by MJ Mink
Episode: Rain's Only Friend (First Season)
I'm feeling sorta down, for no particular reason. Just exhausted, I guess, from the bullshit of the last few days. The woman I shot in the market is still on my mind. Mrs. Stanley's going to be fine; I went to the hospital to check on her, got chewed out by her husband, but she asked if I was married, which was when I knew she was recovering. Seems they have a niece....
Anyway, Pop's taken Skalany to dinner--or vice versa. I wish she'd leave him alone. He's a priest, for God's sake! I feel a little twinge of guilt, wondering if my dad would like a female... companion. To voluntarily be celibate since Mother died-- I don't know how he does it. I wonder if spirituality is a satisfactory substitute for sex.
This is none of my business. I sure can't ask him about it. It's his choice. Hell of a good reason for me not to become a Shaolin priest, though.
There are more people than usual in the park, but no one in my Secret Place. When I was younger, I used to think that this spot was sacred, meant for only me. Now I know better. Still, there's never anyone here...except once, the time my pop came to comfort me and I sent him away.
I sit on the grass, crossing my legs and making a poor attempt at a lotus pose. Naturally, I fail. I'll never be like my father.
I've been thinking a lot about him and me lately. Not just since our talks in the bakery and afterward. Making it through Tan's House of Horrors together was some kind of breakthrough for us. We've been closer since then. I'm always finding reasons to drop by the kwoon--like leaving my gloves behind. I grin, remembering how I squirmed when Skalany made that connection. I felt guilty, like I'd been caught doing mischief. Then after I shot Mrs. Stanley, a ton of guilt piled on me until it became too heavy and I threw it at the one person I shouldn't have. I guess I was sure that he would help me, no matter how hard I pushed him away.
And he did. Since he's been back, I've fallen into an easy routine--turning to him for his wisdom and compassion. Sometimes I fight it, pretending to both of us that I don't want his help, but I do want it. Desperately. I want those old feelings back--the surety that my life is on the right course and the security of his calm, all-encompassing love. Deep down inside, I know that no one in my life will ever love me as much as he used to, and I'll never love anyone the way I love him. And now that I've found him, I want him to get to know me--the me I am now--and learn to love me again. When he seems distant, when I think he's being critical--then I get angry. I shouldn't, but I can't seem to stop myself.
Dusk is deepening, sending shadows gliding across the lake. I suppose I should leave soon, but the moon is bright and full, and there are a lot of people hanging out in the park. I guess they're all like me, not wanting to lose the last moments of this Indian Summer day.
"Am I invited?"
I start, taken totally by surprise--not a good trait for a cop who wants to stay alive. "Pop!" I stare up at him, untwisting my legs and preparing to rise. "Something wrong?"
He raises one eyebrow and lays his hand on my shoulder, keeping me in place. I nod, then he unfurls a blanket, spreading it on the ground and smoothing it until it's flat. There's plenty of room, and I'm glad to get off the slightly damp ground and onto the thick wool. He places a large wicker basket in front of me, then effortlessly drops into a half-lotus.
He gives me the eyebrow again. "Do you not know what day this is?"
Shit, I've forgotten something important. "Your birthday?" I query innocently, though I know it's not coming up for awhile. "Damn, I would have ordered a cake and a dancing girl. We could have invited the neighborhood to--"
He winces and shakes his head. I wipe the grin off my face with an elaborate gesture of my hand.
"Not your birthday? Okay, I give. What is it?"
"Chung Ch'iu Chieh," he says simply and opens the basket.
My mind drifts back to the temple, the warm California days that melted into temperate nights, the bright harvest moon.... "The Mid-Autumn Festival," I murmur, caught in an empty time corridor halfway between then and now. "Mooncakes!"
Rousing myself, I lean over and look expectantly into the basket. Most of the mooncakes we had at the temple were pretty bland, but my pop could come up with some mean concoctions. I sniff the nearly-forgotten aroma of freshly baked dough. "Did you make these yourself?"
He lifts one shoulder in a shrug.
"You wouldn't feed your son a stranger's mooncakes, would you?"
He doesn't answer. He pulls out a platter and begins to place a colorful selection of food on it. Mooncakes first, the round pastries that I know will be filled with bean paste or nuts and seeds or jellies--all sorts of ingredients that Annie would never dream of using in her baking, but that taste pretty good as long as I don't think about what they are.
"These look like bakery mooncakes," I accuse. "You didn't make them, did you?"
With a little flourish, my pop places two coconut-covered mooncakes on top. "Chocolate," he says, pointing to one, "goat cheese," to the other.
"Goat cheese!" I exclaim, pretending shock. "That's pretty unconventional!"
With a pointed look, he selects another cake--a lumpy, imperfectly-shaped one, and places it on a small plate for me. "Burrito," he says proudly.
"Burrito?" I repeat, disbelieving. I bite into it. Sure enough. There's no meat, but the salsa is tangy, the onions hot-- My pop made a Chinese burrito mooncake for me. "It's delicious."
I never would have thought that my dad would bend his precious traditions to accommodate my warped palate. He drops something else on my plate, and I stare at it. It's a dough biscuit molded in the shape of a snake, my sign of the Chinese zodiac. "Got an ox in there for you, Dad?"
He shakes his head and adds two pomelo fruit to the platter. Not my favorite...but I know how rare they are here and how hard he must have bartered to get them, so I smile and nod.
Naturally, there's a pot of tea and two cups in the wicker basket. "Shui-hsien," he says, and I remember that's a sweetish tea that I particularly liked as a child, though I don't drink it anymore. We settle down and begin to eat.
Memories of the traditions behind the Mid-Autumn Festival drift back to me. It's a special time for cherishing your family. At the temple, it was just me and my dad. I know that when we celebrated this festival, remembering absent loved ones, that he missed Mother and thought of her. So did I, though I used to occupy myself by trying to lighten his melancholy. I wonder if he's thinking of her now.
Chewing, I slide a glance at him. He's watching me and smiles when he's caught. I smile shyly back at him. I wonder if he thought of me during the fourteen Mid-Autumn Festivals when we were parted...or if he tried to avoid the memories the way I did.
I glance upward. "A picnic under the stars," I declare, gazing at the full moon, happy that I remember so much of the tradition.
"A night for family and for lovers."
Startled, I focus my eyes on him. Lovers? Is he thinking of Mother? Does his heart still break over her, even though she's been gone for twenty-five years? I wish I could heal him.
"Well, I don't have a lover," I say boldly, hoping to divert him. "Since Tyler dumped me, I can't seem to keep a lady for more than one or two dates." I laugh awkwardly, but the truth in my words stings. I've always been nervous with women, and I guess I make them nervous. I don't know why else they aren't flocking around me. Christ, I'm not bad-looking! I don't think I'm boring. I keep my body in great shape. I pay for dinner. What's not to like?
I'm not brave enough to ask my dad if there's something wrong with me.
He smiles a little. "Perhaps you have raised your standards."
I wince. I don't know if he means that the way it sounds. It was pretty obvious that he didn't care for Tyler. Yeah, maybe she was a little rough around the edges, but she had a good heart. Sort of. She just didn't want to share it with me.
I guess he reads my thoughts from my expression, because he clarifies, "As you mature, your perceptions also grow. You begin to look at women as prospective brides and mothers rather than as conquests and temporary companions."
"Brides and mothers?" I repeat, my voice surprisingly weak. "Let's not rush into things. I'm not...uh, ready to get married yet, Pop. Dad. I'm just looking for hot dates."
He says nothing to my little provocation, which is par for the course. I'm getting used to it, but it still irks me. Memories of my childhood are hazy sometimes, but I'm pretty sure that he used to talk a blue streak. I definitely remember lengthy stories and fables and lectures. Now I'm lucky to hear two sentences in a row.
I finish the burrito mooncake and peer at the others, poking their centers to see how full they are.
"Ah," my father says, a major speech for him. He plucks a coconut-covered mooncake and holds it out. "Chocolate," he proclaims. "For you."
I wince. "Chocolate and coconut--too sweet for me."
He stares at me, still offering the mooncake. I hold his gaze for several seconds, then shift away, uncomfortable, and glare at the lake. I glance back at him. He's still staring. "What?"
He looks down and replaces the mooncake on the platter.
"What?" I repeat, feeling the seed of annoyance begin to sprout.
My father shrugs.
I roll my eyes. "Fine. Whatever." I pour myself more tea and gulp it down. I'm genuinely miffed but I've also discovered that pouting comes in handy, because as soon as I sulk, my pop starts to talk.
"When you were a child," he says slowly, "the chocolate mooncakes were your favorites."
Ouch. Peter Foot-in-Mouth, that's me. "Yeah, well, my standards have raised," I say flippantly, covering my chagrin.
We sit in silence as the sky darkens fully. Stars begin to appear, though they're dimmed by the lights of the city. I work on the mooncakes, happily devouring more than my fair share while carefully avoiding the chocolate one. Of course, now that my dad has reminded me, my childhood delight in its taste has come flooding back. I remember the chocolate was creamy and rich, the coconut sweet and chewy. I'm practically salivating and send the mooncake some longing gazes, but can't figure out how to get it without my father noticing. Which is silly. I don't know why I'm acting like this. Sometimes around him, I feel like I'm twelve again, my development halted at that age. I guess that in a way, it did stop there, at least as far as my relationship with my father goes. But I'm not twelve, I'm twenty-seven--which is almost thirty and way past the childhood-development stage. I should be getting on with my life, finding a new woman, maybe even thinking about getting married...not lying awake nights, wondering if my dad approves of what I do and how I do it. But....
Yeah. But. My life is full of buts when it comes to Kwai Chang Caine. He's back, bringing with him a lot of memories, and an honesty and innocence that I haven't seen in the last fifteen years. As much as I tried to deny his ideals, they never released my heart. For all my protesting and labeling what he taught me as 'crap', I've tried to live my life in his image. Except for the glorying in violence. Pure and simple, that was the release for my anger, my blind retaliation for the destruction of the promise of my life. It's not something I've ever admitted aloud, but in my heart I've always understood.
Now he's back, so maybe the promise is back for me, too. I know I'm stubborn--just like my dad--and I'll resist some of the stuff he tries to teach me, but I've finally got my second chance at life.
Besides, in the bakery he said he loved me.
I grin. "Maybe just a little of the chocolate one," I decide. "Want to share?" I ask, knowing damn well that he won't. He's never liked sweets and I'm sure that since this is a special--
He nods and tears the mooncake in half. Chocolate drips over his fingers. I watch in silent amazement as he licks it, then takes the largest half for himself. I'm still staring when he looks up and winks at me.
I lean back on my elbows, laughing. He's so serious most of the time that I forget his bizarre sense of humor. Which reminds me--that's one of the criticisms Tyler had. She said I had no sense of humor.
I straighten. "P--Dad, do you think I'm funny?"
It is a joy to watch my son, whatever he is doing. His pleasure in the mooncakes brings back many memories. His laughter brings me delight. But I do not think this is the sort of 'funny' he means. I understand that in colloquial English, 'funny' is a negative term indicating oddness or strangeness. I shake my head.
"You don't?" He scowls at his half of the mooncake, then stuffs it in his mouth.
I eat my portion more slowly. It is a difficult procedure, for the chocolate filling does not wish to stay in its appointed place. So I imitate my son and finish the sweet pastry swiftly.
"Tyler didn't think so either." He wipes his fingers on the cloth napkin I brought, then hands it to me so I may do the same.
The beautiful moon, white and jagged, is scattered across the surface of the calm water. As I gaze at the lake, I sigh with the simple pleasure of the company of my son. Chung Ch'iu Chieh has a happy meaning for me tonight, as it has not for many years. In my travels, I would pause on this night to remember the ones I loved, all of whom had been taken from me--my mother and father, my wife, my son. The pain of their losses lingers, and it is difficult to accept the comfort of the Tao. I believe that one day I will truly be Shaolin and able to see things in the light of truth; one day I will accept such changes and not dwell on them with sadness. I believe that achievement draws nearer...or perhaps the return of my son has given me false serenity.
"You'd think I'd inherit some of it, y'know?" my son asks, though I suspect it is not really a question. "I mean, you're funny sometimes."
Ah. I know that his friends look askance at me as do most people in this country. To them, I am odd. However, I have been unaware that my son also feels this way. I wonder if his friend Epstein has influenced his view--and what it is about me that he finds strange. I would ask, but I do not believe he will tell me, for he is generally careful of my feelings.
Except for his outbursts of anger, such as the one he displayed several days ago. I shift on the blanket, pulling up my knees and wrapping my arms around them. Once again, as I have so often in the past week, I consider his words. Can it be that something in my attitude causes him to believe that I look upon him with disapproval? I feel a pain in my own heart as I remember his pain when he spoke those words. I do not wish him to think such a thing, for it is opposite of the truth. I am proud of the courage of spirit he has shown. Yet much of what I see in my son does not give me pride.
His life has not taken him beyond the pain of our separation--in that, we are the same. He has not fulfilled the promise of his youth--but how could he without guidance and instruction? He is surrounded by violence, but I do not believe that he has allowed destruction to become part of his nature. I feel shame for these things, but it is a shame of myself, not of Peter. Had I not humiliated Master Dao, had the temple not--
No. I cannot repeat my litany of the Fifteen Years. It is over. It has been over for a long time. My son is returned to me; it is time for both of us to return to the paths of our lives.
Still, he has said that I have changed the way he performs his job as a police officer--he says I have put his life in jeopardy. I feel great fear and accept the responsibility to protect him when he is in danger.
I can protect his body, but what of his spirit? He believes that his uncertainties are defects and that I do not have such flaws. He thinks that I have always been 'sure'. I do not know how to disabuse him of these beliefs or even if I should. Perhaps he needs me to be a rock, a perfect being without doubts, a father upon whom he can lean when he is confused and sad. He knows that I am human, yet sometimes he looks upon me with awe. I wish to cry out to him that I am only a man, as flawed as any other man, but...I do not.
I feel a warm sensation on my shoulder. I look down. Peter's fingers rest there. I stare them, still caught in a web of disbelief that this strong hand belongs to my little boy.
My dead child, resurrected.
Peter removes his hand. He never allows it to linger. I look at him. He looks away, then back. I have noticed this peculiar dance of his many times. It is a type of fear, but I do not know why he fears me. He courts my attention, scampers away when he receives it, then returns to claim it.
He shifts and one leg of his pants rides up. I see that he wears a weapon there, a small pistol. I know that he also carries a pistol under his jacket. I feel sorrow that my son has so much fear that he must rely on firearms, but I understand it. His world was destroyed by violent men bearing weapons, and he does not wish to face a similar situation unarmed. It is not the Shaolin way, but my son is not Shaolin. Not yet.
Peter moves again and tugs down his pant leg. I lift my eyes, and our gazes meet. He has seen me looking at the gun, and I wonder if he interprets my concern as disapproval.
"Did you...think about me? While we were separated, I mean?" He grabs the platter and begins to pick apart the remaining mooncakes. "Like...did you ever wonder what I would have grown up to be?"
The familiar ache of grief rises to the surface of my heart. I do not wish to speak of this, but my son has a great need to fill the empty places of our history. I look at the tranquility of the lake and force a few words past my cold lips. "One has many expectations for one's child. To watch him grow into manhood...to rejoice with him when he falls in love...to see his expression when he holds his first child in his arms...." I cannot speak further and I cannot look at my son.
Peter sighs heavily. After a moment, he says, "I guess I'm a disappointment all the way around. I grew into a mess, I can't get anyone to fall in love with me, I don't have a grandson for you, I'm disrespectful...oh, yeah, and just incidentally, I've forgotten everything you taught me."
"You have not," I say sternly. I am surprised and a little dismayed that he has again misinterpreted my words. "Nor are you a disappointment, Peter. You are a fine man of courage."
His laughter sounds hollow. "Whatever that means." He shakes his head. "I know you said that you'd love me despite my...faults. But you have to be disappointed. I would be, if I were my son."
I shake my head. "You would not."
I slide a glance at my confrontational offspring. "Love is more powerful than expectations."
That quiets him for several moments, as I expected it would. He considers the statement for awhile, then asks hesitantly, "But the stuff you taught.... It'll take a long time for kung fu to come back to me, and--"
"Practice," I murmur.
"--and," he smiles slightly, acknowledging my prompting, "I can't do other things I used to do. Like at the hotel, in that elevator shaft. I was afraid."
"A small fear that you overcame," I remind him.
"Maybe. But my skill was gone." He puts aside the plate, staring at the pastry he had crumbled between his fingers. "I couldn't hold on. I would have fallen if you hadn't caught me." He raises his chin and looks at me. "You knew I couldn't do it, that I wasn't good enough. That's why you were ready. What if you hadn't caught me?"
I shrug. "That was not an option. I could not fail you again."
"Again?" Peter bites his lower lip. "Are you talking about...the temple?"
I look at the scattered remains of our picnic and begin to tidy the area. Crumbs to scatter and feed the birds, cloth napkins to be folded and taken home to be washed, plates that were borrowed from Lo Si must be quickly returned.... I have much to do before I retire this night. I must begin now or I will not finish in time to...
...to do what?
Peter's fingers curl around my shoulder, and my hands still.
"It's a great moon," he says softly.
Across the lake, coals glow orange on someone's grill. The dot of color reflects on the surface of the water. It is like the early hours of that first morning of the Fifteen Years, when the monks fled the temple and camped alongside the lake at the base of the cliff. Then, the water had shone in the colors of a fiery sunrise, but the glow was one of destruction, not of the hope of a new day. It was the day they dragged the charred remains of my son's body from the ruins; it was the day we buried him. Or so I had thought. Now I know that it is someone else's lost child who has lain in that grave for fifteen years, unknown and unmourned.
I study my son's profile. We finally have our new day, and we must not be careless with the promise it offers. We must move slowly, with great patience, to heal the wounds that pierce like knives into our souls. "Yes," I finally reply, "I am talking about our temple."
Peter looks at me for a long time. Then he leans forward and kisses my forehead. "Time to go home, Pop." He waits to see if I will correct his address, but I do not. He grins and stands, grabbing the picnic basket. "Another Chung Ch'iu Chieh out of the way. I can't wait to see what you cook up for Chinese New Year. Remember those fireworks that Danny and I made one year? Man, I thought Khan was going to kill us when we set fire to the vegetable garden. I tried that once in the orphanage. Have I told you about that? No? Well, it all started when--"
I smile and let the words of my child spill over me. It has been a good Chung Ch'iu Chieh. And we will have another next year.
I am certain of it.