It had been a quiet night so far … perhaps just a bit too quiet, thought Ensign Maguines as she strode down the corridor, toward the Algoi’s astrometrics lab.
Not that quiet was bad; they’d been working double shifts, trying to catalogue the star clusters in this region. But right now, she was in the mood for some fun. And she had someone in mind to help her.
The doors swished open to reveal a dark-haired young man leaning over the console. He was rather good-looking, she had to admit; his angular features and the hardware on his face made him look, oh, sort of exotic.
“Icheb,” she said, hoping he wouldn’t mind the informality. “Didn’t the captain tell everyone to take some time off?”
The young lieutenant looked up, mildly surprised. “Hello, Carol,” he said shyly, to her great relief. “I just wanted to run these calculations.”
She sidled up to the console, leaning close – but not too close. “Why don’t you put those away for a while. I hear there’s a pool tournament in the rec hall. Why don’t you come with me?”
He looked uncertain. “I should finish these.”
Oh, no, she thought. You’re not getting away that easily. She’d made that bet with Ensign Packard … “Oh, come on,” she teased. “I’ll even buy you a root beer.”
“Root … what?” he asked. Sounded like one of Neelix’s concoctions.
“It’s a sweet drink,” she said, gently pulling his sleeve. “Come on. ….”
“You’re right,” he said, contemplating the drink in his hand. “It is sweet.”
Carol laughed. “I told you .. do you like it?”
“Yes, it is good,” he admitted. Actually, it was pleasant here … it helped ease some of the discomfort the felt at sitting at a table, alone, with Carol. Social talk – especially with members of the opposite sex – was still difficult for him.
He took another drink of the root beer, and was about to say something ….
The pain was sudden – and savage – punching his midsection. He gasped, and dropped the mug on the table.
Carol started at her companion’s sudden convulsion, and reached a hand out to steady him.
“Are you all right? You’re white as a ghost!”
He gasped in a breath, and tried to steady himself … but the pain returned in another white-hot frenzy. He tried to scream, but his vocal cords were paralyzed. He toppled off the seat, vaguely aware of forms running toward him. He felt the tingle of the transformer before he mercifully passed out.
I’m getting plenty of surprised looks as I hot-foot it down the hospital corridor. Suppose the folks here aren’t used to seeing admirals racing by.
Can’t help it though, I’ve been antsy since we got the first call about Icheb; when the doctor called to say the medical transport had arrived, I dropped what I was doing and burst out the door.
The doctor, thank heavens, is waiting..
“How is he?” I half-gasp.
“Stable for now,” he said quietly. “He had another attack on the med transport.”
I start to ask another question, but he takes my arm and guides me to his office. He punches up several files on his console and ignores me for a moment while he digests them, then shakes his head.
“Based on the information from the Algoi’s doctor, and my preliminary examination, it appears that Icheb’s residual nanoprobes have mutated. They’re attacking his major organs.”
“Mutated?” Unfortunately, I understand. “How?”
I’m told the Algoi was mapping star clusters in the Kentari sector. Icheb was on an away mission to the main planet, which had high levels of kryon radiation.”
“But surely, he took…”
“Yes, he did,” the doctor interrupts. “But the drug protects tissue, not nanoprobes.”
I lean back against the desk, partly to catch my breath, partly to think. “It is possible to repair nanoprobes?”
“Normally,” he said, his expression still grave. “However, it depends on what portions of them are damaged. I have yet to determine that.”
“And once you do….” do I have to drag everything out of him?
“If I can repair the damage, of course, I’ll do so.” He paused. “If I can’t, I’ll need to find some healthy nanoprobes to do it for me. The trick will be finding them.”
And there’s the rub, as Shakespeare said. There aren’t a lot of nanoprobes to be had in the Alpha Quadrant. The owner of the largest supply, last I heard, was residing in Toronto. .. Fortunately, we may have other options…
“I assume anyone who’s ever had contact with nanoprobes still has some … floating around,” I ask.
He nods, “They may not be usable, though,” he cautions.
I offer my arm. “Well, let’s take a sample and see what I have.”
He smiled. “I was hoping you’d offer. I’ve already taken the liberty of calling Commander Torres.”
When I get to Icheb’s room, I see my husband has already arrived – informed, no doubt, by my adjutant, who I must remember to thank. Michael’s got the boy laughing, though, and that’s a good sign.
“So, what are you two plotting?” I mock-demand as I walk over to Icheb. He struggles to sit up, and I gently push him back. I’d kiss him, but even after seven years, he’s still uncomfortable with affection, so I just squeeze his hand.
“I was just saying that Icheb needs to lay off that hard stuff,” Michael says. “That root beer is only going to get him into trouble. I suggest a nice brew.”
“That Scot sludge you drink?” I ask in mock horror. “No, No, Icheb. I’ll take you to a nice Irish pub and introduce you to a proper pint.”
It works; he’s laughing again. Michael and I have great fun sparring about our ancestries, and Icheb has heard it all before….
I’ve traded families, it seems. On Voyager, it was crew. On Earth, it’s children: Icheb, Michael’s daughter, our sons – not to mention the nieces and nephews and the occasional stray cadet. At least it gives the dogs someone to play with.
Actually, Icheb’s status became a problem the moment we landed. He was still a minor, and under Federation law, once we left Voyager, I was no longer responsible for him. The Academy would take him, but Starfleet wanted a permanent guardian appointed – and quickly. I had intended to discuss the idea with Seven, but her abrupt departure shot that straight to hell.
So, that left me. Actually, the doctor volunteered, but I couldn’t do that to the kid. Besides, at the time I hadn’t even dealt with his status yet. As for Icheb’s take on this; I’m still not sure; maybe he thought no one else wanted him.
Over the years, though, we’ve reached a comfortable bond; maybe more aunt/nephew than mother/son, but it’s something. He’s on his own now, but he has a place in my home, not to mention a spot on my mom’s care-package list. And I’m damned if any mutant nanoprobes are going to take him from us.
He gets up to use the facilities, and I lean over to Michael. “So, what did he tell you?”
“Enough to know that those Borg souvenirs may kill him if the doc can’t do something,”
he whispers back.
I consider this. “I may have to go to Toronto …. It’s possible Seven is the only one who can help him.”
“Go?” he looks puzzled. “Couldn’t you just call, get her to come here? It’d be a hell of a lot quicker.”
I shake my head. “No, I have to do this one in person.”
He’s about to answer when the doctor appears in the doorway and motions to me. From the look on his face, I suspect I’ll be getting on a shuttle very soon.
“I’m sorry. The nanoprobes in your system are too degraded to be of any use. I suspect B’Elanna’s will be the same. I could call the Starfleet base on Vulcan, or track down Mr. Kim’s ship….”
I shake my head. Harry is at least three days away; Tuvok isn’t much closer. “Guess I’ll go to the nearest source.”
He nods. “I’ll continue to look for other ways to repair the damage.” He pauses, then looks at me. “And give Seven my regards.”
“So,” Michael begins as we walk to the shuttle dock. “Want to tell me how you got those nanoprobes the doc was checking?”
Oops. I was afraid of that. Perhaps I should tweak the doc’s voice processors. “Well, most of the crew probably have some,” I begin, carefully. “The doctor used them to take care of a number of injuries.”
He nods. “But yours came from that time you were assimilated.”
I stop walking, stunned. Once again, I’m reminded that while Michael and I have been together nearly eight years, there are still large chunks of our lives that we have never discussed. That includes some of the things I did in the Delta Quadrant – Unimatrix Zero being one of them.
“You found out about that,” I say softly.
I got my hands on that report,” he acknowledges. Of course he would. He’s an intelligence analyst. He probably can get his hands on all my reports.
“I think you can understand why I don’t advertise that,” I said. That’s not a joke. For the average person, the Borg still evoke a great deal of fear. I suspect many of the people who thank me “for getting even with those bastards” wouldn’t be so generous had they seen me as a drone.
“You could have told me,” he said quietly. It’s not an accusation, but I feel a twinge of guilt just the same.
“Would it have made a difference?” Michael has no reason to like Borg. His brother-in-law died at Wolf 359, and indirectly, so did his first marriage.
“You mean, would I still have married you? Hell, Kathryn, I was … I am… so crazy about you … you could be the Borg Queen herself, and I wouldn’t care.” He reaches up, and brushes his fingertips along my jaw. “But I would have liked to have known this before we had children.”
“The boys were never at risk,” I tell him firmly. “That was one of the things that the doctor watched for.”
“You’re sure? The boys don’t have any ‘residual nanoprobes’ that are going to haunt them? And while we’re on the subject, are yours at any risk of mutating?”
I place my hand over his. “Well, since you overheard the doctor, you know that my ‘souvenirs’ are degrading, so I suspect any risk is small. As for the boys … they’re fine. They don’t carry any nanoprobes. And when I get back, we can talk to the doctor about it. I promise,” I say, squeezing his hand for emphasis.
We finish the walk in silence. When we arrive, my shuttle is waiting; so’s my adjutant, holding my briefcase – and my coat. I figure Michael will say goodbye here, but to my surprise, he shepherds me aboard and sits on the arm of the seat across from mine.
“Would you like me to come with you?” he asks.
I shake my head. “No, I have to do this one on my own.”
He knows the story, though he’s never quite understood any of my angst about Seven. “Less chance of her turning you down in person?”
“Maybe,” though I hadn’t thought of it that way. “She was close to Icheb at one time. It only seems right to tell her in person.”
He arches an eyebrow. “Ah, hon, correct me if I’m wrong, but she hasn’t contacted you, or Icheb, or anyone else for what? Almost seven years?”
“I know.” I start to say more, but the pilot comes in to tell me that we’re ready. Michael dismisses him with a nod, however, and he retreats back to the cockpit.
He sighs. “All right, Kathryn. I know I can’t talk you out of this.” He leans in and slides his mouth over mine. His kiss is slow and sweet, and I’m breathless when he pulls away. “Safe journey, Katie. Hurry home.”
“I always do,” I whisper back.
Suppose I can’t blame Michael for not understanding. Hell, in some ways I don’t either. I’ve told myself many times that I have nothing to feel guilty about. Seven was with Chakotay; she would be fine. And I wasn’t going to interfere. By the time I found out things weren’t fine, I was involved with my own family.
Besides, I rescued her so she could become an individual – that certainly wouldn’t have happened had I hovered around. And, as Michael so adroitly pointed out, she hasn’t bothered to contact any of us, either.
So, my conscience asks, why are you going?
For Icheb, I tell that annoying inner voice. “Don’t tell yourself half-truths,” it replies.
I sigh. OK, I admit to myself. I feel guilty about leaving her on her own; even if I didn’t know she was alone. Maybe it’s my mother instinct, but I need to see her. Need to see if she’s OK; if I did the right thing all those years ago.
The truth must be liberating after all. The little voice shuts up, and I lean my head back in the seat and quickly fall asleep.
Two medical officers meet me at the shuttleport. Besides a hovercar, they’ve come equipped with a med kit – and Seven’s current address. Actually, it’s the address of one Professor Annika Hansen; at least she’s comfortable enough to use her given name for some purposes.
Our route takes us to the center of town, past the elegant old government buildings and museum. A few blocks past the university, the driver stops in front of an older apartment building; nothing fancy, just functional. Reminds me of Seven.
I take the address, and indicate that my companions should stay in the car. The winter wind is biting as I step out, though fighting the cold helps quiet the knot in my stomach.
I reach the second floor address; no buzzer, so I knock, then put my hand back in my coat to keep warm while I wait.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the fellow who opened the door. Actually, he was good looking. Late 30s, dark hair, medium build. Not bad, just not who I expected.
“Excuse me,” I begin. “I’m looking for Professor Hansen.”
“And who should I say is calling?” he asked, pleasantly.
Of course. “I’m Kathryn Janeway. It’s urgent that I speak with her.”
“Janeway?” he looks at me with shocked recognition, though we’ve certainly never met. He quickly casts a look behind me, as if he expected someone else to be there, then motions me inside.
“I’m Peter Holland,” he says. “I’ll get Annika. Please come in and sit down.”
I’m a bit too antsy to sit, so I stand, coat on, and look around the room. It’s comfortable; the usual clutter, a few pieces of artwork on the walls. Someone has decent taste in decorating.
At the sound of her voice, the years drop away; I’m in the cargo bay, or in astrometrics. “Hello, Seven,” I answer, as I turn around.
The years have been kind to her. She’s wearing regular clothes now, thank the gods. She’s a bit heavier, but not unpleasantly so, and her hair is loose, cut just above her shoulders. Except for the metal above her eyebrow, she’s any young human female, and for that, I am grateful.
I can see her appraising me, too, with an obvious glance at my wedding band. Whatever she thinks, she’s keeping it to herself. Perhaps that’s just as well.
Peter comes into the room, carrying a steaming mug. He begins to fuss a bit, taking my coat, indicating a chair and foisting the mug on me.
I hold it with both hands, both for warmth and courage. “I’m sorry to barge in. I have to deliver some bad news, and frankly, I also need your help.” I motion to Peter. “Forgive me, but perhaps we need to speak in private.”
She shakes her head, and looks at Peter with fondness – no attempt to deny her feelings. “Peter is aware of my background. We can speak freely.”
All right then. I outline the situation with Icheb. She seems truly shocked. “Of course I will help,” she said.
I never really expected to be turned down, all the same, I’m relieved. “You’re welcome to come back with me, but if you’d rather, I have a Starfleet doctor downstairs who can take a sample.”
“I cannot return with you. But I would prefer that Peter assist the other doctor with the sample,” she says. “He’s a physician,” she adds, as he nods in assent
Well, that’s ironic as hell, I think as I hit my comm badge.
The situation doesn’t exactly lend itself to conversation; but to distract her, I give Seven a quick update on some of her former crewmates. She seems pleased by the news – especially when I mention that we’re in contact with Neelix.
We’re finished, and the Starfleet doctor withdraws with the samples. “Admiral, you’re welcome to stay for dinner. Maybe you could persuade Annika to tell you about her planetary research at the university.”
“I’d really love to hear about it,” I say sincerely, though that’s not the only thing I’d like to hear about. “Unfortunately, time is of the essence for Icheb. And my husband is most likely waiting to have dinner with me.”
She stiffens, and I’m puzzled at her reaction. She glances at Peter, then looks at me and swallows. “Please give Chakotay my regards,” she says.
Chakotay? Then it hits me – she thinks we’re married – and where did that come from?
“I haven’t seen Chakotay in more than a year,” I say as gracefully as possible.
Seven is so dumbfounded it’s almost funny. And while I’d like to get to the bottom of this misconception, I simply don’t have the time. I take a step forward and lay a hand on her shoulder.
“I’m happy you’re doing well,” I say softly. “If you … both of you … get to San Francisco, please come to visit.”
The shuttle lands on the transport pad at Starfleet Medical, and I see the doctor and Michael waiting near the entrance.
“How’s he doing?” I ask as I hand the doctor the med case, and return Michael’s squeeze.
If I didn’t know better, I’d say my holographic friend was tired, judging from the creases around his eyes. “Not too well. He had another episode shortly after you left. The nanoprobes are attacking his lungs. I had to sedate him.”
“B’Elanna’s with him right now,” Michael adds quietly. “We were both here when it happened.”
We head down to the room in silence – at this point, I can tell the doctor is really worried – he hasn’t said word one about my visit. That’s all right, we can chat about it when things settle down.
B’Elanna brightens as we enter the room, then sobers again. “He’s pretty restless; I think he may still be in pain,” she tells the doctor. He adjusts the oxygen levels, then with a nod to us, heads off to prepare the nanoprobes.
He looks so helpless lying there, encased in the biobed’s technology. I stroke his hair, hoping it will calm him – he’s grimacing despite the sedation. “Hey, I’m back,” I whisper. “Seven is helping us, so you have to hang on just a few more minutes. Got that?”
No answer. Not that I expected one. I lean over and kiss his forehead. Just hang on, kid.
“Why don’t you get something to eat?” Michael asks. “I’ll stay.”
When I shake my head, he quirks a brow and turns to B’Elanna. “Take her down to the replicators, will you?” And before I can protest, he adds. “That’s an order, Commander.”
B’Elanna chuckles. “Can’t disobey an order now, can I?” she says as she ushers me out of the door.
“So, how is Seven?” B’Elanna asks as I replicate my vegetable broth.
“She seems to be all right,” I answer, then decide to tell her the rest. “She’s involved with a doctor.”
The news amuses B’Elanna. “I see something rubbed off on her.”
“However,” I continue, “she also had the idea that Chakotay and I were together ... that we were married.”
B’Elanna nearly dropped her ratkajno. “Where in hell did she get that idea?”
I shrug. “Certainly not from me.”
She shakes her head. “I have no idea. Chakotay never talks about her, or what happened. The only thing he’s said is that he filed for dissolution a few months ago.”
Ah, well, perhaps he did make use of that address I gave him last year. We both contemplate our cups for a moment, then she looks up at me.
“Do you ever wonder what would have happened … if you two had gotten together?”
I jerk my head up, slightly shocked. Embarrassed, she backtracks. “I’m sorry … I shouldn’t have asked ….”
I put my hand up. “It’s all right, B’Elanna,” I say quietly. I look at my cup again, gathering my thoughts.
“Honestly, yes, I do occasionally wonder.” I quirk an eyebrow at her. “But then the boys start wrestling in the living room, or a dog throws up in my office, and …” I finish with a shrug and a smile.
She gets the message and laughs. “The last couple of times Harry has called, the kids have decided to stage a screaming match in front of the vid phone.”
“And we wonder why Harry hasn’t married yet,” I joke as we head back to Icheb’s room.
The doctor’s there when we get back, and he’s all smiles.
“It’s working,” he said.
I’m exhausted, but still restless when we get home. I kiss my now-sleeping sons goodnight, and head for the bathroom for a hot soak. I lean my head back against the wall, and just close my eyes, when the door opens. It’s Michael, wearing his bathrobe, and carrying two glasses of white wine.
He hands me a glass, then sits on the edge of the tub and contemplates his wine for a moment.
“Did you find out what you needed to know about her?” he finally asks.
“Some,” I say. “She seems to be doing well.”
He smiles. “Feel better, Mom?”
I laugh. “Yes, I do.”
He just smiles, leans over, and plants a kiss atop my head. And at that moment, I’m overwhelmed with affection for him.
“You know,” I whisper. “If you’re coming in here, you’d better do it before the water gets cold.”
Michael chuckles as he puts down the glass. I sneak an appreciative look as he doffs the robe and slips into the tub behind me. I lean back, and the warmth of his body – and the water – surround me.
Yes, sometimes I do think about what might have been – but the here and now has a lot to recommend it.
“Come on Sam, one more rung,” I say, as my son stretches his small arm toward the prize.
As the youngest child, Sam’s mission in life is to keep up with the big kids. And that means navigating the monkey bars that his brother and cousins have already mastered. So I’m here playing cheerleader and catcher. I don’t mind though; this is why I’ve worked from home as much as possible these last few years.
Besides, we’re ready for some fun. The worst seems to be behind us; Icheb has had a couple of surgeries, but he’s recovering nicely. He’ll be coming home in a few days.
My reverie is interrupted as Sam loses his grip and crashes into me, sending us both to the ground. I’m a bit winded, but he’s laughing delightedly. “Did it, Mama. Did it!”
“You certainly did,” I exclaim, pulling him into a hug. His moment of triumph is cut short though by the sound of someone’s throat clearing. I look up to see our housekeeper, Mrs. Carroll, looking down at me, half amused, half concerned.
“There’s a woman here to see you,” she says, giving me a hand up. “Says her name is Seven of Nine.”
Well, this could be interesting.
As I enter the living room, Sam in tow, I see her at the credenza, looking at our collection of family photos. She’s holding the latest one, taken last Christmas, just before Icheb left on the Algoi.
She turns at the sound of our steps, and she looks a bit shocked as her eyes slide from Sam to me. Guess I can’t blame her; In her mind, I suspect, I’m always in uniform. She wasn’t expecting a slightly disheveled, middle-aged mother.
She recovers quickly as I introduce her to Sam, who remembers to shake hands like a little gentleman. However, I know this won’t last long, so I send him off for a snack before he exhibits another side of his personality.
“So, did you come to see Icheb?” I ask as we sit in front of the fireplace.
She nods, pausing as Mrs. Carroll delivers a pitcher of tea and my coffee. “He seems to be doing well. He is anxious to get back to duty.”
“And after he spends a couple of weeks here, he’ll be begging to go back,” I laugh.
She smiles in return. “Well, the doctor seems pleased with his progress.”
“Talk to him, did you?” What I’d give to be a fly on the wall during that conversation.
Seven nods again. “He seems to be … content.”
“I think he is. He stays busy. I practically have to schedule an appointment to have coffee with him.”
She smiles, but before she can answer, I ask the thing I most want to know.
“How about you, Seven? Are you … content?”
She seems slightly surprised by this, but tackles it head-on. “Yes, I believe I am, though it is certainly different than the way I felt on Voyager.”
“It’s been more … painful .. at times. There have been many choices to make.”
“That’s part of being an individual,” I say softly. “But it seems like you’ve had no trouble learning to make choices.”
I could have kicked myself for saying that ... it was almost mean. Seven caught it, too. “I am happy with my choice of work,” she said, the old defiance reflecting in her eyes. “And with Peter. I have a good life.”
“I’m glad,” I tell her, then pause. Oh, hell, might as well say it. “And for what it’s worth, I am sorry things didn’t work out for you and Chakotay.”
She half smiles at that. “Things changed so much after we left Voyager. I began to realize that we were not .. compatable.”
Well, that’s one way to put it. I can probably guess what went wrong, but I really don’t want the details. There is, however, something else I would like to know.
“Forgive my asking, but at your apartment, I got the distinct impression you thought Chakotay and I were together.”
“I did. I apologize for that.”
Her straightforwardness makes me blink. “No need to apologize, Seven. But why….”
She looked down for a second, then back up at me. “Because I realized that one of the reasons we were not compatible … was that he was in love with you.”
Guess I should be shocked by this. I probably would have been had I not run into Chakotay, had he not stood in the holodeck and said the same thing. Right now, though, all I feel is sad.
“So you surmised that when you left, Chakotay would find his way to me.”
“Yes, I did,” she admitted.
Well, at least they had that much in common. I can only shake my head. “Well, Seven, your assumption had a major flaw. By the time you two separated, I was already married.”
She doesn’t reply, which is good, because, right now, I have no idea what else to say. I look behind her to the living room wall, adorned with Michael’s photography and my paintings – pieces of the life we’ve built here. And finally, what I want to say comes to mind.
“As you said, Seven, things changed when we left Voyager. You and Chakotay moved on with your lives. I respected that; it’s one of the reasons I never tried to contact you.”
Still no reply, though she’s watching me, trying to fathom my meaning. I put my mug down and lean forward.
“And to be blunt, I was very much alone, all those years on Voyager,” I said quietly. “After meeting that other Admiral Janeway, I saw what that loneliness could do. I didn’t intend to end up that way.” Especially after Chakotay took off with you, I silently finish.
“So you married,” she said. Ah, she did get my drift.
“Among other things,” I said lightly, sitting back in my chair. “And, like you, I can say it’s been a good life so far.”
There’s probably more I could say to her, but it’s probably not worth it.
“It’s ironic,” she said.
“Oh? How’s that,” I ask as I pick up my mug again.
“You did not contact me because I was with Chakotay. In turn, I did not contact you, because I thought you were with Chakotay.”
“Caused us both a lot of trouble, hasn’t he?” I deadpan.
And to my amazement, Seven begins to chuckle. “He certainly has,” she replied.
Maybe it was latent hysteria. Maybe it was the absurdity of the situation. Maybe it was just relief. But at that moment, we began to laugh.
And kept on laughing.
And the more we tried to stop, the worse it got.
Finally, though, we did stop, wiping the tears from our eyes.
“He’d be mortified, you know, if he’d seen that,” she said, gasping a bit.
I get up to grab a couple of tissues. “Yes, he would be,” I say, handing her one. “Then again, I’m not planning on telling him. Are you?’
She chuckles again as she dabs her eyes. “Highly unlikely.”
I sit back down and look at her. She has turned out well, I think with some motherly pride. “I’ve missed you, Seven,” I say simply.
She looks at me and smiles again. “And I’ve also missed you.”
“You still play Velocity?” I ask.
That brought another chuckle. “It’s been years. Do you?”
I nod. “Occasionally.” A thought occurs to me. “If you’d like to stay for dinner, we could run over to the Academy’s courts afterwards.”
She looks at the chronometer with some regret. “I would like that, but I must catch the transport. Peter is at a symposium in Oregon, and I have promised to meet him there tonight. Another time?”
“Definitely,” I say.
I walk with her to the door. “Let’s keep in touch. I don’t want to lose you for another seven years.” I say, and I’m a bit surprised to see the tears form in her eyes. She’s not giving in, though. “Goodbye, Admiral,” she says softly, offering me her hand.
Instead, I open my arms to her, and she eagerly accepts my embrace, just the way my sons do when they need comforting.
We hold onto each other for a bit, then teary-eyed, both pull apart.
I stand on the step and watch until she turns the corner. And I wonder, almost idly, if she really will keep in touch. Perhaps she will, I decide, though I know the intimacy we once shared has long been broken. I doubt we will ever have that game of Velocity.
But that’s all right, too, I suppose. Sometimes being a mother – of any sort – means letting go.
My reverie is interrupted by the arrival of the school transport, which deposits my eldest son on the sidewalk. Edward charges toward me, jacket and bookbag flying, to catch me in an exuberant hug.
“How’s my boy?” I ask. “Have a good day?”
He nods, then looks closely at me.. “Mom? Have you been crying? Your face is wet.”
“I have been crying, Edward,” I admit. “But it’s all right.”
He’s obviously puzzled. “Are you sad about something?”
I hug him again to reassure him. “Nope, believe it or not, I’m not the least bit sad.”
He’s not buying it. “Then why were you crying? Is Icheb OK?”
“He’s fine, honey.” I pause. “I just saw someone from my ship. Someone I haven’t seen in a very long time. I’m just relieved to know that she’s OK.”
I take him by the hand and head inside. “Come on, Mrs. Carroll just baked cookies. And I bet Sam has something to show you when we get through ….”