Kept in the Dark



October 1981



Peter tossed down his economics book and stretched, feeling his spine crack all the way up. He had a test tomorrow and economics, one of his most hated subjects, was fighting him every step of the way. Time for a study break, he told himself. There was a piece of pie with his name on it in the refrigerator, and it was calling to him.

He ran downstairs, heading into the kitchen, but as he passed Paul's den, he stopped. He could hear his foster parents' voices coming from behind the closed door. It sounded like they were arguing. Peter frowned; he'd never heard the Blaisdells argue, not once in the almost eighteen months he'd lived here. Oh, sure, they'd had disagreements, but this--this sounded serious.

He knew he was eavesdropping, and quite frankly, didn't give a damn about propriety as he strained to make out the words.

"But why do you have to...." his mother said.

"Annie, you know the reason...." Paul answered.

"Tell them you can't--"

"I can't do that--"

"It's wrong, Paul. It's wrong for you and it's wrong for us!"

"I know, but there's nothing--"

Most of the conversation was lost through the thickness of the door.

Still frowning, Peter finally gave up spying and went into the kitchen. He ate his promised piece of pie, but mechanically, not really tasting it. Why were they fighting? What was going on? What did Paul have to do that Mom didn't want him to do?

He was snapped from his reverie by the phone ringing, but before he could get across the kitchen to it, someone else picked it up. A minute later, the door to the den opened, and Paul called, "Peter!"

"Yeah?" Peter stepped into the hall.

"Oh, you're down here, good," his foster father said. "Carolyn's done with practice--go and pick her up?"

Peter had gotten his driver's license only two months previously; driving was still enough of a thrill that he never minded running errands--things like picking his sister up after play practice.

"Sure," he answered and Paul smiled, tossing him his car keys.

"Straight home--I don't want you kids stopping off someplace on the way. You've got school tomorrow, got it?"

"Yes, sir." Peter sometimes wondered if his foster father could read his mind. He used to be positive his real father could. He put his dirty plate in the dishwasher, then grabbed his coat, heading out to the car.

In front of the high school, he honked twice and Carolyn came out. She'd been cast in the fall play, which was opening next weekend, so the director had scheduled a couple of evening rehearsals. She was thrilled to have gotten this part as a freshman, even though it wasn't a very big part, and was very excited about her "career" in the theatre. Peter liked seeing plays, but the idea of actually getting up on stage terrified him, so he was pleased to leave the theatrics to his foster sister. She opened the car and got in, and he pulled away from the curb.

"Some of the cast is going over to Barone's," she said, "I want to go."

"Not a chance," Peter told her, turning toward home and away from town and its pizza parlor. He'd also learned that part of the attraction of doing plays was the very active social life the drama club kids had; there were always parties.

"Oh, come on, Peter, it's early. And we don't have to stay long."

"No way--Paul said to come right home, so that's what we're doing."

"Oh, and since when do you listen to him?"

"Since I want to use the car this weekend to go out with Kim, and if I don't bring you right home I can kiss that one goodbye." Kim was Peter's girlfriend, a petite blonde with bright blue eyes and a soft, slightly husky voice. She was a soloist in the school concert choir, the first sophomore girl to be so honored, and the first time Peter had heard her sing, he'd been enchanted. He went up to her after the concert and complimented her, surprised to discover she was at least as shy as he was. And that gave him the courage to ask her out. They'd been dating for about six months.

Carolyn scowled. "Party pooper."

"No, I just know where I'd rather be partying, and it's not with the theatre geeks."

"They're not geeks," she insisted. "You can't call Craig Billings a geek."

"Craig Billings is a stuck up prick who thinks everybody should kiss his ass," Peter declared. Craig was, in addition to being the lead in the play, the captain of the football team, the Senior class president, and the president of the concert choir. His only saving grace, in Peter's opinion, was that he was as stupid as a knothole with just about as much personality.

"Oh, charming," she snorted. "Don't let Mom and Dad hear you talk like that."

Mention of his foster parents brought Peter back down to earth--back to what he'd overheard earlier. "Hey, Carolyn, have they said anything to you--"

"About what?"

"I don't know, about anything going on that's different?"

"Huh?"

"Um--I heard them earlier--they were arguing about something."

"So?"

"I mean really fighting--raised voices and the whole thing. That ever happened before?"

Now it was Carolyn's turn to frown. "You sure you heard it right?"

"I dunno; they were in Paul's den and the door was closed, but it sure sounded heated to me."

"Well," she said, "I wouldn't worry about it, it's probably nothing. They disagree sometimes, but they don't ever really fight. I mean, Julie told me that when her parents fight, things get thrown and glasses get broken, and her mom got a black eye once, and once her mom went after her dad with a butcher knife."

"Shit!" Peter muttered. One of his less-successful foster homes had been that kind of abusive place. Thanks to that experience, even simple arguments between parents made him nervous. "I guess I'll take a few raised voices," he said as he pulled the car into the driveway.

But the memory of what he'd heard didn't fade, and Peter was still troubled when he finally gave up on his economics homework and got ready for bed. He picked up the novel he was reading--Ian Fleming's "Dr. No"--but couldn't concentrate. So with a sigh, he put it aside and got out of bed, heading down the hall to his parents' room.

Paul and Annie had what they called an "open door policy" with their children; that is, they were always available, as long as their bedroom door was open. Peter had learned that the closed door meant certain "moments" were private between them, and knew not to bother them at those times. Tonight the door was open, and the small bedside lamp on Paul's side was on. Annie was preparing to get into bed when he knocked. The sound of running water indicated Paul was in the bathroom.

"Mom?" he called softly. She turned around and looked toward the door. Except that her eyes didn't follow movement, when she looked at him, Peter could almost swear that she actually saw him.

"Peter, what is it, honey?"

He cleared his throat. "Is everything okay?" he asked.

"Yes, why wouldn't it be?"

"Well, um--" he suddenly felt very awkward. "When I came downstairs earlier, I heard you and Paul fighting."

She smiled, but it was kind of a sad smile. "We weren't fighting; we were disagreeing."

"Sounded like fighting to me," he mumbled.

She sighed. "Yes, I could see how it might. But we were just--" She paused, then tried again. "Paul has to--" She shook her head. "I'm not going to do this, not this time. Paul--" she called. "Come out here."

The water shut off and the bathroom door opened. Paul stepped into the bedroom, a towel between his hands. "What is it--" he began, then saw Peter. "Peter, is something the matter?"

"He heard us arguing earlier," Annie told him.

A look Peter couldn't interpret flashed across Paul's face. "Oh. Well, we weren't really fighting, son, we were just having a difference of opinion."

"No, Paul, he's old enough; I think he should know why."

"Babe--" Paul began to protest.

"Please. It's not fair to him. He already knows something is wrong."

Paul frowned, and Peter got scared. There was obviously a big problem here, if Annie was worried and Paul didn't want to talk about it.

"What's going on?" Peter asked, a catch in his voice, "what happened? Is it something I--"

"No, son, it's nothing like that, calm down. Everything's all right," Paul reassured him, a hand on his shoulder. "I've got to go away for a few days, on a business trip."

"Oh." That didn't sound too terrible--he'd been away to Police conferences before. Why was this one different?

"Tell him the rest of it," Annie said.

Paul looked at her, then back at Peter. Then he sighed. "Sit down, Peter." Peter wordlessly sat on the edge of the bed, Annie sitting next to him. Paul stood behind her, hands on her shoulders. "A long time ago," he began, "before I was married, I worked for the government. And sometimes they call me to advise them on certain--situations. They called this afternoon, and I have to be in Washington tomorrow."

"Government," Peter mused, "like the FBI?"

There was an uncomfortable pause. "Not exactly."

Peter thought about that. What else would a cop have done in the government before he became a cop? Military? Or-- "You mean like CIA?" The silence that answered him told him more than words could. His mouth opened, agape. "You're a spy?!"

"No." Paul's answer was immediate and definite.

"Were you a spy?"

Paul smiled. "No, not really. But Peter--you have to promise me that what I'm telling you you don't ever tell anybody else, do you understand?" Peter nodded. "Promise me!"

"I promise," he said, his voice hushed. "Do the girls know?"

"No. Fortunately, this doesn't happen often; this is only the third time since I--stopped working for them."

"Why do they call you?" Peter wanted to know. "I mean, if you quit--"

"Well, I'm what they call a contract player, that means I work for them occasionally on a contract basis. So I'm sort of--on call. They contact me whenever a situation arises of which I have knowledge."

"Is it dangerous?"

"It shouldn't be," Paul answered, but Peter saw his hands tighten on Annie's shoulders. "I'll be going tomorrow, and I may be home as early as the weekend, or it could be as long as the following weekend."

"What will you be doing?"

"Advising. And I can't tell you any more than that."

Peter frowned. He felt he was still missing part of the picture. "Advising doesn't sound dangerous," he said tentatively.

"It shouldn't be," Paul repeated. "But--it's a dangerous business. That's what your mother is worried about--something unexpected happening."

"Yeah, but couldn't that happen at work--on the street?"

"Then, I'd know about it," Annie spoke for the first time. "If something happens while he's with them, we may not ever be told the truth. They're experts in lies and deception."

"Honey--" Paul protested.

"You know it's the truth, Paul," she insisted. "That's why I hate it when you go--not just the danger, but the not knowing. That's what's so hard. Thinking that something could happen to you and I'd never know--"

He sat down next to her, pulling her against him, and she turned her head, pressing her face to his shoulder. Peter watched, amazed; he'd never seen Annie upset like this; he didn't like it.

Paul must have read his expression, because he said, "I wish I could say for certain that nothing will happen, that it'll be a nice, boring trip to Washington. But unfortunately, in that business, there are no guarantees. I will tell you that if they try to get me involved in more than I feel comfortable with, they'll have a fight on their hands."

"But you'll do it anyway," Annie said, resigned. "You always do."

"Babe, they don't give me a lot of choice!"

Peter swallowed. He really didn't like seeing his foster parents quarrel like this. He especially didn't like seeing Annie upset. "Don't they know," he began, "--I mean, didn't you tell them--you know, that you're needed here? I mean, do they know about Mom? About her being blind?"

"Yes," Paul sighed. "They know. That's why I left in the first place. Because my wife and my family came before my job. But in certain instances--instances of national security, that's their phrase for it--it doesn't matter what someone's other commitments are. The job comes first with them. Always and evermore."

"But if something happened to you--on their job, I mean--" Peter stammered.

"If anything happened to me, anywhere, Peter, my family would be taken care of. That's something I've always made sure of," Paul told him. "I'm a cop, that's not exactly a safe occupation, either. Good cops always make sure that if anything happens to them, their families will be taken care of."

Peter swallowed and looked down. That hadn't exactly answered his question. "But--" he began, "what about--me?" After all, he wasn't family, not really.

"I said family, Peter, that means all my family. And that includes you."

Peter looked up. "But--but I'm not--"

"Not what? Family? Sure you are. You are to me and you are to Annie. And you are to the girls. This is exactly what that business with the court was earlier in the year. So that there wouldn't be any question where you belonged if something happened to me or Annie."

The business Paul referred to was a series of court dates this past spring in which Peter was made the legal ward of the Blaisdells, until he was eighteen. They'd briefly discussed adoption, but Peter had shied away from the idea, not wanting to give up the one part of his father's legacy which still remained--his name. Paul and Annie hadn't pushed it, loving him as Peter Caine as much as they would have loved Peter Blaisdell. Peter was grateful for their understanding and acceptance, though part of him felt guilty about his decision, like he was rejecting them, while taking their support. He loved them but--it was a step he just couldn't take.

"So if anything happens--ever--" Peter began.

"You'll be taken care of, just like the girls are. After the hearing last spring I even changed my will to include you."

Peter shuddered involuntarily. Wills meant death. And death was something he'd known too well in his young life.

Annie could feel his reaction even sitting two feet from him. "Peter? What is it, sweetie?"

He just shook his head. "Don't like talking about it," he mumbled.

"No, I'm sure you don't." She extended a hand and put in on top of his.

"Back to the original topic, Peter," Paul deftly changed the subject, "I'll be leaving tomorrow and I don't know how long I'll be gone. But I'll try very hard to call every day, so you know I'm all right. And I'll do my best to do the job and get back here as fast as I possibly can. None of us really likes the situation, kid, but we're gonna make the best of it, and hope that it doesn't happen very often. Okay?"

Peter nodded. "Okay."

"Good." Paul reached over and ruffled his hair. "Now, it's late and you've got school tomorrow; let's get you to bed." He squeezed Annie's shoulder, then reached a hand toward Peter, who rose, kissed his mother good night, and left the bedroom. He thought Paul was accompanying him as far as the door to close it behind him, and was surprised when his foster father continued down the hall with him to his bedroom.

"Is there something else?" he asked.

In response, Paul put his arm around Peter's shoulder, escorting him into his room. "I was going to talk to you about this tomorrow morning, or at least some of it," he began, his voice pitched low. "Annie--well, you know she's not happy about this. Tell the truth, neither am I. But she always worries. Can't say that I blame her; if there was any way I could get out of it-- Anyway, I'd like you to do something for me while I'm gone, Peter. I want you to keep an eye on your mother and the girls; look after them for me. Mom doesn't like being left alone--she doesn't like it when I have to go out of town, even when it's just for police business. She especially doesn't like it when it's for the government. So I'm counting on you to take care of things around here for me. I'll leave you the car keys, you can use the car to run errands for your mother, or take the girls places, but I don't want you driving to school, got it?" Peter just nodded, wordlessly. "I'm also going to leave you my gas credit card. You can use it if you have any trouble with the car, or to put gas in it. You know to call Bill if you need anything?" Bill Sullivan was Paul's Chief of Detectives at the precinct, and a good friend of the family. Peter nodded again. "Mostly, I just want you to keep an eye on everything for me. It'll be a load off my mind knowing Annie and the girls have someone taking care of them. Can you do that for me?"

Peter nodded, both awed and honored in the trust Paul was placing in him. "Yes, sir," he said softly.

Paul smiled and pulled him into a hug, and Peter held on tight. He didn't want to show his foster father how much this trip was scaring him, but knowing Paul, he'd already figured it out. Because he stroked Peter's hair and kissed his temple. "When did you get so tall?" he murmured and Peter just shrugged.

"I dunno--it just--happened."

Paul chuckled and ruffled his hair. "You're growing up, kid."

Peter, not sure how to respond to that, just looked away, embarrassed. Paul, fortunately, didn't prolong the agony. He broke the hug with a gentle pat of his back. "You've got school tomorrow, you'd better hit the sack. I'll see you in the morning before I go."

"Okay," Peter answered, crawling under the covers. "G'night."

"Good night, son," Paul said softly. Then he winked at Peter, turned off the light and closed the bedroom door.



~~~~~



The following morning was fairly chaotic, as the three children got ready for school and Paul prepared for his trip. The girls had been told that Paul was going out of town on police business and didn't question it. Though Peter thought he noticed a look of skepticism on Carolyn's face when she was told. Perhaps his sisters were cleverer than their parents gave them credit for.

Carolyn was also upset over the fact that her father might not be back in time to see her in her play--her stage debut. But Paul assured her that he'd do absolutely everything in his power to get back in time.

"Hey, Paul," Peter began, catching his foster father as he came through the kitchen, "can I have the car on Saturday night?"

"What for?" Paul asked.

"Take Kim out," Peter answered.

"Out where?"

"I dunno--movies, probably."

"Eleven o'clock, Peter, no later."

"Aw, come on, Paul--"

"That's the rules, you know that," he said sternly. "If you have the car, you're back in by 11:00. That's not just my law, that's curfew. Until you're 17. So it's your choice. You take the car, you're in by 11:00. Or you can have Kim over and rent a movie."

"With Mom and the girls, I don't think so," Peter scoffed. It wasn't exactly his idea of a dream date.

"Your choice," Paul repeated. "But if I hear you're late getting in on Saturday, I'll nail your butt to the floor when I get back. Got it?"

Peter sighed. Not that he'd expected anything different, but it never hurt to try. "Yes, sir."

"Good." Then Paul smiled and put a hand on Peter's shoulder. "And do one other thing for me before you go out."

"What?"

"Make sure Mom and the girls don't need anything, make sure they'll be all right while you're gone."

"Paul, for heaven's sake, he's going on a date, not to Alaska!" Annie said, exasperated. "I sincerely doubt we'll have an emergency run on toilet paper while he's out."

"I just want to make sure everything's taken care of while I'm away," he defended.

"I know, and I appreciate it, but we'll be fine, don't worry."

Paul looked at his wife and Peter saw a look on his face that made him shiver. He wasn't sure whether to long for that kind of love, or be terrified of it. Probably both.

"You know I always worry when I'm away from you," Paul said softly.

"And I wouldn't ask you not to," Annie replied, her voice soft. Her eyes were shielded by her dark glasses, but Peter could feel the same love coming from her; it emanated from her entire being. "I worry about you just as much."

"I know, Babe," he said, and put his arm around her, "but I'll be back as soon as I possibly can."

"You'd better!" she teased, and they kissed tenderly.

Peter had seen his foster parents kiss before, but it always made him uncomfortable--like he was seeing something he shouldn't be seeing. But they were very affectionate with each other at home, and had no qualms about their children seeing that affection, just as they willingly expressed their love for their children; Peter had been hugged more since he'd moved in with them than he had in his entire life.

The sound of a car in the driveway broke them from their embrace.

"That's my limo," Paul said, "I've gotta go."

"'Bye, Daddy!" Kelly jumped up from her place at the breakfast table, and ran to throw her arms around her father.

"Goodbye, Baby," he said, hugging his youngest daughter tight, "Be good, I'll be home soon."

"I will," she smiled.

Paul let her go and hugged Carolyn. "And you," he said. "And I promise I'll do absolutely everything I can to get home for opening night. So you make sure you get Mom and me a ticket, okay, hon?"

"Okay, Dad," Carolyn hugged him back.

"And you," Paul said, and extended an arm to Peter, who hesitated only slightly before going into the offered hug. "You'll do like I asked?" he whispered.

"Yeah," Peter replied softly.

"Good. I'm counting on you, son." He let Peter go and reached for his wife. "Walk me to the door, Babe," he said softly, and she went into the circle of his arm and saw him to the door.

As soon as their parents were out of the kitchen, Carolyn turned to Peter. "Where's he really going?" she demanded.

Peter thought fast. "He said he was going to Washington for a conference," he shrugged. "Why?"

"It seems like everybody's getting worked up over a stupid police conference. This has to be what you heard them fighting about last night, doesn't it?"

"I dunno, I didn't ask," he lied. "I think she just doesn't like him to be gone for so long. And I don't think he really wants to go."

Carolyn's eyes narrowed. "Maybe," she said, unconvinced. Peter decided to talk to Paul about including Carolyn in on the secret, when he got back.

But then Annie came back into the kitchen and said, "Come on, gang, get a move on or you'll be late." And they all hurried to finish their breakfasts, gather up homework and head off to school. Peter's friend Ray, who'd been given a car for his sixteenth birthday, honked to pick him and Carolyn up, and Kelly headed down the street towards the grade school on her bike.



~~~~~



The rest of the week passed in a blur. Peter's economics test was a bear and he struggled through it, finding it difficult to concentrate. But he didn't think his teacher would accept 'please, can I retake the test later--my foster father is a spy and he just went off on a dangerous espionage mission and I was worried about him' as an excuse. So he willingly accepted the low C he scored on the exam, grateful at least that he hadn't totally blown it.

True to his word, Paul called every night and he and Annie talked for about fifteen to twenty minutes. His mother said that Paul was fine, hated Washington, the job was boring, and he couldn't wait to come home. That made Peter smile. It was nice that Paul's work wasn't as important to him as his family. Sometimes, with his real father, Peter had never been sure whether he was important in the priest's life, or incidental.

Saturday, Peter took Annie to the grocery store for weekly shopping, then ran a couple of other errands with her, making sure she had everything she needed. Carolyn got dropped off at the high school for rehearsal in the morning, and called to say she and some of the cast were going out for hamburgers afterwards, so she'd get a ride home. Peter didn't mind not having to go pick her up. He spent some time on the phone with Kim, choosing a movie and deciding where to go to eat. And then, much to the delight of his little sister, spent quite awhile deciding what to wear and almost as long in the bathroom getting ready as Carolyn did. Paul called and asked to speak with him, reminding him about the curfew again, and Peter promised again to be home on time.

On Sunday, having gotten home at one minute to 11:00 the night before, Peter fully intended to sleep in, but was roused by his mother at 8:15, with the request to get dressed so he could drive her and the girls to church. He muttered a token protest, but did as he'd been asked, took them to church, then came home and crashed again until it was time to pick them up again. Once everyone was home, Annie made her usual big Sunday breakfast and Peter and the girls spread the Sunday paper out on the family room floor, as usual, and fought over who got the funnies first, and who had the TV Guide. When Paul called that afternoon, Peter was pleased to report that he'd gotten home on time, and that he'd even gotten up early to take Annie and the girls to church. Paul chuckled, but congratulated him on a job well done. He told Annie that he expected to be busy at night, so he was getting his call in early, and not to worry if they didn't hear from him tonight. Peter didn't think anything more about it.

He also didn't think anything of the fact that when he got home from Ray's at suppertime on Monday, Paul hadn't called yet. But when he hadn't called by bedtime, Peter started to get worried.

He got ready for bed and padded into his foster parents' room. Annie was sitting at her dressing table, brushing her hair. The little light next to Paul's side was on, but the rest of the room was in dimness.

"Mom?"

The sound made her jump and she dropped the brush. "Oh, Peter--you startled me."

"Sorry," he said, coming into the room and picking up the brush for her. "I was just wondering, well, whether Paul called while I was in the shower."

"No, he didn't," she answered, taking the brush from him and setting it carefully back on the table. Peter thought her movements looked studied--careful. As if she had to concentrate where she was putting the brush.

"Oh. Oh well--I'm sure he just got busy...." he stammered.

"Yes, I'm sure that's all it is. The first time he went off, he was out of contact for over a week." She sighed. "But that time, he told me he'd be incommunicado, so I wasn't expecting a call. It was different then, somehow. Still," she forced a bright smile, "I'm sure everything's all right. He'll call tomorrow, I shouldn't worry." But Peter wasn't convinced by her attitude, nor, he could tell, was she fooling herself.

"Yeah," he agreed, forcing his own smile. He hugged her and kissed the top of her head, just like he'd seen Paul do so many times before. "It'll be all right," he whispered, "you'll see."

She patted the hand resting on her shoulder. "I know, baby. But thank you. Now you'd better get to bed."

"Okay," he nodded reluctantly. He really didn't want to leave her--not when it was so obvious she was worried. "G'night."

"Good night, sweetheart. Sweet dreams."

He walked to the door, but turned back to look at her, looking so small sitting at her dressing table. At almost the same moment, she looked up, as if seeing his reflection in the mirror, and then she was off her bench and across the room, taking him into a fierce hug, being held by him just as tightly.

The hug lasted only a moment; just long enough for them to give and take reassurance from each other. Then she kissed his cheek softly and patted his arm. "Good night, Peter."

"'Night, Mom," he said. "I love you."

She just smiled, but she saw the faintest glimmer of tears in her eyes. "I love you too, baby, with all my heart." Then she turned him around by the shoulders and gave his fanny a gentle pat. "Now get to bed."

"Yes, ma'am," he said and headed down the hall, crawling under the covers and staring into the darkness, thoughts of Paul and Annie filling his head; thoughts of love and loss and worry and fear. It took a long time before Peter fell asleep.



~~~~~



The following morning was no better. Annie looked like she hadn't gotten much sleep; she wore her glasses in the kitchen, something she seldom did, especially on cloudy days like today. Peter suspected that was to cover up the circles under her eyes. She moved around the kitchen slowly, a couple of times stopping and reaching out, feeling for a table or counter, as if to double check on her location. Lunches got made, but they were simple sandwiches, and the kids each found their own extras and desserts.

The girls ran upstairs to get their books, and Peter sat down next to his foster mother at the kitchen table. "Mom," he began, "I don't have to go to school today--"

"Yes you do," she corrected.

"But if you need me--"

"I won't need you, Peter, I'm fine. There's nothing you can do for me here. Either he'll call or he won't. And if he finds out you didn't go to school simply because he didn't call, he'll have your hide. Now go get your books."

"But--"

"I said no, Peter." Her tone left no room for negotiation. "Now get ready for school."

"Yes, ma'am," he said sullenly. But she smiled gently and patted his hand.

"I'll be fine, sweetie, but thank you for caring."

He didn't know what to say to that; he only ducked his head and blushed, grateful she couldn't see his flush, but knowing she probably knew about it anyway; she always did.



The day was lost in a haze of anxiety, and Peter hurried home right after school, wanting to know if Paul had called during the day--wanting to make sure everything was all right.

The look on Annie's face told him all he needed to know.

"He didn't call."

"No," she said quietly.

"Shit."

"Watch your mouth," she scolded, but the reprimand was mechanical.

He chewed on his lip. "What are we gonna do?"

"We're going to go on and live our lives," she answered. "We'll find out when we find out. There's nothing else we can do."

"But you said they might never--"

"Peter you're not helping!" she snapped. Then she took a deep breath. "I'm sorry, darling, I know you're worried. I'm worried, too. But quite honestly, there's nothing we can do. We can only take each day as it comes and pray to God that everything's all right."

A lump formed in Peter's throat. "I-I don't believe in God," he whispered.

"Then pray to whatever power you do believe in," her voice caught. "Excuse me."

She left the kitchen, heading upstairs.

Shit! He'd just made a mess of that one, hadn't he. Go ahead and rub it in why don't you! He could be a real idiot sometimes.

Peter sighed and opened the refrigerator, looking for something to eat as an after school snack, but he realized he wasn't hungry. He slammed the refrigerator door and went outside, heading for his secret place. Both he and his foster mother needed a little time alone.



Dinner was pizza, ordered from the pizza parlor in town. Annie had started dinner, like usual, but after she broke the second plate, she threw up her hands, laughing nervously about being all thumbs, and decided they'd splurge on a pizza instead. The kids loved pizza, of course, so the decision went over well, but Peter didn't eat as much as usual--for some reason, he still wasn't very hungry. He noticed that Annie ate very little, also, and that she had to keep reaching out and feeling where she'd just set things down, as if she couldn't tell instinctively.

After dinner, she left the girls to clean up the dishes, and went back upstairs. Peter watched her go, his thoughts interrupted by Carolyn, who said, "I hope she feels better."

"Huh?"

"Mom. She must have a headache, or be getting a cold or something. She always gets clumsy when she's not feeling well. I guess it gets too hard to concentrate on everything. It's really the only time I notice anymore that she's blind."

"Oh," Peter answered stupidly. "I just thought she was tired."

"Well, maybe that, too," Carolyn agreed. "I think she's missing Dad."

"Yeah, probably," Peter agreed.

"I just hope he gets home in time for my play."

Peter almost said something--he may not be coming home--we haven't heard from him in over 48 hours--he's doing something very dangerous and we don't know what's happened to him--but stopped himself. After all, he didn't know himself what Paul was doing, what good would it do getting Carolyn worried. So instead he just said, "Yeah, well I'm sure he'll make it--you know Paul."

"Yeah," she grinned. "Good old Dad--wouldn't miss something one of his kids were doing, not if he could help it. I remember once he cancelled a meeting in New York so he could go with Kelly to a father/daughter thing at school. He'll be home." Seemingly satisfied with her rationalization, Carolyn finished loading the dishwasher, then went upstairs to do her homework.

Peter just shook his head. If only it was so easy this time. If only it was a stupid police meeting. But no, Paul was doing dangerous work for the government. And he was missing.

He went upstairs. The door to Annie's room was partway open, though the lights were off. He opened the door and peered inside. She was lying on the bed, but turned her head when he came in.

"Who is it?"

"It's me," he answered.

"What is it, Peter?"

He came over and sat on the edge of the bed, taking one of her hands in his. He allowed the light from the hall to cast enough illumination and left the lights off. "How are you feeling--Carolyn said you might have a headache or something?"

"I'm fine, baby. Just tired."

"Yeah, me too. It was hard to sleep last night." He stroked a finger over her slender hands. "Mom?"

"Yes."

"What if he doesn't come back?"

"He will."

"But what if he doesn't?"

"No," she said vehemently. "That's just wishing for trouble. We won't discuss that."

"But you have to think about it--"

"I said no, Peter. I won't discuss it. The phone will ring, or he'll come walking through the door, and we'll both feel pretty silly for getting so worried. I won't invite bad things by talking about them."

"But that's superstition."

"That's enough!" she snapped. "We can't even think about that possibility. We will go on, just like normal, praying that everything's all right, and trusting that we'll learn something soon. I know you're worried, Peter. I am too, I'm very worried. But our worry won't bring Paul back any faster; it won't change anything. I'm grateful for your caring and support, darling, but I want you to just drop it, okay?"

Peter chewed on his lip. "I can't--I can't think about anything else." He took a deep breath. "I--I don't know what I'd do if anything happened to him."

"You'd manage," she said softly, and there was a little quiver in her voice, "just like I would. But hopefully, we won't need to find that out for many many years to come. Now go on, do your homework."

"I can't concentrate on homework," he muttered.

"Uh-uh," she shook her head. "Don't you dare use this as an excuse to not do your homework. Would Paul let you get away with that?"

He swallowed. "No."

"Right. And neither will I. If you want to help, Peter, you'll act like everything's normal--and that includes doing your homework. Got it?"

He nodded. "Yeah." Then he chuckled. "Except I never like doing my homework normally--why should now be any different?"

That made her laugh and she patted his leg. "Go on--get out of here and get cracking those books."

"Okay," he agreed, then leaned over and kissed her forehead, holding her in his arms for a brief moment. Then he obeyed and left her alone, going to his room where he stared at his American History book for two hours, not really seeing any of it. His novel didn't interest him either, the exciting adventures of James Bond holding no attraction for him tonight. It was hard to get into mythical spies when someone you--someone you loved--was in danger being a real spy. He finally gave up around 10:00, took his shower and went to bed, hoping he was tired enough to sleep, but tossing and turning just like the night before.



Peter didn't know what time he'd finally fallen asleep, but the ringing telephone jarred him, and he looked at the clock, which read 12:37. His heart was in his throat--a phone call in the middle of the night was always bad news, wasn't it? At least that's how it worked in the tv shows; he'd never gotten a middle-of-night phone call for real to know if it worked the same way. It was picked up on the second ring, and he got up, opening his bedroom door and listening for the conversation. He could hear Annie's voice through her half-closed bedroom door, but couldn't make out the words. He crept closer to hear better.

"--worried. Yes, I know, but you know how worried I get. Peter has really taken his protector role to heart--he's been underfoot for two days." She laughed softly. "Yes, a bit. Oh, it's so good to hear your voice..."

Peter sighed. It was Paul. And he was all right. Well, alive, anyway, and well enough to call. He felt a great weight lift from his shoulders and got very nearly dizzy from the relief. Paul was all right. Everything was gonna be fine. He went back to his room, crawling into bed but leaving the door open, listening to the soft hum of his foster mother's voice down the hall. He couldn't hear any words from so far away, but he didn't really need to; just knowing she was talking to Paul was enough for him.

He wondered what happened, why Paul didn't call for so long. He wondered whether he'd been doing something dangerous, like James Bond, or if it was just long hours and boring meetings, like Paul said it would be. He didn't suppose it mattered, as long as everything was all right now. And as long as Paul was coming home soon. He wanted Paul to come home; he wanted him to be back here, where he belonged, with the family that loved him.

Eventually, he realized he no longer heard Annie's voice, but heard the sound of running water in the master bathroom. Peter waited until the water stoped, gave it another minute, then swung out of bed again, padding back to Annie's room.

"Mom?" he called softly. His foster mother was sitting on the edge of the bed, blowing her nose.

"Did the phone wake you?" she asked. There was a tremor in her voice.

"Yeah--was it Paul?"

"Yes, he's fine. He said he's been in meetings for two days straight--didn't have any chance to get to a phone. He said he's tired, but other than that he's fine. He'll try to get home tomorrow." She shook her head and sniffed. "The bastard, I'll kill him."

"Huh?" Peter frowned. That wasn't exactly the reaction he was expecting.

But she chuckled softly. "Never mind, baby--that's just me getting angry now that I don't have to worry anymore."

"Angry at Paul?"

"At Paul, at his masters, at myself for getting so upset. It doesn't matter." She wadded up her tissue and threw it away. "Now go back to bed, you've got school in the morning."

"Right." He looked at her carefully--well, as carefully as he could in the darkness. In a way he almost envied her--dark or light, it made no difference to her. But he always felt lost in the dark. Not afraid, just--lost. She had dried her tears and there was a calmness about her which had been missing for days. But there was a tension, too, a different sort of tension. "Are you sure you're all right?"

She smiled gently. "Yes, baby, I'm fine. Much more so now that I've talked to Paul. "Go on, go to bed. I'll see you in the morning."

"Okay," he grinned, feeling that giddy relief wash over him again. "G'night."

He went back to bed, expecting to fall right back asleep, surprised when he lay there and stared at the ceiling again, his brain a tumble of relief, joy, pain, worry and anger.



~~~~~



Peter bolted home from school again the following afternoon, hoping that Paul would have called again or, better still, managed to come home during the day. But Annie hadn't heard anything, simply expected that she'd either hear from him in the evening, or he'd come walking in the door at some point. She seemed less worried now; she heard from Paul, she knew he'd be back. She moved around the house with--almost--her usual ease.

It was a little after 4:30 and Peter was upstairs reading when he heard a commotion in the front hall. He went to the stairs to investigate and found Paul and Annie engaged in a fierce embrace and a kiss of searing passion. Peter's breath caught in his throat and he tried to beat a hasty retreat, but found himself paralyzed by the intensity of the emotion below him. He stood there like a voyeur, guiltily watching the moment.

"Daddy's home!" Kelly's cry broke the spell, and also broke Paul and Annie's clinch. The youngest Blaisdell ran into the hall to greet her father.

"Hi, baby!" Paul said and scooped her into a hug. "You miss me?"

"I always miss you, Daddy," she giggled.

"Well that's good, sugar, 'cause I missed you, too." He let her go. "Where's Carolyn?"

"Still at rehearsal," Kelly told him. "Her play's on Friday."

"Oh, that's right," Paul nodded. "What about Peter?"

"H-here." Peter struggled to find his voice. Why he should be almost as nervous and afraid now that Paul was back as he'd been while Paul was gone was beyond him, but that's how he felt. He was shaking inside and there was a golf ball in his throat.

Paul looked up at him and smiled. "Get your butt down here and say hello," he said softly and Peter flew down the stairs and into his foster father's arms. He clung tightly for a moment, grateful for the solidness he could hang onto, the tangible proof that Paul was home and safe.

"Everything go all right?" Paul murmured in his ear.

Peter nodded. "She missed you--a lot," he whispered. "I'm glad you're home."

Paul chuckled softly. "So am I, son," he said and kissed Peter's temple before letting him go. He put an arm around Annie again, who leaned against him, her hand sliding beneath his jacket to rest protectively at his waist.

"Ah," Paul sighed, "it's good to be home. I really hate Washington. When's Carolyn due home?"

"What time is it?" Annie asked.

"About quarter of."

"Usually around 5:00 or so."

"Have you started dinner yet, babe?"

"The pork chops are thawed," she told him.

"We'll have 'em another night. Let's go out to eat tonight--celebrate."

"Celebrate what?" Kelly asked.

"I'm home," Paul spread his arms expansively. "That's reason enough for me. I want to take all my favorite people out for dinner."

"Yeah!" Kelly grinned.

Peter saw Annie's jaw tighten, and she inhaled sharply. "Excuse me," she murmured and ran upstairs. Paul watched her go, his face creased with worry.

"We'll go once Carolyn gets home," Paul said distractedly. "Let me know when she comes in, kid." With a pat to Peter's shoulder, he followed his wife upstairs.

Peter frowned. Mom was upset, even though Paul was home. Maybe it was for the same reason that Peter felt so shaky. Now that everything was back to normal, all those feelings he'd been holding inside came gushing out. Peter felt like laughing and crying and screaming and running in circles all at the same time. Mom didn't scream, maybe this was her way of dealing with it.

Kelly went back to her tv show and Peter headed to the kitchen for a cookie to tide him over until dinner. He saw the pork chops sitting on the counter waiting for dinner, and wrapped the plate in plastic, putting it in the refrigerator. Then he went upstairs, back to his book.

As he passed his foster parents' room, he paused. Their voices were muffled by the closed door, but Annie's was pitched high and harsh, Paul's sounded pleading and soothing. Then Peter heard a sound from Annie that might have been a sob, or might have been something else, and the voices ceased. He decided he'd had enough of voyeurism for the week--or maybe forever. He went down the hall to his room.

Carolyn got home about twenty minutes later, and some ten minutes after that, Paul and Annie came downstairs. He'd changed out of his suit and into a shirt and sweater, and she'd changed clothes as well. She looked calmer than she had before, and Paul seemed strangely subdued. He kept an arm protectively around his wife.

"You still got the car keys, kid?" he asked Peter.

"Yeah." Peter pulled them out of his pocket.

"Good--you can drive, Mom and I can sit in back."

"I get to sit in front!" Carolyn declared.

"No, I do," Kelly protested.

"What, you don't want to sit in back with me, sugar?" Paul teased and Kelly looked abashed, torn between sitting with her father or getting to ride in the front. Paul laughed. "Carolyn rides in front on the way, Kelly can on the way home." Both girls agreed, and they all piled into the car.

They went to their favorite seafood place and Paul requested a booth. He and Annie sat arm in arm for almost the entire meal. Annie, Peter noticed, was unusually quiet, though about halfway through the meal she started relaxing, as if she'd finally convinced herself that Paul wasn't going anywhere and could let go of him. By the end of dinner, she'd relaxed enough to seem like her old self again, though that didn't stop Paul from holding onto her securely all the way home.

The remainder of the evening passed easily with each of the kids telling Paul what they'd been up to during his week away. Kelly told Paul all about her friend Heather's new guinea pig and could she have one, too. Carolyn told Paul how rehearsals were going, and that tomorrow was the dress rehearsal. And Peter confessed that he hadn't done too well on his Econ. test--though he hadn't flunked it, either.

A little after 10:00, Annie sent the girls up to get ready for bed. At 10:30, she told Peter he should be thinking about bed, too, but he asked to be allowed to stay up through the news and Paul agreed. Around 11:00, Annie declared she was tired and was going to bed. Paul told her he'd be up as soon as the news was over.

Foster father and foster son sat watching the television quietly for several minutes, then Paul took a deep breath. "What's on your mind, son?"

Peter started; he didn't even realize he was troubled, much less that he wanted to talk to Paul. But once his foster father said something, he knew it was true. He swallowed, trying to order his thoughts.

"She was really worried, you know," he began. "Scared. When you didn't call, she didn't know what to think. She--she started dropping things, bumping into things 'cause she couldn't think anymore where stuff was. It--it was scary--it hurt to watch. I wanted to help, b-but--there wasn't anything...."

"I know, kid. I didn't know that would happen, that I'd get so involved I wouldn't be able to get to a phone. I didn't get to bed from Monday through Tuesday night. I called the first chance I got. I never should have promised to call every day, then she wouldn't have worried so much."

"No, she still would've," Peter shook his head. "It was awful, not knowing--not knowing what was happening--if you were all right." He took a deep breath. "I know you say you've gotta do this, when they call, but-but I wish you could tell them no. It's not fair; it's not fair to her."

Paul sighed. "Life isn't fair, Peter," he said evenly. "It's never been fair. If it were, then parents wouldn't die and leave their children alone. A beautiful, intelligent person like Annie wouldn't lose her sight. And the people I helped this week wouldn't need my help because they'd be independent and free. But life isn't fair; we have to accept what comes our way and make the best of it. Maybe do what we can to make it a little better. Annie knew my history when she married me--knew it and accepted it."

"But you left it behind," Peter insisted.

"She knew that someday I could get called back. She didn't like it, no. But she accepted it."

"But it's wrong. Making her worry like that is wrong."

"You think I didn't worry?" Paul asked. "You think I didn't wonder every day how you were, how you were managing without me?"

"It's not the same--you knew where we were. We didn't know what was happening, if something had happened to you or--or--"

"I didn't know what was happening, either, Peter--I was cut off from everyone I cared about at home. You at least had each other to lean on."

"But you weren't here! You didn't have to see what it did to her! She was hurting because you weren't here!"

The silence hung like a lead weight between them. Paul stared at him, an unfathomable look on his face. Peter looked away, unable to stand the intensity of his foster father's gaze. He hadn't intended to yell at Paul, it just--happened.

"I'm sorry you had to go through that," Paul said quietly. "And I'm even more sorry for what it did to her. But I can't change what happened. I can't even promise it will never happen again. All we can do is accept what is--and go on."

Peter looked at him and saw much of Annie's pain reflected in Paul's eyes. She wasn't the only victim here--they'd all suffered because of what had happened. "I--I'm s-sorry," he whispered.

"So am I, Peter," Paul replied. "More than you'll ever know."

Peter fought to push his emotions down, but they would not be suppressed. Next thing he knew, he was in Paul's arms, hugging him fiercely. "I was so scared," he choked, "if anything happened to you--"

"Shh, it's all right, son, I'm home now, everything's gonna be all right." Paul soothed him, stroking a hand over his hair.

In a little while, the intensity of the hug lessened, and Peter rested his head on his foster father's shoulder, content for the moment to just exist in the cocoon of Paul's love. He sniffed and wiped at his nose with the back of his hand.

"Peter, for God's sake," Paul chuckled, "go blow your nose."

"Sorry," he mumbled, but obediently went into the kitchen to find a tissue. He blew his nose, then made a decision and opened the refrigerator, pulling out a beer. He walked back into the family room where Paul was sitting, staring sightlessly at the tv, lost in his own head. He looked up when Peter came into the room.

Peter held out the beer--an offering and a plea. Forgiveness and apology. A gentle smile broke across Paul's face. He nodded and patted the seat next to him. Peter moved to the couch, sitting next to his foster father, handing him the beer. Paul opened it and took the first sip, passing the can on to Peter and putting his arm around Peter's shoulders. Peter took the next sip and settled close to Paul, leaning gratefully against him.

Paul was home; that's what mattered. In the end, the now was all that ever mattered. His father had taught him that lesson, Peter had just forgotten. Maybe Paul had just taught it to him again. Peter sighed and wriggled closer, basking in the protective warmth Paul offered.

They watched the rest of the news in silence, sharing their beer and the chance to be together.



Chapter 13: Rough Guide

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