Boys and Girls Together



May 1982



Peter didn't know what was different about tonight. But it was.

He and Kim went to a movie, like they'd done numerous times past, and sat slouched together, arm in arm throughout the film. Afterwards, they went out to eat, and spent more time in the booth snuggling than eating. So after the restaurant, when Peter drove to the forest preserve, Kim didn't complain.

On the edge of the forest preserve was an old cabin. Technically, it was probably intended to be a tool shed, but there were few tools left now, as the lock had been broken years ago. Some enterprising young person had dragged a mattress in there and for those kids in the know, the cabin was the place to go to be alone with your date. Peter and Kim had been there before and had spent several enjoyable evenings engaged in some heavy petting and lots of kissing and cuddling.

Tonight, it looked like their luck would hold; no other cars were in the area. Nothing was more frustrating than getting to a make-out place only to find some other guy and his date got there before you. Peter shut off the car and climbed out, going to the trunk and pulling out the emergency blanket Paul always kept there, and a flashlight. Then wordlessly, he reached for Kim's hand and led her to the cabin.

It wasn't the cleanest place in the world; Peter would never have considered lying down on the old mattress if it weren't for the blanket. He checked for critters, spread the blanket on the mattress, then flipped off the flashlight.

"We don't need that," he murmured and she whispered her agreement as she moved into his arms for a deep kiss.

Kim wasn't the prettiest girl in the class; that title probably belonged to Michelle Davis, who had an IQ in inverse proportion to her chest size. But Kim was pretty enough for Peter. She was a petite blonde with a beautiful smile, and a quick, sometimes ascerbic wit. Peter had been as attracted to her wit as her looks--that and the fact that she had a voice like an angel.

The kiss continued as they sank to the mattress, their arms wrapped around each other tightly. It had been getting like this more and more, the two of them seeming to want little else but each other physically. The first time he kissed Kim, he'd been mesmerized and had spent a long time simply kissing--feeling lip against lip. Then the kisses deepened, and eventually hands got into the act.

But tonight, that wasn't enough--he felt it, and so did she. Tonight, Peter was practically twitching with desire, and she encouraged him. He rolled over, pulling her on top of him, and reached up her sweater, fighting but eventually conquering the hooks of her bra. She giggled in his ear when he muttered a curse at them, which sent a shiver up his spine. Her hands, meanwhile, were trying to tug his polo shirt free from his jeans. She succeeded about the same time he vanquished her bra, and they both lurched to their knees. She pulled on his shirt, dragging it over his head, and then he did the same to her sweater.

Peter's breath stopped in his throat. For a moment, he wished he could see better, but the darkness just made for greater excitement. He put his arms around her and eased her back down onto the mattress.

Their lips locked as his hands explored her torso. Then his hand rested at the waistband of her jeans. "Not enough," he murmured, and worked at the fastening of her jeans, letting her do the same for him. Finally buttons were unfastened, zippers unzipped, and husky denim slid over young bodies, leaving them in their underwear. Another deep kiss, and then even that bit of clothing was abandoned.

"Oh god," he whispered. "Kim--"

"Peter--" she murmured, reaching for him, and he covered her body with his own, practically exploding with the sensation of their nakedness pressed together. Too fast. Too soon. And not nearly enough.

She was trembling as he knelt between her legs, her fingers digging into his shoulders. There was some fumbling, but eventually he found the spot and pushed. She locked her arms behind his neck, her face screwed in concentration and sensation. He closed his eyes and let his body take over.

It didn't take long; before he knew, it was over, and he collapsed with a sigh, remembering at the last minute to shift to the side so as not to squash her.

They lay there for a long time, catching their breaths; the enormity of what they'd just done hadn't yet sunk in. Peter stared at the ceiling of the small cabin and smiled; his fantasies and his left hand had nothing on the reality. He turned his head to look at her. She was gazing at him. He couldn't read her face in the dark, but he smiled softly, and she smiled in return. He reached a hand out and caressed the side of her face, letting his fingers trail all the way down her body. Then he rolled over, put a hand behind her head, and leaned in to kiss her mouth.

He'd barely touched her when she turned her head away with a whispered, "Oh, my God--"

He looked up dumbly. "What?"

She rolled away from him and sat up. "Oh, my God, Peter--"

"Kim, what?"

"What we've just done--" she said, her voice pinched, as if on the verge of panic.

He sighed. "Well, I hate to say it, babe, but it's kinda late to have second thoughts."

She turned to face him. "You don't understand--we're such idiots!"

"Huh?"

"We--oh, God--we didn't take any precautions." He frowned at her, still not getting it. "Birth control, you dope!"

All of his good feelings evaporated in an instant. "Oh, shit!" he exclaimed. "Oh man--"

"Oh my God, what do I do if I get pregnant?" she wailed. "My mom will kill me!"

"Wait a minute, Kim, I mean, let's think this through. Do you think you might? Get pregnant, I mean."

"I don't know!"

"Well, when was your last period?"

"I don't remember! I'm never regular, I can't tell when they're coming or when they're due. Oh my God! Oh my God, Peter, what will I do?"

"Hey," he said, putting his arm around her shoulder, "calm down. Whatever happens, we'll take care of it."

She pulled away from him. "Easy for you to say--you're not the one who might be pregnant!"

"You didn't do it on your own!" he shouted, getting caught up in her panic. "If--if you are--if you get--pregnant--it's my responsibility, too. I--I won't let you down. Whatever happens, you won't go through it alone."

She looked at him, tears streaming down her face. "I'm scared, Peter," she whispered.

He put his hands on her shoulders. This time she didn't fight his touch. "I know. But it'll work out--somehow. You'll see." He leaned in and softly kissed her cheek.

She nodded. Then she shifted and looked down. "Oh, God, I'm bleeding," she cried.

"Shit, Kim, I'm sorry--I didn't mean to hurt you!"

She shook her head. "You didn't--it just--happens. Where're my underpants?"

They scrambled into their clothes. She pulled a sanitary pad out of her purse and put it on. Peter looked away. He'd just been as intimate with her as it was possible to be, and yet, some things were private.

They were silent as they finished dressing and Peter gathered up the blanket. There were blood spots on it--it would have to be cleaned. But for now, he simply wadded it up and threw it back in the trunk.

"Do you want me to take you home?" he asked.

She nodded. "I want to wash--maybe it'll help."

"I'm so sorry," he said again.

"I--I wanted it as much as you did. We were just stupid. But now we're in trouble."

"Maybe," he reminded her.

"Maybe," she agreed, but less enthusiastically.

They were silent again as they drove away.

"You gonna tell your mom?" Peter asked.

"No way--she'd kill me," Kim said vehemently.

"She's gonna find out--I mean, if--if you're really pregnant."

"Yeah, well, I'll figure that out once I know for sure. But I can't say anything to her before then. I just can't."

He sighed. He didn't know if he'd tell his foster parents his predicament or not, hopefully not, but at least he had the option.

They were quiet again until he pulled into her driveway. "Call me tomorrow, let me know how you are," he said, putting a hand on her shoulder.

"I won't know anything for probably a couple of weeks or more," she told him. "Not until I miss a period."

"Isn't there some kind of test you can get?" he asked.

"That means going to a doctor, and that means telling my mom--no way," she said adamantly.

"Oh. Well, take care. And if you need anything, call me. I'll talk to you later."

She didn't answer, just nodded. "Night, Peter."

"Night. And I'm sorry."

"So am I," she replied. And then she was gone.

He was ten minutes late getting home, and came into the house already apologizing. "Sorry I'm late; Kim and I lost track of the time. It won't happen again." Paul just looked at him and Peter felt positive his foster father could tell exactly what his foster son had been doing.

But Paul merely nodded and said "See that it doesn't. Consider this time your warning. Next time you lose privileges."

"I know, it won't happen again," he repeated. He turned to go upstairs.

Annie's voice called him back. "How was your date?" she asked.

He turned around and plastered a smile on his face, hoping it looked convincing. "Fine," he said. "G'night." Then he made his escape.



~~~~~



Peter spent most of the night tossing and turning, worrying over what had happened, what he'd done. To be fair, he was one in a partnership of stupid behavior, but honestly, he should have known better--they both should have. He hadn't even considered going all the way with Kim when they'd driven to the cabin; all he'd thought about was getting close to her, kissing and cuddling like they'd done before. But that hadn't been enough, not last night. He'd felt it and so had she. Neither one of them had put the brakes on when they needed to be applied, and now they might be paying for their mistake for the rest of their lives.

In the morning the rest of the family went to church, and Peter pretended to be asleep and let them leave without getting up to see them. Briefly, he thought about going with them--maybe confessing his crime would make him feel better. But then he remembered that Episcopals didn't have confession, he didn't think. They got to work it out with God one on one. So in the end, he stayed in bed while the rest of the family went off.

They came home with their usual flurry, and the morning passed typically, with a big breakfast and a lot of parts of the Sunday paper making their way from person to person. If anyone noticed Peter seeming exceptionally subdued, nobody made any comment. But Peter couldn't help feeling like they were all looking at him, that they knew what he'd done. And as the day went on, he became more and more agitated.

Somewhere on his third circuit around the house, Paul stopped him. "You want to tell me what's wrong, kid?" he asked.

"Nothing," Peter replied, a little too quickly.

Paul frowned. "You sure?"

"Yeah." It was no use. "Paul? Can I talk to you?"

"Of course," his foster father told him.

"In--private."

Paul frowned. "All right, come on." He ushered Peter into his den and closed the door behind them. Peter sat down opposite his foster father, and tried to muster the courage to speak. "It's easier once you just come out with it, Peter," Paul said, and there was a kindly smile on his face.

Peter swallowed hard and took a deep breath. "Last night, Kim and I--" He cleared his throat and swallowed again, "--h-had sex." There was no way he could look at Paul--no way he could face the disapproval in the older man's face.

Paul sighed heavily. "Well, I can't pretend I'm pleased," he began, "but--I can't pretend I'm surprised, either. You're sixteen--at sixteen, the hormones usually win. And you've been going with Kim a long time. Was this the first time?"

Peter looked at him. Paul didn't look happy, but he didn't look especially angry, either. He nodded.

"For both of you?" Peter nodded again. "Well," Paul sighed again. "I'm not going to be foolish enough to tell you no, especially not now--be like closing the barn after the horses escape. Just--be smart about it."

Peter swallowed again and tried to clamp down on the trembling in his limbs. "Th-th-that's not all."

"Oh?" Paul raised an eyebrow.

"We--last night, we--" Peter sighed, then blurted, "Oh, god, last night we got carried away--we didn't expect it to happen, but it did--and we didn't--didn't use any--birth control."

Peter looked away again. But when there was silence, he looked back at Paul. His foster father's eyes were closed, and Peter could see the anger in his face he was trying not to show. He looked away again, unable to bear the thought of Paul's censure.

"And now she thinks she's pregnant?" Paul finally asked.

"She--she doesn't know. She might be. And she's scared--we both are," Peter mumbled.

There was another silence as Paul stared at his foster son and Peter stared at his shoes. When Paul spoke again, his voice was low, restrained.

"That was a damn foolish thing to do, Peter," he said. "If you're going to act like adults, you have to take the responsibilities that go with the actions."

"I know! We knew better, we just--I don't know, got carried away. Oh, god, Paul, if she's pregnant, what will we do?" Peter was close to tears.

"All right, calm down. It happened, we can't change that. We'll just have to deal with it." He got up from his chair and walked to the door. "Babe," he called, "can you come in here?"

"Why are you calling her?" Peter asked.

"This is potentially a very serious problem, Peter. You don't think your mother has a right to know about it?"

"I guess," Peter sighed.

"What is it?" Annie came into the room, taking her husband's hand. "Is something wrong?"

Paul ushered her inside and closed the door behind her. "Maybe," he said as he led her to a seat on the couch next to Peter. "Peter and Kim--have been incautious. And now she thinks she might be pregnant."

Annie inhaled sharply. The breath was released slowly. "When?" she asked.

"Last night," Peter told her.

She frowned. "Then you don't know for sure?"

"No. We got--carried away, we didn't expect it to happen. I'm sorry!"

She sighed and forced a smile. "Yes, I'm sure you are. Did she say when her last period was?"

"She said she couldn't remember."

Peter dared sneak a glance at his foster mother. She was frowning and she worried her bottom lip, but she didn't appear angry. "Do you know if she was going to talk to her parents about it?"

Peter shook his head, then caught himself and answered, "I don't think so. Her mom and her don't get along. She said that if she told her, she'd kill her. I mean, if she really is pregnant she'll have to. But otherwise, she said her mom'd be really angry. Her parents got divorced last year--I don't think her mom likes men."

"You do understand, Peter," Paul began, "that if she is pregnant, it's as much your responsibility as hers."

"I know. I told her that last night--I don't think she believed me."

"Well, unfortunately, men have had a bad history of getting women pregnant and disappearing. But I want to make sure you understand that if she is pregnant, you'll take your share of the responsibility. And that means that whatever she wants to do, you'll help her."

"You mean like marry her?" Peter asked.

Paul smiled. "Well, we'll see about that. But if she wants to keep the baby, it means you'll support her--financially as well as practically."

"And if she doesn't? Want to keep it, I mean."

"Then you'll support her in that, too."

"Peter," Annie said, "do you think Kim would like to talk to someone? Would she like to talk to me about this?"

"I--I don't know. I can ask her."

"Please do. I'm sure she's scared and unsure. I think it would help if she could talk to someone about this. Go over the possible outcomes and options."

"Do you want me to call her now?" Peter asked.

"Yes, why don't you?"

"Okay."

Peter got up to leave the room when Paul stopped him. "You can call from here."

He turned around. It was bad enough that he was having this discussion with his foster parents--he sure as hell didn't want to have a phone conversation with Kim in front of them. "I'd--rather not," he said. "I'll call from upstairs, then tell you what she said." He fled the den and ran upstairs.

The three children shared a telephone, which resided on a table in the hall. If they wanted to talk in private, they could pull the phone into their rooms. Carolyn was on the phone when he got upstairs.

"Carol, I need to use the phone," Peter told her.

"Just a minute," she said.

"I only need it for a couple of minutes," he insisted.

"When I'm done," she replied.

"Come on, Carolyn, it's important!"

"First come first serve, Peter," she answered.

"I just have to quick ask Kim something," he tried again. "You can have it right back."

She sighed, exasperated, then spoke into the phone "I'm gonna have to call you back, Julie--Peter's being annoying. I'll call back in a couple of minutes. 'Bye." She glared at her foster brother. "You've got five minutes."

He grinned. "Thanks--I really appreciate it!" He started to pull the phone into his room.

"Why can't you talk out here?" she asked.

"Because I can't," he answered shortly. "Excuse me." He took the phone into his room and closed the door on Carolyn's shout of "Five minutes, Peter!"

Within seconds, he was dialing Kim's number.

"Hi, Mrs. Cochrane, it's Peter Caine. Is Kim there?"

He heard Kim's mother sigh, then she called, "Kim, it's Peter." There was the clatter of a phone being put down, the click of another extension and Kim calling out "I got it!" Then the other extension clicked off.

"Hello?"

"Hi," Peter began.

"Hi," she answered, a little hesitantly.

"How you doin'?"

She sighed. "Scared. Trying not to think about it."

"Did you talk to your mom?"

"Are you kidding? No way."

"Oh. 'Cause I talked to Paul and Mom about it, and--"

"Why'd you do that?"

"Because--we screwed up big time--literally. And if we're really in trouble, I want their help."

"What did they say?"

"They're mad that we were so stupid, but they said whatever happens, we'll take care of it. Mom was wondering if you wanted to talk to someone."

"I'm not talking to my mother," she insisted, "no way."

"No, I told her that. But she thought it might help if you could talk to someone. Like her."

There was a pause. "She wants to talk to me?"

"If you want to. Not to yell at you or anything, but--maybe to help."

She sighed again. "I'm so scared, Peter. What'll I do?"

"Maybe that's why you should talk to my mom; she can help."

"Yeah," she said hesitantly. "I guess."

"If you want, I can run over and pick you up--bring you back here. Your mom just needs to think we're spending a Sunday afternoon hanging out together. We've done that before."

"Well, okay." she decided reluctantly.

"Good. Be by to pick you up in about fifteen minutes."

He hung up just as Carolyn started pounding on his door and shouting "Time's up, Peter!"

He opened his door and shoved the offending instrument back at Carolyn. "Thanks," he said, then he was downstairs and out the door.

Kim was waiting for him when he pulled into her driveway, and she got into the car wordlessly. He spared a glance for her as he pulled away. "You didn't sleep either?"

"Are you kidding? I'm too scared."

"I know, so am I."

She laughed unpleasantly. "Why should you be--your job is done, now it's all up to me."

"Oh, come on, Kim, I told you last night that whatever happened, it's my responsibility, too. And when I told Paul, he made sure I knew it, too. There's no way I'd get out of this even if I wanted to."

"What, does he think he can buy me off?" she said bitterly.

"No! It's your decision, he said that, too. Come on, give 'em a break."

"I don't know why you talked to them anyway," she muttered.

"Because I'm scared," he said simply. "Because I'm their responsibility. Because they'll have to know eventually. And I--I don't know. It's easier talking to Paul, sometimes, than not talking to him." He licked his lips. "Anyway, if it was so wrong, my talking to Paul, why are you coming over to talk to my mom?"

There was a silence. Then a small voice answered, "Because I'm scared."

"Right. And it helps to share it, I know. That's exactly how I feel."

They were quiet for the rest of the trip to the Blaisdell home. Annie was waiting for them when they got there. Peter ushered Kim inside.

"Hi, Mrs. Blaisdell," Kim said hesitantly.

"Hi, Kim," Annie said gently. "How are you doing?"

"Okay," she replied, but Peter saw her mouth twitch.

"Come on, sweetie, let's have a talk." She extended an arm and put it around Kim's shoulder, ushering her into Paul's den. Then she turned around, pointed at Peter with an accuracy which never ceased to amaze him, and said, "You make yourself scarce. I don't want you hovering around the door."

"Yes, ma'am." He ducked his head guiltily; that's exactly what he'd planned on doing.

Annie closed the study door, and Peter took himself to the family room, where he flipped on the tv and stared at whatever was on at the time, not even seeing it. He wondered if he'd ever be worry-free again.

At one point, Annie opened the door and called for Paul. Peter watched as they had a low-voiced conversation outside the den. Then Annie went back in and closed the door, and Paul went about his business. And still Peter sat and waited.

Finally, the door opened, and Annie and Kim stepped through. Kim was red-eyed from crying, though she appeared a little calmer. Annie had a protective arm around her shoulders.

"I'll meet you after school tomorrow," she was saying, "right out in front. I'll be in a taxi. And I'll call and double check with them in the morning. All right?" Kim just nodded. Annie smiled. "I can't hear your head rattle, sweetheart."

"Oh, sorry," Kim said with chagrin. Annie chuckled softly.

"That's okay. And you call me--for anything, you understand? Anything at all. I'm always here. Will you do that?"

"Yes," Kim smiled. "Thanks."

"Good," Annie gave her a hug. "I'll see you tomorrow, honey."

Peter met them in the dining room. "Why, what's tomorrow?"

"I'm taking Kim to a clinic," Annie told her son, "and before you ask, no you're not invited."

"Why not? I mean, this concerns me, too."

"Yes, but it's Kim's body we're dealing with here. And to be perfectly honest, darling, your presence would make her uncomfortable."

The anxiety of the past hour came rushing to a head. "Why all of a sudden do I feel like I'm the villain here? It wasn't rape, you know!"

"Peter!" Kim started crying.

"That's enough, young man." Annie's voice held steel, and her mouth was a grim line. "If you want our help, then you'll take our advice."

Peter's anger fled as quickly as it appeared, and guilt took its place. "I--I'm sorry. I didn't mean that."

Annie just sighed heavily and nodded. "Why don't you take Kim home now." And to Kim, "Everything will work out, honey; you'll see."

Kim just nodded wordlessly.

"Come on, babe," Peter said to her, taking her arm. "I'll take you home."



~~~~~



Annie took Kim to a clinic in the city which specialized in confidential pregnancy testing, among other things. State law decreed that minors had to have parental permission for invasive procedures, but a pregnancy test was considered non-invasive, and Annie, as an adult over 18, could sign in that case.

Everybody waited anxiously for the test results, which came back the following day. They were negative, but the doctor who talked to Annie cautioned that the test could produce a false negative; as it was so soon after the intercourse in question, the pregnancy might not show up yet. They were told to wait two weeks, and then if Kim hadn't gotten her period yet, to come in for a second test. By that time, a definite response could be determined.

Peter called Kim every day to check on her. Unfortunately, his

attentions were exactly what she didn't want, and finally she told him that she was trying to think about something else, but that his phone calls weren't helping, and if he didn't stop calling, she'd break his nose. Peter gave up calling, but resumed his habit of pacing around the house.

One evening, about a week after "that night", Annie and Paul were in the living room reading, and the girls were upstairs doing their homework. Peter came into the room and leaned upon the door frame.

Paul looked up from his book. "What is it?" he asked.

"You got a minute?" he began. "I think we need to talk."

"About?"

"What else?" Peter shrugged. What else was there to discuss, after all? "I think," he began, coming into the room and sitting on the arm of the couch, "I think maybe you should send me back."

"Send you back?" Paul questioned.

"Back to the orphanage."

"Why should we do that?" Annie asked. "Do you want to go back?"

"Not really, but--" Peter sighed. "I'm sure you didn't bargain on this when you took me in. I mean, if Kim's really pregnant, this could get expensive. And it's not fair to you to have to foot the bill. You're not my parents, you don't have to do this. I can't ask you to."

Annie sighed heavily and Paul gazed at the ceiling. "You want to slap him, or should I?" he asked his wife.

"You can," she answered with a smile.

Peter frowned. "Huh?"

"Peter," Paul began, "when we took you in, we did it with the understanding that we would be responsible for you--physically, financially responsible--for as long as you lived with us, or until you turned 18, whichever came later. We were willing to take on the financial burden your being a part of this family meant, and that means all the financial burden, no matter what it was. No, we didn't count on this, but it's not totally outside what any family can expect, either. If you were our natural son, we wouldn't even consider 'getting rid of you' to spare ourselves the expense. We won't do that because you're our foster son, either."

"You're part of the family, Peter," Annie continued, "and families stick together, no matter what. Not only that, but if we sent you back, how much help could you be to Kim, on your own? We wouldn't do that to her, much less to you."

"But--" Peter interrupted, "you don't have to do this, why--"

"Sure we do," Paul told him. "We have to do this because we promised the state we would, in our contract to take you into foster care. We promised to take care of your needs. And we promised the court we would be your legal guardians, which makes you our responsibility. That's something we chose to do, because we wanted to. No one forced us into it.

"Now, I don't want to hear any more about going back. This is our problem, together. And if you try to leave on your own, so help me when we find you I'll beat you bloody. You'll face this, with your family, and you won't run away from it. Do I make myself clear?"

Peter swallowed. "Yes, sir. I just thought--"

"I know what you thought, kid," Paul's anger was gone as quickly as it came. "But now's not the time for noble gestures. Now's the time you need your family. Accept our help, that's the right thing to do."

Peter thought about it. He hated knowing what his actions had done to those around him, but they wouldn't let him alone. And he was still only sixteen. He sighed. "Okay."

Annie smiled. "Good. How's Kim doing?"

"Nothing so far," Peter cut to the heart of the matter. "And now I've made her mad at me. I've been--kind of a pest. I don't think she's speaking to me."

"Don't worry, honey, she's under a lot of pressure. And she's scared. It's the waiting that's the hardest. Once you know something, one way or another, things will settle down."

"I guess. It's just--I keep feeling like--like it's all my fault. Like somehow she's the victim and I'm the bad guy. But nobody's letting me make it right."

"Nobody's thinking of you as the bad guy, Peter," Paul soothed. "At least we're not. You share the blame, and the responsibility, with Kim. Just ease off a little. It'll work out, have some faith."

Peter bit his lip. "Have faith," he repeated. "I'm not sure I know what that means, not really."

"Faith is like belief," Annie told him. "It's belief in something, even if you have no proof that what you believe is true. Like--like believing that no matter what happens with Kim, we'll help you make it right. Do you believe that?"

"I guess," Peter shrugged.

"Why do you believe it?"

"I don't know--because you said so, I guess."

"So what? Why would we do what we said?"

Peter frowned. "Because--because you always have."

"But why do you think we would this time?"

"Because--I don't know. I just know--you will. I can't explain it."

Annie nodded, smiling. "That's faith."

Peter still frowned. "I get it--I think."

"Good. Just be patient, honey."

"I don't do patience very well," Peter admitted.

"Yeah, we noticed," Paul said wryly. "That's okay, kid, neither do I."

Peter just grinned. He was still scared, but knowing they were looking out for him--that helped.



~~~~~



It was more than a week later, a Sunday afternoon, when the phone rang. Peter picked it up.

"Peter, it's okay," Kim blurted. "I just got my period. It's okay! It's okay!"

"Oh my god, Kim--are you sure?"

"Yeah. I was feeling something all day, but I wasn't sure. But I'm sure now. It's really my period, cramps and everything!"

"Oh--oh man! Oh my god--oh--oh wow!" Peter was blabbering with relief. "Oh, Kim--god, I'm relieved."

"It's nothing to how I feel!" was her heartfelt exclamation.

"I dunno," he replied, "feels pretty good to me!"

"I know--I've never been so happy to be in pain!" She was giggling giddily. Her laugh was infectious as the relief sunk in.

"It's over," Peter sighed. "Thank god it's over."

"Oh yeah," she agreed.

"Listen--I've got to tell Paul and Mom--they'll want to know. But--do you want to get together later? Maybe celebrate?"

There was a pause. "Yeah, I guess so. But not to the forest preserve."

"God, no! I think it'll be awhile before I want to go back there again. Though," he said confidentially, "except for what happened afterwards, the rest of it was pretty great."

She giggled shyly. "Yeah, it was--it felt a lot better than I thought it would."

Peter's body reacted in remembrance of those good feelings and he moaned softly. "Aw, jeez, Kim, don't do this to me. You're gettin' me goin'."

She laughed. "Yeah, but I've got my period, so that's out anyway."

"I dunno," he snickered, "at least we'd know you wouldn't get pregnant!"

"Shut up, Peter," she said with a laugh. "Pick me up at six."

"Okay, see you. And Kim--"

"Yeah?"

He paused slightly. "I'm glad it worked out. And I'm sorry."

She didn't respond. She simply said, "See you later, Peter." And then she hung up.

Peter stared at the phone for a moment. Then he bolted out of his room and downstairs.

Paul's study door was half-closed, his foster father working on some reports, when Peter burst in. "Paul--"

"It's common courtesy to knock first, Peter," Paul muttered, not looking up.

"She's okay--she's not pregnant!"

Paul's head came up with a jerk. "Are you sure?"

"Yeah--her period just started. She's not pregnant!"

Paul sighed deeply and took off his glasses. "Thank God for that." Then he fixed Peter with his steeliest stare and said, "And so help me, Peter, if you ever do anything that irresponsible, that pea-brained stupid again, you'll find yourself out of here whether you want it or not!"

"I know," Peter said softly, "I'm sorry."

"No, you don't know," Paul went on, still very angry. "You don't have any concept of just how close you came to ruining both your lives. It was a foolish, idiotic, irresponsible thing to do, and next time Annie and I won't be quite so willing to rescue your ass, do you understand me?"

"Yes, sir," Peter replied, his elation at the good news having turned to dust at Paul's wrath.

"I ought to ground your butt from now to kingdom come, but that would mean you'd be underfoot all the time, and I think I'd rather get rid of you on occasion. But you do owe me $50 for Kim's clinic visit--clear?"

"Yes, sir," Peter repeated softly, feeling about two inches high and as worthy as pond scum.

"If you're going to be that ignorant, you need to be taught a lesson," Paul went on, getting up and crossing to the door. "Come on."

Peter stared, dumbfounded. "W-what?"

"I said come on, Peter--don't just stand there, move your ass."

Peter followed his foster father out of the den. Paul wasn't seriously going to give him a beating, was he? But he'd never seen the older man this angry, never seen this kind of fury on his face. Obviously, he'd been storing it up until the crisis was past.

Paul led the way upstairs and into his bedroom, where he stopped next to the bed and opened the drawer of the nightstand.

"Here--" he said gruffly, "if you're going to play like adults, the least you can do is behave like adults." And he handed Peter a packet of condoms. Peter stared at it, gape-mouthed. Of all the things he was expecting, this wasn't it.

Paul was still speaking. "Obviously, you've never used one, but do you know how to use them?"

Peter stared at the little cellophane packet, and gave a half-shrug. "Sort of-- not really," he admitted.

"Here," Paul took the packet away from him, opened it, and pulled out the rubber ring inside. "Be careful when you open the envelope that you don't tear the latex--that makes it less-than-useless." He frowned, then went to the dressing table and picked up Annie's thick-handled hairbrush. "Not ideal, but you'll get the idea," he said. Then using the hairbrush, he demonstrated to Peter how to put on the condom. And then how to take the spent one off again. He took a second packet out of the box in the drawer and handed it and the hairbrush to Peter. "You try it now."

Peter swallowed, then followed Paul's instructions. His fingers were clumsy, but he managed to get the hairbrush "protected", and then remove it again without too much difficulty.

Paul nodded his approval. Then he handed Peter three more packets. "Don't keep them around for more than a few months, the latex will eventually get old and tear. Don't store them in your wallet or your back pocket--your body heat will cause them to deteriorate faster. And for God's sake don't forget to use them--they don't do you any good in your pocket. Next time I'm at the drugstore, I'll get you a box--I don't think they'll sell them to you until you're eighteen. Now, without her mother's permission, Kim can't get birth control, so it's up to you. And I trust I don't need to remind you that it's an important responsibility."

"Oh yeah," Peter nodded vigorously, "that much I'd figured out."

Paul patted his foster son on the shoulder. "I wouldn't try and tell you don't, not now. So the next best thing is to tell you to do it cautiously. Be smart about it. Think before you act."

Peter nodded. "I will."

"Good." Paul smiled and closed the nightstand drawer.

Peter chewed on his lip. "Paul?"

"Yes?"

"Can I ask you something?"

"Of course."

"Why do you have condoms? I mean, you're married--why do you need them?"

Paul looked slightly nonplussed for a moment, then he laughed. "What's marriage got to do with it?"

"Well, uh--" Peter stammered, "it's just that--it's not such a big deal if--well, if you--you know--have kids."

Paul shook his head. "No, there's no reason why we couldn't have more kids, but we choose not to. Three is all we can handle, thank you. But I'm still fertile, so is Annie. So unless we want dozens of kids, we use birth control. She was on the pill until last year, but her doctor took her off for a year--they do that to allow a woman's body to rest from the chemicals."

Peter frowned. "So you use--condoms--every time?" He couldn't believe he was actually discussing his parents' sex life with his foster father.

"Well, Annie knows her cycles--her rhythms. So we don't need them all the time. But for those dangerous times of the month--it's either that or abstinence." He leaned over conspiratorially, "And quite frankly, abstinence has never appealed to me."

Peter flushed bright red, and Paul laughed. "That's what you get for asking, kid," he said, and clapped his foster son on the back, leading him from the room. "Come on--let's go tell your mother the good news."



June 1982



It was the middle of a Saturday evening, some six weeks after the crisis, and Paul and Annie were sitting together when Peter came home. He stopped by the family room to tell them he was home.

"You're home early," Annie commented.

"Yeah, I guess," he said, and his manner was subdued.

She caught the difference instantly. "Peter, is everything all right?"

He sighed. "Kim and I broke up tonight," he said.

"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that, honey."

"It's okay, it was--coming. After--well, after what happened, it's like--we got afraid to even touch each other. As if it would happen again and we wouldn't be so lucky this time. We--I guess we just reminded each other too much of what happened. I--I still like Kim, an awful lot. But--it just got too hard."

"Well," Paul sighed, "maybe it's better this way--give you both a chance to grow up a little more."

"I guess," Peter shrugged. Then he frowned. "Can I ask a question?"

"Of course."

He took a deep breath. "How do you know when you're in love with someone?"

Paul blew air out between pursed lips. "That's a tough one, kid, because it's different with each person, depending on their experiences, their frame of reference. It's not something you have any control over--either it happens or it doesn't. And all the good intentions, and all the good ideas, make no difference.

"For me, it was the feeling that Annie's happiness, her well-being, was more important than my own--more important than anything else on this earth."

"I felt the same way," Annie added, "and I also felt like my world was only complete when Paul was in it. That without him, everything seemed flat and empty."

Peter frowned, worrying his thumbnail between his teeth. "I didn't love Kim," he confessed. "I keep feeling like I should have, but--I didn't. I don't think she loved me, either. I--I feel like I ought to feel bad about breaking up, but all I feel is relieved. And that bothers me--I should feel more than that. She should matter more."

Annie smiled gently. "I wouldn't worry about it, honey," she said, "when the time is right, you'll know it. You won't be able to help falling in love. And that's when what you feel will matter. Because then it'll be for real."

"I guess so," Peter sighed. "I--think I'll get an early night. G'night." He kissed his mother on the cheek, his foster father on the forehead, then turned and left the room.

As he climbed the stairs, Peter thought about what his foster parents had said. Maybe sixteen wasn't as old as he thought it was; it certainly wasn't as old as he thought it was two months ago. Maybe he still had some growing up to do. Maybe he wouldn't mind being a kid for a little while longer.



Chapter 14: Skeletons in the Closet

Go to the Table of Contents