“Does anyone want some chocolate pudding?” I asked, standing in the kitchen door with the bowl in my hand. 26
“I do!” Susanna and Anna exclaimed together.
“Is it fattening?” Grandpa asked, dubiously. I tilted my head with a puzzled frown. Grandpa was as skinny as an old cedar fence post.
“Yeees. Probably,” I admitted, looking down at the rich pudding in the bowl.
“Good! Give me a double portion!” he exclaimed, leaning back in his chair. I rolled my eyes.
“Anyone else?” I asked.
“Uh . . . is it chocolate pudding?” Will asked, looking up from the cherrywood spoon he was sanding.
“Yeeees,” I said, shooting him a suspicious glance.
“Great,” he said, grinning. “I’ll take a double portion too.” I tried not to laugh.
“Anyone else?” I asked dryly, looking at Jake and Daniel.
“Is it sweet?” asked Jake.
“Did you make it?” asked Daniel.
“Got it,” I said, “double portions for all,” and returned to the kitchen.
A week had gone by since the fair and horse race. Daniel’s dad had called to say he might not get parole before Thanksgiving. We had cheered and thrown a party. Mom put a photograph of Daniel with Cricket on a side table. It seemed like he had always been there and always would be.
It was afternoon and we were done with work for the day. We sat around eating chocolate pudding, talking and watching Will sand a set of kitchen spoons and spatulas made out of a gorgeous cherrywood. Mom and Dad had gone for a walk and Grandpa had come up to hang out with us like he does sometimes in the afternoon.
I heard the phone ringing in the truck and although I had no reason to guess who it might be, I just knew. A sense of regret filled me as I watched Will run to the truck and answer the phone.
“It’s your dad, Daniel,” Will called. Daniel got up from the floor where he had been building a block house for Anna and walked to the truck.
I watched him through the screen door. His face was void of expression, as it usually was when he was talking to his dad. The conversation was short and I saw Daniel put the phone down but he continued to sit in the open truck. The others were busy in the room behind me, so I opened the door and walked outside.
Daniel slid out of the truck and stood there waiting for me.
“Dad’s coming to get me tomorrow,” he said, expressionless.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“Sure. Why shouldn’t I be?” Daniel said, smiling without really smiling. I nodded.
“Maybe you can come back.”
“Sure,” he said again, and then looked at the ground and sighed. He shook his head. “It couldn’t last forever,” he muttered.
“But you will,” I replied, reaching out to touch his arm. “And I will. We’ll last forever. Life may change. And we’ll change too, I guess . . . But, I think—that’s a good thing.”
“That’s right,” Daniel said, smiling for real this time, “I forgot.”
“That you’re a forever-girl.” His eyes were twinkling at me.
I blushed and looked away, then I nodded. “I’ll be busy, learning and doing and changing the world in my own way,” I said, quoting Will.
“I know,” Daniel said, and this time, his sigh wasn’t so sad. He looked around at the farm and reached down to rub T-Rex behind the ears.
“I really love this place. But my Dad needs me now. And I need to go back and face my old life. If I don’t—I’ll never really know who I am.” Daniel looked at me. “But—I will come back.”
T-Rex was tugging on the cuff of his jeans, so Daniel bent over to pick him up. He rubbed the puppy behind the ears for a minute and then turned to me.
“I can’t take him, after all,” Daniel said, and he looked surprisingly okay with his own announcement. “We’re not allowed to have dogs in our apartments. But we’re going to start looking for another apartment so I can come back and get T-Rex. Will you take care of him until I can come back and get him?”
He held out the silky black puppy to me and I took him into my arms saying, “I’ll take good care of him. He’ll be here when you come back.”