Peter is my best friend.
More so than any of my other children, Peter and I enjoy each other. We laugh and cook and clean and I even teach him some of my potions, though to truly work they need a bit of my magic. He helps me through grieving when Lionel, Abigail, and Theodosia leave. He becomes close with Abram, who is only a few months older than him, and helps me with the two girls I save a few months apart a year after he came home with me. Peter and I explore The Wood and meet all the creatures that loan me their gifts and strengths. He listens to my teachings and even comes with me once when I go to save a child. That one ended up refusing me, though. That doesn’t happen often, but enough to make me question everything I do.
Peter keeps my spirits up on my days when I don’t know what to do. He celebrates with me on birthdays. Peter is my best friend.
That’s why when he turns seventeen, I cry more than I celebrate.
“What’s wrong, Mama?” he asks, after his party when I hide alone in my bedroom.
I shake my head, telling him to go be with his siblings. But he ignores me and sits on the edge of my bed. He’s still wearing a paper crown that says, “I’m seventeen” and a sash around his chest that his siblings made.
“Mama?” he repeats.
“Your birthday is for celebrating, my dear boy. I’m so sorry I’m not celebrating now, but I…” I take a deep breath. “I can’t help remembering that the day you turn eighteen is so much closer now. And when you turn–”
“Don’t think about that now, Mama,” Peter says, grabbing my hand. “Today I am Peter, your son who is growing up. Not Peter, your son that does not remember you. That will never happen,” he reaches out and wipes a tear off my cheek. “I will always remember you, Mama. I could never forget you and all you’ve done for me.”
I smile but the world seems stuck in my throat. Peter, with all his courage and love and kindness could never imagine a world where he forgets the source of his hope. Peter, who is too young to realize that the future may not be what he wants. Peter, who has gone through hell but promises to bring heaven to earth.
“Oh, my son,” I say. “But you have no say in that. It is the way it is.” I shake my head. “But we do not have to think about that for another year. Tonight, tonight we celebrate the man you are becoming.”
Peter goes with me into town. He takes me to bakeries and stores and teaches me about what’s happening in the world beyond The Wood. Peter takes care of the young children. Halfway through his seventeenth year, I bring home a pair of twin girls who are only three years old and Peter is instrumental in bringing them into the family and helping them be comfortable. He helps me with lessons during the day and chores at night.
Then his eighteenth birthday is almost a week away and I don’t know that I will make it through this one.
Over the years, I have seen dozens of children turn eighteen, leave The Wood, and never return. I’ve mourned several children that do not remember my existence. I’ve cried and missed them, but no feeling comes close to the fear I feel of losing Peter. My best friend, my son. The boy I cannot bear to lose will leave me in less than a week.
“I will never forget you, Mama!” he yells, one night.
We are standing in the garden. All the other children are asleep. The onions and potatoes are growing fast and the trees above us are rustling in the wind.
“I could never forget you!” his words are thick with tears.
“But don’t you see,” I’m already crying and I’m desperate for him to understand. “You have no choice. You do not get to choose to remember. It is the curse. You will no longer remember me. You will have a pleasant memory of your childhood, of your mother who does not look like me. Of–”
“No!” he shouts, choking around a fresh wave of tears. “No. Screw the curse. You saved me. You’re my childhood. My best friend. Mama, I would not be here if it wasn’t for you. How could I ever forget you?”
I feel the energy drain from me. I’ve never known a child to hate this as much as I. “We are nothing against the old magic, Peter. I’m sorry. I do not want you to forget me either, but you will be a great man. You will change nations and influence generations. You will spread love and hope among the children. You will be a king amongst dreams and proof that anything is possible. Peter, my son, you are more than I will ever be. You do not need me to follow the path laid out for you.”
Tears fall down Peter’s cheek. He wipes them away, stares up at the sky, and sighs. “I may not need you,” he reaches out and grabs both of my hands, “but I want you.”
He goes to sleep that night, sad and afraid, but at peace. I kiss his forehead and stand in his doorway until way past the morning hours. I feel desperate to soak up ever minute I may have with him.
It’s the next night when I feel something is desperately wrong in the house. I can tell it’s coming from Peter’s room and I think the worse. I drop the cup in my hand and it shatters on the floor before I run to his room.
He’s sitting on his bed, holding an empty bottle.
“What did you do?” I gasp.
He looks up at me, his eyes red. “I can’t forget you, Mama,” he says.
The bottle once held an anti-aging potion. I step forward, my throat closing in and my stomach dropping. “Peter–”
“It’s okay, Mama. I want this.” Peter says. His face is blank, his eyes glassy as if paused in time.
I reach out and grab the bottle. It’s completely empty. I look up at Peter and see a flushed expression, sweat clinging to his forehead, and shining eyes.
There is no reversing the effects now.
“Peter. What did you do?”
Peter smiles. “I’ll never forget you now.”
He stays with me in The Wood for ten more years, forever seventeen, before he gets tired of the daily routine. Though he leaves me, he comes back to visit often. Each time he comes with new stories of the children he’s helped. He uses all I’ve taught him, the lessons he’s learned; to make the difference I always knew he could.
He saves children just like his Mama. He takes them from their homes and shows them how to be Forever Magical. Forever Young.
His children call him Peter Pan.