I've had this on my hard drive for a few months and decided to post it now since I don't have a finished update to my Star Wars stories. I will post more. I don't ever abandon stories. How often I post this one will depend on how much interest there is in it.

Star Wars stuff will be up later this month or in the very beginning of September, depending on how things go with my headaches and "real" work, etc.

Chapter 1

Steve dropped wearily onto the three-legged stool, watching with a satisfied smile as the last of the sixth-grade students trickled out of the auditorium. He stayed there for a minute, surveying the blue walls and the faded carpet. It had to have been replaced since the last time he'd walked this room, but it looked exactly the way he remembered it. Admittedly, he hadn't been here since his sixth grade graduation, and he'd never just stared at the floor this way, but between school plays and awful music recitals, he'd put in a lot of time on the old stage.

Never thought I'd be back here this way, that's for sure, he thought, running his palms lightly over his thighs. He shook his head, then pushed himself to his feet and over to his camera equipment. Three years ago, he'd been in California filming documentaries. Now, here he was back in Manhattan taking school pictures to pay the bills.

"Oh, how the mighty have fallen," he sighed with a rueful laugh. Not that he'd ever been big time. Educational films didn't make a guy famous. The studio had been going somewhere though. He and his so-called partner Mike had carved a niche for themselves. Well, Mike was still going somewhere, but Steve suspected it was someplace hot and filled with the aroma of rotten eggs.

"What was that?" a voice asked, pulling him out of his thoughts. He turned toward the stage, where his new boss—a kid fresh out of college—was coming down the steps.

"Nothing," he shook his head again, busying himself with the work of breaking down the equipment. "Doesn't matter."

He was a little surprised to find that he meant it, too. He certainly hadn't been thrilled when he'd had to sell the studio, and there were other places he would rather have gone to make a new start, but he knew this city. He knew he could make it work here, and as long as he could provide for Adela, he didn't mind having to tote somebody else's cameras for a while.

"You always talk to yourself?" Carrie asked.

"As a matter of fact, yeah," he smiled.

"Money in the bank?" she teased.

"More like wishful thinking," he shrugged easily.

She laughed softly, and they worked in silence until all the gear was packed and orders for photo packages double-checked and accounted for. Once finished, he glanced up at the clock on the wall and winced. How had it gotten so late?

"Hey, do you mind if I run up and get Adela? I kinda figured we'd be through already. Told her since I was here, I'd pick her up at her classroom."

"Sure, go ahead," Carrie nodded, hefting a camera bag onto her shoulder. "I've got this stuff."

"No, no," he insisted. "We'll come right back down."

"Don't worry about it," she told him. "By the time you get through the hall crowds and back, I could be done. I'll see you tomorrow, Steve."

He hesitated briefly, then gave a slight nod. "All right."

"Hey," she called as he headed for the door.

He half turned and raised an eyebrow questioningly.

"Thanks for your help today," she said.

A surprised smile touched his lips. "It's my job, isn't it?"

Carrie shrugged. "Still, I appreciate it."

"Well, thanks," Steve felt his smile widen. Maybe working the kid wasn't going to be so bad. "See you around."

"See you," she nodded.

He ducked out of the room, heading down the familiar red brick and concrete corridor toward the first grade wing. Then he remembered the shortcut through the cafeteria and dashed that way, receiving a few odd looks from a group of older kids who were gathered there working on posters.

"Picture guy," he explained without stopping. He didn't think it would be a big deal, but the last thing he needed was to end up in the principal's office. Again.

The walls near first grade were festively decorated with construction paper projects and crayon drawings in shades of red, gold, orange, brown, celebrating autumn and the beginning of a new school year. Steve had some doubts as to whether a new school year was anything the kids really wanted to be celebrating, but maybe it took a few years before the novelty wore off.

Abruptly, he stopped short and frowned. What was her teacher's name again? He turned a circle, scanning the cheerful signs outside each classroom door. The halls were filling up, and kids clamored by, brushing past on all sides.

God, Steve, what's wrong with you? You can't even remember your kid's teacher! he ran a hand over his face.

He thought for another few seconds, and finally flagged down a kid who looked about the right age. He was a freckle-faced, chubby boy with a buzz-cut and a big, gap-toothed smile. He gave Steve a puzzled look, then recognition dawned and he grinned again.

"Hey, you're the picture guy!" he exclaimed.

"That's right," Steve nodded. "Who's class are you in?"

"Um, Mrs. Moyer…?" the kid replied, raising his voice at the end to give it the inflection of a question.

Mrs. Moyer, Steve thought. The name sounded familiar, but that didn't mean much. There were dried out old husks still teaching here from his own elementary school days.

"Is there a little girl in your class named Adela White? She's about…" he paused to hold a hand down at Adela's height. "…this big, and she had on a red dress with flowers this morning."

"Yeah," nodded the kid. "She went to look for her dad. She said he got lost."

"Ah, crap…"