The Prodigal Son
ASTRID yawned and stretched on an uncomfortable wooden stool in Walter's and Peter's hotel room.
-Walter… What time is it? How long have we been playing already? Oh, my God… I am so tired-the lab assistant sighed.
Walter's twinkling, excited eyes looked up from the Risk board. He was just planning another perfect maneuver which would let him conquer Asterisk's territory.
-Now you know what they say, Afro! When one starts losing, one starts complaining!
-It's true, I admit it… You are so much better at board games than me… First I bankrupted in Monopoly, now you are defeating me in Risk… But that's not the real reason why I am asking about time.
-We should play Cluedo next! Peter told me all about it! It's a detective board game which requires a lot of logical thinking! So many new things have come out while I've been in a mental asylum! I need to make up for the lost time!-Walter was rambling on enthusiastically.
Astrid glanced at her wrist watch.
-It's half past eleven…
-That's too early, Astro! Thirty minutes to go! You normally stay here with me until midnight. And you tuck me in-Walter looked at her with hopeful eyes.
-Yes, Walter, but tonight is an exceptional night for me.
-Oh? What's happening this night?-Walter rubbed his hands curiously like a small child who can't wait to hear an intriguing story.
-It's my dad's birthday-said Astrid, smiling widely.
-Well why didn't you say so?
-I wanted to keep you company too, Walter. Now that Peter is at hospital… You need someone to look after you. However… My father will be waiting for me at home. He's making a special midnight dinner for just the two of us. And I wish to give him a present, talk to him for a while… Sometimes we don't even see each other during the weekdays. You know how I work till late…
-Or you babysit me-Walter frowned sadly.
-Now that's no trouble at all, Walter, I kinda like spending time with you.
-Of course. It also comes in handy that we are practically neighbors-she stroked his hand reassuredly and Walter beamed. –Now don't get too excited-Astrid shook her finger at him. –Sometimes you can be a real handful…
-Oh! Agent Farnsworth! Look at us…-Walter jumped off of the bed he was sitting on. -Playing board games and chit-chatting! And tomorrow is a big day. I am going to visit my son. I absolutely must check if I packed everything that I intended to bring him.
-Let's browse through the bag together, shall we?-Astrid offered kindly and Walter nodded thankfully.
-I appreciate everything you are doing for me-he said, shyly. –I know it must be hard for you to stay with a senile, half mad man during whole day.
-Walter…-she sighed and patted him on the back. –Stop saying things like that!
-But it's true. I'm useless. You don't know what it's like for a man like me… A former genius. To be reduced to a drooling baby.
-Walter. Look at me-her decisive eyes met his desperate gaze. –You are fine. And you are doing a wonderful job. All of us together. We are helping people. And that's what counts. You are not living in that horrid St. Claire's institution anymore… You are with Peter… There's no need to be depressed.
-I know, Afro… But sometimes when I don't see Peter for a couple of days, it's as if everything becomes so bleak and meaningless…
-Well then it's a good thing we're going tomorrow morning, isn't it? And now, the bag. Focus, Walter.
-Yes! Yes! The bag! You're absolutely right. So… Scissors… Razorblade…
-Walter… Why would you take him those?
-My boy is a mess, Afro! He needs to shave, he needs a haircut! Peter has started to look like a Yeti, I swear!
-I think he's kinda cute. The stubble makes him seem older and more mature… And now that his hair is longer, I can see that it's actually curly, as is yours. It appears that I wasn't wrong after all when I said: Like father, like son. Those locks on his forehead look so sweet.
-Well, Peter is a handsome young man-Walter grinned proudly. –But still! Stubble is one thing, Aspen, and that long beard he's grown is quite another. He's become so careless with his physical appearance, and I will not have that… It's a first step towards depression and believe me when I say that I know what I am talking about…
-If you say so-she shook her head, not entirely convinced.
-Next! Dinosaur pajama!-Walter gently folded the new dark purple pajama with T-Rex motifs and placed it lovingly into the bag. Astrid had to suppress her groans of laughter and mask them with cough.
-Walter, I'm not sure if they'll let him wear one of those at hospital. Not that he will want to, either-she thought, amused.
-He needed a spare one and I thought he'd like this colour… Now where did I put that clean underwear…-Walter rifled through the drawers nervously and Astrid looked away embarrassed, covering her eyes…. –Ah! Here it is! And now… The most important thing… To keep him company… His favourite toy car since he was a boy! A red Citroen!
-Walter, I somehow don't think Peter plays with toy cars anymore-Astrid stated exasperatedly, but he was already packing it excitedly and the only thing that was left for Astrid was to roll her eyes.
-Now, the last, but not the least important… I'd even dare to say: the most important thing of them all. The food! Here are some oranges… They'll do him good, they have a lot of vitamin C… I will prepare the waffles in the morning, as soon as I get up, so that he can eat them fresh and warm for breakfast… Oh, no!-Walter slapped his forehead.
-I forgot to prepare Peter's lunch! I wanted to make it earlier tonight and put it in the tuppers! What on earth shall I do now? I simply must start cooking right away.
-But it's almost midnight, Walter. Why don't you get some rest and… You can cook tomorrow…
-Tomorrow is going to be too late-he squealed sadly. –We are going to the hospital at nine o'clock in the morning.
Astrid quickly put two and two together.
-Don't worry, Walter. Everything's gonna be OK. I am going to call my dad.
-What does your father have to do with this?-Walter inquired nervously. He didn't see the point.
Astrid placed her forefinger on her mouth in order to signal him to keep quiet and then dialed her father's cell phone number.
-Hi, Dad! Happy birthday! Yes… I know you are waiting for me… I'm sorry. I can't go home just now… But I have a proposal for you. Why don't you come over here to the hotel… Yes… Why not? That's an excellent idea! Bring the supper… We'll all eat here and then you can open your present. And two of your best aprons! This is the address… It's just two blocks away but you can come by car if you want to. Love you… See you soon.
-Agent Farnsworth… You didn't have to… Tell your father to come here.
-It's OK, Walter… He won't mind… I told him quite a lot about you and he kinda likes you. It simply occurred to me that you two can prepare the meal together… It'll be faster in that way. He's a fantastic cook. As far as I'm concerned…You can have a cook-off or something like that. We'll eat the food he's prepared at home first, because he's bringing it over, and then you two boys can start roasting, boiling and frying all you want.
-Thank you so much, Astro.
-Don't mention it, Walter…
-Yes, Walter?-she sighed, wondering if Walter will ever learn her name. Or at least stop pretending like he doesn't know it.
-Is agent Dunham going with us to hospital tomorrow?-he inquired hopefully.
Astrid looked uncomfortable.
-Um… I don't think so… I called her the last couple of times we went but she'd always tell me she had a lot of work to do…
-Work, what work?-Walter said, irritated… We haven't had a case for a month… Those are all excuses-he muttered angrily under his breath.
-I can call her and ask her… But I have a feeling she'll probably say "no" again-Astrid concluded sadly.
-Preposterous!-she could hear Walter mumbling while he was browsing through the kitchenware, searching for pots, plates, knives and forks. –A fine friend indeed…
Astrid couldn't agree more with Walter's assessment but she didn't want to get involved. Whatever had happened, it was between Peter and Olivia, and, in her opinion, it was rude to intervene in any way. They'll sort it out themselves. They care about each other a lot-she was sure of that.
Her cell rang and she grabbed it immediately.
-Hi, Dad! You're already in front of the hotel? OK, I'm coming down to get you now… Hang on a second-she placed the phone on the small table and turned to Walter.
-Walter, I'll be back right away with my Dad. Don't touch anything while I'm gone.
-Okay!-Walter had already absently started humming a jovial melody.
Few minutes later, the door of the Walter's hotel room opened and Astrid and her father came in.
-Mr. Farnsworth! I am thrilled to meet you. My name is Walter Bishop, how do you do?-Walter stepped towards a large, friendly-faced, round man and shook his hand in earnest.
Astrid's father replied with a smile, in a booming voice. –Nice to meet you too, Mr. Bishop. Astrid has told me a lot about you. I'm fine, thank you. And you can call me Carl.
-Don't bother, Dad, he won't remember your name anyway.
-Carl!-Walter exclaimed. –I can see that you're a lover of a fine cuisine… Something smells nice!
-That I am, Mr. Bishop, that I am… I've brought us supper! It's Astrid's favorite: mushrooms with soy sauce! And a chocolate cake for dessert.
-Sounds fantastic, Carl!
-Really?-Astrid sighed incredulously. –You remember HIS name, but not mine?
-Come on, Astro! Let's set the improvised table for three!-Walter exclaimed without paying attention to her comment.
-Yes, but first…-Astrid embraced her father lovingly handing him a nicely wrapped up package. –Happy birthday, Dad!
-Thank you, honey! Let's which one did she get me this year… You know, Mr. Bishop, my Astrid buys me a different apron each year for my birthday.
-That is hardly original-Walter commented but thought better of continuing in that direction after having seen Astrid's stern facial expression. –But I'm sure it's very nice, my dear-he patted her awkwardly.-I didn't get you anything-Walter continued sheepishly. –I didn't know.
-That's alright… Now… I'll just open this one real quick… Ha, ha, ha… "SHITTAKE HAPPENS!" This has got to be my favorite one yet! And it's in tune with the supper I prepared tonight!
-Thanks Dad! I was really trying hard to find one related to mushroom meals!
-Why yes… It really does have a humorous spark… I like it-Walter proclaimed with a wide grin.
When they all sat down and started eating, Walter started singing "Happy birthday to you". Astrid and Carl grinned at him and then father and daughter exchanged happy smiles. Walter began devouring his food, enjoying it thoroughly.
Carl inquired, after couple of minutes:
-Dr. Bishop, I understand you have a son, who works with you and my Astrid.
-Yes, my boy, Peter-Walter stated proudly.
-You two've been in some kind of car accident?
-A car accident?-Walter looked around, confused, but then he remembered what he was supposed to answer. –Oh… A car accident. Indeed… Forgive my son, he's a clumsy driver. So we both ended up in hospital. His injuries were worse so he has to stay longer. I visit him as often as I can… Afro will take me to him tomorrow morning. She is very helpful and she has been very nice to me. Your daughter is a gem.
-Walter…-Astrid looked tenderly at old scientist.
-Well that's my Astrid, the kindest soul I've ever known. Now… Mr. Bishop! I hear you need to prepare tomorrow's lunch for your son. What did you have in mind?
-Cheese soufflé, of course!-Walter stated as if it were the most obvious fact in the world. –I have all the ingredients. Butter, flour, milk… Now…. Star anise, cloves… One bay leaf… Absolutely indispensable! Mature Gruyere… Mature Cheddar… Well-aged parmesan… Worcestershire sauce, of course! It would simply not do without Worcestershire sauce! And a secret ingredient… Now listen very carefully, because this is the key! Exactly one hundred grams of ripe Brie. No one ever guesses that one, I guarantee you. Peter loves cheese soufflé.
-Brie is an interesting choice, Mr. Bishop. I've never quite used it before… I like to add onion, and blue cheese as well…
-Blue cheese, you say? I must write that down!
Astrid shook her head at two cooking obsessed men and smiled widely. I knew they'd get along.
-Let's start, shall we? If we work together, we'll be done by one o'clock in the morning. Then you can sleep for at least seven hours-her father stood up, wiping his mouth with the napkin. He went to stand by the small stove –Choose your weapon, Mr. Bishop!
-My… Weapon? I am sorry, Carl, I'm afraid I don't quite understand…
-I've brought two aprons, you see? "MAY THE FORKS BE WITH YOU" and "SERIAL GRILLER". Which one do you prefer?
-Oooh! Excellent! I'll take the first one. My son and I have always been partial to Star Wars movies…
Astrid's cell rang unexpectedly and she jumped, frightened.
-Oh, my God. At half past twelve! This doesn't bode well. It has got to be Broyles… We probably have a new case on our hands.
-No… Please… Not now! I need to feed Peter tomorrow!-Walter cried out desperately.
-Well, it's not Broyles, but it's Olivia. Their phone call is the one and same, actually, so it's probably a new case…
-Ha, ha! Olivia! So she remembered that I exist!-Walter pouted. -It would be so nice if she'd come with us tomorrow… No one would be happier than my boy… Astro… Could you maybe ask her…
-I'm on it-she sighed tiredly. -You boys start your engines, begin cooking, and let me get this; then I'll tell you what we are to do…-Astrid moved farther away from two men and picked up.
Olivia's nervous, trembling voice on the other end of the line startled her. She'd never heard Olivia talk like that.
-Hi, Astrid… How's it going?
-Olivia? Are you alright?-the lab assistant was sincerely worried about her.
-You don't sound fine, but… Whatever you say.- Astrid didn't want to push the matter. She knew very well what Olivia was like and how she would button up when something troubled her. Astrid respected Olivia's privacy. -Do we have a new case on our hands?
-No, it's nothing like that… I'm on my way home, I'm calling you from the car. Is Walter there with you?
-Yes-Astrid replied cautiously.
-Did Broyles call him today?
-No, I was with him all day. No one called. Why? What's going on?
I should have guessed Broyles won't tell Walter what happened once he found out the self-inflicted injuries weren't life-threatening. Leave the tough part to Olivia-she thought angrily, as tears were streaking down her face, while she was thinking about Lucas's recent abandonment.
-It's Peter. I've just visited him. And I believe there is something you need to know. Now try not to seem alarmed. I don't want to upset Walter more than necessary.
-OK-Astrid clutched her cell even tighter but her facial expression hadn't changed and she mentally gave herself credit for that. Well, several years of Bureau training have finally paid off.
-First of all… He is absolutely fine so there is nothing to worry about. Secondly: Tonight, he got his hands on some whisky down there at the hospital. He got drunk… Made a mess of himself… Split a mirror in the men's restroom in the process. So he was cut by the glass shards.
-Oh, my God-Astrid whispered.
Olivia cleared her throat, trying to banish the images of Peter's injuries from her mind.
-Peter might need to stay in the hospital for a few days longer until he is completely healed.
-And I have to break it to Walter.
-Yes. I'm sorry. Try to be gentle… I know he's visiting him tomorrow. He always does on Sundays. If you don't tell him, it will be hard for him to see Peter like that all of a sudden.
-Why do you think Peter did… Those things?
-He got drunk-Olivia simply stated.
-Peter Bishop apparently doesn't need a reason to get drunk. And to make everyone's lives complicated-she sounded irritated and Astrid tried a different approach.
-It's just… I haven't known him for so long… But he doesn't strike me as a violent type. A little bit shady… Maybe… But to do what you've just described me…It sounds as if he was incredibly desperate for some reason-Astrid was now positively talking in such a low voice that she was wondering if Olivia could hear her at all. Walter was casting suspicious glances at her and she knew she had to be cautious.
-Well, he didn't elaborate on the topic, and I didn't really ask.
-Olivia?-Astrid said softly and inquisitively. –Will you come with us tomorrow?
-Um… I promised my sister and my niece I'd spend the day with them… And I saw Peter today anyway so… Maybe some other time…
-OK-Astrid sighed disappointedly. Why did I even ask when I knew the answer in advance?–Thanks for the heads up. Let me see how I work Peter's demise into conversation… And Olivia…Drop by the hotel anytime you want. Walter misses you. He has just said it in his weird, quirky way.
-I'll try-Olivia openly lied and then she hung up. She couldn't deal with Bishops right now.
Astrid groaned, wondering why all the members of Fringe division except her were so difficult to reach and to understand. I sometimes feel like adhesive glue that puts them all together. But it doesn't seem to work at the moment. Everyone is sitting in their own corner, sulking.
-Walter… Can you come here for a second?
-Not now, Afro! I'm in a middle of an important culinary discovery!
-We have to talk about Peter. My Dad can continue where you left off, right, Dad?
-Sure thing, honey!-Carl waved at her while he was mixing the ingredients.
-Agent Farnsworth! Do you know how rude is to interrupt an artist while he is creating a masterpiece?-Walter chastised her as he was approaching the bedroom but then he became wary as he saw the serious look on her face.
-Has something happened to Peter?-his voice was almost inaudible and full of anguish.
-Walter… Peter is OK… The only thing is… He drank some whisky tonight and… Well, he got kinda carried away…
-Did he hurt anyone?-Walter's voice was unusually calm and Astrid was astonished at the fact how the man knew his son better than anybody.
-Um, he… Broke a mirror…
-And he cut himself?-Walter stated methodically, sounding like a scientist. This is probably his way to distance from fear and pain. To rationalize the situation, to see what can be done to repair the harm that's been done.
-Yes. So his wounds are… Somewhat…
-Worse than before?-now Walter's voice obtained an angry tone to it.
-You could say that… But… He'll heal, Walter! He just needs a little more time…
-My son! Always the stubborn, reckless type, who wears his heart on the sleeve! I know precisely what happened! I'll give him a piece of my mind tomorrow! But now…-Walter ran to the wardrobe, opened it widely and grabbed his coat.
-Walter? What exactly are you doing?
-I need to get to the lab.
-Now? Walter, it's one o'clock in the morning!
-Could you ask your father to finish the cheese soufflé for me, Afro? Tell him we'll be back in an hour.
-But Walter…-Astrid was appalled. –What are you going to do?
-I was raising dung beetles in the terrarium for the past couple of weeks, as I am sure you know… I've grown really fond of them; I even gave them their own names! I was hoping it wouldn't come to this… But they are an essential ingredient to the powerful healing ointment I've been planning to concoct since the first day Peter and I were admitted to the hospital. I decided against it when I saw he's recovering well by himself. Now, I see that drastic times call for drastic measures. If my boy keeps it up like this, he won't get out of the hospital until a month passes, or more. And I can't wait that long for him to join me.
-Are you serious? You want to make the magical ointment now? In the middle of the night?
-It'll only take half an hour, I promise. I already have all I need in my lab stash.
-And you exactly know where all these ingredients are?-Astrid eyed him suspiciously.
-I was actually hoping you might jump in from time to time and tell me, in case I forgot where I had put some of them.
-Of course you were-she sighed.
Carl chose precisely that moment to appear from an improvised kitchen.
-Everything has been prepared. Is there something wrong?-he inquired after having seen the expressions on their faces.
-Mr. Farnsworth… Would you mind staying here for an hour or so? Your daughter and I have a different kind of brewing to do!-Walter exclaimed with the glimmer in his eye, and Astrid shook her head seeing a puzzled expression on her father's face.
WALTER tiptoed quietly into Peter's convalescence room, Astrid following closely behind him. He took the fresh made waffles, the oranges, the cheese soufflé, the pajama and the tiny red car out of a large dark green bag and carefully placed them on a bedside table. Astrid was carrying the scissors, the razorblade and the dark brown ointment in her hands. She was clasping her nose in disgust. Walter stopped abruptly, having seen the Peter's renewed injuries and cringed, taking his hand to his heart. Astrid sighed at that obvious demonstration of fatherly love.
-Afro… The ointment… -he whispered. –Good. You have it.
-Yes, I do have it, Walter, and, in fact, I will be very glad to get rid of it soon.
-The head doctor told me Peter complained about the pain several hours ago and that they gave him some sedatives. But the effects should wear of soon, so we have to hurry. Also… The nurse morning visit begins at ten… She shouldn't see us doing this-Walter hissed advertently as he went to the other side of Peter's bed and gently lifted the covers and the blanket, sneaking inside to lie next to his son. Astrid didn't know whether to laugh or to reprimand him, but she was finding and entire scene hilarious so she simply shook her head incredulously.
-Let me just…-Walter gently turned Peter's sleeping form towards him and stared at his face and his eyes for several long seconds. Then he placed his head on Peter's chest, listening intently to the beats of his heart. -He looks so still, I wonder if he's alive… He's breathing. It's good-Walter beamed, relieved.
-Walter, he's asleep-Astrid rolled her eyes at the old scientist.
-I knew that-Walter replied apologetically. –Now, let's take off my boy's pajamas… What an ugly grey color this is… He'll be delighted when he sees the pajamas I've brought him… Now, let's remove the bandages from his chest… These awful letters are red again… He apparently scratched at them… It's tummy's turn… -Astrid looked away, embarrassed at the use of the hypocoristic, as Walter carefully unwrapped the bandages from Peter's stomach and frowned at the irritated pink flesh. -And finally… The bandage from his hand. It's dabbing time! Aspen, would you please go into the corridor and stand guard?
-I was just going to suggest that-Astrid said, flushed. Peter was practically naked now, wearing nothing but dark blue briefs and she felt very uncomfortable with the sight of her lab partner being sprawled on the bed with almost no clothes on. Astrid was certain Peter would feel very humiliated if he knew what was about to transpire so she wanted to spare him from at least a little bit of shame.
When he was left alone in the room with his son, Walter tsked several times as a sign of disapproval of Peter's last night's actions, and then he softly started applying the ointment on Peter's cuts, bruises and wounds, rubbing it in energetically and skillfully. Everything was over in less than five minutes.
-Those dung beetles sure add a distinctive ammoniac aroma to it…-Walter wrinkled his nose but he didn't move away from Peter. Instead, he hugged his son tightly and firmly pressed Peter's head to his chest.
-Afro! You can come in now!
Astrid came back warily, immediately stating:
-There's no one in the hallway. Yet. Oh, my God! What an awful smell! That ointment reeks horribly, Walter! I hope this is really going to work, for your sake… Peter will be very angry when he finds out you did this…
-Which should be any minute!-Walter beamed watching his son moan and stir in bed, waiting excitedly for him to open his eyes. –And what do you mean that you hope it's going to work, agent Farnsworth? Naturally, it will work! There is no doubt. The ointment, apart from the dung beetle mash, contains other ingredients that regenerate skin cells. They are anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, they offer natural UV protection, replenish skin; they are rich in beta-carotene which promotes healing…. Aloe juice, prunus amygdalus, organic rosa rubiginosa oil, organic evening primrose oil, hippophae rhamnoides, CO2 extract, limnanthes alba oil, tamanu oil, calendula herbal oil, cera alba, cetearyl alcohol, palm stearic acid, radish root ferment filtrate, daucus carota oil, eriocephalus punctlatus oil, organic lavandula officinalis, neem oil, xanthan gum…
Peter groaned loudly for the last time, opening his bleary eyes and instinctively pushing Walter away.
-Would you please stop reciting the ingredients in my ear… Walter! What the hell! We talked about this! Don't creep up on me like that! How many times do I have to tell you? My bed is off limits!-he glanced knowingly in Astrid's direction, embarrassed. –He was checking to see if I was still breathing, wasn't he?
After she nodded, trying to suppress a small smile, he sighed exasperatedly.
-Ugh… My head feels ten times bigger. Have you perchance brought me anything for the headache?
-No I haven't, although I could. That'll teach you to feel the consequences of your acts.
-Thank you, Walter-Peter retorted sardonically. –And what is that stench? Did you just cut the cheese? How about a little warning next time? Sheesh!
-No, my son, I haven't farted if that's what you're referring to… Although, I have been experiencing stomach flatulence lately…
Peter's astonished gaze fell on his body and he exclaimed.
-Walter… What is this?-Peter inquired slowly and guardedly.
-It's an advanced healing ointment, my son! I concocted it myself couple of hours ago in the lab. Afro and I haven't slept at all! It'll help you feel better. By sundown tomorrow… You'll be good as new. They will be able to release you from the hospital the day after tomorrow, probably in the morning-Walter said proudly. –Just don't tell the nurse what I did.
-This… This is incredible! Do you see what he did to me?-he turned to Astrid, angrily and disbelievingly. –You're telling me that you've just dabbed a stinky brown cream of doubtful origin and the color of human feces all over my body, but you didn't remember to bring me a good old aspirin? Well that's just great, Walter!
-What are you talking about, Peter? Aspirin is right here-Walter motioned confusedly towards Astrid.
Peter and Astrid simply rolled their eyes in unison.
-Anyway… My boy-his eyes twinkled… -The secret ingredient, in case you were wondering, are dung beetles!
-The ones that you've been raising in your terrarium? Excellent!
His sarcasm didn't reach Walter, who carried on chattering away happily.
-Now! The next part of my plan!
-Oh, you have a plan? Fantastic! Will you use me as a guinea pig for yet another of your experiments?
-I never use guinea pigs for the lab trials I conduct, Peter, you of all people should know that… I strictly experiment on fruit… Preferably watermelons. Sometimes, but very rarely, on gerbils… And as for your answer… No. I have come here as a worried father, Peter… You've gone too far this time…
-Let me guess? Broyles called you?
-No, actually, agent Dunham called agent Farnsworth and told her everything.
Peter fidgeted uncomfortably in his bed, casting his eyes downwards and pressing his lips tightly together, but eventually said nothing, so Walter continued, never leaving Peter's bed.
-I've brought you a new pajama… Some clean underwear… And your favorite toy.
Peter reached to his bedside nightstand and took a small red Citroen car into his hand, eying it with pleasure, and then he stared incredulously at the dark purple pajamas.
-I was actually looking for this the other day. Thanks, Walter. It means a lot. However… You can take the jammies straight back where they came from… I'm not wearing those in here. God knows I've been humiliated in front of the medical staff enough times as it is.
-I brought you some food too!-his father stated defensively.
-Please tell me that you didn't bring me oranges again?
-Peter! You have to eat them! They are good for you and full of vitamins. They used to be your favourite fruit.
-The keyword in that sentence being: "used to". Before I got stuck in a hospital and started eating two kilos of oranges per day.
-You don't have to eat them if you don't want to, then…-Walter said, dejectedly.
-Alright… I'll eat them. Don't take them away-Peter gave in, sighing.
-Your breakfast and lunch are also here, my son! What do you smell?
-You mean like, right now? The whole room smells like crap! This cream's rotten stench has masked all the pleasant smells, if there were any to begin with.
-I made you fresh waffles this morning! And Carl baked you a cheese soufflé!
-Thanks, Astrid-Peter looked at her apologetically. –He shouldn't have gone through so much trouble for me.
-It was his pleasure, Peter. Don't worry about it-she replied with a grin.
-Waffles, you say?-a crooked grin appeared on Peter's face as he tentatively reached for a waffle and closed his eyes, savoring the moment, chewing slowly and enjoying the flavor. –Well, at least they taste great, even though I can't say the same for the smell.
-Eat, my son. You have to put on some weight, Peter. I know that nowadays slim young men are fashionable, but you are overdoing it, my boy… When you are done having your breakfast, I am going to shave you and cut your hair. I've brought scissors. And a razorblade. Your hands are probably still trembling after the last night's incident…
-YOU are going to shave me?-Peter chuckled, amused. -Thanks, but no thanks, Walter. You'd probably accidentally slit my throat.
-I can do it-Astrid offered. –I can also cut your hair.
-That's an excellent idea, Asteroid!
-You really don't have to…-he stammered, ashamed.
-Yes, she does, Peter! You look like as hairy as a gorilla!-Walter insisted and Peter raised his hands in defeat.
-Fine. What time is it?
-It's almost ten o'clock. Why?-Astrid asked.
-Nurse will be here in a jiffy! Quick, Astrid, open the windows!
She rapidly did as she was told. Only five minutes later, a large shadow was cast across the room and a humongous woman walked inside. She was around fifty years old, but her forehead was overtly wrinkled so she seemed older. She was about 6'2'' feet tall, with a strong muscular build, big breast, moustache, and hairy eyebrows, legs, and arms. Peter's mouth fell open and he actually forgot to close them for a couple of seconds. Speaking of the gorilla…
She sniffed around skeptically but eventually said nothing. Peter was relieved that at least the ointment smell had worn off. Then her gaze fell on two men who were lying in the same bed.
-Um… Hi…-Peter slightly frowned, deciding to speak up first. -You must be the new nurse. I know what you're thinking, but this is not what it looks like. He is my father. My name is Peter Bishop-Peter flashed a charming smile and stretched his hand. Walter did the same: -Walter Bishop, how do you do?
However, the giant woman simply eyed them both suspiciously
-I'm Ms. Gertrude Kimball- she replied in a manly, loud and booming voice.
-Gertrude Kimball?-Peter chuckled -Are you a Titanic survivor? I could have sworn I read that name on a Titanic survivor's list. She looks the part too.
When she hadn't reacted to the joke, Peter went on trying.
-You really do remind me of someone… Have you ever seen a movie "Mathilda"? There was a… School principal in that film, I think she was called Agatha Trunchbull… She was very strong and resolute… No one could've opposed her…
Ms. Kimball pointedly ignored his witty remarks yet again as she stared at the bag of waffles and a pot of cheese soufflé.
-What is that?-the nurse growled.
-Why, it's food-Walter stated the obvious and then added in a tender tone. –For my boy.
-You're pampering him. I have four of those at home! He looks spoiled! But, don't you worry…He won't be able to charm his way past me. And anyway, what's wrong with hospital food? When I was a girl…
-That must have been a long time ago-Peter muttered under his breath, not being able to control himself.
-Say what now!-she roared and he hurried to rectify his misdoing.
-I say, when I was a girl… Me mother would mix us children up a soup of flour, water and tomato juice… And no one dared to say a word… There was nothing else to eat… And if you tried to tell her: Momma, I want something sweet… She would give each of us a cube of sugar to suck on!
Peter swallowed and his smile turned off. The prospect of his hospital future has suddenly become… Glum. This woman actually frightened him. Well, I guess nurses around here come in all shapes and sizes… I got lucky the first time. Apparently, now… Not so much. I really hope that this Walter's ointment works and that I'll be able to get out of here two days from now
-You have four boys!-Walter exclaimed enthusiastically. –You must be a wonderful mother, don't you think so, Peter?-he winked at his son.
-Absolutely-he wholeheartedly agreed, appeasing Walter, but at the same time wondering where this was going.
-I mean, just look at her, Peter! This is amazing!
Walter finally abandoned Peter's bed and went to stand by Ms. Kimball. -What a corpulent, strong women! What an amazing female specimen!
Did she actually blush to that? My father… Always the charmer-Peter almost laughed out loud. He couldn't believe what he was seeing.
-Your father knows what he's talking about… That was a nice compliment right there, I'll give you that!-her cheeks were flushed. Astrid was looking out of the window, and it seemed she was having the same problem as Peter, trying hard not to giggle.
-Can he keep these waffles and the soufflé? Just for today? He is delicate… And I love my boy so much. I was up all night preparing this.
-Alright-she finally consented. –But no more home-made treats.
-Oh, no, of course not. This will be the last time, I promise. You were completely right. I did spoil him, and overtly so.
-I am glad you've come to your senses. I'll be going now… Too many patients to check upon… And I am new on this ward… See you at lunch time, Mr. Bishop-she gnarled at Peter as he shuddered, unwillingly, and then simply nodded, not knowing what to say.
-I am very sorry if this seems untoward or… Rude… Maybe… I was merely wondering if there is Mr. Kimball?-Walter gingerly inquired.
Peter was the one whose cheeks reddened next, and Astrid started coughing hard.
-No, actually, there isn't. He died couple of years ago.
-Oh. I am sorry to hear that.
-I am sure you are-she stared at him knowingly and then added casually, in a deep, masculine tone of voice, before exiting the room. –I'll leave my phone number to your son later today.
While Walter was doing his little triumphant dance, Peter and Astrid were literally wiping their tears off after having laughed harder than they ever thought possible.
-Did you see that, Peter?
-I most certainly did. Though I would prefer I didn't-he smiled at his father. –Well played, Walter.
-A date! I'll be going on a date!-Walter was jumping around the room happily.
Peter absently took another waffle.
-Well, nothing surprises me anymore. Let me ask you something, Walter. Are you really going to go on a date with… Her? Was that the correct pronoun I used?"It" would probably be more appropriate.
-You know nothing, my boy… Large women are the most passionate ones…
-Okay, Walter, just stop it. Wherever this is going, it's just… Wrong.
Then, thankfully, Astrid approached Peter with the razorblade and scissors, and said, with a teasing smile, changing the subject of conversation:
-Good morning sir! And welcome to Farnsworth's beauty salon!
Half an hour later, Peter had to admit he really did look better. His hair was nicely cut short, the way he always sported it, and it had certainly looked tidier. His beard was gone, and his face was clean shaven now.
-You look as if you were fifteen years old!-Astrid sniggered at him.
-Thank you for that assessment. This is precisely why I always shave in the evening and let my stubble grow a bit each time after I do it-he moaned in shame.
-It'll grow out again, not to worry, my boy… It'll be ready for tomorrow night, and soon after that, you can finally get out of this place.
-I gotta hand it to you, Walter… I actually don't feel pain anymore… The bruises are gone… And the cuts look almost superficial now… The funniest thing is… You dabbed that infernal emulsion on me just an hour ago. That's some pretty amazing stuff. Maybe you were right after all.
-Never doubt your father, Peter… And now-Walter frowned at him. –I have cured you, fed you and cleaned you up. It's time for a father and son talk, Peter.
-Ugh… Not this again, Walter…-Peter groaned but he knew he'd have to endure it, after what he did last night.
-Afro! Would you be so kind so as to…
-Wait for you in the hallway? I'm on it…-Astrid came out of the room and slowly closed the door, giving them some privacy.
-Listen to me Peter, and listen to me very carefully. Are you familiar with the biblical parable "The Prodigal Son"?
-You know I'm not religious, Walter.
-Neither am I. But that wasn't my question.
-Yeah, sure, I know the story… A guy takes money from his father, and leaves his home to roam around the world… Right? And then… Let me see… He travels to many distant countries and wastes all his money in wild living…When a famine strikes, he becomes desperately poor and is forced to take work as a swineherd. When he reaches the point of envying the pigs he is looking after, he finally comes to his senses… He goes back home, begs for his father to accept him again, and the father, seeing this as if his son, who he had thought lost to him, has returned from the dead, calls for a celebration. I can see where you're going with this…
-I wouldn't have told it better myself. When you came back to me, my boy… After we began to live together… There was no happier man alive than me! You didn't turn out quite as I had expected…
-Yeah, spare me the part of how I squandered my substantial education and my above average intellect… Yadi yadi yada… And so on. Also, Walter… There is no need to emphasize the fact how you thought I'd be fatter. You've actually already told me that. And guess what: Those were your first words when you saw me. In case you don't remember.
-I remember, Peter… I remember it very well… As I remember everything that is related to you, one way or the other. But I wasn't talking about your physical appearance, your education, or your poor career choice. I was talking about the person you had become. That… Was something that weighed so hard on me since the first day I saw you again after seventeen long years. As a boy, you were so emotional, so kind, Peter…You were such an imaginative and creative child. Warm, cordial, sympathetic, open-minded… And the man I met many years afterwards was guarded, cold, calculated, skeptic towards everything… Always feeling the need to defend himself with some sort of sarcastic comment.
-Are you psychoanalyzing me, Walter? You, of all people? This just keeps getting better and better.
-There. That's exactly what I was talking about.
-Fine. Let's assume for the moment that you are actually right. Where are you going with this conversation? What exactly are you trying to accomplish?
-I spent many nights awake, wondering how to bring back that child in you. But your love for agent Dunham did what I could not.
Peter froze. His father had never stated anything like this so openly, and in such a serious, coherent voice.
-I don't wanna talk about her-Peter's voice was apparently calm but Walter could sense the nervousness behind that guarded tone. He continued anyway, earning a disgusted look from his son.
-While we were working on cases with her… I could see you change… At first… It was almost imperceptible, but it was there… You would crack an imaginative joke just to make her laugh whenever she was sad… When she had a problem, you'd listen, you'd offer her a piece of advice… Or you would directly help her, if you could. That emotional, kind part of you that was lying in wait… It resurfaced when agent Dunham appeared in your life. And as much as it pained me that I wasn't the one to bring you back from the edge of the precipice you'd almost fallen into… I was simply glad you were back. Until you started slipping away again, Peter-Walter's voice became cold and angry.
All the time while his father was talking, different emotions were running over Peter's face… Anger, nervousness, sadness, shame... He was deeply uncomfortable with discussing his own feelings with Walter.
-You are distancing yourself from your emotional being once again, Peter… You are deliberately ignoring that part of your personality… And even physically hurting yourself… And knowing you, my son… That sort of conduct is most certainly related with Olivia in some way… Now… I know that agent Dunham hasn't come to see you while you were at the hospital. But there is no need to be nervous because of that, my boy, maybe she simply…
-Maybe she what, Walter?
Walter cringed at the amount of pain in his son's voice and looked over to him. Peter was now positively shivering, swallowing hard. –There is no excuse for her behavior, so don't look for one, will you? I bet she hasn't even dropped by to see you, either.
Walter nodded, sadly.
-I do not know what the reasons for her actions are, I admit it…
Peter's feverish eyes reached his father's as he started speaking incredibly fast:
-She didn't…. She didn't even care… How I was… If I was alive… Or dead… It was all the same to her…
Walter incredulously stared at his son's trembling hands and his shaking figure.
-Peter…-he said warily. But Peter couldn't stop himself from pouring his heart out to his father, to someone who he knew would listen to him… Up to that moment, he had been only talking to himself… And those thoughts needed to come out, to be formed as words, to be directed to another human being… Peter needed to be heard out.
-And…-his teeth chattered in unison… -One day after… After I told her I might be leaving… She… She'd already found someone else… She…
Walter squeezed his son's hand.
Peter shook his head several times.
-Now that… That is what I don't understand, Walter… You know… We've been through a lot, she and I… And… She does that to me… All of a sudden… She drops the bomb on me… She didn't even give me time to adjust… I…
-Agent Dunham is seeing someone?-Walter inquired in a mild, gentle voice. Peter nodded and several more tremors shook his body, while tears started forming in his eyes.
-And you know what, Walter? I didn't care about that anymore… I wanted to… Forget… The way in which she'd betrayed me… What she did to me… And I drank… I drank as much as I could but it was never enough… She'd always come back to haunt me… I had to… To distract myself… To feel the pain… To banish her from my mind…
-So you hurt yourself by breaking the mirror, and you obviously banged your head on the wall-Walter concluded, pointing at the bruise on Peter's forehead –I can understand that, Peter, you wanted to remove the thoughts of agent Dunham and you did the only thing you thought plausible… But you were wrong.
Peter grabbed his father and inquired, desperately:
-What did I do wrong? What do I do now, Walter? Tell me! TELL ME WHAT TO DO!
Walter slapped him as hard as he could.
-Peter, listen to me! Compose yourself!
-Now you slap me too? Awesome.
-Peter, I am your father and I love you very much. And I know I am not the only one. After ten months you've spent in Boston, you have found a way to rebuild your family again. Astrid loves you…
-Oh, now that she's waiting in the corridor, she's Astrid, all of a sudden?
-Olivia's sister and niece care about you too…-Peter cringed at those words suddenly remembering how he behaved towards Rachel the last time they'd seen each other.
-And Olivia is so fond of you… You are rooted so very deeply inside of her being. Even though she isn't aware of that just yet, even though she's trying to suppress it… Agent Dunham can't get you off her mind. During the first couple of days you were in here… She was so depressed, Peter… She would bury her head in paperwork… She wouldn't eat…
-Until she started jumping the bones of her wealthy ex-boyfriend.
-She will come to you, Peter.
-Walter… That's just illusory… She is in a relationship right now-a tear ran down Peter's cheek and Walter quickly wiped it off, embarrassed.
-She will-Walter reiterated stubbornly. -She will not be able to love anyone else, Peter. And she will not be able to stop comparing the two of you, you, and that other man you are mentioning. Because she loves you, my boy. Do you hear me? She loves you.
-Why are you spilling this sentimental crap to me all of a sudden, Walter? And how come you suddenly have such an incredible insight into Olivia's feelings? You know what… I'm done talking to you about this. You're making me very uncomfortable, I swear.
-Because… In order to make her come to you… You have to be you. Just be yourself, Peter. The man she grew to love, whose presence she learned to cherish. Accept your feelings for agent Dunham, don't run away from them, don't try to restrain them. Don't you ever hurt yourself again, or diminish your own value. Don't relapse into a cold, violent man you were before meeting her, before finding me. Promise me you won't, my boy. I know that you must be jealous, and I can see what that is doing to you, how hard it's weighing on you; but you simply have to keep that feeling under control and show Olivia that you, and no one else, are the right man for her.
-And how exactly do you suggest I do that, Walter?
-The opportunity will present itself. I am certain of it. You will get a chance to prove how much you care about her. And then… The moment she realizes she loves you… You will know it. You will recognize that moment. After that, you can freely make your move.
-What a lovely and probably inaccurate theory, Walter. But if your goal was to make me feel ashamed for having you worry so much about me, you've accomplished it. Also… You've managed to make me promise you I won't self-inflict any wounds to my body again. Not to mention you've educationally slapped me. That's something you probably wanted to do for months. You may consider your visit successful.
-I hope so, Peter. I hope so…-Walter stated mournfully. -Rest now. And I will see you in two days in the lab.
Walter was already at the door when Peter shouted after him, jokingly:
-Oh and Walter? You got yourself a date as well! This has been such an eventful day for you, hasn't it?
The absentminded scientist waved him briefly and left. Peter shook his head, wondering if he'd really just had "that" conversation with his father.
Before falling asleep, trying to ignore the poignant ointment odor that was spreading in waves from his body, Peter looked up "Rachel Dunham" under his contacts on his cell phone. It was time to apologize to his friend, and he knew it. Walter had reminded him of the facts that he himself had ignored for too long a time. Her mobile phone rang ten times but she didn't pick up. Peter tried again. And again, fifteen minutes after that. Nothing. She's probably very angry and she's avoiding me. I'll call her again in the afternoon. Rachel should see how persistent I am. How much I want to say that I'm sorry. I won't give up on her. She never gave up on me. She was always there for me when I needed her, as every true friend would.
If she doesn't pick up later today, I just might call their house number.
The very prospect of that action made him gulp in fear.
What if Olivia answers the phone?
So what? You say hi, you say you wanna talk to Rachel… And that is that. Don't be a chicken.
Peter nodded satisfactorily to himself, and then drifted into a light slumber, thinking about lunchtime, cheese soufflé, and a phone number he had to get from the nurse for Walter. He chuckled out loud one more time and finally fell sound asleep.