by Liz Gregg
"Mary Margaret, it has been too long since we have...gone out on a date."
What, she thought, you haven't heard about me and Johnny Depp?
Facing the lean priest, Mary Margaret Skalany contemplated several additional sarcastic replies while she examined his unique features. Kwai Chang Caine's smile was warm, and he seemed genuinely happy to see her. As they both stood, silently watching each other with giddy little grins tugging at their lips, she felt his fingers curl around hers and begin a gentle massage. Shifting her legs, she was again amazed at how the nerves of a woman's body were so intricately connected.
Clearing her throat, she gently untangled her fingers and brushed a stray lock of hair behind her ear. "Well, yes. It's been awhile, hasn't it. I guess we've both been busy."
Caine nodded and retrieved her hand, taking it between both of his. "I would be honored if you would have dinner with me this weekend."
Play hard to get, she thought. Sorry, I'm booked both Saturday and Sunday.
"I'd like that," she said with a smile.
"Come on, Pop," Peter wailed plaintively, "we have to move it!"
She stuck her tongue out at Peter Caine, who stood a few yards away, impatiently tapping his fingers against the car. Peter rolled back his eyes, shook his head and ran long fingers through his hair.
"You'd better go before Peter has a stroke." Seeing Caine's befuddled expression, she squeezed his hand and laughed. "It's okay, Caine. I'm teasing."
She noticed how Caine's eyes shifted to her hand when she pressed his, then moved back to make contact with hers. I've seen this look before when I've touched him, she thought. It's like he's just discovered I'm flesh and blood.
"I'll pick you up, Caine. Saturday, seven o'clock?"
Caine nodded his head, seemingly ready to say something, when Peter's voice ripped through the atmosphere. "Pop!"
"Go!" she urged, laughing. Caine gave her a sheepish smile and then glided away from her, joining Peter to continue to spend the day riding with his son.
Once father and son were gone, Mary Margaret stood alone under the overpass. She looked up at the cars caught in gridlock. He's infuriating! she thought. I should have made an excuse. Or just changed the subject.
She could not, however, ignore the whisper of anticipation that tickled her musings. Ah, what the heck. Why not get together every six months. Dating a penniless priest, who gets attacked by shadows in the night -- why, it's every girl's dream. Isn't it?
Shaking her head and smiling, Mary Margaret walked to her car and headed back to the precinct.
The sun sat proudly in the clear morning sky, sending beams of warmth and cheer to most of Chinatown. A gentle breeze reminded most that spring had arrived. Mary Margaret greeted the morning with a decidedly cheerless sore throat and headache.
Later in the day, body aching, she pulled her car into the parking lot of the drugstore. She knew she should probably cancel her date, but she stubbornly refused to do it. Painfully, she forced shaking legs to scale the staggering flight of five steps. Once inside, she roamed the aisles, carelessly tossing an assortment of remedies and elixirs into the red shopping basket. Armed with enough medication to stock a decent first aid station, she paid for her purchases and began her homeward trek.
Empty cardboard boxes and tamper proof containers decorated her small
kitchen counter. She poured a large glass of orange juice to wash down
the mixture of small, multicolored tablets.
These damn well better do
what they claim on TV, or I'm suing for false advertising. I'm going out
to dinner tonight, that's all there is to it. It was four o'clock,
and that meant she had two hours to take a nap then get ready to go. She
stretched out on the sofa and fell asleep in seconds.
Buzz! Buzz! Mary Margaret tried to lift her hand to answer the phone, desperate to muffle the offensive noise, but she simply didn't have the strength. She drifted back to sleep. Gradually, she woke and became aware of a voice.
"Mary Margaret, talk to me." She felt something frigid scrape painfully across her forehead, and started to shiver violently.
"Please, take the ice off my head," she croaked. Her throat was lined with razor blades.
"It is not ice. It is a cool, wet cloth." The words echoed around her, faintly, as if spoken through a bullhorn from a great distance. Then she felt something warm covering her body.
"You have a high fever." This time the voice was steady, close -- gentle and familiar.
"Who are you?" She whispered painfully. The shivering subsided as she was surrounded by soothing heat that penetrated the pervasive coldness. Hazy memories, of bricks and shy glances, played hide and seek in the clouds of her consciousness. "I know you now.... You're the cinder block buster."
She must have drifted away for a while, for when she next heard the soft voice it sounded urgently worried.
"Peter, can you come right away?"
"I saw your name next to a number on the back of the phone. I pushed it." Pause.
"My son, she is very ill. She needs us. Peter, please. Come as quickly
"Mary Margaret, we're taking you to Pop's place. We're going to carry you to my car."
She heard the familiar and trusted voice. It belonged to her partner.
"Peter, tell your father I'm not dating him anymore. I'm going to live with Johnny Depp."
"Who is Johnny Depp?" the gentle voice asked. The effort of listening
overwhelmed her, and she gratefully succumbed to the lure of her fevered,
Later, she stirred again. Her head throbbed like it had been kicked with steel tip boots. A firm hand supported her back while another one held a cup and coaxed warm liquid in her mouth. Memories surfaced, of bumps and jolts. Of being held by strong arms while lying in the back of a car. Of being comforted by soothing caresses to her face and hair and...of a soft kiss pressed against her forehead.
I'm gonna have to talk to Peter about this unprofessional behavior.
She drifted back to never-never land.
This time when she awoke, her thoughts were a bit clearer, but her pains were accentuated. Her throat felt raw, her head pounded. She opened her eyes and the lids scraped like sandpaper. Trying to focus, she attempted to determine her location, and realized she was in Caine's meditation room. She could not lift her head to see, but could hear Caine talking.
"Peter, you must lie down," Caine's voice was soft but insistent, "before you fall down."
"Pop, you have your hands full already. Skalany is really sick. You don't need to take care of me, too," Peter protested in a hoarse, raspy voice. "I'll go home and guzzle some NyQuil. Sleep it off." Peter started coughing and it sounded nasty.
"It is not work to care for those you love. Please, Peter, take off your jacket and lie down."
"Pop, what did you just say?" Peter started coughing again, and this time the spasm seemed to shake the room. She heard a thud; the coughing stopped, replaced by the rustle of blankets. What happened to Peter? She tried to speak but her throat would not cooperate. All that escaped was a squeak.
"Mary Margaret, do not try to talk." She felt his hand against her back, lifting her slightly. Caine placed a teacup against her lips, and she managed to sip the warm liquid, and even noticed a lemony flavor. She swallowed, and since he did not lower the cup, she sipped and swallowed again. When she finished, Caine gently guided her back down.
"You still have fever, though not as high." He tucked the blanket around her shoulders. She noticed, for the first time, that she was lying on a mat on the floor. She tried to focus on Caine's face, but it had grown fuzzy, and he seemed to be disappearing.
"Sleep peacefully." Closing her eyes, she felt cool lips press a soft
kiss on her forehead. She fell deeply asleep.
"Strenlich, do something! Skalany, I need backup now...the building's gonna burn down!"
Mary Margaret woke with a start as she heard Peter's anguished words and groans. Where am I, and what the hell is wrong with Peter?
She struggled to lift her body and this time managed to prop herself up on her elbows. The memory of being in Caine's meditation room returned to her.
She watched as Caine sat propped against the wall, cradling Peter in his arms. A shallow basin rested on the floor next to Peter's crumpled shirt, and she realized he was very sick. The young cop's chest rose and fell erratically and his groans increased in intensity. Caine steadied his son with one arm firmly wrapped around Peter's upper body and attempted to soothe the furrowed brow with his free hand.
"Peter, there is no fire. You are ill, feverish. This will pass. I will stay with you." Caine's voice sounded smooth and even but in the warm glow of candlelight she saw his eyes held pain. The sight of Caine comforting his son filled her with strong sense of wonder.
"I'm gonna be sick...." Peter leaned forward, and somehow Caine managed to reach the basin and hold it in front of his son. His quick action proved unnecessary, for Peter had nothing in his stomach that needed to be contained. Caine held him until the violent heaves abated.
Peter's body trembled and sagged. He tried to look around the room, but could only blinked a couple times before closing his eyes. Gracefully, Caine slid out from behind his exhausted son, then gently lowered Peter to the mat. The priest draped a blanket over Peter's shivering body, then bent to kiss the sleeping face.
Mary Margaret allowed her head to rest on the mat. She guessed her fever broke, though her limbs felt heavy and useless, and she felt weaker than she ever felt in her life.
She closed her eyes and replayed the image of Caine holding Peter, remembering the desperate sound of Peter's tortured cries. The moments were captured permanently, engraved in her memory like ancient carvings on a cave wall. While she had always known her partner had a mysterious childhood, she finally understood that it was far more complicated than she had suspected, and that Peter and Caine were more closely connected than she had imagined. Then her thoughts shifted, and she wondered, Did I get as sick as Peter did? Did I cry out like him?
"The illness affected each of you differently." Mary Margaret was not really surprised to hear an answer to her unspoken questions. Caine sat next to her and took her hand in his. He gently stroked her face and smiled. "I am relieved to know you are feeling better. May I help you sit?"
Caine helped her up and she leaned back against the wall. Looking in Caine's eyes, she saw a warm glow, a yellow-gold flame. He handed her a small bowl of steaming white rice along with chopsticks. On cue, her stomach rumbled.
"If you eat, you will regain your strength more efficiently."
"How long have I been here?" Mary Margaret slowly chewed a small mouthful of rice.
"It has been twenty-four hours since I found you in your apartment," Caine replied. "I called my son. He drove us here."
It must have been Caine with me in the back seat, not Peter. She was about to ask another question, when Caine turned his head sharply. Barely a moment passed before Peter cried out, his voice full of despair. "I'm tired of fighting. Father, I want to go home."
"My son," Caine murmured, hastening to Peter's side. Despite his weakened condition, Peter thrashed violently. Caine dropped to the floor, gathering his son's sweat-soaked body close against his. Wrapping strong arms around Peter's chest, Caine absorbed the physical and emotional upheaval unleashed by the young man's high fever. Peter's words became unintelligible. Mary Margaret could not help but watch and listen as Caine comforted his son, stroking dampened hair and murmuring soft, soothing words.
With one final, wrenching shudder, the episode ended. Peter's body fell limp against his father's chest. Caine sighed, "It is over," then kissed his son's forehead before gently lowering Peter to the mat on the floor.
Caine left briefly, then returned with a sponge and a small bowl of water. Dipping the sponge frequently, Caine stroked his son's body in an effort to lower the fever and cool the burning flesh. When he finished, Caine replaced the blanket with a light sheet and tucked it about Peter's shoulders.
Mary Margaret watched in fascination while finishing the rice and tea.
Relieved that Peter's ordeal was over, she lowered her aching head to the
mat. Exhausted, she yielded to the persistent beckoning of sleep.
The room was yellow-gray with the breaking dawn when Mary Margaret awoke naturally. All things considered, she felt pretty good. As she rose, she saw Peter sleeping peacefully across the room. His color was not normal, but he seemed much better then he had been. Then she followed her disbelieving nose to the kitchen. Eyeing the counter, she immediately saw the old fashioned percolator and a large mug.
"Caine, you have coffee! Bless you!" She poured herself a full cup.
Standing next to her, Caine said, "I am sorry, I do not have cream or sugar--"
"Please, don't apologize. I don't know how to thank you enough for all you've done." Setting down her cup, she stepped close to him, circled her arms around his waist and lay her head against his shoulder. She hugged him tightly, burrowing snugly into the priest's warm embrace. Mary Margaret wanted the world to stand still; she wished for the moment to go on and on, but reality quickly returned. So she stepped back, took a deep breath and picked up her coffee.
When she looked at his face, she was surprised to see that Caine appeared completely flustered. He cleared his throat, then said, "I am honored to have helped."
What a nice switch, she thought, to see him be the uncomfortable one! "So how is Peter?"
Caine paused a moment, then replied. "He became more ill than you did. His fever broke early this morning. He is slowly regaining his strength."
Mary Margaret nodded, remembering bits and pieces of the ordeal. She wondered what Peter meant about the fire.
"Caine, when Peter was delirious, I remember he talked about a fire at the precinct. But there was no fire there, or anywhere that I know about. What did he mean?"
Caine seemed to consider his words. "Peter...is sometimes pursued by old demons." The priest turned and gripped the edge of this sink. "He battles the ghosts of unresolved fears. Someday, perhaps, he will speak of it with you."
"I understand," she said. Though she understood nothing about Peter and his fears, she knew that Caine was not comfortable revealing more information. She paused a moment, than asked, "When I was delirious, did I reveal any skeletons in my closet?" Do I really want to hear the answer to this?
Caine smiled, and said, "Your 'Skalany-tons' are still safely locked away." He grinned and grasped both her hands.
Mary Margaret laughed out loud. "You made a joke, Caine! There's hope for you yet." Brother, she thought, when it rains, it pours!
Caine squeezed her hands and said, "I hope you are free for a proper date next Saturday night."
She smiled back. Withdrawing her hands, she looked at her watch. "Oh my God! I've got to get going. I have to work today," she kissed his cheek, "maybe. Can I get you anything, for you or for Peter?"
"No, thank you." Caine said gently. "Next Saturday, same time?"
She thought she saw a hint in Caine's eyes that maybe, just maybe, he felt sad to see her leave. "I won't be late." She lifted her face and Caine lightly kissed her lips.
Smiling, Mary Margaret finally left for home.
A week later, on Saturday night, Mary Margaret finished getting dressed and was ready to drive to Caine's, when the doorbell ring. Whoever this is, I'm just going to get rid of them. I'm going on this date tonight.
When she opened the door, much to her surprise she saw Kwai Chang Caine, holding a large paper bag.
"Caine! Please, come in!" She took the bag from his hand as he entered the apartment.
"What's this?" The fragrant odor of spicy food wafted from the top of the bag. "Tai take-out?"
"Yes. I thought we might stay in tonight and...get to know one another better. And perhaps," he held up a box she hadn't seen him holding in his other hand, "watch a movie."
Take out and a video? Maybe he's getting a fever! "Caine, it sounds wonderful! But what movie did you get?"
"Ah, yes!" Caine seemed pleased. He had taken off his jacket and now followed her to the kitchen. "I enlisted Peter's aid. He suggested a movie called Edward Scissorhands. The movie features a talented young actor. His name, I believe, is Johnny Depp."
Mary Margaret, who had been taking the cartons of food from the bag, looked up sharply. Caine's expression was unreadable, but she swore she saw a twinkle in his eye.
"Johnny Depp, huh? Never heard of him," she said, winking and smiling. "Sounds promising, though."
Caine returned the smile. "Yes," he agreed, looking into her eyes. "It
sounds very promising indeed."