A Road Not Taken - Part Six


 "Dear Jack,

"So how is school going? It seems weird to write that in the beginning of August when I won't be going back for another three weeks. Life isn't as bad here in Carmel as I thought it would be, but I think I came here with a better attitude thanks to the deal I made with Sam. Your letters are great to look forward to as well.

"Thinking of that, what happened to Lauren? You haven't mentioned her in either of your last two letters. Did you break up with her? Did she move away? I hope you're not feeling bad if one of those things happened. Do you still see Sara? If you do, do you still fight all the time? I don't completely understand why you fight, but I think you'd miss it if it stopped.

"Have you heard anything more about those advanced piloting classes you're hoping to take? I know how much you want to fly jets, and I think you'd make a great cadet teacher. Although I do have to say that if you'd stop antagonizing the secretary's assistant in the counselor's office, you might find that you get your answers faster.

"My foster siblings haven't really taken much notice of me so far, and I'm not sure that's a bad thing. They look like they play a little rough. And when I overheard the next door neighbor mention that to Mrs. Mason, she just laughed and said that's just the way kids are. She obviously hasn't had any experience with kids like me. This does not inspire a whole lot of confidence.

"Oh, well. It's only temporary. In the meantime, I've got a couple new languages to study. I just hope I can find someone close by that can help me with pronunciation. The rest is coming rather quickly. I'm actually really excited about it.

"I think that about does me for this letter. My room is in the attic and the sun is setting so I'm losing the best light. There's just something about switching light sources in the middle of a project that bothers me. I don't know what it is, so don't ask - but it's there.

"Until I hear from you next.

"Your friend,


* * * * * * * *

"Dear Daniel,

"It's good to know you're settling in somewhat in your new place, although I still don't think it was right to move you so far. Don't you dare put up with any of those kids' crap if they give it to you. I don't care if your foster mother does think that's just the way kids are, you don't have to put up with it. I have to admit that attitude doesn't inspire me with confidence either.

"Gees, Daniel, how many languages do you know now, anyway? Have you made it your mission to learn them all or something? Don't get me wrong, it's impressive as, ahem, all get out that you know all that stuff, but just the idea of all those different kinds of words floating around in your head gives me a headache.

"As for Lauren, well, she wrote me a letter telling me she wouldn't be coming back to school this year. I guess her advisor sat her down and convinced her college just wasn't her thing. She said we'd had fun and she'd always remember me. Personally, I'm not sure she'll be able to keep her end of the bargain. Sara pretty much said the same thing when I stopped by to pick up a few of my things and see if she'd gotten a letter too. It seems Lauren left her high and dry in their two-bedroom, off-campus apartment. She shouldn't have too much trouble finding someone to sublet the other bedroom, but until then she's got to try to cover the whole rent and all the utilities by herself. Sara is not a happy camper.

"I suppose that answers your question about Sara, now that I think about it. Surprisingly enough, when I came back this summer, she didn't grate on my nerves nearly as much as she had before. In fact, it turns out we've got a few things in common. She's a huge hockey fan, loves to ski, and keeps a telescope in her closet that she drags out to a field just outside of town when the weather's just right - and sometimes even when it isn't. Would you believe she's even tried her hand at making fishing lures? I never realized she was that deep.

"I did finally get the information I wanted about the advanced piloting classes - thanks for the thumbs up on the cadet teaching thing, by the way - and I shouldn't have any problems getting in to them. In fact, my instructors were happy to hear that I was aiming for them. And for your information, I wasn't antagonizing the secretary's assistant. I was trying to encourage her. It's not my fault she couldn't handle it.

"Hopefully you'll be able to write again soon.

"Your friend,


* * * * * * * *

"Dear Daniel,

"Thank you for telling me about the Point Lobos State Reserve. It sounds beautiful. Just the kind of place I can imagine you going to find some peace and quiet when things get to be too much. Do you really have a special tree picked out where you read my letters? That's so flattering!

"I've finally picked out something here in Dover that I really like. There's this empty lot five and a half blocks away from my house where a bunch of the local boys get together and race their home made go-carts. They even built ramps and small hills as obstacles. I was satisfied to just watch for the first few days, until I realized a way to make the ramps sturdier and more exciting, while actually making them safer. They didn't want to listen to me at first - being a girl really sucks sometimes - but after one of them wrecked their go-cart when a ramp gave way, they were a little more inclined to hear me out. Ever since then, we've gotten along pretty well. They even let me use their go-carts. Dad said he'd help me build one in his spare time, as long as I didn't let it interfere with school. Like I'd let that happen.

"None of the boys I race with go to Dover High School with me. I'm not really that close to them, but at least I would have known them. I'm sure you've found this out for yourself, but being a freshman - and the youngest one of your class at that - really sets you up to be left out of everything, on top of a number one target for teasing. Did anyone try to tell you the "rules" on how you're supposed to carry a senior's books for them if they ask? Or that you always have to let an upperclassman cut ahead of you in line? Or even - and here's the best one - that you have to take the blame for one of them if they manage to get themselves in trouble when you're around? They seem to think that because I'm only thirteen I must be stupid. They're missing the point of being thirteen and in ninth grade.

"But what really sucks is that I can't hang out at the Skills Center near the base without being supervised because I'm not 14 yet. It doesn't matter that I'm in ninth grade. They have an auto shop there that I'd love to get a peek into - there's so much I'd be able to learn in there. And I wouldn't need Dad's help to build my go-cart. I love my dad, you know that, but he only has so much free time, and I'm sure there are other things he wants to do on top of putting together a motorized vehicle his daughter plans on using to travel around in circles as fast as she can go - taking the chance of sustaining some serious injuries along the way, of course.

"Hey, what's the fun in winning if there's no risk?

"Then again, I still wouldn't be allowed in the auto shop until I was 16. Those people are paranoid.

"There's an astronomy club at the high school I've been thinking about joining. I'm not really sure. I wouldn't want to volunteer to be treated like I usually do during the day for an extra three to four hours a week. But the subject is so cool, and it has so much to do with what I want to do when I grow up. One of these days I'm going to travel out there, to see the stars without anything but my helmet's visor in the way, to walk on the moon or maybe even a new colony on Mars. Can't you just picture it? Human beings from Earth setting foot on another planet in our lifetime. Pure bliss. And I will be one of the lucky ones.

"Well, I suppose I should bring this long letter to an end. I have a book I have to read for English. I put it off so it would be a challenge. Okay, that and my dad brought me home one of those home chemistry kits and there was an experiment inside that I just had to try. Of course, then I had to clean up after myself when I decided to see if I could substitute some things from the kitchen to get a bigger batch to work with. I barely got done before Dad showed up. So I need to do a bit of reading tonight to catch up.

"I can't wait for your next letter!

"Friends forever,


* * * * * * * *

Daniel sat on the top step of the porch, shielded from view of the neighbors to either side by the large bushes that grew on both sides of the stairs. As usual, he hadn't come home with homework. His foster mother wasn't completely inclined to believe him on that score, but as he didn't have anything in his backpack he was obviously ignoring, she shooed him outside to play before dinner. "No child should be cooped up inside while the weather's nice," she declared.

The twelve-year-old sighed. He'd rather be in his room reading the book Jack had sent him about the Seven Wonders of the World. But he'd humor Mrs. Mason. She was nice enough, if a bit distant. Daniel got the feeling she'd been a foster parent for a long time, and knew better than to get attached to any of the children that came and went through her life. She was playing it safe, and Daniel could more than understand the impulse. He just wished that didn't mean that he got lumped in with the other boys - obviously more inclined to violence and deceit than he could ever be - that she had experience with.

In the boy's hands was a letter he'd just received from Minnesota. Sergeant O'Neill had been kind enough to respond to his own letter he'd written on the spur of the moment after reading Jack's latest multi-pager. Daniel hadn't quite had the courage to read it yet; he knew he'd asked a big favor, or what could potentially be a big favor, and was afraid he'd been turned down. It wouldn't surprise him.

A laugh from down the street caught his attention. A pair of boys were riding slowly down the middle of the road, one of them with a large canvas bag slung over his shoulder and across his torso. Daniel watched as the two boys chatted away, the one absently tossing rolled up newspapers toward houses on either side of the street, neither of them paying any attention to where they landed. He caught the one headed toward the porch he sat on, considering things. If he really wanted to make this plan work, he'd need money. And since he was only twelve, there weren't a lot of options available to him to get it.

The sound of a wooden screen door banging shut next door brought Daniel out of his thoughts, and the loud sigh he heard coming from the same direction had him straightening and peeking over the hedge to see what was going on. His right-hand neighbor, an elderly lady who used a walker to get around - although every now and again Daniel had seen her with a cane - was standing at the edge of her porch staring at the tall lilac bush that grew at the far corner. As the boy watched, she shook her head resignedly before turning around and going back inside.

That was odd. Daniel pushed his glasses up on his nose and squinted at the object of the lady's scrutiny. He could just make out a rolled up newspaper caught in the outside upper branches of the plant, definitely outside the limited range of the grey-haired woman. But maybe not for a somewhat gangly twelve-year-old boy with an already strong sense of right and wrong. The lady paid for her newspapers; she deserved to read them all.

His mind made up, Daniel shoved his letter into his back pocket and jogged over to the next yard to consider his options. A good vertical jump should do it. Soon enough the paper was in the light brown-haired child's hand, and he was approaching his neighbor's front door to give it to her. A long moment later, the grey-haired woman answered the politely-pressed doorbell and eyed the young man she found there with a touch of confusion. "May I help you?" she asked, her soprano voice soft and somewhat shaky.

Daniel held out the paper and smiled shyly. "I saw this stuck in your lilac bush and got it out for you. You looked like you really wanted it."

"Why, thank you, young man," the lady replied, pleasantly surprised. "Please come in. I'll get you a glass of lemonade for your trouble."

"Oh, it was no trouble. I don't want you to have to go out of your way for me."

"I offered, dear. Besides, I could do with a glass myself. Please, come in."

Daniel saw the sincerity in the woman's expression and didn't have the heart to disappoint her. "Okay, thank you." He carefully stepped inside around the walker and waited for his hostess to close the door behind them. "Where would you like me to put the paper?" he asked.

"Bring it with you to the kitchen. That's where I like to do the crossword puzzle before supper," she instructed as she led the way to a room at the back of the house. "What's your name, dear?"

"Daniel Jackson," he answered promptly. "I live next door, toward the corner."

She nodded. "You're one of Mary's wards, aren't you? I haven't seen you before."

Daniel shook his head as he paused in the kitchen doorway. "Probably not, ma'am. I just moved here from Wheatland in the middle of June."

The lady looked at him with a wide smile from the refrigerator. "Such manners. It's so rare to see these days." She gestured toward the table. "Go ahead and sit down, dear. I'll have your lemonade ready in just a moment."

"Can I help?" Daniel asked once he'd set the paper down on the table.

"Bless you, dear, no." She set aside her walker and proceeded to get the two glasses ready. "My name is Lorraine Schlegel, by the way," she said as she slowly worked. "You can call me Lorraine."

"Thank you... Lorraine. You can call me Daniel." He sat as requested.

She gave him another smile. "Ah. No 'Dan' or 'Danny' for you I see." She laughed lightly when Daniel's gaze dropped to his lap. "I don't see anything wrong with that. Some people used to try to call me 'Lori' but I wouldn't hear of it. The only person to use that was my husband Wilbur, may he rest in peace. It was his special nickname for me."

Daniel brought his head up. "I can understand that."

"I can see you can." She put away the pitcher and took hold of a cane that had been leaning out of sight against the large appliance. "I have a feeling you understand a lot of things most people wouldn't expect you to."

There was really nothing to say to that. "Do you live here all by yourself?" Daniel asked as he watched the woman make her way over to him with a full glass, the other pushed to the edge of the counter closest to him.

Lorraine set down the lemonade in front of her visitor then took the few steps to retrieve her own. "Yes, I do," she said proudly as she sat down. "Not bad for seventy-two, wouldn't you say?" Her pale green eyes twinkled as she took a sip of her drink.

The boy couldn't help but smile. "Not bad at all." He also took a drink. "This is really good. Thank you."

"You're more than welcome, dear. Now, I may live alone, but my children and grandchildren come by and visit me pretty regularly." She sighed. "They always coddle me when they do. They seem to forget I've been doing this for a long time now, and am perfectly capable. I may need help with a few things, mostly yard work and the like, but I'm nowhere near ready to be shipped off to a home. This is my home."

"I don't blame you for not wanting to leave."

"You're such a good boy," Lorraine said with a smile. It faded slightly when Daniel leaned back with a blush forming on his cheeks and the sound of crinkling paper reached her ears. "What was that?"

Daniel blinked in surprise then realized what the answer was. "A letter I got today," he explained as he pulled it out. "I haven't had the courage to read it yet."

That confused the old woman. "What's in it that would make you so nervous?"

The young man considered his response for a moment. "I have a friend that I write to regularly that goes to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Next year is his last year. I wanted to surprise him by going to his graduation, to show him how proud of him I am for going after his dreams. So I wrote to his father in Minnesota to see if he could help me. I told him I'd try to earn the money I'd need, but I wasn't sure I could get a ticket without spoiling the surprise. I'd probably need help arranging the rest of the trip, too. This is his reply."

"So go ahead and read it. The worst he can say is no... but I don't think he did." Her eyes twinkled as she added extra encouragement with her gaze.

He took a deep breath. "Okay." Daniel carefully tore open the envelope and pulled out the paper inside, quickly scanning the words written there. He brought his head up slowly when he finished. "Wow," he said quietly.

"He didn't say no, did he?" Lorraine asked knowingly.

"He said he'd love to help, that he couldn't think of a better graduation present for Jack. If I can get the money together, he'll make the arrangements for me." Daniel shook his head in disbelief. "He even hinted that if I didn't have enough money he might be able to help me with that, too. I... I never expected this." The last was said in a barely-audible whisper.

"Life isn't always difficult, dear. You have to remember that." The grey-haired lady reached out a gentle hand and laid it on the child's arm. "Sometimes all you have to do is ask."

Daniel nodded. "Now I just have to earn the money." He met his hostess' gaze. "I'm not sure how I'm going to do that. I'm only twelve."

Lorraine considered the earnest young man in front of her. "I have an idea, if you're willing to hear it," she began, bringing both hands close to clasp her glass. Daniel indicated she should continue. "I told you my family visits regularly, and that's true, but sometimes quite a bit of time goes by between those visits. Normally when they stop by they take care of the lawn, mowing, raking, things like that. How about you keep an eye on things for me and take care of them when my family can't? And while you're at it, you can watch out for my newspaper and make sure it's in easy reach for me. I don't like going without my daily dose of crossword puzzles."

"I should be able to do that," Daniel agreed.

"I'll pay you five dollars a week. By the time your friend's graduation comes around you should have more than enough money."

At that, Daniel shook his head. "But there are going to be weeks at a time where I won't have to do anything. It wouldn't be right for me to take your money when I haven't done anything to deserve it."

The response assured Lorraine she was doing the right thing. "You'll be watching, taking preventative measures for me. That's something."

"Not enough to get paid that kind of money. I can't do that. How about I stop by every week I do some work for you and you pay me then?" He frowned. "Although I'm not sure it's right to pay me the same amount for one day's work as for five."

He really was a good boy, wasn't he? "Nonsense," she contradicted him quickly. "In this case, work is work. We'll do it your way. Come by on Saturdays after you've done some things for me and I'll have your money for you. I'll let you know when I need you for the lawn work."

Daniel sighed and gave in. "All right. You have a deal. I'll check for your paper every day, and you'll tell me when you need other things done. The weeks I do some work for you, I'll stop by on Saturday so you can pay me. Did I remember everything?"

"Sounds like it to me." She leaned forward slightly. "And you can come by any other time you like, to talk or just socialize."

The boy smiled. "Thank you for the offer, Lorraine. I'll remember that." He glanced at the clock on the wall. "I should get going. Mrs. Mason will be getting dinner ready."

"I'm sure she will," Lorraine said with a gentle smile as Daniel finished off the lemonade he'd been sipping at during their conversation. "I'll see you soon, dear, and thank you again for bringing me my paper."

"You're welcome. It really wasn't any trouble. Good bye." Daniel gave a little wave and saw himself out.

Lorraine watched him go, and was suddenly glad that she'd been able to find a way to help the child that was so unlike any other she'd ever met. He was special, and something told her her life would be better for his passage through it, however limited. With those positive thoughts running through her head, Lorraine got up to prepare her own supper, her previous smile still lingering on her lips.

* * * * * * * *

Sam sighed and let her chin fall into her hand, her elbow resting on the kitchen table of her science lab partner's home. The girl might have been considered decent if she could have stopped feeling resentful about being matched up with "the kid" and talking down to the thirteen-year-old. "Now we take the calipers..." The older girl trailed off as she looked down her nose at the younger blonde. "You remember what calipers are, don't you?"

"Which kind, Karen?" Sam asked sweetly, blinking innocently. "The measuring instrument, the bicycle brake, or the metal support for a person's leg?"

"Um, well," her partner stuttered briefly, then gathered herself together, "the measuring instrument, of course. Stop trying to change the subject."

God, Sam missed Daniel. They'd be finished with this geology lab already and doing something fun and interesting. As it was, the young teenager had completed all of the questions on her worksheet except for the three that required exact measurements while Karen had been giving her the same lecture and instructions their teacher had used in class that afternoon. "Can we just measure these stupid rocks and get on with it? My dad expects me home some time tonight."

Karen's wide-set hazel eyes narrowed as she frowned. "Just be glad I was willing to work with you at all. You'd be lost if I hadn't agreed to this."

"Really?" Before the other girl could do anything, Sam grabbed the calipers out of her hand and quickly measured the three rocks that had been part of their kit, carefully jotting down the figures in the appropriate places on the worksheet. "That finishes my worksheet. I filled out the rest while you played Mister Frank's parrot. Now that that's over, I'm going home. I should have an important letter waiting for me." The blonde threw her books into her shoulder bag and pulled on her winter jacket before she trounced out the door, ignoring the sputtering protests of her so-called partner.

A brisk three and a half blocks later found Sam storming into her own home. "Sammy, is that you?" her father called from the kitchen at the sound of the slamming door.

"Yeah, Dad, sorry about that," she called back, swiftly hanging up her jacket and slipping off her shoes in the designated place next to the door, her school bag joining her footwear. "Is supper ready?"

Jacob waited until his daughter had joined him before answering the question. "Almost. Did something happen? You were only gone for an hour."

Sam sighed. "There are times when I wonder if being smart is really as wonderful as it's made out to be."

"What happened?" he asked as he stirred the stew he was making.

"Oh, Karen talked down to me like I was stupid just because I'm younger and told me I was lucky anyone was willing to work with me at all," she replied with a scowl.

"Well, then, she doesn't understand."


Jacob gave his daughter a closer once-over out of the corner of his eye. "So what's really wrong?"

Sam gave him a quick double-take. How did he know? "I really miss Daniel," she said softly.

Jacob nodded. "It must be really tough to have someone who knows exactly what you're going through, who can keep up with you intellectually, then have to leave them behind. I could see how close you were, Sammy. I know it has to hurt. I just wish I could do something about it."

"You would if you could. I know that." Sam sighed. "It's just hard to get used to." She looked into the pot her father was still stirring. "Should I set the table?"

"Yeah, for two. Your brother informed me he wouldn't be joining us."

Sam flinched at the sudden hardness of his tone and expression. "It's getting really bad, isn't it? With Mark, I mean."

Jacob moved the pot over to a different burner and switched off the one it had been on. "I don't want to talk about it, Sam. I'm just glad you were able to forgive me. I'm not sure how I'd be able to handle this if you hadn't." He took a deep breath and released it. "Now go get the dishes. I've got some bread warming up in the oven." He grabbed an oven mitt and opened the appliance. "Oh, that reminds me," he said as he pulled out the French loaf, "you got a letter from California today. Carmel, California." He smiled as he heard the clatter of silverware his statement produced.

"Really?" Sam asked breathlessly. "I thought I was just making that up when I told Karen I probably had an important letter waiting for me." She grinned. "I can't wait to read it!"

Jacob laughed and brought the bread over to the table. He was surprised to see Sam had already brought out a pitcher of apple juice for the glasses she'd added to each place setting. "Yeah, well, supper first, then reading. And I expect to be updated as soon as you're done. I like Daniel too remember."

Sam giggled. "Sure, Dad. Whatever you say."

The two Carters then sat down to enjoy their dinner together.

* * * * * * * *

"I love watching it snow."

"I bet you wouldn't say that if you knew you had to march around in it tomorrow morning."

"You take all the beauty out of it."

Jack shrugged, tightening his hold on the blonde whose waist he currently had his arms wrapped around, his arms clasped over her stomach. "Sundays do that to me. I know I have to go back to school tonight and work tomorrow."

"But you're here with me now." She leaned her head back against his shoulder to look up at him.

The brown-haired man grinned with a glint of wickedness in his eyes. "That I am." He brought his head down to let his lips meet hers. After a minute or two of passionate kissing, they finally separated. "I still don't see what you see in me, Sara. Although you're the only thing I have to thank Lauren for. If it hadn't been for her, we probably wouldn't have met."

Sara laughed. "Only she could crash her cart into someone else's at the supermarket and treat it like a horrible car accident. I'm surprised she didn't try to exchange insurance information with you."

"How do you know she didn't?"

Sara planted an elbow in Jack's ribs. "Cut it out. Why don't you just relax and watch the snow fall? It really is beautiful."

Jack gave a quiet laugh of his own then nuzzled his cheek into the shoulder-length hair of the woman he held and did as requested. "I wonder if it snows in Carmel," he murmured five minutes later.

Sara blinked in surprise. "What?"

"Carmel, California. I wonder if it snows out there. I guess I'll have to ask Daniel."

Unseen by Jack, Sara closed her eyes and frowned slightly. "I take it you got a letter recently?"

"Yeah. I sent back my reply just before I came over today. He says congratulations, by the way."

"Congratulations for what?" she asked warily.

"For us getting together. He was actually pretty happy for us."

Sara tore herself out of his arms and spun around to face him, eyes blazing. "Jack O'Neill, we agreed not to tell anyone! If my dad found out I was dating someone in the military..."

"He'd cut you off, I know. But Daniel would have figured it out soon enough anyway. I don't know how he did it, but he knows me better than almost anybody. And I hate the idea of lying to him. Besides, who's he going to tell? He doesn't know anyone in Colorado Springs. Heck, he barely knows anyone in the United States. Our secret's safe with him."

She met his sincere gaze and let out a large gust of air, her shoulders drooping as she did so. "You're probably right, but... Oh, I don't know, Jack. It's just that we agreed not to say anything to anyone, anyone at all. I at least wish you would have asked."

Jack reached out and gently brushed back some stray strands of hair. "You're right, I should have. But what's done is done, and your dad won't find out because of Daniel. I didn't mean to hurt you."

Sara sighed. "I know. You're just used to sharing everything with Daniel, I got that. Just... don't tell anyone else, okay? And tell Daniel thank you." A smile began to blossom on her features.

"I'll do that. For both." Jack grinned. "Now I believe we're missing a beautiful winter scene playing out on the other side of your living room window. And I know my arms are missing the feel of a beautiful blonde."

Sara stepped closer and gave her boyfriend another lingering kiss, then turned around and resumed her place inside his embrace. The two of them stood together and watched the snow fall, reveling in each other's company.

* * * * * * * *

Christmas came and went uneventfully that year, bringing to Daniel a star map poster from Jack and a carved wooden box to store his special personal items from Sam. He decided to store his letters from his two best friends in it. For his part he sent Sam a drawing of the young blonde as he remembered her, her hair streaming out behind her, her arms reaching out to cup a brightly shining star. Underneath he'd written, "Reach for the stars, for one day you may hold them in your grasp." Jack was sent a drawing of the Babylonian god Marduk, in his traditional representation as a man with four eyes and four ears, battling the monster Tiamat, as well as the myth behind the picture. All in all, Daniel felt it had been a good holiday.

The second half of the school year practically flew by, and one more time at the end of it Daniel was informed he would be moving to a new foster home, this one in the nearby city of Seaside. Supposedly his new foster parents were hoping to find a child they could adopt, and his social worker immediately thought of him. Daniel refused to get his hopes up. The last time had been too painful.

School had been out for a week when the day arrived for him to leave the Masons' home. "Are you sure you have everything?" John Mason asked kindly, gesturing to the two duffle bags and single backpack that rested at Daniel's feet as he stood on the porch waiting for Miss Janice Drake, his social worker, to come pick him up.

"Yes, sir," Daniel replied quietly.

"We enjoyed having you here, you know," the man added, running a hand through his short brown hair that was peppered with grey.

"Thank you. It was nice here."

"Daniel," Mary Mason said as she came to the front door behind him, "Mrs. Schlegel called. She said she'd like you to come over for a minute if you had the time. I think she wants to say goodbye."

John smiled. "Probably wants to thank you, too, for all the work you did for her this year. That was really nice of you."

Daniel blushed and ducked his head. "I didn't do that much really. Her family did the majority of it. I mainly just made sure she got her newspaper." He lifted his eyes and glanced at the couple who looked at him expectantly. "I should go over there before Miss Drake comes. I won't be too long."

"We'll let her know where you are if she gets here before you get back," Mrs. Mason assured him.

A brief knock at the neighbor's door quickly had it opening to reveal Lorraine Schlegel, smiling sadly. "I was hoping you'd be over before you left."

"I'm glad I get a chance to say goodbye. It's been really good to know you while I was here." Daniel smiled. He hadn't spent a lot of time in this house, but what time he did spend had been pleasant. "Thank you for giving me a way to get to Colorado Springs."

"It was my pleasure, Daniel. You're a good boy. You deserve to get the things you want in life." She held out an envelope Daniel hadn't noticed before. "Take this. Consider it a going-away gift. But don't open it until you get to your new foster home."

Daniel blinked in surprise. "Okay, Lorraine, if that's what you want. Thank you. You didn't have to get me anything."

"That's why it's called a gift, Daniel." She looked up as a car pulled into the Masons' driveway. "I think your ride is here. You need to go."

"Yeah, I guess so. Thanks again, Lorraine. It really has been good to know you."

"And it's been wonderful knowing you." She reached out and took the boy into a quick hug which was sincerely returned. "Now go," she said once she'd pulled back. "They're waiting for you."

Daniel gave her one last smile. "Goodbye, Lorraine."

"Goodbye, Daniel."

Daniel quickly returned to pick up his bags and give a quick farewell to his foster parents before getting into Miss Drake's car and leaving for Seaside. Fifteen minutes later thanks to traffic had them pulling up to a house in the new city. Daniel took in the white house with the dark blue trim around the windows, the well-trimmed lawn, and immaculately-tended flower beds to either side of the stairs to the porch and sighed. It was a nice enough place, with the potential for permanency. Against his wishes hope began to blossom in his heart.

A couple came out of the front door then, the man around six feet tall with strawberry blonde hair that hung to his shoulders and the woman around five-foot-six with straight black hair that hung to her waist. Their faces were open and smiling, and Daniel let himself return the expression. "This must be Daniel," the woman said as Miss Drake finished retrieving the boy's bags out of her trunk. "My name is Gina Waller, and this is my husband Martin. Welcome to our home." She offered her hand in greeting.

Daniel shook it. "Thank you," he said softly. "It's a pleasure to meet you."

Another twenty minutes filled with a tour of the house and introductions to the four other children who lived there concluded with Daniel dropping off his bags in the small room that would serve as his bedroom while he was there. It was at the end of the upstairs hallway, with a view of the backyard, and for whatever reason Daniel loved it. He unpacked while the Wallers and Miss Drake went downstairs to talk.

"One thing you'll have to keep in mind is that Daniel will be receiving letters from a couple of friends on quite a regular basis," Janice was telling the couple as Daniel reached the base of the stairs unnoticed. "I've been told he's very close to them."

"Are you sure that's absolutely necessary? I'm not sure I'm comfortable with him giving our address to complete strangers," Martin said as Daniel lowered himself to sit on the bottom step. The child was aware that eavesdropping was horribly impolite, and would have let his presence be known in other circumstances, but that last comment made him want to know just what was going on. And he knew that nothing more of importance would be said in front of him.

"According to his file, these letters have been exchanged for years with nothing detrimental happening. In fact, I'd like to encourage these kinds of relationships. They provide a sense of permanency for him. That's something he hasn't truly had since he lost his parents."

There was a brief moment of silence. "But isn't that what we're for?" Gina asked.

Another moment of silence. "Well, yes, that's my hope. You've said you're looking for a child to adopt. Daniel is a very deserving child. He just happens to have made a couple of friends previous to this placement." The tone of Janice's voice was touched with confusion.

"What can you tell us about these friends of his?" Gina asked. Daniel could just hear the implicit disapproval.

"Well, one is a cadet at the Air Force Academy from what Daniel has told me, and the other is the daughter of an Air Force officer. I guess it's just an amazing coincidence that they both have connections to the Air Force..."

The smiling tone was cut off by a sharp snort. "The military? Daniel has military connections? It figures. I suppose he wants to join up as soon as he can, am I right?" There was nothing implicit about Martin's disgust. Daniel was nearly bowled over by it.

"Daniel hasn't mentioned anything about wanting to join the military," Miss Drake said, obviously stunned by the attitude. "Are you sure you're willing to take Daniel? I can find a different placement for him."

"I suppose it doesn't hurt for you to look," Gina said thoughtfully, "but we'll see how well we get along in the meantime. I still don't know about those letters though."

Daniel had to fight every urge in his body to burst into the living room and demand his right to stay in contact with his friends. Every ounce of hope he'd had on his arrival had dissipated like fog in the sun. He wouldn't be staying here on a permanent basis. He'd be lucky if he made it through the summer. And he found he really wasn't bothered by the prospect.

"I'm afraid I've already given Daniel your address, so I'm sure he's given it to his friends. But there shouldn't be any problems. Like I said, there haven't been any before. If there are, be sure to let me know." Janice was just as flabbergasted as Daniel was. The young man knew she'd tried to give him a chance at finding a permanent home, and was grateful for the effort. It was just too bad it had all fallen apart even before it got started.

At the sound of the Wallers' grudging acceptance, Daniel rose and silently returned to his room. It looked like they wouldn't be interfering with Jack and Sam's letters, but he'd warn them just in case. Again he was left with just his two distant friends to rely on; this was no place for him. He was just glad he hadn't had too much of a build up before finding out the truth about his latest foster parents. It might have been devastating. And now, with any luck, Miss Drake would find him a better place, a better fit.

With a sigh, Daniel let his gaze drift around the room as he sat on his bed. It finally settled on a white envelope sticking out of the pocket of the light jacket he'd been wearing when he arrived. He stared at it for a long moment before remembering where it had come from; it was Lorraine's going-away gift. He retrieved it and sat back on his bed, carefully tearing it open once he'd done so. Inside was a sight that stunned him. In the folds of a piece of paper with a short letter written on it were three bills: a hundred, a twenty, and a ten. Daniel read the note hoping for some kind of explanation.

"Dear Daniel,

"As you can tell by what fell out when you opened this letter, I decided to honor my agreement with you as I originally proposed it. I know how close of an eye you kept on me during the ten months you were here. I know how many times you didn't take credit for moving my paper from the steps to the porch itself, just to make things easier for me.

"What you probably don't realize I ever noticed were the times you switched your paper for mine when it had fallen into a puddle on my porch, or had ended up in the rain. Or when you chased my other neighbor's dog away, remembering my allergies. Or when you'd come over and weed my garden and flower beds when my grandsons would forget. You never expected to be paid for those things. I don't understand why you would do that, but it just went to show what a good boy you are.

"Use this money for your trip. Go and see your friend graduate. If he's anywhere near as good a boy as you, he deserves it just as much as you do. And thank you one last time. I'll remember you always.



Daniel blinked a few times as he folded up the letter, then placed it with the rest of the special letters in his wooden box. That was where he also stashed his Colorado Springs trip money, so he put that away there as well. He was surprised that his random acts of kindness had been noticed; he thought he'd been careful about not letting himself be seen. He hadn't considered the extra chores part of the deal since she hadn't asked him to do them. But it felt good to be appreciated, to be approved of, especially after what he'd just overheard. Maybe life wasn't so bad after all.

With a smile on his lips and a lightening of his heart, Daniel took his notebook and pen out from his backpack and proceeded to write to Jack and Sam. He was determined to focus on the good things in his life. For now he'd let the future unfold as it may.

Back to Ship Fiction          Back to Part Five          Go to Part Seven

Make a Free Website with Yola.