EMPTY NEST SYNDROME

AN: I'm in a writing frenzy this week. I think it's excitement over the return of my favorite show! :-D Happy Scorp Monday!

Paige woke with a start, shivering even under the blankets. She automatically reached across to the opposite side of the bed.

He wasn't there. The covers were cool. Without Walter's warmth next to her, she'd gotten too chilly.

It wasn't all that unusual for her genius husband to get up and prowl during the night. He didn't typically require as much sleep as most people and if he was unable to shut down enough to drift off, he would often get up and work on a project or do some reading until he began to feel drowsy.

It wasn't like him to get up during the night once he was sleeping soundly though. But he'd been more restless than she'd ever seen him the last couple of nights. Understandable as she'd had her own issues too.

Sighing, she sat up and swung her legs over the edge of the bed shuffling her feet around looking for her slippers. It was best to go search him out to see if she could get him to open up about what was on his mind. He would never relax otherwise and neither of them would get any sleep.

She listened briefly, but didn't hear him in the master bathroom and there was no light shining under the door.

Paige found her robe draped over the chair by the bed and pulled it on, rubbing her arms up and down trying to get warm as she padded out the bedroom door into the hallway which was dimly illuminated by a night light. Ralph's bathroom door was open and the interior of the room was dark, so Walter wasn't in there either.

She didn't see a light on in the living room. Thinking he might have fallen asleep on the couch, she peered over the back to check. Nope. No Walter. And he wasn't in the kitchen or dining area either.

Did he leave the condo? Where would he go at three AM? But, no, by the porch light shining through the big picture window, she could make out his car keys on the hook by the front door.

Would he have gone for a walk? Surely he wouldn't have done that without telling her, would he?

She was about to go back to the bedroom to get her phone off the nightstand when something occurred to her.

Paige stepped into Ralph's bedroom. Outlined by the moonlight pouring in, she saw Walter's silhouette sitting on the end of their son's bed, staring at his hands in his lap.

"There you are," she said, a smile in her voice.

He turned toward her, but she couldn't see his expression when he answered quietly. "Yes. I'm here. Sorry if I woke you."

"It's okay."

Silence fell as she walked over and sat next to him. She took his hand and waited, knowing the words would come when he was ready.

"Don't you think he's a little young? He's only fifteen." He finally asked.

"Walter. We've had this discussion before. If I remember right, you were on the other side of the argument back in May. You were all for this." Paige said with what she hoped was a soothing tone.

"I know, but I've had some time to rethink things. I may have been too quick to dismiss your arguments back then. Maybe we should go get him."

"We agreed to give it some time, didn't we? It's only six weeks and he's getting college credit for this. You're the one who kept gushing about what a great opportunity NASA summer science camp is for him. You said it was a privilege to be invited."

"I did not gush. And I know all that, but… It's half way across the country. What if something happens and we're unable to get to him?" He was squeezing her hand now.

"Okay, Mr. Logic. Run the odds. Isn't that what you did when I said that very same thing to you at the end of the school year? And what did you tell me?" Paige tipped her head to rest against his shoulder.

"You're right. I did run the odds and I know logically he's safe and we have private planes and helicopters at our disposal if we needed to get to him. But I've only had brief communication with him twice since he left."

She sat up straight again. "Wait. What? He wasn't supposed to take any personal electronic devices with him. It's against the rules."

"We might have hidden a phone inside a camera. For-for emergency purposes, you know." Walter swallowed and looked up cautiously as if expecting a scolding.

Slipping her fingers out of his, she crossed her arms and adopted a mock severe tone when in truth her heart was melting from his concern. "You? Breaking the rules? Bucking authority? And teaching my son to do the same? I can't believe it."

"I know. I know. It's stupid." The quiet fell again. Walter ran agitated fingers through his hair making it stand on end. Then he mumbled almost to himself. "I woke up wanting to tell him about an idea I had, and… I miss him."

Paige didn't think it was possible to fall in love all over again. But in that moment, she absolutely did. She leaned against her precious genius again and in a reassuring voice, she said, "We're going to make it. It's only five more weeks and he'll be home."

"Five weeks, two days…" Walter glanced at the bedside clock, "eighteen hours and fifty-two minutes." He finished glumly.

She hid her smile against his arm and whispered, "I love you."

He brightened slightly at that statement of fact and returned, "I love you, too."

Then he sighed as muttered, "But what are we going to do it he wants to go away to college?"