Brave New World



June 1980



Peter ran headlong to the picnic blanket and threw himself down, panting. It was summertime and it felt good just to be outside and free. A run around the park in pursuit of a Frisbee had ended in an all-out sprint back to the Blaisdell's picnic site, and Peter collapsed on the blanket, staring at the leaves and the sky overhead, waiting 'til his pulse rate slowed.

"Have a good run?" Annie Blaisdell asked. He turned his head and looked at her, sitting with her back against a tree, enjoying the fresh air, too, though she couldn't tolerate the bright sunlight--it hurt her eyes.

"Yeah," he said, rolling over and reaching for a grape from the plastic bag on the blanket.

"C'mere," she said, and she extended an arm to him.

"Mmm--I'm all sweaty," he said.

"That's all right--come on," she reassured him. So he crawled across the blanket and sat next to her, arm automatically going around her waist, head resting on her shoulder in a position which had become common for him.

Common? Lying in the embrace of the only woman who'd ever given him mother-love? It may have become typical, but it would never be common.

Peter sighed, snuggling closer, his eyes closing in contentment. If someone had told him six weeks ago that he'd be here, enjoying a family picnic, and surrounded by love, he'd've told them they were crazy. In some ways, he didn't quite believe it himself.

He'd spent practically every weekend since that first one with the Blaisdells; the only exception had been last weekend, right before his final exams, when Captain Blaisdell told him he needed to stay in and study. Peter had been crushingly disappointed, but forbore to do his best. He'd been especially pleased when the captain had shown up on Sunday afternoon to help him study, and they'd spent hours reviewing questions and going over things Peter had trouble with.

The extra hard work had paid off; while none of the tests had been easy, Peter was also pretty sure he hadn't failed any of them. And that was an improvement over last semester, anyway.

The weekends he'd spent with the Blaisdells had passed in a blur of excitement and wonder. The captain took him back to the precinct house, to a crime lab, to a courtroom, even to the medical examiner's office, though Peter had gotten queasy and they hadn't stayed too long. They'd seen several more movies, had been to the zoo and had gone miniature golfing.

Since the first weekend, Peter had stayed over at the Blaisdells on Saturday nights, and twice on Fridays as well. Over Memorial Day weekend, the captain had picked him up after work on Friday, and he hadn't had to go back until Monday night. It had been wonderful to go to sleep contented and wake up knowing you were surrounded by people who cared about you.

Mrs. Blaisdell had made it her habit to come in and kiss him goodnight every night he'd stayed there. It was something Peter looked forward to. The uncompromising all-encompassing nature of her love was sustenance to him, and he fed on it like a starving man. She seemed to know that instinctively, because she'd never break a hug until he was ready to, and she always had a smile and a gentle touch for him. And Peter reacted to her like a plant too long in the dark suddenly exposed to the light. He stretched toward her, always seeking her love and affection, gratified when it was always there for him.

Carolyn and Kelly had gotten used to him as well--at least they no longer giggled around him, and he no longer got embarrassed about everything around them. In fact, they'd taken to joking and squabbling, just like real brothers and sisters did. It was--neat. He liked it.

He opened his eyes and straightened out of the hug, reaching across the blanket toward the cooler. "Do you want anything to drink?" he asked Mrs. Blaisdell, finding himself a Coke.

"Is there any more iced tea left?"

"Dunno--I'll check." He found a plastic cup, opening the thermal jug and pouring out the tea. "Here you go," he said, placing the cup in her outstretched hand, not letting go until he was sure she had the cup securely. He was surprised at how easily he'd learned to cope with her blindness. He didn't really even consciously think about it anymore; it was just--her.

"Thanks, sweetie," she said, and he grinned, opening his soda and taking a long drink--all that running around had made him thirsty!

Captain Blaisdell came walking across the lawn from where he'd been watching Carolyn and Kelly obliterating a poor shuttlecock with their badminton racquets. "It's hot out there," he commented. "Is there any more iced tea left?"

"I think maybe a little," Peter said and crawled across the blanket to the jug.

"A little" was just about right, as less than half a cup came out.

"Sorry," Peter said. "We've got lemonade and Coke."

"No, that's all right," Blaisdell said taking the glass from him. "This will do."

"Here--have some of mine," Mrs Blaisdell held her glass outstretched. "Peter, even these out."

"Thank you, darling," Blaisdell said to his wife, leaned over and kissed her. Peter watched rapt. When they separated, Blaisdell saw Peter staring at them and smiled. And Peter flushed bright red. "And thank you," Blaisdell said, taking the two cups from him, giving one to his wife and drinking from his own.

He sat down next to Peter, an arm draped over his shoulders, and ruffled his hair. "How did your finals go?"

Peter shrugged. "I won't know for sure 'til report cards come out, but I don't think I flunked anything this semester."

"Well that's good," Blaisdell clapped him on the back, "that's better than last year. But I'd still like you to take summer school."

"Summer school!" Studying wasn't the way Peter'd planned on spending his summer. Actually, Peter didn't have any plans for his summer--but if he did, they wouldn't have included summer school.

"You're starting high school in the fall, Peter," Blaisdell explained, "and you're still struggling with some subjects. If you spend the summer working, then you'll be able to start high school on equal footing with everybody else. Wouldn't you rather do that?"

"Yeah--I guess," Peter sighed. "Would it be every day?"

"No, we'll probably have you work with Josie three or four times a week, but for longer sessions than you have now. You'll still have to work hard, but it'll be worth it in the long run. What do you say?"

"Well," Peter hesitated. "Okay."

"Good boy," Blaisdell smiled and patted his shoulder.

They sat in silence for awhile, each of them drinking their drinks, Blaisdell's hand resting on the back of Peter's neck while his fingers toyed with the edge of his hair.

"Peter," Blaisdell finally began, "do you like visiting with us--spending time with our family?"

"Oh, yeah--I do," Peter grinned. "It's the only thing I look forward to. The weeks never go by fast enough and the weekends always go too fast."

Mrs. Blaisdell smiled. "I'm glad, honey, because we like having you with us. Very much."

Peter couldn't say anything to that, so he just smiled shyly and looked down.

Blaisdell moved his hand so he was holding Peter's shoulders in a loose hug. "Would you like to come live with us?" he asked.

Peter felt a shock go through him and looked up at the captain, trying to read his face. Except for affection and concern, he couldn't see anything else there. "W-what?" he stammered.

"We'd like to have you come live with us--if you want to," Blaisdell repeated.

Peter could feel himself start to shake. This couldn't be real--it couldn't be happening. Good things like this didn't happen to him. "For how long?" he asked.

"As long as you want to," Mrs. Blaisdell said.

His vision was starting to blur and he blinked rapidly, trying to clear it. "W-why?" he asked.

"Well, the long answer is that you're a bright kid with a lot to offer, and we want to help you achieve your goals--we want to provide a stable environment for you to grow up in," Blaisdell answered.

"The short answer," continued Mrs. Blaisdell, "is that we love you and we want you to be a part of our family."

The shaking got worse, and Peter found he couldn't speak past the lump in his throat. He just sat there, trembling with the emotion he was afraid of showing.

"You can think about it for awhile if you want," Blaisdell said.

He promptly lost the battle. "I-I don't need to think," he swallowed, "you've just offered me everything I ever wanted. Th-thanks." His eyes closed against the overwhelming emotion, but the shaking kept up. He couldn't blow it now, he just couldn't.

Blaisdell's arm tightened on his shoulder, and he said, "I'll take that as a yes?"

Peter choked on a laugh, and nodded. He opened his eyes and looked at the captain, who was smiling at him. Then he was pulled into a hug and he hugged back, holding as if he couldn't hug tight enough, as if to let go would be to be lost. His eyes filled with tears and he struggled to keep his composure.

But then he felt Mrs. Blaisdell's hand on his back, and he gave up, turning toward her and seeking out her warm, loving aura as he let the tears well up and out to trickle unchecked down his cheeks. She didn't seem to mind--she simply held him, rubbing his back, kissing his hair, rocking with him, until the tears went away by themselves and calmness flowed in.

He sat up again, sniffing and scrubbing at his face, trying to erase the ravages of the strong emotion. She didn't say anything, merely reached for a paper napkin and handed it to him. He blew his nose.

"I--I--I wasn't sure..." he stammered. "I--we--we kept doing the weekend thing, I--I didn't know, I thought, maybe--I don't know... I kept hoping, but--" He shook his head, knowing he was sounding like an idiot. "Oh man..." he sighed.

Blaisdell chuckled and put a hand on his shoulder. "Well, we were pretty sure about wanting to do this, but we didn't want to make any big changes until after the school year. You've had enough disruptions in your life. And we wanted to make sure you were comfortable with us--that you wanted this too."

"No problem with that," he blurted, "anything's better than--" He realized what he'd said and flushed bright red. "I didn't mean--I meant--I want--oh, jeez!"

Blaisdell just laughed and hugged him. "We know what you mean, kid. We'll be glad to get you out of that place, too."

Peter decided discretion was the better part of valor and shut up before he swallowed his other foot. He simply nodded and sighed against the captain's shoulder.

"Daddy-- Daddy!" Carolyn and Kelly were calling from their badminton court.

Blaisdell easily shifted Peter aside and got to his feet. "Come up here a minute," he called, and they both ran up the slope to the blanket. Peter rubbed his hands over his face again, knowing he probably looked awful--all blotchy and puffy-eyed, but figuring there was nothing he could do about it now.

"Daddy, can you help us get our birdie--" Kelly began. But Blaisdell raised a hand to silence her.

"Peter's agreed to come live with us," he told them.

"Yay!" Kelly cried and clapped.

Carolyn let out a whoop and shouted "All Right!" She bounced to her knees and gave Peter a big hug. He was startled, but hugged her back. "Welcome to the family!" she said when she pulled away, and grinned.

Peter smiled too.

"Now what were you saying?" Blaisdell asked Kelly.

"Our birdie got caught in a tree--come help us get it out?" she said.

"Maybe Peter can help you," he said. "Peter?"

Peter was feeling happier than he'd ever felt in his life--at that point if Blaisdell had asked him to fly, he'd've said yes. So he replied, "Sure."

"C'mon," Carolyn said and the three of them headed back down the slope to the badminton court.

"Then bring the equipment in," Blaisdell called after them, "it's getting late."

They spent about fifteen minutes first jumping and then throwing racquets and finally stones to knock the stubborn "birdie" down from its perch. But eventually, the little piece of plastic came loose and floated harmlessly to the ground.

Peter picked up the "birdie." "How do you play?" he asked.

"Here, we'll show you," Carolyn said, and the three of them spent another fifteen minutes batting the birdie around until Captain Blaisdell called for them again. Then they took down the net, packed all the pieces in their box, and headed back to their parents.

Peter shivered at that thought. Parents. He'd never had "parents" before. He'd had a father, and there'd been people who cared about him, at the temple. But a mother and a father.... It was a new feeling--one he decided he could definitely learn to like!



~~~



Peter had finished his shower and was getting ready for bed in his bedroom--or what soon would be his bedroom. He'd taken off his robe and was about to pull on his pajamas when there was a knock and the bedroom door opened.

"Peter?" Mrs. Blaisdell called.

"Whoa, hang on a second," he said, scrambling for his pajama bottoms, and of course getting them tangled up.

She laughed. "Peter, what am I gonna see!"

That pulled him up short and he stood there for a moment, gaping. "I know," he said, "but it's--uncomfortable--standing here in nothing."

"You want me to turn my back?" she smiled.

"No, just give me a sec--" and he finally managed to get into his pajama bottoms; it was a warm night, he didn't bother with a shirt. "Okay, I'm decent."

"Good," she said. "Anything on the floor?"

"My shoes at 2:30, 3 paces," he said, having been taught his first night how to give her bearing directions, and also having been taught that the number one house rule was that nothing was to be left on the floor. Ever.

"Clear to the bed?" she asked.

"Clear to the bed," he replied, and took her hand when she extended it, leading her to a seat on the bed. He sat next to her, automatically going into a comfortable hug.

"We'll need to get you some new furniture for in here," she said, kissing his temple.

"Why, what's wrong with this stuff?" he asked.

"Well, it's old," she began.

"I know--it's--got a history. I like it."

She turned her head and Peter could almost swear she was looking at him. "It was Paul and my bedroom set when we first got married," she said. "How did you know?"

"I dunno," he shrugged, "it just felt--loved. I guess that sounds stupid."

"No, not at all," she said gently, "in fact, it sounds lovely." She gave him a cuddle.

"Besides," he grinned, "I like the big bed."

That made her laugh. "I'll bet you do!"

They settled down comfortably with each other. "Paul said he'll talk to the people from the placement office on Monday morning. He said these things usually move pretty fast--assuming there are no difficulties, you should be able to move in Tuesday or Wednesday."

"Tuesday or Wednesday--wow!" he said, awed, and she chuckled.

"Looking forward to it?"

"You bet!" Then he frowned. "Umm-- What am I supposed to call you?"

"Oh, anything you want," she answered. "Mom and Dad would do just fine."

"No," he said immediately, and then was surprised by his reaction. "I mean-- Well, maybe I could call you Mom, but-- I just couldn't call Captain Blaisdell Dad. Will he be upset?"

"No, I don't think so. It makes sense really--you never knew your mother, so there are no memories with that name for you. But you remember your father, so when you think Dad, you still think of him. Paul and Annie will work just as well."

Peter considered, chewing his lip. "Do you think he'd be mad if I called him Paul but you Mom?" he asked.

"I very much doubt it, sweetie," she said, tightening her hug, "I think he's just happy to have you here."

"Yeah--so'm I." And they fell silent again.

He turned his head to look at her, and realized he'd never seen her without her dark glasses. He wondered what she looked like behind them. "Do you ever take off your glasses?" he asked.

"Bright light hurts my eyes," she said by way of explanation.

"Do you see light?"

"No--I feel it. It's hard to explain."

"Could you ever see?"

"When I was a baby, but I don't remember."

He looked at her intently for a moment. "Is it too bright in here?" he asked.

She smiled. "Turn off the big light and turn on the one on the desk."

He did what he was told. "All done," he said.

With that she removed her glasses, folding them and setting them in her lap. She turned her face toward him. "See? Two eyes, just like everybody else. Slightly less functional, but there just the same."

Peter was awestruck. Without her glasses she was beautiful! Her eyes were soft and light--pale greenish blue, and seemed to radiate with such life--he found it hard to believe she couldn't see out of them. He remembered Geok Seng's eyes--sunken and glazed. He'd been afraid hers would be the same. But they weren't; they were bright and warm and--beautiful.

"Your eyes are beautiful," he breathed, and he sat next to her again, staring.

"Thank you," she smiled.

Instinctively he brought a hand up to her cheek, then pulled back, afraid. She caught hold of his hand.

"It's all right," she said, giving him permission. He touched her cheek, awed by her--by everything about her. She closed her eyes and he let his fingers float over her face--over her brows, her eyelids, her nose, her cheeks. He closed his eyes, too, letting his fingers tell the story. Then he felt her hands on his face, and let her explore on her own. He took his hands away and opened his eyes, and the first thing he saw was her eyes, open, gazing at him with a sight way beyond ordinary vision.

"Oh, Petey," she whispered, "I wish I could see you. I know what you look like, but I wish I could really see you."

"My father used to say that only half of seeing is done with our eyes. The other half is done with our minds and our other senses."

She smiled. "He sounds very wise, your father."

"He was." Peter looked down. It hurt, talking about his father, but somehow, it hurt less talking about him to her. "I always thought--that I could never be like him--I could never know all the things he knew."

"We all have special gifts--your wisdom may come in different ways."

"I guess."

"I'm sure he was very proud of you," she said.

"I don't know--I hope so."

"You still miss him."

"Yeah," he sighed. "An awful lot. Sometimes I think I'll miss him forever."

"Maybe you will--but it won't always hurt so much. Eventually missing him will simply mean you'll remember him and be happy. Keep your memories of him, honey--that way he'll never die."

He got a lump in his throat. "He used to tell me that about my mother. But I don't have any memories of her at all."

She didn't say anything to that, simply held him in her arms, cuddling him close.

He looked up at her. "Thank you," he said, and realized that he meant so many things by that one thank, that he couldn't even begin to enumerate them. He wondered if she knew.

She seemed to. "You're welcome," she said, and tightened her arms around him, settling with her cheek pressed against the top of his head. They stayed like that for a long time until, stroking his hair, she said, "You need a haircut."

"I hate haircuts," he mumbled.

"That's haircut, Peter, not shaved head."

"I know, but--"

"We'll talk about it on Wednesday. Meanwhile, you should get some sleep." So saying, she stood up, and he peeled back the covers, sliding in and lying down. He lay there, gazing up at her, so in love with her he thought he would burst. She leaned in and kissed his cheek, his forehead, and the tip of his nose, making him giggle.

She smiled. "Roll over on your tummy--I'll rub your back," she said. He rolled over without a second's hesitation. She sat at the edge of the bed, and rubbed his back. The feeling of her loving hands on his bare back was the most wonderful thing in the world, and he thought he must have done something right, somewhere, to have this most marvelous thing happen to him. He let himself drift with her touch, and had only a hazy memory of the kiss she pressed to the top of his head before she whispered good night and left the room.



~~~



The day felt like it would never end.

Shortly after breakfast on Wednesday, Peter was called into the warden's office and told that the Blaisdells had arranged to take him in foster care. Peter forced himself not to shout for joy. Trager told him that the captain would be by to pick him up after work, and to pack his belongings.

While emptying his drawers, Peter found the pocket knife. It had remained tucked safely behind his socks since that day, almost two years ago. Every once in awhile he would pull it out and look at it, waiting for the time to be right; waiting to restore the balance. But mostly he left it in its hiding place, secure in the knowledge that it was there--if ever he needed it. He opened the blade, running his thumb lightly along the edge, turning it so it caught the light. It was as sharp now as it had been the night he'd found it, still ready and able to be of use.

Unbidden, the image of Captain Blaisdell came into his mind, frowning in worry and concern at finding Peter with the knife. And then, even stronger, the image of Mrs. Blaisdell, her delicate fingers touching the weapon as she gently questioned him about it. Somehow it wasn't even so much that they'd disapprove, though Peter was sure they would, or that they wouldn't understand. But that now, going to this new, good place, the knife wasn't needed anymore. The balance hadn't been restored, but it was better than it was. Peter looked at the knife again, and thought about the Blaisdells. And that felt wrong. That felt even more out of balance.

Decision made, he closed the blade and set the knife back in the drawer. The rest of his clothes got stuffed into his bag, and within fifteen minutes, he was ready to go. Which left him the rest of the day with nothing to do but pace and wait.

He and Kyle went out to their secret place, but today when Kyle offered one of his pilfered cigarettes, Peter declined. He had no doubt the captain wouldn't approve of kids smoking, and he didn't want to wreck his chances with his new family.

"So why do you think they want you?" Kyle asked.

Peter shrugged. "I dunno. I haven't figured out their angle yet. But I really like them, and I like their house. I think I'll like living with them, so--"

"So you'll put up with their bullshit, whatever it is?"

"I don't think it's bullshit. I mean, unless they're much better at hiding things than most people. Mom--I mean Mrs. Blaisdell--she's the neatest lady. See, 'cause she's blind, she's been bullshitted to all her life, and she hates that, so she doesn't want to pull any crap on anyone else. She's so cool--I really like her. And I like the captain, too. It's like--I dunno, I say something, and they listen. It's been a long time since anyone's listened to me."

"They probably don't really listen, they just pretend they do," Kyle scoffed. Kyle had had his share of disastrous foster situations, the last having ended less than a month ago; he was still smarting from that one, so he was dubious.

Peter shrugged again. "Well if they're faking it, they're better actors than anybody. But Mrs. Blaisdell--I don't think she can lie."

Kyle just shrugged, unconvinced.



It was just after 5:30 when Peter saw Blaisdell's car pull up in front and ran out to greet him. Blaisdell smiled and pulled him into a hug. "Hey there, kid, you ready to make this official?"

"You bet!" Peter grinned.

"Good. Come on." Together they walked into the building and went to the warden's office, where Blaisdell had some paperwork to get through before they could go--some forms to sign and things. Trager shook the captain's hand, and then turned to Peter.

"Well, Peter, this is another chance for you. You going to mess this one up too?"

Peter looked at him aghast. "I hope not!"

Trager laughed. "Good. That's what I wanted to hear. Now do us a favor, behave yourself--we don't want to find you back here if we can help it."

"Yeah, well I don't want to come back either, so we're even," Peter said, a touch more nastily than necessary. But Trager just smiled and extended his hand.

"Good luck, Peter."

Peter gaped at the outstretched hand for a moment before he took it. "Thanks," he said solemnly.

"Come on, sport," Blaisdell said, rising and bringing Peter with him, "let's go get your gear."

Peter just grinned and together they went to Peter's room.

His belongings were sitting on his bed, stuffed into a garbage bag. Blaisdell saw that and his eyebrows raised. "Garbage bag?"

"I told you--I don't have a suitcase," Peter defended. "I couldn't borrow one--not this time. Anyway, I thought you said it didn't matter."

"It doesn't--not to me. But Annie's gonna have a field day with this." He put an arm around Peter's shoulders. "Come on, kid, let's take you home."

Home. At the sound of that, Peter nearly burst, and grabbed the bag, flinging it over a shoulder.

They were almost at the front doors when Kyle appeared down the hall. "Hey Pete!"

"Kyle!" Peter stopped.

"You gonna take off without sayin' goodbye?" Kyle asked.

"I--I didn't know where you were," Peter apologized.

"Hey, no problem," the other boy said with all the bravado he could muster. "Good luck, Ace."

Peter smiled. "Thanks--you too." They high-fived and then clasped hands, then Kyle let go.

"Now get the hell out of here before I mug you and take your place," he grinned.

"'Bye," Peter said, a little sadly, turned and walked out of the building with Blaisdell.

They put his bag in the trunk, got in and drove away. Peter didn't look behind him, didn't care if he never saw that place again.

"If you want to have your friend out for a visit, any time, you can," Blaisdell told him.

"No," Peter said, then realized he'd probably answered a little too quickly.

"Why not? Didn't you like him?"

"Oh, no--I mean, yeah, I like Kyle. He's the only guy there I liked. But it's not done."

"What's not done?"

"The guys that get out--don't mix with the ones who are still in."

"Why not?"

"I--dunno. It's just not done."

"Well--if you change your mind--let us know. We'd be happy to have Kyle come out for a visit."

They were silent as they drove towards home. "I guess--" Peter went on, "it's because when you get out, you don't want to be reminded of what you left. And if you're still in, you don't want to see what the other guys have that you don't. Does that make any sense?"

"Yeah, it does, more's the pity," Blaisdell answered.

Conversation lagged again until they pulled into the driveway. "So how's it feel to be coming home?" Paul asked.

Peter thought about it. How did it feel? "Great!" he exclaimed, and Paul laughed.

Annie was waiting for them. Paul had barely stopped the car before Peter was out and running toward her, going into her arms, burying his face against her shoulder as he hugged her fiercely.

"Hey there, sweetheart," she soothed, "it's only been a couple of days."

"I know," he said hoarsely, "but this time--it's for real."

She laughed softly and held him tighter, being a "mom" to him.

"Peter," Paul called from behind him, "come get your gear."

He reluctantly let go of his mother. "Oh. Yeah." He came over to the trunk and grabbed his bag, then headed back to Annie.

She was frowning. "What's that rustling I hear?"

"My stuff," he explained.

"Your suitcase?"

"Well, garbage bag."

"Garbage bag?"

"I don't have a suitcase," he defended.

She looked surprised. What was it with these people and suitcases? "Well then we'll have to get you one."

"Why?" he asked. "I'm not plannin' on goin' nowhere."

"Going anywhere," she corrected. "Just the one bag?" she felt its size.

"I don't have much stuff," he shrugged.

She sighed. "Well, come on, inside with that." She escorted him into the house. "Upstairs," she shooed him in front of her.

"Why?"

"Because I want to get you settled in, see what you've brought."

"It's just clothes and stuff."

"Yes, but you'll want to get unpacked, and I'll need to see where you put everything." Together they went upstairs.



~~~



Paul had taken over the chore of getting dinner ready, letting his wife see to the settling in of their new son. He admitted to himself that he was at least as thrilled as Peter that this was now official. It had been too difficult, sending the kid back at the end of each weekend. Knowing that they wanted to do this, but not wanting to do anything until after Peter was done with school for the year. The kid was having enough trouble without creating such a disruption in his life. But school was over, and according to the reports he'd had when he'd spoken with Peter's teachers, the boy had passed all his classes; next year he'd be starting high school. It was the perfect time for a change.

So as soon as it was feasible, Paul had talked to the people from the placement office. He'd done the majority of the paperwork weeks ago, on the off-chance this should pan out, so when he called them on Monday, it was simply a matter of finalizing plans. He hadn't even considered the monthly fee the state provided, but would be sent a check on the third of each month, and had been handed a pro-rated check for the current month. It was a pretty meager sum--certainly not enough to keep a growing boy in bluejeans and hamburgers. Obviously, one didn't become foster parents to get rich, and it surprised him, the number of people who took kids in for the money. Of course, he also knew exactly what kind of families those were, and was grateful he and Annie were able to provide something better for Peter.

After checking on the chicken, Paul opened the manila envelope he'd received, which contained the documentation on Peter. He gave it a cursory glance, knowing it would get read in depth later, and knowing that much of it would be read aloud to Annie as well. Birth certificate (Peter's parents were named Kwai Chang and Laura Katherine Caine), admission documents to Pathways, signed by a Ping Hi Chen, some cursory medical records, school records, reports on Peter's two disastrous previous fosterings, reports on Peter's conduct both at school and in Pathways. The kid wavered between being a model resident and a troublemaker, and it looked like it depended wholly on Peter's mood as to which one he was at any given time. Words like "undisciplined", "moody", "hot-tempered", and "sassy" peppered the reports. To Paul, who'd seen any number of juvenile defendants in his precinct, those were all trigger words which indicated a smart kid with no way to channel his intelligence and energy. No wonder Peter had been a discipline problem; he'd probably been bored to tears. Paul smiled. Keeping the kid entertained and occupied might prove to be their greatest challenge.

He was putting the papers back in the folder when Annie appeared in the kitchen, carrying a bundle of clothing, followed by a somewhat subdued Peter, still holding the garbage bag. It looked like it had been torn open on the side and re-tied.

"What's this?" Paul asked, smiling, "Sending him back already?" He could have kicked himself when he saw Peter's look of terror. "Just kidding, sport," he soothed, reaching out and giving his shoulder a squeeze. "We're not planning on getting rid of you any time soon." The terror faded somewhat, but Peter still looked apprehensive. "What's in the bag?"

"She's making me throw out all my stuff," he said petulantly.

"Not all," Annie corrected, "just--most of it," she conceded. "You've never seen such a sad looking bunch of clothes, Paul. Most of it doesn't even fit him properly anymore, and it all looks like it's been through half a dozen owners." Annie customarily used expressions like "see" and "look", by which Paul knew that the clothes "felt" worn to her. He didn't doubt she was correct.

"It's not my fault," Peter complained.

"I didn't say it was, Peter, but if I let you go out in some of those things, everybody would think we abuse you--keep you locked in the attic and feed you gruel. I'll not have people thinking things like that about us--and especially not about our son."

Peter swallowed; he wasn't used to being referred to as "our son", but Paul could see that behind the trepidation was a lot of joy.

"What about that stuff you've got there," Paul asked, indicating the smaller bundle in her arms.

"This is what we're keeping, but it all has to be washed."

"It's clean," Peter protested feebly.

"No doubt, but it smells like--I don't know, an institution. Like harsh soaps and chemicals. And it feels like it, too. It's the best of the bunch, such as it is, but it needs to get the chemical smell washed out of it."

"Oh," Peter sighed.

"Did you do your own laundry, Peter?" she asked.

"No."

"Then you'll learn how now. Come on." She extended a hand to him and led him to the laundry room.

"Dinner in ten minutes," Paul called after them, smiling. Somehow, when he saw that garbage bag, he'd known Annie would hit the roof over it. The clothes Peter had worn during the past six weeks had been worn but clean, but he'd also noticed the harsh chemical smell about them. Annie's even more sensitive nose must have been bothered by the smell. He sighed. This, he knew, was going to put a severe dent in his credit card. With a shake of his head, he went to set the table.



~~~



"Blaisdell." Paul picked up the phone on his desk.

"Hello, darling."

"Hi, Babe," he smiled. "You back from your excursion?"

"Yes," she sighed and he heard the rustle that meant she was settling down on the couch in the family room. "I don't think there was a single store in the mall we didn't go into. My feet no longer love me, your credit cards are whimpering from abuse, the girls have decided, I think, that he's their walking, talking, breathing Ken doll, and the young man in question is burbling."

"He's what?"

"Burbling. I found out what he does when he's excited. He talks. Nonstop. I just sent him outside to go run around the block a couple dozen times, see if he can't work off some of that nervous energy. I hope this is simply new-surrounding giddiness, because if this is typical, I'm going to drop of exhaustion within the week."

Paul laughed. Personally, he thought Annie was a brave soul for taking her three children to the mall by herself. Ostensibly, it was a trip to buy Peter a new wardrobe and anything else he might need. And she took the girls, Carolyn particularly, along to be her critical eyes. But Paul knew that all of them probably came home with some goodie or another.

"Well, I'm sure he'll settle down eventually. Did you get everything you needed?"

"I think so. At least we got everything on the list. He's difficult to shop for--he doesn't want anything but jeans and t-shirts or sweatshirts, and he's growing very fast right now. I got him a couple of nice things, but mostly I gave up and let him pick what he wanted. He'll have outgrown them all in six months anyway. I thought they only did that when they were babies."

"No, they do that when they're adolescent boys too, sweetheart. My brother grew six inches his freshman year in high school."

"Good lord, if Peter does that, we're going to be buying new clothes for him every month!"

Paul just laughed. "Well, we knew it wouldn't be cheap when we decided to take him in. Don't tell me you're having second thoughts."

"Heavens, no," she replied. "You should have been there, Paul--I don't think he's ever been to a mall before. The excitement was coming off him in waves. It was all new and interesting for him. And contrary to what I said before, I didn't even mind the chatter--it's better than that sullenness when we first met him."

"So, what's next on the agenda?"

"Pardon?"

"The 'making Peter a Blaisdell' campaign."

"Oh," she laughed. "Well, tomorrow, hopefully, will be a haircut. Then I spent most of the morning on the phone making appointments with Dr. Muir, and also the dentist and the eye doctor. Get him checked out good and proper--get some baseline records on him. You said there wasn't much of a medical history in the information from the orphanage."

"No--some vaccinations when he first got there--no way of knowing whether he ever had them as a child. But you're right--better to be safe. Oh, that reminds me, when did you say the dentist was?"

"Um, July 9th. Dr. Gregg is on vacation until after the 4th."

"Because I want to talk to him about orthodontia."

"For Peter?"

"Um-hmm."

"Are his teeth that bad?"

"They aren't that crooked, but there's quite a gap between his two front teeth. I figure as long as we're going to be doing Carolyn's retainer, we should get him taken care of, too."

"Well, we've got a little time before that one," she answered. "I don't want to overwhelm him with too much at first, make him think we don't like him the way he is that we're trying to change him. I got a little bit of that feeling today, that what he'd brought with him was unacceptable, so I'd thrown it all out and was trying to "remake" him. But then he got caught up in the excitement, and that pretty well faded. He'll want to talk to you about a pair of cowboy boots, by the way."

"What about them?"

"A hundred dollars."

"Oh. Are his feet still growing?"

"Probably."

"Then I'm not spending $100 on shoes he's gonna outgrow in six months. When he stops growing like a weed, then we'll talk about it."

"He'll be disappointed--he seemed quite taken with them."

"He'll learn to live with it. He's got more now than he's probably ever had in his life. One less pair of boots won't hurt him any." Paul paused. "Nice, were they?"

"He seemed to think so. So did the girls. And they felt very good. But they were expensive."

"We'll talk about it when I get home. Listen, Babe, I've got to get going. I'll be home at the usual time. We'll talk some more about it tonight. Tell Peter not to wreck the house."

She laughed. "I already did--that's why he's outside. I'll see you later."

"Love you."

"Love you too."



~~~



Annie was finishing up some chores in the kitchen when she felt hands around her waist and a sensuous nibble on her neck.

"What's that for?" she smiled, leaning into his caress.

"Can't I kiss my wife?"

"Of course you can, darling, any time you want. I just wondered if you wanted something."

"I always want something from you," he murmured, "but I'm willing to wait 'til tonight."

"Good," she giggled, "it would shock the kids, I suspect, if Mom and Dad went at it on the kitchen table."

He laughed. "I just wanted to tell you I'll be in my den if you need me. Annual evaluations."

"They're late this year."

"Paperwork snafu. They didn't get us the forms 'til the beginning of the week, and they all have to be done by Monday. Maybe I ought to show Peter the real side of police work--the paper pushing."

"Oh, don't do that--you don't want to discourage him before he even gets started." She smiled. "Where is he, by the way?"

"Family room, reading. Sprawled on the couch. I made him take his shoes off before he got the upholstery dirty." He chuckled. "Never seen anything quite like the sprawl of a teenaged boy. And this one's all legs--they just go on forever."

"He'll grow into them eventually, I imagine."

"He's going to be tall," Paul commented. "He's already almost as tall as I am. Makes you wonder if his father was tall."

"I don't know, you can ask him," she replied.

"I wish he weren't so hesitant about talking about his father. It's as if he wants to pretend his parents never existed."

"I imagine that will come eventually as well. I think he's getting it all mixed up in his mind, his memory of his father versus you in the present. It's easier for him, probably, to keep them separate."

"Mmm, could be," he sighed. "I'm stalling." He kissed her. "Off to the wars."

"Have fun, darling," she laughed.



~~~



Peter was reading the comic book he'd gotten today, but hadn't actually turned a page in almost fifteen minutes. His mind was miles away. It was proving to be a lot different, living with the Blaisdells, than it was just visiting them. Oh, not that they treated him any differently--he'd been aware of the house rules and had chores to do almost from his first time. But it was the other stuff--like getting rid of his old things and buying him new ones. The talk about haircuts and doctors' appointments--

Annie tried to explain to him that it wasn't that they didn't like him the way he was, but that the few possessions he had were old and worn, and besides, they didn't fit him very well anymore. They just wanted to get him some nice things. While he could accept that, even agreed with it, it still made him uncomfortable.

He didn't think he'd ever been so embarrassed as when she'd taken him upstairs last night, ripped into his bag and examined each item closely. She'd made him try some of it on, too, to see how it fit him, by feeling it. And though Peter was the first to welcome her gentle touch, having her run her hands over his inseam and hips to see if his jeans fit was embarrassing. Then when she felt his underwear to check its condition, he thought he'd die. At least she hadn't made him try those on too!

The shopping trip was embarrassing, too. They'd go into a store, she'd find a helpful sales clerk and tell them that she needed to outfit a teenaged boy (pointing to him) from the skin out, and where should they start. The clerk would take them to a department and then she'd tell Peter to pick out several items he liked. Which he did, but then Carolyn and Kelly would come over with stuff he wouldn't be caught dead in, but if Annie liked the feel of it, she'd make him try it on anyway. Some of it made him look like a dork and he flatly refused. But some of it, he had to admit, wasn't too bad. Like the off-white linen unlined jacket, and the pleated cotton trousers. Carolyn saw him in that and told him he looked like a fox. And Peter blushed bright red. Then Annie had to feel all of it to see how it fit him. And there he stood in the door of the dressing room, wanting to crawl under a curtain and hide, while his foster mother and foster sisters "dressed" him.

This went on in store after store, each at least as embarrassing as the last.

But eventually, Annie declared that Peter had enough clothes to start with, and now they'd look for other things--like shoes. Peter got a really cool pair of Adidas jogging shoes--bright blue with day-glow yellow stripes and laces. And a pair of sandals for going to the pool. And she made him get a pair of leather dress shoes, but the leather was soft and they were kind of a neat, simple style--didn't look like old-man shoes, so they weren't too bad. But when he saw a pair of cowboy boots he wanted, she heard the price and told him they'd have to come back with Paul and look at them. He accepted that--after all, they were spending so much money on him, he couldn't make any complaint. About anything.

They went to lots of other stores, too, getting stuff for him, and the girls each got a magazine, and he picked up the Spiderman comic book he was in the process of attempting to read.

He heard the dishwasher start, and Annie came into the family room. "Peter?"

"Yeah?"

"Just checking where you were," she smiled.

"On the couch," he replied. "Far end."

"Have you recovered yet from your excursion?"

"Oh yeah. It was--I don't know. Kinda embarrassing, but fun. I've never had people buy stuff for me like that."

"I'll bet. How did you like the mall?"

"Neat--it's so big. I'll bet you could buy anything you wanted there."

"Just about," she agreed. "The girls like to go there with their friends--they make a whole afternoon of it."

"What do they buy?"

"Usually nothing, or else little things."

Peter frowned. "What's the point of going if you don't buy something?"

She shrugged. "Sometimes it's fun just to go and shop--see what there is. Without buying, which can get too expensive. All the girls like going to the mall."

Peter shook his head. "I don't get it."

She laughed. "No, you probably don't. Paul doesn't either. I guess it's just something girls do. Guys don't understand. But most girls don't understand sitting in a boat with a pole and a line all day, either, and most guys love fishing. I know Paul does."

"I've never been fishing," Peter commented.

"Well, you'll have to tell Paul; I'm sure he'll take you."

"I'd like that," he agreed. There were fish in the lake by the temple, and he sometimes saw the townspeople fishing, but it wasn't an activity exercised at the vegetarian temple, and when he'd asked his father about it, Caine declared that fishing for sport was cruel and caused the fish much suffering.

"What are you reading?" Annie's voice brought him back to the present.

"Comic book. Spiderman."

"Did you bring that with you?"

"No, I got it today."

She frowned. "You did? When did you get it? In what store?"

"Um, the one with all the stuff."

"That's a little vague, Peter, try again."

"We got my backpack, and some books and other stuff. The girls each got magazines and I got this."

"I remember the store, and I remember the girls' magazines, but I don't remember the comic book. Did you tell me you were getting it?"

Peter went cold. He'd seen the girls each select a magazine and put it in the cart, so he'd done the same with his comic. "N-no-- I thought--I thought you knew."

"How would I know if you don't tell me, Peter."

"I-I'm sorry. The girls put their magazines in the cart. I thought you knew."

"They asked me about the magazines and I told them they could each pick one."

Peter's heart sunk to his socks. "I-I didn't steal it--" he stammered.

"I didn't say you did. But Peter, if you're going to get something, you have to tell me. I can't see it, you have to let me know. I don't want you taking advantage of the situation--Mom can't see what I'm doing, so it doesn't matter. That's the one thing I will not tolerate."

"I'm sorry--" he blurted. "I didn't mean to do that--honest. I thought you knew, I didn't--I didn't think it was a problem. I saw the girls do it, I thought it was okay. I'm sorry--"

"All right," she interrupted. "All right, honey, settle down. I'm not angry, it's all right."

"I didn't mean--" He was almost crying; he'd taken advantage of her blindness--he'd offended her.

"I know that." She sat next to him, putting a hand on his shoulder. "I know you didn't mean it. We're still learning about each other, there are bound to be mistakes. If you'd asked, I've have said yes. Next time, please ask."

"I will. I'm so sorry--"

"Shh, it's all right, baby, don't fret. It's over and done with. Let it go. I'm not angry with you, honest I'm not. You've learned from your mistake, that's enough for me. All right?"

He looked at her through upturned eyes. She didn't look angry. Which didn't stop him from feeling like pond scum. But he took a deep breath and nodded.

"I can't hear your head rattle, Peter."

He sighed, exasperated with himself. "Shit. I keep forgetting. I'm not doin' very well here tonight, am I?"

She smiled and put her arm around him, giving him a hug. "A lot of it's probably new-place jitters. You'll settle in and it will all feel like second-nature. But as long as we're on the subject, I'd rather you didn't swear, Peter. The girls will start picking it up, and I don't want them to. Okay?"

He started to nod, then caught himself. "Okay."

She laughed and hugged him tighter, and he curled against her shoulder, sighing. So, he hadn't blown it--at least not yet.

She kissed his temple. "So, tell me about your comic book. Who did you say it was? Spiderman?"

"Yeah."

"Is he your favorite?"

"No, I like the Green Lantern best, but he's sometimes hard to find. So instead I'll read Spiderman or the X-Men--they're kinda fun."

"Superman?"

"No, Superman's a wimp."

"A wimp?" she laughed.

"Well, maybe not a wimp. But he's such a fake. I mean, nobody could do all the things he's supposed to do."

"They could if they were a 'strange being from another planet'," she said.

"But the problem is, if he can do all this stuff, then he can do everything and there's no suspense. You know he'll always win. That gets boring."

"What about kryptonite?"

"Oh, like there's kryptonite all over the place. No, that's something he's allergic to. But there's nothing physical he can't do. If he couldn't leap the tallest buildings, or if he couldn't fly, or something, then he'd have something to struggle against. Otherwise he's just too predictable."

"I see," she nodded. "Do you like comic books?"

"They're okay. I don't read them all the time, though. Some of the guys at the orphanage collected them, and I thought that was kind of stupid. They're just comic books. I mean, they're fun to read, but no big deal."

"Do you like reading books?"

"Yeah. I like detective stories, maybe some mysteries but not the rich upper-class people pretending to be detectives. I like police stories better. Or detective stories where you can relate to the people. Do you like to read--oh, that was a stupid question, I'm sorry."

She smiled. "No, it wasn't a stupid question, and yes, I do like to read. Here--I'll show you my books." She walked over to a bookcase, pulling a thick volume off the shelf. She handed it to him. The pages had no text on them, but were filled with a series of bumps. Braille.

"You can read this?" he asked, awed. To him it looked like damaged paper.

"Yes, almost as quickly as you can read words on a page. Here, I'll show you." She opened the book, quickly scanned the page with her fingers, then returned to the top of the page and read a paragraph aloud, fingers flying over the paper, reading it almost as quickly as Peter would have read a printed page.

"Wow," he breathed. "That's really neat. Can you teach me that?"

"If you'd like," she smiled. "Getting books translated into braille is expensive, and they're expensive to buy, so I also 'read' books by listening to tapes of them. There's a service which makes audio tapes of books, and all I need to do is put a cassette into the tape deck, and I can hear the book, just as if someone were reading it out loud to me. And sometimes Paul or the girls will read to me--especially newspapers and magazines--things which don't often get translated."

He looked at her shyly. "Can--can I read for you--some time?"

She smiled and hugged him tight. "I'd like that, sweetheart. Any time at all."

They were still cuddled on the couch when Paul walked into the room. "I give up for tonight," he said, looked at them and smiled. Peter blushed and attempted to straighten from his foster mother's embrace, but she kept her arm around him securely. "What have you two been up to?"

"Oh, we've just been talking," Annie told him, "about all kinds of things--my books, shopping versus fishing, Spiderman and Superman...."

"Superman," Paul smiled. "When I was a kid, he was my hero."

Peter felt himself go red again and Annie laughed, kissed his cheek, and slipped from his arms. "I leave this one to you, Peter," she grinned.

"Why, what's wrong?" Paul asked.

"Nothing, it's just--" Peter took a breath, "well, I think Superman's a fake."

"A fake?" Paul's eyebrows raised. "Why do you say that?"

Annie left the room and Paul settled himself in the easy chair across from Peter. And they argued about the relative merits of Superman until it was time to go to bed.



Chapter 5: Independence Day

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