The first time the boy visited the brick house on Fallon Oaks Drive, the one at the end of the cul-de-sac, nobody told him there was a dog. Nobody knew he was afraid of dogs, of course. So he rode unaware in a Honda Odyssey, headed to the home of a third-grade classmate whom he'd known only for a couple months. They pulled into the garage and the engine stopped. Then, just before he walked inside, the boy heard a dog barking. He felt panicked.
Oh, that's just Rocky, they told him. Don't worry about it. He's very nice.
Only a few days earlier, the principal at Grace Lutheran School in Jacksonville, Fla., had sent an email to the community. We have an immediate need, he wrote. A young woman, just 18 years old, had received custody of her two brothers, ages eight and 12, because their mother could not care for them. This young woman lived in housing that was for singles only. She had to move, and she needed new furniture for the apartment she'd be sharing with her siblings.
As she read it, something in Sherry Allen told her to find out about this family. She had to know more about who they were, about what she and her husband, William, could do, because she couldn't imagine the burden on this teenage girl. She did not know that the younger brother was the boy her son Grayson kept talking about, the new kid in class who smiled all the time. Once Sherry discovered this, she sat down Grayson. She told her only child there were things going on in this other boy's life, that his parents weren't there to take care of him, that he needed some love.