It was Paul's turn to drive, and Peter stared out the window at the passing scenery. Three Mountain Lake, he thought, must not be too far from the temple, the scenery looked almost familiar. Cliffs and low mountains, pine forests and woods. It tugged at Peter's heart and almost wrecked his good mood.
Which mood was caused by the anticipation of their excursion this weekend--a "guys weekend out" fishing trip for Paul and himself. Right after Paul returned from Washington, he took Peter aside and declared that they didn't spend nearly enough time together, and would Peter like to go fishing with him. Peter jumped at the chance; for all he adored Annie and the girls, being surrounded by all these--women--was sometimes hard for him, having been raised in an all-male society for most of his life. When he confided his feelings to Paul, his foster father laughed, telling him that was one of the reasons they'd taken him in--so Paul wouldn't be the only male in a household of females.
So since Peter had a day off from school, they'd made their plans to take a long weekend. For days, they'd gathered together their fishing and camping gear. Paul had asked him if he wanted to take his Swiss Army knife, and Peter thought he seemed a little surprised when Peter said yes. But after all, the knife was designed for just this sort of thing, and maybe taking it along--using it camping--might make it seem like just a tool again instead of something--else.
Last night after Paul got home from work, they loaded the car with most of their supplies. Then early this morning, much earlier than Peter would have preferred to get up, they took off for the wilderness.
It was quiet in the car; they'd lost radio reception about 20 minutes ago. Paul was concentrating on his driving, and Peter was growing bored with the scenery. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
"You all right, son?" Paul asked.
"Yeah," Peter sighed. "How far are we?"
"Not too far--maybe another half hour or so. You getting antsy?"
"Yeah," Peter grinned sheepishly.
"We'll be there soon, just sit tight."
Conversation lagged until they pulled into a tiny town nestled right on the edge of the forest. They stopped in front of the general store. Peter shook his head; the town looked just like Braniff--same storefronts, same types of people.
"Come on, let's get our fishing licenses and some supplies," Paul said, climbing out of the car.
"Food, Peter, unless you want to eat fish for three days."
Peter's nose wrinkled at the idea, and he followed his foster father into the store.
"Morning!" the man behind the counter said to them. There were a couple of other people in the shop as well.
"Morning. Can we get our fishing licenses here?" Paul asked.
"You bet," the man said. "Been here before?"
"I have, years ago, but this is the first time for my son," Paul indicated Peter, standing a little behind him, looking around the shop curiously.
"Well, you'll have a great time," the counter man said to Peter. Peter said nothing, just flushed. "Alrighty, let's get you signed up. He's a minor?"
"He's sixteen," Paul answered.
"Then we'll put him on your license."
The man filled out parts of the form, then turned it over to Paul to complete. He did so, then gave it back to the man. "What's your name, son?" he asked.
"If you and your dad want to sign here and here, Peter, we'll get you taken care of. And that'll be $16."
Paul put a $20 on the counter and signed the form, pushing it in Peter's direction. Peter looked at the form, searched for his name, and found it--listed as Peter Blaisdell.
"Um--" he began.
"Let it ride, kid," Paul said under his breath.
"Just sign it as it is--it's all right."
Peter took a deep breath and signed his name--Peter B-l-a-i-s-d-e-l-l. It was awkward to write--didn't feel natural at all.
Paul gave the form back to the man.
"There you go, Mr. Blaisdell, all set." He handed Paul his copy. "Anything else I can get for you today?"
"Yeah--we're gonna pick up a few things."
"Take your time--but not too long, mind. The fish've been biting good this season, but they bite best in the morning."
"Thanks for the tip," Paul smiled. "Come on, kid, let's get the rest of our stuff."
They gathered up a box full of food and other essential supplies, and Paul paid for them while Peter carried the box out and put it in the car. They got in and drove off, heading into the park and their fishing spot.
"That was weird," Peter commented.
"I'm sorry about that," Paul said, "but when I saw how he'd listed you, I thought it was just easier to go ahead and sign it than bother to explain the relationship. They all believed you were my son anyway, so it didn't seem to matter, especially since you're a minor and in my custody."
"Mmm," Peter nodded. He could see the sense in it. But it didn't make it any less awkward. "It just felt--strange--writing that."
"Yeah, I could see where it would." Paul glanced over at him. "But you know if you ever change your mind--"
"I know," Peter said quickly. "It's just--" he swallowed. It was so hard, explaining it so that Paul wouldn't be offended. It wasn't that he didn't love Paul, but-- "It's just that--well, family--the family line--it was real important to my father. I grew up hearing stories of my grandfather and my great-grandfather. Now I'm--I'm the only one left. I don't have anything else that was his--just his knife, and-- And his name. I--I can't give that up. I'm sorry."
"It's all right, I understand," Paul said kindly.
"I don't want you to think I don't-- I don't-- appreciate everything you've done for me, but--"
"I understand, Peter, you don't have to explain it to me," Paul interrupted. "I know your father and your family name are very important to you. That's fine--that's the way it should be. I'd never ask you to give that up. I only asked if you wanted--maybe something more. But it doesn't matter. Whether I call you Caine or Blaisdell, it doesn't change how I feel about you--how Annie feels. We're gonna love you no matter what your name is."
Peter didn't answer, just flushed and looked down. Paul chuckled and patted his leg. "Now lighten up--this is supposed to be fun."
Peter smiled and the last of his worried mood vanished.
About fifteen minutes later, they pulled into a graveled parking area.
"We can tote our gear from here; there used to be a pretty good spot just through those trees," Paul said.
"Right," Peter agreed and together they took their duffles, sleeping bags, tent and fishing gear and hauled them through the woods and down a slope. The campsite was a small clearing surrounded by trees. They decided to go ahead and set up camp now, then go back to the car and get the food and the rest of their gear. Paul showed Peter how to set up the small two-man tent, teaching him some of the camping basics at the same time.
"You ever been camping before?" he asked.
"Not like this," Peter answered. "Sometimes one of the masters would take some of the kids out and teach us about nature--the animals and the forces of nature--as part of our training. And a couple of times we stayed out overnight. But we slept on the ground, in blankets. Or once we slept in a cave; that was kinda scary--it echoed, made weird noises. But I've never done it in a tent before."
"Well," Paul laughed, "compared to what you've done before, this will seem like the lap of luxury. It's not very big, but it even has doors and windows, after a fashion." Indeed, the small tent had a front opening with a zipper and mesh netting, and a top canopy which could be left open to let in the fresh air. At this time in the autumn, however, the canopy was closed tightly over its vents, the better to keep in the warmth. "On the other hand, we won't be using propane heaters or electricity, either; any heat and warmth we get will be from our campfire, so I guess this is roughing it by some people's standards."
Peter smiled. He'd never much liked those overnight excursions into nature; he thought they were uncomfortable and kind of pointless, especially with the temple so close where they could have gone back into warmth and security at night. But at least thanks to those times, this experience wasn't completely foreign to him, either.
The first thing they did after setting up their tent and stowing their gear, was to gather wood for the fire--enough to last them for the duration of their trip. Nothing, Paul declared, was more annoying than running out of firewood in the middle of the evening, just when the fire was going good. Peter was adept at swinging an axe and broke the larger logs down into manageable pieces, and before too long, they had a sizeable pile of firewood.
Finally, once everything was set, they took their fishing gear and hiked down a fairly steep and slippery slope to the river. The "Lake" in Three Mountain Lake, was actually just a wide spot in the river, a little bit upstream from their present location. Paul maintained that the fishing was better just downstream from the lake.
"You've never fished, have you?" he asked.
Peter shook his head. "I used to see townspeople fishing. But they didn't approve of it at the temple."
"Well, no, if you're not going to eat the fish, then it is kind of pointless," Paul agreed. "So anything we catch, we have to eat. If you don't want to eat it, don't catch it."
"But if we're fishing for three days, won't we get sick of having to eat so many fish?"
Paul chuckled. "Just wait 'til you see how long it takes to catch one. And we can take some home, put them in the freezer. I'll show you how to clean them--take off the scales, take out the bones."
Peter made a face. Seemed pretty gruesome to him; he didn't even like looking at raw meat, for all he loved the taste of it cooked.
Paul laughed at his expression and showed him how to bait the hook, then how to cast his line into the water, and how to manipulate the line. "Keep your eye on the float--if that bobs, you've got something."
Peter nodded and tried his hand. His first casting got caught in the trees, so he tried again. And again. But eventually he got the hang of it. They stood on the bank, their rubber boots squelching in the mud, lines trailing in the water. For a long time, the only sounds were of the occasional crow or scurrying squirrel. The crickets and other noisemaking bugs of the summer had gone, as had, fortunately, the mosquitoes. That, Paul told him, was an advantage to coming in the autumn.
"How did you learn to fish?" Peter asked, breaking the natural silence.
"My father took me and David when we were boys. We used to go out in a boat on the lake near our summer place--spent the day out there, swatting flies and catching fish. And I did some fishing when I was stationed in Germany, too."
"In the army?"
"Were you in Germany the whole time?"
"No, I was in Korea during the war. Then I was all over the place--Tokyo, London, Madrid, Vienna, Hamburg, even Berlin for a short time. And then," he sighed, "I was in some places I'd rather not tell you about."
"Still in the navy?"
"After the navy."
"Oh." Peter considered what he'd been told. "Vietnam?"
"Briefly," Paul nodded.
"Not back then."
"Peter, I'm really not at liberty to discuss this with you."
Peter took a deep breath. "Does Mom know?"
Paul sighed. "Only what she needs to."
Peter looked sideways at his foster father. There was a stern look on his face, and his mouth was in a grim line. "Then it really is dangerous."
There was a pause before Paul answered, "It can be, yes. But I can't say any more than that, now will you please change the subject?"
"Sorry." Peter stared out across the river, gaze numbly fastened on the little red and white float.
"I'm sorry, kid, but it's safer for you not to know. Honestly. It's not that I don't think you're old enough or mature enough, it's just that--well, the fewer people who know, the better off we'll all be."
"I see," Peter said mechanically.
Paul smiled gently. "I hope some day I can tell you all about it. But not right now."
Peter looked at him, trying to assess his foster father's words. Paul had never yet lied to him; it was doubtful he was going to start now. But then again, Peter had no choice but to accept it. "Okay," he finally answered.
Paul reached a hand over and ruffled his foster son's hair, and the conversation subsided.
Peter, however, couldn't get it out of his mind. Partly because it was different and exciting, the idea that his foster father was a spy. Partly because it was frightening, that Paul put himself in that kind of danger. And Peter was curious; how did Paul get involved in the first place? Had he been in the police at the time?
"Paul?" he asked hesitantly.
"Can--can I ask questions about--about stuff that happened earlier?"
Paul laughed and shook his head. "This has really gotten to you, hasn't it?"
"I just want to understand."
"Go ahead and ask. If I feel it's something too sensitive, I won't answer. All right with you?"
"I guess." Peter took a deep breath. "How did you start to work for them?"
"Well, I told you I was in the navy; I went in shortly after high school and did what I thought would be my obligatory two years. But then we got involved in Korea, so I signed up for another tour, 4 years this time. During the course of my military career, which was mostly in the south pacific, I was recruited into Naval Intelligence. I had an aptitude for it; I did another four years after that, then got recruited by the government, who I worked for off and on until I got married. Then I became a cop."
"How come you became a cop?" Peter wanted to know.
"I knew I wanted out of my previous line of work. But my "skills" were fairly specific. Not much call for them in civilian life. Except in the police. And I liked the ideals that went with police work, the theories of law enforcement. It was a much easier transition than I'd've anticipated, and thanks to my previous occupation, I moved up in the ranks fairly quickly. I'd only been on the force for around 12 years when I became captain."
"Did you have to go through the Academy?"
"I had to take some of the theory and procedures classes. There wasn't anything they could teach me about the required skills. Remember I said that the two most likely paths into the police are the Academy and the military? I took the second road."
"Did you start out on patrol like everybody else?"
Paul chuckled. "Yes, actually, I did six months walking a beat--mostly so I would know what was involved. Then I moved straight into the detectives. Eventually I made Chief of Detectives, which has a rank of Lieutenant, which I did for five years before I became a captain."
"What's next?" Peter asked.
"What comes after captain?"
"Retirement," Paul said wryly.
"No, I mean what rank comes next?"
"Deputy Chief, then Chief of Police. Commissioner is an office appointed by the Mayor."
"Do you want any of those?"
"God help me, no," Paul laughed.
"Because by the time you've achieved those ranks, you're not really a cop anymore, you're a politician. I don't like politics; lost my stomach for it in the old days. No, I'll be happy to stay here at my present rank and position for the next fifteen years or so, then retire on a nice pension and live out the remainder of my days puttering in my garden and taking Annie on trips." He smiled fondly.
"I dunno," Peter commented, "sounds kinda--boring."
Paul laughed. "Just wait 'til you get to my age, kid; it won't sound boring then."
There was silence again as the two fishermen returned their concentration to their lines.
"The only thing is," Peter went on after a few minutes, "if you don't like them--the government, I mean--why do you still work for them?"
"Well, I don't, not very often."
"But why do it at all?"
"It depends on the circumstance. There are lots of reasons, most of which I don't want to go in to. Suffice it to say that whether I like them or not, I do perform a useful service for them, and they pay me very well."
"Better than the police?"
"Much better," Paul nodded shortly, in a tone which indicated that that line of questioning would end right there.
"Oh," Peter said, wondering how to ask the rest of the questions he had. Suddenly he felt a gentle tug on his line.
"Paul--it's doing something--" he said breathlessly.
"Okay, reel it in slowly--don't tug or he'll tug back. Easy--easy--that's it," Paul coaxed as Peter slowly reeled the line in. "Let it alone for a moment--let him think he's won. Now reel it in again. Good."
Peter watched the movement in the water, rapt. Somewhere beneath the surface was a fish who wanted what he had. A fish who'd just swum into his trap. He listened to Paul's litany of words with only half an ear--the rest of his concentration focused on the battle of wills going on between himself and the fish. The tug on his line increased.
"It's starting to fight--" Peter announced.
"Reel a little faster--if he fights, so do you."
"I don't want to lose it--"
"You won't--just take it easy--smooth movements. Ah--I see him now--you're doing fine, kid--keep it up."
The fish was flipping and splashing out in the stream.
"Ease off a little bit--you don't want to get him so worked up that he'll break the line--careful--careful. Reel him in again, 'til he gets about 15 feet out. Good--good."
"Boy, he's really fighting--"
"Yeah--he looks like a good sized one, too. A little further. Pull up with your pole--way up, see if we can't swing him to shore. Hold onto the reel--Okay, now!"
Peter jerked the pole upright and the fish burst from the water, sailing through the air toward the shore, thrashing and tugging for all he was worth.
"Good! A little more--a little more--got him!" Paul exclaimed triumphantly as he caught the wriggling fish at the end of the line and held it, working the hook out of the mouth.
Peter watched, torn between fascination and repulsion. The fish was about 12 inches long, with a white belly and grayish almost iridescent scales. It was thrashing helplessly in Paul's grasp, and it was bleeding from the mouth where the barbed hook had ensnared it. In a few moments the thrashing eased, as Paul got it removed from the line. He held it up by the mouth and the tail.
"There you go, kid--your first catch!" he declared proudly.
Peter tried to smile in return, watching the fish struggle in Paul's hands. It all seemed terribly barbaric and cruel. He'd just killed something--another living creature. Well, it wasn't dead yet, but it soon would be. On the other hand, there was a certain feeling of accomplishment, knowing he'd battled a force of nature--and won. And it wasn't like they just killed the fish for no purpose--it would be tonight's dinner. He finally managed to smile in earnest. "Wow!" he said and Paul laughed.
"See? Not as easy as you'd thought, was it?"
"No--it was pretty strong for something that size."
"Yeah--it's amazing how much of a fight they can put up."
"What kind is it?"
"It's a trout--looks about 12 inches, maybe a pound, pound and a half. Another one or two of these and we'll have a great dinner."
Peter smiled, stretching his fingers, which had been white-knuckled around his pole. "Your turn next--my hands need to take a break."
Paul set the fish on the rocks at his feet where it still flopped weakly. He clubbed it sharply with the end of his fishing knife. The fish's movement stopped almost immediately, and Paul put it in a cooler of ice. He picked up his pole again, looking at Peter.
Peter was frowning. "Why club it--I mean, don't they just--die--when you take them out of the water?"
"Eventually," Paul confirmed. "But this is more humane. Otherwise you're letting the fish lie there and suffocate. Clubbing them is quick and painless. We could have kept them alive in a basket in the water until right before we went to cook them, but I prefer to get it over and done with quickly."
Peter nodded dubiously. It really was barbaric, fishing. He turned away from the cooler with the dead fish. "Be right back," he said, heading up the slope away from the water; it occurred to him his hands weren't the only thing that needed a break.
"Toilet paper's in the box," Paul called after him.
"I know," he called back.
After taking care of business, he went back into the box of supplies and found the six-pack of beer, pulling out a can and a handful of peanuts. Munching the nuts, he started back down the slope, almost losing his footing on one particularly slippery spot.
Paul was where he'd left him, idly casting his line. He smiled when he saw Peter approach and Peter grinned, holding out the beer can.
"Mind reader," Paul said. Peter opened the can for him and Paul took a long swig, then handed it back.
"Anything?" Peter asked, drinking from the can.
"Not yet. Any time there's commotion like we just had, it takes awhile for the fish to decide the area's safe again. But they'll be back. They always come back."
Conversation lagged as Peter picked up his pole and cast his line again. He caught another one, but lost it before he could reel it in. And Paul lost two of them before he finally bagged a 10 incher. Then Peter caught an 8" fish and Paul decided they'd caught plenty for the day. They packed up their fish and gear and returned to their campsite.
"You know how to start a fire?" Paul asked.
"With matches, or without?" Peter grinned.
Paul laughed. "With--we're not fussy how you get it started, only that it starts."
"No problem," Peter answered, and set to work building a fire in the scar on the ground. The ground was a little damp, and the fire smoked and sputtered before he could get it caught properly. But eventually, he got a small blaze going and gradually added bigger and bigger branches.
"How big do we want it?" he asked Paul.
"In the middle there--not bonfire sized, but big enough to cook a few fishes."
"How's this look?"
Paul came over to inspect the fire. "Good. Now come over here--let me show you how to clean these fellas."
Once again, Peter was drawn between fascination and repulsion. Part of him, with typical curiosity, was intrigued by the fish's innards. But the other part was disgusted by the entrails and the blood and the smell. "Eugh," he said involuntarily.
"That's right, you've never seen anything like this, have you?"
"No. I mean, I knew they didn't come out of the sea already wrapped in cellophane, but--I dunno--somehow, knowing that an hour ago they were alive and swimming-- It's cruel, isn't it?"
"It's part of nature, Peter--part of life. These fish wouldn't have any hesitation having us for lunch if the positions were reversed. It all depends on where you fall on the food chain." Paul finished picking out the bones, then he sluiced the insides with water, washing the last of the blood away. "Now we scale them--like this." He took out a curved knife and ran it over the fish's body, scraping the scales away. They seemed to fly everywhere, sticky, smelly shiny pieces. It was pretty disgusting. But eventually, Paul finished with the knife, rinsing the fish again. "And that's all there is to it." He held the gutted, scaled fish up by its tail.
"What about the heads?"
"We'll leave them on."
Peter looked dubiously at the gutted fish. "I don't think I can eat something that's staring back at me."
Paul chuckled. "Then cut the heads off before you eat them--that way they can't look." Peter made a face and Paul laughed. "Here--you want to try one?"
"Not really," Peter sighed, "but I guess I will." Under Paul's guidance, he gutted and cleaned the fish, putting it with the other two. He looked at the pile of cleaned fish. "That's a lot of fish for two people."
"Yeah, but we didn't have lunch, and I don't know about you, but I'm hungry!"
"Well, now that you mention it--" Peter grinned.
Paul set up a grill balanced on several rocks. "As soon as the fire works down to coals, we'll put them on. They cook pretty quick over coals--we should be ready to eat soon. Here--let me show you how to cook the vegetables." He got out aluminum foil and the potatoes, carrots and onions they'd bought at the store, showing Peter how to cut them into bite-sized pieces and bundle them in a packet of foil, where they nestled in amongst the coals and cooked in their own juices. Paul put the fish on the grill, and soon there was the sound of sizzling and the smell of cooking fish--a very different smell from that of raw fish. Peter's mouth began watering.
"You've never had anything like fresh fish," Paul told him. "There may be a downside to having seen your dinner alive, but the upside is that nothing tastes better."
Peter decided that remained to be seen, but the smell was great.
The fish, when it was finally done, was amazing; the meat was white, tender and juicy--beat the stuff from the store hands down. The vegetables, which took a little longer to cook, were tasty, too. And Paul made coffee, which Peter hadn't had before, but with enough sugar and milk in it, was really quite drinkable. They managed to eat the two larger fish, and Paul cut up the smaller one to be nibbled on for the rest of the evening.
After they cleaned up their dinner dishes they settled down in front of the fire. The last of the daylight faded, leaving them in an island of golden light. Peter fed branches into the flames, watching them be consumed. Paul took out his pipe and lit it, the sweet tobacco smell mingling with the musky woodsmoke.
For a long time, neither of them spoke. It felt good, just sitting here with Paul--not talking, not needing to talk. Peter remembered sitting with his father by one of the braziers at the temple, silently gazing into the flame and letting his mind roam free. He always liked those times--those comfortable, effortless moments when nothing was expected, nothing planned. There hadn't been very many moments like that recently, and Peter opened himself up to the sensations--the sight, the smell the sound of the woods at night. He wrapped the familiarity around him like a warm blanket. He looked at Paul and his foster father winked at him.
"You all right, son?"
"Oh--oh yeah. I was just--" He grinned. "This is fun."
Paul chuckled. "I'm glad you're having a good time. We get so busy with day-to-day life, I don't get nearly enough time to spend with you kids. It sometimes seems like we spent more time together back when we were doing the orphanage visits than we do now."
Peter shrugged. "Maybe. But I like now better."
"So do I, kid," Paul said gently. He puffed on his pipe. "So how are you and Kim getting along?"
Peter ducked his head. "Fine. She's--I like her. The concert choir's already working on their stuff for Christmas and she said she's got a solo."
"That's very good," Paul smiled. "You ever thought about trying out for the choir?"
"Me? No way!"
"Why not? You can sing, I've heard you and the girls."
"Yeah, but--but that's just for fun. I couldn't ever sing in front of people. I'll leave the singing to the people who can really do it. Like Kim." Peter poked the fire with a stick. "Besides, they have practice during 4th period, and I've got to have 4th free for lunch so I can have P.E. fifth."
"What's so important about fifth period gym class?"
"That's when most of the hockey guys have it."
"I thought they practiced after school."
"Well, they do, but I figure if I can work out with them enough this year, then maybe next year I can make the team." Peter, despite having discovered hockey fairly late in life, loved the sport and had aspirations toward it. Especially since it wouldn't conflict with his intermural baseball schedule--his other great love.
"Ah," Paul nodded sagely, and the two of them lapsed again into silence, enjoying the fire and the company.
Some time later, Peter stood up.
"Where're you off to?" Paul asked, answered with a nod of Peter's head toward the back woods--where they'd dug their latrine. He tossed Peter a flashlight. "You'll need that--it's black as pitch away from the fire."
"Got it." Peter headed away from the campfire.
After using the latrine, Peter started back to camp, then stopped, flipping off his flashlight to see how dark it was.
Very, he concluded, but he looked up and saw stars shining brightly through the leaves, and moved away from the fire, looking for a clearing in which to better see the stars. When he found one, he gasped, awed by the crystal intensity of the star-littered sky, the stars so numerous they covered the heavens like a carpet. He could even see the Milky Way! They looked close enough to touch, and he reached a hand up, almost expecting to see the tracks of his fingers through the speckled mass.
Peter stood silent, lost in the amazing splendor of the star-saturated heavens. He remembered gazing at the stars at the temple, awed by them for as long as he could remember. The stars, his father used to say, are what binds the heavens together. Otherwise we humans would be crushed by the weight of its silence. Peter didn't find the silence crushing at all. It was peaceful, and the stars were comforting. He looked for and found many of the constellations he'd learned when he was younger, oddly comforted by the knowledge that no matter what had changed in his life, the stars went on, impervious to change, as they had been for hundreds of millions of years. It made his concerns seem very small indeed.
"Peter?" Paul's voice came through the trees, and Peter could see the beam of his flashlight.
"Here," he called and flipped on his own light. A rustle of leaves brought his foster father into the clearing.
"Where the hell have you been?" Paul sounded angry and--something else.
"I wanted to look at the stars," Peter replied simply.
"You don't just wander off out in the woods, Peter--especially not at night. I had no idea where you were, I didn't know if something had happened to you, or--"
"I'm sorry, I just--I wanted to see the stars," he repeated.
"You couldn't look at the stars from the campsite?"
"No, the fire's too bright there, it gets in the way. You can see them better from out here." Peter paused and looked up again. "Look at them--shut off your flashlight and look--it's so cool...."
He heard Paul sigh, then the light was doused. They stood in silence for several moments, staring up at the sky.
"Yeah, it's pretty impressive all right," Paul said, flipping his light on again. "Now can we get back to the fire? It's getting cold out here, and the night's just a little too dark for my taste."
Peter looked at Paul and finally identified the earlier look--fear. "You really don't like the dark, do you?" he said, a little awed to think that there was something so natural, so comfortable to him, which bothered his foster father so much.
"It's not my favorite thing, no," Paul admitted, "especially when I don't know what's going on or where you got to. Now come on, we've left the fire unattended, and that's a cardinal sin." He ushered Peter ahead of him and together they walked back to their campsite. Paul fed a few more branches into the fire, while Peter sat back down, staring into the flames. Paul resumed his seat and they once again lapsed into silence, this time somewhat less comfortable than before.
"I'm sorry I made you worry," Peter finally said. He didn't regret his actions, only that those actions had upset Paul.
Paul looked over at him and smiled gently. "That's all right, kid. I don't mind you going off to look at the stars, just tell me next time."
"Okay," Peter agreed and Paul reached over and squeezed his shoulder.
The remainder of the evening passed easily, with brief conversations punctuating comfortable silences. But eventually, Peter began yawning and looked over at Paul, who was stifling his own yawn. Paul chuckled.
"Well, we got an early start and it's been a busy day. Not to mention more fresh air than this old body is used to. Come on, kid, let's get to bed."
Together they doused the fire and crawled into their pup tent. It was cold away from the fire, and seemed colder still inside the small canvas tent.
"Brrr," Peter shivered as he wriggled out of his jeans and into the long-johns he'd borrowed from Paul to serve as pajamas for the weekend, his own lightweight pajamas being no match for a chilly autumn evening.
"It'll warm up soon," Paul assured him, "especially with two bodies breathing in here. Just snuggle into your bag, you'll get warm."
"If you say so," Peter said dubiously, but did as instructed. Eventually, Paul crawled into his sleeping bag as well.
"Good night, son," Paul said.
"'Night," Peter answered. The flashlight was extinguished.
"Does it being dark like this bother you?" Peter asked.
"It doesn't thrill me, but I can deal with it. Especially since I know where I am and what's around me. I'm fine. Are you all right?"
"Good. Now get to sleep."
"Just relax--you'll warm up soon."
"Good night, Peter."
Peter sighed, convinced that he'd never be warm. But eventually, his own body heat radiating through the bag warmed him up and he relaxed into sleep.
Only to be awakened by a bright flash and a crash of thunder. He gasped and lay paralysed by the noise.
"Shhh," Paul soothed, reaching a hand out to him, "it's only thunder. A storm."
"I--I know," Peter stammered. "It just--surprised me." He turned his head to look at Paul in the dark, but could see nothing through the murk. "Are we safe in here?"
"Yeah, we should be," came the response. "Just take it easy. I don't expect it'll last too long."
Peter lay staring at the roof of the tent, listening to the drum of the rain above his head. Every so often there was another flash, another roll of thunder. "Where did it come from? It was clear before."
"This time of year, storms can come up very fast. But that's why I doubt it'll last too long. Fast in, fast out."
"Oh." Peter wasn't convinced. There was another crash, and he jumped.
"Relax, kid," Paul comforted, "it can't hurt you."
"I know, but--" Peter repeated.
"But that doesn't mean you have to like it," Paul completed for him. Another crash underlined his words, making Peter jump again. "Come here," Paul said.
"Come on, it's all right." There was the sound of a zipper, and then Paul's hands reached out and drew the zipper down partway on Peter's bag. "Come over here," he went on.
"N-no, I-I'll be fine," Peter protested.
"Of course you will," Paul replied, "but just because you have to weather the storm doesn't mean you have to tough it out. Not when I'm here. Now get over here." He reached out, putting his arms around his foster son and drawing him into a hug. After a moment of resistance, Peter acquiesced and went into his foster father's arms, sighing as the strength and security enveloped him. Paul overlapped the ends of the two sleeping bags, wrapping the warmth around them, even as his arms wrapped around Peter and drew him deeper into his protection.
Peter drew a shaky breath. "It's so stupid--" he said.
"No it's not, now just relax." Paul's gentle hand stroked over Peter's hair and the other hand rubbed his back gently.
"I'm sorry--" Peter whispered.
"Shhh," Paul soothed again.
The warmth of another body and the protection against the storm finally won through, and Peter felt himself relaxing, able to listen to the cacophony outside without fear. Well, without so much fear, anyway. And eventually, he even dozed off again.
He woke suddenly, realizing it was the silence that had wakened him. Besides the occasional drip of rain from the trees, the storm was over, moving quickly on to someplace else, as Paul had predicted.
Next to him, Paul's rhythmic breathing indicated his foster father was asleep or very nearly so.
It was comfortable, lying safe and protected here in Paul's arms, but the storm had passed, taking Peter's fear with it, and embarrassment about his weakness took its place. He had imposed on Paul enough. He carefully eased himself out of his foster father's grasp, trying not to wake the older man.
It didn't work.
"Okay, kid?" Paul whispered.
"Yeah--sorry I woke you."
"That's all right."
Peter hesitated. "Thanks," he said.
"You're welcome," Paul answered, and Peter could hear his smile, imagined the gentle look on his face.
"Good night, son."
Peter snuggled down in his sleeping bag, contented, but missing the warmth of his foster father's embrace.
Peter swallowed. "I-I love you."
There was a silence and for one brief terrifying moment, Peter thought he'd said the wrong thing; after all, he'd never spoken those words before to Paul. But then he heard Paul's indrawn breath.
"I love you too," he whispered. And then Peter was pulled back into Paul's arms and hugged tightly.
This time when the hug broke, Peter pulled back only far enough to allow them both a little breathing space, preferring to remain within the circle and the warmth of Paul's embrace. And surrounded by that warmth, he drifted back to sleep.
Dawn came with an enthusiastic chorus of birds, much too early for Peter's taste, especially given the activities of the previous night. But the birds would not be silenced, for all Peter's wishes. Nor would his bladder be ignored, though the thought of leaving the nice warm cocoon of tent, sleeping bag, and Paul's arms, was a less than cheery one. He tried to sublimate his needs for as long as possible, but eventually, his body demanded that he take action. With a sigh, he slipped out of Paul's arms and crawled to the entrance of the tent, shrugging into his jacket and shoving his feet into his tennis shoes.
"You okay?" Paul asked sleepily.
"Gotta take a leak," Peter mumbled, and Paul grunted his assent. He unzipped the tent flap and poked his head outside. "Shit! It's cold out there!"
"Run fast," Paul chuckled.
"You bet!" Peter agreed, ducking out of the tent and sprinting to take care of his errand.
Upon his return he found that Paul was out of his sleeping bag and getting dressed.
"It's fucking cold out there!" Peter said fervently.
"Watch your mouth," Paul admonished him.
"Sorry," Peter ducked his head, "but it is."
Paul laughed. "Yeah, I'll bet. My turn to find out." He crawled past Peter and out of the tent. "Whoa," his voice came from outside, "I see what you mean."
Peter, meanwhile, had snuggled back into his sleeping bag, trying to warm up. He was still there when Paul returned from the latrine.
"Come on, sport," Paul said, leaning back in, "up and at 'em."
"Uh uh," Peter shook his head. "It's warm in here."
"Yeah, well you're not spending the day in bed. Now get dressed and come on. No breakfast otherwise."
"What's for breakfast?"
"We've got a bottle of orange juice and some muffins. And there's some of last night's fish left. Or we can go down and try to catch one for breakfast."
"Fish for breakfast?" Peter was incredulous.
"Sure--old British tradition. It can be very good. Come on, Peter, move your butt."
"Yeah, I'm comin', I'm comin'," Peter was out of his bag and climbing back into his jeans and flannel shirt. He crawled out of the tent to a greeting of orange juice and a blueberry muffin.
"Come on, kid," Paul was saying, "the fish bite best first thing in the morning."
"Oh boy," Peter muttered, less than enchanted with the idea of standing on that cold riverbank again waiting for a fish to deign to pay attention to his bait. Not that there'd been anything wrong with the fish he'd eaten last night, but the actual fishing process was pretty boring for a kid who preferred to keep moving.
Paul raised an eyebrow at him. "If you don't want to fish, Peter, we can turn around and go home," he said shortly.
"No, I do," Peter protested, "it's just that-- I'm cold."
Paul smiled and clapped him on the back. "You'll warm up once we get down to the riverbank in the sunshine. Come on."
They picked up their fishing gear and headed down the slope to the river.
Peter was in the lead, so he didn't see what happened, but all of a sudden, he heard Paul cry out. He turned around to see Paul tumble down the hill to land flat on his back.
"Paul!" Peter shouted, scrambling back up to him. His foster father was lying there, eyes closed, not moving. "Paul!"
Paul Blaisdell's eyes snapped open and he gasped on a breath. He took another breath, then let the air out in a rush.
"I'll bet I broke it, didn't I?" he said.
"My fishing pole. Is it broken?"
"Um--I dunno--" Peter looked around for the pole and found it a little way up the hill, snapped in two. "Uh, yeah, you did," he told him.
"Are you okay?" Peter asked.
"Yeah--" Paul groaned, struggling to sit up. He was covered in mud.
"Just took a wrong step--the path was slipperier than I was--aagh!"
"I think I broke my ankle."
Paul laughed. "Yeah, my sentiments exactly, kid." Paul endeavored to get to his feet, grimacing with the effort, and finally giving up and sitting back down. "Look, do me a favor, Peter--go find me a big branch to use as a walking stick."
"Yeah, sure--will you be okay?"
"I'm not going anywhere," Paul chuckled, but his amusement was lost in another gasp of pain.
Peter flustered for a moment, torn between wanting to help his foster father and wanting to follow his orders. Finally, he sprinted into the woods, hurriedly finding a thick, sturdy branch and roughly stripping off its greenery. He pelted back to where Paul sat. "Will this one do?"
Paul looked up at him. "Yeah, that's good. Help me up." He extended his hands and Peter took them, helping to lever the older man off the ground. Paul hissed as he set the wounded foot down. "Now, let's see if we can get me back up to the campsite. He put an arm around Peter's shoulders and took the walking stick in his other hand. Peter put his arm around Paul's waist. Together they slowly maneuvered back up the slope. It was slow going; Paul was in a lot of pain and Peter was positive that whatever he did, it was just making it worse.
They finally gained the campsite and Paul lowered himself gratefully to the big log by the fire scar. He bent over, gingerly touching his ankle and foot through his boot.
"Shouldn't you take your boot off?" Peter said, standing next to him and watching nervously.
"No--if the foot swells, then I'll never get it back on again. I'm better off with the support the boot gives." He sighed heavily and looked up at Peter. "Sorry, kid--I think we've got to get me to a doctor."
"I don't know, let's see if we can get to the car, then hopefully someone will be at the ranger's station and can tell us where to go for help."
Peter swallowed, feeling helpless. He hated the feeling. "Okay," he managed.
Paul took a deep breath. "You ready for the next leg of the trip?"
"If you are," Peter nodded.
"Yeah--let's get this over with." Together, they got Paul back to his feet and up the second slope to the car.
By the time they got him into the passenger seat, Peter was under the impression that Paul was definitely ready to lie down. In fact, he thought that Paul looked about ready to pass out. His muddy jacket was making a mess of the plush upholstery of his car, but neither of them cared.
"Where are the keys?" Peter asked. Paul fished them out of his pocket and handed them to him. "What about all our stuff?"
"Leave it for now--we can come back for it once we get this ankle looked at."
"What if someone steals it?" Peter asked.
"Then they steal it. Come on, Peter, I want to get this taken care of," Paul said sharply. He took a deep breath. "Sorry, kid, but it hurts like hell."
"Sorry," Peter repeated, slamming the door and running around to the other side, climbing in and starting the car with a roar.
The ranger at the station expressed his concern when he heard about the accident and promised to keep an eye on their campsite while they were gone. He also gave them directions to the nearest hospital, which was unfortunately a good fifteen miles away. Paul thanked the ranger for his help and Peter put the car in gear, heading off to the hospital.
Paul had to remind him on several occasions to watch his speed, but eventually they reached the hospital, pulling up in front of the emergency ward. As soon as the admitting nurse saw them, she came out with a wheelchair, and Paul settled gratefully into it. They wheeled up to the admitting desk and Paul gave her his insurance card, doing the obligatory paperwork.
Peter meanwhile stood next to his foster father shifting his weight nervously from foot to foot. If Paul was really hurt, how would they get home? What about their camping stuff? What if Paul had to be hospitalized? Where would Peter stay? Should he call Mom?
"....okay, kid?" He suddenly realized Paul was talking to him.
"Huh?" he flushed. "Sorry, what did you say?"
Paul smiled and the nurse told him, "We're going to take care of your father now, why don't you have a seat in the waiting room?"
"Oh," Peter said stupidly. "Yeah."
"Why don't you put the car in the parking lot?" Paul told him. "I'll have them tell you as soon as they know anything."
"Yeah, right," he nodded, swallowing. He wished he didn't feel so helpless.
"It's gonna be all right, Peter," Paul said gently, giving him a wink. Somehow, Peter wasn't comforted. They wheeled Paul off into the emergency ward and Peter stood there, watching him go, feeling almost as lost as he had three years previously, when his world had been ripped from him. If anything happened to Paul....
He shook his head, trying to dispel the morbid thoughts, going out to the car and moving it to a regular lot. He was back inside within five minutes and spent the next half-hour staring at the walls and nine-month-old issues of "Family Circle" magazine. Not even an old "Sports Illustrated" to keep him occupied. Nothing to think about except to wonder how Paul was, and to worry.
"Peter?" the nurse's voice broke through his thoughts.
"If you want to go on back, your father is asking for you."
He stood up. "Is--is he..."
She smiled. "He'll be fine. This way." She led him back into long hallway with tiny examination rooms off of it. She showed him into one room, where Paul lay on the narrow examination bed, an ill-fitting hospital gown replacing his muddy clothes, his blue and purple swollen ankle elevated on a pillow. It looked awful and Paul didn't look that much better. But he looked up when Peter came in and smiled.
"Hey kid," he said with a wink. "You get the car moved?"
"Yeah," Peter nodded. "What did they say?"
"They've x-rayed it--we're waiting for the films. It's either broken or a really good sprain."
"It looks like it hurts," Peter said, realizing that was dumb, but at a loss as to what to say.
"Yeah, it does. But they'll get me fixed up, don't worry."
"Are--are you gonna have to stay?"
"I don't think so, Peter," Paul chuckled. "They don't usually hospitalize you for broken ankles." He looked carefully at his foster son. "I'm in good hands here, they seem to know what they're doing. So have a seat, relax and take it easy." He reached out and squeezed Peter's shoulder. "It'll all work out, don't worry."
Peter sat in the chair next to the bed, struggling to smile. "What are we gonna do about all our stuff?" he asked.
"We'll go back and get it once we're done here," Paul said simply. He sighed. "I'm sorry for messing up your weekend, kid."
"That doesn't matter, I--I'm just--I just want you to be--all right." He looked down, realizing that any words he had were insufficient to the emotions in his heart.
But Paul knew, the way Paul always knew. "I know, son," he said gently. "And I will be." He extended his hand and Peter leaned forward to take it in a clasp. That was comforting, somehow, feeling Paul's hand in his, the strength of its grip. It was something to hold onto. Paul was still speaking. "They'll come back with the x-rays and get me patched together. Then we'll take care of our stuff, then he'll head on home." He sighed. "We probably ought to call Annie and tell her we'll be coming back a day early."
Peter frowned. "Won't that just make her worry?"
"Not as much as showing up later this afternoon will scare her. It's better to let her know ahead of time, once we know something."
The doctor came in just then, the x-ray envelope in his hand. He took one look at Peter and smiled. "Ah, this must be your son," he said.
"This is Peter," Paul confirmed.
"How's my--my dad?" Peter asked. A shiver went through him when he realized what he'd said, and Paul's squeeze of his hand signaled that Paul had caught the words, too. It was the first time Peter had done that--called Paul his father. But it seemed especially appropriate at the moment.
The doctor, of course, didn't notice anything unusual about the question; after all, he assumed Peter was Paul's real son. He smiled at Peter. "Well, he's made a mess of his ankle, but he'll be fine." He hung the films on the light box. "Here, Mr. Blaisdell, you can see the break is right here. The torn tendons are actually a bigger problem, and unfortunately, tendons heal slowly. The foot should be cast, but the swelling's too high for us to be able to do a functional cast. So what we're going to do is immobilize the foot in a splint, then send you home. We'll give you your films. Go to see your regular doctor in a couple of days and he can cast it for you. We'll also give you something for the pain. How far did you say home was?"
"About four hours," Paul answered.
"Well, it won't be a pleasant trip, but it won't hurt the foot any, either. I take it you can drive, young man?" the doctor turned to Peter.
"Yeah," Peter nodded.
"Good. We don't want your dad doing any more than is absolutely necessary."
The doctor smiled and Paul squeezed Peter's hand again. "All right, Mr. Blaisdell, let's get this taped up, and let you get home. I'll bet your wife will be worried."
"You don't know the half of it," Paul shook his head.
"If you'll excuse us, Peter, your dad will be ready to go in a few minutes. Why don't you go back out to the waiting room?"
Paul gave Peter's hand a last squeeze and let it go. "You know what you can do, Peter, is to call Mom, tell her I'm all right, but tell her what happened."
"Okay," Peter nodded, and with a last look at his foster father, left the room. He went to the nurse's desk. "Excuse me--do you have a phone I can use?"
"Over there," she directed and he went to the pay phone on the wall. He dialed the operator, requesting a collect call.
"Peter?" Annie answered.
"Hi Mom don't panic." Peter said in a rush.
"What's happened?" Well of course she'd know it wasn't a social call.
"Paul broke his ankle, we're at the hospital."
"Oh, my God--"
"But he's okay--the doctor said they were gonna splint it and send him home. But anyway, we're gonna have to go back to the campground and pack up our stuff, and then we'll be coming home. What time is it anyway?" Peter realized he didn't have any idea of the time, only that it had been pretty early when they got up this morning, and they hadn't been up very long when Paul fell.
"10:30," she answered. "Peter, what happened?"
"It rained here and then it got cold and the path was muddy and I don't know what happened, but next thing I knew, he was falling. Scared the hell out of me!"
"I'll bet. Is Paul there with you?"
"He's still back in the emergency room. But he said I should call you and tell you we'd be home a day early."
"All right, darling. Tell Paul to take care of himself, and tell him I want you to call me right before you leave the campground, so I know when to expect you. Can you remember that?"
"Good. Does he need me to call his doctor here?"
"Um--I don't know. The emergency doctor said that his ankle was too swollen to cast, so he should see his regular doctor in a couple of days to get a cast put on."
"Fine. Well," she sighed. "I'll see you when you get here. You take care of him, Peter. Are you all right?"
"Oh yeah, I'm fine. Now I know he's gonna be okay. I got kinda scared there for awhile. But I'm better now. We'll see you later. And don't worry--I'll take good care of him."
"Yes, I'm sure you will. I'll see you later, baby. Bye-bye."
Peter hung up the phone and went back to the waiting room. But he was tired of sitting. Now that he knew that Paul was going to be all right, he wanted to get back to the campground and pack up their stuff. He knew he'd have to do all the work, Paul probably couldn't even make it back down the hill from the car. He hoped he remembered how the tent came apart. He paced around the room, stopping at the desk, looking down the hall to see if Paul was coming yet, then pacing back, going to the door and looking out to see that the car was still where he'd left it.
Eventually, Paul came out, maneuvering carefully with a pair of crutches. His foot was in a plastic splint which went up almost as far as his knee and all the way over his toes. It looked big and heavy, but at least it kept the foot from moving. He stopped at the desk and signed some papers, and got handed the big envelope with his x-rays. Peter, meanwhile, stood next to him, taking the envelope along with Paul's lone boot.
"Okay?" he asked.
"As okay as I'm gonna be, kid," Paul nodded. "Did you call Mom?"
"Yeah--she's worried, but I think she'll be fine." Peter told him about the phone call.
"Good," Paul nodded, turning toward the door.
"Oh, wait--I'll get the car and bring it up."
"Sounds good to me," Paul agreed. He sat down and Peter ran to get the car. When he came back, he helped Paul into the front seat, then they took off back to the campsite.
"I'm not sure I remember how to take the tent down," he confessed.
Paul laughed. "Don't worry about it, kid--just get it apart and stuff it in the trunk--it'll need to be hung to dry once we get it home anyway, and I'll show you how to fold it up then."
They got back to the campground and Peter left Paul sitting in the car while he sprinted down the hill to start gathering their belongings. The sleeping bags and duffles came first. Then the box of food, then the other camping equipment--pots and pans, an axe, flashlights, and so on. Paul was out of the car and leaning against the open trunk when Peter came back up with the third load.
"What are you doing?" he asked.
"Just organizing the stuff back here."
"Yeah, well don't--I can take care of it. The doctor said you weren't supposed to do anything, so sit down."
"Peter--" Paul started to protest.
"No! Now come on--you're supposed to take it easy. I've got it all under control--or don't you trust me?"
Paul opened his mouth, then closed it again, shaking his head. "All right," he conceded, sitting back in the car. "How much more?"
"Just got the fishing stuff and the tent."
Peter sprinted off back down the hill when Paul's voice called him back. "Hey, slow down, kid. You don't have to win any race for striking a campsite."
"I know, but-- I thought you'd want to get home as soon as you could."
"I do, but a few minutes one way or another won't make any difference. Take it easy, I don't want you getting hurt, too."
"Yeah, that's what I said, too," Paul smiled ruefully.
That brought Peter up short. If he managed to get himself hurt, too, they'd be in real trouble. "I'll slow down," he promised, but ran back to the campsite anyway.
Twenty minutes later, the car was packed and they were on the road home. They stopped at a corner gas station to fill up and to call Annie again, and went through a McDonald's drive-thru for lunch. But then they made a straight run home.
Annie was waiting for them when they arrived, a look of concerned relief on her face. She put her arms around her husband, hugging him tight, and Peter heard her say softly, "A week of covert operations in Washington and you're fine. A weekend fishing and you get hurt! Maybe I shouldn't object to Washington after all."
He chuckled and told her, "I'm glad to be home, too, babe."
Carolyn and Kelly came out and helped Peter unload the car while Annie took her husband inside and got him settled. Kelly complained that all their stuff smelled of smoke and fish, and Carolyn said everything felt wet. Kelly also declared that Peter and Paul smelled like smoke and fish, too. So to get back at her, Peter described in loving detail the exact processes involved in gutting a fish. By the end of his story, Kelly was squirming, and Carolyn was saying, "Ooh, cool!"
Peter dumped their duffle of clothes in the laundry room, then went upstairs to get cleaned up. Kelly was partly right--he smelled like smoke and fish all right, but also like mud and hospitals; he needed a shower. Upstairs, he heard the water shut off in the master bathroom and wondered how Paul would manage to shower with his foot like that.
After his own shower, Peter changed clothes, then padded downstairs. Paul was sitting in the family room, his splinted foot propped on a chair, pillows supporting it. The football game was playing on the TV. There was a steaming mug of coffee at his elbow and he was finishing the last of a sandwich.
"There's a sandwich for you in the kitchen," he told Peter, "and I'll bet Annie could be persuaded to make you hot chocolate."
Peter smiled. "Good." He went into the kitchen to find not only his sandwich, but an already made mug of chocolate, and a mother who gave him a big hug and a kiss, whispering her thanks at his taking such good care of Paul.
"He said you did everything just right. I'm very proud of you."
"Thanks," he blushed. "Is he okay?"
She tipped her head to the side. "He's in some pain--probably more than he'll ever admit to. But he'll be just fine. I'm just glad that he's home where I can look after him."
Peter grinned. "I'm glad we're home, too," he said and took his sandwich into the family room.
Paul looked at him. "Feel good to be home and clean?" he asked.
Peter shrugged. "I guess. But I had a good time--especially yesterday. It was fun."
"Not too boring?"
"Nah, not really. I mean, standing there's kinda boring, but actually catching the fish, that was neat."
"Think you'd like to do it again sometime?"
"Sure--but not if you're gonna get hurt."
"I'll try not to!" Paul laughed.
"Maybe we could go in the summer, when it's not so cold, and maybe it wouldn't be so slippery."
"Next summer, remind me. We'll go again."
"Great," Peter grinned, and Paul smiled, too. Then his expression softened.
"Thanks for everything you did for me today, Peter; I don't know what I would have done without you. You did everything just right, getting me help, getting me to the hospital, calling Annie. You did very well, I'm proud of you."
Peter flushed and stared into his cup of chocolate. "I--just wanted to make sure you were all right. That's all. I--I can't even imagine if you weren't around. I don't think I could stand it. Not again."
"Well, you don't have to worry about that, kiddo--I'm not going anywhere. Besides which," he chuckled and patted the splint, "I couldn't now, even if I wanted to!"
Peter laughed too, and his worried mood lifted. Paul was gonna be all right. That's what mattered.
Warmed and contented, Peter sat back on the couch and finished his sandwich.
Chapter 14: Boys and Girls Together
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