Shining Armor



May, 1981



The storm came up fast, as storms were apt to do in the late spring, bringing with it all the sound, fury, and sheet-like rain one expected in the best storms.

Kelly, who had taken her bike and gone to her friend Heather's right after dinner, was expected home shortly. But when the storm blew up, Annie called to tell her daughter not to head home, that Paul would come and pick her up. So she was surprised, and worried, when Heather's mother told her that Kelly had left for home almost 20 minutes ago. Annie hung up the phone and relayed that information to her husband.

Peter, who was sitting at the kitchen table studying, heard the conversation. "It doesn't take 20 minutes to get from Heather's to home," he commented with a frown, "especially not on her bike."

"Maybe she got caught in the rain and decided to hole up and wait out the storm," Paul said, but Peter could tell he was just trying to find explanations, rather than think that something was wrong. He closed his book.

"I'll go look for her," he told his foster parents, standing up.

"No, I'll go in the car," Paul countered.

"She probably takes shortcuts between here and Heather's--places a car can't go," Peter said. "I can look better on foot."

He could see Annie's frown behind her glasses. "Be careful, Peter," she said.

"I will," he answered, and gave her a brief hug before shrugging on his windbreaker and heading out into the storm.

It was not quite dark. In fact, it should have been considerably lighter, but for the storm clouds. But Peter could see well enough, even through the rain, so he changed his mind about going back for a flashlight, turning down the street toward Heather's and breaking into a jog. "Kelly!" he called, listening to his voice disappear into the rain. "Kelly!"

It had been almost a year since Peter had come to stay with the Blaisdells, just over a year since he'd first met the people he'd come to consider his family. And during that time, he'd grown very close to them. He adored Annie and constantly sought her affection and love. He respected and admired Paul, and loved him too, he just wished that loving Paul didn't make him feel guilty about his father. He and Carolyn had become pretty good friends, all things considered--especially given their rocky start. But with ten-year-old Kelly there was still a distance. Oh, they got along well; they teased each other sometimes, Kelly would help Carolyn gang up on him and get into tickle fights with him. But it always felt to Peter like something was missing with Kelly. She was naturally a little shyer than her sister, and since she was so much younger than Peter, perhaps a little uncertain as well, like she didn't quite know what to do with a brother. Peter sensed her discomfort, so kept his distance. It wasn't a problem--not really. He just wished it was--different.

About halfway between the Blaisdells and Heather's house was a vacant lot which had at one time been the start of a new house. The building hadn't gotten very far, and what was there had been since torn down. Now the lot was overgrown, with weeds and small shrubs covering the leftover building materials. The lot was a great spot for all the neighborhood kids to play in, and it was on a direct line from Heather's to home. It would be tricky going on a bike, but Peter had seen enough of the neighborhood kids do it to know it was possible. If Kelly were trying to get home quickly to avoid the storm, she'd have tried to cut through. Peter headed into the lot.

"Kelly!" he shouted. "Kelly!" He listened for some out-of-the ordinary sound above the noise of the storm. There was nothing.

"Kelly!" he called again.

This time, he thought he heard something. "Peter!" Or maybe he'd imagined it.

"Kelly!"

"Peter!"

He strained to listen, and tried to orient himself to the sound. "Kelly, where are you?"

"Over here!" came the plaintive cry.

He veered toward a pile of rubble. Just behind it was the ditch which had been the start of the house's foundation. It had filled in and eroded, but was still a pretty deep hole. And it was to this that Peter ran. "Kelly!"

"Down here!"

He peered through the gloom and could just make out the rain-soaked form of his foster sister, down at the bottom of the ditch, struggling to get to her feet, her bike in a heap a short distance from her.

"Hang on, Kelly, I'm coming!" he called, and scrambled down the slope to her.

She was a mess--drenched and muddy and crying, her clothes dirty and torn, and what looked like blood on the leg of her jeans.

Peter reached for her and she cried harder, going into his arms.

"Are you hurt?" he asked. She just nodded.

"It hurts to stand on my leg. I know I scraped it, but it really hurts."

"Where on your leg--your ankle?"

"No, like the side." She put her hand to the side of her leg, where the blood was.

"Don't worry, I'll get you out," Peter told her confidently. Well, he sounded confident--much more than he felt. "What about the bike?"

"I don't know," she sniffed.

"Wait here," he said, and scurried across to where the offending vehicle lay.

The handlebars and the front tire went in opposite directions, but the wheels didn't look bent, and the tires still looked full of air. Peter held the front tire between his knees and yanked on the handlebars, bringing them back into alignment. Sort of.

He walked the bike over to his foster sister. "It's banged up, but I think it's still ridable. Can you ride home?" She just shook her head. Tears were still streaming down her face, mixing with the rain. "Well, let's get you out of here, then I'll get the bike." He supported Kelly and, practically carrying her, helped her out of the ditch. The loose gravel and the heavy rain made the way slippery, and Kelly was clearly in pain; Peter could only hope that he wasn't hurting her more by getting her out like this.

Once she was out, he lowered her to the muddy ground and scrambled back down for the bike. Ordinarily, he wouldn't care about the bike, but it occurred to him that she would never be able to walk home on her own, and while she was small for ten, she was still big enough that he'd have a hard time carrying her all the way home, especially if she were hurt. If he could set her on the bike, however, and walk it--and her--home, he'd solve his problem.

Getting the bike out of the ditch was almost harder than getting Kelly out; at least Kelly wanted to get out. The bike didn't much care, and seemed to have a life of its own, veering off whichever way it chose.

Peter didn't ride a bike; his first exposure to them had been last year when he'd moved in. Paul had asked him if he wanted one, and he confessed that he'd never ridden a bike before and he thought fifteen was a little old to be learning. Besides, he'd turn sixteen next year and then he'd have his driver's license, what would he need with a bike. He'd since learned, sort of, how to ride, but preferred his own feet to get him where he needed to go. At least until his birthday.

Once he made it to the top with the bike, Peter managed to get Kelly settled onto it without either her or it falling over, and with a hand on the handlebar, the other behind the seat, they set off. "Hold on," he told her and, sure that she was holding on securely, broke into a jog with the bike.

Annie and Paul were waiting for them when Peter jogged up the driveway with Kelly still holding on tight, her legs stretched out away from the pedals. Peter could hear Paul's voice, though not his words, and knew he was describing their approach to Annie.

"Oh, my baby!" Annie exclaimed as Peter walked the bike into the garage. Paul came out and helped Kelly down.

"Daddy!" she cried, wrapping her arms around his neck.

"It's okay, baby," he said soothingly, and carried her inside. Annie followed him, and Peter leaned the battered bike against the wall and trailed in after them.

Once inside, Annie had taken over, and Kelly was sitting on one of the kitchen chairs as her mother gave her a thorough once-over. Here in the bright light of the kitchen, Kelly looked even worse than she had out in the storm, rain and tears and mud and blood mixing in a jumble on her tiny face and body. Paul glanced over to him.

"She fell with her bike," Peter said.

"Yeah, that much is obvious," Paul said with a very slight wry smile which lightened but did not mask his look of worry.

"Over in that old vacant lot." Peter continued.

Paul sighed. "We've told the city about that place--I guess it's time to tell them again." Then he smiled at Peter and put a hand on his shoulder, squeezing with affection. "Thanks."

Peter just shrugged, not knowing how to answer.

"Paul," Annie interrupted, "help me get her upstairs; I want to get her cleaned up and see about this leg."

"I can do that," Peter chimed in, and looked at Paul for confirmation, pleased when the briefest nod of Paul's head gave him approval. Kelly hesitated barely a second before she put her arms around Peter's neck and he scooped her into his arms, carrying her up the stairs where he deposited her, as per his mother's instructions, on the counter in the kids' bathroom. Annie immediately set to work divesting her youngest daughter of her soaking, dirty clothes.

"You'd better get out of those wet things, too," Paul said to Peter. "You can use our bathroom if you want to take a shower."

"Thanks," he nodded, and took himself straight to the master bathroom where he stripped as fast as he could and threw himself beneath the warm spray, washing the mud and penetrating chill away.

He luxuriated in a long shower, using this really great smelling shampoo of his mother's he found there. Then he spent some time staring at his image in the mirror, trying to decide if maybe he didn't see the beginnings of beard growth, until he finally admitted that it was just a trick of the light, and his face was as smooth as it had always been. He sighed. He wished he'd known whether his father grew much of a beard, but he didn't even know what his father's hair looked like. He remembered a light dusting of hair on his father's chest the couple of times he'd seen him shirtless, and stared down at his own baby-smooth one, wondering if he'd ever get chest hair. After all, shouldn't stuff like that start showing up about the time--well, the rest of it did?

He toweled himself dry, then with the towel around his waist, padded into his bedroom. Through the bathroom door he could hear running water and the soothing cadence of his mother's voice, tending to Kelly. Peter hoped she wasn't too badly hurt; she'd obviously taken quite a spill.

He opened his drawer to get dressed, but realized it was almost 9:00, and putting on fresh clothes at this hour was silly. So he pulled on a pair of sweatpants and a sweatshirt, comfortable and cozy clothing which made him feel warm inside. He heard the water shut off and remembered that he'd left his soggy clothes in the middle of the bathroom floor, so he headed back to the master bath to clean up his mess.

He'd just picked them up when Paul's voice behind him said, "Here, give them to me."

Peter turned around. "I was gonna throw them in the hamper."

"And let them mildew. No, they go right in the washer, along with Kelly's things." he extended his hand for them.

"They're gross," Peter warned.

Paul smiled. "Kelly's are worse," he said, and Peter handed him the clothes.

"How is she?"

"Scraped and bruised, but it doesn't look like anything serious."

"She said it hurt to stand on her one leg."

"Yeah, she's got a pretty impressive abrasion there, and she'll have an almighty bruise, but nothing's broken, nothing's twisted, nothing's sprained. That must have been the side she fell on."

Peter shrugged. "She didn't tell me how she fell."

Paul shook his head. "In that damned lot, anything could have done it. I want you kids to keep out of there."

Peter raised his hands in supplication. "Don't look at me--I never go in there. No reason, Ray lives the other way." Ray was Peter's closest friend.

Paul chuckled and patted Peter's shoulder. "Thanks again for going after her; you really helped."

Peter still didn't know how to answer. He just ducked his head in embarrassment. Paul smiled and moved his hand to the back of his son's neck, pulling him into an easy embrace and kissing his temple. Then he broke the hug. "Well, I'd better go deal with these wet things before the stains start setting up." He went downstairs and Peter headed back to his room to pull on a pair of gym socks--his feet were cold.

He looked at the clock next to his bed. It was after 9:00; he could go downstairs and maybe finish his homework before Hill Street Blues came on. He went down to the kitchen where he'd left his books.

Paul was in the laundry room. The teakettle on the stove was starting to whistle.

"Kettle's boiling," Peter called to his foster father.

"Would you get that?" Paul called back.

Peter obeyed, turning the stove off and moving the kettle off the hot coil. "What am I doing with it?" he called.

Paul came into the kitchen. "I was gonna make some hot chocolate for Kelly," he said.

"Can I have some, too?"

"Sure--I think the box is on the top shelf."

Peter found the cocoa mix and made two cups of chocolate. Paul, meanwhile, went to the intercom. "Babe? I've got hot chocolate for Kelly. Is she coming down, or should I bring it up?"

There was a silence, then Annie's voice called back, "She says she'll come down."

Peter took his cocoa and his world history book and went into the family room to study until it was time for his program, nodding at Paul's reminder to use a coaster. About ten minutes later, as Peter was attempting to learn all about the causes of World War II, Kelly came into the family room, holding Annie's hand. She was limping pretty badly, and Annie was carrying her cocoa for her. She was in her nightgown and bathrobe, pink fuzzy slippers on her feet, and her wet hair hung straight down her back.

Peter smiled at her and she smiled back shyly. "How you doin'?" he asked.

"Okay," she said in a little voice. She sat on the other side of the couch, and Peter swung his feet down to make room for her. Annie handed her her cocoa and she took a sip. Then with a gentle stroke of her daughter's hair, their mother left the room.

"Dad said to use a coaster," he reminded her.

"Oh, yeah." She took another sip.

"So?" he asked.

"So?" she repeated.

"So what happened out there? How'd you fall?"

She shrugged. "I dunno. I've cut through there lots of times. But the ground was slippery and the thunder and lightning scared me. I--I guess I got confused. I don't even know what happened--one minute I was fine, the next minute--bam!"

He nodded. Kind of like his falling off the roof last year. He could understand her confusion very well.

"How's your leg?" he asked.

"Hurts," she answered, "but Mom says I didn't do any real damage--except to my jeans, which are trashed."

He grinned, he knew what that was like, too.

He looked at her, sitting there, so small, so sad. He wished there were something he could do, could say that would help. But there wasn't.

"I'm just glad you're okay," he said.

"I wouldn't be if you didn't come looking for me."

"Hey, no problem," he dismissed. "Mom and Paul were worried." He swallowed and ducked his head. "And so was I."

She flushed and looked down. Then she carefully set her cocoa on the side table. "Peter?"

"Yeah?"

She looked up at him with big, dark eyes. "I'm glad you're my brother."

He grinned, feeling the warmth to his toes. "So'm I," he said.

She reached out and he leaned over and hugged her, feeling his heart swell when she put her arms around him and hugged him tight. It was the first time she'd ever willingly hugged him--except at Christmas, when it was expected. But this was for real; this was because she meant it.

He was enjoying holding his little sister in his arms, when she made a little painful moan; she'd moved wrong and jarred her sore leg.

He loosened his hug. "Here," he said, "why don't you put the leg up on the couch--come on, slide over here by me. He pulled her toward him, letting her legs stretch out along the couch. "There--is that better?"

She leaned back against him. "Yeah, thanks," she said.

He smiled. "Oh, but now your chocolate's on the other side. Here--you can help me finish mine."

"No, it doesn't matter--I was done with it anyway," she said.

"You sure?"

"Yes I'm sure."

"You okay like that?"

"I'm fine. Jeez, Peter, you're just like Mom and Dad--you're gonna mother-hen me to death."

His eyes widened, surprised. He hadn't thought he was mother-henning anyone. He just wanted to make her comfortable; he was worried. But he was so happy about her hug, he started giggling.

"What's so funny?" she asked.

"If I'm a mother hen, then you must be my chick--cheeep--cheeep!" he tickled her.

"Peter, don't--" she laughed. If she'd been hurting, he'd have stopped, but she was giggling too, so he kept up the silly chicken noises, making little pecking motions with his fingers, tickling her under her chin.

Eventually, they settled down, content to just sit in each other's arms. Peter reached for his cocoa and took a sip, planning to finish it off, when her hand came up.

"Changed your mind?" he asked. She nodded. So he gave her the mug and she finished it for him. Briefly, he wished her mug was closer so he could reach it without disturbing her, but decided he really didn't want any more cocoa. But then the cuckoo clock struck 10:00, and he reached across her anyway.

"Awk, you're squishing me," she protested.

"Sorry--had to get the remote." He sat up and tucked her back against his side again, then turned on the tv. He propped his history book on the arm-rest, figuring he could study during commercial breaks.

Carolyn, hearing the tv come on, came downstairs, moved her sister's feet, and sat at the other end of the couch to watch, letting Kelly's feet rest in her lap.

"Hey, Carol, hand me that hot chocolate there," Peter asked her.

She picked up the mug. "You mean this cold chocolate here?"

He made a face. "Egh, never mind." Kelly giggled.

About halfway through the program, Paul and Annie came into the room. Peter saw them during one of the commercial breaks. They were standing in the doorway between the kitchen and the family room, and Paul was smiling. It was then he noticed his little sister, resting against him, sound asleep. He looked at Paul, who just shook his head. "Just leave her," he said softly. "We'll put her to bed once your program's over."

Peter nodded and let his encircling hand, the one which had been resting on her arm, come up and stroke her still damp hair.

She was still asleep when the show ended, and Peter used the remote to turn off the tv.

"Bedtime," Paul said, putting down his book.

Peter shifted positions. "Kelly, wake up--it's bedtime." Then he shook his head. "Boy, is that stupid!"

Paul laughed and Kelly woke enough to sit up and rub at her eyes groggily. But when she went to stand, her sore leg protested and she gasped.

"Ooh," she whimpered. "It hurts."

"Here," Peter said, "come on." And he put his arms around her. Recognizing what he was doing, she copied the gesture and he scooped her up, carrying her upstairs. As it was their second such trip tonight, they were getting good at it.

This time, he deposited her on the bed. Annie, who had followed them upstairs, helped her with her bathrobe and slippers, and gave her some aspirin for her aches. Peter hovered with Paul in the place Paul said was traditional for males in the family--in the background.

Kelly's parents tucked her in and kissed her good night, and then all three of them turned to leave the room.

"Night, Peter," Kelly's little voice called him back.

"Night, Chicky," he said, smiling. Then he reached down and made a little pecking motion at the tip of her nose, making her giggle.

They closed her door and walked down the hall, heading for the stairs. Paul put his arm around his foster son's shoulders.

"Well," he began, "I'd say you've gained yourself a fan this evening."

Peter flushed and looked down. "She hugged me," he whispered, awed. It was such a little thing, but it meant so much.

"I know--that's great. I always hoped it would only be a matter of time."

"She hugged me," Peter said again.

Paul's arm tightened on Peter's shoulders until it was a hug of his own. "Yeah, kid, she did. That means she thinks you're somebody pretty special. And so do her mom and dad. Thanks."

Peter followed his foster father downstairs, completely and totally unable to stop himself from grinning. They were neat things--hugs. Especially hugs from little sisters.



Chapter 11: Kept in the Dark

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