Family Matters

by Jeanne DeVore



Author's Note: This story is the "kernel" from which the larger saga, Child of the Moving Tide, was born.



"Detective Caine," Peter answered his phone, half his mind still on the case file on his desk.

"Peter, there's been an accident." His foster father's voice was grave and Peter dropped the file.

"What happened?" he asked, instantly alert.

"Annie and Kelly were coming home from shopping--an oncoming car had a blowout and lost control--spun across traffic and right into them."

Peter's heart dropped to his knees. "How badly are they hurt?"

"I don't know yet--they've both been taken to St. Catherine's--I'm on my way there now."

"I'm right behind you," Peter said, grabbing his jacket as he spoke. "I'll meet you there."

"Good." Peter hung up the phone and sprinted into Strenlich's office.

"Annie and Kelly have been in a car wreck," he blurted, "Paul just called me."

"Were they hurt?" the Chief asked.

Peter nodded. "They've both been taken to the hospital--I don't know anything else yet--I told Paul I'd meet him there."

"Go on," Strenlich told him, "and Peter--"

Peter was already halfway out the door. "Yeah?"

"Tell the Captain our thoughts are with him."

Peter nodded, and then he was away.

Annie and Kelly--hurt in an accident. It didn't sound real. It didn't sink in. He tried to calm the churning in his stomach, but gave it up. He briefly contemplated using the siren to get there faster, but if his foster father found out, he would be angry. If they'd been taken to the hospital, then they were in good hands--there was nothing he could do to help them, and Blaisdell disapproved of what he termed a misuse of Police privileges.

Traffic was with him, fortunately, as were the traffic lights, and in very little time, he was pulling up in front of the emergency ward. He parked in the short-term area, figuring he could move it once he knew what was happening.

He started for the front desk when he saw Paul sitting in the waiting area. So he bypassed the desk and went right to him.

His foster father stood when he approached. "Peter--I'm glad you're here."

"How are they?" Peter asked, putting a hand on his shoulder and going with him back to the seating area.

"Kelly will be fine--she's bumped and bruised, a few cuts, maybe a slight concussion. They're still debating about whether to keep her overnight."

"Mom?" Peter asked.

Paul sighed. "Not so good," he said. "She hit her head pretty badly, and there are--internal injuries. They were about to take her up for surgery--see if they could stop the bleeding."

Peter felt a wave of dizziness wash over him, and quickly tamped down on the panic.

"Will they let us know?"

"Yes, the doctor said they'd tell me when she was going to surgery--they're waiting on the surgeon."

Peter nodded, and looked at his foster-father. Paul Blaisdell's complexion was ashen and he looked badly shaken. He put his arm around his shoulders. "It'll be all right," he said, needing something to say, however inappropriate.

Paul smiled sadly. "I hope so."

"Where's Kelly now?" Peter asked.

"Still back in Emergency, I suppose. Why don't you see if you can go back to see her?"

"Will you be OK here?"

"Yes--I'll be fine. Go on--she'll want to see you."

Peter approached the desk, but the attending nurse/clerk was busy with another patient, so he simply walked to the Emergency ward doors and went through. He heard moans coming from behind some of the curtained cubicles, but zeroed in on one, without moans, which he decided to try first. Sure enough, there was Kelly, eyes closed, a scrape on her cheek, a bruise forming on her forehead, and a small bandage on her jaw.

"Hi there, chicky," he said softly, and she opened her eyes.

"Peter," she said and smiled. He stepped up to the bed and took her hand, leaning over the bed and kissing her on the forehead.

"Have they said how Mom is?" she asked.

Peter just shrugged. "All I know is what they told Paul--they're taking her up for surgery."

Kelly swallowed hard. "It happened so fast--I heard the bang--it sounded like a gunshot. Next thing I knew, this car was weaving across the street, then he must've totally lost control, because it spun out and slammed into me. Mom--she didn't know what was happening. It was all so fast--" Her eyes filled with tears.

"Shhh, she's in good hands--it'll be all right," he soothed, stroking her hair. They stayed like that until she was under control. "How are you feeling?" he asked.

"Ehhh," she tipped her hand from side to side. "Like I've been in a car wreck. I've got a killer headache. They said that's the part they're watching--the concussion."

"Let me see--look at me," he said, and stared into her eyes. She looked like she was having a little trouble focussing. "Look a little blurry, but not too bad," he told her.

"I'm glad both of you think so," she smiled.

"Both of us?"

"Yeah--you and your twin standing next to you."

He was pleased she could joke about it, and sat down in the chair next to the bed, still holding her hand.

"Is Dad here?" she asked.

He nodded. "Out in the waiting room--I probably shouldn't stay too long. He's--kinda ragged around the edges."

She frowned. "I feel so awful--like there's something I should have done--"

"Hey, come on, it was just one of those freak accidents--nobody's fault," he assured her.

"I know, but--" she sighed. "Well, you know how we all get with Mom--always out to protect her. She was in my care and I blew it."

"Kel-- Now stop it. For god's sake, no one's blaming you. It could have been any one of us--at any time. Hell, the last time she was hurt, we weren't even there. You can't blame yourself for this--and I won't let you."

She calmed somewhat with his words, and he raised her hand to his lips, kissing it.

"Excuse me." A nurse was standing in the draped opening. Peter looked up. "I don't think you're supposed to be back here, sir," she said.

Peter just shrugged. "I dunno--there wasn't anybody up front when I came in."

"And you are?"

"Her brother," Peter said without hesitation. They'd stopped thinking of each other as foster-anything years ago. Now they were brother and sister--and close friends.

The nurse nodded. "Well, we're going to be taking her up to x-ray in a few minutes, so I'll have to ask you to leave," she said. "You can come back when she's done."

He looked at Kelly. "I should be getting back to Paul anyway," he told her. She nodded.

"Will you page me when she comes back?" he asked the nurse.

"Yes."

"Okay." He gave Kelly's hand a last squeeze. "Take care of yourself, chicky--see you soon." And he winked, at her answering grin.



~~~



Back in the waiting room, Paul was still sitting, just about where Peter left him. He looked up as Peter approached.

"They're taking her up for x-rays," he told his foster father. "Any word about Mom?"

"They've taken her for surgery."

"When?"

"Just a few minutes ago." Blaisdell looked even paler and grayer, if possible, and Peter was concerned. He put a hand on Paul's shoulder.

"Do you want to go up there--wait by surgery? I can wait here for Kelly."

"No, it'll be some time before they know anything. I'll stay here--with you. Wait for Kelly."

"Okay," Peter nodded, giving his foster father a reassuring pat. Then he spied the soda machine in the corner. "I'm gonna get a coke--you want anything?"

Paul shook his head. He looked--lost--and very old. Well so would you, Peter thought, if that were your wife going under the knife, and you'd been married as long as they have.

He got his can of soda, then returned to the waiting area, sitting next to his foster father, neither of them inclined to speak.

He tried to imagine himself in Paul Blaisdell's place--waiting while your wife--the most important person in your life--was undergoing surgery to try and repair the damage incurred in a freak car accident. He shuddered inwardly at the thought. He hoped that someday he'd find somebody to spend the rest of his life with, but if he was honest, he could hardly imagine being married as long as his foster parents had been, either. To spend more than half your life with someone--through bad as well as good. To go to sleep every night next to the same person, and wake up with them every morning. To know everything about them--from every personality trait and quirk, to every hair and mole on their body. It was an incredible thought--but one which he knew he wanted to experience for himself. Someday.

It suddenly occurred to him that he'd actually known the Blaisdells for half his life, as well. His memories of his youth in the temple were those memories he'd blocked so thoroughly after the its destruction, he'd lost most of them. Slowly, with his father's help, some of them were returning, but they had taken on an almost mystical quality in his mind. As if the temple and its inhabitants were merely a place he'd dreamed. And the two years he's spent at Pathways, the state-run orphanage, were shrouded in a haze of pain. But the moment he met the Blaisdells--that was as clear as if it had been yesterday....



~~~



The day that Police Captain Paul Blaisdell came and gave a talk at the orphanage was one Peter would never forget. When Captain Blaisdell spoke about the police and what they did, something clicked in Peter--something he thought he'd never feel. Especially not about police work.

It hadn't been easy, these past two years. It had been hard enough when, after the explosion, he'd learned that his father had been killed, leaving him alone. But when Ping Hai had grown too old and feeble to look after him and had given him to the state, that was the hardest thing of all.

Suddenly he was a part of a society about which he knew almost nothing. The occasional excursions into town he and his father had taken when he was younger had not prepared him for the realities of life--and some of his realities were pretty harsh. The skinny, shy boy with the brush of short hair all over his head and the peculiar mannerisms was a perfect target for the rough-and-tumble crowd who inhabited the orphanage. The fact that Peter, thanks to his kung fu training, had been able to handle his aggressors easily had earned him a certain respect amongst his peers--but no friends.

Adjustment to life outside the temple was difficult at best. He'd often told his father that he wanted to be a part of the world outside the temple walls, but the reality was far less than his dreams. His sketchy education--at least education in the way the state defined it--meant that he was far behind the other students his age--far enough behind that he was in a grade below where he should have been. He had to struggle with basic concepts--like English and geography--which his classmates had been dealing with all their lives. He was athletically inclined, but was virtually untrained at even the most basic sports. What he knew of sports he'd learned from television. So while he was a good athlete, he was always the last chosen on a team, because he simply didn't know the rules.

So in order to survive, Peter had determinedly put everything about his past behind him. He worked very hard to make himself "just like everybody else." Two years into his life at the orphanage, he had learned a great many things about life on the outside, and had tried very hard to assimilate. But that was not easily accomplished. He was still very much an outsider--and his long hair, bluejeans and scuffed tennis shoes did nothing to change that. At the heart of it lay the fact that he had a cultural upbringing completely different from that of his peers. He didn't understand Christmas, Easter, even Thanksgiving. They didn't understand the things he'd been raised with, and no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't really forget them--they were as much a part of who he was as "typical American boy" defined the others. He missed his friends at the temple--Li Chan, Radamhi, Soon Ming. He missed the atmosphere of the temple, and the feeling like he belonged. And he desperately missed his father. Many was the night when he would lie in his bed and stare at the ceiling, tears running unchecked down his face to puddle on the pillow, as he wept silently, afraid to wake his roommates. Afraid they wouldn't understand.

Once a month, the staff would bring in a member of the community to give a talk. They'd seen doctors, lawyers, businessmen, the assistant mayor, a fireman, even a local pastor. But this particular month, they brought in a Police Captain.

Captain Blaisdell was a kind looking man, with a friendly voice and an easy manner. Peter saw him come in earlier, when he was sitting on the front steps, watching the world go by. He didn't know for certain that the man who parked his late-model sedan in the visitor's lot and came up the stairs was the Policeman who'd be speaking, but he thought it must be. The man looked like he was--in authority. Whatever that meant. And he smiled at Peter as he passed, and told him he hoped to see him at his talk, surprised when Peter laughed and said 'no way'.

But the staff made attendance to these things--well, not quite mandatory, but 'recommended'. Peter's choice was going to the lecture or going to a study session for math. Peter went to the lecture.

And it changed his life. Captain Blaisdell was an interesting speaker. More than that, he talked to the boys in such a way that they felt he was really talking to each of them. At least, that's how Peter felt. It was nice to feel like somebody was really paying attention to you. Not only that, but he didn't talk down to them--he hated that, when people came in and talked to them like they were babies--as if orphans weren't as intelligent as everyone else. But Blaisdell wasn't patronizing at all. And the things he said--

It was as if someone had opened a door for Peter. He saw a way out of his miserable life--a way to do something good. It would be a way to combine his father's goal of helping those in need, with a way to fit in to this society he was forced to live in. And he could continue to learn to fight--his ultimate goal--while doing it in such a way that it did good, not harm. At the end of his talk, Captain Blaisdell asked for questions, and for the first time, Peter raised his hand.

"Yes?" the Captain asked.

"How do you become a policeman?" Peter asked.

Blaisdell smiled, recognizing him from before. "Glad to see you could make it. What's your name, son?"

Peter blinked, uncomfortable with someone calling him "son." "Peter," he said.

"Well, Peter, that's a good question. There are lots of ways--a lot of it depends on where you are when you decide to become an officer of the law. Some of our officers go through military training first--they learn what they need to know in the army or the navy--sometimes even serving as military police. Most of the others go through police training. The city runs a police academy, and students who are enrolled learn about police work and all its varieties. They also learn the skills necessary to become police officers. When they graduate, many of them go on to serve with the city's police department, some go on to police departments in neighboring communities. With a good police academy background behind you, there isn't a force in the country you couldn't qualify for."

"But how do you get into the police academy?" Peter wanted to know.

"It's a lot like any other school--there's an application process and an entrance exam. We require our applicants to have a high-school diploma or equivalent, and we require a certain degree of competence in several academic areas--like math, spelling, communication."

"That lets you out, Pete," one of his classmates behind him jeered, and the other boys laughed while Peter flushed and looked down. He didn't want to see the captain's face when he found out he was a dummy.

The Captain fielded a couple more questions until Mr. Trager, the warden, interrupted to say they were out of time, and to thank Captain Blaisdell for his time. The boys all applauded, and the moment was over.

Peter considered heading straight back to his room--or maybe the tv room, but after these talks, they had juice and treats. The juice was some disgusting red stuff, but the kitchen staff had made brownies for tonight, and they were one of Peter's favorites. So he told himself he'd get one brownie, eat it fast, then get out of the crowd.

The line for the food table had already formed, and Peter took his place at the end of it, feeling terribly self-conscious and wishing the line would hurry up. He finally got up to the table, took his brownie and a dixie cup of the sickening juice, and was about to turn away to eat his booty, when he almost ran into someone standing near the table. Since he was looking down, all he saw was navy blue trousers and shiny black shoes.

"Whoa, careful son" said the shoes' owner, and a hand came up to steady him. "Watch where you're going."

Peter recognized the voice and looked up, feeling ice-water in his veins. It was Captain Blaisdell.

"Sorry," he mumbled. The hand stayed on his arm.

"Peter, isn't it?" Blaisdell asked.

"Yes, sir."

"Thank you for your questions, Peter, they were good ones."

Peter didn't know what to say to that; he only flushed and looked down again.

"So you want to be a police officer, Peter?" Blaisdell went on, pretending not to notice Peter's discomfort.

Peter looked up again. "I don't know--maybe."

"What do you think would interest you about police work?"

Peter was surprised someone should ask his opinion. Surprised, but pleased. So he tried to answer the question honestly. "I think--helping people. Doing good."

Blaisdell looked surprised. "Not shooting up the bad guys?"

Peter couldn't tell if Blaisdell was teasing him, so he answered, "Not if I could help it."

It must have been the right answer, because Blaisdell smiled. "Well, that's good to hear--there's nothing glamorous about using a gun. Police know how to use them, and know when to use them. But there are lots of better ways to solve problems than by shooting people."

"Yes sir."

Blaisdell smiled again, and patted his arm. "So you think you might be interested in entering the police academy, eh?"

"Maybe," Peter replied.

"How are your grades, Peter?"

Oh oh. This was it. He looked at the floor again. "Lousy," he answered. Then he looked at Blaisdell through upturned eyes.

The Captain frowned and pursed his lips. "Well, you'll need to do a little better than 'lousy' to get into the academy," he said. Then, "How old are you?"

"Fourteen," Peter replied.

"Well then--you can't start at the academy until you're at least eighteen--that gives you plenty of time to get those grades up. You're a freshman?"

Peter shook his head. "Eighth grade."

"Well that gives you even more time to catch up."

"I'm--not very good--at a lot of things."

"Who said?" Blaisdell sounded surprised.

"All my teachers," Peter answered.

"I expect some things are harder for you than others, right?" Peter nodded. "Well, those are the things you'll need to work harder at. But you seem like a bright boy--I don't think there's anything you can't learn--If you put your mind to it. And if you're serious about wanting to try for the academy, then consider it as a goal to be strived for, and then you'll have the incentive to do better in your schoolwork." He smiled at Peter again. And Peter nervously returned the smile.

"Yeah, okay."

"Good." Blaisdell put his hand on Peter's shoulder. "Now you promise me you'll work at those classes. And I promise I'll check back with you--see how you're doing. Sound OK?"

This man--this important person--was taking an interest in Peter. The feeling was--incredible. He smiled then--a genuine, pleased smile. "Yes, sir."

"That's my man," Blaisdell said. "Well, I've got to be going," he said. "Good bye, Peter--I'll see you later."

"'Bye," Peter answered, and Blaisdell reached to shake his hand, but Peter's two hands were full of brownies and juice, so he put them both down on the table behind him and shook the Captain's hand. His handshake was firm and warm, and Peter thought that if he hadn't already decided to like Blaisdell, his handshake would have convinced him.

Mr. Trager walked the Captain out of the room, and Peter watched them go, musing about the extraordinary conversation which had just taken place. A top-ranking police officer had taken an interest in him, decided that he was a possible candidate for the police academy, and offered to help Peter help himself get there. No one had ever cared about him like that. No one since his father--

Peter shook his head, vowing to go right upstairs and work on his math homework. He turned around to get his brownie and found that someone had stolen it. The punch, however, was still there. Abandoning the punch, he went back to the snack table, only to find all the brownies were gone. So empty-handed, he walked out of the room, quite a lot less sorry about missing out on a brownie than he would have been otherwise--because that brownie had brought him the best conversation of his life.



~~~



A week later, a Saturday morning, he was called to the warden's office. As he went down the corridor to the office, his mind did a quick survey--was there anything he'd done that he was likely to get in trouble for? His temper had a tendency to flare at--inopportune times--and he'd been reprimanded more than once about his use of force against his classmates. The fact that the other boys started it didn't carry much weight--none of them knew how to fight against flying fists and feet. But this time, he couldn't think of anything--it had been a couple of weeks since his last battle--the kid's nose was almost back to normal, in fact. So he had no idea why the warden wanted to see him.

He got to the warden's office and knocked on the door. He heard "come in" and entered the room. And there he stopped dead.

Captain Blaisdell was sitting there, smiling at him.

"Hello, Peter," Blaisdell said, "how're those classes coming?"

Peter's elation at seeing the police captain turned to despair--he only wanted to find out about Peter's abysmal school scores.

"Still lousy," he said, head down.

"Have you been studying?" Blaisdell asked.

"Yeah, but--it's hard, some of the stuff."

"Well, it's early days yet," Blaisdell told him "you've got time. Just keep working at it."

"Yes, sir." Peter wondered when he'd be dismissed.

But instead Blaisdell said, "So, Peter, how would you like to see a police station in action?"

"Huh?" Peter said, then could have bitten his tongue. How articulate!

"The captain has come to give you a tour of his precinct, Peter," Mr. Trager told him.

"Oh." If he kept this up, Blaisdell really would think he was stupid.

"Would you like that?" Blaisdell asked.

"Oh, yeah--that would be--great!" Peter grinned, then flushed when the captain smiled back.

"Go get your jacket and come back here," Trager told him. He just nodded and sprinted from the office, running to his room and grabbing his coat, then flying back to Trager's office in about three minutes flat--afraid that if he were gone too long, Blaisdell would leave without him.

"Ready?" Blaisdell asked when he reappeared. He could only nod, being too out of breath from his sprint to say anything. "I'll have him back by lights-out," Blaisdell said to Trager, and the warden nodded and told him to have a good time.

They walked to Blaisdell's car, and the captain put his hand on Peter's shoulder. It was a gesture Peter remembered his father using--a hand to guide. The reminder of his father was uncomfortable, though the gesture made Peter feel good--like somebody cared about him.

They were silent during the drive. Blaisdell didn't ask him any more questions, and he was still too stunned to say anything. He wondered why the captain should take such an interest in him--what lay behind it.

The car pulled up in front of an old building--brick and concrete--it looked like an office building--or like a police station from some of the tv shows he watched.

"Here we are," Blaisdell said and turned off the engine. "This is where I work. Come on--I'll show you around." They got out of the car and Blaisdell put his hand on Peter's shoulder again, leading him into the station house.

Peter had never seen such chaos in his life. Rows of desks with people at each of them, telephones ringing, people talking, people yelling, people scurrying back and forth between one spot and another. A uniformed officer was pushing a man in handcuffs in front of him. Another man was being fingerprinted over in the corner (Peter recognized what they were doing from seeing it on tv). A man with a briefcase was arguing with another man in a suit, and one in a uniform. It was pandemonium and Peter knew instantly that he loved it.

"Wow," he said to himself, and Blaisdell's chuckle told him he'd spoken it out loud.

"It's not always like this, son," Blaisdell said, "sometimes it's worse."

Peter looked wide-eyed at him for a moment, then realized the captain was probably joking, and smiled at him. Blaisdell ruffled his hair in response.

The tour progressed from there. Wherever they went, Blaisdell would introduce him as "my friend Peter Caine, who wants to learn about becoming a policeman." That made Peter feel good--being called Blaisdell's friend. Nor did Blaisdell ever tell anyone where he'd met Peter, knowing without Peter's saying so that he was embarrassed about living in the orphanage. And he was encouraged to ask as many questions as he wanted, to as many of the different people he met. At first, he didn't know what to ask--it was all so overwhelming. But then his curiosity got the better of him, and he started asking questions. Almost three hours later, Peter was still asking questions, when Blaisdell finally declared their tour at an end, with the promise to Peter that he could come back another time.

"I'm hungry, and I'll bet you are too," Blaisdell said.

Peter hadn't even noticed--and he almost always noticed when he was hungry. "Yeah," he said, and Blaisdell smiled at him, putting his hand back in its familiar position on Peter's shoulder and leading him from the precinct house.

They went to a McDonald's--a place Peter had never been before, much to Blaisdell's surprise, and he ordered a Big Mac, large fries, and a chocolate milkshake. Over lunch, they talked some more about the tour.

"You were really interested in all that, weren't you?" Blaisdell asked.

"Yeah," Peter said between mouthsful, "it was great!"

"And you still think you'd like to consider police work when you're older?"

"Sure--if I can ever figure out how to pass math and English."

Blaisdell chewed thoughtfully. "I talked to one of your teachers over at Emerson," he began, "Mrs. Kendall."

Peter went wide-eyed with surprise. How did he know who Peter's teachers were?

"She said she didn't think you were a bad student," Blaisdell went on, "just that because of your early education--or lack of it--you've got an awful lot of catching up to do. There's so much the other students know from all their years of schooling that you don't, it's natural you'd be struggling."

Peter frowned at him, his appetite fled. "How much do you know about me?" he asked.

Blaisdell smiled gently. "I know you were raised by your father in a Shaolin temple, and that your father was killed when it was destroyed. I know you've been a ward of the state since then, and that your formal, state-accepted education didn't start until you came to live at Pathways. So I know you've got a lot to learn in order to be able to keep up with your peers."

Peter just stared at him. "How did you find out all that?"

"I asked. After we met last week, I asked Mr. Trager about you."

"But--why?" This was getting very confusing.

Blaisdell reached across the table and put a hand on Peter's. "Because when I saw you, I thought you seemed to be a bright boy, with a lot of potential. And you showed an interest in something that's very important to me--police work. Now, potential without hard work is absolutely nothing, but I believe you're willing to work hard. You just need some help. Are you with me so far?" Peter just nodded. "So what would you say to working with a tutor who can help get you up to speed in your classes?"

Peter shook his head. "They've got tutors who come to the home, but they're always so busy, and I'm so far behind...."

"No, I'm not talking about the group tutors at Pathways--I mean a tutor who will work with you individually--one on one. They can help you with the subjects you have the most trouble with. Say, a couple of times a week. You'll have to promise to work hard in between, but the tutor can help. What do you say?"

The idea of a tutor--someone who could help him with the things he didn't understand, and wouldn't ridicule him because he was stupid--was a wonderful one. But Peter still didn't quite trust it. "A tutor just for me would be expensive--they wouldn't allow it--they can't do anything special like that for one person--they'd have to do it for everybody."

"They won't be paying for it. I will."

Peter's frown deepened. "Why are you doing this?" he asked again.

"I told you--I see a lot of potential in you. You're not a bad kid, Peter--don't let them tell you otherwise. You've had an upbringing different from everybody else's--different's neither good nor bad. You've had some hard knocks, too. Maybe I just want to show you that life isn't all hard knocks. There are still people out there who care. I'm in a position where I can help you, and I'd like to do just that--if you'll let me. So what do you say? Will you work with that tutor?"

The statement sounded so sincere, Peter couldn't help but agree. He nodded. "Yeah. Thanks."

Blaisdell smiled. "Good. I'll talk to Mr. Trager--get it all set up. Are you all done here?" he indicated the hamburger wrappers. Peter nodded, and they cleaned up their garbage and left the restaurant.

Outside, Blaisdell took a deep breath. "Well, it looks like summer may get here eventually after all," he said. Sure enough the morning, which had been cold and damp, had burned away to a sunny afternoon with warm air just on the horizon. They walked to the car.

"So what now?" Peter asked as they got in.

"What?"

"Are you taking me back now?"

"No, not unless you want to go back," Blaisdell said.

"Not especially," Peter mumbled.

"Good. Then we've got the whole afternoon. What do you want to do?"

Surprised, Peter could only stare gape-mouthed. The tour had been wonderful, but to spend the entire day with this man--and not even to have to do something special--it was too much to believe. "I dunno," he finally stammered. "I--don't even know what there is to do."

"Hmmm," Blaisdell mused. Then, "How about the movies?"

"You mean in a movie theatre?"

"Yes."

Peter smiled. "I've never done that--I've only ever seen movies on TV."

"Do you want to?"

"Yeah!"

"OK then, movies it is."

They bought a newspaper and sat on a bench, deciding which looked like the movie they wanted to see. Peter pointed to one that looked interesting.

"What's that one about?" he asked.

"You've never seen it? My god, I thought all kids had seen that."

"Not when you don't get to go to movies," Peter commented, feeling very uncomfortable. I mean, what did he expect?

"I'm sorry, of course. But it was a huge hit. The sequel's due out next month, so they're running it again."

"What's it about?"

"It's science fiction--do you know what that is?"

"Like Star Trek?"

Blaisdell smiled. "Sort of. But better special effects."

"Can we see it?"

"If you'd like."

So they saw "Star Wars" and Peter was absolutely mesmerized. He loved the action, and the excitement--and the funny parts. Blaisdell bought him buttered popcorn and a large soda, and he spent most of the film curled up in his seat, eating popcorn--and then chewing his nails when the popcorn ran out--enthralled with the action on the screen. Blaisdell seemed to really enjoy it too--he laughed at the funny parts, looked just as tense as Peter felt during the suspenseful parts, and cheered the hero just like everyone else. At some time during the movie, he'd laid his arm across the back of Peter's seat, where it remained for the rest of the film. Peter kind of liked the idea of the arm being there--it was comforting, in a strange sort of way. The movie ended and Peter was almost sorry it was over--it had been an amazing experience. Movies on tv hadn't prepared him for large screens and Dolby surround-sound, and he was almost vibrating with the excitement of the event. Blaisdell smiled at his enthusiasm, and put an arm around Peter's shoulders--a gesture Peter welcomed with a smile.

"Well," he said as they walked back to the car, "I hope I haven't fed you so much junk food that you won't be able to eat dinner."

"Dinner?"

"Yes--my wife is planning dinner and I thought I'd bring you home. You ever had a home-cooked meal?"

"I don't think so."

"You don't know what you're missing," Blaisdell smiled.

But Peter got nervous all over again. He knew after spending the day with the Police captain that he really liked Blaisdell. But he wasn't sure about meeting his wife. He never liked meeting new people--especially since he assumed Blaisdell's wife would know where her husband met Peter--and he didn't need some well-meaning woman's sad-eyed clucking sympathy.

So Peter was silent as they drove to Blaisdell's house. The captain pulled into the driveway of one of the biggest houses Peter had ever seen, and into the garage. He started to get out of the car, but Peter, suddenly petrified, didn't move.

Blaisdell stopped. "They don't bite, Peter," he said gently.

Peter looked at him. "They?"

"My wife, and my two daughters."

Two girls--oh no, he was doomed!

"Come on--it'll be OK." Again that reassuring hand on his shoulder. So finally, he took a deep breath and climbed out of the car.

They went into the house through a back door off the garage, and immediately, Peter's nostrils were assailed by the most wonderful smells. His mouth started watering and he hoped his stomach wouldn't embarrass him by growling.

"Hello, we're home," Blaisdell called as they entered.

"About time--I was wondering what happened to you," came a voice from the next room--the kitchen. A slender blonde-haired woman was standing over the sink, running water into a pot. Blaisdell went up to her and she turned her head so he could kiss her hello. Peter saw she wore dark glasses, and he thought that was strange, then he realized suddenly that she was blind. He wasn't sure how exactly he knew--maybe the way she held her head--just like Geok Seng used to.

The captain's wife was blind! That wasn't anything he'd expected.

She turned off the tap and turned around to face him, drying her hands on a towel. "And this must be Peter," she smiled, and her smile was warm and genuine. "Welcome." And she extended her hand to him.

"Thanks," he said and took her hand for a handshake. Her handshake was nice, too--strong and warm. She held his hand for a moment, and he felt the warmth come through it.

Then he followed an instinct, and brought her hand to his cheek.

Her face lit with a beautiful smile. "Why, thank you, sweetie," she said to him, "may I?"

"Yeah," he said, and she ran her hands over his face, feeling his bones, his hair, his features. "There was a blind man--when I was younger. He always greeted you by wanting to touch you. He said he saw through his fingers." Peter felt he owed her an explanation.

"He's right," she said, "we do. Thank you," she said again. Then she put both hands on either side of his face. "You're a good-looking boy," she said. Peter instantly blushed. "Oh, I've made you embarrassed, I'm sorry."

"How did you know that?" he asked.

"When you blush, your face gets warm," she said. He put a hand to his cheek and felt the heat there. She was right. And that made him blush even more.

Blaisdell, meanwhile, was checking on what was happening in the oven. He closed the oven door and called, "Girls--dinner's almost ready--come and help your mother." And Peter could hear voices and footsteps overhead. Then he heard them come down the stairs. And then they were in the kitchen. They were both younger than him, he thought, one with light hair, one dark. Peter had very little experience with girls--but he knew these two were cute. Except that they took one look at him and started giggling. And Peter felt his face go hot again.

Blaisdell sighed. "These two gigglers are my daughters, Peter," he said. "The older giggler is Carolyn. The younger one is Kelly. Say hello to Peter Caine, girls."

"Hello, Peter." "Hi, Peter," the two girls managed to say before they started giggling again.

"Hi," Peter managed to choke out over his embarrassment.

"Girls, please get dinner on the table," Mrs. Blaisdell said. Then, "Peter, why don't you go clean up--Paul will show you where."

"OK, thanks," he said, and Blaisdell pointed him in the direction of the bathroom.

Blaisdell had been right--a home-cooked meal was something really wonderful. If the smells had been great, the actual food was even better. It was roast beef, cooked so that it actually tasted like something and not that rubbery stuff they served at the home. And vegetables that were crunchy, and potatoes in this wonderful sauce, and applesauce, and rolls with butter. Peter had second helpings of everything. Throughout the meal he was silent, listening and watching as a "normal" family had dinner. It was something he'd never experienced, and he found it fascinating. And, he admitted, he was envious of the family--this was a common occurrence for them. Himself, he was still squirming from the newness. He wished it could feel so normal to him as well.

Carolyn and Kelly Blaisdell, having apparently gotten over their initial nervousness about meeting someone new--and thus getting the giggles--were warming to him, and started barraging him with questions--where did he live, where did he go to school, what did he do there at Pathways, whether he knew a girl whom Carolyn had played tennis with last summer, who was also a student at Emerson, whether Peter had heard the new Fleetwood Mac album, what his favorite tv show was--and so on. Peter answered them as best he could, and found himself getting over his initial embarrassment with them as well. At one point, he even caught himself forgetting that they were cute girls, and thinking instead that they were two people close to his own age with whom he could be friends.

Dinner over, he helped the two Blaisdell girls clear the table and load the dishwasher. He'd washed dishes at the temple, but this was all new to him. But Carolyn, who was a little more than two years younger than him, had appointed herself Peter's "guide" to Blaisdell family life, and told him everything he needed to know about dishwashers.

"You've really never seen one?" she asked, amazed at any such thing.

He shook his head. "We did dishes ourselves where I grew up, and the kids aren't allowed in the kitchen at Pathways."

"That would be cool--not having to do dishes," Kelly commented. Kelly was nine.

"Maybe," Peter said, rinsing a plate and handing it to Kelly to stack in the machine, "but it also means--you don't have a family."

"Oh," Kelly said, Peter's comment having effectively quashed the conversation.

They finished the dishes in silence, and Carolyn turned the dishwasher on, giggling when Peter jumped at the noise.

The ice broken yet again, she said, "You want to play Clue?"

"What's Clue?"

"It's a board game--you get to be detectives and figure out who killed this guy, in what room and with what weapon--it's lots of fun."

Detective--this was something Peter would enjoy--he was good at deductive reasoning. "OK, sure," he answered.

"Good. Come on."

They played three games, sprawled in the middle of the family room floor. They laughed, joked and even squabbled, and Peter couldn't remember ever feeling this comfortable with people. Not even with the people in the temple sometimes. It was often so serious there--you were always trying so hard to learn your lessons. This was different--this was a chance for Peter to be exactly what he was--a teenaged boy.

A little after 9:00, Captain Blaisdell put down his paper. "Peter, it's time we got going if I'm going to have you back by 10:00."

Peter felt like someone had thrown cold water on him. He was having such a good time, he'd forgotten he had to go back to Pathways.

"Awww, Daddy, does he have to?" Kelly whined.

"Yes, sweetie, you know he does," Mrs. Blaisdell said. "But he'll come back again to visit, won't you, Peter?"

Peter gaped. The chance to come back? Fantastic! "Yeah, sure!" he said, and Blaisdell chuckled at his obvious enthusiasm.

"Come on, son, get your coat," he said.

"It was nice meeting you, Peter," Carolyn said, getting up from the floor.

"Goodbye, Peter," Kelly piped in.

"It was nice meeting you too," Peter replied, feeling himself blush again. He'd never blushed so much in his life. "Good night."

Mrs. Blaisdell got up and walked with Peter to the door, taking his arm as if it were the most natural thing in the world. It felt perfectly natural to Peter, too.

"I'm so glad you were able to spend this evening with us, Peter," she said, "I want you to promise you'll come back just as soon as you can."

How about tomorrow, he felt like saying, but instead he simply said, "I promise."

"Good. Now you take care of yourself." And she started to extend her hand for another handshake, then pulled it back and waved it in rejection. "Enough of this silly handshake business--give me a hug, sweetie." And she extended her arms to him.

Peter fell in love with Annie Blaisdell in that instant and he went into her embrace, aching with the beautiful wonder of it. He could feel the love in her--it radiated out of her and soaked into his every muscle, every pore. He fought desperately hard to keep from hanging on for dear life and bursting into tears. But somehow he managed to hold onto his control, and eventually he pulled away.

"Good night, honey--see you soon," she said, and her gentle voice was a caress.

"Good night," he managed, "and thanks."

He was silent all the way back to Pathways. Each rotation of the tires brought him closer to the life he hated--and further from the love he'd just experienced.

They got to Pathways and Blaisdell pulled the car up in front, shifting into park.

"I'll arrange for a tutor for you, then talk to Mr. Trager--set up what time would be best for you. But you have to promise me you'll really work with this, got it?"

Peter smiled. "Got it."

"Good." Then Blaisdell took a breath. "How'd you like to see a police crime lab?"

Peter went wide-eyed. "Really? That'd be great!"

"Good--plan on it for next weekend."

"Okay, great."

"And Peter--"

"Yeah?"

"Pack an overnight bag--that way we won't have to rush you back here."

Peter's heart almost stopped. Spending the night--at the Blaisdells? It was almost too good to be believed. He couldn't stop the broad smile that burst across his face. Blaisdell saw the expression and smiled, too.

"I'm glad you liked my family--they liked you too."

Peter couldn't say anything--liking the Blaisdells was like saying he missed his father. Liking was too mild a word to use for the people who made him feel--complete. So he just stared at Blaisdell, completely and utterly unable to express how he felt.

Blaisdell must have understood anyway, because he put his hand on Peter's shoulder and said gently, "I wouldn't say no to a hug either, if you want."

Peter blinked, then nodded. And he leaned over and Blaisdell pulled him into a hug. This time he couldn't stop it when his eyes filled with tears. He couldn't stop the trembling that shook him as he held onto this man who had just given him the greatest gift.

"Shhh, it's all right, son," Blaisdell soothed, a hand stroking his hair, "it's all right."

Eventually, he calmed enough to break the hug, embarrassed by his lack of control. But Blaisdell didn't seem to mind--he simply handed him a handkerchief, and took it back again wordlessly when he was done with it.

"Well," he said, "we've now got about two minutes before you're late, so you'd better scoot."

"Oh--yeah, OK." Peter climbed out of the car. But before he slammed the door, he leaned back in. "Good night--and thanks."

Blaisdell smiled. "Good night, son--see you next week."

Peter gave out a big grin, and ran up the steps to the door. Then he turned and watched as the captain's car pulled out of sight. He stood on the front step, musing about his most amazing day, when he suddenly realized it was almost 10:00, if it wasn't already past, and he bolted inside and down the hall to his room. He didn't want to be late--the last thing he needed was to get in trouble and have his privileges suspended--just when things were looking up!



~~~



"Peter Caine, report to the Emergency Room. Peter Caine, report to Emergency." The voice on the PA snapped Peter from his reverie. He looked at the coke can in his hand, still mostly full, but now mostly warm. Then he looked at his foster father. Paul was smiling at him.

"Sometimes I wish I could see what goes on in that head of yours," Paul said gently, "you've been off in space for almost twenty minutes."

Peter just chuckled, taking a swig of his warm coke. "Nah, mostly it's pretty boring. Just thinking--about old times." Then he put down the can. "Kelly must be back from x-ray--I'd better go see what's going on." He gave his foster father's shoulder a reassuring pat, then walked back to the emergency ward.

Kelly was back in her cubicle, and she smiled when she saw him.

He leaned in and kissed her forehead. "So--still got a brain in there?" he asked.

She groaned. "I doubt it would hurt so much if I didn't," she said.

"So now what?" he asked.

"We wait, I guess."

Peter sighed and settled into the chair next to the bed. He held her hand, idly stroking the backs of her fingers, as he started drifting back into that place in his head where he was reliving memories.

"Earth to Peter," Kelly said, and he came to himself to find her watching him.

"Oh, sorry."

"Where are you hiding?"

"Nowhere, I was just--thinking. Do you realize we've known each other fourteen years?"

"Oh, make me feel old, Peter, thank you."

"No, really--I couldn't believe it either when I realized it. It doesn't seem like it's been that long. But sometimes it feels like I've never not known you."

They were both quiet then, thinking. Then Kelly chuckled.

"What's so funny?"

"I was just remembering when Dad brought you home that first time."

"Oh man--" Peter laughed, "thought I was gonna die of embarrassment."

"Carolyn thought you were adorable, and we both got the giggles, and you spent the whole time blushing and looking uncomfortable."

"Yeah--but then Mom hugged me when I was leaving and--I never wanted to leave. Suddenly I found the home I was looking for. I couldn't believe it--that you wanted me too."

"Well, it was Mom and Dad's idea, but we thought it would be neat--older brother and all that. And by that time we'd gotten to know you and we really liked you. When they talked to us about it, we said yes right away."

Just then a doctor appeared around the curtain. "Well, Miss Blaisdell," he began, "it doesn't look like you've suffered any permanent damage--the skull x-ray looks clear. If the headaches persist longer than five days, give us a call and we'll run more tests. But I don't think they will. We're going to let you go--take it easy for a few days. I can give you a doctor's note to keep you home from work if you'd like. We're also going to give you a shot for the nausea. It will probably make you drowsy, so go on right home--don't drive or operate heavy machinery."

"Nothing except the vcr and the microwave," she joked and the doctor smiled.

"Good. The nurse will be right in with your shot, then you can go. Stop by the front desk and they'll give you the doctor's note. Then make an appointment to see your regular doctor in about a week's time for a follow-up."

"Thank you," Kelly said, then when he was gone, turned to Peter. "Well, that's good--I can get out of bed and go sit with Dad."

"Uh-uh," he shook his head. "They said right to bed, remember?"

"Peter--" she said exasperatedly, "I'm not gonna sit at home pacing and worrying while you and Dad are here and Mom's in surgery. No way."

"And if you pass out?"

"I won't! I don't feel that bad, honestly."

He sighed. "OK. But if you start feeling bad, you promise me you'll tell me right away and I'll take you home. Oh shit."

"What?"

"I just remembered I parked in the 15 minute zone about an hour and a half ago."

Kelly laughed. "Hey, what's a ticket compared to being with your loved ones."

"Twenty bucks," he replied.

The nurse came in then, with her syringe. "We're going to give her a shot now, sir, if you'll step outside."

Peter smiled. "I'll wait for you outside," he told Kelly, and squeezed her hand as he got up.

Several minutes later, she walked through the door of the Emergency ward. Peter got up and met her.

"I should be taking you home," he told her, taking in her pale complexion and careful movements.

"Don't fuss," she answered, stopping by the front desk to sign her papers and get her doctor's note.

Blaisdell was on his feet and waiting for them.

Kelly took one look at him, cried "Daddy!" and ran to him, hugging him tight.

"Oh, baby, I'm so glad you're all right," he whispered to her, holding her close.

"I'm so sorry--" she began.

"None of that now," he told her. Then he pulled back from the hug, still holding her in his arms. "How are you doing?"

"OK--achy, that's all," she answered. "Have they said how Mom's doing?"

He shook his head. "Not since they took her up for surgery."

"Why don't we go on up to the waiting area there--in case there's any news?" Peter suggested.

Blaisdell looked up. "Aren't you taking her home?"

"She won't let me," Peter said sheepishly.

"I'm OK, Dad--I'd rather be here than worrying at home."

"It'll be OK, Paul--I've sworn to throw her over my shoulder and take her home if she starts feeling bad," Peter said.

"This I have to see," Kelly laughed. And together they went up to the surgical wing and the waiting area there.

"Oh, I got hold of Carolyn," Blaisdell said once they were seated.

"And?"

"She's flying home tomorrow--I hated to cut her vacation short like this, but under the circumstances...."

"She'd have been more upset if you hadn't called," Kelly said.

"Yes--that's what I thought too."

They settled down to wait. Kelly, starting to feel the effects of the shot, sat next to Peter on the sofa and rested her head on his shoulder, and Peter held her in a gentle embrace. Blaisdell picked up a news magazine and sat there flipping pages--Peter could tell he wasn't really seeing anything on any of them. And as for Peter himself, he simply stroked Kelly's hair and allowed himself to let his mind wander again. He thought about his earlier conversation with Kelly. He knew how much it had meant to him to have the Blaisdells take him in, but he never really understood their feelings on the subject. It was nice to have confirmed, after all these years, that he was as wanted as he wanted them....



~~~



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 baggie on the blanket.

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

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

"That's OK--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 automatically 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, and Captain Blaisdell told him he needed to stay in and study. Peter had been crushingly disappointed, but forbore to do his best. He was especially pleased when Blaisdell showed up on Sunday afternoon to help him study, and they spent hours reviewing questions and going over things which Peter had trouble with.

The extra hard work had paid off--while none of the tests were easy, Peter was also pretty sure he hadn't failed any of them. And that put him well up on 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 got queasy and they hadn't stayed too long. They'd seen several more movies, and had been bowling and miniature golfing.

Since the first weekend, Peter had stayed over at the Blaisdells on Saturday nights, and these last two times, on Fridays as well. 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 Peter 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, while finding himself a coke.

"Is there any more iced tea left?" she asked.

"Dunno--I'll check." And 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. He smiled at Peter and Mrs. Blaisdell before settling down on the blanket. "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--take some of mine," Mrs Blaisdell said and held her glass outstretched. "Peter--even these out." Peter took the two cups and poured an even amount of the remainder of the iced tea in each.

"Thank you, darling," Blaisdell said to his wife, and leaned over and kissed her. Peter watched rapt. Then they separated, Blaisdell saw Peter staring at them, and smiled. And Peter flushed bright red. "And thank you," Blaisdell said to him, 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 Peter's shoulders, and he ruffled Peter's hair. "So how did your exams go?" he asked.

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, anyway. But I'd still like you to take summer school."

"Summer school!" Studying wasn't the way Peter'd planned on spending his summer. Well, 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--" Josie was Peter's tutor-- "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."

"Well," Peter hesitated. "OK."

"Good boy," Blaisdell smiled and gave him a hug.

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?"

"What? Yeah--I do," Peter said, smiling. "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 Blaisdell, 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 boy 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, shaking 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. "What's to think about," he sniffed, feeling his eyes overflow, "you've just offered me everything I've ever wanted. Thank you. Oh, thank you...." And then the dam broke and Peter was in Blaisdell's arms, holding on for dear life as he wept, tears of joy so strong they were painful flowing out of him.

It felt to him like he cried forever, but he struggled to get himself back under control, sitting up out of his embrace with Blaisdell. But then he felt Mrs. Blaisdell's hand on his back, and he turned toward her, blindly seeking out her warm, loving aura, and he started crying all over again.

He gave up at that point, and just let himself cry until he was cried out. 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.

Once the crying had stopped, Peter lay in her arms, so drained he wasn't sure he had the energy to sit up by himself. She didn't press the issue--merely reached for a paper napkin and wiped the tears from his face. He sat up and blew his nose.

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

Blaisdell got to his feet. "Come up here a minute," he called to them. And they both ran up the slope to the blanket. Peter rubbed his hands over his face, knowing he looked awful--all blotchy and puffy-eyed from crying, 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!" And she bounced to her knees and gave Peter a big hug. He was startled, but he 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 back 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 pyjamas when there was a knock and the bedroom door opened.

"Peter?" Mrs. Blaisdell called.

"Whoa, hang on a second," he said, scrambling for his pyjama 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 pyjama bottoms. "OK, 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." And 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 then. "Paul said he'll talk to the people from the state on Monday morning. He says things usually move pretty fast with fosterage--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?"

"I'll say!" 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, I could imagine calling 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. "OK, 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--green or blue, it was hard to tell, 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--covered in their opaque white film. 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 OK," she said, giving him permission. And he touched her cheek again, 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."

"You can," he whispered in reply. "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. Sometimes I 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. 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 he realized as he said it that he meant so many things by that one thank you 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. And she leaned over 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 thought. And 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 get 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.



~~~



Kelly sighed and Peter came back to himself, looking down at her, sleeping against his chest. He really should have insisted and taken her home, but he'd learned you don't argue with Kelly when she got something in her head. She was a lot like her mother that way. Then he looked over the top of her head at his foster father.

After his memories of Paul from fifteen years ago, seeing this older, more care-worn Paul Blaisdell hurt, and Peter wished he could erase the pain, erase the worry. He watched until he caught Blaisdell's attention and Paul looked over at him. And he winked, a gesture of reassurance.

"I guess we've both been doing our share of woolgathering," Blaisdell said quietly.

Peter nodded. "I was just remembering when I came to live with you. That first day--the first official one--I showed up with all my worldly possessions stuffed in a garbage bag." He laughed softly and Blaisdell, remembering the incident, smiled fondly. "Mom saw that, took me right upstairs, made me show her everything I'd brought. Then she threw out half of it and took me out the next day to buy me a whole new wardrobe." He shook his head. "I'd never had anyone care enough about me that it mattered what I wore."

Blaisdell chuckled. "We used to call you a love sponge--you went around soaking up all the love and affection you could, especially in those early days."

"Yeah, if I'd had my choice, I don't think I'd've left her side that whole first summer. God, I was in love with her."

Blaisdell looked down and took a breath, letting it out slowly. "I still am," he whispered.

Peter wanted to go to him, give him a hug--anything to reassure him. But Kelly was still asleep in his arms, so he could only extend his arm along the back of the couch, pleased when Paul reached over and clasped his hand.

Time had lost meaning for him, sitting with his family, waiting. So Peter couldn't say how long it was before the door to the surgical ward opened and a doctor came through.

"Mr. Blaisdell?" the doctor said.

Paul got to his feet. "I'm Paul Blaisdell," he said. "How is my wife?"

Peter nudged Kelly awake and she groggily opened her eyes and sat up.

"Stable," the doctor replied. "Let's have a seat." And he indicated the waiting room couches.

"Doctor, this my daughter Kelly, and my son Peter," Blaisdell introduced them, and Peter shook the Doctor's hand.

"Kelly," the doctor said, seating himself opposite the couch, "you were in the car with your mother--how are you feeling?"

"Tir--" Kelly cleared her throat, "tired. Achy, but all right. How's my mother?"

"Stable, as I said. She was bleeding internally and we needed to go in and get it stopped--we removed her spleen, which was damaged, but that was the extent of the damage inside, fortunately. A spleen has slightly more function than an appendix, but most people get along just fine without one, so there shouldn't be any repercussions from that. She has a broken collarbone and a couple of cracked ribs, so she'll be uncomfortable for some time, but neither of those should give her any trouble either--except she may know when it's going to rain. There was a deep cut on her leg, which has been stitched--she'll need to take it easy for a few weeks on that, but she'll be taking it easy anyway, so by the time she's ready to resume her normal life, the leg should be pretty well healed."

"What about her head?" Blaisdell asked.

"Because your wife is blind, it's a little more difficult to monitor brain response--we use retinal response as an indicator for so many things. Her brain scan looks normal at this point, but we'll want to wait 'til she regains consciousness to do further testing. Tomorrow or the next day, we'll take her down for a CT scan, and we'll of course keep her monitored all along. We're going to send her up to ICU, until we're sure what we're dealing with. We know, of course, that she's concussed, but we won't know much more than that until we give her the chance to recover."

"You don't know if this will affect anything else? Like her balance or her hearing?" Blaisdell asked. "She's very dependent on her hearing."

"Yes, I'm sure she is," the doctor said, "but at this point, it's too soon to tell anything. She'll most likely be dizzy when she wakes up--a side-effect of the concussion. You'll understand that, won't you?" the doctor smiled at Kelly, and she nodded sleepily. "I'd like to say there will be no lingering problems caused by this, but I can't be positive until we give it a little more time. I will say that your wife was fortunate she was wearing her seatbelt--from the location of the injuries, she probably would have been thrown through the windshield otherwise. The seatbelt is responsible for the collarbone, but that's a small price to pay for survival."

"Yes, thank you," Blaisdell said. "When will we be able to see her?"

"A while yet--she's still in recovery. Maybe another hour or two before they get her settled upstairs. Why don't you go out--get yourselves some dinner, then come back."

"Thank you, Doctor," Blaisdell nodded and rose to shake the surgeon's hand again.

"Come on, Paul," Peter said once the doctor had gone, "let's go get some food, I can take Kelly home and--"

"No, Peter." Kelly, who had stood with him, sat back down again.

"Come on, Kel, let me take you home--you look really rough."

"I said no--I want to stay until Mom wakes up. Please, Peter."

"I'd rather not go anywhere either, Peter," Blaisdell said.

Peter sighed exasperatedly. "Now look-- Neither of you are doing her any good getting yourselves all run down--moping around, worrying. It'll be at least an hour, probably more before they move her. We won't be missing anything--we'll be back in plenty of time. Now if I have to throw you both over my shoulders to get you out of here I will. Please--"

Kelly and Paul looked at each other. "I don't know, Kelly, do you think we ought to let him?" he asked.

Kelly smirked. "I hate it when he gets stubborn--if we don't do what he wants, he'll start stamping his foot next."

"Well we wouldn't want that, now would we?" Blaisdell tched. "I guess we'd better go with him."

Peter shook his head. "I'm gonna go gray--you're both gonna make me gray."

Kelly reached up and tugged at the end of his hair--he was in need of a haircut--again. "Better gray than bald," she replied, putting an arm around him.

"I've done that once already," he told her, "that was enough." And he put an arm around each of them and walked with them out of the waiting area.



~~~



It hadn't been the most exciting of dinners--none of them were at their best--but at least they'd managed to get out of the hospital for a little bit. They used Peter's car, giving him a chance to pull the ticket off of it and move it to a proper lot. And when they returned, a little over an hour later, they were told that Mrs. Blaisdell had been moved up to ICU, and was drifting in and out of consciousness.

Technically, patients in ICU were only allowed two visitors at a time, but nobody caused any fuss when the three of them were shown into the room which contained Annie Blaisdell.

Peter had to hold onto himself to keep from gasping. She looked terrible--half her head covered by a bandage, an oxygen tube up her nose, an IV in each arm--one for blood, the other with a dextrose drip, wires going from her head and her chest to their respective monitors. He heard Kelly sniff next to him and put his arm around her. Paul had moved to the bed and taken her hand. Her skin looked pasty and rice-paper thin.

And Peter could only stand and stare, feeling like a part of his soul were being ripped apart. The love he sought in his youth was personified in this woman, and to see her so fragile--so vulnerable--it hurt more than imagining.

They stayed like that for several minutes until Kelly swayed against him.

"I need to sit down," she whispered. Her father stood up, ready to offer his chair, but she shook her head. "No you stay--I'll go out to the waiting room." She left the room and Peter turned to follow her, but not before giving Paul a look which he hoped read "I'll take care of her," but which probably said "well, I'm panicked--how about you?"

Kelly went straight to the ladies room, and Peter took a seat on yet another waiting room couch. He wondered how many waiting areas there were in the hospital, and whether three in one day were some kind of record.

A few minutes later, Kelly came out of the bathroom, looking peaked. She sank to a seat next to him.

"Go ahead," she said.

"Huh?"

"Say I told you so."

He just smiled. "You want me to take you home now?"

She shook her head. "The thought of a moving car right now makes me want to throw up," she answered. "Just let me sit still for awhile--I'll be OK."

So they sat in silence until Kelly regained her equilibrium. It wasn't that there was nothing to say--just the opposite. There was too much--and no way to say it. Sometimes silence served best.

Eventually, Kelly nodded and stood up. "I'm OK now--let's see what's happening. See how Dad is."

Peter knew that was Kelly's real concern. Their mother was getting the best possible care. But Paul was definitely on shaky ground.

He was where they'd left him, sitting at her side, holding her hand. He looked up when they entered.

"Are you all right?" he asked her.

"Yeah, I'm OK now," she said and moved to his side, putting her hands on his shoulders and kissing his cheek.

Across the room, Peter watched them, then out of the corner of his eye he saw movement in the bed. "Paul--" he said and indicated with his head.

Annie was moving her head on the pillow slightly, and her hands were opening and closing. She let out a breathy moan, then whispered, "Paul--"

He squeezed her hand. "I'm here, Babe--I'm right here."

"Ohhh--" she moaned again. "Wha'-- happened--"

"You were in an accident--"

"Kelly!" she exclaimed, her memories obviously returning.

"I'm here, Mommy--I'm fine," Kelly said and reached to hold her hand as well. "I'm all right."

Annie made an attempt at a smile. "Who else is here--Peter?"

"Yeah, Mom, I'm here," he said, moving to the other side of the bed and touching her arm, careful not to interfere with any of her wiring. She turned her head slightly toward him, but then she groaned and pinched her eyes shut.

"Tell them to turn down the lights--it's too bright," she said.

Peter reached behind the bed and turned off the overhead fluorescent fixture. "Is that better?" he asked.

"Still too bright," she moaned, "--hurts."

"There aren't any other lights to turn off," he told her.

"Too bright--" she said again.

He moved his hand and covered her eyes with it. "Does that help?" he asked.

"Yes," she sighed.

Peter chewed on his lip and looked around the room. "Hand me that towel," he said to Paul, and his foster father gave him the towel sitting on the bedside table. He folded it and placed it over her eyes. "That better?"

"Yes," she said, and he stroked her cheek.

"I'll be right back--I want to talk to the people at the nurses station." He gave her arm a squeeze and left her room, heading right for the gaggle of nurses in the center of the ward.

"Can you get Mrs. Blaisdell's doctor?" he began.

"What's wrong?" the first nurse asked.

"She just woke up and she says the light's too bright."

The nurse frowned. "I thought she was blind?"

"She is--but her eyes are sensitive to light--they always have been. We turned down the light, but she's still complaining of pain. And that's not normal."

"All right," the nurse nodded. "I'll have him paged."

"Thanks," Peter nodded.

Behind him he heard a nurse say, "Can I help you, sir?" and he turned around. His father was standing in the doorway.

"Pop!" he exclaimed, going to him, "how did you find me?"

"I stopped by the station--they told me what had happened."

"Well, I'm glad you're here. Mom just woke up and she's in a lot of pain."

"May I--see her?"

"Yeah--come on." And he led his father to the hospital room.

Blaisdell looked up when they entered. "Caine," he breathed.

"Caine?" Annie asked, "is Caine here?"

"Yes--I am here, Annie," Caine said, approaching the bed and taking her hand. "Peter said you are--in pain?"

"The light's too bright--hurts."

Caine looked at Blaisdell. "May I?" he asked.

Blaisdell puffed out a breath. "Why not?" And Caine nodded his thanks with a little bow.

Blaisdell and Kelly stepped aside as Caine moved close to the bed. He floated his hands above her, concentrating on her head. "Where do you feel the pain?" he asked.

"My eyes--behind my eyes."

"Then this will hurt--forgive me." And he moved the towel away from her eyes. Immediately, she gasped in pain. Quickly, he replaced the towel and waited 'til she calmed again.

"I can--dissipate--the pain. But it--will hurt--while I am doing it. Fortunately--the pain--will not last. May I?"

"Go on," she whispered.

He placed one of his hands on her head, his fingers spreading in a pattern Peter could have sworn he'd seen before, but the memory was vague. His father closed his eyes in concentration. Annie moaned, then cried out, and Peter's nerves jumped. But then she sighed and her whole body relaxed, and he saw that the erratic measurements on the brain and heart monitors had evened out to a nice, steady rhythm.

Caine opened his eyes and removed his hand, and Peter had a quick flash of where he'd seen that position before--it looked for all the world like the Vulcan mind-meld from Star Trek. He shook his head--his father was many things--Vulcan was not one of them. He didn't think.

"The pain is gone?" Caine asked.

"Yes," she said. He removed the towel.

"And now?"

"Still fine."

He smiled. "Good."

"Thank you," she whispered.

"Yes, thank you," Paul repeated, and Caine ducked his head slightly in that way he had which always said 'aw shucks it weren't nothin'. Peter grinned.

Just then the doctor arrived and stopped short when he saw all the bodies in the room.

"Excuse me, does the nursing staff know you're holding a party in here?"

Caine stepped away from the bed. "It is my fault--I will go."

"Wait a minute, Pop," Peter stopped him. "I want to see what the doctor says first."

The doctor, a young man of Chinese extraction, stepped up to the bed. "Mrs. Blaisdell? I'm Martin Wang, your staff physician," he told her, touching her arm. Peter was pleased to see the gesture--it meant that Dr. Wang had been told the specifics about his patient.

"Hello," she replied.

"The nurse said you were having some pain?" he went on.

"Yes, I was--the light seemed too bright. But Caine took care of it for me."

The doctor frowned. "Who is Caine?"

"I--am Caine," Peter's father spoke up.

The doctor turned and looked at him. "And who are you?"

Peter stepped in. "He's my father." The doctor frowned again, looking from Caine to Blaisdell, to Peter, and back to Caine. And he opened his mouth to say something, when Peter put his hand up, stopping him. "Never mind, it's complicated. But he's a practitioner of Chinese medicine."

Wang's face lit up. "Really? I've read several papers on the subject--and my granddad swore by it!"

Caine smiled diffidently. "I am not--a physician. I am Shaolin--and I have been trained as an apothecary."

"I see," Wang nodded. "So what did you do for Mrs. Blaisdell?"

"I used accupressure--to dissipate the pain."

"Right," Wang said, and Peter could tell he wasn't convinced. "You don't object, I hope, to my taking a look at her--to make sure."

"Not at all," Caine answered with a little bow. Wang was very westernized--probably as American as Peter himself, maybe even more so. He just looked at the gesture and shook his head.

"And I'm going to have to ask two of you to leave--house rules," Wang told them.

"We'll go," Peter said, taking his father's arm. "We'll be in the waiting room." And he led Caine out of the unit.

Back in the waiting room, Peter sat down with a sigh and a thump. "You--were lucky," he said.

"Lucky?" Caine frowned.

"Yeah--most M.D.s frown at alternative medicines--you're just fortunate this one was familiar with the idea--he could have raised a stink--if he'd wanted to."

"But--I helped his patient."

"Yeah--but without authorization. Practicing medicine without a license would have been just one possibility, if he'd been inclined to make a fuss."

Caine just shook his head, not understanding the ways of modern man. Sometimes Peter didn't understand them either.

Several minutes later, Dr. Wang came out of the ward. He stopped by where they were sitting.

"I'm curious--answer me one question," he began.

"I'll do my best," Peter responded.

"You said he--" pointing to Caine, "is your father. So then what are you to the Blaisdells?"

Peter smiled. "They're my foster parents--Annie's the only mother I've ever known."

"Ah," Wang nodded. "I couldn't figure it out--I thought at first maybe he was Mrs. Blaisdell's ex-husband, but that didn't seem likely, somehow."

Peter laughed, the thought of his father married to Annie--the thought of Caine married to anyone, come to that. "Doctor--" Peter stopped him before he could turn away. "How is she?"

The doctor smiled. "On the mend," he told them. "She's got a bit of recovery ahead of her, but right now, everything looks good. She's lucky."

"No, we are," Peter replied. "We still have her."

Wang smiled. Then he said, "Oh, Mr. Caine."

"Yes?"

"I'd like to talk to you sometime--about your methods of healing."

"I would be--honored," Caine answered with a bow.

Wang returned the bow awkwardly, then with a grin, headed back down the corridor.

"You," Peter said as his father sat back down, "have gained a fan."

"He is wise to want to--increase his knowledge," Caine said.

Just then Kelly came through the doors of ICU and right into the ladies room.

"Oh oh," Peter said, biting his lip.

"Is she--ill?" Caine asked.

"She was driving the car," Peter answered.

"I am sorry--I did not realize. Is she hurt?"

"Banged up a little--she's been fighting dizziness, nausea and headaches all day, but she's too stubborn to go home. She said she wanted to stay 'til Mom woke up. Maybe I can get her to leave now."

"You are--worried about her?"

"She's feeling responsible for what happened."

"And is she?"

"No--it was a freak accident--another car lost control and slammed into them. But we're all protective of Mom--so she's feeling bad about it."

"She must find--her own peace about what happened. You cannot--find it for her."

"I know--I just wish I could help her."

"You help her by--being there for her. Being her friend. Her brother."

Peter looked at his father and smiled, an expression that was returned. And when his father reached a hand to the back of Peter's head--a typical gesture of affection, Peter leaned into the caress and it became a hug. They stayed like that for a long moment, Peter enjoying the fierce, strong protective love which had been his strength as a boy. If Annie Blaisdell had been the security of his teen years, then this was the security of his early boyhood.

He straightened out of the embrace and shared a smile with his father--on this most trying of days, it was good to have him near.

The door to the ladies room opened and Kelly came out, walked two steps and stopped.

"OK, I give up," she said.

Peter smiled tenderly. "Want me to take you home now?"

She nodded, then came to the couch and sat down gingerly. "Just give me a few minutes 'til the floor stops tilting." And she closed her eyes, leaning against him.

"Kelly--" Caine began.

She opened her eyes. Kelly had never really understood Peter's father. They hadn't had much to do with each other, but Peter knew that she was less than impressed with him. Unfortunately, when he was hurting, Peter tended to seek out comfort--in this case, with his family. So when Caine had left him again last year, after so short a period of being together, Kelly had been witness to his confusion and pain. She still remembered too clearly the lost boy who'd come to live with them all those years ago, and she got angry with anyone who hurt him. She was very protective of him--they all were--and he responded to it with a protectiveness of his own. He guessed that was what family was all about. But in any case, Kelly had little time for Peter's father. Caine had hurt Peter, therefore, Caine was not to be trusted. She looked at him now. "Yes?"

"Peter says that--you are in pain?"

She smiled tiredly. "I got a bump on the head--I'll be all right."

"I can--help you," he said.

"Thanks, but I've got some pills the doctors gave me. They should help."

"Perhaps, but--I can offer a remedy with fewer--side effects?"

She gazed at him, as if trying to weigh his veracity, trying to ascertain any hidden motives in his gesture. Peter knew that there were none, but also knew she needed to decide that for herself.

Finally she nodded slowly. "Sure. Why not?"

Caine smiled--one of the first genuine smiles Peter had ever seen him share with Kelly. "I will--bring it to you--a little later."

"OK, fine," she said. "And Caine--"

"Yes?"

"Thanks." And she smiled at him. That was a first, too, and Peter was extraordinarily pleased.

Caine got to his feet. "I will go back now--and check on Annie."

Peter nodded, standing. "That's a good idea. Listen, can you tell Paul that I've taken Kelly home?"

"Yes. And I will see--that he gets home, too." Caine instinctively knew how worried they were about Paul and, true to his form, would help in any way he could. Truly "good" people were rare. It was wonderful that his father was one of them.

Peter grinned. "Thanks." He put a hand on his father's shoulder. Caine smiled and winked at him, and Peter winked back. Then the elder Caine walked into the ICU.

Peter stood there for a moment, lost in thought--no particular thought, just thoughts in general. Then he turned around. Kelly was still sitting on the couch, watching him. "You ready?"

"Just about," she sighed and extended a hand, and Peter pulled her to her feet. She looked at him. "You've been off in never-never-land a lot today."

He shrugged. "Just thinking--about family."

"Mmm," she nodded. "Good thoughts?"

He smiled and put an arm around her shoulders. "Oh, very good thoughts." They walked to the elevator and he pressed the button.

"Can you take me by my place to get some stuff, then drop me at Mom and Dad's?" she asked. Kelly had had her own apartment since the previous spring when she graduated from college and got her first "real" job.

"Planning on moving in?"

"For a little bit," she agreed. "He'll feel better if someone is there while she's in the hospital, and once she's out, she'll need to have someone with her."

"Yeah," he agreed, "but you're not at your best either. What about Carol?"

"Carol's got a husband to consider now--I don't."

"Neither do I."

"So you want to stay over, too?"

He laughed. "Yeah, right."

"No, I'm serious," she said, "I can't drive for a bit, I could probably use the help."

The elevator doors opened and he ushered her through. "You are serious, aren't you?"

"Yeah. Come on, Peter--it'll be just like old times."

He paused, considering. Like old times--looking out for Annie when she came home, helping out around the house, chauffeuring Kelly around like he did before she got her driver's license, and at night, going upstairs and falling asleep in his old room, in his old bed, with the trophies of his youth surrounding him. Did he want to go back for a week or two and relive old times?

"Come on, sweetie," he said, using their mother's favorite endearment, "let's go home." And the elevator doors closed.

~End~



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