The Caine Mutiny
Peter slunk into Paul's den. He was nervous; he rubbed his hands on the thighs of his jeans. Paul knew this without even looking at him. Sometimes Peter was simply too predictable.
"No." He didn't look up from his work.
"What?" Peter's voice was petulant.
"No to whatever it is."
"You haven't even heard it yet," Peter protested.
Paul looked at him over his glasses. "Will it make a difference?"
"Okay, tell me."
Peter swallowed. "Rick is having some guys over and--"
Paul sighed. "I said no to this one last month, Peter."
"Yeah, but that was last month."
"So tell me what the difference is this time."
"It's not a party, he's just having some guys over."
"Define 'some guys'."
"I don't know," Peter defended. "Just some guys."
"I don't know! Jeez, Paul, why do you have to question everything I say?"
"Because last time Rick had 'some guys' over, the cops got called."
"Yeah, but I wasn't there--"
"Oh, you'd rather have gotten arrested with Rick and the rest of his buddies?" He shook his head. "Anyway, I thought you didn't like Rick."
"Well," Peter shrugged, "he's okay. But everyone's gonna be there and--"
"Oh, now we've gone from some guys to everyone. That's quite a leap, don't you think."
"Well, Mike and Ray and Keith--that's what I meant by everyone, not--everyone everyone."
"I see," Paul nodded.
"Anyway, can I go?"
"We've been over this before, Peter. I don't like Rick and that gang he runs with; they've all been in trouble with the police at least once."
"No buts, I said no. I meant it. I don't want you hanging around with that group."
"Just because they sometimes get a little wild doesn't mean I'm gonna--"
"That's right, you're not. Because you're not going."
"That's not fair!"
"Did I say life was fair? But in this case it's better to be safe than sorry."
"You don't trust me."
"I don't trust Rick and his friends. And I don't trust what's going to happen there tonight. I'd lay odds that it'll wind up just like it did last month."
"But you're not taking into account what I want!"
"No, I'm not. Because whether you want to go or not has no bearing this time. You are not going to Rick's and that's final. Not tonight, not at any time in the future. Do you understand me?"
Peter's eyes flashed angrily and his chin was a stubborn line. "You're wrong," he muttered.
"I said do you understand me?" Paul repeated.
"Yeah," Peter mumbled. "But you're still wrong. I can take care of myself."
"I'm not going to discuss it any further," Paul said finally.
Peter turned away disgustedly. "Nazi," he said under his breath.
The word hit Paul like a sledgehammer and he slammed his pen onto the desktop. "What did you say?"
"Get back here." The tone brooked no dispute. Peter turned around and Paul stood up. "Do you know what that means?"
Peter glared at him defiantly. I'm not stupid--in spite of what you think."
"Could have fooled me by the way you're acting," Paul said icily. "And I have to hope that you're simply ignorant or you'd never have called me that."
"Why not?" Peter spat, "the Nazis were dictators. Just like you."
Paul fumed. "I've never hit you, Peter, and I don't want to start now..."
"Go ahead, push your authority around some more! You always treat me like I'm a baby, an idiot. Like I can't make my own decisions. Well just once I want to be able to do what I want to do. I want to go to Rick's--why won't you let me do anything!"
"That's enough, Peter--"
"I'm seventeen," Peter went on, barely pausing for breath, "and you treat me like I was seven!"
"I said that's enough!"
"You're not my father--I don't have to do what you say!"
Peter bolted from the den.
"Peter! Peter, get back here! Peter!" Paul rushed out after him. "Peter! Damn it. Annie, where did Peter go?"
"What happened?" his wife asked. "He just grabbed his coat and stormed out of the house."
"Damnit," Paul ground out. "Front or back?"
The sound of a car starting interrupted them.
"Hell!" Paul swore. "Peter!" He ran to the front door and yanked it open in time to see his foster son squeal off down the driveway. "Peter!" he yelled uselessly after him. "Damn him!" Paul came back inside and slammed the door.
"Paul, what on earth--" Annie was in the hall behind him.
"Peter wanted to go to a party at Rick's. I said no, because I don't like Rick and his gang and I don't want Peter over there. He argued, I put my foot down, he blew up. It got pretty nasty." He sighed. "I suppose I should have expected this eventually. He's been pushing my authority lately, trying to see what he can get away with." He shook his head. "Dumb kid."
Annie smiled. "That may be part of the problem; he's not a dumb kid."
"He is when he pulls stupid stunts like this," Paul answered, rubbing his brow. "I should call the local precinct; tell them to keep an eye out for him, tell them to watch Rick's house--"
"Darling, if you do that, you'll just make Peter resent you even more when he comes home."
"So what am I supposed to do? Ignore it?"
"No, deal with it--when he gets home. If he thinks you don't trust him, prove that you do. Let him be. Let him come home on his own. If you send the police over there to drag him out of that party, he'll hate you, and I wouldn't blame him. He'll lose face in front of his friends."
"Fine, then I'll do it myself."
"You're missing the point," she said. "Peter's seventeen--he wants to be treated like an adult."
"Then he should behave like one!"
"Of course he should. But going after him now would just rub salt into the wound. Please, darling. You've got to trust that however badly he's behaved, he'll have the sense not to get into too much trouble tonight. Maybe you don't want him hanging around with Rick and his gang, but don't start thinking that Peter is the same type of boy as Rick. He's not. He's got far more intelligence, for starts. This is an act of teenaged rebellion, that's all. Don't make it worse by branding him a criminal."
Paul took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He shook his head. "Dumb kid."
Annie smiled. "No, if he were a dumb kid, he'd be easier to control. But he's a smart kid, and that means he's always testing--himself as well as us. That makes him a challenge, but a rewarding one."
"There are times I'm not so sure about that."
"Oh, don't give me that. Sure, he's made you angry, but you can't fool me; I know you don't love him any less."
"No, I don't," he sighed. "Just that there are times I wish I could pound some sense into him."
"Oh, if I know our Peter, he'll probably manage to pound the sense into himself."
Paul smiled at her insight. How she got to be so good at raising a son while he was still struggling with the concept was beyond him. But he was glad she was, and that she was there to help calm him down and make him think straight again. He put his arms around her and kissed the top of her head. "I'm glad girls aren't this much trouble," he said.
"No," she agreed, leaning into his embrace, "they're a different kind of trouble. We probably won't have to worry about wild parties, just wild boyfriends."
Paul buried his head against her shoulder and groaned.
The bass was turned way up on the stereo and the floor pulsed with it. The basement rec room was wall-to-wall bodies, and Peter felt like a salmon swimming upstream as he made his way back from the cooler, his latest beer clutched in his hand. He'd lost count of how many he'd had, except that he'd actually had more than he'd drunk. He kept getting jostled and wound up wearing it more than once. So he'd learned to open his beer by the cooler, chug about half of it, then move on.
The lights were dimmed, and Rick's brother, Larry, whose bedroom was in the basement (Larry was the one who'd kindly provided them with the beer), had set up his plasma light. Peter found himself at one point staring at it, mesmerized, a finger tracing patterns on the globe as the neon gasses pulsed and followed his movements. Then a group crashed into Larry's room, falling onto the waterbed in a tangle of arms and legs. Peter, who hadn't been dating anyone steadily since Kim, felt uncomfortable being in there with them, so he left.
Peter was drunk; he knew this, even though he'd never been drunk before. His eyes had a hard time focusing, his movements were either uncoordinated or very studied, he felt both horny and sleepy. The basement was stuffy and smelt of stale beer. And the music made him dizzy, so he went upstairs to where the party spilled over into the living room and outside onto the lawn. He stood on the porch, breathing in the cool, crisp air, hoping to clear his head, hoping the dizziness would fade. He looked at the remains of his beer and downed it in one gulp, grimacing. He didn't really want it, but he didn't want to waste it, either.
He knew why he'd come tonight, why he'd gotten drunk. It was to get back at Paul. Which was pretty stupid, but it was the only thing he could think of at the time. Paul was right, Peter didn't really like Rick, and probably wouldn't have bothered to come to one of Rick's noisy, smelly, stuffy parties except that Paul had told him he couldn't. So he'd defied his foster father and come anyway, forcing himself to have a good time, as if that would prove to Paul that he was wrong, that Peter was old enough to make his own decisions.
All it had proved to Peter was that he could get drunk and depressed.
Out on the lawn, Rick and another boy, Frankie, were yelling about something. Peter couldn't tell what it was about, but watched them idly. He saw the moment the dispute crossed the line from argument into fight. Next thing he knew, Rick and Frankie were grappling on the ground, and the chant of "Fight! Fight!" went up as other guys came out and joined in the fray. Ordinarily not one to back down from a fight of any kind, Peter hung back, knowing that with the beer, his reflexes were off. He didn't want to fight anyway, especially not with Rick. Mostly, he wanted to go home and go to sleep. He closed his eyes, but the world tipped at a 45 degree angle, so he opened them again.
This was stupid. He didn't want to be here, he wasn't having a good time. He'd go home. He tossed his empty on the ground with the other party trash, went back inside to find his coat, then left the party. Outside, the fight was getting bigger and noisier. Peter knew it was only a matter of time before the cops arrived. It was time to go. Some of the others thought so, too; about a half dozen people all left at the same time.
"Shit!" Peter swore as the car jerked away from the curb. His reflexes were really off. He opened the window and took a deep breath, trying to clear his head. Then he started off again, moving slowly. If he wrecked the car, Paul would kill him.
The sound of sirens brought his heart up to his throat. Oh god, they were gonna arrest him for drunk driving! He slowed down, looking for the squad car, but it came down the street toward him, zipping right on past. No doubt heading for Rick's. He sighed and his heart settled back down. He got out of there just in time.
He made it the rest of the way home without incident, grateful when he finally brought the car to a stop in the garage. He took a deep breath, resting his head against the steering wheel, but felt the world tip again. If this was what it felt like to get drunk, why did people do it? He sighed and struggled out of the car, shuffling into the house.
The stove light was on in the kitchen, and there was light in the family room. They must have left the lights on for him. He turned toward the front hall, ready to go upstairs to bed.
He turned around. His foster father was standing in the arch between the kitchen and the family room. He'd waited up for him; he didn't trust him. His going to Rick's hadn't proved anything--Paul still treated him like a baby.
He sighed and turned around. "What?"
"Did you enjoy your party?" Paul asked.
"It was okay," he shrugged.
"You smell like a brewery."
"Yeah, well I kept gettin' beer dumped on me."
Paul sighed. "And how much did you dump in you?"
"What's it to you?" Peter scowled.
"What's it to me? I'll tell you what it is to me, kid. It's the fact that you blatantly disobeyed me, you took my car, you went to a party I specifically told you not to go to, you drank alcohol illegally, and then you drove home drunk! That's what it is to me. You endangered every single person out on that road tonight with your stupid, reckless actions, Peter. Every single person! If you want to behave like an idiot I can't stop you, but I can sure as hell see that you don't harm anybody else in the process! Give me your keys." Paul was yelling by the end, and the sound drove knives through Peter's head.
"I got home no problem," he yelled back. "Why don't you trust me?"
"Because you took my car, you got drunk and you drove! I can't think of anything less trustworthy than that! You put your own life at risk, you put personal property--my personal property--at risk, you put every other driver, every pedestrian at risk!"
"Oh, be just too bad if the cop's kid got arrested for drinkin'," Peter taunted. His head throbbed, but he couldn't back down.
"I don't care that you're a cop's kid!" Paul insisted. "All I care is that you behaved stupidly--recklessly. That you disobeyed me is bad enough. But by compounding the problem by taking the car without permission and driving home drunk-- There's no reason for that, no excuse. Now give me your keys."
"If you'd let me go in the first place I wouldn't have done it!" Peter shouted. "But you always keep me from doing what I want. You don't trust me!"
"You do things like this and then you expect me to trust you?"
"You treat me like I'm a child! I'm not! I'm almost an adult! At least my father respected me, that's more than you can say. He never treated me like I was an idiot."
"Your father isn't raising you anymore--I am!"
The words hung like daggers between them before they clattered to the ground. Peter's jaw tightened and he felt like he was going to be sick.
"Well I don't want you raising me, either. Not anymore." His voice cracked and he turned away, heading for the door.
"Peter, get back here," Paul called, but he ignored him. The hurt and the anger roiled inside of him, getting mixed up with the beer. Peter felt dizzy and nauseated. He heard Paul come up behind him. "You're not going anywhere, now give me the keys," Paul said. Peter ignored him. "Peter--" Paul put a hand on his arm to pull him back.
The anger exploded and he jerked, shoving Paul away, slamming him back against the counter. "Don't touch me!" he shouted.
"Peter--" Paul exclaimed, reaching for him again.
"No!" He raised a hand.
The word drove into him, piercing through his anger. Suddenly, the red mist of anger cleared and he could see everything--Paul against the cabinets, an arm up to ward against the anticipated blow.
He was about to hit Paul. He was about to hit the man who had taken care of him lovingly for three years. He was about to hit the man he loved almost like a father. And for what? For nothing. For nothing at all.
Anger drained out and nausea rushed in to take its place. His body tensed in reaction. "Oh god--" he managed before he bolted for the bathroom and was gloriously sick.
Paul stared at the closed bathroom door, listening to the sound of Peter vomiting, waiting to feel his pulse slow. He'd always known that Peter Caine had one hell of a temper; he'd just never had it turned against himself. For a brief moment, he'd seen the blind fury in Peter's eyes and had known that it was going to come to blows. And he'd known that it wouldn't have ended until one, if not both of them, was hurt. While Paul Blaisdell was a trained fighter, he wouldn't have wanted to injure his foster son, so he would have pulled his punches, trying to subdue Peter without hurting him. He was relieved it hadn't come to that. That somehow, some small grain of sanity made it through Peter's fury and caused him to pull up short.
But at a price. Paul felt his own throat constrict in sympathy at the sound of Peter's retching. He shook his head, going to the stove and putting the kettle on to boil. Coffee didn't have nearly the sobering influence it was given credit for, and Peter's abused stomach would probably reject it, but weak tea might just do the trick.
Bless Annie for having calmed him down earlier in the evening. He'd managed to make it through the evening without being in a state of wild agitation and concern. But when she went to bed, just after the news, he told her he'd stay up--wait for Peter. Midnight came and went, and still no Peter. Paul was at the pacing stage when he heard the car pull into the driveway, and he said a silent prayer of thanks that his son was home and safe.
That relief turned into anger as soon as the prodigal in question walked through the door. He hadn't intended to lose his cool, but the more he talked, the angrier he got. So did Peter, and their anger fed off each other. But the shouting was over; now there was just the aftermath. He got out a mug and plunked a teabag into it, taking the boiling kettle off the coil and pouring the hot water over it. He let it steep for barely a minute, then added milk and sugar to it, which was the only way Peter would drink it, and set it on the kitchen table.
The sound from the bathroom had stopped, but Peter made no move to come out. In fact, Paul heard nothing from inside at all. He went to the door and knocked.
"Peter?" He waited. "Peter? You all right? Peter?" When there was no answer, he hesitantly opened the door. Peter was kneeling in front of the toilet, his arms crossed on its rim, head resting on his arms. Paul looked at him for a brief moment, then wet a washrag and filled a glass with water. He crouched next to his foster son. "Here, rinse your mouth out." Peter slowly raised his head. His eyes were streaming and his face was red. Paul handed him the glass and Peter obeyed, spitting into the toilet. Paul took the rag and wiped off the clammy face. "Come on, I've got a cup of tea waiting for you in the kitchen--make you feel better."
Eventually, with Paul's help, Peter heaved himself up off the floor, and Paul led the boy into the kitchen.
For several minutes Peter simply hunched over his mug, staring dejectedly into space. He managed to take a sip of the tea, grimacing as the hot liquid hit his raw throat. The kid looked so miserable, Paul didn't have the heart to yell at him any more. He still deserved punishment--
But not tonight.
"Finish your tea, then get to bed," he told his foster son. "We'll talk in the morning."
Peter swallowed, frowning. "I--I can't...."
"Why can't you?"
"'Cuz every time I close my eyes, the world spins."
Paul smiled. Ah the glories of a really good drunk. "You can sit up as long as you need to, but try and get to bed sometime. You need the sleep. We'll talk in the morning."
Peter nodded gingerly. Paul watched him for another moment, then turned to leave the kitchen.
"Paul?" Peter's voice was small and miserable.
"Yeah?" he turned back.
Peter was looking at him with large, sick, sad eyes. "I'm so sorry...."
Paul smiled gently at him. "Yeah, I'll bet you are, kid. I'll see you in the morning."
With a sigh he left his foster son and went upstairs. Part of him wanted to take the boy in his arms and hug all the hurt away. But this wasn't the time. Peter needed to think some more about what he'd done. He needed to learn never to do it again. Sometimes tough love was hard to do, but it almost always worked.
The light was off in his bedroom, and the streetlight cast just enough glow to see by. He quickly got ready for bed and slid in next to his wife.
"Is Peter all right?" she whispered in the dark.
He took her in his arms and kissed her. "No. But he will be. He's very drunk and very sorry for himself right now. But he'll get over it."
"I heard you yelling."
"Yeah, it got ugly. But it didn't come to blows--not quite."
"He was at Rick's?"
"Uh-huh," Paul nodded. "You were right. Let him be and he'll come home when he's ready. I'm mad as hell that he drove drunk, but he'll learn not to do that again, either."
"What are you going to do?"
"Punish him. I just haven't decided how, yet. I'll sleep on it. I told him I'd talk to him about it in the morning. I'll come up with something by that time."
"Watch him carefully, Paul," she said. "If he's feeling bad about what he's done, it could be that no punishment you devise will be as bad as what he's going to do to himself."
"Oh, I think he'll be all right. I don't know if he's as sorry about disobeying me as he is about getting drunk. I'll let him sleep it off and we'll deal with it in the morning."
She sighed and settled down in his arms, and he closed his eyes.
Two hours later, when he heard Peter come upstairs and go to bed, Paul actually allowed himself to go to sleep as well.
Paul had taken Annie and the girls to church, and was sitting in the family room reading the Sunday paper when the wraith that had been Peter appeared in the kitchen. He was an unusual shade of green/gray, and his eyes were red and puffy. His hair stuck out in tufts all over his head and his shoulders were hunched. Paul set aside his paper and walked into the kitchen.
"That juice on the table is for you; drink it, you'll be dehydrated."
Peter eyed the glass balefully. "I'm not sure I can keep it down."
"Try, you need to get liquid in you. It'll make you feel better--promise." He grinned. "That and the two aspirin next to it."
Peter pounced on the pills gratefully, downing the entire glass of juice. He paused a moment, then convinced the juice would stay where he put it, poured himself another glass.
Paul sat down at the kitchen table and indicated the other chair, and with only the slightest of hesitations, Peter sat opposite him.
"I won't ask how you're feeling because I can tell the answer." Peter just stared gloomily into his juice glass and nodded. "Have you thought any more about what happened last night?"
"Yeah," Peter whispered.
"And I was stupid."
"Yeah, you were. You purposely disobeyed me, which I'm not pleased about. But then you drove home drunk, and I'm very angry about that. You and I can have as many fights as we want, but when you involve other people like you did last night, that's when it crosses the line, and I will not accept that behavior."
Peter didn't say anything, just swallowed.
"So," Paul went on, "what do you think I should do about this?"
Peter looked up at him, searching for an answer. Then he lowered his eyes again. "Punish me."
"Uh-huh. And how should I punish you?" Peter just shrugged. "Let's start with you're grounded for a week. Whether you like it or not, Peter, I'm still the authority figure in your life and when I tell you something, I expect you to obey me. As long as you're living under my roof, that's the way it is. You can disagree with me all you want, but if you disobey me, you have to be prepared to take the consequences."
Peter swallowed again. "What about practice?" The baseball season was just getting under way and Peter had made the varsity team, playing second base.
"Tuesdays and Thursdays."
"Home right after practice--no excuses," Paul allowed. After all, it wasn't fair to punish the team for Peter's transgression.
Peter looked at his foster father, then looked down again. Then he nodded.
"And now you can go upstairs and bring me your car keys." Peter's head shot up and he looked at Paul, who did his best to look resolute. Peter cast his eyes down again and shuffled off to fetch his keys. When he came back, he handed the key ring to Paul, who pulled the house key off the ring and handed it back to Peter, holding onto the car keys. "You'll get them back at the end of a month."
Peter went wide-eyed. "A month--"
"The one thing I will not tolerate is drunk driving, Peter. Use of the car is a privilege. If you abuse that privilege, you lose it."
Peter stared at him for a moment longer, then dropped to his seat again, nodding. "Okay."
"And I trust I don't have to tell you not to do it again."
Peter just shook his head. "I don't even know why I did it this time--except that you told me not to. I mean--" he raised his head, "I don't even like Rick. And I didn't have a good time."
Paul smiled. "You probably did it to prove that you could. I know it's tough, kid, thinking you're all grown up and should be able to be independent. But you're not; you've still got a lot of growing up to do. If nothing else, this proved it. Don't be in such a hurry to grow up; enjoy being a kid a little longer. You'll miss it when it's gone."
Peter shrugged. "It's just--it's just that sometimes--sometimes I feel like--well, like you don't trust me. I mean, I know what I did was stupid, but it's not just that. I feel like you think I'm still fifteen and don't know anything. Like you don't trust me to make my own decisions. You don't think I'm smart enough or something."
"I do think you're smart enough," Paul assured him. "In fact, I know you are. But you have to realize that no matter how grown up you might feel, you're still a teenager, still living under my roof. And that means you still have to abide by my rules. I had very good reasons for not wanting you to go to Rick's last night. I know Rick's reputation, and I don't think he and that gang of his are the best choice for friends. You need to accept that there are times when I'll tell you things you might not like, might not agree with. But whether or not you agree with them, they're still my rules, my home. I'm working from a little more experience here, and I think I know what's best, most of the time."
"But what if you're wrong?"
"Then we'll talk about it. But if you just go off and disobey me, then you have to accept the punishment."
Peter sighed and nodded. He took another drink of his juice. "I thought people got drunk to have a good time. I am not having a good time."
Paul chuckled. "No, I'm sure you're not. But did you while you were getting drunk?"
Peter frowned, thinking. "I can't remember. All I remember is it was crowded and noisy and my head hurt."
"Well, people usually drink to be happy. Or to pretend to be happy. See, alcohol lowers inhibitions, so they can pretend everything's fine, and they can go out and have a good time. But it's a false sense of freedom; alcohol is actually a depressant, and if you drink enough, you wind up feeling awful, both physically and mentally."
"Then why do people do it?"
"Because it's an escape. For the brief time they're under the influence of the alcohol, they can pretend that everything's fine. Unfortunately, when they sober up, they discover nothing's changed, and that usually makes them more depressed, so then they drink some more. It becomes a vicious cycle."
Peter looked at him questioningly. "You sound like you know a lot about it."
"My father was an alcoholic," Paul said softly.
"I--I'm sorry, I--I didn't know--"
Paul smiled gently. "You weren't supposed to." He sighed. "I don't believe that one drink, or even a drunken evening, can turn you into an alcoholic. I don't have any problems with your having the occasional beer here at home because I can monitor your consumption. And once you're old enough to drink legally, you should be old enough to be able to monitor yourself. But that's why what you did made me so angry, Peter. My father never cracked up the car when he was drunk, thank God. But I spent too many nights as a teenager watching my mother worry. I don't want to have to go through that with Annie."
"You won't," Peter vowed solemnly.
"Good," Paul patted Peter's hand gently. "You feel like some breakfast?" he asked.
Peter considered for a brief moment before shaking his head.
"Then you might want to go back upstairs before Mom comes home and starts frying bacon." He thought he saw Peter turn just a shade greener and the kid nodded. "Sorry, but I thought you should be warned."
Peter nodded again and got up from the table. But when he got to the doorway, he stopped. "Paul?"
Peter turned around. "I won't ever do that again--I promise."
"That's good enough for me, kid," he smiled.
Peter was lying on his bed, curled on his side when Annie knocked.
"You gonna come down for dinner?"
"I'm not hungry."
"You've got to eat something."
"I'll just get sick--really."
Annie came into the room and reached down to feel his forehead. "Well you're not gonna feel better on an empty stomach," she said. "How about if I make some soup for you. Come down and eat what you feel up to."
He sighed. "Okay." Several minutes later he shuffled downstairs to the family dinner table.
Carolyn took one look at him and started laughing. "Oh, very pretty," she smirked, and Kelly hid her giggle behind her hand. Peter scowled at her.
"Carolyn, that's enough," her father told her. A stern glance at Kelly stopped her laughter as well.
The soup Annie put in front of Peter was unappealing, but he managed to eat about half the bowl before his digestive tract told him it simply wasn't interested anymore.
He put his spoon down. "I'm sorry, I'm--just not hungry," he managed. "Excuse me." He left the table and went back upstairs, crawling into the safe solitude of his bed.
The food hadn't helped; neither had Carolyn's comment. Peter was nauseated, achy, and very, very sorry for himself. But not nearly as sorry as he was angry at himself, for what he'd done--what he'd almost done to Paul. Whenever he remembered, he felt sick all over again. God, he was such a moron! He'd come so close to blowing it this time--blowing it all.
He knew they weren't going to send him back, not anymore. But to almost ruin his relationship with Paul, to almost fuck up the love and friendship of the greatest guy. For nothing. For ego. Because he wanted to be a big man! What a joke! Rick and his friends were jerks, and Peter was an even bigger one for wanting to hang out with them. Rick already had a record with the cops; if Peter wound up like Rick, he'd screw up any hope he had for getting into the police academy. He sighed and clutched his pillow closer to him, closing his eyes against the dizzying sickness. What a stupid jerk....
He must have dozed off, because next thing he knew, someone was sitting on the edge of his bed. He knew without turning around that it was Paul. He opened his eyes; the room was in darkness, the only light cast by the overhead light in the hall. He sighed and rolled onto his back, looking at his foster father.
Paul smiled at him gently and brushed a hand over his forehead and then down his cheeks and neck. "Just wanted to make sure you weren't running a fever or anything," he whispered.
"A fever?" Peter asked stupidly.
"Make sure the way you're feeling isn't caused by anything else." He continued his gentle stroke of Peter's neck and shoulders. "When I was in the navy, we had 48 hours leave in Tokyo. Bright lights, big city, girls and booze. We had a great time. I was nineteen--thought I owned the world. Well, we got rip-roaring drunk and somehow managed to stumble back to the ship on time. But God, I was sick after that. Had a hangover the likes of which I'd never seen before. Couldn't keep anything down, felt hot, then cold--oh, I was miserable. This went on for three days until it finally occurred to me through my stupor that I shouldn't still be this hung-over. Went to the infirmary--turned out I had the flu." He chuckled. "So I wanted to make sure you hadn't picked up a bug as well. But I've got bad news for you, kid. It's just a hangover."
Peter groaned. "I know. My own stupidity."
"Well, everybody's got their really stupid moments, this was one of yours. But you know you've got to go to school tomorrow."
"I know. I'll be fine."
"Yeah, you will be. Just rest, take it easy, drink lots of water. You'll probably feel better by tomorrow." Peter just nodded. "Can I get you anything?"
"No." Peter took a deep breath. "Why are you being so nice to me?"
Paul raised his eyebrows. "Shouldn't I be?"
"Not after what I did--"
"Peter, it's what you did I didn't like--not you. No matter how angry I may get at your actions, it doesn't change how I feel about you. I certainly don't love you any less. If you're hurting, even if you brought it on yourself, I'm gonna try and help you feel better. That's what father's do for their kids--even surrogate ones." He smiled gently at Peter and his hand stroked his cheek.
Peter couldn't answer, merely turned his head away, feeling like the biggest piece of shit and trying to hide the tears in his eyes. Paul must have seen them anyway.
"Peter--kid," Paul soothed, "you made a mistake. You acknowledge it, and you've accepted your punishment for it. That's it. As far as I'm concerned, it's over. I forgive you. Once you learn to forgive yourself, we can get on with the business at hand."
Peter turned back to him. "How can you just--forgive like that?" he managed.
"Because I know it was your anger acting out like that, not you. So I punish the act, and forgive the actor."
Peter shook his head. "I don't know how to separate it like that."
"No, you probably don't," Paul agreed. "When I was your age, I don't think I knew how, either. Just another one of those awful things you have to wait to grow up for."
Peter sighed heavily. "Sometimes being a kid really sucks."
Paul chuckled. "Sometimes being an adult isn't much better. But at least you've got longer to get the hang of it." He patted Peter's chest. "You should try and get some sleep. I'll see you in the morning."
"'Kay," Peter sighed again and Paul smoothed the blanket over him.
"Night, son," Paul said softly, then leaned over and kissed his foster son on the forehead.
Peter watched him leave the bedroom, closing the door behind him. He took a deep breath. I forgive you.... No. Forgiveness was too much to ask for. Too much to expect. At least from himself.
In the morning, Peter was considerably less peaked-looking than he'd been the night before. He managed a piece of toast along with his juice, and Paul decided that the worst was probably over.
But before he left, he called out to him. "Peter--right home after school."
"Yes, Captain," Peter said solemnly, surprised when Paul smiled and winked at him.
That evening, when Paul got home, he kissed Annie. "Where's Peter?" he asked.
"Upstairs in his room. Came home right from school, went straight upstairs. He's been there all afternoon."
Paul shook his head. He'd never met anyone with so few grays in his life than their foster son. Everything was either good or bad, there was no middle ground with Peter. He'd obeyed the letter of Paul's law, and quadrupled the spirit. He went upstairs to talk to him.
Peter was lying on his stomach, pillows propping him up, reading when Paul knocked. Peter looked toward the door, saw who it was, started to smile, then looked away almost guiltily.
"Peter, it's a grounding, not internal exile," Paul said.
"You don't have to stay in your room," Paul explained.
Peter flushed. "I know, I was just reading."
"No. Moby Dick for English. Why do they call this great literature? It's dumb. And Ahab was obsessed."
Paul smiled. That had always been his impression of the book, too. "I thought it would appeal to you--action/adventure stuff."
"Not when you don't care about the characters," Peter muttered.
Paul chuckled. "How was school?"
He saw Peter's body tense. "Okay." He turned toward Paul. "Did you see the police report from Rick's?"
"Not my jurisdiction," Paul reminded him. "But I did talk to Tony Weaver from the local precinct about it." Paul had learned that the police had busted the party at Rick's shortly after Peter had left, and that in addition to the quantities of beer being consumed by minors, the police had also confiscated quite a bit of marijuana and some cocaine. Rick's older brother, Larry, had been taken into custody and their parents, who'd been in Mexico on vacation, had been summoned back. It had all the makings of a major community brouhaha, and Paul was grateful Peter had left the party when he did.
"Everybody was talking about it at school," Peter went on, "like it was a big point of honor to be at a party that got busted." He sighed and rolled over. "Paul, why am I such an idiot?"
Paul laughed. "Because you're a teenager--being an idiot goes with the territory. But you're no more idiotic than most of them, and a lot less than many. You had the good sense to get out of that party before the trouble started. And even though you behaved irresponsibly, you know that you were wrong."
"Were you ever an idiot?"
"You're talking to the guy who thought he had a three-day hangover," Paul grinned. "Yeah, everybody's an idiot sometimes. But eventually, you'll grow out of the worst of it."
"I hope so," Peter said fervently.
"You will," Paul nodded sagely. "You gonna come down for dinner?"
"I guess," Peter sighed.
"Good. Annie's beginning to think you've gone off her cooking."
Peter smiled and hauled himself off the bed. At seventeen, he'd grown into his lanky frame somewhat, but he was still more leg than anything else. And, Paul suspected, he was still growing. He reached six feet late last year, and Paul thought there was probably another inch or so in him. But the awkward coltishness was rapidly being replaced with a certain grace and surety of movement. Except that he was often a perpetual motion machine, Peter had quite a bit of young style.
"You believe yet that I've forgiven you?" he asked.
"I guess," Peter shrugged.
"Gonna forgive yourself eventually?"
"You should; you don't look very good in sackcloth and ashes."
Paul chuckled. "Never mind. Come on, kid, let's see if your mom needs some help in the kitchen." Hand on his foster son's back, he escorted Peter downstairs.
Chapter 16: Protecting the Innocent
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