By Liz Gregg
I take the steps two by two, silently scaling the old warehouse stairs, eager to find my father. I haven't seen him for almost three weeks. He's been spending a lot of time with Skalany, helping her recover from the trauma of her gunshot wound.
Finally, I reach the top of the building.
It's almost noon on Memorial Day. Low clouds trap the city in a pocket of hot, humid air. I'm glad I wore the white tank top, but now wish I'd gone with the cutoffs instead of jeans. I enter my dad's loft. He's not in the main room, but I know he's home.
I find him meditating in the back room. A few moments pass and he opens his eyes. His gaze fastens on mine, and it's like time goes backwards. I'm twelve again, at the temple, waiting not-so-patiently, hopeful to spend time with Kwai Change Caine, master of the universe -- or so I thought at the time.
"Peter," he says, rising gracefully with no visible effort. "A welcome surprise." We meet halfway. His hand brushes my cheek. "You are on a...lunch break?"
Chuckling, I grab his hand and kiss it. "No, Dad. I have the day off." I pull him into an embrace. "I missed you, Pop."
It's been over three years since we've been together, but my sense of the miracle of our reunion can still overpower me. I savor our hug, memorize his scent and bask in the strength of his arms around me. Because lurking in a dark corner of my mind, always, is the fear that it might be our last encounter.
He steps back, but still grips my shoulders. "You are ill?"
"Pop, it's Memorial Day."
"It is not."
"Yesterday," he releases me, shakes his arms and folds them at his waist, "was Memorial Day."
He doesn't answer me. Then I get it.
"Excuse me. Today is the day most Americans celebrate Memorial Day. You know, we citizens of the good old US of A? The country you've lived in for the past three or four decades?"
Pop shrugs. He may not know Bill Clinton is president, but he knows the difference between the observed and the legitimate Memorial Day. I should know better by now.
"You have no plans with Jordan?" he asks. Not waiting for an answer, he walks out of the small room. Suddenly, my mouth goes dry. After all, maybe he doesn't want me here, maybe he already has plans. I've intruded on his orderly life, burst in his home with no invitation.
Then I shake my head and grin ruefully. I'm amazed that even after my Shaolin training, he can still make me feel like this.
No, Peter. You make yourself feel like this. I hurry after him.
"She's pulling a double shift. I'd hoped--"
"And no gathering of your friends?" He's standing at his work table, absently fingering the package I'd brought and placed there before I found him.
"No. Pop, listen." I touch his shoulder. He turns. "I thought we might spend the day together. Throw a couple burgers on the grill."
He tilts his head; his eyes narrow and silver strands of hair fall across his shoulder.
"Vegetarian burgers, that is," I add quickly.
"I think," the corners of his mouth curve to a smile and he drops his Shaolin mask. His features soften and love shines in his eyes, "it would be bloody marvelous."
"Great! And we'll drink a toast in honor of Grandfather."
My dad shifts his eyes, but not before I see the flash of pain. A chill permeates the room. Damn. We're not together for five minutes and I blow it.
"Even though he did survive the war," I ramble on like an idiot. "But we can still wish him well...wherever he is now."
My father walks to the balcony. His flute rests against a large potted plant. He picks it up and turns it in his hands, but doesn't play.
"You know, until we found him alive in France, I didn't know he served at all."
Standing behind him, I let my chin rest on his shoulder. Through the black silk of his tunic, his body feels ice cold. He doesn't resist when, carefully, I take the flute from his hands and lean it gently against the wall.
"Did...did you get to talk at all before we came home? You and your dad?"
I can feel the tightly-coiled tension knotted in his back. I lift my head and place my hands on his shoulders, beginning a gentle massage. Looking down, I see his fingers whiten as they grip the balcony rail. I continue the soothing strokes, and we stand silently, watching the clouds drift, blanketing the sun with layers of gray and white. My father takes a deep breath and releases it slowly. I know he's struggling for control, but even so, I can capture random bursts of grief, confusion, and maybe even despair.
"I'm sorry, Father. I guess.... I never thought much about how difficult it was for you, all these years thinking he was dead...."
All these years, thinking he was dead.
I swallow hard as the familiar words punch a hole in my gut. I continue to rub his back, kneading his neck and shoulders, until finally his well-toned muscles return to their usual relaxed condition, and the swirl of powerful emotions begins to subside. When my father finally speaks, his voice is barely a whisper.
"'The sage accepts less than is due, and love does not blame or punish.'"
"I know that's what the Tao says, Dad." I wrap my arms around him and again rest my chin on a shoulder that is now warm and limber. "But even Lao Tzu didn't have all the answers."
He twists his head so that our eyes meet. One eyebrow arches highly. "Indeed."
"You liked that, didn't you." A smile tugs at his lips. "You did! Admit it, Pop."
Turning to face me, he takes my hand and squeezes it. I examine him closely. He looks fit, as usual, but etched in his skin are new lines of worry. Evidence of stress and...of the fact that he's not getting any younger. His eyes are clear, though, and crinkled with amusement. And I'm relieved to see I have my father back.
"You mentioned a...barbecue, my son?"
"I did better than that, Pop." I walk over to his workbench and open the bag. "I brought the barbecue." I hold up the rectangular foil pan filled with black coal bricks.
"See? It's perfect for you and me. Portable. Recyclable. Now all we need are some veggie burgers, sprouts and whole wheat rolls."
"And what of you, Peter?"
"What will you eat?"
"Heck, I'm eatin' what you're eatin', Dad! I'm turning over a new leaf."
"Really," he drawls, eyeing me wryly.
"Yeah, really," I reply, then wink and add, "well, for today,
anyway." Because nobody knows what tomorrow will bring. "Come on, Pop.
Let's go shopping."