Quentin lifted his head to look at Daniel, who'd paused in his lessons.
"Do you know what Kenny's father's first name is?"
"Yes, it's Victor. Why do you ask?"
"I want to ask if Kenny can play with me and Sam on Saturday, but I don't have Kenny's phone number."
"Why don't you ask Kenny for it?"
"I did, but he said he's not allowed to give his number to anybody."
Quentin frowned. "Not even school friends?"
Daniel shook his head.
"Daniel, I'm not sure if it's a good idea for you to call Kenny's house if his father has that kind of rule. It must mean that he doesn't want Kenny's friends calling."
"But Kenny never gets to do anything fun," Daniel protested. "He has to go home right after school, and he never gets to come play on the weekends. I wanted to play with him during spring vacation, but he said his dad wouldn't let him."
Quentin let out a sigh. He was well aware that Kenny's father was stifling his son. It was more than just not allowing the boy to study the violin or receive help for his learning disability. During these months that Kenny had been in his class, Quentin had come to recognize Victor Robinson as strict and domineering. Even so, he hadn't realized that the poor child wasn't even allowed to go out and play with friends from school.
It saddened Quentin to think about the life Kenny had. Such a sweet, gentle boy, and he was cursed with a father who apparently couldn't see or didn't care that he was robbing his son of the joys that are supposed to come with childhood.
Quentin looked at the boy sitting a few feet away. Daniel clearly wanted to change that situation and believed that if he was the one doing the asking, Kenny's father would relent. Could he be right? It wouldn't be unprecedented for a stranger to get someone to do something that family could not. And Daniel was certainly a child to whom it was hard to say no.
"I suppose it wouldn't hurt for you to call," Quentin finally said. "But if Kenny's father says no, you need to accept that, Daniel, and not push. We may not agree with the way Mister Robinson does things, but he is Kenny's parent, so we must abide by his decisions."
They looked up Victor Robinson in the phone book, and Quentin confirmed that it was the right phone number, having called it more than once.
After Daniel got home, he started thinking that maybe he'd better know how to get to Kenny's house just in case Mister Robinson said it was okay for him to come over. He looked up the address again and asked his foster mother where it was. She helped him find it on the map and work out the best and safest route there.
Daniel noticed that there was a big empty area on the map next to the street Kenny lived on and asked Diane about it. She explained that it was a wooded area where there were no houses. The boy wondered if his friend ever went into the woods to watch the birds.
Daniel called that evening.
"Hello?" answered a voice that the boy recognized from hearing it on Saturday.
"Yes. Who is this?"
"My name is Daniel. I'm a friend of Kenny's from school."
"How did you get this number?" There was now a trace of anger in the man's voice.
"I looked it up in the phone book. I'd really like to play with Kenny on Saturday, and I was wondering if you'd let him come to the park with me. We won't stay really late, and I promise that we won't get into any trouble. Kenny is one of my best friends, and I really want to play with him. Can he please?"
"I do not allow Kenny to leave our property except when he's at school or with me, so what you're asking is out of the question."
"Then maybe I can come over there, and we can play outside in the backyard or something. I promise we won't be loud. I won't even come into the house, if you don't want me to."
"The answer is no, and I do not want you calling here again. Do you understand me?"
Daniel cringed at the man's tone of voice. "Yes, sir," he mumbled. There was a click as the phone was hung up.
Feeling very down, Daniel went to his room. He'd been so hoping that Mister Robinson would say yes and let Kenny come and play. Now, he was worried that he'd just gotten his friend into trouble. He'd feel awful if Mister Robinson yelled at Kenny because Daniel called.
The next morning, Daniel sought out Kenny, still concerned that his call had gotten the boy into trouble. When he saw his friend at the lockers, he hurried up to him. Kenny saw him, but quickly looked away, pulling his books out of his locker and hugging them to his chest. Daniel slowed his pace and came up to him.
"Hi. Did your dad tell you I called your house?"
Kenny's head remained bowed, his gaze resolutely focused on the floor. "You shouldn't have called. My dad was really mad because you did."
Daniel felt horrible. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make him mad. I just wanted to know if he'd let you play with me on Saturday."
"I-I can't talk to you. My dad said that he doesn't want us be friends anymore. We . . . we can't talk or have lunch together ever again."
The news stunned and horrified Daniel. "But that's not fair! It's not your fault that I called. It was my idea. You didn't even know that I was going to."
Kenny said nothing, his gaze never lifting.
"What about me helping you with your reading and writing?" Daniel asked, getting more upset by the second.
"We can't do that either. If my dad found out, he'd be even madder."
Just then, one of the books in Kenny's grasp slipped and fell. He tried to grab it and let out a small cry of pain. As he picked up the book, Daniel saw that he was favoring his left arm and side.
"Are you hurt?" Daniel asked in alarm. "What happened?"
"It was an accident," Kenny quickly replied. "I'm okay."
"What kind of accident?"
"I-I fell. I-it was just an accident." Kenny turned away. "I have to go." He hurried off, disappearing into the crowd of children.
The bell rang, and Daniel headed off to class. He was unable to concentrate on the lessons, however, his mind continually going back to Kenny. He was terribly upset about Mister Robinson telling Kenny that he couldn't be Daniel's friend anymore, but now he was also worried. Kenny said his father got really mad, and, now, Kenny was hurt. Daniel had an awful thought. Did Kenny's father hit him?
Daniel's mind went back to the events of Christmas, when he was hurt while saving Susy from being swept away in the creek. When Captain Carter discovered that he was hurt, Daniel told him it was an accident, but Captain Carter thought that he was lying and that Mister Underwood had hurt him. Was Kenny lying? Did his dad hurt him? Daniel didn't want to believe that. Maybe it really had been an accident.
But then Daniel thought about that day he learned that Kenny had been sick. His friend had been acting so weird. He didn't look at Daniel, just like today, and didn't seem to want to talk. And he refused to go see the nurse, though he still wasn't feeling good. He didn't feel good the whole rest of that week, not playing at recess at all. In fact, even though Kenny had said that he felt better the following Monday, he still didn't play much at recess.
What if Kenny wasn't sick at all? What if his dad had hurt him then, too? What if his father had hurt him lots of times?
At lunch, Daniel couldn't eat, now terribly worried about his friend. He told Sam about the call he made and how Mister Robinson was so mad that he told Kenny that he and Daniel could no longer be friends.
"But that's so mean!" Sam exclaimed. "It's not fair at all."
Daniel picked at his sandwich. "I . . . I think he hurt Kenny," he admitted in a low voice.
Sam stared at him. "You mean he spanked him?"
Daniel shook his head. "I think he hit Kenny, maybe really hard. Kenny's left arm and side were hurt. He said he fell, but I don't think he did."
Sam's eyes widened. "Oh, no! You should tell somebody."
"But what if I'm wrong? Maybe it really was an accident. If I tell somebody that I think Kenny's dad hurt him, Mister Robinson will get into trouble. Then he'll be even more angry."
"But what if he hits Kenny again?"
Daniel fell silent. He didn't know what to do. If he was right that Mister Robinson was hurting Kenny, he couldn't do nothing and keep letting it happen. But if he said something and was wrong, it could get Kenny into a whole lot of trouble with his dad.
Daniel fretted about the situation for the rest of the day at school. By the time the bell rang, he'd made up his mind that there was only one thing he could do: he had to confront Kenny and ask him.
Daniel would not be going to Mister Greer's house today because of a teachers' meeting, so he'd ridden his bike to school, which meant that he didn't have to worry about catching a bus. Kenny, on the other hand, did.
Daniel went outside and began watching for his friend. He soon spotted Kenny coming out the doors. He went up to the boy. Kenny saw him and immediately dropped his gaze to the ground.
"Did your dad hit you?" Daniel asked bluntly.
Kenny's head jerked up, his eyes wide in alarm. "N-n-no! I told you I fell. I fell!"
Daniel could tell that Kenny was lying. "I think you're lying. He hit you, and you don't want anybody to know. Did he hurt you before, when you said you were sick?"
There was now sheer panic in Kenny's eyes. "You can't tell anyone!" he cried. "You have to promise you won't say anything. You have to!"
"But he's hurting you, and it's wrong! He's not supposed to hurt you. My dad never, ever hurt me. Even when he spanked me it wasn't really hard."
"P-please," Kenny pleaded in a shaking voice. "You have to keep it a secret. My dad doesn't really want to hurt me. He just gets mad and loses his temper sometimes. He always says he's sorry after and does something nice to make up for it. Please, Daniel. You can't say anything." Kenny looked over at the buses. "I have to go or I'll miss my bus."
Daniel watched Kenny leave and get in line with the other students. He then slowly headed to his bicycle.
As he rode home, he thought about what his friend had said. Kenny didn't want anyone to know that his dad was hurting him and had begged Daniel to promise not to tell. Daniel didn't make that promise, but if he told somebody, would that be betraying Kenny's trust?
Daniel's thoughts went to what Mister Greer told him after he helped Sam play the joke on those boys even though he didn't want her to do it. Mister Greer said that just because someone was your friend, you shouldn't go along with them when they were going to do something wrong, that being a true friend meant taking actions that might make them mad at you, but would keep them from doing something they shouldn't.
Kenny wasn't doing anything wrong; it was his dad that was, but would what Mister Greer said apply to this, too? If Daniel didn't tell anyone, he'd be doing what his friend wanted, but it would be wrong to let Mister Robinson keep hurting Kenny. What if, someday, Kenny's dad hurt him so much that he had to go to the hospital?
Daniel decided that, even if Kenny never forgave him, he had to tell someone. As soon as he got home, he'd tell his foster parents, and they could do something to make sure Mister Robinson never hurt Kenny again.
Daniel was about halfway home when it occurred to him that he was very close to Kenny's house. All he'd have to do was make a detour of a few blocks. He was really worried about his friend, afraid that Mister Robinson would hurt him again. Maybe he could just sort of check up on Kenny secretly, make sure he was okay.
Decision made, Daniel turned down the street that would take him to his friend's house.
The bus was just pulling up to the curb when Daniel turned the corner onto the street where his friend lived. He stopped and watched from half a block away as Kenny got off the bus and walked up to his house. Daniel waited until Kenny was inside before slowly approaching. As quietly as possible, he snuck up to the living room window and peeked inside. Mister Robinson was standing over Kenny, who was staring at the floor, looking scared.
"Did you do what I told you to?" the man asked. "I told you that you're not to talk to that boy again."
"I-I-I didn't talk to him."
Victor Robinson's eyes narrowed. "You're lying." He lifted his arm and slapped Kenny's cheek with the back of his hand. The sound and sight of that slap burned itself into Daniel's brain.
Kenny was crying now, holding his reddened cheek. "P-please, Daddy. H-he wanted to talk to me before school, but I told him that I couldn't be his friend anymore. I swear I did!"
Victor slapped Kenny again, much harder this time. The boy stumbled back and fell, striking his head on the edge of the coffee table. Stunned, he managed to sit up as blood began pouring from a wound in his scalp.
Fear and rage exploded inside Daniel like an erupting volcano, his mind reeling at the sight of one of his best friends hurt and bleeding at the hands of the boy's own father.
When Daniel picked up the shovel sitting on the porch, he wasn't thinking that this was something he shouldn't do, that he should run and get help instead. All he was thinking was that he had to protect his friend.
Daniel opened the door and rushed toward Victor Robinson. Before Kenny's father could turn around, Daniel lifted the shovel and swung it at the man's head with every ounce of strength in his body. It connected solidly with Victor's skull, and he went down.
Daniel hurried to Kenny, who was staring dumbly at his father's prone body.
"Are you hurt really bad?" he asked, thinking that Kenny's eyes looked a little funny.
"You . . . you hit him," Kenny said.
"He was hurting you. You're bleeding."
Kenny struggled to his feet, swaying dizzily. "You shouldn't have hit him. You shouldn't be here. He might hurt you, too, now. You have to go."
"No, we have to go get help, Kenny. You're bleeding and need to go to a doctor."
At that moment, Daniel heard a low moan. He spun around to see Mister Robinson's eyes blink open, his hand going to the back of his head. And then the man saw Daniel. Murderous rage filled his face.
"Why you little monster, coming into my house and assaulting me. I'm going to make you wish you'd stayed away."
Terror raced through Daniel. He grabbed Kenny's hand and ran, heading for the back door. Out the door the two boys fled, escaping into the woods behind the house, the sound of Victor Robinson's angry shout ringing in their ears as the man came after them, intent upon their capture.
"Wow. That must have been the shortest teachers' meeting in the history of the planet," Kathleen said as her husband walked in the door.
Quentin shed his coat. "What meeting? We'd barely begun when the power went out."
"Again? That's the second time in less than a month."
"Yeah. This time, our illustrious principal agreed that we need to get an electrician out there and see what's going on. The meeting has been rescheduled for Thursday."
The phone rang, and Quentin answered it.
"Hi, this is Diane. Um, did I get my days mixed up? I thought that there was a teachers' meeting today, so Daniel wouldn't be with you. That's why he rode his bike to school."
"No, you're right. I just got home from the meeting. Diane, are you saying that Daniel's not home yet?"
"No, he's not, and I expected him back ages ago."
Quentin started to get worried. "You say he took his bike today?"
"Is there any chance that he decided to go over and visit Sam?"
"Oh, but he wouldn't do that without asking permission."
The teacher agreed that it wouldn't be like the boy to go to Sam's without first asking his foster parents.
"He didn't mention anything at all about going somewhere after school?"
"I know that he called his friend Kenny last night to find out if they could play together. I even showed him on the map how to get to the house. But it was Saturday that he wanted them to get together. It was just so hectic this morning. Caleb and Adam got into a fight, and Susy was being difficult. Thinking about it now, I do recall Daniel saying something about going to Sam's, but I could have sworn that he asked if he could go there tomorrow, not today."
"Well, maybe you just heard incorrectly."
"I suppose so."
Quentin heard some kids yelling in the background. "Would you like me to call over there and find out if Daniel is there?"
"Would you? I feel so silly now, probably worrying over nothing."
"There's no reason to feel silly. I'll call as soon as I get off the phone with you."
"Thank you so much. I'd really appreciate that."
Quentin hung up the phone.
"What's the problem?" Kat asked.
"Daniel isn't home yet, and there is some confusion on whether he was coming home right after school or going somewhere. I need to call the Carters and see if he's there."
The call was answered by Laura.
"No, Daniel isn't here," she said.
Quentin's concern returned. "Laura, is Sam around? I want to ask her if she knew of any plans Daniel might have had."
"Sure. Hold on a moment."
Sam came on the line a few seconds later, and Quentin asked her if Daniel had said anything about going someplace after school today.
"No, he didn't say he was going anywhere. Why? Didn't he go home?"
"No, and we're a little worried. Were there any other kids at school that Daniel might have stayed to play with?"
Now, Sam was getting worried. "I don't think so."
"What about Kenny? I know that Daniel called his house last night."
There was a long moment of silence before Sam responded. "No, he couldn't have played with Kenny after school."
Quentin heard the difference in Sam's voice. "Sam, what's wrong?"
"I don't know if I should tell you."
"Tell me what? If one of them is in trouble, I need to know, Sam."
"When . . . when Daniel called Kenny's house last night, Mister Robinson got really mad at Kenny. He told Kenny that Daniel couldn't be his friend anymore, and they had to stop seeing each other. B-but Kenny's arm and side are hurt now, and Daniel thinks. . . ."
A sick, leaden feeling was settling in the pit of Quentin's stomach. "Daniel thinks what, Sam?"
Sam's voice was almost a whisper now. "He thinks that Kenny's dad hurt him."
With those words, everything fell into place for Quentin, the way Kenny had acted on occasion, the attitude of the boy's father, little clues that should have made the teacher realize that something was very wrong, but that he'd failed to see because there had never been any visible signs of injury.
As guilt swelled within Quentin, a sudden, horrible thought hit him. "Sam, would Daniel go over to Kenny's house if he thought that he could help somehow?"
"I don't know." Sam was now getting scared. "But if he went there, Mister Robinson might have hurt him, too!"
"Sam, I need to go. I'll call later after we find Daniel."
"Quentin, what's wrong?" Kathleen asked as he hung up the phone.
He briefly explained as he grabbed his jacket.
"I have to get over there, Kat. I pray to God that I'm wrong, and Daniel didn't go there. If he did, there's no telling what Victor Robinson would do."
Kathleen ran to the coat closet. "I'm coming with you," she declared as she got a sweater.
Remembering the address from when he looked up the number with Daniel, Quentin headed straight over to the Robinsons. When they got there and saw the door standing wide open, Quentin knew that something was wrong. And then he saw Daniel's bike lying on the front lawn.
They approached the door and looked inside.
"Oh, God," Quentin choked out at the sight of the shovel lying on the floor, blood staining the nearby carpet. A trail of blood spots led to the open back door.
"Call the police," He told his wife. And then he was running out the back door, terrified that the child he'd come to love was dead.
Daniel and Kenny ran. They'd somehow managed to stay ahead of Victor Robinson, but Daniel didn't know how much longer that would last. He'd been looking for someplace they could hide, but there was nothing but trees and brush. Daniel figured that he could probably climb a tree, but he didn't think Kenny would be able to do the same. The boy's head was still bleeding, and he'd fallen several times. He looked sick and pale, and Daniel was afraid he might be badly hurt.
It seemed to Daniel like they'd been running forever, but they couldn't stop. If they stopped, Kenny's father would catch them. Would he kill them? Daniel didn't know. He only knew that the look he'd seen on the man's face had terrified him.
Kenny tripped and fell again, landing hard. Daniel stopped and hurried back to him.
"I-I can't run anymore," Kenny said. "I feel sick, and my head hurts. I'm all dizzy."
"We have to find help, Kenny. I think if we go that way," he pointed to the left, "we might get out of the woods."
"You . . . you go without me."
"No! I'm not going to just leave you!"
"Please, you have to go. I don't want my dad to hurt you."
"No," Daniel told him firmly. "I'm not going without you."
Both boys turned at the sound of someone approaching. Daniel looked around and spied a dead limb on the ground. He picked it up and wielded it like a bat, determined to protect Kenny.
Victor Robinson came into view. Seeing the boys, he stopped, lungs heaving from the exertion of the pursuit through the woods. He stared at the boy who stood defiantly between him and his son, a three-foot-long limb clutched in his hands.
"You stay away from us!" Daniel shouted.
Ignoring the command, Victor strode forward. Daniel took a swing at him with the limb, but it was pulled from his grasp and tossed away. Victor then gave him a backhanded slap that knocked him to the ground.
Daniel lifted his eyes and looked up at the man looming over him, certain now that Kenny's father was going to kill him.
Before Victor could take the single stride separating him from the children, he was grabbed from behind, then struck by something that felt like a pile driver. He went flying and landed hard on the ground. Shaking his head, he looked up to see an enormous man glaring down at him, fists clenched. Hazily, he recognized the face.
"I'm normally a peace-loving man, Mister Robinson," growled Quentin Greer, "but, with you, I'll make an exception."
Faced with an eighth of a ton of enraged human male, Victor Robinson did the only sensible thing: he got up ran away.
Quentin turned to the two terrified kids, knelt before them and scooped them both up into his arms.
"Are you okay?" he asked, his voice now soft and slightly unsteady.
"Kenny's hurt," Daniel said.
The teacher studied the smaller boy, seeing the blood on his face and recognizing the signs of a concussion. He lifted Kenny up onto his hip and took Daniel's hand.
"Let's get you two out of here."
When they came out of the woods behind the Robinson home, they saw several cops around the house. Kathleen was with them. She was the first one to see her husband and the children.
"Quentin!" she cried, rushing forward.
"I'm okay, Kat," he assured her. "So is Daniel. But Kenny's been injured. I'm pretty sure it's a concussion."
Two of the officers hurried up, and Quentin briefly filled them in. An ambulance was called, and Kenny was taken into the house, where an officer pressed a cloth to the wound in his scalp.
"You say that Robinson was heading north?" asked the cop who was questioning Quentin.
The teacher nodded. "It looked like he might have been injured as well. I thought I saw a little blood on the back of his head."
"I hit him with the shovel," Daniel said.
The adults all turned to him in surprise.
"I was looking through the window, and I saw him slap Kenny two times. He hit him really hard the second time. Kenny fell down and hit his head, and he was bleeding. I was really mad, and I was afraid Mister Robinson was going to hurt Kenny even more, so I hit him with the shovel."
Quentin began to smile, amazed yet again by his young pupil.
The police officer asked for the rest of the story, and Daniel told him everything. By the time he'd finished, the ambulance had arrived, and Kenny was taken off to the hospital.
Quentin suddenly realized that he needed to make a couple of calls. The first one was to Diane, who was horrified by the news. The teacher told her that he'd bring Daniel home in a while. The other call was to the Carters.
"Oh my Lord," gasped Laura upon being told what happened. "Daniel's all right? He's not hurt?"
"Victor gave him a hard slap across the face," Quentin replied, making no secret of his anger, "but, yes, he's all right."
"How could any man do such things, to hurt his own child like that, then attack another child as well?"
"I don't know, Laura. It makes me sick to think that there are parents out in the world like that."
"They shouldn't be allowed to have kids."
Quentin sighed. "No. No, they shouldn't. It's over for Kenny's father. That's for certain. There's an APB out for him. He has some serious charges hanging over his head, especially if it's determined that he intended to kill Daniel and Kenny. Kenny will no longer have to worry about being hurt by that man."
Once Quentin and Daniel had told the police everything they knew, they were allowed to leave. As soon as they and Kathleen got to Daniel's house, Diane had the boy in her arms, hugging him tightly.
"I was so worried about you," she said. "What you did was so dangerous. You should have told somebody about what was happening with Kenny."
"But I wasn't really sure I was right until I made Kenny tell me, then he begged me not to tell anyone. When I was coming home, I decided to tell anyway, but then I decided to go to Kenny's house and make sure he was okay."
Daniel was worried about Kenny and wanted to call the hospital. Quentin placed the call and learned that the boy was going to be all right but was being kept overnight for observation.
Daniel was feeling tired, so Quentin went with him to the boy's bedroom. They sat together on the bed.
"I was really worried, too, Daniel," the teacher said. "In fact, when I saw the shovel and the blood on the carpet, I . . . I don't think I've ever been more scared in my life. I was so afraid that something terrible had happened to you." Quentin rested his hand on Daniel's shoulder. "Your foster mother is right. As soon as you began to suspect that Mister Robinson was hurting Kenny, you should have told somebody."
"But what if I'd been wrong?"
"Then it would have all gotten straightened out. That having been said, you going to Kenny's rescue like you did was incredibly brave, Daniel. I can't be certain what would have happened if you hadn't been there, but it's possible that you saved his life. As it is, he's lucky that he didn't receive a more serious head injury." Quentin pulled the boy into his arms. "I am so very proud of you."
Daniel hugged his teacher back, feeling his spirit soar. He suddenly realized that this man being proud of him was one of the most important things in his life. The terror of being chased through the woods, the pain of Mister Robinson hitting him, it was all worth it just for this.