There was a frown on Daniel's face as he walked from the bus to his house the next afternoon after school. Several times during class that day, he'd seen Sam glancing back to look at Randy, and, during lunch, he'd had to repeat himself more than once when she failed to hear what he was saying to her because she seemed to be more interested in watching what the older boy was doing. They were supposed to be planning what they were going to do for their science project during the lunch breaks, but they'd barely talked about it at all. Not that Daniel cared about the project. He really didn't want to do it. But the way that Sam was constantly looking at Randy and the fact that she seemed to be only interested in him now was starting to make Daniel feel upset. He shouldn't be upset. If Sam wanted to be friends with Randy, that should be okay with him. Yet it still hurt that she was devoting so much of her attention to him.
Daniel was glad that he'd be spending the lunch break for the next two days helping Kenny with his reading. Then it wouldn't matter if Sam spent the whole lunchtime staring at Randy.
Within seconds of entering his foster home, Daniel became aware of the silence. When he arrived home from school, the other kids were usually playing out in the living room or running around the whole house, Mrs. Underwood ever-present. But there was no sign of anyone today and no sounds at all.
Wondering where everyone was, Daniel headed for the hallway. At that moment, his foster mother came out of Caleb and Adam's room, quietly shutting the door. Daniel saw that her eyes were red from crying.
"What's wrong?" he asked anxiously. "Did they take Caleb today?" Caleb wasn't supposed to be taken until Saturday, and Daniel had wanted to say goodbye to the boy. Had he lost his chance?
Diane hugged him tightly. "Oh, Daniel. No, they didn't take Caleb. Something . . . something terrible has happened."
Daniel's concern turned to fear. "W-what happened?"
"Come sit down." Diane led Daniel to the couch and settled upon it beside him. She took a deep breath. "Caleb's caseworker came over a while ago. Caleb's mother . . . she died, Daniel."
Tears welled inside Daniel's eyes, understanding deep in his heart what his foster brother must be feeling right now. He'd known for months that Caleb had a real mother, one Daniel had been told couldn't take care of her son because she was too sick.
"Did she die because she was sick?" he asked in a little voice.
Diane's gaze fell, and she let out a sigh. "This is so hard to explain, Daniel. You're so young." She returned her eyes to his. "But maybe you should know so that you'll understand how horrible a thing this is. Caleb's mother had a problem. There's this terrible thing called heroin. It's a kind of drug. When people take it, it makes them feel good, but it's very, very dangerous, and, once they take it, they can't stop. They keep wanting more and more. Last night, Caleb's mother took too much, and it killed her."
"Why did she take too much?"
"The police don't know for sure. It may have been an accident."
Tears returned to Daniel's eyes. "Is Caleb an orphan now like me?"
"No, his father is still alive, but he's in prison and won't be getting out for many years."
"Is Social Services still going to take Caleb?"
"I don't know, Daniel. Right now, they're going to leave things as they are. The last thing that poor little boy needs is to be sent off to live with strangers." Diane's eyes filled with tears. "We had to tell him about his mother, and he just cried and cried. I just managed to get him to sleep. I asked a neighbor to come get Adam and Susy to watch them for a few hours. I called your therapist and canceled your appointment for today."
Daniel wished that there was something he could say or do to help Caleb, but what could he say? What could he do?
"Can I help?" he asked Diane.
The woman touched his cheek. "Oh, Daniel. It's really sweet of you to ask. When Caleb gets up, just be really nice to him, okay? I know you're always nice. Just be extra nice. All right?"
Daniel nodded. Diane hugged him, then got up, heading to the bathroom to wash her face. Feeling low, Daniel went to his bedroom and sat on his bed. The death of Caleb's mother had brought back the shadow of his own parents' death, and he was aching inside, both for Caleb and for his own loss.
When Daniel's parents died, he hadn't wanted to talk to anybody. He'd wanted to keep his pain secret, all to himself. But, this time, he felt like he needed to talk to somebody. He thought of Sam, but she might not be interested since she seemed to be interested in only Randy these days. If he couldn't talk to Sam, then he couldn't talk to her parents either.
Daniel looked over at the phone extension that Diane had put in his room yesterday. Knowing that he and Sam were now "study partners", she'd told him that he could have a phone in his room to call her if he was ever stuck on a math or science problem while doing his homework. Would it be okay to make other calls on it?
Several more minutes passed before Daniel finally picked up the phone and called a number he'd dialed several times before.
"Hello," answered a male voice.
"Daniel? Is something wrong?"
"Something really bad happened."
Quentin's body tightened with alarm, thinking of all the terrible things that could have happened. "What happened, Daniel?"
"Caleb's mom died."
"Caleb? Your foster brother?"
"Uh huh. Mrs. Underwood said that she took too much of something called heroin."
Quentin closed his eyes, cursing silently.
"I'm so sorry, Daniel," he said. "I should imagine that Caleb is very sad."
"He's sleeping now, but Mrs. Underwood said he cried a lot. I wish I knew how I could make him feel better."
Quentin smiled sadly at the comment. Daniel had such a generous spirit.
"You just need to be a really good friend and brother to him."
"I will be."
There was a long silence.
"Daniel, do you want to talk about this?" Quentin asked, sensing that there was something more.
Several more seconds passed before Daniel spoke. "Caleb isn't an orphan like me. His dad's still alive, but he's in jail and is going to be there for a long time, so it's kind of like Caleb doesn't have real parents anymore, like . . . like me."
Quentin sighed. It was natural that this incident would bring to the fore Daniel's thoughts about his own parents.
"Why did Caleb's mom take the heroin when it could kill her?" the boy asked, not understanding.
"Oh, Daniel. That's so very hard to explain. Do you know what addiction is?"
"Is there something that you do that, if you couldn't do it anymore, it would make you really upset?"
Daniel thought about that. "If I wasn't allowed to read any more books, it would be really awful."
Quentin nodded, though Daniel couldn't see him. "Reading is very important to you, one of the most important things in your life. It's something that you love so much that you feel like you just have to do it, that, if someone took away all your books, and you could never read again, a part of you would die, right?"
"Well, addiction is kind of like that, except much more powerful. When someone is addicted to something, no matter how much they really should stop doing or taking it, they simply can't. They have a need for it. With drugs like heroin, if a person doesn't keep taking it, they feel worse and worse until it almost drives them crazy, and they'll do anything to get more."
"Why do people take it if it's so bad?"
"Usually, because it makes them feel good when they take it. They don't plan on getting addicted to it. They think they can just take it once in a while, and they'll be fine. But it usually doesn't work out that way. Drug addiction is a terrible thing, Daniel. It destroys lives."
"Like Caleb's mom."
"I'll never ever take any drugs."
"That's good, Daniel. Don't ever forget this and how much Caleb is going to suffer because of his mom taking that drug."
"Are you okay, Daniel? Do you want to talk about how you're feeling?"
Daniel paused for a long moment. "I'm . . . I'm sad. I feel really, really bad for Caleb, and. . . ."
"And you're thinking about your mom and dad, too."
Daniel didn't reply.
"It's okay, Daniel. It's natural that this would make you think about your own parents."
Daniel began to cry. "Why do people have to die?"
"Oh, Daniel," Quentin said on a sigh. "That is just a part of life. All living things on Earth die eventually. None of us can live forever. Our bodies just don't have that ability. We all just have to accept that and try to live the years we have as well as we possibly can."
"I wish there was a way that we could live forever."
"Me too, Daniel. Maybe someday in the distant future, someone will find a way."
Dinner that night was a somber affair. Susy was too young to understand what was going on and was the only one not affected by the tragedy. Adam, on the other hand, did understand to a certain extent. He had no memories of his own parents, both of them having died when he was only two, but he'd been under the care of his maternal grandmother until she died eight months ago. He knew that, when someone died, they never came back. Caleb's mom was never going to come back. She was never going to come get Caleb like the boy had said she would.
Diane did all that was in her power to make Caleb feel better, even fixing his favorite foods for dinner, but the boy barely ate. He spent most of the time staring at his lap. It made Daniel think of the way he was when his parents died.
After dinner, Caleb wanted to go back to his room. Surprisingly, it was Paul who stopped him.
"Come here, Caleb," he said gently.
His head down, the boy approached him, stopping beside the man's chair.
"I'm sorry that your mom died, Caleb. I know that you're really sad, but going off and being by yourself in your room is just going to make you feel worse. So, how about if you stay in here with us?"
"I don't want to," the boy mumbled. "I want to go to my room."
Paul nodded. "All right. But if you feel even a little bit lonely, come on back out here. I'm sure that your foster mom would like you to be out here with her. She loves you, you know."
Caleb headed off to his room. When Paul looked at his wife, he saw that she was staring at him in shock. He gave her a shrug.
"I do understand what the kid is feeling, Diane," he said. "I adored my mother's parents. When they both died when I was nine, it hurt."
Diane nodded, too full of emotion to speak.
It was an hour later when Caleb came back out. Not saying a word, he climbed up onto Diane's lap, pressed his face against her chest, and held on. Crying once again, the woman held him tightly, whispering softly to him and rocking him back and forth.
The next morning at school, Daniel considered telling Sam about what happened, but then he noticed her glancing over at Randy and decided not to do so. Instead, it was Kenny whom he told during the boy's tutoring session in the closet. Like Daniel, Kenny truly understood what Caleb must be feeling.
Quentin called a couple of hours after Daniel got home that afternoon and asked how he was doing. The boy told his former teacher that he was okay, though he was still feeling low, the issue with Sam definitely not helping his mood.
"Will you be ready to begin your tutoring on Monday or would like to put it off for a few more days?" the teacher asked.
"No, I don't want to wait."
"Okay. Then I guess we'll see you Monday afternoon. Come on to my classroom after school, and I'll take you to my house. Then your foster mother won't have to worry about getting you over there. Put her on the phone, and I'll let her know the plan."
Diane was relieved that Quentin had come up with an alternate way for Daniel to get to the man's house. She was trying to avoid taking Caleb places as much as possible.
That evening, Daniel worked on the science stuff that was in the folder of advanced work that Mrs. Mason had given to him, it being his last opportunity to get it done. He stared at the problems, frowning. Mister Greer had never given him science problems this advanced. What science he'd included in the work he gave to Daniel had been mostly fourth grade stuff. Now, the boy was struggling to answer questions about things he didn't know. He turned to the encyclopedia in hopes of finding the answers, but it was only partially helpful.
Daniel's eyes went to the phone. Sam was supposed to be his study partner. He was supposed to go to her if he had trouble in science or math, but he was reluctant to call her. Randy still seemed to be all she was interested in, so much so that he'd just about given up on trying to talk to her. They still hadn't talked any more about the science project, and Daniel had decided that, even if she did still want to do it with him, he wasn't going to do it. He'd never really wanted to in the first place anyway.
Deciding not to call Sam, Daniel tried to answer the questions as well as he could on his own, making outright guesses sometimes.
The next morning, Daniel and Sam both turned in their advanced homework to Mrs. Mason. At the end of the day, she called them up to her desk and gave them back the folders.
"Your graded papers are inside," she explained. She turned to Daniel. "I'd like to speak to you for a moment."
Waiting until the classroom was clear, Elizabeth Mason studied the boy standing before her.
"As you'll see when you look at those papers, you did excellently on your history, English and spelling. You didn't do bad on the math either, a B. But the science. . . ."
Daniel sighed. "I probably got an F, didn't I."
"No, not nearly that bad. I gave you a C-."
"Mister Greer never gave me science problems like that."
"I'm sorry, Daniel. I guess I went overboard. I should have known that it was too advanced for you to go into this soon. I'll be more careful next time, and I won't count this in the grade on your report card. I do have a question, though. Sam did very well on her science work. It wasn't all the same as yours, but some things were similar."
"She's really smart with science."
"Yes, I know, which leads me to my question. Didn't you ask for her help?"
Daniel's gaze dropped to the floor. "No."
The boy shrugged, not wanting to tell her. "I just didn't."
"Isn't that what you two were going to do, help each other?"
"Did something happen to change that?"
Daniel's shoulders hunched. "I don't want to talk about it."
"Did you have a fight?"
Daniel shook his head.
Elizabeth studied the boy, whose eyes had not lifted from the floor. "Daniel, if you and Sam aren't going to be studying together and helping each other, I cannot let you remain study partners."
"I don't think she's interested in that anymore," Daniel said in a barely audible mumble.
The teacher frowned. "Why do you say that?" When he didn't answer, she pressed him. "Daniel, I'd like an answer."
"I think she'd rather be Randy's study partner," the boy finally admitted.
Elizabeth's eyebrows went up. "Randy Kingston?"
Suddenly, it all made sense to the teacher. Apparently, Sam had taken quite a fancy to Randy, and Daniel was hurt and jealous.
Sam wasn't the only girl who had eyes for the handsome ten-year-old. Charming and athletic, he was quite popular with the girls.
Normally, childhood crushes were mostly harmless, but this one was negatively affecting Daniel. So, what should she do about it? The crush probably wouldn't last long, but, in the meantime, Daniel would suffer and possibly begin withdrawing from Sam. It would be a terrible shame to let their friendship get hurt.
She certainly couldn't talk to Sam about her crush on Randy. That would be inappropriate. However, perhaps there was something else she could try.
"I'm sure that Sam still wants to be your study partner, Daniel. We'll get this all straightened out. You'd better get going now before you miss your bus. I'll see you on Monday."
The funeral for Caleb's mother was on Saturday. Diane took the boy to it, Paul watching the rest of the kids at home. All morning, Daniel thought about the funeral for his own parents and about what happened afterwards, going to breakfast at that diner with his grandfather and being told that Nick couldn't take care of him, that his grandfather's work just wouldn't allow for time to look after a child. Deep in his world of silence, Daniel had said nothing, had suffered the crushing blow of rejection without comment. The next day, his grandfather was gone, and Daniel was officially in the foster care system.
Now, Daniel's foster brother was having to watch the funeral of a parent. The difference was that, afterwards, he wouldn't suffer rejection by another relative. He'd be brought back here, and Mrs. Underwood would give him hugs, and kisses, and make him feel better. Daniel was glad that Caleb would have that, but, at the same time, he was feeling a little bitter. Why didn't he get to have that? Why couldn't his grandfather have cared about him like Mrs. Underwood cared about Caleb? She wasn't even a relative.
Feeling sorry for himself for the first time since his parents' death, Daniel stayed in his room, not even coming out when Diane and Caleb returned. It wasn't until he was called to lunch that he finally left the room. He went right back in after eating.
On Monday, a couple of hours after Daniel had gone to school, Diane got a call from Laura Carter.
"I hate to bother you," Laura said, "but Daniel told me a while ago that you had a meatloaf recipe that was, in his words, really good, and I was wondering if you'd mind sharing it with me. I've got a lot of hamburger that needs to be used up, and my meatloaf recipe leaves much to be desired."
Her mind only half on what Laura had said, Diane didn't answer right away.
Hearing only silence, Laura said, "Hello?"
"Oh. I-I'm sorry," Diane apologized. "I'm afraid that my mind just isn't good for much today. I'm still worried about Caleb."
"What's wrong with Caleb?" Laura quickly asked.
"Don't you know? I thought for sure that Daniel would have told Sam. I was certain of it."
"Told her what? What happened?"
"Caleb lost his mother last week."
Laura gasped. "Oh, no."
Diane explained the whole story to her.
"I know that it's had an impact on Daniel," she said. "He's been very quiet. The funeral was on Saturday, and Daniel spent a good part of the weekend in his room. The whole thing has probably made him think about his own parents."
"No doubt." Laura shook her head. "I don't understand why he didn't tell Sam about this."
"Do you think I should ask him?"
"No, don't. He must have had a reason. Perhaps Jacob and I will feel Sam out tonight and see if something's going on."
A few minutes later, Laura decided to call the base and asked for Jacob. He wasn't available at the moment, but the man she talked to said that he'd give the captain a message to call. The call came an hour later.
"Jacob, I just found out that Daniel's foster brother, Caleb, lost his birth mother last week."
"What? How come we didn't know about this?"
"That's what I'd like to know. If Daniel told Sam, she surely would have told us."
"Of course she would. So, that means he didn't tell her. Why would he keep that from her?"
"I don't know. Diane says that the whole thing has been affecting Daniel. I just know that he's got to be thinking about the death of his own parents."
"Oh, there's no doubt of that. I really wish we'd known about this."
"I think we need to talk to Sam, try to get some idea on why Daniel wouldn't have told her."
"Definitely. We'll talk to her as soon as I get home. We'll get to the bottom of this."
Daniel didn't dawdle when the final bell rang Monday afternoon. He hurriedly began gathering his books.
"How come you're hurrying?" Sam asked.
Daniel glanced at her. "My tutoring with Mister Greer starts today. I don't want to make him wait."
"Oh! I forgot that was today. I bet you're excited."
Daniel glanced at her again. "Yeah." He picked up the last of his books. "I gotta go."
"Okay. See you tomorrow."
As Daniel hurried out of the room, Randy passed by Sam's desk. She gave him a big smile.
"Hey, Genius Sam."
The girl blushed at the nickname.
"So, has Bud been leaving you and Daniel alone?"
"Yeah, mostly. He shoved me a little bit in the lunch line on Thursday."
"Well, if he causes you or Daniel trouble, you come tell me, and I'll beat him up."
Sam smiled shyly. "Okay, I will."
Randy gave her a jaunty wave. "Well, see ya later, Genius Sam."
Sam was so busy watching the boy leave that she didn't notice her teacher coming up to her.
"Sam, I'd like to talk to you for a moment, please."
Wondering what this was about, the girl went to the teacher's desk. As the last of the other kids left, Mrs. Mason turned to her.
"Sam, I thought you should know that I'm considering removing Daniel as your study partner."
Stunned, Sam exclaimed, "B-but why?"
"One reason is that he told me that he believes you no longer have an interest in studying with him."
"But that's not true!"
"Well, I think you'd better talk to him about it. He got a lower grade on his fifth grade science homework because he chose not to call you and ask for your help."
"He did? He never even told me about it."
"Well, perhaps you should think about it for a while and try to figure out why. Have you been spending time with him as usual, talking with him?"
"Sure, we had lunch together all week, except for Thursday and Friday when Daniel and Kenny were—" She broke off abruptly, knowing that Daniel helping Kenny was a secret. "When they were doing something together," she finished.
"Have you been discussing what you're going to do for the science fair?"
Sam frowned, realizing that they hadn't talked about it at all since that first day. Her mind had been so much on Randy that it had distracted her from almost everything else.
"Um, no, we haven't," she admitted aloud.
"You're running out of time on that, you know. I need to know by the end of the month if you're going to have an entry."
"We'll get started on it, Mrs. Mason. I promise."
Quentin could tell that Daniel's mind was not fully on the lessons, though the boy seemed to be trying to focus on them. After an hour and a half, the teacher decided that was enough for the day.
"So, how's Caleb doing?" he asked as he stacked up the books they'd been using.
"He still cries sometimes," Daniel replied, "and he hasn't been playing very much. Mrs. Underwood is spending a lot of time with him."
Quentin nodded. "And how have you been doing?"
Daniel's gaze fell. "Okay."
"Are you sure? Is it still making you think about your mom and dad?"
"You know, any time you feel like you need to talk, you can come to me, Daniel. I'm here for you."
Daniel looked at him. "Thanks, Mister Greer." He frowned a bit.
"Is there something else?"
The boy paused. "Do you know a lot about girls?"
Quentin had to stop himself from laughing. "Well, that's a matter of opinion, Daniel. I am married, so I'd like to think that I do know a thing or two about girls, but no man can truthfully claim that he knows all about them."
"Oh, because there are things about women that men will never understand."
"I don't understand them at all," Daniel said.
Quentin's eyebrows rose. "Oh? And is it a particular female who's got you all confused?"
"Sam? What has Sam done to make you confused?"
"We met a boy name Randy last Tuesday. Bud Whitman was being mean to us again, and Randy stopped it. Ever since then, all Sam ever does is look at him. At lunchtime, she looks over at where he's sitting, and she even does it in class." Daniel's gaze dropped again. "She's so busy looking at him that she hardly talks to me at lunch anymore."
"Ah, I see." Quentin chewed his lip. Sam had a crush on some boy, and Daniel was jealous. At least this bump in the road of their friendship wasn't as serious as the last one, at least not yet.
"Daniel, have you ever really liked a girl?"
"I really like Sam."
"Well, yes, you're good friends, but that's not what I was talking about. Has there ever been a girl you wanted to kiss?"
Daniel made a face. "You mean like my mom and dad kissed?"
"Yes, like that."
The emphatic way that Daniel stated the word almost made Quentin smile. Okay, so the kid had yet to experience those kinds of feelings. It wasn't a surprise. Girls often became aware of such feelings long before boys did. To a lot of boys Daniel's age, that sort of thing was "gross".
"Okay. Well, it's possible that Sam likes Randy in that way."
"You mean she wants to kiss him?" Daniel sounded almost horrified at the thought.
"Well, perhaps she doesn't like him quite that much, but I do think that she likes him in that way."
"And that's why she looks at him all the time?"
"Uh huh. When a girl really likes a boy or a boy really likes a girl in that way, it can sometimes be hard to think about anything else. I know that when I met Kathleen, I thought about her all the time. It was hard to concentrate on other things. That's probably how Sam is feeling."
"And that's why she hasn't been talking to you as much."
Daniel frowned. "Will it go away?"
"I'm sure it will."
"That I don't know, Daniel."
"I hope it's really soon."
Quentin finally let his smile through. "For your sake, I hope so, too."