The Second Time Around

By

Pat Foley

This is a coda to To Begin Anew. Not the sequel, that novel is still waiting to go up.

Like most people in Fleet, I have trouble with commitment. If I didn't, I wouldn't have spent years flying around the galaxy in a tin can. With commitment, comes the possibility of loss.

My first divorce was amicable, as these things go. My wife got tired of the hours a doctor works. She wanted more social standing and she thought she was marrying into that. My family had been in Georgia a few hundred years. But I was never one for stiff collars and fancy parties. Turned out she loved those rather than me. I found myself more and more taking those emergency surgeries, and letting Gracie go onto the parties by herself. She wasn't about to stand for that. I knew that. Maybe I was hoping for it. If so, she didn't disappoint me.

But I really shot myself in the foot when it came to custody. Those long hours at the hospital. And hospitals keep records. Her lawyer pulled them all, and it made me look pretty bad in the parenting department. And in this day and age, even a doctor father has no excuse for that. Didn't matter that I usually got home before Gracie did from her parties. And a lot more sober. There weren't any official records of the parties. And I wasn't the type of man to drag her through the mud. Just sat there, trying not to look sucker - punched as her lawyer dredged up every last bit of overtime. The judge wasn't so sympathetic. Didn't matter that I had usually been the one tucking JoAnna in at night or getting up for her bad dreams, taking her to the zoo on Sunday, while Gracie went from brunches to tea parties to dinner parties, to where dinner parties go when the wife doesn't care if her husband is home or not. Or whom she goes home with. Gracie got full custody. Full custody. I got alimony and child support payments, and not much else.

The worst part of it was I let JoAnna down. My sweet little girl. I can still see her face, that day after the hearing, when she realized she wasn't coming home with her Daddy.

So you can see why I wasn't eager for more of that kind of commitment.

I would have been though. If I had just understood. If I had made you tell me. If you could have trusted me. Trusted me at first, and not at last, when by then it was too late.

Like JoAnna did.

We could have gotten off planet if I had known. My god, Jim got you on planet. I'd defy anyone who'd say he couldn't smuggle one small part-Vulcan package off planet, by transporter beam if necessary, illegal and super-regulated as Terra is in that regard. And then we would have had a galaxy of worlds to choose from. Surely we could have found one that had room for a pretty fine doctor, and a half pint kid, green blooded or not. Far off the beaten path, away from prying eyes, Federation red tape, and the long arm of Vulcan justice.

You could have told me.

But maybe you knew. Knew that I was afraid of commitment. I've said a lot of things on drunken shore leaves, and I might have said too much. Jim wouldn't remember, but you, you sharp eared Vulcan, sober as a judge, you'd take everything down into that razor keen memory of yours and like a Vulcan, dredge it all up at the worst time.

Didn't you know I didn't mean it? It wouldn't have mattered. I would have kept you, hid you, found a place for you, until you grew enough to take on your demons. It would have been all right. My god, I've taken your father apart and put him back together on my very operating table. He's just flesh and blood, even if green. Not all that formidable. Not a god, not a legend.

Who am I kidding?

In your eyes, he's all of Vulcan in one package, all that you feel you can't measure up to. More than just feel it, like you must have felt as a child. This time you're an adult and you have had experience enough to know it. Know all the areas that you're going to fall short, to fail in, to fail him. Bad enough to hit those the first time, growing up. No one should have to face them a second time around. I remember when my Daddy and me – well, enough of that. Enough of me.

But it blurs together in my mind. When I first got divorced, friends urged me to take the plunge again. Find another girl, marry, have more kids. They said the second divorce was easier, if it came to that. You get used to the pain. Jaded. You even get blasé about custody.

I never got remarried, as you well know. Never got divorced. Not counting the momentary madness, the annulment with Natira. I couldn't stand the idea of the pain. Couldn't really go through with it. Remembering JoAnna's little eyes, so scared and lost.

And yet somehow, even without a marriage, even without a wife, a divorce, I lost custody again. Now it's your eyes that haunt me. And I'm not jaded, not blasé.

What I want to do, as I never did before, was fight. I would have fought this time. I should have hired Sam Cogley. I should have uprooted us at that first call from him, when he explained what you were up against. When Sam said they'd be looking for you. I didn't really believe that. After all, Sarek let you go into Fleet. Never pulled you back, in eighteen years. Was he keeping tabs on you all that time? Did you know? You must have. Sam did. He even told me as much. And I still didn't act. I should have done something then. When there was time. Maybe we couldn't have fought. Probably not.

But we could have run. Found another home.

I didn't want to rip this home, another home, away from you, that was part of it. But more than that. I was settling my own demons. Having you there eased that long ache of losing JoAnna. I wanted to make it right with you for her. For me. For you, too. And you were happy here, much as you could be. You had your friends, your school, Pony Club. Firecracker. I didn't want you to lose that. I wanted it too. To make it work, here, the second time around. For both of us.

And now I've lost it. And you. We've both lost. Except I'm still here. I can't seem to leave.

I keep things pretty much as they were. Your barn jacket is still on the hook by the kitchen door. Your school kept calling, till I told them – I don't even know what I told them. Just enough so they stopped calling. Devon, Jess, Karen, John – I told them you'd been adopted by relations, but they couldn't really accept it, looking at me at first like I handed you off, an inconvenient package. Devon and Jess kept riding over as if you might reappear. Now they see I'm pretty broken up, I guess, but they tactfully don't mention it. But that damn horse still whinnies for you every morning at feeding time. I should sell him. I tell myself I don't because he's not safe to pawn off on some other kid. But that's not it. That's not it at all.

I had promised you I wouldn't sell him. I can't break that promise.

I don't know why I'm keeping everything for you. Sam warned me once that Vulcans play for keeps with offspring, that once your clan got their hands on you, they'd never let you go. I'm not going to get you back. I know that. I talked to Sam after it happened, but he just shook his head and said I had no case. No case. No chance. Not a snowball's chance on Vulcan. Told me to move on. He won't even take my calls now. I suppose he's trying to make that clear.

I know I should. Move on. But I keep your barn jacket by the door. Your school stuff is on your desk upstairs in your room. I keep your horse. I stay here. No case, no chance, I tell myself. Like a litany. And yet another quarter's tuition invoice came from Cotwood and it's sitting on my desk. Tempting me. As if I could pay it and somehow, you'd come back. I'm looking for a miracle. I can't let go.

I could run. Back to Fleet. I'm good at running. Did it before, and I found a home of sorts. Friends.

But friends become obligations. Commitments. Hostages to fortune. And I can't do that, when I have one hostage that I feel still needs me.

I keep seeing your eyes. JoAnna's eyes. Your eyes.

My kids.

The second time around isn't easier. The second time damn near kills you.

The Second Time Around

By

Pat Foley

July 2007

At Brookwood

for all those who keep saying, where's the sequel?