Tea and a Certain Lack of Sympathy

By Jeanne DeVore

The intercom system on the front door was less for security than for Annie Blaisdell's benefit, so she would be able to identify visitors to the house. It was mid-morning and she was finishing up some chores before she headed to the hospital to keep Paul company. Her husband was recovering well after his beating at the hands of the Chi-Ru masters, but Annie worried. Paul was a notoriously bad patient; her presence kept him from chewing the heads off too many of the hospital staff.

She'd just put the kettle on for tea when the doorbell rang and she answered the intercom with her usual "Yes?"

"Annie--it is Caine," the voice came over the speaker.

"Caine--just a moment." She shut off the intercom and hurried to the door. His presence was very strong and, she admitted, had been missed.

"Caine," she smiled, opening the door and letting him in, "this is a surprise, but a pleasant one. Peter told me you were back."

He took one of her hands, squeezing it gently. "I wanted to come by--and see you. See how you are. And," he hesitated, "how Paul is."

"He's still in the hospital," she told him. "I'll be going out there later. He doesn't like me spending the day out there, so we compromised on afternoons."

"Have they said--how much longer he'll be in?"

"At least 'til the end of the week, we'll have to play it by ear. Come in, I'd just put the kettle on, I hope you'll join me in some tea."

"I would be--honored," he answered.

She smiled. She realized she'd missed him, and found her resolve about what she'd say to him next time they met slipping. Then she remembered the pain which had radiated from Peter's whole body, and the resolve pushed itself firmly back in place. So she forced her smile and led the way to the kitchen, hearing him close the front door behind him and follow her.

The kettle was about to whistle, so she turned off the coil and put three teabags in a small ceramic pot, covering them with the water.

"May I--help?" Caine asked.

"Thank you but no," she answered. "I do much better on my own, especially in my own kitchen where I know where everything is. Why don't you have a seat, the tea will be ready in a couple of minutes." She got cups out and set them on the table, then arranged tea biscuits on a plate and brought them to the table. Finally, she brought the teapot and set it on a hot pad. "Tell you what," she smiled, "I'll let you pour."

He obliged and she sat opposite him at the table. For several moments, they sat in silence, sipping their tea.

"Peter didn't tell me where you'd been," she finally spoke.

"I--did not say," Caine replied, and she thought he sounded a little hesitant.

"So I'll ask--where did you go?"

"Nowhere in particular, I walked--searched."

"And did you find what you were searching for?"

"A man's path is sometimes difficult to ascertain," he answered.

"I'll take that as a no," she replied. "That's too bad. Maybe it might have been worth it if you'd gotten something out of it."

There was a pause. "Worth it?"

"Worth what your going did to Peter."

"What it--did to him?"

"He's been an emotional wreck for the past six months."

There was another pause. "He said he was--all right," Caine murmured.

"Well of course he would. He wouldn't admit to weakness, especially not to his father who he idolizes." She took a deep breath. "But I'm his mother--I don't have any such qualms. You know I like you a great deal, Caine, and I've always had the utmost respect for you. But this time you were wrong, and nobody else will have the guts to tell you that, so it falls to me."

The pause was longer this time. "It was necessary--for me to find my path."

"No, it was necessary that you honor your obligations. Like the obligation you have to your son to be a father to him."

"I have always been a father to my son. But he is a grown man now. He does not need--"

"Pardon me," she interrupted, "but that's a bunch of bull and you know it. We don't stop being parents simply because our children are grown, it's a responsibility that continues throughout our lives. Throughout their lives. You had a fifteen year respite from that responsibility, but when you and Peter found each other again, you picked back up the role of father, and you'll carry it 'til the day you die. You don't ever stop being a parent, and you certainly don't take a break from it--especially not for six months."

He sighed, and she took a sip of her cooling tea. "I do not know," he began, "whether Peter told you--that I came to this city in search of--the emperor. To clear our family name. It had been my focus for--some time. Finding Peter was--a wonderful coincidence. But I was as--surprised--by it as he was.

"Once the emperor was safe, and our family name cleared--I felt--lost. I felt I had lost my focus, lost my path. The Tao teaches that it is the journey which is important, not the goal. I had achieved my goal; I had nowhere to go. I needed to find my path again. My son--" He paused, seemed to order his thoughts, then took a deep breath and went on. "Peter has become a fine young man. But, he is not the child he was at the temple. He has grown up, he has grown on--without me. I--no longer know my place in my son's life. He--does not need me."

Annie sighed. She could hear the sorrow in the priest's voice, almost as clearly as it had been in Peter's six months previously. The reunion had been difficult for both of them. She'd known how hard it had been on Peter; it hadn't occurred to her that it would be equally as difficult for his father. "Oh, Caine," she said, "oh, you're so wrong. He does still need you; he'll always need you. You're his father--the only father he's ever had. He's never once called Paul "father"--he couldn't. That place was already taken. It didn't matter if he thought you were dead, you were his father, and you were always on his mind. The things he did, he did because he hoped they'd make you proud of him--even though he thought you'd never know about them. Peter may be all grown up now, but where you're concerned, he's still that little boy you knew fifteen years ago. He still constantly seeks your approval, your love."

"My love for Peter has never been in doubt."

"Maybe you should have told him that," she said. She sipped her tea and took a deep breath. It was time to tell him a few home truths.

"You know how much I love Peter; he's the son of my heart, my child in every way but biology. I'm his mother, and have been practically since the first day we met. And, as a mother, I tend to get very protective of my children, all my children. I get angry when anyone hurts them. Well, no mother should have to hear the pain that was in Peter's voice the day you left. That night, he didn't want to be alone, so he came to see me. He was completely at sea; he didn't understand, he couldn't accept that he could mean so little to you that you could leave. You know what he's like, he always puts up walls, always pretends everything's fine. Well that night, he couldn't even pretend, the pain was too new, too raw. I will never forget him sitting here at this table, the sadness and despair coming off him in waves, as he said 'What's wrong with me, Mom, that he doesn't love me enough? Why don't I matter?'"

She heard Caine's indrawn breath. "I--never intended--to hurt him--"

"I know you didn't," she nodded. "I know you would never intentionally hurt him. But that didn't stop the hurt from happening anyway. Your sin was one of omission, not commission. Perhaps you'd been alone too long, you forgot what it meant to have a family--a son who depended on you."

"Peter is not dependent on me--he is his own, independent person."

"No," she shook her head, "when it comes to you, Peter is still the twelve year old child you taught in the temple. He still desperately seeks your love, your understanding--your approval. He's always cared what people thought of him--that's why he always tried so hard to do the 'right' thing. But your approval has always been most important to him. When you left, you gave him the message that everything else in your life was more important than he was."

She took a deep breath and tried another tack. "Let's hypothesize for a moment. Let's just pretend--that Laura had survived. Would you, at some point, have left her to go off in search of your path?"

"No." The quick emphasis of the response told her more than the single word.

"Why not?"

"She was--my path. My destiny."

"Then after she died, why didn't you leave? If your destiny was gone."

"Peter was very small--he needed me." Then she heard a slight chuckle. "I see where your argument is leading, but--the needs of an infant and the needs of a grown man--are not the same."

"I never said they were," she agreed. "They're quite different. But one is no less valid than the other." She took a sip of her tea, grimacing as it had grown cold. Then she heard the sound of fresh liquid poured into her cup, and she picked it up again, inhaling the sweet bitter scent of the tea, sipping at the now warm liquid.

"I don't know how much Peter has told you about his years without you. If I know Peter, he's probably glossed over a lot of it. The orphanage was probably described as a prison or prison camp, big, ugly, depressing. He would have called Paul his friend--like a big brother, maybe. If he mentions his years here at all, it's probably simply in stating that it was better than the orphanage--a way-station between the orphanage and the police academy. Well, let me tell you how it really was.

"The boy Paul met at the orphanage was painfully lonely, had a chip on his shoulder a mile wide, was supremely distrustful and doubtful. He was bright, energetic, clever, but he carefully hid it. He also hid the fact that he was plagued with nightmares which woke him frequently--sometimes screaming. He couldn't let himself trust the good things that happened to him--he kept expecting them to go wrong. When they didn't, he'd sabotage them himself. Better to run away or get thrown into Juvie than to allow himself to trust again and be hurt once more. He's terrified of abandonment, of being alone again. He puts up wonderful walls, but they're not nearly as sturdy as they seem.

"I know Peter loves me dearly, and I know he loves Paul, but he never allowed himself to consider us his family--not really. In his mind, he's still that twelve year old orphan, with no one to love him, no one to care. I was terrified once he joined the police, because that 'I'm alone and on my own' persona became very strong then, especially once he moved out and got his own place. He's known for taking incredible risks on the job, doing insane stunts in order to get the job done. As if it doesn't matter to anyone what happens to him.

"The thing is, though, once you came back into his life--that started changing. Even Paul noticed it. He no longer took those incredible risks, he no longer purposely set himself in the line of fire. It was as if he'd found a place to belong. He'd sometimes call me, confused, not sure how to talk to you, not sure what to say, but he never doubted that now he had a place to belong. He had a father again.

"Then you left, and that thin layer of confidence shattered. He's not taking the crazy risks anymore, but now it's more like--there's no point. He's lost his self-worth. It was tied up in you, somehow, and when you left, you took it with you.

"I know you didn't mean to hurt him; but you need to be told that intentional or not, you did hurt him. You took from him something I'm not sure he'll ever get back--that trust in his father. He's always going to be afraid you'll leave him again. And he'll be alone once more. He told me recently he's been having nightmares again; that's the reason. He's alone."

There was a long pause. Annie simply waited for Caine to answer. Perhaps she'd been harder on him than she needed to be, but once she'd started telling him about his son during those first terribly difficult years, she had to tell him the whole story. More than once she and Paul had fretted the night away, wondering if they were capable of giving a very troubled Peter the safe, secure loving home he so desperately needed. Wondering if there was, in fact, anything that could help his troubled soul.

Finally, Caine spoke. "I--cannot express--my sorrow, my--regret--at causing my son such pain. I would not have done that if I could have avoided it. But--" he took a deep breath, "I cannot--promise--that I will never leave again. No one can make that promise. Life affords us no certainties."

"I wouldn't expect such a promise," she insisted, "nor would Peter. But do you know what would have helped? What could have alleviated some of his feeling of abandonment? A phone call. Or a letter. Not very often, just--every once in awhile. Just to let him know you were still alive. And still thinking of him. I think that may have been the hardest thing for him. Not hearing anything for all those months. Oh, he tried to tough it out, put on the brave front. Said 'he'll be back, I know he'll be back'. But the months went by without a word, and the bravado wore away pretty quickly. These last couple of months, he didn't know if you were alive or dead. That was the worst, maybe even more than that you left--that he didn't know. At least last time, he was secure in the belief you were dead--he could accept that and go on. This time--it was like he was waiting. But he didn't know what for. For something--some word. But not only had you left him, you didn't care enough to keep in touch. That was the cruelest of all."

"I--" Caine stammered, "I did not realize--" She heard him take a sip of his tea, clearing his throat. "I--have been alone so long, I did not realize the effect my actions would have on others--on Peter, especially. It has been so long since I considered myself a father--I think I have forgotten how."

She smiled. "No, I don't think so--being a parent is instinct, a lot of it. I'm sure the instincts are still there. You just need to be reminded of what being a father means. That there are a lot of obligations that go with the love and the responsibility. But that makes for greater rewards, too."

There was another long pause. Annie waited for him to continue. Her anger was pretty well gone now; instead she felt sorry. Sorry for Caine for his years alone, sorry that he had so little confidence in his relationship with his son. Sorry that Peter had put so much store in the return of his father that when that father left, it left him totally lost. And sorry for herself that she couldn't do more to help them.

She heard him take a deep breath, and then she felt his hand cover hers on the table. "How--can I make it up to--my son?" he asked, and his voice trembled slightly. "What must I do to--undo--the damage?"

She smiled gently and took his hand between the two of hers. "Be a father to him--never forget that. Be a friend, too, but be a father first. Don't lie to him, don't make him promises you can't keep, don't tell him things you don't believe. Trust in his love, and in his intelligence. Remember that you have a son, and he will always love you more than anything else, anyone else in his life. You're that important to him--don't ever forget that. You are his father--that makes you sacred."

He stood up and moved around the table to her, and she felt his lips brush her cheek. "You are very wise," he said softly. "Peter is very fortunate to have you--as his mother. And I--am equally as fortunate to have you--as my friend."

She closed her eyes behind her glasses and sighed inwardly. Perhaps it would be all right after all. Caine wasn't angry that she censured him, and in fact, had possibly learned a valuable lesson. And she felt a sense of relief at having told the priest exactly how she felt. But she simply shrugged and said, "I'm a Mom. Moms do things for the sake of their children. I just couldn't sit back and watch my child--my son--suffer, not when there was something I could do about it."

His hand touched her hair gently. "You are--a very good mom. And I think that Laura--would have liked you very much."

For some stupid reason, that pleased her immensely. She'd never felt in competition with Laura, not really. After all, Peter had no memories of his birth mother. But she had often wondered about the woman who had borne the child who became Annie's son. And she wondered whether Laura would have approved of the way she'd tried to raise the boy. It was nice to hear those words of approval coming from the one person who had known her--her husband. "Thank you," she said, "I hope she would have been as proud of him as I am."

"She would," he said, his voice taking on a slight wistful note. "But," he added regretfully, "she would probably have had even harsher words for me than you did, had I left him and she had been there."

"You see," she smiled. "Mothers know these things."

"Yes," he agreed, and she heard the smile, "one must never argue--with mothers."

She laughed. "Oh, wouldn't that be nice if kids believed that. Oh well, if they were well-behaved, they'd be dull, so I really can't complain." She stood up. "Can I get you any more tea?"

"No, I am fine. I should--let you get on with your day."

"Actually," she said, "I'd be very pleased if you would escort me to the hospital."

"I would be--honored." She couldn't see the bow, but she knew it was there just the same. She put the tea things in the dishwasher.

"Good. Has Paul seen you since you came back?"

"No," Caine answered regretfully. "The day I was at the hospital, he was still drifting in and out of consciousness. I am afraid--I may be in for a 'dressing down'--from him as well."

"Oh, I don't think so. He usually lets me do the dirty work. But I think he'll be glad to see you, especially for Peter's sake."

"And I will be glad to see him. I am pleased he is recovering."

"Not as quickly as either of us would like, but recovering nonetheless. But he's a terrible patient, so as soon as I can get him home--"

"Ah," Caine said in understanding, "so that is where Peter gets it from."

"Very likely," she laughed. She turned and faced him, extending her hands to him. He took them in his, his warm, gentle-strong hands holding hers tenderly. "I missed you," she said softly.

"And I missed you," he replied.

She freed her hands and reached up to touch his face, a gesture he welcomed. There seemed to be a few more lines there, a little more worry, some more hard times. And his hair was longer. But mostly, what she felt was the all-encompassing peaceful spirit she'd come to appreciate so much the first time around. "I'm glad you're back."

He pulled her into a gentle hug, resting his cheek on the top of her head as he sighed, a sound very nearly contented. "So am I."


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