At sixteen, Wendy sees him out of the corner of her eye. He is glimpsed in panes of glass, in crowds, in puddles between the cobblestones-- everywhere, in short, he ought not to be.
It ought to be shocking. It ought to be unpleasant. But it is neither, and that is the true surprise.
Sixteen is a strange year, for Wendy. She is not quite grown-up, but she is, of course, far too old to believe in fairies. And yet she can never quite bring herself to say so. In the Darling household, such sentiments would be far from welcome; her brothers and her cousin would never forgive her, should she utter such a sentence out loud, and even Father would look at her with disappointment in his eyes. But then, the Darlings are not quite an ordinary family, with their pack of boy-children who look nothing alike, and their large, comfortable house paid for with pirate treasure.
Peter Pan is spoken of often in their home, and with great fondness; Father and Mother feel they owe him a great debt, for bringing them their no-longer-Lost Boys. There is always a window left open for him, somewhere in the house, though he has never used it yet, and Aunt Millicent speaks disapprovingly of drafts and night air. But there is another whose name is not often mentioned, and it is he who Wendy finds herself glimpsing, here and there, never where she should expect him. Not that she should expect him at all.
She sees him in the blue, blue eyes of a boy at school, and in the peacocky pride of a sea-captain's portrait at the National Gallery. She hears his voice, the beguiling tones that can so swiftly change to violent anger, in the mouth of an actor in a play.
In the carriage home from the theatre she thinks to mention it, but she keeps her tone light and careless in case her family should laugh. "The villain reminded me rather of Hook, I thought," she says, but amends it when every eye is fixed on her. "Well, only a very little."
John looks scornful, and Michael thoughtful, but it is Tootles who nods and answers. (He is Arthur, now, to his schoolmates and the rest of the world, but among family he shall always be Tootles.) "I saw it, too," he says. "It was the voice, wasn't it?"
"Exactly so," replies Wendy, relieved. One by one her brothers and Slightly nod in agreement. Aunt Millicent purses her lips-- Captain Hook is highly improper-- and Father exchanges a worried look with Mother, but the moment passes. Wendy catches sight of Hook less and less often, as the days pass, and in time she dismisses him with the rest of her childhood fancies. Which means, of course, that he is never so very far from her thoughts as all that.
At twenty, Wendy has a dozen suitors, and wants nothing to do with them. If they remind her of Peter, is because they are too boyish; if they remind her of Hook, is it because they are not boyish enough. She will not have a husband who does nothing but remind her of girlish fantasies, long since discarded. The calf-eyed young men in their starched collars and neatly combed hair cannot even hold a candle to the imaginings of a twelve-year-old girl, and she scorns them one and all.
The one she chooses, in the end, reminds her of no one but himself. Much to Wendy's surprise, she finds that the hidden kiss at the corner of her mouth is meant for him, and no one else. She grants it to him happily, and they are married in the springtime, in the garden of Wendy’s parents’ house, with her family about her and every window flung open. Aunt Millicent cries.
At twenty-four, Wendy is a mother. She finds that she loves her daughter with a fierceness she never expected. She would duel a dozen pirates to keep Jane safe, would swim across a lagoon full of mermaids to reach her, would fly halfway ‘round the world to make her happy. She shudders at the thought of coming into the nursery to find the lamps dark and the bed empty and the window open; more than once, she dreams of this, and wakens with a gasp and a sob. Her husband, who knows a little of the family history, rubs her back until she falls back into uneasy sleep.
At twenty-eight, Wendy tells stories. Jane is endlessly hungry for them, never satisfied with just one. And when Wendy has exhausted the books of fairy tales and myths that clutter Jane’s nursery, she turns to stories of Neverland. She thinks she spies a shadow at the window, once or twice, but she can never be entirely sure of what she sees. Jane does not notice a thing, and drinks up the Neverland tales exactly as she did all the rest. It never occurs to her that her own mother could be a character in such a story: for Jane, Wendy knows, mothers are not creatures that have adventures.
At thirty-two, it comes full circle. Jane and her cousins play at being Peter Pan and his Lost Boys (“Lost *Children,* Jane and the girl-cousins remind them primly), and Jane takes it in turns to play the parts of Pan and Tink and Princess Tiger Lily. One day Wendy comes out to the garden to find Jane chasing her smaller cousins around the birdbath, one hand held in a an upraised curve. “I’ll plunge my hook in you!” she cries, and the smaller ones giggle and shriek with delight.
Wendy has never spoken to her daughter of Captain Hook, and she does not think her brothers have told their children. “Wherever did you hear of him?” she asks, and Jane looks at her as if it were perfectly obvious.
“It wouldn’t be a proper Neverland without a Captain Hook, Mama,” she says, all innocence, and shortly thereafter is terrorizing the little ones again.
Wendy locks the nursery window tight, after that.
It does not work, of course; Peter is, as Wendy well knows, a determined soul. One night not so very much later, a sleep-over with the cousins ends in empty beds and an open window, and the nightlights all blown out. Wendy lives with her heart in her mouth until they return, dirty and disheveled and bursting with happy stories, entirely insensible to their parents’ distress. Children can be heartless creatures.
While her brothers welcome their children home, overcome with joy, Wendy looks to the window. A slight, slim shadow is hovering there, and when she parts the curtain there hangs Peter in the air, his eyes as alight with mischief as they always were. Wendy feels terribly old.
But he bows to her from his place in midair, and calls her ‘Wendy lady’ just as he might have when she was a girl. “You looked after my Jane, I hope,” she says.
“She doesn’t need looking after,” he says scornfully. “She fought three pirates to a standstill! It was very impressive.”
Wendy looks over her shoulder, and sees Jane demonstrating something for her father, hand upraised in a hook again. “I thought Captain Hook was eaten by the crocodile,” she notes.
“Oh, it was no fun without him,” Peter says airily. “So I made the crocodile spit him out.”
“Of course you did,” says Wendy. “Of course.” She cannot help but shiver at the thought of her Jane facing Hook, but she seems to have come out of it all right.
“Will you come back?” she asks, not sure what she wants the answer to be.
“As long as you tell stories, I’ll come back,” Peter promises.
“Then I shall tell them as often as I can,” she promises the motherless boy. Her heart aches for him, a little, in ways it never did when she was a girl. She hopes that someday he does decide to embark on the next great adventure, but somehow, deep in her bones, she knows he never will.
Peter flies away, and Wendy returns to her family. She sweeps Jane up in a hug, drops a kiss upon her husband’s dear balding head, and, for the last time, shuts Neverland away in its drawer.
Wendy is quite grown-up now, and, at long last, she understands what that means.