"I'm sorry. Aaron usually listens to me." Kelly Foster Hunter bent down, watching her four-year-old blond son stare at the lights in the hallway. "Aaron, can you hear me?" She stood with Dr. Johns, the principal of the school, embarrassed by the cooing noises coming from her son's mouth. "I'm so sorry." She covered her eyes, not knowing what to do.
The principal touched her arm, making her move her hand. "Mrs. Hunter, it's okay. This is normal behavior for an autistic child." Dr. Johns turned toward a man joining them. "I'd like to introduce you to Aaron's teacher, Dr. Miller. He's been at this school for the past three and a half years."
Straightening up, Kelly faced the adorable teacher, taking in his brown hair, electric blue eyes, and high cheekbones. If she were allowed to flirt, she decided he would be the type of man she would single out first. She could see the muscles in his arms, even though he was wearing a nice dark blue suit, setting off the color of his eyes. If she didn't stop staring, she'd soon be swooning over this man.
She caught her breath and smiled. "Hello, Dr. Miller. It's nice to meet you." She shook his hand while he returned her smile.
"Nice to meet you as well, Mrs. Hunter." He raked his eyes down over her, making her aware of the expensive suit she had to wear for her job. He probably thought her to be rich, but she was anything but rich.
Kelly faced him with a grin, challenging the man who gazed at her a little bit too long for her liking. It suddenly hit her that this man might even be on her ex-husband's payroll, so she had to be careful. She wasn't going to let him think she would bow to any man…especially someone who worked at Waltman Academy, the exclusive school for autistic children Aaron was ordered to attend.
Dr. Johns bent to talk to her son, who was still watching the ceiling light while moving his fingers slowly in front of his face. "Hello, Aaron. This is Dr. Miller."
Dr. Miller knelt to talk to the young child. "Aaron, can you look at me?" Aaron ignored Dr. Miller, who touched her son's arm. "Aaron, I'm Dr. Miller." He gently moved Aaron's face to meet his, and Aaron lowered his eyes, avoiding all eye contact.
"He won't look at you," Kelly said.
"It's typical for autistic children because it can cause anxiety. I just wanted to see what he does if I make him look at me." Dr. Miller moved his eyes to Aaron's and Aaron turned away. "I think we have a lot of work to do, but at least he knows I'm here."
Aaron looked upward and cooed at the ceiling. He moved his hand up to his face and stared at the light through his ever-moving fingers. Dr. Miller took the child's hand away from his face, while the boy watched the lights. The teacher then studied Aaron's eyes as if he was checking them for responsiveness. It made Kelly wonder about his background.
Dr. Miller finally moved Aaron's hand back to its original position, stood and faced Kelly. "He'll be fine. I'll be here after school and we can talk about what I observe today." He took Aaron's hand and walked toward the classroom with him.
"Thank you," Kelly said. "I hope everything goes well. If not, you can call me at work, and I'll be here as soon as I can."
Her eyes met his as he turned and stopped for a long glance one more time. She could feel them connect to each other in a strange way. Dr. Miller grinned as he turned, then took Aaron into the classroom.
Kelly sighed and mentally wrote him off, just like all of the other men she'd met since before the divorce. It was too risky even to think of dating anyone, thanks to her ex-husband and her current situation.
She watched them walk away then turned toward Dr. Johns. "You'll call me if anything happens, right? You should have my work and cell numbers."
"Yes, Mrs. Hunter. If we can't reach you, may we call your ex-husband?"
The thought just made her angry. "No. We just got divorced, and if I show any type of weakness, he'll take Aaron and put him in an institution. Call me for everything and don't bother Richard. I've also taken my maiden name of Foster, so if you want to put that in your records, I'd appreciate it."
"Yes, we can do that. Aaron's name will remain Hunter, right?"
"Yes. Thank you." She shook Dr. Johns' hand and left, with her poor young son in the care of total strangers for the first time in his life. But she had no choice, because the court and her husband demanded it for the divorce. Walking out of the building, she got into her car, backed out and headed down the street.
As she drove, she noticed the ever-present car behind her…a black SUV with license plate 'Hunter-1.' The man was following her, as usual. She was half-tempted to stop in the middle of the street, walk back to Richard's employee, and punch him in the face. She was so tired of being stalked; it made her sick.
Kelly pulled into her lawyer's parking lot, shoved the car into park, then removed her keys from the ignition. She opened the car door and got out, storming toward the car with Hunter-1 license plates as it parked beside her. The bodyguard lowered his window and grinned at her.
"Steven, why are you following me today?" she asked the dark-haired, beady-eyed man sitting in the driver's seat.
"Richard's orders. He understands that Aaron's new teacher is good looking. I would've joined you inside, but used a telephoto instead." His smile was annoying as he waved the expensive camera at her. It was all Kelly could do not to slap the smirk off his face.
"You took pictures of me inside Aaron's school?" she asked.
"Sure. Richard wants them processed right away, to see if you're going to date Dr. Miller." Steven crossed his fingers and grinned once again. "We're all hoping it happens."
Kelly shook her head. She had a few words for Steven about her ex-husband, Richard, but if she said them, then she'd be violating the divorce decree about saying anything nasty about him. Steven was probably even recording their conversation.
"Have a good day, Steven." She smiled, just remembering what she'd decided that phrase really meant. Most of her code phrases meant the same nasty thing, which made them all easy to remember.
Kelly walked into her lawyer's office, checked in and sat in the waiting room, leafing through a mindless magazine. A few minutes after she entered, her lawyer, Brendan, came to the waiting room door.
"Kelly! It's so good to see you!" Brendan checked his watch, and Kelly instantly knew she was on the clock for his bill. "Come with me, won't you?"
She stood from her seat and joined him at the doorway. He put his hand on her back and glanced toward his secretary. "No interruptions, please?"
Kelly moved away from his hand and they entered his office. The light was streaming through the window facing the parking lot, and she was sure Steven was watching as she sat down in the chair in front of the man's desk.
"What brings you here?" Brendan asked, standing in front of her.
"I thought I'd report in to tell you what I've been through today and how very little you've actually done for Aaron and me."
"I'm not sure what you're saying." He glanced at his watch again, really annoying Kelly.
She sat up a bit. "I'm saying I had a terrible morning, and I'd like you to put it in the appeal to Richard, showing him how horrible it is to take a young child from his home and throw him into a school where he knows no one." Tears teased her eyes, but she blinked them away.
"But it was in the court order. You can't do anything about it."
She stared him down, feeling sad but determined. "You don't know what that was like. I had to take my child, who had nannies all his life, and put him in a school all alone. The poor thing, I let him down." Kelly started to cry, while Brendan handed her a box of tissues.
"I can't do anything about the situation right now. I've filed an appeal, but it may take years before the court will hear it. Your son will be fine, because that's the best school for autism in all of Nebraska."
Kelly wiped her eyes and nose then faced him, pushing her hair back. "You know, I'm wondering if you even had my best interest in mind when we went to court. You bargained Aaron and me out of any true possibility of happiness. I bet Richard even had you in his pocket." She leaned closer to him with narrowed eyes and a clenched jaw. "How much did he pay you?"
"I did the best I could. Richard's a lawyer and has more clout than I'll ever have. He has unbelievable power now that he's running for U.S. senate, and that's even tougher to fight. He knew the judge and took him out for lunch right before the hearing." Brendan moved behind Kelly and gave her a big hug. "What did you want me to do?"
Kelly pushed Brendan's his arms away. "First, don't ever touch me. I don't need another problem on top of all of this." Brendan backed off and stood in front of his desk again, facing Kelly. "Next, I want you to get more clout. Do whatever it takes."
"You don't have the money to do whatever it takes. You have to face facts that Richard's holding the cards here." Brendan leaned back on the desk in front of Kelly, then took her hand and kissed it, flashing his flirty eyes at her. Kelly jerked her hand away from him.
"You know I can't date or I'll lose Aaron. You're making this tougher than ever!"
"I won't tell if you won't tell." Leaning down, Brendan rubbed Kelly's knee. She grabbed his hand, yanking it from her skin.
He leaned over to her to kiss her, but she pushed him away and stood up, moving to put her chair between them.
"You're so beautiful, with your pretty blonde hair and adorable blue eyes," he said. "You need a man right now, and I'm here for you."
He moved toward her but she hauled off and slapped his face. "You know the rules. If I date, I lose Aaron. I'm not going to have my little boy taken from me because you don't listen."
Brendan rubbed his face where she slapped him. "It's not a date. Think of it as just sex."
"I think I need a new lawyer." She stormed out of the room, clenching her jaw.
As she approached the parking lot, she saw Steven lower his camera. She walked to his car, opened the door, and pulled the camera from his hand. He tried to get it back, but she opened it and yanked out the small card for the digital camera, then cracked it between her fingers.
"I'm not dating anyone, so get your nose out of my business," she said, leaning up to his face.
"Richard's going to hear about this!"
"Let him. While he's at it, tell him to stop paying Brendan for trying to put his slimy hands on me. I'm not playing that game and not putting up with your nosiness. If I start dating someone, you'll be the first to know, got it?"
"Like you'd tell me or Richard if you started to date," Steven muttered. "Aaron would be gone lickety-split if you did, and you know it." He looked at the camera. "If I just had those pictures, it would be enough to pull him out of that school today. Now I guess I just have to follow you everywhere."
He picked up a small tape recorder and waved it at her with a grin. "Say hello to Richard!"
Kelly rolled her eyes and threw the camera onto the ground with a thud, the big lens rolling under the SUV, then stalked off to her car.
"That was a thousand dollar camera! You're going to pay for it, Kelly, and it's coming out of your child support."
"Whatever." Like she got any child support from Richard anyway. She got into the driver's seat and left her scummy lawyer's office, the broken camera card in her hand.
While fuming, she drove to work, parking in the employee parking lot.
Dean, the main cameraman for the Channel Eight Television Station in Lincoln met Kelly at the front door on his way out. "Hi, Kelly. How're you doing?"
"I've been better. Is everyone here yet?"
"Yep. You're the last one here for the meeting."
"Great." Kelly walked out of the late summer breeze and into the air-conditioned building, entering the meeting that was already underway.
Jason, the station manager, shot her a snide glance. "It's so nice of you to join us, Ms. Foster."
"I'm sorry I'm late. I had to take my son to school today." Kelly felt tears welling in her eyes as she fell into her chair at the conference table.
"We have a lot of work to do." He turned from her and continued the meeting. No one seemed to care about her, so she kept her mouth shut, listening the best she could. But the thought of her baby with strangers made her mind wander.
Kelly's co-anchor Larry Bowers, the weatherman, the sports commentator and two directors all sat around the table. They reviewed notes for the noon telecast, describing the tapes and stories played at the top of the newscast.
After the meeting, Jason pulled Kelly aside, staring at her face. "Are you going to be able to do the news today? You look awful."
"I'll be fine. I'll go to makeup first, then off to the set."
"Make sure you don't cry on the set. That's all we need to have to explain. Considering Richard is a wonderful and powerful man, if his ex-wife--"
"Bye, Jason." Kelly walked away without letting him finish. He was as scummy as all the other people. She was sure that somehow, Richard had gotten to him too. She trusted no one.
After going to makeup, Kelly took her place on the set and reviewed her stories. She was given the easy stories, while Larry, who had more experience, handled the more critical ones. This was especially true since Richard announced he was thinking of running for the U.S. senate.
Kelly wished Richard would just get out of her life. If he won, there would be news about him every night and if he lost, he'd probably blame her.
After waiting for a few minutes, the cameraman finally gave them the countdown. The cameras turned on and Larry and Kelly were on the air. She felt very comfortable in front of the cameras and the bright lights, trying to appear happy. They both read the newscasts presented to them on the teleprompter and Kelly even managed a smile or two.
"Today, Richard Hunter made it official," Larry announced into the camera. "He's running for the U.S. Senate next year, and kicked off his campaign with a huge party in downtown Lincoln."
They'd decided beforehand that Kelly wouldn't be reading anything even remotely pertaining to her ex-husband on the air. The television station showed a clip of the live party, with a remote reporter describing the scene.
"I hate that man," Kelly said as soon as her microphone was off.
"We don't have a lot of time here," Larry said. "We're going to be back on the air. Tell me later, even though I know why you hate that man."
"He's evil. Pure evil. I wish everyone knew how evil he really was."
The cameraman was cueing them. "In three, two, one."
She turned her fake smile toward her co-anchor. "What do you think of those Cornhuskers, Larry?" Thankfully, none of the viewers would ever know what Kelly was really thinking about her ex-husband or she'd be facing a lawsuit and would have Aaron taken from her.
After work, Kelly sped through yellow lights so she could get to Aaron as fast as possible. After parking, she dashed inside the school to see many children waiting for their parents. Aaron was sitting in a corner rocking, while Dr. Miller sat at his desk, watching the children, writing many things on a piece of paper in front of him. His back was to the door when Kelly knocked.
"Hello, Mrs. Hunter," Dr. Miller said, opening the door for her.
"You can call me Kelly Foster. I'm not using my married name any more."
"All right, Ms. Foster. Come in and have a seat."
Kelly saw three other boys in the classroom, all as severely affected as Aaron. They were rocking, flapping their hands, or doing some strange behavior. Kelly sat in a chair beside Dr. Miller, watching the young children with him.
"What do you think?" she asked, trying not to appear nervous.
Dr. Miller glanced at Kelly while trying to watch Aaron. "I think there's hope. He does make sounds and can hum. That's a good sign."
"Do you think he'll ever be able to talk?"
The man beside her ran his hand through his hair as he sat up, facing her. "I don't know. We have a few things we can try with him. I got him to look me in the eyes today, and that's a big improvement, even if it was for just a few seconds. I think I'd like to teach him some sign language, so we can at least see if he's capable of communication."
"That would be great. He's had no schooling but only nannies up until now. They took complete care of him, and tried their best to read to him, sing to him, and give him the attention he needed. I only hired women who had experience and education for autistic children, but he still didn't respond to a lot of things." She couldn't help but notice the aura of this man. He was adorable.
He returned her stare, making her swallow hard. "I think he's going to surprise you some day. You never know when he'll start to talk, and we'll keep working with him. I'll show you the signs I teach him, and you can work with him at home." He seemed to stare at her for a long time. "Now that I think about it, there's something else we can do, too. I'd like to come to your house and look at Aaron's room. We might be able to do something to remind him of the signs he's learning, like putting pictures in various places with the sign for the picture. I'd like to do that before the weekend, if that's okay with you."
"That's fine. Any evening will work for me, because we're always home."
Dr. Miller pulled out his day planner and looked at his schedule, which had many entries crossed out. "I have tonight free. Would that work?"
"Sure. I'll give you directions." Kelly drew a map on a piece of paper for Dr. Miller, including her home number. "I have to make a phone call and make sure it's okay for you to visit. It's part of the bitter divorce." She called Richard's secretary and explained the reason for the visit from Dr. Miller while she sat beside her son's teacher.
After she hung up the phone, he turned to her with a puzzled look on his face. "I don't mean to be personal, but isn't that odd to have to clear any visitors before they come to your house?"
"My husband has a lot of power, and the divorce was very nasty. One of the terms of the divorce is that if I date anyone, Aaron will be placed in an institution." She felt the sadness of her life, feeling the tears burn behind her eyes.
"I've never heard something that cruel." Dr. Miller put his warm hand on her arm, and Kelly naturally pulled away from him.
"If anyone sees me even being touched by a man," she said. "That could constitute a 'date' and Aaron's in jeopardy. You can't touch me, by order of the court."
Dr. Miller handed Kelly a box of tissues. "How would anyone know?"
"Richard, my ex-husband, is a very powerful man. He has people watching me at various times and I never really even know myself when or where I'm being watched." Kelly paused for a moment as she wiped her eyes and nose. "Thanks for the tissues." She stared at him for a minute. "I don't even know if you're one of his spies."
"You can rest assured I'm not. Can't your lawyer do something about this?"
"No. Richard's a lawyer and knows the judges very well. He has too much power for my stupid lawyer to go up against, and I don't have the money to fight him. So, I just have to be very careful and live like a nun. If I even say anything badly about the man, he'll consider that a violation of the divorce and Aaron will be put into an institution." Kelly glanced at the kind man, but his eyebrows just furrowed deeper in thought.
"That doesn't seem fair, and doesn't seem fair to Aaron. Why would someone do that to him? Why would they take such a wonderful child from his mother?"
She sat back and sighed, sorry she couldn't get to know this guy. "Richard wants to hurt me, even though he's the one who left us. His career was too important to be weighed down with a special needs child, and he didn't want the baggage following him. Now I've been ordered not to date and not publicly defame him, or Aaron pays." Kelly shook her head. There was nothing she could do about it.
"I don't know what to say. I'll be your friend, though, Ms. Foster, because it sounds like you and Aaron need someone to be there if you need anything."
She could tell from his eyes that he truly cared about others. If she were allowed to date, this was the sort of man she would go after, not only because of his handsome face, but because of his friendliness. He seemed so gentle yet strong…the type of man you'd see in the movies rescuing the damsel in distress. She just hoped she didn't come across as distressed.
"Thank you, and you can call me Kelly, Dr. Miller."
"Please call me Drew. I don't really like the formality, but the school wants the children to respect us."
A half smile crossed Kelly's face as she glanced at his eyes again. "Okay, Drew. When you come to our house, will the other parents get jealous?"
His laugh was endearing. "Don't worry about the other parents. I do this for everyone. We're working as a team for Aaron."
"What time would you like to come to our house, then?"
"Any time after school. I have to wait for children to be picked up and I need to create some simple symbols for Aaron."
She decided that she had to get to know him, to find out if he was on Richard's payroll or not. She made a snap decision. "Are you planning on eating dinner?"
"I guess so, but hadn't thought about it."
"Why don't you join us for dinner, and we can work on Aaron's room after that, unless you have other plans."
"I have no plans. That sounds very nice." His blue eyes danced before her in the light.
"How about six, then?"
"I'll be there. That'll give me enough time to get some things done before I leave school."
"If I might be so bold, where are you from? You don't have a mid-Western accent, even though most people around here don't either."
"I'm from Baltimore, originally. My family's still there."
"Why did you come out here, then? It's so far away from home." She almost felt like she was prying, but really just wanted to know.
"I came here for the job. It was time to leave the East coast."
"Oh, I see." From the look on his face, there was more to his story, and being the reporter that she was, she was going to find out what it was.
Walking to the side of the room, Kelly took Aaron's hand and glanced at Dr. Miller's nice suit. "We'll see you at six. Oh, and we're having spaghetti for dinner, so wear something washable. Aaron uses his hands to eat."
Drew shook his head. "We'll just see about that."