Taken aback, Quentin stared at the man before him. Other than the fact that his eyes were blue, he bore no resemblance to his grandson. He'd spoken with a distinct accent, perhaps German or Dutch.
"Doctor Ballard," the teacher said. "I have to say that I'm surprised you came."
"I wished to meet with the couple who want to adopt my grandson," the older man responded.
Quentin invited him in.
"Is Daniel here?" Nick asked.
"Yes, I'll get him. First, let me introduce you to my wife."
Quentin called Kathleen, who was as surprised as he was upon finding out the identity of their visitor.
As he headed toward the hallway, Quentin was silently composing what he was going to say to Daniel, how he would prepare the boy for the news that his grandfather was there. Unfortunately, the teacher didn't get the chance to do that, for, at that moment, Daniel appeared. Upon seeing his grandfather, he froze, his eyes widening.
"Gran . . . Nick?" he said in a voice filled with shock.
Nick smiled slightly. "Hello, boy. You look well. You've grown quite a bit."
Cautious and uncertain, Daniel continued forward. He came to a stop beside Quentin, so close that they were almost touching. The teacher put an arm about the boy's shoulders. Kathleen came around and stood on Daniel's other side, taking his hand.
"Why are you here?" Daniel asked.
"I received a letter from Mister Greer about the adoption," Nick replied.
Daniel started to get scared. What if Nick was here to stop the adoption and take him away? He didn't want to go with Nick. He wanted to stay here with the Greers.
Daniel edged closer to Quentin, pressing himself against the man's body. He felt the arm around him tighten.
"You aren't going to take me away, are you?" he asked.
"No, Daniel. He's not here to take you away," Quentin assured him. "He just wanted to meet us."
Kathleen suggested that they all sit down. Upon asking Nick if he wanted something to drink, the man said that some water would be appreciated. Getting the water afforded her the opportunity to calm her nerves. She'd known that, someday, they would likely meet Daniel's grandfather, but she hadn't counted on it being so soon, not before the adoption was complete. She just hoped that the man wasn't going to cause trouble. She was even more worried about how this was going to affect Daniel.
The next few minutes passed awkwardly. Quentin asked Nick how his flight had been, and the man answered that it had been tiring but uneventful, which was followed by a short silence.
"So, Daniel," Nick then said. "How is school going? What grade are you in now?"
"I'm in fifth grade, but my teacher is giving me some schoolwork that's for sixth-graders, and Dad is tutoring me with higher grade stuff, too."
Nick frowned. "Dad?"
Suddenly feeling very unsure, Daniel said, "I-I call the Greer Mom and Dad because, when the adoption's all done, they'll be my parents."
Daniel looked up at Quentin, who gave him a smile of encouragement.
"It's okay, Daniel," he said. "I'm sure that your grandfather understands." His eyes went to Nick. "Isn't that right, Doctor Ballard."
The older man met the steely gaze of the teacher, the brown eyes telling him quite clearly that Quentin Greer would not allow Nick to bring any distress to Daniel.
Respecting the man for his fierce protectiveness, Nick nodded. "Of course. I was simply surprised."
Daniel relaxed a bit, as did Quentin and Kathleen.
The following minutes were spent with Nick asking Daniel more questions about his schooling, wanting to know if the boy was continuing his studies in archeology and linguistics. He was glad to hear that Quentin was providing Daniel with books and study materials on both them and anthropology, as well as language tapes so that the boy could continue adding to his already impressive collection of spoken languages.
The conversation moved to a dig upon which Nick had recently worked. He said nothing about his continuing determination to prove the existence of the crystal skull that had sent him to that place where he met the giant aliens. People were calling him a crackpot and a lunatic, but he knew that it had been real, and, someday, he would prove it.
Nick was invited to stay for dinner, which he accepted. Over the meal, he learned about the upcoming Thanksgiving family gathering. He did not share his thoughts about this, how he was not very comfortable with the idea of Daniel gaining a new grandfather and two new grandmothers. As for gaining two new parents . . . Nick had mixed feelings about that as well. This was so much different than if the child was remaining in foster care. Foster parents were not "real" parents, simply temporary caregivers. But the Greers would be more than that. They would be Daniel's family for the rest of their lives. They would take the place of Melburn and Nick's beloved daughter, Claire.
Throughout the meal, Quentin and Kathleen exchanged quite a few glances. Though they were trying very hard not to be judgmental, it was quite obvious to both of them that Nicholas Ballard was nothing like his grandson. Whereas Daniel was warm, loving and selfless, Nick was quite aloof and, based upon what they could see and already knew about him, rather self-centered. The way the man talked to Daniel was more like a mildly interested stranger than a grandfather, without any real warmth or even the smallest hint of pride or loving feelings. It upset the couple and made them feel terribly sorry for Daniel. How he must have ached for a grandfather who would hug him and make him feel loved.
After the meal, Nick decided that it was time to go to his hotel, and Quentin offered to drive him. Though the Dutchman would have preferred to take a cab, he knew it would be rude to say no, so he accepted.
After they were gone, Daniel asked Kathleen of he could call Sam. She gave her permission, and the boy went off to the library so that he could have some privacy.
"Hi, Daniel!" Sam greeted happily when she got on the phone.
"My grandpa's here."
There was a long moment of silence, then, "He is?" Sam's tone was now very subdued.
"Yeah. He got here this afternoon. He came because of the adoption. Dad wrote him about it, and he wanted to meet them."
"Oh. Is he okay about it?"
"I don't know. I guess so. We didn't really talk about it."
"How long is he going to be here?" Sam asked.
"I don't know. I'm not sure what we're going to do now. I was going to go with Mom and Dad to New York tomorrow."
"You were? Why?"
Daniel didn't answer for a few seconds. "I want to see my mom and dad's graves," he finally answered in a low voice. He then told Sam the whole thing, about forgetting the anniversary of their death and the confession Quentin made.
"I didn't think of it either," Sam admitted.
Daniel started to get upset. "I-I want to put flowers on their graves."
Also getting upset, Sam said, "Will you be coming back tomorrow?"
"No, we were going to stay overnight and visit my Grandma Annabelle, but, now, I don't know if we're going to go at all. We might not because Nick is here."
"Maybe he'll go with you. Your mom was his daughter. He might want to go to her grave, too."
The drive to the hotel had been made mostly in silence, neither Quentin nor Nick feeling completely comfortable. When they pulled into a parking space, Nick was expecting to simply be dropped off, so he was surprised when Quentin turned off the car's engine.
"Doctor Ballard," the teacher began. "I'm not really sure why you came, if it was just to meet Kathleen and me or if there was more to it than that. I know you must have mixed feelings about all of this, but I want to repeat something I said in my letter. We are in no way trying to replace Daniel's birth parents. He loved them dearly, and we know that he always will. No one will ever take their place in his heart. But he deserves to have a real family with parents who love him and will be there for him for as long as they live, and we intend to be those parents." He met Nick's eyes straight on. "I hope you can accept that and the place we will have in Daniel's life."
Nick studied the man's face. "And if I cannot?"
Quentin's expression hardened. "Then I would ask that, for the sake of your grandson, you never reveal that to him. The last thing that child needs is to know that his only remaining blood relative is against the adoption that he so desperately wants and deserves."
Nick stared at the teacher for a few seconds longer, then said, "Please come inside with me."
Hesitating only a moment, Quentin exited the car with Nick and went to the hotel room with him. Nick retrieved a box from the table and handed it to the teacher.
"Those are some things belonging to Daniel's parents," the Dutchman explained. "Some photos, a few mementos."
Quentin gazed into the man's blue eyes. "Thank you. This will mean so much to him." He paused for a few seconds. "Before you arrived, we had plans to take Daniel to New York City tomorrow and spend the weekend there. He wants to visit his parents' graves. He hasn't been there since the funeral. Because of your sudden arrival, I was intending to change those plans, do it on another weekend. However, if . . . you would like to go with us. . . ."
Nick said nothing for several seconds. "Thank you for the invitation, but I must decline. My flight leaves Sunday morning, and I have plans to visit an old colleague of mine tomorrow. So, though I, too, will be in New York, my day is already planned."
Quentin paused, fighting to hide his emotions over the man's rejection of an opportunity to spend more time with his grandson in favor of visiting a former colleague.
"I see," he said. "Will you be coming to the house to say goodbye to Daniel before you leave? We were planning to leave for New York at eight o'clock."
"Of course. I will arrive at 7:30, if that is not too early."
"That will be fine."
When Quentin returned home, Kathleen and Daniel were sitting on the couch, watching TV. Both of their eyes went to the box in the teacher's hands.
"What's that?" Daniel asked.
"It's some things that your grandfather brought, Daniel, things belonging to your parents."
The boy's eyes widened. "Mom and Dad's things?"
The TV was turned off, and the three of them went into the dining room. The box was opened, and Daniel looked inside. Sitting on top was a manilla envelope. When the boy looked inside it, he saw that it was full of photos. He dumped them out on the table. Quentin and Kathleen gazed at the images, seeing for the first time the faces of the man and woman who had given life to the child who would soon be theirs.
Slowly, Daniel went through the photos one by one, explaining where some of them had been taken. It was not long before he was crying. Quentin and Kat, who were sitting on either side of him, draped their arms around the boy, silently comforting him.
The photos were put back into the envelope, and Daniel looked into the box. When he saw one of the things that was inside it, he started crying even harder. He picked it up and held it like it was the most precious thing on Earth. It was a small clay statue, clearly made by a child's hands.
"I-I made this for M-Mom and Dad," he said in hardly more than a whisper. "They really liked it and took it with them on almost every dig. T-they said that it looked like a real Egyptian statue."
"Oh, sweetheart," Kathleen murmured, pulling Daniel into her arms. She rocked him as he cried, her own eyes filling with tears. Looking at Quentin, she saw that he was close to tears as well.
It was quite a while before Daniel stopped crying. Quentin suggested that perhaps he should go through the rest of the stuff another time, not wanting him to get even more upset.
"Do you still feel up to going to New York tomorrow?" the teacher asked gently.
Daniel sniffled and wiped his face. "What about Nick?"
Quentin paused for a moment. "He's leaving tomorrow, Daniel."
Kathleen looked sharply at her husband, having heard a faint undertone of anger in his voice.
"Oh," Daniel said, his gaze falling to his lap.
Quentin brushed a hand through the boy's hair, tightening the reins on the anger that was burning inside him over Nick Ballard's shameful inadequacies as a grandfather.
"So, do you still want to go or shall we do it another time?"
Daniel thought about it. "I still want to go."
Quentin nodded and gave Daniel a kiss on the head. "Okay. You should go to bed now, Danny. We'll have to get up early. Your grandfather will be by in the morning to say goodbye."
The child went off to his bedroom to get dressed for bed. Watching him leave, Quentin felt a hand come to rest on his arm.
"Quen?" Kathleen inquired in a soft voice.
"We'll talk later, Kat."
Once Daniel was all ready for bed, the Greers wished him a good night, then returned to the living room.
"Tell me what happened," Kat said.
Her husband recounted the entire conversation with Nick.
"The way he said it, Kat," Quentin said. "It was so cool and emotionless, like he was turning down an invitation to tea. When I decided to invite him, I really didn't know what his answer was going to be, but I wasn't prepared for him rejecting it like he did. And then there's the fact that he already had plans to leave tomorrow. Part of an afternoon and one evening, Kat. That's all the time he'd scheduled for his grandson."
Kathleen, deeply upset, said, "I just don't understand it. Daniel is the most wonderful little boy in the world, that man's only grandchild, yet he seems to have so little interest in him."
"I know. I don't understand it either. I have to wonder if his daughter took after her mother, because she couldn't have been like him, not considering how much Daniel adored her." Wanting to change the subject, Quentin asked, "Did Daniel call Sam and tell her what was going on?"
"Yes, both about the trip and Nick's presence. I didn't hear the conversation, so I don't know what was said."
The teacher got up from the couch. "You know, I'm glad that Jacob's out of town."
"Why do you say that?"
"Because, if he was here, I don't think he'd have been able to stop himself from going to that hotel and giving Daniel's grandfather a piece of his mind. I was fighting not to do the same, and Jacob has more of a temper than I do." He paused. "I know it's not a nice thing to say or to think, but I wouldn't have minded seeing him punch that man in the jaw."
Kathleen smiled ever so slightly. "Neither would I, to be honest."
An hour later, the couple went to their bedroom. After changing, they got into bed to read for a while, but Kathleen's mind wasn't on the book in her hands.
"He couldn't cause trouble with the adoption, could he?" she suddenly asked, speaking her thoughts aloud. "I know that he can't legally stop it, but could he do something to delay it?"
"No, I don't think so. What could he do? Besides, though I definitely don't like the man, I don't think he'd do something to deliberately hurt Daniel, and he must know that to cause trouble with the adoption would hurt Daniel a great deal."
Kathleen let out a sigh. "I'm sure you're right. I'm just starting to wish that he'd mailed that package instead of coming here. I think it would have been better for Daniel."
"I have to agree. This visit of his probably resurfaced a lot of old feelings in Daniel."
Daniel lay in the dark, staring at the wall across the room, the sudden, unexpected appearance of his grandfather on his mind. Just like with every other time he could recall seeing Nick, there had been no hugs, no expressions of love. That had been true even at the funeral. The most Daniel got that day was the man's hand on his shoulder.
So many times Daniel had wondered why his grandpa didn't love him. Had he done something wrong? Did Nick not like kids? What was the reason? Daniel once asked his mom, and she claimed that Nick did love him, that he just wasn't the kind of man who expressed his emotions, but Daniel wasn't sure if she was right. If Nick really did love him, why wouldn't he even let Daniel call him grandpa?
Daniel had seen many kids with their grandparents, witnessed the hugs and kisses, grandparents playing with their grandkids, and it always made him sad because he didn't have that. Not until his experience with Mrs. Underwood's mother did he have any idea what it was like to have a grandparent give him affection. He wondered what his new grandparents would be like.
And, now, Nick was leaving again, going off back to wherever he came from after spending only a few hours here. Daniel tried not to let it hurt, but it did; it hurt a lot.
Wiping away the tears that had slipped down his cheeks, Daniel turned his face into the pillow, wishing he had a grandpa who loved and cared about him like grandpas were supposed to.
It was 7:30 precisely when Nick arrived in a taxi. The fact that he told the driver to wait made it clear that he didn't plan on staying for long.
Daniel didn't really want to talk to Nick and spoke very little. Seeing how their future son was acting made both Quentin and Kathleen want to kick the Dutchman out of their house, especially since it appeared that he was quite oblivious to his grandson's distress.
"Well, I had better get going," Nick said after having being there for all of fifteen minutes. He looked down at Daniel. "Take care of yourself, boy, and make sure you keep your grades up in school so that you can get into a good university."
Daniel merely nodded. He knew he should say goodbye, but he was too upset.
Nick held his hand out to Quentin, who shook it after a slight hesitation. "Goodbye, Mister Greer, Mrs. Greer. I have confidence that you'll give Daniel a good home."
Surprised by the statement, the teacher paused before saying, "Thank you."
He, Kathleen and Daniel all watched the man stride down the walkway and get into the taxi without a single backwards glance. As the car pulled away from the curb, both Quentin and Kathleen looked down at Daniel. His gaze was now glued to the ground, his little shoulders hunched. Kathleen knelt down beside him and pulled him into her arms. When she felt wetness on her neck, she tightened her hold on him.
"Why doesn't he love me?" Daniel whispered.
Tears flooded the woman's eyes. She looked up at her husband and saw the raw emotion in his gaze. He knelt on the other side of the boy.
"Mom told me that he does love me, but I don't think he does," Daniel said.
Neither adult knew what to say. Though they had to believe that there was some measure of love in Nick Ballard's heart for his grandson, that love could not be very strong.
"We can't really know what he feels, Daniel," Quentin finally said. "I'm sure that he does love you. It's just that, well . . . some people simply don't feel emotions very strongly. It's not in their nature."
Daniel was silent for a moment. "Is that what a cold fish means?"
"What? Where did you hear that?"
"My dad once called Nick that when he was talking to Mom. He was mad at Nick about something. Mom got upset when he said that."
"Ah." Quentin had to admit that "cold fish" described Nicholas Ballard to a tee.
The teacher asked Daniel to look at him. When the boy finally did, he said, "I'm not going to lie and say that I don't have issues with the way your grandfather is, but I want you to remember something. Though your grandfather may not feel things as deeply as he should, I know that your mother and father loved you very much. Kat and I love you very much, and so do the Carters and the Underwoods. You will always have people who love you, Daniel. Always."
Daniel's tear-filled eyes gazed into Quentin's for a long moment, then the boy threw himself into the man's arms. Quentin held him tight.
Clearing the lump from his throat and giving Daniel's back a little rub, the teacher said, "Come on. We've got a long trip ahead of us. It's time to get started on it."
They put their overnight bags and other things in the car and hit the road. Throughout the first forty minutes of the journey, Daniel was mostly silent, staring out the window. Quentin finally decided to put a halt to that.
"So, how about a song?" he asked. "Do you know 'Row, Row, Row Your Boat', Daniel?"
"Well, then I'd say that now is an excellent time to learn." He sang the entire song once by himself, then explained how it was to be sung by multiple people. He and Kat then gave a demonstration.
"So, you think you got that?" the teacher asked the boy.
"I think so. I start singing after Mom sings 'gently down the stream'."
"You got it. Everyone ready?" Quentin received two nods. "Then let's go." He began to sing, then Kat joined in. At the correct time, Daniel added his voice. After a while, he began to enjoy himself, and a smile came to his face. Seeing it in the rearview mirror, Quentin started singing more boisterously.
The rest of the journey passed quickly as they sang, played games, and chatted. As they entered the outskirts of New York, Quentin said, "I was thinking that we could go to my mother's place first. We can get unpacked and chat with her for a while. Would that be okay with you, Daniel?"
"Yeah," the boy replied. The truth was that, now that he was there in New York, he wasn't so sure he was prepared to see his parents' graves.
They were several blocks from Annabelle Greer's house when Quentin unexpectedly pulled into the parking lot of a grocery store. When Kathleen asked why they were there, he got a big grin on his face. He told her and Daniel he'd be right back, then got out of the car and went into the store. He came back a few minutes later with a paper sack.
"What did you get?" Daniel asked. Quentin pulled a single item out of the bag: a box of cookies.
"Did you get a sudden yen for sugar, darling?" Kathleen asked.
"Nope. This, my dear, is a prop."
"Yep." Quentin explained what he had in mind. Daniel was grinning broadly by the time he was finished.
"So, Daniel. You up for this?" the teacher asked.
"Yeah. It'll be funny."
"Quentin, you are an evil man," Kathleen said, shaking her head.
They finished the drive to the house, parking a few doors down from it. Staying out of sight of anyone who might be looking out the living room window, they made their way up to the house. As Quentin and Kathleen stood against the wall several feet away, Daniel knocked on the door. The knock was answered by a stout woman in her sixties.
"Hi," Daniel greeted with a smile. "Would you like to buy some Boy Scout cookies?" As he spoke, he made sure to hide the brand name on the box in his hands.
"Boy Scout cookies? I thought that only Girl Scouts sold cookies," Annabelle responded in surprise.
"No, ma'am. Boy Scouts do, too. This is my very last box. If I sell all my boxes, I'll get a merit badge."
The woman smiled. "Oh, you are such a dear. Of course I'll buy it. Let me just get my purse." She went off to get her purse. When she returned, she was shocked to see her son and his wife standing behind the boy with the cookies.
"You always were such a pushover, Mom," Quentin said with a grin.
"Quentin! Kathleen! What a wonderful surprise. What are you doing here?"
"Well, we decided not to wait until Thanksgiving to introduce you to Daniel." Quentin laid his hands on the boy's shoulders.
Annabelle gasped, her eyes widening. "This is Daniel?"
"It sure is."
"Oh, my!" The woman hurried forward and engulfed Daniel in a huge hug. She then pulled back, now gazing at him with the eyes of a grandmother. "I am so very pleased to meet you, Daniel. What a wonderful, wonderful surprise. But, oh, what a trick you and this son of mine played, making me think you were a Boy Scout selling cookies." She shook her finger at Quentin. "I know this was all your idea."
He laughed. "Guilty as charged."
After giving her son and Kathleen hugs, the elderly woman invited them in, and they all took seats in the living room, Annabelle insisting that Daniel sit beside her.
"What a handsome boy you are," she said. "Quentin and Kathleen have told me so very much about you. My son is quite proud of you, you know. He tells me that you are the smartest student he's ever taught. I can't tell you how overjoyed I was when he told me that you're going to be a member of our family. I can imagine that you are very much looking forward to the adoption being completed."
"Ma'am? No, no, no! You must call me Gramma, even if I'm not officially that yet."
Daniel smiled shyly. "Gramma," he said, really liking the way it made him feel.
She pulled him into a tight, brief hug. "Now, as it so happens, I have some cookies of my own. Not store bought ones. I made then this morning. Would you like some?"
Daniel nodded eagerly.
Annabelle got to her feet. "Quentin? Come give me a hand."
As his mother put some of the cookies on a plate, Quentin poured glasses of milk for everyone.
"I am so pleased that you came to visit, Quentin," Annabelle said.
"I knew you would be. Um . . . there is another reason why we came, actually, the main reason."
When Quentin told her, Annabelle grew sad and quiet. "Oh, the poor, dear child. I can imagine how difficult it will be for him to go there. The first time I visited your father's grave, it was almost too much for me to take."
Quentin's chest tightened a bit as he thought back to the sad weeks that followed the death of his father.
"Do you know which cemetery to go to?" his mother asked.
"Yes. I, um . . . found out from Daniel's grandfather last night."
Annabelle's eyebrows rose. "His grandfather? But I thought you said that he was in Central America."
"He was. He arrived quite suddenly yesterday afternoon. I'll tell you about it later."
"All right." She gazed into her son's eyes. "After you go to the cemetery, you must bring Daniel right back here so that he can recover with people who love him."
"We will, Mom."
They took the milk and cookies out to the living room. Everyone chatted while they munched on the treat, Annabelle wanting to know all about what had been going on with Daniel lately. The overnight bags were then brought in. There was only one spare bedroom, so Daniel would be sleeping on the couch.
Quentin and Kathleen unpacked their change of clothes, then returned to the living room, where the boy was telling Annabelle about learning how to ride a camel.
"Are you ready to go, Daniel?" the teacher asked.
The boy's smile instantly vanished. After a bit, he nodded.
After getting another big hug from his future grandmother, Daniel went to the car with Quentin and Kathleen. On the way, they stopped at a florist for some flowers. When Daniel said that his mom's favorite flowers were yellow roses, that's what they got.
As they pulled into the cemetery, everyone grew silent. They stopped at the office to find out where the Jacksons' plots were. It turned out that the spot wasn't very far from there, just a short walk across the grass.
Quentin looked down at the boy who was clutching his hand tightly. "Are you ready, Daniel?"
Several seconds passed before the boy nodded. The teacher exchanged a long look with his wife, who held Daniel's other hand, then took a step forward, emotionally preparing himself for what was about to come.