It was lonely at times, though mostly Peter forgot. Daily adventures and swooping romances from various makeshift mothers and fathers had done little to taint Peter’s soft dreams of a happiness that was as yet intangible. If he had any kind of time for real thought, as normal children often did, he might have contemplated what he should do if Wendy grew up and left him. But as it was, he hadn’t bothered to notice her growing up and moving on.
Wendy, of course, tried very hard to appear younger each time Peter came to see her, but the trouble was that sometimes Peter wouldn’t return for years at a time, thinking these absences mere days or hours. The real trouble with growing older was that she couldn’t quite manage to put age on pause for Peter, as she so prayed she could.
Peter still believed her a child, even as she noticed wrinkles at her lips, laugh lines and crows feet littering her cheeks, until one day when it was impossible to hide.
Peter Pan flew in, as always unannounced and called for her. Like the breeze through a cloud, Wendy’s dress rustled behind her as she entered the small nursery, where her own children were laying fast asleep. She was awfully glad it was dark, as she covered her face with her hands and gasped his name in a familiar whimsical tone.
“Wendy!” Peter crowed, but as he rushed at her, he realized his manners and pulled back to wait upon the window’s ledge. He bowed handsomely, and grinned like a fox when Wendy curtseyed to him in response. “Oh Wendy, I’ve wonderful adventures to tell you! Captain Cutthroat has joined up an army and has captured every single fairy, and the Lost Boys and I, we took the ship by storm and even traveled with Indians and formed an alliance to save them!”
As always, Wendy grew lost in Peter’s stories, but it was ten minutes into his tale before he noticed he hadn’t been invited to come further inside the small pale room.
“Mother, may I come in?” he asked, playing the part of her son, and it was this that made Wendy cry.
“Oh Peter, don’t!” she said, the first words she’d truly spoken to him in years. “Peter, please don’t come closer. I will not invite you in!”
The sound of her voice was odd to Peter but as he thought everything a wonderful game, he thought perhaps she was tricking him.
“Are you to tell me I can’t enter my own house, wife?” he asked, puffing his chest and looking at her incredulously, except he wasn’t sure what incredulousness was. Taking a large step in, arms folding, he flew across to her with a knowing look. “You wouldn’t even admit your loving…” With a start, he noticed the sparkle of tears glittering down Wendy’s face, and something tore inside him. He had not shed tears in a very long time and had quite forgotten what they meant. “Why, Wendy!” he said, trying to get closer to her, when at every turn she dodged him, “You…you’re wet!”
“Peter, please,” she begged, shaking her auburn curls and shushing him as they neared the beds, which were full of her own children with another man. “Please don’t come closer – I’m afraid!”
“Afraid?” he bawked, “Afraid of what?” Glancing at the beds Wendy was so careful to try to hide, Peter grinned wolfishly. “Oh, so you’re hiding Pirates here, are you Wendy?” Dying for a good game, Peter easily took on so many roles in one day that he was likely never really Peter Pan at all but a hero, ghost, captor, barbarian, husband, or father instead. And now, he wanted to be the hero that rescued Wendy, the man who freed the captive Indians and slaughtered the sleeping Pirates who had taken them hostage. “Beastly creatures!” Peter howled, “Out of your beds!”
From the nearest bed, covers stirred and a small girl, nearly eight, sat up quietly, rubbing her blue eyes and brushing auburn hair from her face. “Mother?” she whispered, squinting at Wendy and the shadow. “Mother, what’s happening?”
With a burst of terror, Peter flew backwards with a gasp, until his back hit the nearest wall. Shaking, he could feel his chest burning and knew something was amiss. It was the same feeling he had known when Wendy had left, though he was unable to remember it to connect the two events.
“Who calls Wendy mother?” he asked.
In the darkness, Wendy shrunk and took her daughter’s small hand. “Peter, this is Moira. She’s my daughter.”
Always ready for a new game, Peter scoffed. “So she is my daughter too! We can –”
“No,” Wendy said, so sternly it wiped the smile of Peter’s face. “No, Peter, she is not your daughter. This is not a game.” Moving out from the shadows, her middle-aged form coming into full view, she bowed her head, still as beautiful as ever but aged, old, worn. “Moira is my real daughter. Do you understand? She will grow up here, with me.”
The silence that dragged along between the two of them was only broken with the quiet exhales of Moira in her wonderment and the inhales of Peter in slight hysteria. The idea of something not being a game was quite foreign to him, even if he had lived real moments in the past, and even worse was the idea of this girl, Wendy’s daughter, growing up. How could she possibly want to grow up here? The very thought made Peter ill, and when he did not understand something, he merely disengaged from it, made it not so.
With a laugh, he shook the sadness from his face and tousled his hair with the movement. “Ha! She will not grow up! What a horrible thing to say, Wendy. What a –”
“It’s true, though,” Wendy interrupted, imploring him by stepping forward another step, despite her best judgment.
“No!” Peter snapped, and as his eyes fell on Wendy again, his stomach clenched and turned over time and again. With disbelief, he looked upon an aged version of the girl he had just met, though it had been some twenty years since. She was much taller, thicker, and the kiss at the corner of her mouth belonged to someone else.
“I had tried to tell you last time,” Wendy apologized, “But you wouldn’t hear me, and truthfully, I almost didn’t want to spoil it for you. But…well there it is. This is Moira, my daughter, and over there is Marcus and over here in the crib is Benjamin.”
“Mother, is that Peter Pan?” Moira asked, spellbound and in love.
At the sight of the look in her daughter’s eyes, Wendy nodded but raised a hand in a hushing manner. “I will explain later, my darling.” She looked back up at Peter, who was no longer looking at her but instead at the ground, in despair. She had never seen such a look on him, as if his very soul had died. She expected it must have been a surprise to him, a shock, but she had not thought he would look so grave and listless. It was horrifying and sad, and as she approached she could see not only tears but anger in his eyes. It made her shrink away from touching him, though she never had reason to before.
Folding his arms tighter around his small body, Peter Pan suddenly looked frail and helpless, finally appeared just as young as he was. Wendy would have guessed he was merely ten, maybe eleven at most.
“You are,” Peter finally said, his voice the voice of a small child, “You are old, Wendy.”
Years later, Wendy could look back fondly on the poor child’s innocence, at his disbelief and willingness to think one could not grow up, but right then, at that moment, she knew she had betrayed one of the people dearest to her heart.
“Yes, Peter,” she replied, through choked tears, “I am old.”
“I will never grow up,” he argued, more to himself and whatever thoughts were running through his head than to Wendy and her soft-spoken despair. “Never.”
As he darted for the window to leave, Wendy caught his wrist, trembling. “Peter… Peter, will I see you again? Please, will you come back sometime? I’ll tell you stories – I have endless amounts of them!”
“No, I don’t think I shall be interested.”
And this was the last time Wendy saw Peter.