Jacob returned home that Sunday evening. Sam was happy that her father was home, but she was afraid of what he was going to say about what she did at school.
It was after dinner when he asked her to join him in her bedroom.
"I'm assuming you know what this is about," he said.
Sam let out a sigh. "It's about what I did at school."
Jacob nodded. "I was not happy when your mother told me about it. Pulling that prank on those boys was the wrong thing to do, Sam."
"But I thought you liked practical jokes. You thought it was really funny when Uncle Irving played that joke on his friend."
"Yes, practical jokes can be funny when they don't hurt people and when they're done all in good fun. It isn't what you did to those boys that bothers me, Sam. What I don't like is your reason for doing it. You wanted to get revenge. What your mother said about revenge is true. It can lead to a lot of pain and suffering. What if those boys decided to get back at you for what you did? Did you think of that?"
Sam's head ducked. "No."
"If they got revenge on you, would you think it was right?"
Sam shook her head.
"Then was it any less wrong for you to get revenge on them?"
"I guess not," Sam mumbled.
Jacob put his arm around her shoulders. "I know that you believed you were justified in doing what you did, but there is a fine line between justice and revenge. Seeking justice for a wrongdoing is right, seeking revenge for an act committed against you is wrong. Do you understand the difference?"
"I think so." She looked up at her father. "I'm sorry, Daddy. I promise I'll never do it again."
Jacob smiled and gave her a little hug. "Come on. I do believe that your mother made a pie for my homecoming."
On Monday morning, Daniel spied Kenny at the lockers and walked over to him.
"Are you feeling better?" he asked. "I hope you're feeling okay now. I got a cupcake with a candle on it because I got an A on the science test, and I made a wish when I blew out the candle that you'd get better."
Shocked, Kenny stared at him. "You used your wish on me?"
"Uh huh. You're my friend, and I wanted you to feel better."
The smaller boy ducked his head. "Thank you. That was really nice."
"So, do you feel better?"
Daniel smiled. "Good. Maybe my wish worked."
The week passed slowly for both Daniel and Sam, who were looking forward to spring vacation. However, Sam was not looking forward to the history test coming up on Friday. Daniel spent a lot of time studying with her, cramming her head so full of dates, and names, and events that she thought it would explode.
The studying paid off, however, Sam's grade equaling the A Daniel got on the science test. He thought that she deserved to get a cupcake with a candle on it just like he did and told Quentin and Kathleen while at their house. Agreeing, Daniel's teacher stopped by the grocery store with Daniel on the way to the boy's house and got a chocolate cupcake for Sam and, at the boy's insistence, one for each member of her family so they wouldn't feel left out. Quentin also brought along a single birthday candle, which he gave to his pupil upon reaching the boy's house.
Daniel talked Diane into letting him go over the Carters' house after dinner so that he could present the cupcakes. It was Paul who took him.
"What's this?" Jacob asked with a smile after opening the door to see Daniel standing there with a pastry box in his hands.
"Sam got an A on her history test."
Jacob's smile widened. "Yes, I know. She's pretty excited about it."
"When I got an A on the science test, the Greers got me a cupcake with a birthday candle on it to celebrate. I thought that Sam should get one, too."
The captain chuckled. "Ah. Is that what's in the box?"
"Uh huh, and cupcakes for the rest of you, too, 'cus it wouldn't be fair if only Sam had one."
"Well, that was really nice of you, Daniel. Thank you. Come on in."
"I can't stay for very long. Mister Underwood is waiting for me in the car."
"Well, you have to stay long enough to give Sam her cupcake."
They took the box into the kitchen, Jacob explaining what was going on to Laura and Mark. Daniel put the candle on Sam's cupcake, and Jacob lit it. Then he and Laura followed the boy to Sam's room.
Sam was one very surprised girl when Daniel came walking into her room with the cupcake.
"Oh, wow!" she exclaimed. "You got me a cupcake like the one you got!"
"Mister Greer paid for it, but it was my idea." He handed the dessert to her. "Make a wish and blow out the candle."
Sam closed her eyes tightly, made her wish, then blew the candle out.
"Don't you have a cupcake?" she asked.
Daniel shook his head. "I can't stay. Mister Underwood is waiting for me. But your mom, and Dad and Mark have cupcakes."
Sam was disappointed that her best friend couldn't stay and share in the mini celebration. She consoled herself with the thought that they'd be seeing lots of each other throughout the school break.
Daniel and Sam did, indeed, spend a lot of time together during their vacation. On the days that the weather was nice enough, Daniel rode his bike over to Sam's. Diane was worried the first time because of the distance he'd be traveling, and she made certain that he knew which way to go. She also made him promise that he'd call as soon as he arrived.
When the kids weren't at Sam's or riding around the base on their bikes, they were at the park or the movies. Not a day went by that they did not see each other. Jacob joked that they might as well be joined at the hip. Secretly, though, he liked seeing Sam having fun with friends. Less than seven months ago, she had been a lonely little girl with no friends. Now, she was happy and had not just one friend but several. And it was all thanks to the little boy who had entered their lives in silence during a time of tragedy and given Sam something she desperately needed. No matter what happened in the future, Jacob would always know that Daniel had been a blessing to them.
The kids were very sad to see the end of spring break and headed off to school Monday morning with more than one sigh, although Sam let loose a few more sighs than Daniel did. He was eager to see his tutor, whom he hadn't seen during the entire vacation.
Quentin gave Daniel a hug and a big smile when the boy came to his classroom after school.
"Hey. I missed you," the teacher said.
"I missed you, too. Did you have fun on vacation?"
"We sure did. It was nice to get away for a while. The place we stayed at is near the ocean, so we went to the beach a lot. It was a little crowded, though, because of all the college kids on spring break. So, what about you? Did you do anything exciting?"
As they made the trip to Quentin's house, Daniel filled his teacher in on what he and Sam did. The boy got another hug from Kathleen.
"I sure have missed you," she said. "It would have been fun having you with us when we went to the beach."
Quentin nodded in agreement. "Yes, perhaps we can take a trip to the coast together this summer, although that might depend on if your foster parents could come."
"That would be great!" Daniel said. "Maybe the Carters could come, too, and we could all have fun."
"We'll have to make plans to do that." Quentin laid his hand on his student's shoulder. "Come on. Let's go into the study and see how much you forgot while having all that fun."
Sam immediately knew that something was terribly wrong when she entered the house. She'd been surprised to see her father's car in the driveway and thought he'd gotten off work early. But when she walked in the door, the first thing she saw was her mom and dad sitting close together on the couch. Her mom was crying. And then Sam saw that her father had been crying, too. The last time she saw her father cry was when Grandpa Tom died.
"W-what's wrong?" Sam asked in a scared voice.
Laura held out her hand. "Honey, come sit with us. We have something to tell you."
Her parents made room for her between them, and she sat down.
"We have some bad news, Sam," her mother said. "Your Aunt Ellen was in a car accident this morning." She took Sam's hand in both of hers. "She died, honey. The doctors couldn't save her."
Sam sat in stunned silence. Aunt Ellen was dead?
"What about Priscilla, and Olivia, and Timmy?" she asked, thinking about her cousins.
"They weren't in the car, sweetheart. They're all right."
"Are they going to have to go to a foster home, like Daniel?"
Jacob put an arm around her. "No, Sammie," he replied in a rough voice. "Their father will be taking care of them now." He sighed softly. "The funeral is on Friday. We're all going to be flying out there to attend it."
Sam went to her bedroom and sat on the bed. She didn't know what to feel. She had never liked Aunt Ellen very much. The woman was always so snooty and not really very nice. Sam had never quite forgiven her for saying that Daniel couldn't be Sam's best friend because he was a boy. But she had been family, and, now, she was dead. She was Sam's father's sister. He'd been crying and was probably really sad, so Sam thought that she should be sad, too.
Sam's thoughts went to her cousins. They didn't have a mom now. Sam knew how she'd feel if her mom died, and they probably felt the same way. Sam felt sorry for Olivia and Timmy. Though she hadn't really liked them all that much, she didn't dislike them. But then there was Priscilla. Sam knew it was wrong to hate somebody who was family, but Priscilla was always such a jerk. She thought she was smarter and better than everyone else. And she'd said those mean things to Daniel. Sam was having a hard time feeling sorry for her, though she knew that she should.
Dinner that evening was very quiet and somber. Sam mostly just poked at her food. She glanced at her father often, seeing the sad look in his eyes. She wanted to hug him, but she didn't know if she should.
It was after dinner when Sam tentatively approached her father, who was sitting on the couch. After hesitating a moment, she crawled into his lap and wrapped her arms around his neck. He pulled her close, resting his head on her hair. After a while, he lifted his head and placed a kiss on Sam's forehead. She looked up at him and saw tears in his eyes. He always seemed so strong, and it really upset her to see him cry. She wished that she knew what to say to make him feel better.
In the end, she didn't say anything, just staying there on his lap as he held her. It was there that she at last fell asleep.
Jacob carried her into her room and helped Laura get her dressed for bed. Once she was tucked in, he pressed another kiss to her brow and brushed back the golden locks from her face. He looked up at Laura, who was watching from the doorway.
They went to bed early that night, the emotional turmoil of the day having left them both feeling drained. Jacob held his wife close, gazing into the darkness.
"I keep thinking about how it was when we were kids," he said, knowing that Laura was still awake. "She was a good kid, bright, happy, kind of a tomboy. Not many brothers and sisters get along well, but we did. I felt protective of her, of course. That goes with the territory of being an older brother. When I went to the Academy, we started drifting apart. And then she met Frederick Yarborough, and I started seeing the changes in her, how having money and running with that crowd turned her into someone I barely recognized. So many times, I wanted my old sister back." His voice trembled. "I can't believe she's gone."
Laura gathered Jacob in her arms as he cried. She wished that she had known the sister that her husband remembered from better days, before money and privilege changed Ellen into someone Laura had never really liked.
But, regardless of her own feelings toward her sister-in-law, Laura's heart was aching for the man she loved, sharing in his grief. There was nothing she could do except be there for him, giving him all the support and love it was in her power to give.
The moment Daniel saw Sam the next morning, he knew that something was wrong. Worried that something bad had happened, he approached her where she sat at her desk.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
"My Aunt Ellen died. She was in a car wreck."
Daniel was shocked. He recalled the woman he'd met last Thanksgiving.
"I'm sorry," he said, feeling like it wasn't enough.
"We're going to the funeral. It's on Friday."
"Are your cousins okay?"
"Yeah. They weren't with her when she had the accident."
Daniel had a terrible thought. "Are . . . are they going to have to go to foster homes?"
Sam shook her head. "They're going to go live with their dad."
Some more kids came in, halting the conversation.
At lunch, Sam played with her food more than she ate. Daniel looked at her often. He wasn't sure what to do. He knew there was probably something he should say, but the words weren't coming to him.
"I don't know what to feel," Sam murmured.
"What do you mean?"
"My dad is really sad. He cried. I should be sad, too, because she was my aunt, but she wasn't very nice." Sam's voice dropped. "I feel like a bad person because I'm not more sad that she's dead."
Daniel thought about that. "I don't think that makes you a bad person. When I was seven, a man that my dad knew got sick and died. I heard Dad say to Mom that he felt sorry for the man's family, but he couldn't feel sad that the man died because he wasn't a nice person."
"But that's different. He wasn't family."
Daniel sighed. "No."
Sam and her family left for Boston early Friday morning. They checked into a motel to change and freshen up.
The funeral took place at three o'clock. Sam looked around at the people gathered. She recognized some of them, distant family members that she'd met once or twice. A few people were crying.
Sam's gaze finally went to her three cousins. Timmy was sitting silently in his chair, staring down at his lap. A woman Sam didn't recognize had an arm around him. Beside him sat Olivia, who was crying a lot. Next over was Priscilla, who was also crying but trying to hide it. Beside her was her father, who had a hand on her shoulder.
After the minister finished talking, everyone began going up to the coffin one at a time, starting with Ellen's kids and ex-husband. Sam didn't want to do it. She remembered when they did that at Grandpa Tom's funeral, and it had really upset her to see him lying there all still and pale and knowing that he'd never bounce her on his knee again. But she couldn't refuse to go because that would make her dad upset.
They were next in line. When Sam looked down at her aunt, seeing how still Ellen was, just like Grandpa Tom, she began to cry. Laura saw and pulled her close, leading her away from the casket.
They stayed at the funeral home for a little while, Jacob and Laura talking to some people. Sam kept her eyes on the floor, wishing they could go home right now. She didn't want to be here anymore.
When they got in the car, she asked if they were going home.
"No, honey," Laura replied. "We need to go to the wake."
"What's a wake?"
"It's where the friends and family of somebody who's died get together and talk about the person, sharing memories and just being together."
"But I don't want to go. I want to go home."
Jacob sighed. "I know, Sam, but we need to go. We're family, and it's the right thing to do."
Sam didn't say anything else.
The wake was held in the house of one of Ellen's friends. There was food, but Sam wasn't hungry. She didn't want to be with all these people who were talking about her aunt. She just wanted to be by herself.
Sam finally managed to slip away. She headed down a hallway to the bedrooms. She was passing one when she heard someone crying inside. Wondering who it was, she opened the door a crack and peeked inside. It was Priscilla. She was lying on the bed, sobbing.
She spotted Sam and sat up, turning away.
"Go away," she said.
Sam almost did, but something made her come into the room instead. At that moment, the girl before her wasn't a jerk, the mean, know-it-all cousin who always made Sam so mad. Instead, she was a girl who had lost her mom forever.
"I'm . . . I'm sorry your mom died," Sam told her in a quiet voice.
Priscilla said nothing, her face remaining turned away.
Sam took a few more steps.
"I wish . . . I wish I could make the accident not have happened," she said, truly meaning it.
Finally, Priscilla looked at her. "You . . . you do?"
Sam nodded. She sat on the bed beside her cousin. "Mom and Dad said that you're going to live with your dad now."
Priscilla sniffled and nodded, wiping her face. "He's getting married again. I don't know if I like his fiancee. I guess she's okay. Timmy likes her a lot. But it means that she's going to be my stepmother, and I don't want a stepmother."
Sam began playing with the bow on her dress. "I'm . . . I'm sorry about the mean things I said to you before."
Priscilla stared at her for a long time. "I . . . I guess I'm sorry about the mean things I said, too. Mom always told me that I should be a lady and not act like that." That made the teen start to cry again.
Sam heard her mother call her name and stood up. "I need to go."
She started to walk away, then stopped. An internal struggle went on inside her for a few seconds, then she abruptly turned back around and hugged Priscilla. The older girl froze in surprise, then started hugging her back.
The hug lasted for only a few seconds, but it was long enough. When the girls parted, Sam saw something new in her cousin's eyes, something she'd never seen there before.
"Thank you," Priscilla whispered.
Hearing her mother call her name again, Sam left the room, something deep inside her feeling really good.
April gave way to May, the weather growing warmer and sunnier. Daniel and Sam started thinking about what they were going to do during the upcoming summer vacation.
"Mister Greer said that maybe we could all go to the coast together," Daniel said as he and Sam sat at a picnic table at the park.
"That would be so fun! We could play in the water and go hunting for seashells and stuff. We couldn't actually go swimming in the ocean because it's too dangerous, but we could play in the waves, and our motel might have a pool. Do you know how to swim?"
Daniel shook his head. "My dad talked about teaching me, but . . ." his head and voice lowered, "but he never did."
"My dad can teach you. He's a good swimmer. He taught me and Mark." Sam smiled. "The last time we went to the coast, we went horseback riding. That was a lot of fun."
Daniel's expression brightened. "I can ride horses. I learned in Egypt. I can ride camels, too."
"Wow, you can?"
"Uh huh. You have to be careful with camels, because they'll spit on you."
"Yuck! That's gross. Did you ever get spit on?"
Daniel grinned. "No, but my dad did once. He said a bad word when it happened, and Mom scolded him."
Sam giggled. "That happened once with my dad, too. Mom was really mad at him for saying it."
Daniel heard someone call his name and turned in surprise to see Kenny running up to them.
"Hi!" the dark-haired boy greeted with a smile.
Daniel smiled back at him. "Hi. Are you playing at the park? You can play with us."
Kenny's smile dimmed. "No, I can't. My dad's across the street talking to somebody. I saw you and asked if I could come over and say hi." The smile completely disappeared. "I can't stay."
"Oh." Daniel was disappointed that Kenny couldn't play with them. Every time Daniel asked his friend if they could get together somewhere to do something, Kenny always said that he couldn't, that his dad would say no. Daniel had never even been to Kenny's house because it wasn't allowed. He wondered why Mister Robinson never let Kenny do anything fun or have any friends over.
"Kenny, get over here!" yelled a man who was across the street.
Kenny winced, hunching his shoulders. "I-I have to go," he stammered. He ran to the crosswalk, waited for the traffic to clear, then hurried to the other side of the street. The man took his arm, and they walked over to a car, got in and drove away.
"I don't like Kenny's dad," Sam said. "He's really mean."
"Yeah. He never lets Kenny do anything."
Sam frowned. "Kenny looked kind of scared."
Daniel nodded, also having seen the look of fear that had been in his friend's eyes for a moment when Mister Robinson yelled at him. He wondered why Kenny was scared. Maybe he was afraid he was going to get into trouble. His dad had sounded angry.
As Daniel rode his bike home an hour later, his thoughts returned to Kenny. He wished that he could talk to Mister Robinson and ask if Kenny could come play with him and Sam sometime. Maybe if he asked, Mister Robinson would say it was okay. But he didn't know Kenny's phone number or address, so he didn't know how he could ask. It might be in the phone book. He'd have to check when he got home.
As soon as he arrived home, Daniel got the phone book and looked up the name Robinson. That's when he discovered that there were a lot of people named Robinson. He didn't know what Kenny's father's first name was, so he had no idea which listing was the right one. Maybe he could find out from Mister Greer on Monday.
Deciding that's what he was going to do, Daniel put away the phone book and went to his room.