daniel decided, how critical it was to his future. If he chose to reject love, to try living his life without it, it would be a terrible tragedy. Daniel had so much love in him. To cut off that part of himself was something neither Jacob nor Laura could even bear thinking about.
And then there was what it would do to Sam if Daniel refused to renew their friendship. She might never get past the guilt and grief over losing her best friend because of her own actions.
It was nearly Sam's bedtime when the phone rang. Jacob went to it, feeling tense. 'Please let it be Diane.' He was still tense even when he found out that it was.
"Captain Carter, Daniel says that he wants to talk to Sam. Because of the hour, I suggested that he wait till tomorrow, but the look on his face convinced me that it couldn't wait. Can you bring your daughter over?"
"Yes, we'll bring her right away. Thank you."
Jacob hurried to Sam's room. "Sam, Daniel wants to talk to you."
Sam was out of her room so fast that she was almost a blur. By the time Jacob reached the living room, she was already getting her coat on.
"Daddy, come on!" she urged.
Jacob turned to his wife, and their eyes met.
"I'll be praying," she said.
The captain was virtually towed all the way to his car by Sam, who was yanking on his hand impatiently and telling him to hurry. He wondered if she was afraid that Daniel would change his mind if they didn't get there right away.
Jacob kept to the speed limit despite his daughter's pleas to go faster. They'd barely pulled up out front Daniel's house when Sam was unbuckling her seatbelt and climbing out, just about trying to do both at the same time.
"Sam, wait for me," Jacob called as she ran across the grass to the door. He trotted after her.
Diane answered the door. They could hear the TV on in the living room.
"Thank you for coming," she said.
Jacob and Sam went to Daniel's room, and the captain knocked, really hoping that the boy hadn't fallen asleep. If he had, Mark was probably the only person in the Carter household who would be getting much sleep tonight.
Upon opening the door, father and daughter saw that Daniel was lying down but that he was awake.
Sam tentatively approached the bed as the boy sat up.
"Are you really still my friend?" he asked, glancing at her.
Sam nodded. "I didn't really want to hurt you. I swear I didn't." Yet again, tears came. "Please be my friend again. Please."
Daniel said nothing for several very long, tense seconds, throughout which Jacob didn't breathe. And then the words came.
"I want to be your friend again."
A second after that, Sam was on the bed, hugging the stuffing out of Daniel. He hugged her back, hiding his face against her shoulder.
An almost overwhelming wave of relief washed through Jacob. He felt like both laughing and crying. Instead, he smiled so hard his face hurt.
Daniel didn't say anything more, and Jacob could tell that he was very tired. When Sam finally let the boy go, the captain said that they needed to go home and let Daniel get some sleep.
"But I don't want to go!" Sam cried. "Why can't I stay with Daniel? I can sleep here."
"Sam, Daniel's still sick, and he needs lots of rest. You can see him tomorrow after school, that is if Daniel says that's okay. Is that all right, Danny?"
The boy nodded. He really did look exhausted, most likely due to both his illness and his emotional turmoil.
Sam complained all the way to the car, insisting that she'd have been nice and quiet and let Daniel sleep.
"Patience, Sam," Jacob told her. "Daniel isn't going anywhere."
When they got home, Jacob looked into the back seat and saw that Sam was fast asleep, her tumultuous emotions finally having taken their toll. With a smile, he lifted her up and carried her to the house rather than waking her.
"What happened?" Laura whispered.
"Hold on." Jacob took Sam to her bedroom and lay her on the bed. He then turned to his wife with a smile. "Daniel forgave her. He said he wants to be her friend again."
Laura smiled joyfully and threw her arms around her husband. "Oh, this is wonderful. I was so worried."
"Yeah, me too."
They got Sam dressed for bed and tucked in, then went to the living room.
"It's going to be all right now," Laura said.
"I sure hope so."