by MJ Mink
"Watch out--gotcha, Pop!"
I join in Peter's little game, pretending to be alarmed, for we both feel a sense of relief after the day in Shambhallah and the tense confrontation with the Dark Warrior. But the game dies quickly, and we finish crossing the bridge in silence. I think that Peter will follow the path and say that he must return to his precinct, but he surprises me. He strays from the dirt trail and heads for the edge of the water.
He is still troubled and, as it has always been, when he is troubled he seeks out his Secret Place. Gazing at the placid surface of a lake calms him, though he does not yet know that the water is a Prism and a portal to the past. Looking backward has always been Peter's way of facing the future; for this reason, he finds tranquility in water.
We sit. As is my habit, I scan the lake, though I do not know of any portents or dangers that could lurk beneath its surface. When I am relatively confident that on this day the water is no more than it appears, I look at my son. Even now, two years after finding him, there are moments in each day when I am awed by his existence and enjoy simply gazing upon him.
He glances at me, then turns back to the water. I wait, but do not urge him to speak.
"You say," he begins after many minutes have passed, "that...that things won't change. But things between us always seem to be changing."
My brow creases. I do not understand. The love we feel cannot change. "What is it that always changes?"
He appears frustrated, trying several times to find words before he finally speaks. "You change! You're always...going places or disappearing. You take off without--" He stops.
"I tell you when I am leaving, Peter," I remind him gently, for it was a harsh lesson that my son taught me. "The...visitors from Shambhallah were unexpected. I only had time to leave a note--"
"That's not what I mean." He runs one hand through his hair, a gesture that has become less frequent over the last year as he has grown more sure of himself.
"You leave to help...people. Anyone who asks. You leave on crusades, for God's sake, where you could be killed. I don't go anywhere--I stay here. You should stay here, too, or at least...take me along." He frowns at the water. "I know it's selfish, but I wish you would just stay...here. I wish you'd settle down."
I study his profile. I understand his anxiety for I, too, have a fear of being separated from him, but as a priest and now as a Shambhallah Master, I have duties that must be performed. He also has duties in his role as police officer, but he refuses to compare his dangers with mine.
I sigh and glance into the sky. The day is overcast, and the heavy gray clouds give me no answers. "I am 'settled down', my son." He does not reply, so I know I must continue.
"Peter, for fifteen years I wandered. I had many questions and no answers. I found comfort only in my spirituality, but it remained stagnant because I did not allow it to grow. I kept myself apart from everyone, even those who wished to be...to be closer to me." I pause, thinking of abandoned friends and lost opportunities. "My accomplishments were small. I squandered those years, wandering, accompanied only by my grief, searching for the son I had lost."
"I don't believe it, Dad," Peter objects softly.
I look at him.
"You touched a lot of lives during those years--I know that for a fact, because I've met some of those people."
I bow my head, accepting his chastisement. For so long I have shouldered the burden of those wasted years, and it has not eased since our reunion. I think that guilt has become a reflex that will never entirely disappear. Peter's arm loops around my shoulder.
"In the brownstone--remember?--you said that you'd spent those years looking for my...essence. I think I finally understand what you meant by that. But...."
I look at him again. His cheeks flush, and his hazel eyes dart away. "But...?" I prompt.
"Later you said you came here for Sing Ling," he finishes quickly, his voice low, "not for me. You said he was the reason you came to this city."
"Ah." I wonder if this has bothered him for a long time. He has never indicated it, but from his tone.... "I came to this place as another step in my wandering," I explain hesitantly. "Yes, I had heard rumors that the young Emperor might be here--but over the years there had been many rumors and many cities, so I did not hold much hope. Then I met Lo Si." I pause. An elusive memory drifts by like a wisp of smoke; I try to catch it but cannot. Lo Si....
"Go on," Peter urges.
I hide a smile. Perhaps he will never learn patience--and perhaps it is not necessary that he does. After all, he is Peter, not me, and we are not the same. "When I prepared to leave the city, Lo Si tried many arguments to convince me to stay, but to no avail. Then, in the hospital, though we had not spoken of Sing Ling, he said...'You cannot leave because he is here'. Thus I knew that the rumors were true, and the Emperor was in this city. So I stayed and in staying, found you. And in finding you, I found the place where I could 'settle down' and grow."
"Is that a round-about way of saying that your home is with me?"
I try to see into his eyes, but he is gazing intently at the lake. "Yes."
Peter is quiet for a few minutes, then he says, "Maybe Lo Si was talking about me."
The words ring in my ears. They are loud yet muffled, clear yet muted. I cannot think. I draw back my head to stare at my son.
He blushes and shrugs. "Well...I mean...he could have meant me! He's so...he seems to know everything." As I continue to stare, Peter blurts, "What?"
"There are moments," I am finally able to murmur, "when you amaze me."
His head jerks and his eyes widen. "Whoa! You okay, Pop? For a second, it sounded like you were complimenting me!"
I cuff his chin and pretend to scowl at him. He grins back, then hugs me and doesn't let go. I lean against him, marveling at the strength of the babe who once slept contentedly in my arms. "I did compliment you," I acknowledge. "You have given me something to consider. You are a wise son."
"And a strong, brave, and handsome one."
I chuckle, but my mind races. I will speak to Lo Si. Could it be that he knew about my son--about me, about the temple, about everything? Were his words to me that...cryptic?
I continue chuckling, suddenly realizing
the frustration my son must feel when he labels my words as 'cryptic'.
Peter begins to laugh, too, and flops back on the grass, his amusement
out of proportion to our exchange. I watch him with a smile, wondering
what obscure track the swiftly-moving locomotive of my son's mind is traveling
now. Perhaps I will never completely understand him, but it does not matter.
It is enough to know that we are together, bound forever by a bond that
grows stronger every day.
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