Since it was the day for Daniel to get together with Kenny, he and Sam didn't have the opportunity to talk about the science project at lunch. Mrs. Mason had gathered several science and electronics books, including ones that had instructions and lessons on how to make and use small motors, switches, and other electronic devices. Sam couldn't wait to start going through them and did so as she ate lunch. A lot of it was over her head, but she managed to understand a bit here and there, enough that it gave her ideas on how they could accomplish some of their goals.
At dinner, Sam begged her father to take her to a local electronics store on Saturday. Jacob agreed, figuring that his wallet would be losing some of its contents. He didn't mind, though, seeing the glow of excitement on his daughter's face.
That evening brought good news for Daniel as well. Diane told him that, after talking with Caleb and confirming that the boy did want to stay, the caseworker had decided to let him remain with the Underwoods. More ice cream was eaten in celebration.
The next day was Friday, and, as they waited for class to start, Sam chatted with Daniel eagerly about her plans for the weekend. She wanted him to come with her and her father to the electronics store and then come home with them afterwards so that they could spend all day on their project, but it turned out that Daniel already had other plans. Because there were no other relatives, the state was taking care of disposing of the possessions of Caleb's mother, and there were things Caleb wanted, like the family photos. When Daniel asked Caleb if he wanted the Daniel to come with him and Mrs. Underwood to gather the things, the boy had said yes, and Daniel didn't want to back out on him.
On Saturday, the electronics store hadn't been open more than five minutes when Sam began hounding her father for them to get going. Chuckling, he surrendered.
A few minutes later, they were walking through the store's parking lot when Sam suddenly stopped, her eyes on a car that was just pulling out of a space.
"That's it!" she cried in triumph.
"What's it?" Jacob asked.
"I know exactly how we can do one of the things. Oh, wow! It's going to be perfect!"
Sam grabbed her father's hand and just about dragged him the rest of the way to the store.
For the next hour, Jacob Carter got the pleasure of watching his daughter impress the heck out of the salesmen as she peppered them with questions while explaining all about the science project and her ideas on how to make it work. As the pile of "must have" items got larger and larger the captain could already feel his wallet growing lighter, but he honestly didn't care. He and Laura had already known that Sam was brilliant when it came to science, but that was just from seeing the ease at which she learned things. This was the first opportunity for them to witness Sam getting real hands-on experience with building electronics and electrical devices, and it really drove home how truly gifted she was. Jacob had to wonder what career she would pursue. Electrical engineering perhaps. Then again, she seemed to be especially interested in physics, and she also adored astronomy and sometimes talked about being an astronaut.
One thing was for sure. Whatever field she chose to go into, she'd be damn good at it.
Sam was skipping as they headed back to the car, chattering away like a magpie. Their next stop was the hobby store and then a hardware store. By the time they got back home, Jacob's wallet was nearly empty – but his heart was full.
Everything was dumped out on the table, and Sam immediately got to work on some of the items needed for the project. She was so engrossed that she would have worked clear through lunch if her mother had let her.
"So, how much did all that stuff cost?" Laura asked her husband in a low voice as they watched Sam from the kitchen.
"More than I should have allowed. But I couldn't say no. I mean, look at her, Laura. Eight years old, and she's doing stuff like that."
His wife smiled. "I know. It's wonderful."
"I really think she's going to make something of her life. She's going to do important things." He grinned. "It's a good thing we're already saving for her college education."
By the time the evening meal was ready, Sam had gotten quite a bit done. It had been necessary for Jacob to do certain things that would have been too dangerous for Sam to do herself, like soldering. He'd assured her that it wouldn't disqualify her from the competition.
Shortly after dinner, Sam called Daniel.
"How's Caleb?" she asked.
"Okay. He cried a lot when we were at his mom's apartment. It's where he used to live, too." There was a long silence. "I never got to do anything like that when my mom and dad died. Most of our stuff was in Egypt, so I didn't get to have any of it. I had my Egyptian history book with me when they . . . when they died, so the foster care people let me have it." His voice dropped. "I don't even have any pictures of them. Caleb has pictures of his mom." There was another, briefer silence. "Did you go to the electronics store today?"
"Uh huh, and we got lots of stuff."
Sam talked with her friend about the things they'd gotten and what she'd done so far on the project.
"Can you come over tomorrow?" she asked.
"I don't know. I haven't done any of my homework yet. Besides, I wouldn't be any good at what you're doing. I'd probably mess things up."
"No you wouldn't! Besides, if you come over, you can help me with my history homework. It's a lot harder this time."
"Okay. I'll go ask Mrs. Underwood if it's all right."
Daniel came back on the line after a couple of minutes. "She said that I can come over if someone can pick me up."
"Hold on," Sam told him. She put the phone down and sought out her father. "Can you pick Daniel up tomorrow? We want to do our homework together."
"Sure, I can probably do that after lunch."
Jacob picked Daniel up at a little before one the next afternoon. As soon as the boy arrived at the Carter residence, Sam wanted to work on the science project, but her parents told her that homework needed to come first, so the two kids went off to the girl's bedroom to study. Still feeling bad about Daniel's poor grade on last week's science homework, Sam insisted on helping her friend with his homework first.
"I wonder why you're especially smart with science and math," Daniel mused about forty minutes later, attempting to absorb everything she'd been explaining and trying to teach him.
Sam shrugged. "Dad said that most people's brains are better with some things than other things and that, with people like me, it's even more that way. We have special talents, just like you do with languages and history and stuff."
With history in mind, the kids turned their attention to Sam's homework. She pulled out her fourth grade history book. She soon discovered that Daniel knew the entire contents of the book and well beyond, into things that fifth and sixth graders would be studying. Sam's head was soon spinning with all the stuff Daniel was trying to cram into it.
"I'm never going to be able to remember all that!" she exclaimed. "How can you remember so much?"
"I don't know. Mom and Dad always said that I had a really good memory. I don't think it can be all that good. If it was, I'd remember my multiplication tables better."
"Well, maybe memory can be good at some things but not others."
The instant the kids were done with their homework, Sam rushed Daniel into the dining room where, once again, the table was covered with various bits and pieces of the science project. Daniel looked at it all and just knew that he'd be utterly useless with this.
Sam showed him what she'd done so far, proudly displaying and explaining the idea that had suddenly struck her in the parking lot of the electronics store.
"With this we'll be able to do exactly what you wanted it to. It's going to look so cool! Have you gotten started on your part yet?"
"No. Because of all the stuff with Caleb, Mrs. Underwood hasn't been able to take me to the store to get the things I need."
"Do you know how you're going to do it?"
"Most of it." The boy explained to her what he was going to do.
Sam nodded her head. "That'll work great." She grinned. "We're going to have the best science project in the whole fair!"
Daniel would have been happy to just watch as Sam worked on the project, but she insisted that he get involved. By the time he was taken back home two and a half hours later, he'd actually learned some things, much to his surprise.
During his tutoring Monday afternoon, Daniel happened to mention the fact that he hadn't yet been able to get the things he needed for the science project. Quentin immediately volunteered to take Daniel to the hobby store and wherever else he needed to go.
"Oh, I couldn't expect you to do that," Diane said when the teacher called her. "I'm sure I'll be able to find the time this weekend to take him. Things around here have just been out of sorts since Caleb's mother died."
"Which is all the more reason for me to take Daniel. I really don't mind, Diane. In fact, it'll be fun."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, I'm sure."
"Well . . . okay, then. But be sure to keep all your receipts so that I can reimburse you."
Daniel and Quentin went to the hobby store first, where they got the things that the teacher was pretty sure a department store's craft section wouldn't carry. Then they went on to the department store.
As they put the final bag of purchases in the trunk a while later, Quentin asked, "So, where are you going to make this thing? It's going to take quite a bit of room."
Daniel frowned. "I don't know. My bedroom isn't big enough, and I can't do it on the dining table. Maybe Mister Underwood would let me do it in the garage."
"It would be too cold out there for you." A thought came to Quentin, but he didn't tell the boy, knowing that he needed to discuss it with Kathleen first. "We'll get something figured out," he said instead.
A while later, after taking Daniel home, Quentin came up to his wife, who was busy fixing dinner.
"You've enjoyed having Daniel here in the afternoons, haven't you?" he asked.
"Sure. It's been great having him here. Why do you ask?" Kathleen looked at him. Seeing his expression, she said, "Okay, what have you got in that head of yours this time?"
"Nothing as big as the haunted house, I assure you. You know about this science project that Daniel and Sam are doing together. Well, Daniel doesn't know where he's going to be able to do his part of it. He'll need lots of room, and. . . ."
"And you thought he could do it here."
Quentin studied her face. "I just figured that, since he was coming here on weekday afternoons anyway, it would just be a matter of him staying a while longer and working on the project for an hour or so."
"And where would he do it?"
"We could move the bed over and set up a table in one of the spare bedrooms. Then it would be out of the way." He watched his wife as she turned back to the counter and continued with the food preparation. "Bad idea?" he asked after several seconds of silence.
"Just be sure you don't get anything on the carpet," Kathleen said in reply.
Quentin grinned. "So, when did you decide to say yes?"
"Hmm. I think right after you said this bright idea wasn't going to be as big as the haunted house."
The teacher laughed and shook his head. "You do love to yank my chain, don't you."
"One of my greatest pleasures in life, dear."
Quentin leaned over and kissed her, catching Kathleen totally by surprise when he then tickled her ribs. She squealed and darted away from him.
"You know, tickling someone who has a big, sharp knife in their hands is not especially bright," she scolded.
"Perhaps not, but it was worth the risk."
Quentin gave Daniel a call. The boy was very excited when he was told that he was welcome to work on the science project at his teacher's house.
"Maybe I can get started on it tomorrow," he said.
"Sure, that would be fine. We'll stop by your place after school and pick up the stuff."
The next afternoon, after his tutoring for the day was over, Daniel got started on his portion of the science project. Quentin just sat back and watched, making only a few small suggestions to the boy. While he worked, Daniel imparted more of his knowledge on ancient history and mythology. The teacher found himself just shaking his head, wondering where the child kept it all stored in his brain. Daniel would be an amazing teacher when he grew up, if that's the path he chose to take. Quentin suspected, however, that he would follow in the footsteps of his parents and become an archeologist.
"Oh, by the way. I'm expecting to get some Italian language tapes in the mail soon," the teacher told his student.
Daniel's head lifted, his eyes bright. "Wow, that's great!"
"You can take them home and listen to them whenever you want. I have a portable tape player and some headphones that you can use."
"Thanks, Mister Greer."
Kathleen came into the room. "So, how's the project coming along?"
"Good," Daniel replied.
She looked at what he was doing. "I was wondering if you'd like to stay for dinner, that is if it's all right with your foster parents. We're having macaroni and cheese casserole tonight."
"Mm mmm," Quentin said.
"Sure, I'd like that, Mrs. Greer," Daniel told her.
Diane said that would be fine, so Daniel shared dinner with the Greers that evening. The adults very much enjoyed his company.
"Oh, by the way, Jack called a few days ago," Kathleen told the boy.
Daniel's eyes brightened with interest. "He did?"
"Uh huh. He asked how you were doing. He said to tell you that he hasn't forgotten about his promise to take you fishing."
Daniel smiled. He was looking forward to seeing Jack again. He wasn't sure if he'd like fishing, but it would still be fun to be with the man.
Daniel was taken home after dinner. When he entered the house after being dropped off by his teacher, he was very surprised to see Mister Underwood sitting at the coffee table with Caleb, putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Adam and Susy were both sitting on the living room floor, playing with toys. He didn't see Mrs. Underwood. When she didn't appear after a few minutes, he asked about her.
"She isn't feeling too well, Daniel," Paul explained. "She's lying down."
Concerned, the boy asked, "What's wrong with her?"
"She's sick to her stomach. She thinks she ate something that upset it."
"She's going to be okay?"
Paul smiled. "Sure, she'll be fine."
It was Paul who put the younger kids to bed that night, something that had never happened before in all the time Daniel had been with the Underwoods. He didn't seem to mind, though. In fact, he read a story to Susy to put her to sleep.
Daniel was getting ready for bed when he heard noises from down the hall. He opened the door and peeked out. That's when he recognized the sound. Someone was throwing up in the bathroom. Worried, he slowly walked toward the room. After the sound of retching stopped, he heard Mister Underwood's voice, then Mrs. Underwood. Her voice was weak and shaky.
"I knew I shouldn't have eaten that burrito," she said. "It just didn't taste right. Thank God I didn't get them for the kids."
"I think I'd better stay home from work tomorrow," Paul said.
"No, you can't. Isn't the regional meeting tomorrow?"
"Yes, but I'll just explain that you're sick, and I need to help take care of the kids."
"No, Paul. We can't afford to have you lose your job. I'll be all right. I'm sure I'll be feeling much better tomorrow."
Daniel walked up the rest of the way to the bathroom. Diane was bent over the sink, leaning heavily against it, her face chalk white and sweating. Paul was standing beside her, a hand on her back.
"A-are you really sick?" Daniel asked, getting scared.
Startled, the two adults looked at him.
"No, no," Diane assured him. "I just ate a bad burrito, which made me sick. I'll be fine in a couple of days."
Relaxing a little, the boy then said, "I can stay home from school and help."
Diane shook her head. "No, I couldn't let you do that."
"It's okay. Really. Maybe Mister Greer can get some of my schoolwork from Mrs. Mason and bring it over after school. Then I won't really be missing anything. There aren't any tests tomorrow."
"Let him do it, Diane," Paul said. "It won't hurt for him to miss a day, and I know that you're not going to be in any condition to take care of the kids tomorrow. You remember when I got food poisoning? I was still sick as a dog the next day."
Diane paused before reluctantly nodding her head.
Leaving her in the bathroom, Paul walked Daniel to the boy's bedroom.
"Thank you for offering to stay home, Daniel," he said. "That was very nice of you."
"I just want to help."
The man looked at the boy. "Yes, you do, don't you. I never thanked you for saving Susy like you did. It was a pretty courageous thing to do, and, well . . . I'm proud of you for that."
The statement really surprised the boy. "You are?"
Paul nodded. "I don't really know how to be a father, Daniel, but I am trying to learn." He smiled a little. "Now, go on to bed. It's past your bedtime."
The next morning, Diane was still pretty sick, so Daniel fixed breakfast for the kids. It was just cereal and juice, but the woman was very grateful for the help. Afterwards, he put on cartoons for the other children to watch, then cleaned up the little messes on the table.
By ten, Daniel's foster siblings didn't want to watch any more TV and were getting restless. Daniel decided to play a game of hide-and-go-seek with them. After that, as Diane lay watching on the couch, he played a series of other games with them, some of which he didn't know how to play and had to learn from Caleb, who seemed to be quite proud of the fact that he knew things the older boy didn't.
For lunch, Daniel fixed everyone peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. He put too much jelly on the bread, which oozed out all over the table, as well as Susy's face and top. He washed her face off and helped her change into a clean shirt.
By the time his three foster siblings laid down for their afternoon nap, Daniel had come to the conclusion that taking care of little kids was a whole lot of work.
Sam frowned down at the book before her, not really seeing the words on the page. She was too worried about Daniel. He hadn't come to school today, and she didn't know why. At the lunch break, she'd asked Mrs. Mason about it, but the woman didn't know the reason. She just knew that Mrs. Underwood had called and told the office that Daniel wouldn't be in school today.
Was he sick? Did he get hurt? Did something else bad happen? Sam really needed to know. Maybe Mister Greer would know.
After the final bell rang, Sam quickly gathered her things and hurried over to the classroom of Daniel's tutor.
"Mister Greer, Daniel wasn't in school today. Do you know why? I'm really worried."
"Don't worry, Sam. He's fine," the man told her. "The vice principal just spoke with me. Daniel's foster mother is sick today, so Daniel stayed home to help take care of the other children. I'm going to go get some schoolwork for him from Mrs. Mason and take it over there."
Sam relaxed, very relieved that her best friend was all right.
When she got home, she told her mother about the whole thing.
"Oh, I wished I'd known," Laura said. "I'd have been happy to go over and help. Then Daniel wouldn't have had to miss school." She called the Underwoods and learned that Diane was feeling a lot better, though still a little queasy.
"What are you going to do about dinner?" Laura asked her.
"Paul will be getting some Kentucky Fried Chicken."
"So, is there anything I can do?"
"No, we're fine, but thank you for offering. Daniel has been a wonderful helper today. I don't know what I'd have done without him. He is just the sweetest little boy in the world. He deserves to be adopted and have a family of his own, although I know if that happened, I'd really miss him." Diane sighed. "But children Daniel's age so rarely get adopted. Everyone seems to want babies and very young children. It's such a shame. I know that anyone who adopted Daniel would be so lucky to have him." There was a pause. "I need to go now."
"All right. Please do call if you need anything. I mean that."
Later that evening, Jacob noticed that his wife seemed to be deep in thought. "What's on your mind?" he asked.
"Um . . . oh, I was just thinking about some things." She changed the subject. "That science project of Sam's seemed to be coming along well."
The captain smiled. "That daughter of ours is a wonder." The smile faded. "I've been looking at our finances, trying to figure out if we can afford to put more aside for her college tuition. I want her to go to a really good school, Laura. Of course, I want Mark to as well, but Sam really needs to get into a school that will be worthy of her gifts. She's going to graduate early, so we need to consider that."
Laura frowned, thinking about how much tuition for one of the better colleges would cost. "Perhaps she'll get a scholarship."
"Well, that's always a possibility, but we can't count on it."
Laura sighed. "No, I suppose not."
Jacob looked at her. "What's wrong?"
"Oh, nothing. I'm just thinking about the money."
Jacob wrapped an arm around her shoulders. "We'll figure something out, Laura. Don't worry. After all, things could be worse. We could have more kids to feed, clothe and put through college."
Laura frowned and looked down at her lap. "Yes, you're right."
Jacob stared at her. "There is something wrong, isn't there." A thought suddenly jumped into his mind. "Laura, you're not pregnant, are you? We've been so careful—"
"No, I'm not pregnant," she interrupted.
"Then what's wrong?"
Laura sighed again. "Diane and I were talking today, and. . . ." She shook her head. "It's nothing, just a silly thought I had. Forget it." She got to her feet. "I'm pretty tired tonight, so I think I'll go to bed early." She kissed her husband. "Stay up as late as you want. You won't wake me."
Jacob watched her leave with a frown on his face, wondering what it was that she didn't want to tell him.
The next day at school, Daniel told Sam all about his day taking care of the other kids.
"Being a parent must be a whole lot of work," he said.
"Yeah, sometimes, Mom looks really tired at the end of the day. At least you didn't have to clean house. That's lots and lots of work."
The topic of discussion changed to the science project. They'd let Mrs. Mason know that they were definitely going to have an entry for the science fair, which pleased her. She was eager to see what the two brightest children in the school would come up with for their project.
Apparently, Bud had overheard the conversation about the science fair. He came up to their table at lunch and began taunting them.
"There ain't no way a couple of babies like you are gonna have something that can win. It'll probably be something really stupid that all the judges will laugh at."
Sam lifted her chin defiantly. "No, it won't. It's going to be great. You just wait and see. I don't see you making something for the fair."
"I don't want to enter some stupid science fair. That's for geeks and losers."
"No, it isn't," Kenny said timidly, feeling the need to defend two of his best friends.
Bud glared at him. "And who asked you, you little shrimp?" He suddenly leaned toward the boy, towering over him. Kenny flinched back, lifting his arm to cover his face, as if fearing the older boy was going to hit him.
Seeing the fear on Kenny's face infuriated Daniel, and he jumped to his feet. "Leave him alone," he told Bud. "Why are you such a bully? You're always picking on everyone and trying to scare them. I hope your father does send you to military school. Then you won't be able to pick on anyone, because military schools are really tough and strict. That's what Captain Carter told me."
"Yeah, I heard that they make kids stand at attention all day long!" said a third-grader at the next table over.
"Yeah, and you have to get up at dawn and do exercises," another boy said, grinning gleefully.
A third child pipped up, "And, after you graduate, you have to go into the Army or the Marines or something, where you get shot at."
One of the fifth grade boys then declared, "Bud would pee his pants if he got shot at." That made several others laugh.
Just then, a teacher came over. "What's going on here?"
The other kids shut up, returning their attention to their food.
The teacher turned to Bud. "Go sit down and eat your lunch. You've caused enough trouble for one day."
As the teacher left, Bud, who was now red-faced, turned and looked at Daniel. There was pure hatred in his eyes, and it scared the boy. Daniel now wished that he hadn't said anything. But Bud was being mean and scaring Kenny. He couldn't just sit and do nothing about that.
After everyone settled down, Sam turned to her best friend and grinned. "Boy, you really told him, didn't you. I'm glad you did. Bud is such a jerk. And I hope he does get sent to military school."
After school that afternoon, as Daniel walked toward Mister Greer's classroom, he spotted Bud. The boy was standing a few yards away, watching him, a dark, hard look on his face. A chill passed down Daniel's spine, and he hurried his pace. When he looked back over his shoulder, he saw that Bud was gone, but he still didn't relax until he was safely inside his tutor's classroom.
Noticing the look on Daniel's face, Quentin asked, "Is something wrong?"
The boy shook his head.
"Well, I'll just be a few minutes."
Daniel waited patiently as the teacher finished up a few things, feeling safe and protected in the man's presence. Even so, when they left the classroom, Daniel still found himself glancing about for some sign of Bud.
He failed to see the boy, who stood just inside the doorway of an empty classroom, watching him and Quentin head away down the corridor, eyes glittering with hatred and rage.