It was days like this that Ellen wondered why the Marshals had placed them in separate houses in the first place.
Honestly, she practically lived at the Brooks' house anyway. She spent most of her free time here, when she wasn't at work or trying to maintain some semblance of a social life.
On weekdays, Ellen left for work before the sun was up and got off around two. Danny got out of school at two-thirty, so Ellen usually drove him home and watched him until Rebecca got off work at six. Most nights she hung around for a while even after Rebecca got home. Half the time Ellen ended up being the one to give Danny his bath and put him to bed. She was used to it by this point.
Today she came straight to the Brooks' house after work. Danny's first grade class was taking a field trip to the museum this afternoon, and since Brandi worked in the building across the street from the museum, she had offered to drive him home afterward.
From the kitchen, Ellen heard the front door open and the sound of two high voices talking excitedly. The other voice belonged to Danny's friend Robbie, who sometimes came over to play with him after school.
"Hi boys," Ellen said as they came into the kitchen. "Did you have fun at school?"
"I was late again." Danny said matter-of-factly.
Ellen sighed. "I'm sorry. I'd take you myself if I didn't have to leave for work so early."
"My mom could drive him." Robbie volunteered.
Ellen shook her head. "She'd have to go almost five miles out of her way every morning to come by here. That reminds me, Danny, did you thank Ms. Brandi for driving you home today?"
Danny nodded and hopped up on one of the bar stools. Robbie sat beside him on the other one.
"What'd you guys do at school today?" Ellen asked, getting two small glasses out of the cabinet.
"We played dodgeball." Robbie said. "I was the first one out." He lifted up his shirt, revealing a bright red checkered imprint on his stomach.
"Ouch," Ellen winced. "That looks like it hurt."
"But he didn't cry or anything," Danny said, sounding impressed. "He just went and sat by the wall for a few minutes, and then when he felt better, he stood up and cheered for the rest of us."
"We played three dodgeball games, and Danny won two of them." Robbie added.
"Really?" Ellen raised her eyebrows as she poured milk into the two glasses. "How 'bout that? Danny Brooks, dodgeball champion."
"It's 'cuz I'm fast." Danny said.
"Well," Ellen smiled and handed them the glasses of milk. "I'd say your victory deserves a reward." She took two apples out of the fridge and gave one to each boy.
Robbie looked at his fruit quizzically. "What's mine a reward for? I didn't win."
"But it sounds like you were a good sport about losing." Ellen told him.
"He was," Danny agreed as he took a bite of his own apple. "Do you think bein' good at dodging stuff will help me when I'm a cop?"
Ellen smiled wryly. "Well, dodging bullets is a pretty vital skill."
"Yeah, and bullets are way smaller than dodgeballs." Robbie put in.
"They're also way faster." Ellen pointed out.
"Yeah!" Danny exclaimed. "Bullets are so fast that you can see the hole they make before you even hear the bang. It's called the sound...something. We learned about it in science today."
"The sound barrier." Ellen supplied.
"Yeah, that's it." Danny said through a mouthful of apple. He swallowed and took a few gulps of his milk before continuing. "Mr. Bridges said a bullet goes faster than sound, so it already made a hole before the bang sound gets from the gun to your ears."
"That's right," Ellen nodded. "What else did you learn today?"
"Um..." Danny thought for a minute. "In social studies we learned about ID. Like drivers' licenses and stuff. I asked if that's how cops can find bad guys and Mr. Bridges said sometimes."
"When you were a cop, did you ever find bad guys because of ID?" Robbie asked Ellen.
"Yeah, I did." Ellen said.
"But sometimes bad guys make their own ID that's not real, but they try to make it look real." Danny told Robbie. "They put fake names and stuff on it so the police can't find them. They don't tell us about that in school, but Ellen said bad guys do it all the time."
"Wow," Robbie said. "Does it work?"
"Only if the fake ID is really, really good." Danny said. "But good cops know how to tell if an ID is fake or not. Ellen's been teaching me how to spot forgeries."
"What's a forgery?" Robbie wanted to know.
"It's fake stuff." Danny said simply.
Robbie still looked confused, so Ellen elaborated. "A forgery is anything that's made to look like the real thing. It can be an ID, a painting, a statue, anything like that. Sometimes people will forge a painting and then say that it's the real one so they can sell it for a lot of money."
Robbie considered for a moment, then turned to Danny. "Like when you drew a hall pass yesterday and made it look like it was from the teacher? Was that a forgery?"
Danny sunk down on his stool as he felt Ellen's piercing gaze turn on him. "What's that about a hall pass, Danny?"
He flicked his gaze around the room as he searched for a distraction, and his eyes lit up when he spotted the set of alphabet magnets on the refrigerator.
"We also learned about anagrams today!" He said quickly, jumping down from the stool and going over to the fridge. "It's where you take the letters in a word and mix them around to make other words."
"Uh-huh," Ellen would not be deterred. "Danny, where's the hall pass you forged?"
"I have three hall passes in my backpack." Danny turned to face her. "Can we make a deal?"
Ellen eyed him skeptically. Every time Danny uttered those words, it usually meant he was about to try to talk his way out of trouble. "What kind of deal?"
"If you can't figure out which one is the fake," he said with a grin. "Then I get to keep it."
Oh, this kid's good. Ellen thought. She narrowed her eyes for a moment, considering.
"All right. You've got yourself a deal." She was convinced that half the time, the only reason she acquiesced was because she was impressed with his cleverness.
Ellen went upstairs to get his backpack, and Danny turned back to the magnets. Robbie came over and joined him in front of the fridge.
"Which one is the fake?" he asked.
Danny cast a furtive glance around to make sure Ellen was out of earshot, then he cupped his hand to his mouth and whispered in Robbie's ear. "They're all fake."
Robbie erupted into a fit of giggles, and Danny quickly shushed him. "Shhh! You have to promise not to tell!"
"I promise," Robbie said as his laughter subsided. "Are you gonna make anagrams with these?" he gestured to the magnets.
"Yeah," Danny found the letter D and moved it down below the rest of the magnets, muttering to himself as he looked for the other letters in his name. "Here's A...here's N, and I, and E...and...where's the L? Oh, there it is."
"There," he took a step back and stared at it for a moment. "Now, what other words can I make with these letters? Ooh! I know!"
He stepped forward again and rearranged the letters, creating the words LEAD IN. Then he switched the L and the D.
"Deal in?" Robbie read the new phrase. "What's that mean?"
"Like in poker." Danny said. "Do you know what poker is?"
Robbie shrugged. "I know that every time my uncle says he's gonna go play it, my aunt gets mad and yells at him."
"It's a card game," Danny said before turning his attention back to the letters. "Now what else can I make?"
Ellen came back into the kitchen holding three pieces of paper. "You're good, Danny, I'll give you that," she admitted. "These all look exactly the same."
Danny exchanged a secretive grin with Robbie before turning to face Ellen, but his smile faded when he saw the mischievous glint in her eyes.
"However..." she went on. "They do look a little bit different from this one." Ellen held up a fourth, crumpled pass that Danny had forgotten he still had. "All three of these are fake, Danny."
"Sooo...can I keep them?" he ventured.
"That wasn't the deal," Ellen told him.
"The deal was that you had to figure out which one was the fake." Danny argued. "There wasn't one fake, there was three. So that means I should get to keep them all."
"Nice try." Ellen tore up the forged passes and dropped the shreds into the trash can.
"It was some of my best work." Danny said with a melodramatic sigh.
"Don't get any ideas about getting into the fake ID business." Ellen told him, admiration for his skills bleeding into her tone despite her attempt to sound stern.
"ID..." Danny looked back at the magnets. "Hey, I just thought of another one!"
He scrambled up the letters and separated the I and the D from the others. "I need two little circles," he said, glancing up at the other magnets on the fridge. He spotted two small silver circles holding up one of his drawings and slid them over to the assortment of letters, allowing the drawing to fall unheeded to the floor. Ellen picked it up and set it on the counter as Danny arranged the magnets, using the two circles to make a colon.
"There," he backed up so they could see what he had done.
Ellen tried to keep her surprise from registering on her face. Danny's real name was literally right in front of him, and he had no idea.
"That's not how you spell it." Robbie's protest interrupted Ellen's thoughts.
"What do you mean?" Danny asked him.
"That's not how you spell that name." Robbie said. "It's spelled N-E-I-L. I know 'cuz my dad has a friend named Neil and his name is spelled with an I, not an A."
"It can be spelled either way," Danny said.
"No, that's wrong." Robbie insisted.
"No it's not!" Danny sounded frustrated. "I've seen it spelled like that in books before."
"I never have." Robbie was adamant.
Two pairs of eyes turned to look at Ellen and two voices simultaneously said, "Tell him!"
"Danny's right." Ellen said. "It can be spelled either way." She gestured to the magnets. "That spelling is just less common."
Robbie looked skeptical. No six-year-old liked losing an argument. "Are you sure?"
"Look, I'll show you." Ellen went into the living room and pulled a book off the shelf. "This is a book of name meanings. It also includes a lot of spelling variations of the names."
She sat down at the table and opened the book. Danny and Robbie stood on either side of her and peered over her shoulders as she flipped to the N section and ran her finger down the page.
"Here we go," she said after a few seconds. "Neil. There, see? It says it can also be spelled N-E-A-L."
"Oh," Robbie looked embarrassed for a moment. "Sorry I didn't believe you Danny."
"It's okay," Danny said absently. There was something about the name on the page that caught his attention. "Why is it underlined?"
Ellen flinched inwardly. She had seen it as soon as she found the name, and she had hoped it would escape Danny's notice. This must've been the book James and Anna had originally used to pick a name for their son. The fact that Rebecca still had it was a violation of WitSec rules.
Damn it, Becca. What part of "nothing from our past" did you not get?
Ellen knew it was a little hypocritical, considering that the photograph of Neal and his father she had tucked away in the bottom of a box in the attic was also a violation of the rules. But at least she kept that well hidden, not out in plain sight like this book.
She had to think fast. "This was one of the names your parents considered when they were deciding what to call you," she told him.
"Oh, okay," Danny said, and that was that. After a few more minutes experimenting with anagrams, the boys abandoned the magnets and went up to Danny's room to play, and Ellen breathed a sigh of relief, thankful that Danny hadn't asked any more questions.
She remembered that James had once told her the other names they considered, so she got a pencil and flipped through the book, underlining all the ones she could remember. Then she flipped to the D section and circled "Daniel," just in case Danny ever got curious and looked through the book on his own.
Someday Neal would know the truth about his name. But today was not that day.