Zechariah Fleming

By Kevin Jensen

Crime & mystery, General fiction

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1083
29 mins

Chapter 2

Kara was taken aback. "Sorry—what did you say?"
The police officer introduced herself. "Officer Garrenton, Seattle Police. Are you Kara Fleming?"
"Yes," she replied.
Her hand on his wet shoulder, Officer Garrenton steered the boy to stand between them. "This charming young fellow has been wandering Seattle in the rain, trying to find his way home. I picked him up nearly all the way to the Pacific Medical Center. Actually, he found me. Hopefully he didn't get my upholstery too wet." She grinned down at the boy.
Kara offered a smile of her own, an apologetic one. "I'm sorry, officer. You must have the wrong house. We don't have any children."
Officer Garrenton chuckled. "If one of my boys, when they were his age, had gone wandering off, gotten all soaked, and had to catch a ride home in a police cruiser, I wouldn't admit he was mine, either."
"Really, though, he's not," Kara maintained. "I don't even recognize him." That might not have been entirely true. There was something about him…but not enough to place him.
"Well, that's the hair, ma'am," the officer remarked playfully. "He's been out in the weather a long time this afternoon. But a little work with a blow dryer and a comb and you'll have the fine-lookin' young man in that picture over there back as good as new." She pointed behind Kara.
Kara turned—and gasped. The face of the boy at the door smiled back at her from a photo tucked for years among several shots of her husband in his youth, all arranged on the rectangular entryway table opposite pictures of herself. Here, fishing with his father; there, receiving his high school diploma. And this one—Little League, age ten or eleven, posing with bat in hand, face framed between a light blue jersey sponsored by Ted's Pool Supplies and a light blue cap to match, photo framed in a gold-edged oval.
She spun back to the boy. It was uncanny, the resemblance. The dimple on his right cheek. Straight hair in a simple cut, slightly wavy at the ends, mussed from the rain. The same brown eyes—no, the boy's eyes were the same, but blue. Even so, Officer Garrenton was right: dry him off, comb his hair, maybe trim it a little, put a light blue hat on him…
What an odd coincidence.
The wind gusted and a little rain dodged the overhang to sprinkle the two guests in the doorway. Kara breathed, suddenly aware that she had stopped, and looked back at the officer. "Would you come in, out of the rain?"
"Just for a moment, thank you," the officer replied. She followed the boy inside, and Kara closed the door behind them. The officer regarded the picture again. "Yep, just look at that dimple!" She laughed and patted his shoulder.
Kara stared at the picture once more. Incredible, the resemblance…
Officer Garrenton went on. "He did the smart thing, asking for directions to get back home. I thought I'd better bring him myself, with it getting dark and him being so far away. I'm sorry I didn't have anything to dry him off with; he's dripping all over your floor." She was still smiling, but now her eyes awaited a reply that would indicate—well, probably gratitude.
Kara bit her lower lip. "I just can't, I'm sorry—"
"I'll get a towel," the boy said suddenly, and he walked right around Kara, cut into the hall, and turned sharply left into the bathroom.
"Er, excuse me?" Kara called after him, but the boy was already back in the hall. He held a beige towel in both hands and began to dry his face, then stooped to dry the floor.
Officer Garrenton spoke to the boy. "Zach, before you go running off, isn't there something you should say to your mother?" She didn't sound angry, just a mom of boys who knew when enough silliness was enough.
"Oh. Sorry, Mom," he intoned, now wiping the rain off his arms. "I meant to be here sooner. I guess I went down the wrong street and"—he paused to wipe his face off again, though to no avail; his hair was still dripping—"and then I didn't know where I was." He raised his eyebrows in a penitent look. His shirt was still dripping water lightly onto the floor.
Kara's heart slammed against her ribs. This was a simple mix-up—so why the jolt of nerves all of a sudden? If only that penitent look didn't remind her so much of Craig's when he had done something fun on the sly, like going golfing with Derek when he knew he ought to be working.
"Officer," she choked out, "I—honestly, I've never had a son. Or a daughter, for that matter. But if I did—a boy, I mean—" Something clicked and brought Officer Garrenton's words into focus. "Did you say his name is Zach?"
Crinkling her eyebrows just a bit, Officer Garrenton reached into her jacket pocket and brought out a school ID tag on a pale orange lanyard, Zach's photo printed at the top of it. "He was wearing this. He must have gone roaming straight out of school. We thought you'd be nearly panicked by now, but you seem to be taking it well." A smug smile appeared as she glanced back down at Zach; she seemed to have mistaken Kara's look of confusion for worry. "I looked up the address he gave me, and sure enough—residence of Craig and Kara Fleming."
Kara spoke—"Yes, that's me…us…"—but without hearing herself. Her eyes and mind had locked onto the ID tag:
ZECHARIAH FLEMING
BRIAR POINT ELEMENTARY
FOURTH GRADE — MS. FABER, ROOM 14
She gaped at the photo on the tag: it was the same boy as in the old baseball portrait, except with blue eyes to match the boy standing before her. The child in the school photo was dressed in a faded gray T-shirt, hair dry and relatively straight. And the name: ZECHARIAH FLEMING. Not the most common name. Not like Jimmy Smith or something.
Three million people in the greater metro area… How many Zechariah Flemings, age ten-ish? With eyes like Craig's, eager and penetrating at the same time? And that misleading look of penitence? With that dimple on the right side, and brown hair…and who just happens to know where to find a towel on the first try, without asking?
"Mrs. Fleming, are you all right?"
"What? Oh…yes." She was answering too slowly. She must sound dazed. What odd coincidences.
"Ma'am, is your husband home? I might like to talk to him." Dimly, Kara noted that Officer Garrenton was growing concerned.
"Er…no, he's gone to a game—er, coaching. Little League. This is his picture. See, their eyes are different colors." She pointed to the brown-eyed boy in the blue ball cap.
Officer Garrenton was watching her closely now. "Except for the eyes, Zach is the spitting image of his father. Dad must be proud."
"But I never had a ba—"
Zach took off again, this time stepping directly into the kitchen.
"Hey—um, Zach?" Kara called, and she followed him, Officer Garrenton trailing behind her. Without the slightest hesitation, the boy opened the cabinet over the counter beside the refrigerator and fetched a glass. He hadn't needed to search; he knew where the cups were.
"Zach, what are you doing?"
The boy glanced up, surprised. "I'm just getting a drink of water." He stepped across to the sink and filled his glass.
Kara could only stare, flabbergasted. "He's beautiful."
"Ma'am?" Officer Garrenton asked.
Kara started as she realized that she had whispered aloud. What a ridiculous thing to say! But he looked just like Craig when he came home from working in the rain…
She stammered a moment until a new voice interrupted her, crackling from Officer Garrenton's radio. It announced a stream of numbers and designations—police code. "Three vehicles, possible injuries," was all Kara caught as she watched Zach gulp down his water. He finished just as the voice cut off, and set his glass back gently on the counter.
"Another accident," Officer Garrenton groaned, eyes taking on a new focus. "I'll need to go, it's only a mile from here. But if it's all right, I'll check back with you in, what, an hour? Where did he go?"
Kara turned just in time to see Paws prance delightedly into the kitchen, the boy leading him. Paws had been outside. Her jaw dropped. What would this boy not do in a stranger's home? This beautiful boy…who knew where the dog was… He leaned down and let Paws lick his face. Paws loved kids.
Officer Garrenton eyed Kara thoughtfully. Then she leaned toward her and whispered into her ear. "Mrs. Fleming, what is your dog's name?"
"Paws," Kara whispered back. "It's short for Santa Paws, like the movie. Craig got him for me at Christmas."
Officer Garrenton straightened. "Zechariah?"
Both boy and dog looked up.
"What is the dog's name?"
"Santa Paws." He didn't even stop to think.
Kara froze. There was no possible way—
"Well, that's enough for me," Officer Garrenton announced, though just a hint of concern remained in her eyes. "I'll check back on you in one hour. Zach, don't you cause your mother any more grief tonight."
"I won't," he promised, rubbing Paws' head as he watched her go. She strode quickly back to the door.
"Wait!" Kara blurted out, following her. "You can't just l—" The closing door cut her off. "—leave him here…with me…" Through the entryway window, Kara watched helplessly, hands dropping limply to her sides, as Officer Garrenton drove away. Mouth hanging slightly open, she could only stare. What had just happened?
Paws barked once from the kitchen, and the boy laughed. Kara pulled her eyes from the window and, with one deep breath, willed her feet back the few steps into the kitchen. Someone else's child knelt there, playing with her dog (whose name he knows!), acting right at home (he knows where the glasses are!), helping himself to what he needed (he knew where the bathroom was!)…calling her "Mom" and looking startlingly like Craig, wet hair and all…
She held her head in her hands. "What do I do now? Call the police?" The thought brought a wry grin.
The towel had been tossed onto the kitchen counter. Not knowing what else to do, she scooped it up and bent over the boy. "Well, if you're going to be here for an hour, what do you say we at least not have you dripping all over the floor?" He hadn't done a very good job of drying himself. He tensed as she dabbed at his neck and arms. "Oh, look at your shirt."
The boy did, and squeezed a few more drops out of it. The top of it was still drenched.
"I guess you'll survive until we can get you home. Just don't catch a cold, okay?"
"Can I play with Santa Paws some more?"
The dog seemed eager enough, swinging his tail back and forth. But Kara shook her head. "No, you and I should talk, I think. Outside, Paws!" She opened the side door, and with a grateful look back at the boy, he exited.
The rectangular, six-person dining table beside the kitchen was half-covered with the roses and empty pots she had just brought inside. She scooted them off to the floor and pulled out a chair. "Here, have a seat." The boy came and sat down as Kara stepped to the cupboard and pulled out a small platter. "You've been out in the rain all evening, huh? I'll bet you're hungry."
"Yeah."
"Hmm, let me see what I have…" She opened the refrigerator. Taking some slices of ham and white cheese, she asked, "How does this look to you?"
"Sure," he nodded gratefully.
She filled the platter with the meat, cheese, and some long crackers from the cupboard, and placed it all in the middle of the table, settling herself opposite the boy. He reached for a slice of cheese first, then a slice of ham. He put both between a pair of crackers and ate them as a sandwich.
"Could I have some more water?" he asked.
"Oh—yeah, you bet." She retrieved his glass, filled it, and set it before him. "You must be part fish, to be out in the rain all day and still want more water."
He grinned and took a drink. She could hardly take her eyes off of him, he looked and moved so much like Craig. Not exactly the same—yet how strange that a boy like this would show up on her doorstep…
She took a bit of cheese for herself and nibbled at it. "So, Zechariah Fleming… But you go by Zach?"
He nodded as he chewed.
"Tell me about yourself."
"Like what?"
"Like whatever is interesting. At this moment, you are the most important person in the world to me, and I want to know whatever you'd like to tell me. You have my full attention."
The boy's eyes widened a little, maybe in surprise, but he didn't seem uncomfortable. "Um… I like dogs…"
She nodded. "Okay, that's a good start. Do you have a dog at home?"
"Just Santa Paws, I guess."
"I mean at your home, not mine. Do you have any pets?"
He shook his head. "I've never had any pets. Santa Paws is my first."
Did the boy think he was moving in? Was he planning to stay? She would address that issue later. Better to make him comfortable first, get him to let his guard down—except that he didn't seem to have any guard up, he was so…again, so at home…
"We just call him Paws," Kara said.
"Oh, okay. He's a nice dog."
"He loves kids… Tell me, Zach, how did you know his name?"
"It's on his tag." Of course. He said it like it was the most obvious thing in the world.
"Yes, it is. I should have figured that out. So… What else can you tell me about yourself?"
"I don't know."
"You like dogs and you're part fish…"
The boy grinned again at the tease.
"How old are you?"
"Ten." He reached for his fourth cracker sandwich already. He really was hungry.
"When is your birthday?"
"April third." He scratched the tip of his nose with the tip of his left thumb. Kara's eyebrows drew together as she saw it, but the boy didn't appear to notice.
"So you had a birthday last month. Did you have a party?"
"At school. Ms. Faber brought cupcakes. She does that for all the birthdays in our class."
"But no party at home, huh?"
"No." He didn't seem sad about it.
"Is that normal?"
"I never have a birthday party at home anymore, not since I turned five."
"But you used to?"
"Yeah, until Grandmother moved away. She gave me little parties, just her and me. And after that I always had nannies, and they never gave me parties. One of them used to bake me a birthday cake, though."
He has a grandmother. Now they were getting somewhere. "Where did your grandmother move to?"
"I don't know. I never saw her again, and then she died." He had a grandmother. He might have been a little sad saying that, even as he reached for more crackers.
"And who do you live with now?"
"With you." He swallowed another bite.
"Okay, um… You realize that since you've never been here before, and you and I have never seen each other before, that Craig and I have to agree that you can stay before you really can." She was diving deep a little earlier than she had intended, but something told her he was ready for it.
"Yeah, I know."
"And you understand that we have a responsibility to get you back to your home as soon as possible?"
At this the boy's demeanor darkened just a little, a touch of urgency appearing in his eyes. He forgot the food for a moment.
"You don't want to go back?" she inquired gently.
"I can't."
"Why not?"
He hesitated.
"Zach, it's better to tell the truth than to lie. I don't think you've been lying, but if we're going to get along, you'll have to be completely honest with me."
Unconsciously, he scratched his nose with his thumb again. Why must he keep doing things—little things, without knowing it, like showing her Craig's eyes, only blue—that cried out that he belonged here, even though such a conclusion was utterly ridiculous?
"Why can't you go back home?" she urged gently. "Has someone hurt you?" He didn't look hurt, nor did he have the look of a child accustomed to abuse.
"No. I just—The last nanny left this morning, and the only place I could go after school was here."
"Why did she leave?"
"She's going back to Mexico. Today was her last day. She's going back to her family."
"I see." She didn't see at all. "And will there be a new nanny?"
"No, she was the last one."
"Hmm."
The boy didn't munch anymore.
Kara spoke again. "How did you know to come here, to this address?"
"I looked it up in the phonebook. I found your and Dad's names—"
Dad? "How did you know our names?"
"I've known them since I was little. I thought you might be dead, but you're not."
"I'm glad to hear that. I always like it when I wake up in the morning and I'm not dead. Who told you our names?"
"Grandmother used to tell me. She wanted me to know because she said someday I could live with my mom and dad. She told me your middle names, too."
"Really?" That was unlikely. Kara crossed her arms. "So tell me my middle name."
"Ruth. And Dad's middle name is Herbert."
Kara unfolded her arms and gaped. There was no way, unless his grandmother had known them, and known them well… It was unlikely—but so were that resemblance to the photograph in the entryway, that falsely penitent expression, that knowing where the glasses were. Those were all coincidences, surely. But specific information like this… And he conveyed it with absolute certainty.
He watched for her reaction.
"You're right," she admitted. "I don't know who your grandmother was or how she knew, but she got our names right." She stood to get herself a glass of water. She needed the pause in the conversation to give herself a moment to think.
"Zach… I asked you to be honest with me. It's only fair if I'm honest with you, too. This is really hard for me to figure out, because—" How had it come about that she was saying this to a ten-year-old whom, up until a few minutes ago, she had never met? "You say you're our son, and you do look a lot like that picture of Craig in the hall, but…" She leaned toward him. "See, Zach, I've never had a baby. I've never even been pregnant. Well, not long enough to have a baby. Not that we didn't try…"
His eyes, so certain a moment ago, now hinted at worry, and also confusion. "But how do you know you didn't…you know, have a baby without knowing it?"
Kara laughed straight out before she could catch herself. He had asked it so straightforwardly. Could this ten-year-old really be so sheltered from such biological complexities?
He blushed, all the more for not knowing why he should be embarrassed.
"Sorry," she apologized. "No, that's okay. It's a fair question. Have you ever known someone who was expecting a baby, Zach?"
"No."
"Okay… Um, here's how it works. The baby starts out really tiny, just a few cells, and it grows inside the mother's tummy for nine months, getting bigger—"
"How does it fit in there?"
Another fair question, though it made her want to laugh again. "It sort of pushes everything else out of the way as it grows. And it makes the mother get fat and round in the front." She illustrated with her hands.
The boy's eyes went wide. "Does it hurt?"
"Sometimes, yes," Kara answered. "So if I ever did have a baby, I would definitely know it, because—well, there's really no way not to."
He got it. His face fell just a little. Suddenly a fault line had appeared in his rock-solid assurance that he was where he ought to be—there was a chink in the armor. "But maybe there's some other way…"
"I doubt it, Zach." She felt sad for him, for the disappointment that crept across his face. Curiously, it wasn't guilt she saw there, as if he'd been caught making up a story. It was disappointment, a glorious dream in danger of slipping away.
"Still," Kara resumed, "for some reason, here you are, at least for another"—she glanced up at the clock on the wall—"45 minutes. And somehow you know more about me than I know about you. And for goodness sakes, you do look like my husband."
Her mind began to sift through possibilities she had never considered. Could the IVF procedure have worked? Was it possible that one embryo—just one—had been viable after all, that they had conceived a child only to have the embryo given to the wrong mother? She could believe it, looking at this boy. But, she recalled sadly, they had warned us that our chances were…nonexistent. Not even a single quality embryo that would attach to the womb properly and grow—not in her womb, not in anyone's. She and Craig were, to use the doctor's words, beyond the ability of modern medical science to help. Not that that had kept them from trying, for a while.
What if Craig was unfaithful ten years ago? No—any man could be unfaithful if he let his guard down, but Craig never had. I would have known, she thought with a touch of good humor. He's such a terrible liar.
Another idea occurred to her. "Could you be related to us?" she thought out loud. "A nephew, maybe, that we somehow never knew about?" It was a stretch, but she had ruled out the most rational possibilities.
The boy considered. "Grandmother always said you were my mom and Craig was my dad. That's what she always told me."
"And she died."
"Yeah."
"Hmm… Okay." Maybe Craig will know something. It would clearly be his side of the family. Hadn't one of his cousins had a child about ten years ago? "What about other relatives? Do you have a grandfather?"
"I did, but he was always traveling for his work. That's why I had to stay with a nanny. I hardly ever saw him."
"Where is he now?"
"He died a few months ago."
"Do you know any of your other relatives?"
"No."
Again, Kara felt sad for this boy. For a nice kid like this to be left so alone in this vast, crazy world—what a shame, if it were true.
They sat and stared at each other silently for a minute. Zach reached for another piece of cheese and took a sip from his glass.
Kara broached another question. "How did you know where to find that glass? And where the bathroom was?"
"I thought it might be in the hallway."
"The bathroom? Why?"
"A lot of houses have a bathroom there."
"Does your house?"
"No. But other ones do, sometimes."
"And the glass?"
"That was where I thought—"
"Thought it would be, got it. Hmm."
An engine rumbled into the garage. Craig had returned.
"That's my husband," she told the boy.
He sat up straight and looked anxiously toward the door to the garage.
A moment later, Kara strode to that door, reaching it just as Craig walked in. "Hi," she said, embracing him.
"Hey," he replied, and kissed her cheek. He carried a sports equipment bag over his shoulder, the knobs of a few aluminum baseball bats protruding from the top.
"You got the game in?"
"It only sprinkled on us a little," he said. "Most of the showers went around us."
"Did you win?"
"We did, believe it or not, despite walking six batters in a r—" He cut off suddenly as he caught sight of the boy.
"Hi, Dad." The boy could have been welcoming his own dad back home.
"Er," Craig stammered, "that's…an unusual way to begin a conversation." He moved across the room to the boy and held out his hand. "I'm Craig."
"I'm Zach." The boy shook his hand.
"Zach, huh? What's brings you to our home, Zach?"
The boy shrugged. "I'm your son."
Craig blinked, then glanced aside to Kara. She shrugged, too.
Craig took her seat, across from the boy. "Well, that's…quite a surprise, Zach."
"A police officer dropped him by a few minutes ago," Kara explained. "He had given her our address, and he knew our names. I told her we didn't have any children, but—"
"But she left him here anyway?"
"Well," she began, "he seemed to…fit right in here. He knew where the bathroom was, knew where the glasses were, knew Paws' name…" They could be father and son, she thought, seeing them across the table from each other. Not quite time-adjusted mirror images, but close.
Craig, right elbow on the table, reached up with his right thumb and scratched the tip of his nose. Uncanny, the resemblances…
"Look at this," she told Craig, sliding the boy's ID tag across the table to him.
"Zechariah—Fleming?" Craig looked not at the boy, but at Kara. "That's an odd coincidence."
"That's what I thought, too," she replied.
"Why?" Zach asked.
"Because," Craig answered, "a long time ago we decided that if we ever had a son, we would name him Zechariah and call him Zach for short."
The boy nodded.
The two boys—even at 38 and acting his age, Craig still had an attractive boyish side to him—watched each other, Zach attentive, Craig considering, calculating. Kara could see him weighing the possibilities against the impossibilities.
The two needed to talk, and guys always talked better over food. She turned to the boy—the younger one. "Zach, do you like ice cream?"
"I love ice cream."
She went to the freezer and pulled out two containers. "Looks like we have vanilla and butter pecan. Oh, and here's a little bit of chocolate left."
"Can I have chocolate?" the boy requested. "It's my favorite."
Another coincidence that made her pause in mid-motion, if only for a fraction of a second. Three kinds of ice cream in the freezer and he chose chocolate, his favorite. Her favorite. Craig noticed, too, and met her eyes. But didn't lots of young boys like chocolate best? It didn't mean anything, of course—just another curious coincidence…
"Okay, chocolate coming up." She divided it into three bowls—Craig would not have a preference—and set two of them before the boys, keeping the last for herself at the place she took at the end of the table.
"So, Zechariah Fleming," Craig began, "if you are our son, it's great of you to stop by and introduce yourself. You're what, nine years old?"
"I turned ten last month."
"Cool. Ten. Why did you wait so long to let us meet you?"
"Grandfather told me you were dead. I didn't want to believe him, but I didn't know he was wrong. Then I found your names and address in the phonebook."
Craig nodded. "So you found out we were alive and decided to drop by and visit?"
"I guess. Not exactly visit, though."
"He intends to stay," Kara explained.
The boy was enjoying his ice cream, scooping it up to his mouth with his spoon in—in his left hand…
"I have to stay," the boy corrected her. "Grandfather died, and the nanny left to go back to Mexico, and there won't be a new one. So I don't have anywhere else to go."
"And the nanny didn't take you to your relatives? Or to the police?"
"No." His eyes narrowed as if he had not considered those possibilities.
Craig sighed. "Look, you seem like a neat kid, but it's against the law for us to keep you here without your parents knowing."
"You are—"
"—your parents, right," Craig finished. "But we've never met you before. We could be in trouble for having you here right now. If the police found you here—"
"It was the police who dropped him off here," Kara reminded him.
Craig rolled his tongue inside his cheek. "That complicates things. Still, Zach, we have an obligation to try to get you back to someone. What was your grandfather's name?"
"I don't know."
"You don't know his name?"
"He never told me. Just Grandfather."
"Well, where did he live?"
"I don't know. We moved a lot. I don't know the address."
"Could you take us there?"
"I don't think so."
Craig sighed and looked back at the ID card. "You go to Briar Point. So you must live close to here."
"Not really. The nanny always drove me to school."
"How far is it from your house to the school?"
"I don't know—a few miles, I guess. It takes a while to get there."
Kara looked quizzically at Craig. Why would the boy go to school so far away from his home? To her knowledge, Briar Point was just an ordinary elementary school.
Craig thumbed the ID card and then looked up at her. Clearly, he was as stuck as she was.
"Tell you what, Zach," he said, looking back at the boy. "Are you up for a game?"
"What kind of game?"
"A game of speed, quick thinking. I'll ask you questions as fast as I can think of them, and you answer as fast as you can. See if you can keep up."
The boy seemed intrigued. "Okay."
"All right." Craig prepared himself with a bite of ice cream. "What's your middle name?"
"Timothy."
Craig's spoon slipped out of his fingers and clattered into his bowl. Kara choked on her own ice cream. Their eyes met again. Too many coincidences.
"Er—that's a good name," Craig managed. "What's your favorite color?"
"Green."
"When is your birthday?"
"April third."
"How many students are in your class at school?"
"Um…twenty-six, I think. No, one moved away. Twenty-five."
"Where do you live?"
"Here," he answered.
Kara grinned and shook her head. The boy was quick, and he was giving nothing away.
"Where did you live this morning?"
"At my old house."
"Which is where?"
"I already told you I don't know."
"So you did. At least you're consistent." Craig swallowed another bite. "Your favorite TV show."
"We've never had a TV."
"Really? No TV? All right, your favorite music group."
"Um, the Beach Boys."
"You're joking."
"Nope."
"They were around before I was born."
"Grandfather only had old music."
"Prove it, then—where was 'the little old lady' from?"
"Pasadena," he grinned. "It's the little old lady from Pasadena," he sang. He was quick indeed. He was parrying Craig's thrusts deftly, and enjoying every second of it.
"Wow," Craig shook his head. "I thought I had you there. How about… How long have you lived in Seattle?"
"All my life."
"Your grandfather's name."
"Don't know."
"Your phone number."
"We've never had a phone. Well, the nanny did, but I wasn't allowed to use it. She never told me the number."
"No TV and no phone? Have any brothers or sisters?"
"Nope. I was hoping I had some here."
"I see. Do you know any jokes?"
"Jokes? Er…" The boy was stumped, but not for long. "I heard one at school… There was a prison way out on the prairie, and there was only grass all around it, except for three trees. One night, three prisoners escaped and ran to the trees…"
The boy was scratching the tip of his nose with the tip of his thumb again. He grinned as he told the joke. Craig was grinning, too, amused at the boy's enthusiasm. The one's dimple was reflected in the other. Too many coincidences to be coincidental, but how could they be anything more?
The doorbell rang. Kara glanced up at the clock; it had only been half an hour. The boy was in mid-joke. "I'll get it," she told them, sliding from her chair and heading to the door.
It was Officer Garrenton again. "You're back early," Kara greeted her.
"A couple of extra officers swung by to mop up," Officer Garrenton explained. "How's Zechariah?"
"Everything's fine," Kara replied. "He's inside with my husband." She pointed to where Officer Garrenton could see Craig from behind and at an angle in the dining room, sitting across from the boy, whose grin widened as Craig laughed at his joke. They started in on another one.
"Good," Officer Garrenton nodded. "I was a little concerned by your reaction when I brought him home."
Kara had a decision to make. She glanced back at the boy sitting with her husband—and there were just too many coincidences surrounding him. "I was…confused, I guess," she told the other woman. "This is the first time Zach has ever shown up late, and with a police officer, no less. I'm sorry I worried you."
Officer Garrenton gave her an understanding smile. "I've been there, believe me. I raised two rambunctious boys, always getting into some kind of trouble. There was more than one time I swore I didn't know them." Her smile turned wistful. "The oldest boy just gave me my first granddaughter. Cute little thing." She nodded toward Zach. "Don't worry, he will turn out fine. He's a delightful young man."
"Yes, he is," Kara agreed. "Thank you for stopping by, just to make sure."
"Anytime. Good night."
Kara watched as Officer Garrenton departed. Then she closed the door and fell back against it with her face in her hands. What had she just done? She hadn't said the boy was theirs. Nor would Officer Garrenton have believed her if she had said he wasn't.
She made her way back to the table, where she picked up the empty bowls and the spoons and carried them to the sink.
"Who was that?" Craig asked as his and the boy's mirth at the second joke subsided.
"That was Officer Garrenton, who brought Zach here. She was checking on him."
"And she left him here again?" Craig asked, incredulous. "What did you tell her?"
"I told her everything was fine."
"You let her think he belongs here?"
She looked over at the boy. He was watching intently, perhaps just a little apprehensive. "Craig," she suggested, "can we talk in the bedroom?"
"Yes, I think we should." Craig spoke to the boy. "Zach, why don't you hang out in here for a minute? We'll be right back."
Kara led Craig down the hall past the bathroom to the bedrooms. They entered the bedroom on the left, theirs, and closed the door.
Craig turned on her. "What were you thinking?" he demanded in a loud whisper. "That boy is not ours! If a police officer brings him here and then takes off, that's one thing. But if she comes back and you let her think he belongs here—how is that different from kidnapping?"
Kara returned his volley. "That boy was not brought here by accident!"
"What? You think God sent him here? Because his name happens to be—"
"Yes! Well, no, but something is going on here. Somebody told him all about us. Even our middle names…"
"He could find that on the Internet."
"Our middle names? I doubt it. Anyway, he knew where the bathroom was without asking. And the glasses. And where to find Paws."
"What are you saying?"
"I'm saying someone sent him here on purpose!"
Craig considered. "Why would they do that?"
"I think he's related to us."
Craig tossed his head. "You can't be serious. He's ten years old and we've never even seen him before!"
"Look at this," Kara told him. She held up a finger for him to stay and slipped out the door to the hall. At the entryway, she picked up Craig's Little League photograph. The boy, fingering his ID card patiently, looked over as she appeared.
She strode back to the bedroom with the photograph and thrust it into Craig's hand. "Who is this?" she asked.
"That's me, my Little Leag—" His mouth froze open mid-word. He saw it. He looked up at Kara and back down at the picture. "Okay, that's…remarkable."
"That's not all. You know how I always tease you about the way you scratch your nose with your thumb? He does it, too. I've never seen anyone else do that. And you know that look you give me when you've been out golfing with Derek instead of working?"
"He does that, too?"
"A convincing impression of it."
There was a pause. "So…you think he's related to us?" Craig asked.
Kara nodded. "That's the only explanation. And it has to be on your side of the family. Except—"
"Except what?"
"He chose the chocolate ice cream…"
"Every kid likes chocolate."
"He's also left-handed, like me. He held the spoon in his left hand."
"Some kids are. It's coincidence."
"Well, there have been a lot of coincidences in the last thirty minutes!"
"Kara, there is no way that boy can be our child!" Craig insisted. "Your radiation treatments did too much damage. The embryos weren't—"
"Of course he can't be ours, I know that! I saw the pictures of the embryos just like you did. But don't you see why I say he has to be related to us somehow? It doesn't make any sense, but… Didn't one of your cousins have a kid about ten years ago?"
He nodded. "Elliott—at least, that was the rumor. And my sister, too, but we know her son. There's no way she had twins. And her kids don't look anything like me, anyway."
Kara frowned. "So maybe Elliott?"
"I don't know. Could be. Or another cousin. I have enough of them." He glanced down at the photograph again. "Pretty much has to be a cousin, but… There's no other way…" Craig was calculating again, working the problem. Suddenly his own eyes went wide, and there was fear behind them. "Kara, I promise you, I have never—"
She smiled and cut him off with a gentle hand flat on his chest. "I thought of that. But I would have known right away."
He grinned sheepishly. "That's true."
"So maybe a cousin."
Craig shrugged. "Maybe a cousin." He calculated a moment longer. "Did you ever tell anyone what middle name we chose for a boy?"
She tried to remember. Those hopeful conversations had been ten, twelve years ago and had long since been filed away. "I don't think so. First name, maybe. But not Timothy. We wanted to surprise my mom when we named him after my dad."
"I don't think I did, either. But we must have let it slip to someone on my side of the family…"
"We must have. Someone knew somehow. And they gave our name to their child." She hadn't meant to allow that hint of bitterness into her voice. But it certainly reflected how she felt, now that she thought about it.
"You're right, he must be related to us." Craig suddenly looked tired, as if encumbered with a burden of responsibility he had not anticipated.
Kara took one of his hands in hers. "That's why I told Officer Garrenton that everything was fine."
"It's not."
"No, but if he's family somehow, we need to at least keep him overnight. If he's hiding something—hey, he's ten years old. How long can he keep a secret?" She squeezed Craig's hand, as much from concentration as from affection. "And there's someone out there who sent him here on purpose. Even if it was his grandmother who died years ago, like he says, and he's just now come…"
"Why doesn't he tell us how to get him home?"
She lifted her free hand just a little, palm up. "Maybe he's scared to. Maybe he thinks we'll send him away, and he doesn't want to go back. Or maybe it's like he said—he has nowhere to go."
"Or maybe he just doesn't know. Maybe he thinks he came on his own."
"It would be hard for someone to send him here without him knowing."
Craig ran a hand through his hair and sighed. "All right, let's keep him here, just for tonight. I'll call Derek and tell him I need tomorrow off, and in the morning we can talk to Zach some more, figure out where to take him. Worst case scenario, we take him to the police department and explain what's going on."
Kara nodded silently. One night they could do.
Craig's forehead remained wrinkled in thought. He still seemed uneasy.
Kara shifted closer to him and wrapped her arms around his waist. "I don't know what else to do, either," she admitted. "But this is a good plan for tonight."
He pulled her against him, still holding the photograph of his younger self—or Zach, whichever it was—in one hand.

"How do you feel about wearing a girl's shirt?" Kara inquired of the boy a few minutes later.
He was sitting on the edge of her bed, watching as she shuffled through a stack of T-shirts in a drawer. She peeked over her shoulder at him and saw him lift his eyebrows uncertainly.
"Is it pink?" he asked warily.
"If you like," she replied with an amused grin. "I'm sure I have a pink one in here somewhere. Or I have blue, if you'd rather."
"Not pink," he said. "Blue's okay."
She tossed him a blue shirt along with gray shorts. "There you go, then. They'll be big on you, but they'll fit better than Craig's. I'll get your clothes dried out and you can have them back in the morning."
The boy nodded, but didn't move. Strange—he just watched her…
"Oh!" she exclaimed suddenly. "Right—um, I'll just…go get the guestroom ready."
Then the boy moved, pulling his shoes off as Kara closed the door behind her. She stepped into the next room and chuckled to herself. Kids. She really needed to spend more time with her nieces and nephew.
She looked around the room and groaned. "Craig," she called, "where are we going to put all of this stuff?" The guest bed was covered with landscaping tools and, she confessed to herself, a few of her own gardening supplies. There were tools strewn across the floor, too.
He replied from the den. "Hold on, I'm coming." A moment later he was there with her, surveying the challenge before them. "I was checking the Amber Alerts web site, just in case."
"Nothing there?"
"No qualifying children missing in the state of Washington," he said, scanning the room. "Wow, we picked up a lot of stuff at that sale."
"You picked up. That was in February, Craig," Kara chided. "It's been our live-in guest for three months. It's time for it to move out and get its own place."
"I've been meaning to sort through it. I guess now's as good a time as any."
"No, don't sort. Just relocate."
"Right. I'll put it in the shed for now."
"He's only ten—we should get him to bed before it gets much later." She fingered a clear spot on the comforter and shook her head. "This is filthy, Craig, with all these tools on it. I'm going to pull the other comforter out for Zach." She headed to the cabinets in the hall as her husband began to gather up a load of the various items before him.
The boy, now clad in Kara's blue T-shirt and gray shorts, emerged from their bedroom after the first load and saw Craig picking up tools. "Can I help?"
"Sure," Craig replied. "Grab whatever's on the bed and follow me."
Kara reached for the comforter on the top cabinet shelf as Craig slipped past her, heading toward the side door with his load. The boy hurried out right behind him, arms full of saws and hand shovels. He had seemed relieved—but not surprised, exactly—when they had told him he could stay for the night. Kara had thought he might argue to stay longer, but he hadn't; in fact, he had offered to sleep on the floor, he wouldn't mind at all. They had assured him that he was welcome to their guest bed—once they unearthed it from all of Craig's treasures. Then he had offered to do the dishes or whatever they needed. He was eager to please, that was certain.
She was gathering clean sheets to go with the new comforter as the pair marched back into the guestroom for another load. "Craig, just set my garden tools out by the back—"
"OW!" Zach yelled.
Kara was in the room in an instant. "What happened?"
"He's okay." Craig was beside the boy before she was. The boy was bent over his clenched right hand, his face screwed up and eyes shut tightly. "He sliced his hand trying to pick up that saw. Never pick it up by the blade, pal."
"Like you didn't do the same thing just last week," she reminded Craig, who smiled abashedly. "Let me take a look, Zach."
Kara took the injured hand and tenderly pried the boy's fingers open. Blood smeared his palm and fingers. "Okay, let's go wash it off and see how bad it is."
She led the boy to the bathroom and turned on the faucet. "Here, put your hand in the water. It'll sting at first, and then the cold will take away some of the pain."
Hesitantly, with a glance up at her through eyes that were suddenly red, he placed his hand into the water, wincing as it struck the wound and washed the blood away.
After a moment, Kara took his hand again and gently examined it. "Well, I don't think you'll die from it," she said.
"I'm glad to hear that," the boy answered through gritted teeth. "I like knowing I'm not dead yet."
Kara met his eyes in surprise. In spite of his pain, they teased back at her. She couldn't help but grin and tousle his hair.
He snuck a peek at his wound, where the cut crossed his middle three fingers on the palm side.
"Have you had your tetanus shots?" Craig asked from behind them.
"What are those?" Zach asked.
"Tetanus is a nasty disease you can get from cutting yourself on metal. The shots give you a vaccine to stop it."
The boy looked anxiously from one adult to the other. "I don't know."
Kara drew a box of bandages from the cabinet. "You look pretty well-cared for to me. I bet you've had them. Nothing to worry about."
Craig took a look at the boy's hand. "Hey, way to be tough, Zach. A slice like that and I would've been yowling."
Zach furrowed his brows just a bit, trying to figure out if Craig was making fun of him.
"It's true, he would've," Kara confirmed. "He doesn't like the sight of blood—especially his own."
"I don't like pain much, either," Craig added as he headed back to the guestroom.
The boy patted his hand dry on a towel and opened and closed his fist a couple of times.
"Better?" Kara asked.
"Yeah. It still hurts, though."
"Okay. Let's get these bandages on there, one for each finger…" She situated the bandages over the wounds and the boy flexed his fingers.
"Think you'll survive?"
"I'll be okay," he shrugged.
"That-a-boy. Why don't you go see if Craig is done yet."
The boy left the bathroom and Kara wiped up a couple of spots of red that had fallen onto the countertop. She gazed out the door after him, suddenly struck by the moment. Parent for a night, by some weird twist of fate. I used to pray for a child to care for. If this boy needs to be here tonight for some reason, then I'm glad to stand in for his mother, bloody fingers and all. But I think I just did pretty well—so if I can do the job, God, why didn't you let us…?
It was a futile line of thought, and selfish. A lot of people's dreams get passed by in life. And I have a lot of other things to be thankful for. That was a more virtuous thought. Still, the tender wrapping of those young fingers left an ache.

"You're right, it's a mess," Craig acknowledged.
Zach had just set the last load of tools on the shed floor. In some disarray already, the shed was now littered with small mounds of equipment, some of which would be helpful for work, some of which would end up being recycled or thrown away. Paws stepped carefully through the jumble, sniffing everything.
"Are you going to use all this stuff?" Zach asked.
Craig nodded. "A lot of it, anyway. I have a landscaping and yard care business, so stuff like this"—he held up a pair of loppers as an example—"comes in handy. Anything that can cut, dig, rake…"
"Is this a chainsaw?" Zach picked up an old gas-powered device and examined the teeth on its blade.
"A hedge trimmer, for trimming bushes. It's not made for thick limbs. So its teeth are different, see? This is a chainsaw over here." Craig lifted the latter out of a pile and set it atop the clutter. If either of them worked—they looked as if they'd been gathering dust for a decade—it alone would be worth much of the little he'd paid for this whole collection of stuff.
Zach set the hedge trimmer back down. "You don't believe you're my dad, do you?"
His forthrightness impressed Craig. "No. Should I?"
The youngster considered. "I don't know. Mom doesn't believe me because I didn't…you know, come out of her tummy."
"That does make it hard to believe."
Zach was silent for a moment, working the problem. And not letting it upset him. Good for him. Paws sauntered over to stand by his leg, and Zach rubbed the yellow dog's back.
Craig stepped outside the shed, and Paws and Zach followed. Rain that had subsided for a few minutes while they had been lugging tools to the shed now resumed a slow misting.
Craig leaned against the shed's rough exterior. "So, Zach… If we're not your parents, who's your next best guess?"
"I don't have another guess," he answered. "You're the only people Grandmother ever told me about. But I think she was right."
"You do? Why?"
"Because of my name. You said I have the name you wanted to give me. I mean, give your son."
"Maybe it's just a coincidence."
"But I have the same name and Grandmother said I was your son. And Mom—"
"Kara."
"Yeah—she said I look like your picture. So did the police officer." There was a little more stress in his voice this time. Was he nervous or just thinking hard? He made good eye contact; if he was lying about any of this, he was doing a convincing job.
Craig folded his arms. "Hmm." Another thought struck him. "Why did you come here today? Why not yesterday or tomorrow?"
"Because today was the nanny's last day."
"Right, you said that. So why did she quit today? Why not go back to Mexico last week? Did she tell you?"
"She said the money ran out, so it was time to go," he reported.
"Who was paying her?"
"Grandfather. But after he died, the money started to run out."
"So she headed back home and left you here in Seattle all by yourself."
"Yeah."
"Did she tell you to come here to us?" Craig asked.
"No. She already knew I was going to."
"How did she know?"
"I told her. So she said goodbye when she dropped me off at school this morning."
"And that's it?"
"Yeah."
"Do you know how we can call her or find her? Before she goes back to Mexico?"
"No," Zach said. "She said she was leaving this morning."
What kind of person just left the child under her care at school and said goodbye? What kind of person didn't contact the folks she knew the child would reach out to? How come this story seemed so reasonable the way this boy talked about it, yet made no sense?
Kara called from the side door. "Craig? I have the guestroom ready."
"All right, we're coming," he replied.
Paws led the way back to the house, across the wet grass. It was fully dark now; this being early May, the sun was setting a little later every evening. It must be nine o'clock already. Kara would say the night was still young.
Paws gave way reluctantly at the door. He knew better than to bring his wet feet into Kara's kitchen uninvited. Zach and Craig wiped their shoes on the mat outside the door, stepped inside, and made their way to the guestroom. It was neat and tidy again, the queen-size bed fully made now, the upholstered sitting chair in one corner now free of junk, a desk with matching chair under the window, small lamps giving light from brackets on the wall over the bed.
Kara looked up as they entered. "Are you wet again?" she asked Zach. His hair was damp from the misty rain outside. "You really are part fish. At least this time you're mostly dry." She waved him into the room. "Everything's set. You can sleep on the floor if you want to, but the bed is softer."
He eyed the bed with awe. "I've never slept on a bed that big."
Craig motioned toward it. "It's yours. Don't get used to it, though—it's only for one night."
With a glance at Kara, Craig moved to the bed and patted the edge of it. "Hop up here, Zach." He pulled the desk chair over for himself and sat down. "Let's talk."
Zach jumped up on the bed and sat facing the adults with his legs dangling off the edge, his hand gauging the spring of the mattress. Kara sat down cross-legged on the floor in front of him, to Craig's left.
"So here's what I'm thinking, Zach," Craig began. "Wherever you came from this morning, we're really not supposed to have you here."
The boy listened, eyes fixed on Craig.
"I don't think we would be in trouble, since a police officer brought you, but if we keep you past tonight, we could be. And look, if you ran away from home"—Zach didn't flinch; Craig had thought he might hit a nerve there—"then you could be in some trouble, too, maybe."
"Which is why we need to know where you came from and how to get you home safely," Kara continued. "I feel terrible thinking that your mom and dad might be out there searching for you right now, wondering if you're lost or hurt or even alive."
Zach still didn't flinch. "I understand."
"But you still say you're our son?" Kara asked.
"Yes."
"So, Zach," Craig instructed after a moment's awkward silence, "get yourself a good night's sleep, and tomorrow we'll need you to tell us everything about yourself until we know what to do with you."
"Even if it takes all day," Kara added.
"Okay," Zach replied. "But I have to go to school first."
"Oh! Right," Craig managed. "Tomorrow's Friday. I hadn't even thought about school."
"We're not used to having kids sleep over on a school night," Kara confessed. "What time does school start?"
"8:45."
"All right," Craig said. "Your school's only two blocks from here. We'll have you there in plenty of time."
"Okay."
Kara stood up. "Is there anything you need before you go to bed, Zach?"
"I don't think so."
"Okay then, under the covers."
The youngster pulled his shoes off and set them neatly on the floor at the foot of the bed. Leaving his shirt and socks on, he crawled across the bed, pulled the blankets back, and slid underneath them.
Craig replaced his chair and went to stand by the door as Kara moved to Zach's bedside.
She straightened the covers around him, then reached out and rumpled his damp hair. "Good night, Fish. We'll be in the next room if you need anything. And, obviously, you know where the bathroom is."
Zach looked quite comfortable under the covers. "Good night," he returned. He propped himself up on one elbow. "This is a great bed!"
"I'm glad you like it," Kara said with a smile. "Sleep well. It was nice to meet you tonight, Mr. Zechariah Timothy Fleming."
Craig flipped the light switch off as Kara met him at the door. "'Night, Zach," he said quietly as they exited.
From the hall they made their way to the den and collapsed together on the couch. "You know what we need to do, Kara?" Craig said. "It's simple. All we need to do is go to the school tomorrow and find out what contact information they have for him. We could say he stayed at our place last night, but we can't find his parents' phone number. That would be true, more or less."
"Do you think they'd give it to us? Schools have to be careful about privacy rules."
"If we take him into the office with us, maybe they'll trust us. Or maybe they would make the call for us."
"Okay. It's worth a shot." She slid next to him, pulled him toward her, and kissed him on the forehead. "What a bizarre evening. I'm going to get ready for bed and maybe read a bit. Are you coming?"
Craig thought for a moment as he stifled a yawn. "You know, " he said, "what if Zach ran away from home and thinks we're going to take him back tomorrow? He might try to sneak out during the night."
"And then if the police come looking for him here tomorrow..."
"Right—that would be a problem. So I think I'll sack out on the couch tonight. That way if he tries to leave, I'll hear him and wake up."
"He seems determined enough to stay here that I doubt he'll try to run away, but okay. Better safe than sorry. I'll grab you a blanket."
With that, they set about making their bedtime preparations. Craig's mind raced through every avenue he could think of for determining which of his relatives might be Zach's mother or father. Grant? Possibly. He lived somewhere in the area, though not in Seattle proper. Marie? Not likely, but she did tend to keep secrets. He didn't know any of his cousins very well. He would need to call his parents. Maybe they would know whom to contact first. Maybe Zach would recognize a photo of one of the relatives. What were the odds that there might even be a picture of a young Zach hidden somewhere in the family photo albums? No, that was extremely improbable. Had they ever met a Zach in the family, Craig and Kara would have remembered.
Kara brought him a blanket, then said good night and left to read in bed. Craig stretched out on the couch, not to sleep yet, but to think through his options.

In the guestroom, Zach snuggled under the luxurious covers, measuring the comforter's thickness between a finger and thumb. His injured fingers didn't hurt now unless he thought about them.
He liked it here. Kara and Craig were great. He loved calling them Mom and Dad, and meaning it. He could understand their confusion, all the more since Mom had never gotten…round and fat. But she looked right—like she really could be his mother. And she was pretty funny, too, calling him Fish. So was Dad. Maybe Dad knew some good jokes. He probably did.
The bed was so amazingly soft that Zach wanted to stay awake and just enjoy it. He rolled back and forth a couple of times, savoring the smoothness of the bed sheets, feeling the warmth collect under the blankets. Finding a particularly cozy spot, he closed his eyes, just for a moment. Before he could open them again, he was asleep.


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