When Daniel asked if he could sleep over at the Greers that night, Diane and Paul couldn't say no. And so it was that, for the second time, Daniel stayed in one of Quentin and Kathleen's spare bedrooms. Though she knew that he was really too old for such things, Kathleen couldn't resist tucking him in that night. Before she did, he gave her a big hug.
"I can't wait until I live here all the time," he told her.
"Neither can I. Quentin and I will be counting the days." Kathleen gave him a kiss on the forehead. "I love you, sweetheart."
"I love you, too."
The words made tears instantly spring to the woman's eyes. She smiled them away and tucked the boy in. She joined her husband in the kitchen and wrapped her arms around him.
"I can't believe how happy I am," she said. "We should have done this months ago."
"I know what you mean. I feel like I'm floating on Cloud Nine." He looked toward the hallway, down which the child he adored lay in a room that would soon be his permanently.
"Are you going to call your mom tomorrow?"
"Yes. If I waited any longer, I'd never hear the end of it when she found out that I'd delayed giving her the news. What about your parents?"
"I'll be calling them tomorrow as well. Mom is going to be so happy. You do realize that they will be demanding that we spend either Thanksgiving or Christmas with them so that they can meet Daniel."
"Oh, yes. And my mother will be asking us to bring him to New York as soon as possible."
Kathleen grinned. "We'll let Daniel tell Jack that they're going to be cousins. I bet Jack will be delighted. He's taken quite a shine to Daniel."
Quentin went to the dining table and took a seat. "I've been wondering if we should contact Daniel's grandfather and tell him. I know that, legally, he doesn't have a say in Daniel's future, but I think it's only right that he knows that his grandson is being adopted."
"Do you think he'll even care?" Kathleen asked, a note of disapproval in her voice. Then she sighed. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that. It just bothers me that he seems to care so little about the fate of his own grandchild. It's been almost a year since Daniel's parents died, and he hasn't come to see the boy since the funeral."
"I know. It bothers me, too. But I still think we should contact him. I can probably manage to get his address. And there is another reason to contact him as well. Daniel has no photos of his parents, nothing at all of theirs except that old book about Egyptian history and mythology. I don't think that's right. Daniel should have photos and other things to remember them by. All their things were likely sent to Nick. I want to ask him to give some of them to Daniel."
"That's a good idea. Daniel should have some of them."
At bedtime, when, upon exiting the bathroom, Kathleen didn't find Quentin in their bedroom, she knew right where he was. She went to the room where Daniel was sleeping and looked inside. Her husband was sitting on the floor beside the bed, his eyes on the child lying there. She walked up to him and silently sat beside him on the floor. He put an arm around her, and they both just stared at Daniel for a long moment.
"As hokey as it may sound, every time I think about the fact that he may soon be ours, I want to shout it from some rooftop somewhere," Quentin murmured at last. "I know that I should curb my feelings until we're more certain that we'll get approval, but I can't help myself."
Kathleen laid her head on his shoulder. "I know just how you feel." Kathleen paused for a long moment before speaking her next words. "Now that we've made the commitment to do this, I regret that we didn't decide to go for adoption years ago, after it became clear that having one of our own might never happen. I just didn't want to give up on the hope that I'd have a baby, and adopting would have seemed like we were giving up on that hope."
Quentin tightened the arm around his wife's waist and looked down at her. "It isn't really giving up, you know. I've heard of cases in which couples who have tried for years to have a baby suddenly get pregnant after they've adopted a child. It happens."
The teacher returned his gaze to Daniel. "I don't regret that we didn't adopt before now. You know why? Because, if we had, we might not be adopting Daniel. Who knows how already having a child would have affected things." He paused. "I had a weird dream last night."
Kathleen looked up at him. "What was it?"
"I dreamed that we never met Daniel, that he spent the rest of his childhood in foster care, being bounced from home to home, never having a real family. He grew up feeling like he didn't belong anywhere, that he was alone in the world. He succeeded academically, going to college, getting degrees and doctorates, but he didn't have love, a family to care about him. That dream really shook me, especially when I thought about how easily it could have actually happened."
"Well, it didn't happen. We did meet Daniel, and he will not grow up feeling alone and like he doesn't belong anywhere. He belongs here with us."
Quentin smiled and kissed his wife. "Yes, he does."
They got up off the floor. Before heading off to bed, Quentin placed a soft kiss on Daniel's brow.
"Good night, Danny," he whispered, thinking ahead to the day he'd be able to call the child "Son".
Breakfast the next morning was a happy affair. Kathleen fixed waffles with strawberries on top, and Daniel stuff himself silly with them. Afterwards, when Quentin said that he needed to get the boy back home, Daniel objected.
"Can't I stay with you today?" he asked.
Quentin ruffled his hair. "We'd both love that, Danny, but we have things to do regarding the adoption."
"How long will it take before you can adopt me?"
"Well, there are different steps that have to be taken, and we're not sure how long it will take for everything to be finalized, but you'll be able to come live with us before then. Between that time and the finalization, we'll be like foster parents. Mrs. Merrick is going to try to get things taken care of as quickly as possible since your foster mother's baby is due to be born in December, and they want to get you out of there well before then."
"Because the Underwoods aren't allowed to have more than four kids."
"Well, in a way. If all the kids were theirs, they could have as many as they wanted. Up until now, they've been allowed to have four foster children, but, now that your foster mom is going to have a baby of her own, Social Services cut it down to three foster kids that they can have. That's why they couldn't keep you anymore."
Daniel nodded, having been told that by Diane and Paul.
"I know it'll seem like a long wait, Danny. It will for us, too, but, before you know it, you'll be coming to live with us, and we'll be a family."
Daniel wrapped his arms around the big man's waist, eager for that day to come.
After taking Daniel to the Underwoods, Kathleen and Quentin had their appointment with Lucy Merrick. As they talked, Quentin mentioned his idea about contacting Daniel's grandfather and his reasons for doing so.
Lucy nodded. "Though, as you said, Mister Ballard does not have any legal right to approve or disprove of the adoption, I do agree that it would only be right to let him know. When you do so is up to you, though it would be wise to wait until you've gotten approval and Daniel is living with you. I would advise caution, however, if Mister Ballard expresses the desire to meet you. Given certain . . . facts about him, I am unsure if such a meeting, especially if it involved Daniel, would be a good idea."
Quentin frowned. "Facts?"
"There are some questions about Mister Ballard's mental stability. He has made some claims that, to say the least, would seem to be quite insane."
The teacher and his wife exchanged a glance. The last thing they wanted was to have a mentally unstable grandfather coming here and upsetting Daniel. Perhaps it would be best to wait to contact him.
That evening, Quentin called his mother to tell her about the adoption. She was so happy that she started crying right over the phone.
"Oh, Quentin," Annabelle Greer said. "I am so happy to hear this. You simply must bring Daniel here so that I can meet him."
"We probably couldn't do that until he's living with us, Mom, but, as soon as it's possible, we will. Kathleen and I were thinking that, if we could get everyone together for Thanksgiving, both you and her parents, it would be a great time for all of you to meet Daniel. And if we could have Thanksgiving here, then we could do that even if Danny isn't living with us by then, although we're really hoping he will be."
"Well, you know that I don't like to travel, but if it's to meet my future grandson, then I will."
After Quentin hung up, it was Kathleen's turned to call her parents, who were both equally as thrilled by the news and made the same demand to meet Daniel. Kathleen told them about the idea to have Thanksgiving dinner there in Rome, and her mom and dad were all for it.
Quentin let out a chuckle after Kathleen disconnected the call.
"Poor Daniel is going to be overwhelmed this Thanksgiving," he said. "It might be a good idea if we severely limit the number of visiting relatives, perhaps have some of them come for Christmas instead."
Kathleen nodded in agreement. "Last Thanksgiving, Jack said something about coming here again this year. If he can still do that, he needs to be on the guest list. Daniel took quite a shine to him."
"Yes, no doubt because Jack is still a kid on the inside. Speaking of Jack, we need to arrange for Daniel to talk to him and give him the news."
"I was thinking that we could do that this weekend. Now that he's in flight school, it may be a little harder to contact him." Kathleen wrapped her arm's around her husband's waist. "A part of me feels like I'm dreaming."
"I know what you mean. I keep wanting to pinch myself to make sure it's all real."
That weekend, Kathleen placed the call to a certain Air Force lieutenant, a very excited Daniel standing at her side.
"Kitty Kat!" Jack greeted cheerfully. "To what do I owe the pleasure of this call?" He paused, the tone of his voice changing. "It's nothing serious, I hope."
"No, not at all. We have some news for you, but I'm going to let someone else be the one to tell you." Kathleen handed the phone to Daniel.
"Hi, Jack!" the boy said.
"Hey! Daniel! How's it going, buddy?"
"Great! Guess what?"
"Mister and Mrs. Greer are going to adopt me!"
There was a short pause. "They are? Wow. That is so fantastic!"
"Yeah. We'll be cousins then!"
Jack laughed. "We sure will be, and I can't think of anybody I'd rather have for a cousin. I bet you're really excited."
"Uh huh. I can't wait till I get to move in with them." Daniel looked up at the two people smiling down at him. "They said that, when they adopt me, I could call them Mom and Dad."
Jack's voice softened. "That will be wonderful, Danny. Is it okay if I talked to Kat for a while?"
"Okay." Daniel gave the phone to his future mother.
"So, adoption, huh?" Jack said to her.
"Yes. I'll explain the whole thing to you another time."
"Well, I don't think I have to tell you that I'm glad. I've thought for a while now that you should adopt, and Daniel is a terrific kid."
Kathleen brushed her hand through Daniel's hair, smiling at him lovingly. "Yes, he is. Quentin and I couldn't be happier about the whole thing."
They talked for a couple more minutes, then Kathleen gave the phone back to Daniel. He chatted happily to the lieutenant about the adoption and things that had happened since their last conversation on Daniel's birthday.
"Are you still going to come here for Thanksgiving?" Daniel asked.
"Are you kidding? Now that you're going to be my cousin, you'd better believe it! I need to welcome you into the family face to face, kiddo."
A little while later, Jack said he had to go, and the two of them said goodbye. Daniel hung up with a smile on his face, thinking that it was going to be so neat to have Jack as his cousin.
It was three weeks before the end of summer vacation that Jacob and Laura sat down to discuss Sam's schooling. If they followed the advice of the school, they would be putting her in the sixth grade. Sam, of course, would flatly refuse unless Daniel would be doing the same. There was also the issue of the difficulties it would cause Mark, who would likely suffer even more teasing.
The Carters decided that they should get together with the Underwoods and Greers to talk about the whole thing. Arranging babysitters for both the Carter children and the Underwood's foster kids on the same day and time proved to be challenging, but they managed to do it and all met at the Greer home.
"I guess the first question to ask is what the plan is for Daniel," Jacob said.
"We've talked with Quentin and Kathleen about that," Paul responded. "Since they will be adopting Daniel, we thought that they should have a say in it. Plus, Quentin is Daniel's tutor."
"Though, obviously, putting Daniel in the sixth grade would be beneficial academically," the teacher said, "there can be psychological problems when you have a child in a class in which all his fellow classmates are several years older. It is something that's done quite often with gifted children when there is no special program or school available in the area, but, to be honest, I think that, quite often, it is a mistake. You need to consider the personality and emotions of the child. Is he or she mature enough to handle it? In some ways, Daniel is mature well beyond his years, but, emotionally, the death of his parents and other things he went through are still affecting him. If he was to go into the sixth grade, he'd be going to class with twelve and thirteen-year-olds. Knowing Daniel as I do, I think that would be pretty tough on him. There's also the fact that Daniel would struggle with sixth grade math and science and would need quite a bit of help with them."
"So, you think that he'd be more comfortable in the fifth grade?" Laura asked.
Quentin nodded. "The thing to consider is that this is not something that has to be done now or never. In another year, Daniel will be ten and far more emotionally healed from his parents' death. If, at that time, Kathleen and I feel that he is ready for it, we might choose to put him in seventh grade instead of sixth. But, as it stands now, I think that skipping yet another grade would be a mistake. Daniel's already jumped three grades over the span of eight months."
"I think he's right," Diane said. "I think that Daniel would be miserable in sixth grade."
Jacob and Laura glanced at each other.
"We're actually kind of happy to hear you say that," the captain admitted. "Laura and I have some big reservations about putting Sam in the sixth grade. Obviously, she doesn't have a traumatic past like Daniel does, but neither of us think that she'd be happy in that grade." He smiled. "And since she'd fight us tooth and nail if we tried to put her in a grade that Daniel wasn't in, whatever grade he goes into is what we're going to pick for her. Of course, there's the concern that they won't be put in the same classroom."
"I can talk to the school about that," Quentin told him. "It's worked out well having them in the same class, so I'm sure that they'll see the benefit to keeping it that way."
"So, fifth grade, then? Does Social Services have a say in this with Daniel?"
Diane was the one who answered. "Since this isn't a case of sending him to a different school, it's our decision to make, although we will be letting his caseworker know."
The children were informed of the decision right away. Both Sam and Daniel were glad. Neither one of them really wanted to go into the sixth grade. Mark was also delighted to learn that his baby sister wouldn't be in the same grade as him.
A few days later, Daniel was surprised to receive an invitation from Mark to his birthday party, the older boy explaining that, since he was at Daniel's birthday party, Daniel should be at his. Daniel accepted the invitation, although he was a little concerned. All the other kids there would be older, and he was worried that some of them would tease him.
That same day, he also received another invitation, the second one coming from the Greers, who invited the boy to spend all day Saturday with them in Syracuse. Sam and Mark were invited as well, the former accepting while the latter declined.
There was a very important reason for the planned day of fun. It would be the one-year anniversary of the death of Daniel's parents, and everyone was desperately hoping that the boy wouldn't realize that fact. The plan was to jam-pack the day with as much fun as possible to keep all thoughts of his parents away.
The plan succeeded, Daniel and Sam having a blast with the Greers, who had just as much fun. They returned to Rome that evening, tired but happy.
Mark's birthday party took place the next day. Daniel was very nervous when he arrived at the Carters, his gift to Mark clutched in his hands. He was let in by Jacob, who smiled and told him that the party was happening in the backyard.
As soon as Daniel set foot in the yard, several of the other kids there began staring at him. He recognized some of them from school. Seeing a table with other presents on it, he walked over to it, trying to ignore the looks.
"Hey, Daniel. I'm glad you came."
Daniel turned to see Mark coming toward him.
Daniel glanced at the other kids. "Is it really okay for me to be here?"
"Sure it is." Noticing the direction of Daniel's gaze, he looked over at his shoulder. "Just ignore them. It's my birthday, so I can invite anybody I want to." He grinned. "Besides, you're almost like my little brother."
Daniel's eyes lit up. "I am?"
"Sure. And brothers stick up for each other. Right?"
Daniel grinned brightly. "Right."
Despite his misgivings, Daniel did end up having fun at the party. After a few minutes, most of the other kids accepted his presence, some of them even inviting him to join in on activities. Mark made sure that the younger boy didn't feel isolated or out of place, which made Jacob feel proud of his eldest child. Mark had matured a great deal during the past year. Not only that, he had also learned to focus less on himself and more on others. He was growing up. In another year, he'd be in junior high, a big step closer to high school, then college.
The party was just about over when Laura and Sam returned from what the woman had dubbed, "Girls day out." Though Mark had been generous enough to invite Daniel to the party, inviting his kid sister was another matter. But then, since Mark had not been invited to Sam's birthday party, Jacob couldn't really complain, even if Sam had wanted to be at the party, which she didn't. Instead, Laura took her daughter into town, and the two of them had fun shopping and doing other "girl stuff".
Daniel was in the house when the two got back, and the best friends greeted each other happily.
"Did you have fun at the party?" Sam asked.
"Yeah. At first, the other kids stared at me, but it was okay after a while. Some of the kids even listened when I told them all about what it's like to work on a dig. They thought it was cool that I got to help excavate artifacts."
Daniel was invited to stay for dinner. Over the meal, one of the topics of conversation was the return to school. The adults kept it positive, asking the kids what friends they were looking forward to seeing and what school activities they were eager to resume. It was no surprise that what Daniel was most looking forward to was the resumption of his tutoring by Quentin. Sam was eager to see what new things she'd learn in science, particularly, the experiments they'd be doing. She was hoping that their new teacher would agree to make her and Daniel lab and study partners again.
The remaining days of summer vacation passed far too quickly for the kids. The first day of school brought the usual cases of nerves for Daniel and Sam, specifically about their new teacher and the kids who would be in their class.
Mrs. Lynn Montgomery was a small, dark-haired woman in her early forties who welcomed the two nine-year-olds warmly. She told them that she was looking forward to being their teacher. After introducing herself to the class, she warned all the kids that she didn't abide laziness and expected each and every one of them to do their best at all times. She also said that if any one of them had trouble understanding something or problems with an assignment, they should not keep quite about it and should come to her.
And so started Daniel and Sam's first day in the fifth grade. Mrs. Montgomery did not waste any time giving them more advanced work for the areas in which they excelled, which pleased the two kids.
At lunch time, Daniel was happy to see both Caleb and Adam in the cafeteria. Both boys had started kindergarten, Adam having turned six in June. He asked them how they liked school so far, and they both said that their teacher was really nice, and it was fun doing all the games and crafts. Daniel had never gone to kindergarten, so he was interested in finding out what it was like. As far as he was concerned, it sounded a lot more like playing than real schoolwork.
Caleb and Adam weren't the only ones experiencing something new that day. Diane was adjusting to having only one child in the house, the place feeling too quiet and empty to her. She told herself that she should enjoy it while it lasted. In just a few more months, peace and quiet would be in short supply.
Thinking about that made her reach a hand down to rest over her belly. She was almost five months along in the pregnancy and was just starting to show, the tiny hump in a tummy that had been flat a joyful testament to the life that lay within it. She was looking forward to when she could proudly display her swollen stomach to the whole world and visibly join the ranks of the many other pregnant women whom she had long envied.
Caleb, Adam and Susy had all been told that, come December, they'd be getting a new baby brother or sister. This had required that Diane and Paul explain a bit about the facts of life to the two younger kids. Adam had already known that babies grew inside the tummies of their mommies, but it was news to Susy, who, from then on, had been continually coming up to Diane and touching her stomach, asking all kinds of things about the baby inside, like how could it see inside there, what did it eat, did it have to take naps like she did, and, most amusing of all, if it had any toys to play with in there. When Diane explained that, no, there were no toys in there, Susy generously offered to share some of hers with it.
After class, Daniel went home with Quentin for the resumption of the boy's tutoring. The teacher had been concerned that, now that he and his wife were in the process of adopting Daniel, Child Welfare would say that it would be best to temporarily halt the tutoring, but Lucy had been quick to assure him that such would not be the case.
Everything was going well in the adoption process, the fact that Quentin and Kathleen already had an established relationship with Daniel working in their favor. There would be no question of compatibility. And, as Lucy had already told the couple, Quentin being a teacher was another big plus, Social Services recognizing that, for a child with Daniel's advanced intellect, no better family could be found for him than one in which one of the parents was not only an educator, but was also the very man who was tutoring the boy. The Greers were ideal parents for Daniel, the kind of match that most Child Welfare workers could only dream of finding. Quentin and Kathleen knew that Lucy Merrick had been putting in a lot extra hours to move things along quickly, and they were deeply grateful to her.
"So, how was your first day back at school?" Quentin asked the boy as they drove to the teacher's place.
"It was good. Some of the kids in class stared at me and Sam, but it wasn't so bad."
"Do you think that you'll like Mrs. Montgomery?"
"I think so. She gave us advanced work right away, which was great."
"Mrs. Montgomery is a good teacher. She's tough, though. She expects a lot from her students, no lollygagging around. But you and Sam are good students, so you'll do fine in her class."
The first thing Daniel did once they were situated in the library was to show the teacher how much Italian he'd learned. He had continued to spend some time learning the language during the summer and was now quite fluent in it. Quentin proudly praised him.
"So, what language would you like to learn next?" he asked with a smile.
"I was thinking about Mandarin Chinese because Sam's uncle Aaron knows it, but then I saw a program on TV about Russia, and I decided to learn Russian first."
"Russian, huh? Well, I think that's an excellent choice."
"Mister Greer? When you adopt me, will you still be my tutor?"
"Well, I'll still be tutoring you, but I wouldn't be called your tutor anymore."
"Because you'll be my dad."
Quentin gave him a big smile. "Yeah."
Daniel gave him a hug. "I can't wait for you to be my dad."
The teacher returned the embrace. "Neither can I, Daniel. It'll be one of the happiest days of my life."