Over the next half-hour, Quentin kept Daniel in conversation, wanting to keep the boy's mind off his discomfort and what happened. The conversation eventually turned to the science project.
"Are we still going to be able to do it with Sam's arm being broken?" Daniel asked.
"I'm sure you'll manage. You'll have three good hands between you. That's more than Sam would have had if she was doing it by herself and hadn't gotten hurt. And Mark said that he'd lend a hand, if you needed it."
"I'm really glad he showed up and beat up Bud. If he hadn't come, Bud would have probably broken Sam's arm really bad."
Quentin noted that the boy said nothing about the further injuries he probably would have sustained. Daniel seemed to have a natural inclination to focus on the plight of others over his own. It was an admirable character trait, but Quentin worried that it might lead to the boy showing too little regard for his own safety.
Daniel's eyes suddenly widened. "My books! I dropped my book bag when they grabbed me. They're outside and will get all wet and ruined."
"Did you have any personal books in the bag or just school books?"
"Just school books and my notebook."
"Then don't worry about it. We can get you new books, if we have to."
Daniel frowned, hating the thought of any book getting ruined.
The ringing of the doorbell heralded the arrival of Kathleen. A moment later, she came into the room. She hurried forward and gave Daniel a gentle hug, being careful not to aggravate his injuries.
"How are you feeling?" she asked, brushing her fingers through the boy's hair.
"Better than before. The pain pills make it hurt a lot less."
Kathleen smiled down at him, though the smile didn't quite reach her eyes. She was too angry and upset over what had happened. It was wrong for any child to be the victim of a physical assault, but it seemed to be so much more wrong for it to have happened to a child like Daniel, who was so full of love and would never intentionally bring harm to anyone. And there was Sam, too, such a sweet, vivacious girl. Kathleen could only imagine how this attack was affecting her parents.
The Greers stayed for a while longer, until it became apparent that Daniel was getting tired.
"We'll call tomorrow and see how you're doing," Quentin said. "You get plenty of rest, okay?"
As they reached the car, Kathleen studied her husband's face.
"So, how are you doing?" she asked.
"All right now. This scared the crap out of me, Kat. When Mark came running in with blood on his hands and shirt and said that Bud had hurt Daniel, possibly seriously, I was scared out of my mind. I can't even think about the images that went through my brain before we got to Daniel and Sam."
The Greers had been home for around an hour when the phone rang. Kathleen answered it and spoke to the caller for several minutes. She then went to the library, where Quentin was sitting in a chair, staring at one of the walls of books but not really seeing it.
"That was Diane," she told him. "The police called her. They caught Bud Whitman. I guess he was afraid to go home. He was hiding out at a friend's house. The other two boys have been taken into custody as well. They're both blaming the whole thing on Bud, saying it was all his idea and that he pushed them into it. The police need a statement from Daniel on what happened. Oh, and Bud's nose was broken."
Quentin knew that he really shouldn't smile, but a spiteful little voice inside him was saying that it served the kid right.
"I guess Mark got in some pretty good shots," he said.
He contacted the Carters, wondering if the police had gotten in touch with them as well.
"Actually, an officer left here just a few minutes ago," Jacob told him. "He told us about Bud being caught. He also got a full statement from Sam. I have to tell you, Quentin. Hearing my baby girl recount what that kid did to her and Daniel made me so furious I couldn't speak."
Quentin could definitely understand Jacob's emotions. "How is Sam doing?" he asked.
"Sleeping. The pain pills knocked her out. But she's a little trooper. I don't think this is going to slow her down at all. And Daniel?"
"Very likely also sleeping. Unlike Sam, though, I'm betting he'll be moving at half-speed for a while. I can only imagine how sore he's going to be. Diane told us that the bruising was already beginning to show at the hospital. I know what it's like to get punched in the stomach. It hurts like hell. But Daniel will be fine. He's already overcome much worse."
That evening, Sam gave her best friend a call.
"Are you okay?" she asked.
"Yeah. I got lots of bruises, and it hurts to bend over, but it's not so bad. Is your arm okay? Mister Greer told me it was broken."
"Yeah, but it's all right. Dad told me that the cast will drive me crazy when I have an itch underneath it. He's going to get me a little scratching thing that I can stick down inside it. We're going to come over your house tomorrow to visit."
"You'll have to come after I go to the doctor."
"Why are you going to the doctor again?"
"They need to make sure that I'm really okay."
Sam started to get worried. "You mean you might not really be okay?"
"No, I'm sure I'm okay. They just said that I needed to see a doctor in the morning to be on the safe side."
"Oh. I'll go ask my dad when we're coming over tomorrow."
Sam put the phone down and went to talk to her father.
"Did you ask Daniel if he'd be up to us coming to visit?" he asked once she'd explained things to him.
"Well, how about if I talk to him?"
Jacob went to the phone. "Hey, Danny. How are you doing, kiddo?"
"Are you really sure you're going to be up to us visiting tomorrow?"
"I think I will," the boy replied. "It probably won't hurt as much tomorrow."
"Well, how about if you call us after you get back from the doctor and let us know how you feel? If you don't feel up to the visit, we'll wait until Sunday."
"But I don't want Sam to be disappointed."
"Daniel, Sam wants you to be well. That's a lot more important to her than us going there to see you." A vigorous nod from Sam confirmed what Jacob had said. "Oh, and Mark said to tell you that he got your book bag. He saw it lying on the ground and took it inside. He put it in his locker for safe keeping. You can get it from him on Monday. He rescued Sam's bag as well."
Relieved that his books hadn't been left outside, Daniel told Jacob to thank Mark.
That night at Sam's bedtime, Jacob and Laura tucked their daughter in, something they hadn't done since she turned eight and told them that she was too big to be tucked in. They remained in the room for the few minutes it took their daughter to fall asleep.
Half an hour later, Mark was in bed as well. Laura went to the master bedroom just a few minutes later, Jacob following her. Though it was still early, she began getting dressed for bed. She'd just slipped on her nightgown when, quite suddenly, she began sobbing. Jacob immediately pulled her into his arms.
"I was so scared," Laura said against his chest. "When Sam wasn't on the bus, I was terrified that something had happened to her. I was getting ready to call the school when Mark called and told me what happened. He said he thought that Sam was okay, but I kept imagining the most awful things, and I was so terribly worried about Daniel, too."
Jacob rubbed her back soothingly. "I know, Laura. I was the same way. I'm lucky I didn't get pulled over for driving like a maniac. All during the time I was in Nam, I don't think there was anything that scared me as much as this did. It's one thing when it's yourself, but when it's your child. . . ." He shook his head. "But she's all right. That's what we need to focus on."
Laura nodded, pulling away and wiping her face. She finished getting ready for bed in silence, knowing that sleep would not come easily tonight.
Both she and Jacob chose to read for a while, hoping that it would relax them. But relaxation was not what they got. They hadn't been reading for long when a sound had them rushing to their daughter's room. Sam was sitting straight up in bed, chest heaving, a look of fear in her eyes, cheeks wet with tears.
Laura hurried to her and gathered her into an embrace.
"Shhh. It's okay, sweetheart. You're safe. You're right here at home and safe."
"I had a bad dream," Sam said in a trembling voice. "Bud was in my bedroom and was coming to get me." She started crying again. "He told me that he'd killed Daniel and was now going to kill me."
Jacob sat on the bed and laid his hand on Sam's hair. "Hey. That is not going to happen, Sam. Bud isn't going to come get you."
"How do you know?" Sam asked in a tiny voice.
"Because we'll protect you. I will never let that boy hurt you again."
"But what about Daniel? Bud could go to his house and kill him. He said he'd kill Daniel if I told anyone what happened."
"Don't worry, Sam. Daniel will be fine."
"Can he come stay with us? Then he'd be safer."
"Honey, Social Services wouldn't allow that," Laura told her gently.
Sam was getting frantic. "But he did a sleepover here. Why can't he just sleep over for longer?"
Jacob and Laura shared a look, then the captain returned his gaze to his daughter.
"I'll tell you what, Sammie. I'll talk to Daniel's foster parents tomorrow and see if he can spend the weekend. Then he'll be right here safe with us."
"But what about tonight?"
"The police have Bud in custody, Sam. I'm sure he's locked up in Juvenile Hall. You and Daniel are both safe tonight. Okay?"
Sam nodded, brushing her tears away.
Jacob caressed her cheek, wiping off some lingering wetness. "Are you going to be all right now?"
Sam hesitated before nodding her head. The look on her face didn't convince her parents that she was telling the truth.
"Would you like to come sleep with us?" Laura asked gently. "It's all right if you do. There's nothing wrong with that. What you went through was pretty scary, and, if I was you, I wouldn't want to sleep alone."
Sam hesitated again, then gave a very small nod of her head, not looking at them.
They took her into their bedroom and settled her between them. Within moments, Sam was back asleep. The eyes of her parents met over her head. Jacob saw concern in his wife's eyes.
"Don't worry, Laura," he said. "It's only natural that she'd have a nightmare after what happened. She'll be fine."
He reached over Sam to his wife and pulled the three of them closer together. Minutes later, he was asleep.
Daniel and Diane had been back from the clinic for around ten minutes when two police officers arrived. They'd called the previous day to find out when the best time would be to come speak with the boy and get his statement.
The officers had been there for only a couple of minutes when Quentin and Kathleen unexpectedly dropped by.
"We were on our way to do some shopping in town and decided to stop by to see how Daniel was doing," the teacher explained. He glanced at the cops. "But I see that you're busy, so we'll call later."
"Can't you stay?" Daniel asked, also glancing at the officers. "Please?" It wasn't hard to tell that the boy was nervous.
Quentin turned to the police. "Is it all right if we stay? I'm Daniel's tutor, and I was there yesterday right after it happened."
"No, that would be fine," replied the older of the two cops, who introduced himself as Officer Morton and his partner as Officer Kerlinger.
Not wanting the younger kids to hear Daniel's statement, Diane sent them to their rooms. She and the others then sat down in the living room.
Daniel began his recount of the events by describing how Bud prevented him from leaving by the main exit and how he was grabbed coming out of the door exiting onto the lunch area and playground.
"Which boy was it that was holding you?" Kerlinger asked.
"I don't know his name," Daniel replied.
"What did he look like?"
The boy's description identified the child as Carl Prescott. With a gentle prompt from Officer Morton, Daniel talked about how the three boys just about dragged him across the playground and forced him through the hole in the fence. Listening to him recount the terrifying experience, Quentin was holding onto his temper by a thread. He could tell that Kathleen and Diane were equally as upset. What was a little surprising, though, was the glint of anger sparkling in the eyes of Paul Underwood.
Daniel's voice stopped. He was now staring down at his clasped hands. Quentin leaned forward and placed a hand upon the boy's arm.
"It's okay, Daniel. I know this must be tough to talk about. Just take your time." He laid his hand over Daniel's. One of the child's hands grabbed onto his with all the strength it possessed.
Haltingly, the boy continued, describing how Bud beat him while Carl held him, the last two blows knocking the wind out of him. And then, suddenly, Sam was there, screaming that her father was going to kill Bud with his gun. It wasn't long after her arrival that Wayne Banks ran off.
Up until this point, Daniel had not cried, but when he began describing how Bud hurt Sam, there were tears falling down his face.
"I tried to help her, but Carl held me down on the ground," he sobbed. Diane was now holding him against her, and Quentin's grasp on the boy's hand had tightened.
The story finished with Mark's arrival, Bud's beating, and Mark threatening that if Bud ever touched Sam or Daniel again, he'd kill the boy.
"You did very well, Daniel," Morton told him. He asked for clarification on a few details, which Daniel answered while wiping his face dry of tears.
"Well, I think that's all we need for now," Kerlinger said. "If there are any more questions, we'll call."
Telling Daniel that he'd be right back, Quentin followed the officers outside, as did Paul Underwood.
"So, what's going to be done about this?" Paul asked angrily. "You are going to punish them, aren't you?"
"Bud Whitman is presently being detained in Juvenile Hall, sir," Morton replied. "Carl Prescott is also there. The third child was released into the care of his parents. A judge is scheduled to hear the case next week. I can't really say what his ruling is going to be. In the case of minor offenders, it's hard to tell, though the premeditation of the attack is going to weigh heavily against the boys."
"Well, I talked to the school principal yesterday, and all three boys are being expelled," Quentin said.
"We'll keep everyone informed," Kerlinger said.
The cops left, Paul watching them go with a severe frown on his face.
"You know, I don't pretend to be a good father, but this really makes me mad," he said. "I had a few run-ins with bullies in boarding school, so I know what it's like, although I never got beaten up. What happened to Daniel and the Carters' daughter is just plain wrong."
"Yes, it is," Quentin wholeheartedly agreed. He'd nearly felt sick by the time Daniel had finished with his narration of what happened, not to mention being so furious that he'd wanted to hit something – very, very hard.
The two men went back into the house. Kathleen was now sitting on the other side of Daniel, talking to him softly, her fingers sliding through his hair.
As soon as Daniel saw Quentin, he stood and ran over, throwing his arms around the man. The teacher enfolded him in a gentle embrace.
"It's okay, Daniel," he murmured. "Everything is going to be okay." He put on a smile. "So, did you get a clean bill of health from the doctor this morning?"
Diane replied. "He said that Daniel would be all right, though he's going to be sore for a while. I'm supposed to schedule a follow-up exam with Daniel's regular doctor for late next week. I've talked to Mrs. Merrick. She was upset about what happened, of course. She's going to stay abreast of the case."
When Quentin and his wife walked out to their car a few minutes later, Kathleen glanced at her husband several time.
"We'll run back home and get your gym bag, then I'll drop you off at the gym," she said.
Quentin looked at her. "How did you know?"
"I saw the look in your eyes, Quentin. To be honest, I feel like hitting something, too. Actually, I feel like having a good cry. I almost started balling right there in the chair. One thing's for sure. I am never going to tell Jack about this. You remember what happened last year when he found out that our cousin, Amanda, was beaten by her boyfriend?"
"How could I forget? You wouldn't think it would be possible for a twenty-year-old to make a man ten years older and twenty pounds heavier fear for his life. I sometimes wonder what they teach those cadets at the Academy."
"Well, from what Jack's father told me, Jack is getting high marks in hand-to-hand combat training." She smiled. "He joked that Jack could probably even take you down."
Quentin chuckled. "I don't intend to ever find out."
Diane placed a call to the Carters to let them know that Daniel could have visitors at any time. Half an hour later, all four members of the Carter family arrived. Within seconds, Daniel and Sam were hugging, nearly clinging to each other. Everyone went to the living room, the best friends sitting close, not wanting to let each other go.
"Does your arm hurt?" Daniel asked, looking down at the cast.
"Not really. I hate the cast. It's heavy and gets in the way, and I have to be careful not to get it wet." Sam's face brightened. "Would you like to write something on it? Mark wanted to write on it yesterday, but I wanted you to be the first one."
Daniel got his color markers, picked a spot on the cast, and started drawing. Sam watched as a row of hieroglyphs began to take form.
"What does it say?" she asked once Daniel was finished.
The boy pointed to one group of characters. "That's your name." He pointed at another set. "That's my name." He laid a finger on the longest line. "This says 'Best friends forever.'"
Sam gazed down at the hieroglyphics, running her fingers over them. Then she hugged Daniel.
"Best friends forever," she whispered.
Laura and Jacob watched the two children with smiles on their faces. For Laura, though, the happiness was bittersweet, her mind on the thoughts she'd had just a few days ago after Diane's comment about Daniel getting adopted. For a few brief hours, Laura had thought about what it would be like if they adopted Daniel, made him theirs – that is until reality came crashing in. The pay a captain in the Air Force received wasn't very much. Not having to pay rent or a mortgage helped a lot, but they had two kids who would be heading off to college before they knew it, and tuition was not cheap, especially for the kind of university they wanted Sam to attend. Even if they could play with their budget enough to afford to feed and clothe a third child while still setting plenty of college money aside, Daniel, too, deserved to be sent to a really good university. There was just no way they could afford that.
"We were wondering if Daniel would like to come spend the weekend at our place," Jacob said, pulling Laura out of her thoughts. "Do you think you'd feel up to that, Daniel?"
The boy nodded. "I feel a lot better today."
"Hey! I've got a great idea!" Sam exclaimed. She looked at Daniel. "We can get all your stuff for the science project and bring it over to our house. Then you can work on it there!"
"Honey, we wouldn't have anyplace to put it," Laura said.
"Besides, it's not something that should be moved around a lot," Jacob added. "We wouldn't want it to get damaged."
"It's okay," said Daniel. "I can help Sam with her part. She's going to need help because of her broken arm."
A bag was packed for Daniel, then he and the Carters headed off to the base. Not long after they arrived at the house, Daniel and Sam were immersed in the project. The fact that Daniel's help was needed by his friend made him pay much closer attention to everything. After a while, he was surprised to realize that he was actually having fun and developing an interest in the science that was being used. It could never come close to the love he had for languages, history and archeology, but maybe science wasn't so bad after all.
That evening, a bed was made up for Daniel in Jacob's office, like the last time the boy spent the night.
It took several tries to get Sam to say good night to her friend and go off to bed. After she was gone, Jacob approached the boy.
"Daniel, there's something I need to ask you. Sam had a nightmare last night about what happened. Did you have any nightmares?"
The boy's head ducked, then nodded, but he didn't speak.
"Do you feel up to telling me about it?"
"I . . . I dreamed that Bud hurt Sam really, really badly, and. . . ."
"And what?" Jacob asked gently.
"And she died," Daniel whispered.
Jacob sighed and pulled the boy close, not surprised by the form Daniel's nightmare had taken.
"Well, if you have another nightmare tonight, don't hesitate to come to us," he said. "All right?"
Both Jacob and Laura were worried that Sam would have another bad dream, but the night remained undisturbed. However, when Laura peeked into her daughter's room the next morning, she was surprised to see that the bed was empty. Sam couldn't possibly already be up.
Following a hunch, Laura went to Jacob's office, and there was Sam, lying asleep on the mattress next to her best friend, the two tousled blond heads just a few inches apart, facing each other. Smiling, Laura got her husband.
"What a picture," he said with a smile. "I need to get my camera."
He got the camera, loaded it with film, and took several shots of the sleeping children.
"Do you think we should put her back in her bed?" Laura asked.
"No, just let her stay there. It's possible that she did have another nightmare last night and did this to assure herself that Daniel was all right."
When Daniel woke up half an hour later, he was pretty surprised to see Sam lying beside him. Wondering why she was there, he got up and went to the dining room, where Jacob was reading the paper and Laura was sipping on a cup of coffee.
"Sam's in my bed," he told them.
"Yes, we know," the captain told him.
"We think she might have had another nightmare last night and went in there to make sure you were safe."
"Did she dream that Bud hurt me more?"
Jacob shared a brief glance with his wife. "Um . . . yes, she did," he replied, not wanting to tell the boy that, in Sam's dream, it was Daniel who had been killed by Bud. Daniel also didn't need to know that Sam feared that Bud would come after both of them. "So, how did you sleep?"
Daniel shook his head. He looked at the cup of coffee in Laura's hands. "Can I have some?"
"Coffee? Daniel, you're way too young for coffee," she told him.
"Mom and Dad let me have a sip once. It was Egyptian coffee, which is a lot stronger."
Jacob stared at the child. "And you liked it?"
"Uh huh. They put lots of sugar in it."
"Well, you're still too young," Laura insisted. "You can have some juice or milk. We can put a dab of honey in the milk, if you'd like."
Daniel said yes to the milk and honey. He was almost finished with it when they were all startled by Sam running into the living room, a look of alarm on her face. When she saw Daniel, she came to a quick stop, then covered the rest of the distance to the dining room at a much more sedate pace.
Sharing a long look with his wife, Jacob said to his daughter, "You're up early for a Sunday."
Sam shrugged. "I don't want you squirting me with water again." She looked at her friend. "Have you been up for a long time?"
Daniel shook his head. "Not very long."
"Go on and get dressed, you two," Jacob said. Then he smiled. "If Mark sleeps in late, we can squirt him with water."
Sam grinned. "Can I do it?"
Sam had been in her room for just a couple of minutes when there was a knock on the door, and her mother came in.
"Sam, why did you come running into the living room like that?" Laura asked.
Sam gave another shrug, not looking at her mother. "No reason."
Laura gave her a hard look. "Sam, you know how your father and I feel about lying. When you came running in, you looked frightened. What were you afraid of?"
"It's stupid," Sam said, staring at the floor.
Laura sat on the bed. "I promise I won't think it's stupid."
Sam began toying with a button on her nightgown. "When I woke up and Daniel wasn't there, I was afraid that Bud might have come and taken him."
"Oh, sweetheart." Laura held her arms out. "Come here." Sam went into her embrace. "Did you have another nightmare last night?"
"The same one as before?" She got another nod. "That isn't going to happen, honey. Bud isn't going to kill Daniel and come after you. You are both perfectly safe."
Sam looked at her. "Do you promise?"
"Yes, I promise." Laura gave her a little squeeze. "How about if we fix one of your favorites for breakfast this morning?"
Sam's face brightened. "French toast with powdered sugar and blueberries?"
"We don't have any blueberries, but I can manage the powdered sugar and perhaps some blueberry jam. How's that?"
Jacob noticed his wife's slight frown when she came back out. She told him what their daughter had said.
"Do you think we should take her to someone?" she asked.
"You mean a psychologist? I think that might be a little premature. I'm sure these nightmares and her fear about Bud will go away soon. Sam's never had a traumatic experience like this before, and she's just having a little trouble getting past it."
"I'm just worried about her. I hate to see her afraid like that."
"I know. I hate it, too. But she'll be fine." Jacob smiled. "After all, she is a Carter."