That Awkward Moment
by Audrey Lynne
April 6, 2002
Peter Venkman grinned to himself as he turned the corner and began heading down the hall toward the main office of Manhattan Preparatory Academy's middle school division. It was one of the larger and best private schools in the city, and though it didn't come without its price tag, the cost was worth it. Peter had absolutely nothing against New York City's public schools – they'd done their job for him – but all parents wanted the best possible education for their children. More personalized attention. And, in Peter's case, a certain amount of shielding from the media.
Brendan, like his father, was not one to shy away from attention, but like any other nearly fourteen-year-old, he wanted it on his terms. Since Peter had been introduced to his son, he knew that crazy people were out there – he'd run into more than a few in his time. When he and Lisa Stanley, Brendan's mother, were together as a couple, they'd spend more time in the tabloids than not. So, together, they had made some decisions concerning how much exposure they were going to allow Brendan to have. Publicly, to keep him safe from the lunatic fringe, they had never confirmed or denied Peter's status as Brendan's father, but it was frankly New York's worst-kept secret. Nearly every reporter or photographer who saw the attention and time Peter lavished upon his ex-girlfriend's son had figured it out. A few were wary to speculate, remembering that Peter had also been very fond of Oscar Barrett before the torrid rekindling of Peter and Dana's romance had once again imploded.
Peter spent a lot of time at his son's school. They, naturally, knew the truth about Brendan's parentage, but were always discreet. Of course, they got paid to do that. Peter had seen other children of celebrities in the halls, often with bigger name recognition than any of the Ghostbusters. That day, Peter was there for two reasons – the eighth grade Career Day, and to spring Brendan from school because it was a half-day.
Career Day had gone well. Peter was officially there to talk about psychology as a profession, but naturally, he had been peppered with questions about Ghostbusting. He always was whenever he did these things for any school. Peter was happy to answer the questions – he wouldn't admit it to the kids as he tried to redirect the topic back to the life of a psychologist, but he loved to talk about the career he and his friends had invented. Since they'd franchised into Ghostbusters, Incorporated, with a second team in New York and a handful of locations in major cities across the country, it was entirely possible that some of today's questions would turn into tomorrow's answer to paranormal investigation and control.
Peter was on his way to the office to meet Brendan, when the open locker at the end of the hallway swung shut and he was greeted with a familiar smile. "Hi, Dad."
Peter strode forward to meet Brendan and swung an arm around Brendan's shoulders – the closest thing to a public hug the boy would allow these days. He and Peter were close, but Brendan had his teenage pride. "Hiya, Tiger. Sneaking up on me?"
"Actually, I got out of my last class early." Brendan shrugged. "We had a study hall, so I got a pass to the office because I knew you were coming."
"Fair enough," Peter said. "Come on, let's get there and sign out so I can legally spirit you away from here."
"Cool." Brendan actually liked school and was a good student, but he wasn't exactly disappointed at an early release.
The middle school was a bit of a maze, with additions to the original structure linked by twisting hallways. Peter and Brendan turned into another hall, and Peter noted the presence of another student, carefully tucking a saxophone into its case. "He in your class too?" Peter asked, curious.
Brendan shook his head. "No. I don't really know him, I think he's a seventh-grader. He's in the band."
"I'd guessed that much," Peter told Brendan. He nodded to the boy as they passed, waving as he got a smile of recognition and a lingering, amused look. "Hey, how ya doing?"
The kid shrugged and shook a longish lock of blond hair away from his face. "Fine."
Peter was debating a witty response to this all-too-familiar answer when another voice entered the conversation.
It took Peter a moment to recognize the voice, but when he did, he froze. When he turned and saw her, there was no way he could convince himself he was mistaken – and, worse, no way to leave without exchanging pleasantries. Awkward, awkward pleasantries. "Um, Dana. Hi."
Peter had to try very hard not to crack a smile and playfully cuff his son as Brendan leaned forward to whisper into Peter's ear, "Awk-waaaaaaard."
You don't know the half of it, buddy. It was that much weirder as Peter realized who the kid he was talking to had to be as Dana dropped a hand onto the boy's arm. It was the first time in nearly twelve years he had seen her. The first time in a long time he had even thought much about her when it wasn't prompted by the sight of Sigourney Weaver. The resemblance was only passing, but Dana looked far more like her movie counterpart than Peter did his. Of course, as much as Peter liked Bill Murray as an actor, that wasn't hard.
Now what was Peter supposed to say to the kid? "Oh, hi, you must be Oscar. I might have been your step-dad, but your mom ran off with some fancy-pants guy from her orchestra. Again." Not to mention what must have been going through Brendan's mind. Peter hadn't met Brendan until he was four, a choice on Lisa's part Peter had never been happy with, but that didn't change the fact that Peter had been running around playing daddy to Oscar while Brendan was a toddler. The more he thought about it, the more Peter wished he could teleport himself and Brendan away from the situation and pretend nothing had ever happened. It wasn't the most mature response, but it was a tempting thought.
"How have you been?" Dana asked.
For the past twelve years? Peter thought. He fumbled for words. "I'm...I'm good. You?"
"We're great." Dana included her son in her answer, and Peter wondered if he should have done the same. A quick glance at Brendan didn't provide him any guidance. In fact, the boys had shifted out of the way and were standing off to the side, watching their parents. It had to be strange for them, too.
"Good." Peter shifted his weight from one foot to the other, uneasy.
Dana's gaze shifted to Brendan. Peter watched her carefully, relieved when she smiled without a trace of the jealousy he'd feared. It had been her choice to leave, but in Peter's experience women's emotional states weren't always logical. Especially when it came to Dana Barrett. "This must be your son." She looked back at Peter, a question in her eyes, allowing him to challenge her conclusion.
Peter nodded. "Yeah, this is Brendan." He felt very weird, introducing Dana to his son, who had been the product of a relationship that fell between the two attempts at a life together he'd made with Dana. She had been a hard habit to break, and Peter didn't have the fallback of a strong friendship with her that he had built with Lisa in the years since they'd met again. With Dana, he wasn't even sure he wanted that. He had turned the page to close that chapter of his life years ago.
Brendan waved. "Hi."
Dana smiled again. "Oscar made first chair on the saxophone."
Peter looked at Oscar, who nodded shyly. "Congratulations." He paused, trying to immediately volunteer one of Brendan's latest accomplishments, but it was harder than he would have liked. Brendan tended to be a kid who liked a lot of things, but didn't feel the need to devote himself exclusively to any of them. His keen interest in the paranormal was not unexpected, but as he was still too young for Peter to feel comfortable training him on any of the Ghostbusters' equipment, save for the occasional trap-cleaning, even that was difficult to quantify.
Brendan was happy to jump in. "I rode every subway line in the city last summer. End to end."
Peter chuckled at the memory, because that was exactly the sort of thing he loved about his son. It was something few residents of New York had ever done, but that was Brendan, with his quirky passions. "Yeah, among other things." He had to do at least a little bragging of his own.
Dana didn't seem to be sure what to make of that one, but she didn't question it. Of course, Peter had learned long ago that Dana's world was music and it took effort for her to step outside of that. "It must have been interesting."
"Oh, yeah." Brendan turned a serious look in Oscar's direction. "Don't get off the L train in the middle. It's kind of freaky waiting for the next one."
Oscar cracked a smile. "I'll remember that."
Out of all the questions Peter had about the end of his breakup with Dana, the only one that had stuck with him over the years was how Oscar was doing. Apparently, he needn't have worried. But deep down, Peter had suspected that. Dana might have had issues as a partner, but Peter knew she was a good mother. It was one of the few things they had in common, other than their shared experiences and sensitivity whenever the subject of demonic possession came up. He was much better at being a father than he was in long-term relationships. Friendship, he did well. When it came to romance, he had made a few stabs at getting serious, but none of them had lasted. Peter enjoyed flirting with Lisa occasionally, but he was afraid to take it any further. He remembered their breakup too well, the same drama that had convinced Lisa to raise their son alone before she reconsidered and chose to give Peter a chance to meet and bond with Brendan. Peter cherished the friendship they'd built since then and he didn't want to toy with her or Brendan by asking for anything more. In a strange way, he was glad he'd run into Dana. It reconfirmed for him that he was happy with his life, that he had come to terms with what he and Dana had shared, and that he wasn't even tempted to reach for what he was once denied. He didn't want it anymore.
The second Ghostbusters movie had taken a lot of Hollywood liberties, some Peter and his friends were still unhappy about – it was definitely a bad idea to ask Janine her opinion on the subject of the romance with Louis Tully – but it had gotten one thing right. Peter had been quick to go back to Dana, thinking he could get it right the second time around. But after the second breakup, he had finally come to the conclusion that it wasn't him. They simply didn't belong together, and he had moved on, finally.
Peter spent most of the next awkward silence contemplating how to best extricate himself from the conversation when Brendan nudged him. "We're gonna be late."
They didn't have anything planned for the afternoon beyond hanging out together, but Peter was not one to look a gift horse and a smart kid in the mouth. "What's that?"
"You know, lunch with Mom. We're gonna be late, and you know how she hates that."
"Oh, right. Yeah." Peter shrugged at Dana. "We'd better get going. It was, uh, good seeing you again." He smiled at Oscar. "Take care of yourself."
"Maybe we'll see each other again sometime, with both of the boys here," Dana said.
"Maybe," Peter echoed as he waved goodbye, not adding that he was completely okay with it if they didn't. After a few more twists and turns in the hallways, he and Brendan reached the main office, and Peter tousled Brendan's hair. "You're the best."
Brendan scowled without menace as he made a show of smoothing his hair back into place. "Yeah, but don't let it get around."
Peter snorted. "Yeah, you've got a reputation to maintain. I've heard that before. You know where? Me." He finished the paperwork to collect his son, a whole ten minutes early at that point, and headed toward the door with Brendan. "You okay?"
"What, about that back there?" Brendan guessed. "Yeah, I'm fine. I didn't date her."
"Yeah, but..." Peter let it go, knowing better than to make it an issue if it wasn't.
Brendan got it. "You didn't know about me then. You've been around since you did. I'm cool with that."
Peter regretted not being there in the earliest years and he knew Lisa had apologized more times than necessary. They couldn't change the past – but Brendan was right, Peter had done the best he could since he and Brendan had been introduced. Brendan was the only person more important to Peter than his friends were, and they meant more to him than his own father, sad as that was sometimes. They'd certainly been there for him more often. Peter loved his father, but he knew he had always wanted more, and he tried his best to make sure Brendan never had to feel the same. "Thanks, Tiger. All the same, I wouldn't recommend mentioning this little encounter to your mom." Surely Lisa had felt something over watching Peter devote himself to Oscar while she was raising Brendan. She had never brought it up, though, and Peter had followed suit.
"You didn't know," Brendan repeated. "She gets it. But, yeah, we can keep this on the down low."
Peter nodded, satisfied, as they stepped out into the parking lot. He reached into his pocket for his cell phone, inspired by Brendan's earlier suggestion. "So, did you want to do lunch with your mom for real?"
"Sure, if she's free." Brendan grinned. "So, I was thinking, maybe I could get into improv or something."
Peter laughed. "You'd be a natural at it. You come from a long line of people who had to think on their feet to survive." He unlocked his Mustang so Brendan could climb into the front seat, then hit the speed dial on his phone for Lisa's office. She answered after the second ring rather than screening via voicemail as she did when she was swamped, so Peter took it as a good sign. "Hey, Li. Want to get away from the wild world of advertising for awhile? I picked up this kid downtown, and so far he's pretty good company..."