As soon as she had the opportunity, Laura asked Heather and George about Zeke. They were sitting at the kitchen table after the boys had gone to bed, enjoying the warmth left over from dinner, letting Laura ask her grown-up questions. Her foster parents explained that Zeke’s father died in an auto accident when he was nine. With two younger children, and a need to support the whole family, his mother hadn’t been able to supervise him very well. His London relatives had stepped in to tame the wild and grieving young man. He’d spent two years with them, which explained why Zeke idolized his London cousins.
“When his favorite cousin turned dark, his mother brought Zeke back home to live, but she couldn’t prevent him from visiting his aunt and uncle,” George said. “Every time Zeke stays with them, he comes home with a little of the dark in him, but it has always gone away.”
“Do you know him?” Laura asked.
“Pretty well,” Heather said. “George is his troop leader.”
George explained that some of the witch kids met once a week with an older witch, to learn magic and other useful things. He had seven boys in his troop, ranging in age from a pre-witch fourteen-year-old to a nineteen-year-old who had just started University. Zeke had been with them for two years.
“What’s he like? How do I win him over?” Laura wanted to know.
“He’s a bit of a stuffed cock, trying to pretend he’s the man of the house since his father died, but he loves his mum and little sisters.”
“Jeremy thinks he’s a bully.” Laura stated that bluntly, to provoke her surrogate father into saying something more.
“I disagree. He’s afraid to let others take charge, but he means well.” George brought his eyebrows together, thinking. “I haven’t had any trouble with him,” he said after a minute.
”But you’ve always made him the leader,” Heather said gently.
Her husband bit his lip, his eyebrows drawn in again. Then he snapped his fingers. “That’s it,” he said. “He has the most loyal group of friends I’ve ever seen. His sisters follow him around like he’s a god. But he needs a job. He needs to be in charge of something, to know he’s important. After he lost that election to Jeremy, he caused a lot of trouble because he lost that sense of himself as everyone’s father. He took his frustration out on Jeremy.”
“Okay, but how do I take advantage of this need?” Laura asked.
“I don’t know.” George’s face fell. “Not right now, when you’re still a child, learning the ropes from us.”
Heather put her hand over George’s. “I have an idea,” she said, “but I want to talk with Jeremy first.”
“Can I listen in?” Laura asked. “I need to learn more about people if I’m going to become a leader.”
“Then the first thing you need to know, young lady, is that you always want to convince the current leader to support your actions,” Heather said.
“And that’s what you’re doing with Jeremy?”
“Partly. Well, and finding out more about Zeke.”
“Okay,” Laura said. She didn’t have any idea what Heather had in mind, but she tucked away her words of wisdom.