Summer slipped into autumn, the weather gradually growing cooler. The arrival of fall also marked a very special occasion, the anniversary of the day that Daniel and Sam met. On that day, Daniel was invited over to the Carter home for a little "anniversary party" at the insistence of Sam, who was not going to let the one-year anniversary of meeting her best friend go by without some kind of celebration.
The two kids were doing excellently in fifth grade and weren't having problems with any of their classmates. They'd both made some new friends, one of whom was a ten-year-old fifth-grader named Erica who shared Sam's love of science.
Daniel was a little jealous about all the time Sam spent chatting with the girl, but Sam had learned her lesson about jealousy and made an effort to include him in many of the conversations. Erica, who'd never had a friendship with a boy before, was surprised and puzzled by the bond shared by the two best friends.
"How come Daniel is your best friend?" she asked Sam one day when Daniel wasn't around.
"He just is. When we first met, I didn't really have any friends, and he didn't either. His mom and dad had just died, so he was really sad, and he didn't talk."
"Not at all?"
Sam shook her head. She smiled brightly. "I was the very first person he started talking to."
"Will you always be best friends?"
"Yeah. He'll be my best friend forever."
Erica frowned slightly, but Sam didn't notice.
"Would you like to come over to my house on Saturday?" she asked. "I have a big playhouse."
"Really? That would be fun. Can Daniel come, too?"
"Boys don't like playing in playhouses. He'd probably be bored."
Sam thought about it and agreed to come over, explaining that she'd have to get permission from her parents first. When she asked them that evening, they said yes.
Sam enjoyed the Saturday with Erica, though they only spent a little time in the playhouse. It turned out that Erica also had a chemistry set, and the two girls spent hours playing with it.
During the lunch break on Monday, Erica steered the conversation to Sam's day at her house, going on and on about how much fun they had. Daniel felt jealous and a little hurt that Sam hadn't asked if he'd like to join them, although he didn't really think he would have had all that much fun playing in a playhouse and with a chemistry set.
"Mom and Dad said that you could come to our house again next Saturday," Erica said to Sam.
Daniel almost held his breath. Yesterday, he and Sam had gotten together to do some studying for a math test that was coming up, and they made plans to go roller skating at the rink next Saturday. Would Sam now back out on that to play with Erica again?
"Thanks, but me and Daniel are going roller skating," Sam said, pleasing the boy.
Erica frowned and pouted at the same time. "Couldn't you do that another day?"
"No, we already planned it."
"Then maybe I could join you."
Sam looked at Daniel. "Would that be okay if she came with us?"
"Um, yeah, I guess," Daniel replied, although he would really rather have spent the day just with Sam.
"Great!" Erica said, giving Daniel a brief look that he couldn't quite name.
During the lunch break on the following day, Erica asked Sam if she'd like to play after school.
"I can't," Sam said. "Daniel's coming over to my house so that we can study more for the math test. There's a teacher's meeting today, so he won't be going to Mister Greer's house."
"There's still lots of time to study for the test," Erica said in objection. "Why do you have to study together anyway?"
Daniel spoke up. "Sam's my study partner. She helps me with math and science, and I help her with history and some social studies stuff."
Sam nodded. "We're lab partners, too. Mrs. Montgomery lets us do all the science experiments in class together."
"Too bad I'm not in your class. Then I could be your lab partner, too. I'm good with history. Maybe I could help you with it sometimes."
Now, it was Daniel who was frowning. He didn't want this girl to be helping Sam with history. He was Sam's study partner, not Erica.
"Thanks, but Daniel is really super smart with history," Sam responded. "English and spelling, too. He knows more history stuff than any other kid in the whole school. He's the best study partner ever."
The praise made Daniel beam while bringing yet another frown to Erica's face. She didn't say much of anything for the rest of the lunch break.
As Saturday grew progressively closer, Daniel's enthusiasm for the day at the roller rink continually waned, his excitement not nearly as high as it would have been if a certain ten-year-old wasn't going to be there. At every lunch break, it seemed like Erica was always trying to draw Sam's attention away from Daniel and toward her. On Thursday, she again invited Sam to come play with her after school, and, this time, Sam said yes since Daniel was going to be going to Mister Greer's house for his tutoring. It was the first time that Daniel was wishing that he wasn't going to the teacher's house so that he could have asked Sam to come play with him after school instead of Erica. He kept telling himself that he shouldn't be jealous, but it felt like Erica was trying to take Sam's friendship away from him, and that hurt.
It didn't take long for Quentin to see that something was really bothering Daniel that Thursday. He sat beside the boy and asked what was wrong.
"I think Erica wants to be Sam's new best friend," Daniel said.
Quentin had heard the name before, Daniel having mentioned the girl a couple of weeks ago. "Why do you say that?"
"Because she's always asking Sam to play with her after school and on Saturdays, and, at every lunch break, she wants Sam to talk with her and not me."
Quentin studied the boy, wondering if this was a simple case of jealousy making Daniel blow things out of proportion or if there was really something to what he was saying. The man asked for more details, and Daniel told him about everything that had been going on, including Erica's two attempts to get Sam to cancel plans with him and her suggestion that she could be the one to help Sam with history. By the time Daniel was finished, the teacher had decided that maybe the boy was right about Erica.
"Well, Daniel. As I see it, you can do one of two things."
"You can just stand back and do nothing or you can fight back."
"How do I fight back?"
"By not letting Erica push herself in between you and Sam. Sam probably doesn't realize what's going on. I bet if she did, she wouldn't let it happen. It's okay for Erica to want to be Sam's friend, but it's not okay for her to try pushing you out of the way. You need to stand up to her. When she tries to draw Sam's attention away from you, don't let her. If she tries again to make Sam cancel plans with you, hold firm to those plans. Do you think you can do that?"
Daniel thought about it and nodded, determination taking hold. He and Sam had been best friends for a whole year, and he wasn't going to let Erica come between them.
The following day, when Erica joined them for lunch and yet again began her campaign to monopolize Sam's attention, Daniel heeded Quentin's advice. Every time that the girl tried to exclude him from the conversation, he jumped right back in, even when the topic of discussion was something of a scientific nature. He even took it a step further and managed to steer the conversation toward Egypt and other cultures with which he was familiar, talking about interesting things he'd seen and done in places like the Yucatan and Peru. As always, Sam loved listening to his tales of those faraway places.
If she had really been paying attention, Sam would have seen the jealousy and anger on Erica's face every time Daniel succeeded in pulling Sam's attention toward him. But she was oblivious to the battle that was being waged over her.
The next day, Daniel and Sam met at the boy's house and rode their bikes to the roller rink. Daniel was not happy when he saw that Erica was already there, having hoped that he and Sam would make it out on the rink before the other girl arrived.
Erica already had her skates on, and Sam was faster getting hers on than Daniel was. The instant Sam finished lacing up, Erica was pulling her out onto the rink. By the time that Daniel got there, the girls were halfway around. He waited off to the side for them to come the rest of the way around so that he wouldn't have to catch up to them, but when Erica saw him standing there, she drew Sam toward the middle of the rink, where she showed the younger girl some tricks she'd learned. Not about to let Erica have that victory, Daniel went out onto the rink and joined them, coming to a stop right beside his friend. He watched Erica for a few minutes as she showed off, then he asked Sam to come join him. Sam readily agreed. Telling Erica that she was going to go back to skating, she merged into the crowd of skaters with him, not seeing the scowl that formed on the older girl's face.
After a couple of minutes, Erica joined the two best friends and started to chat, yet again attempting to draw Sam's attention toward her, but Daniel was having none of that and inserted himself into the conversation.
The battle of wills had been going on for around twenty minutes when all of the guys were asked to leave the rink, it being the time for girls only. Reluctantly, Daniel left and found a table, where he sat and watched Sam and Erica skate. What made him feel better was that, every time they passed him, Sam smiled and waved at him.
As soon as the girls only skating ended, he was right back out on the rink, rejoining his best friend and the girl against whom he was battling.
The three of them skated for another half-hour, then stopped to have a soda and French fries, where the 'war' continued, Erica refusing to give up on her plans to make Sam like her better than Daniel. But the boy held firm, taking advantage of his year of friendship with Sam and talking about the things they'd done together, Sam eagerly joining in. They eventually got onto the subject of Bud Whitman and the day he beat up Daniel and broke Sam's arm. Erica took the opportunity to talk about the time that her leg was broken when she fell off a horse, but Daniel countered by leading the conversation to the horseback riding they did during their vacation on the beach.
Erica's biggest mistake came when she began talking about the time that she saved a cat that was stuck up a tree. Her goal was to impress Sam, but it backfired when it led to Sam recounting the day that Daniel risked his life to save Kenny from his abusive father, going on and on about him being a big hero and getting his name in the papers. Normally, Daniel would have been embarrassed by this, but he could tell by the sour look on Erica's face that she was not at all happy, the girl knowing that pulling a cat out of a tree couldn't come close to competing with what Daniel had done.
The three kids had just finished eating when the announcement was made for couples only skating. Normally, Daniel wouldn't have dreamed of inviting Sam out onto the rink since he would have been far too embarrassed to do so, but this would be his chance to skate alone with her.
"Would you like to skate with me?" he asked her, a hint of a blush on his cheeks.
Surprised, Sam stared at him for a moment, then shyly agreed. Erica watched them go out onto the rink, the sour expression returning.
The boy and girl didn't talk as they made their way around the rink. All of the others were adults and teens, so they felt rather out of place, but Daniel wasn't going to let that stop him, his battle to remain Sam's best friend giving him new courage. In fact, as they passed Erica for the second time, he let that courage take him even further and slipped his hand into Sam's. Very surprised by the move, she looked at their joined hands, then at him.
"I'm glad that we're best friends," he said quietly.
That made Sam smile. "Me too."
"We'll always be best friends, right?"
"Sure we will, best friends forever."
The two children shared a smile, their hands remaining linked.
By the time that couples only skating ended, Erica was pretty much stewing in her own juices. When Daniel and Sam returned to the table, she suggested that they do something else, like go to the park. Sam decided that they'd skated enough and asked if that was okay with Daniel. He agreed, though he had to wonder what form the war would take on the new battlefield.
The kids rode their bikes to the park and went to the playground. There were three swings available, and the boy and two girls took them, Daniel and Erica sitting on either side of Sam.
Daniel had never had much of an interest in swinging high, but when Sam and Erica began doing so, he decided that, this time, he wasn't going to be left behind. He began pumping his legs harder and was soon equaling them. Sam was thrilled and started laughing, smiling broadly at Daniel each time they passed each other on their arcs.
"Let's try to swing together!" she called to him.
Sam slowed the speed of her swinging, then, at the proper time, began speeding back up, gradually matching her arc with Daniel's. When they reached perfect synchronicity, they both laughed, their eyes on each other, Erica all but forgotten. Not giving up, Erica matched her own swinging to theirs.
"Hey, Sam! Now, it's all three of us!" she cried.
Sam looked over at her. "Yeah!"
The three kids swung together for a few more minutes, then went over to the merry-go-round, joining the other children there. Because of the presence of the other kids, Daniel and Erica's battle was put on hold for as long as they were on the merry-go-round. It resumed ten minutes later when they went to the jungle gym. Daniel had little experience on the bars, whereas Erica was quite adept and was soon showing off again. She told Sam that she could teach the younger girl how to do the fancier things, and Sam took her up on the offer.
Being older, Erica was taller and had a longer reach, making some of the things fairly easy for her but more dangerous for Sam. When, at one point, Sam lost her grip, Daniel got worried. He chose to get off the jungle gym and just watch. Erica considered this a victory, not realizing that the boy was actually preparing himself to catch Sam if she fell.
The two girls had been on the bars for several minutes when, at Erica's urging, Sam tried something that she was not skilled enough to do. She lost her grip again and would have fallen if Daniel hadn't leaped forward and grabbed her. A bit shaken, Sam got her hands back on the bars and climbed down.
"Are you okay?" Daniel asked once her feet were on the ground.
Sam nodded. "I would have fallen if you hadn't caught me."
Not having seen what happened, Erica called from the top of the jungle gym. "Why did you stop?"
"Because I almost fell," Sam replied. "Daniel had to catch me."
"You should try again. I bet you'll be able to do it next time."
"I don't think she should," Daniel said. "If she fell, she could really get hurt." He looked at his best friend. "Please don't try again, Sam. I'm afraid you'll fall and get hurt."
"Oh, don't be a baby, Daniel," Erica said.
A flash of anger made Sam turn to the older girl. "He's not being a baby." She returned her gaze to Daniel. "Come on. Let's go back to the swings."
They returned to the swings, where Erica joined them a couple of minutes later.
"I'm sorry I called Daniel a baby," the girl said, aiming the apology at Sam rather than the one to whom she should have apologized. Daniel doubted that she was being sincere.
"Let's go get some ice cream," Erica then suggested.
"I don't have any more money with me," Sam said.
"Me neither," said Daniel.
"That's okay," Erica responded, seeing her chance to score lots of points with Sam. "I'll buy them. Mom and Dad give me a big allowance."
"I can't," Daniel said. "I need to get home. It's my foster parents' anniversary today, and they're going to dinner and a concert in Albany. I promised that I'd be home before they leave."
Erica smiled. "But Sam and I can get ice cream. Come on, Sam. We can get banana splits."
Sam hesitated. It wouldn't be as much fun without Daniel, but a banana split sounded really good.
Daniel was torn. He had a feeling that the only reason why Erica was being so generous was because she wanted Sam to like her better than him, but he knew that Sam really liked banana splits.
"You should go, Sam," he finally said. "You can get strawberry and chocolate on it, just like you like it."
"But it's not fair that you can't come, too."
"That's okay. We can have ice cream together another time."
"Well . . . okay."
"Great!" Erica said, crowing on the inside.
They went to their bikes, and Daniel said goodbye. Sam and Erica rode off in the opposite direction to a nearby ice cream parlor.
Over the banana splits, Erica chatted away happily, delighted that Daniel was no longer there.
"Hey! I've got a great idea," she suddenly said. "We could have a slumber party!"
"A slumber party?"
"Yeah, just me and you."
"You mean tonight?"
"Uh huh. My parents won't mind."
"Um, I'd have to ask permission from my mom and dad."
"Can you call them?"
After they were done with their ice cream, they went to a pay phone, and Sam called home. When she told her mom about Erica's invitation for a sleepover, Laura asked about Daniel.
"He had to go home. It's his foster parents' anniversary today, and they're going to a concert."
"I see. Would it be just you and Erica?"
"I guess that would be all right as long as it's okay with her parents."
"She said it would be."
"All right, then. You need to be home by eleven tomorrow."
"I will be. Thanks, Mom."
Sam had fun on the sleepover, although it wasn't as much fun as the first time that Daniel stayed over at her house. They stayed up till midnight, watching TV and playing games.
The next morning, after a breakfast of blueberry pancakes, the two girls went out into the backyard, Erica insisting that they had a little bit of time before Sam had to leave. They sat on the swings.
Certain that Sam was coming to like her better than Daniel, the older girl said, "Last night was really fun, wasn't it."
"You know what would be even more fun? On Halloween, we could go trick-or-treating together, then you could stay over, and we could watch scary movies, then go to school together in the morning."
Sam shook her head. "I'm going to go trick-or-treating with Daniel. He's never done it before. He couldn't go last year because he got pneumonia a little while before Halloween, and his foster parents didn't want him to be out in the cold. So we all did this really cool haunted tomb in the Greers' house instead and got to scare a bunch of kids."
"Come on, Sam. It'll be lots more fun going with me and watching scary movies afterwards. We could fix popcorn, and s'mores, and turn off all the lights, things like what best friends do."
Sam stared at her, frowning. "You're not my best friend. Daniel is."
"But I could be your best friend. We both like science a lot and could do our science homework together and study for tests together. It would be great."
Sam got up from the swing, starting to get mad. "I told you Daniel's my best friend. We've been best friends for a whole year."
"I bet that we could be even better best friends."
"No we couldn't. I will never have a better best friend than Daniel, not ever." She started walking away. "I'm going home." She went to her bicycle, Erica hurrying after her.
"Okay, then I can be your best girl friend, and Daniel can be your best friend who's a boy," Erica said hastily.
Sam glared at her. "No. I don't want to be your friend at all anymore."
Not saying anything more, she got on her bike and rode away.
The next day at school, when Sam saw Erica at the lockers, she turned her back on the girl, ignoring her. Every time she thought about what the older girl had said, it made her even madder. By the time the lunch break came, she was wishing that Erica would move away to another state so that Sam wouldn't ever have to see her again.
At lunchtime, when Erica came over to the table where Daniel and Sam sat, intending to patch things up, Sam immediately said, "Go away. I don't want to talk to you anymore. You're not my friend and won't ever be my friend again."
Shocked by her words, Daniel stared at Sam, then at Erica, whose cheeks had flushed pink. Everyone nearby was now staring at the older girl as well.
Humiliated and angry, Erica said, "Fine. I don't want to be your friend either," then stormed away.
Daniel gapped at the departing girl, stunned by the sudden development. He turned back to Sam.
"What happened? Did you have a fight?"
Sam glowered. "She tried to make me her best friend instead of yours."
Daniel's gaze fell to his lunch. "I know."
Sam blinked in surprise. "You do?"
Daniel nodded. "I figured it out last week."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"Because I knew you liked her, and I didn't know if you'd believe me. I was afraid you'd think I was just jealous."
"I would have believed you." Sam paused. "Were you jealous?"
"I was at first, but then I told Mister Greer about it, and he said that I shouldn't let Erica keep trying to come between us, that I should fight back, so I did."
Sam began to smile. "You were fighting over me?"
"Wow. Nobody's ever fought over being my friend before. You wouldn't have had to, though. Erica could never have been my best friend instead of you."
The eyes of the two friends met, and they smiled.
For the rest of the week, Erica ignored both Sam and Daniel, eventually turning her attention to another girl, one who was in her class.
The test to Daniel and Sam's friendship had succeeded in strengthening it even more. When they returned to the roller rink the very next Saturday, it was Sam who bridged the gap between them with her hand. Daniel grinned at her, holding on.
After leaving the rink, they went to the ice cream parlor. Neither of them had enough money left to get banana splits, but, to Sam, the ice cream sundae tasted just as good because it was being eaten with her best friend.
Upon leaving the ice cream parlor, they both rode to Daniel's house, so that he could help Sam with their history assignment. Before going to the rink, she had dropped her school books off at Daniel's, and they were now going to do some studying together.
As they sat on the bed, Daniel patiently helping Sam through the dizzying collection of dates and events, she impulsively leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. Totally taken by surprise, he stared at her, wide-eyed. Sam blushed and ducked her head.
"How come you kissed me?" the boy asked.
"Because you're so nice and such a terrific friend."
"Oh. I think you're a terrific friend, too."
The two children smiled at each other, then got back to studying, secure in the knowledge that no one would ever be able to come between them.
It was on a cold, clear Saturday morning, the last Saturday of October, that the Greers knocked on the Underwoods' door. When Diane opened the door and saw their expressions, she knew that something had happened. The faces of the man and woman were glowing with happiness.
Diane smiled. "What is it? What's happened?" She suddenly had a thought and gasped. "Is it. . . ? Did you get the approval?"
The couple let out a happy laugh, nodding.
"Yesterday afternoon," Quentin said. "You have no idea how hard it was for us not to come running over here last night. Mrs. Merrick was going to contact you, but we asked if it would be all right for us to tell you. She'll be arriving in a little while."
"Oh, this is wonderful. Come in, come in! I'll get Daniel."
As Diane hurried off, Quentin and Kathleen settled on the couch, their hands joined.
"Hi!" Daniel greeted happily when he saw them.
Quentin waved him over. "Come here, Daniel."
The boy came to stand in front of them, and they took his hands.
"Daniel, we have another question for you." The teacher paused, then grinned. "How would you like to come move in with us today?"
Daniel's eyes widened. "The adoption's all done?"
"No, but we've received the approval to adopt you. It will still be a while before the adoption is finalized, but you can go ahead and come live with us."
With joy beaming from his face, Daniel threw himself into their arms. Diane watched the embrace with tears of happiness pooling in her eyes. Yes, she was going to miss having Daniel here. She had come to love him dearly. But knowing that he was going to a family he loved and that loved him in return, a family that would be his forever, made everything all right. And it wasn't like they would never see him again. Diane and Paul had developed a good friendship with the Greers, and that friendship would remain.
Daniel ran off to tell Caleb and Adam, both of whom already knew that the Greers were going to adopt him. As he was doing that, Diane gathered some boxes for Daniel's toys, books and other possessions.
Daniel then wanted to call Sam and tell her and her parents, but Quentin suggested that he wait until after he was all moved into his new home and could call her from his new phone number. Daniel liked that idea and agreed to wait.
The packing process began. Paul arrived home halfway through it and was told the happy news.
They were nearly done when Lucy Merrick arrived. She smiled upon seeing how happy Daniel was.
When the boy saw his caseworker, he immediately ran up to her and gave her a hug. "Thank you for letting them adopt me," he said.
Getting a little misty-eyed, Lucy said, "You're very welcome, Daniel."
Leaving the boy to finish packing the last few things, the adults went to the dining room to take care of some paperwork, Diane and Paul handing over all of Daniel's school records and other documents to the Quentin and Kathleen. After everything was taken care of, the Greers accompanied Lucy out to her car.
"So, how do you feel?" the social workers asked them, though she already knew the answer.
"Words can't describe how happy we are," Kathleen answered.
"Daniel certainly looks very happy, too. It's wonderful to see."
"Yes, it is."
The couple wished the grey-haired woman goodbye, then went back inside.
Once the last box was in the Greers' car, Daniel turned to the two people who had been his foster parents for the past thirteen months. He hugged each of them and thanked them for taking care of him. They told him how much they had loved being his foster parents and assured him that they'd all see plenty of each other in the future.
A while later, Daniel and the Greers arrived at the house that would now be Daniel's home. With the adults carrying boxes and the boy a suitcase, then went inside.
"So, Daniel," Quentin said. "Which bedroom do you want to be yours? It's your choice."
Daniel didn't hesitate to pick the one he'd slept two of the three times he'd stayed overnight. It was the larger of the two guest rooms and had a big window looking out onto the backyard.
They got all of Daniel's things into the room, and Kathleen happily began hanging the boy's clothes in the closet as Quentin and Daniel put away his books and other things. Last night, the Greers had gone out and bought a small bookcase for Daniel's books, knowing that he'd need one.
Once all the unpacking was finished, Daniel made the call to the Carters from the phone number that he'd called many times and that would now be his.
"Hi, Captain Carter!" Daniel greeted when the man answered the phone.
"Well, hello, Daniel."
"Mister and Mrs. Greer got approved to adopt me, and I'm living with them now! We just put all my stuff in my bedroom."
"Oh, Daniel. That's fantastic! I bet you're dying to tell Sam."
"Yeah. Can she come to the phone?"
"You bet. I'll go get her."
Seconds later, Sam was on the phone. When Daniel told her the news, she just about shrieked with delight.
Once the two excited kids stopped talking, they handed the phones over to the two men.
"Congratulations!" Jacob said to Quentin. "I bet you're on the moon right now."
The teacher laughed. "The moon? Kathleen and I overshot it about five seconds after we got the word."
"Well, this calls for a celebration."
"We were thinking the same thing. We would love to have you guys over for dinner tonight. The Underwoods will be here as well."
"Sure. That will be great. What time?"
"Six o'clock. That will give us plenty of time to talk before the kids have to be in bed . . . although I suspect that there will be a certain little boy who isn't going to want to go to bed at the usual time tonight."
Jacob let out a chuckle. "I suspect that you're right."