Peter collects coins, flipping them into cups and twisting them through his fingers to pass the endless hours in bed.
He has wheat pennies and buffalo nickels and a lucky silver dollar. His mother gives him three silver ten pence pieces with crowned lions roaring across the faces, an octagonal fifty pence piece and a tarnished gold pound coin with PLEIDIOL WYF I'M GWLAD inscribed along the edge. “It means ‘true am I to my country,’" she whispers into his ear, brushing a kiss against his cheek as she leans back.
“True am I to my country,” Peter repeats, flicking the coin into the air with a thumbnail and catching it in a fist.
After he gets better, Peter puts his coins away except for the lucky silver dollar that flips and flashes through his fingers over and over. There are more interesting things to play with now that he’s free to explore, to have adventures and sit outside the beach house staring at the ocean. It seems to go on forever.
On a rainy day, Peter opens the battered tackle box that houses his old coins. “True am I to my country,” he remembers, picking up the pound coin and letting his eyes sweep the familiar phrase along the edge.
Except the phrase is not familiar. DECUS ET TUTAMEN the coin reads and Peter almost drops it in surprise. The picture is different too, no longer a coronet but a coat of arms.
He brings the coin to where his mother is reading in the living room. “Mom,” he asks, “what does this say?”
His mother looks up from her book. She squints at the tiny lettering, “DECUS ET TUTAMEN. It means ‘an ornament and a safeguard.’"
Peter feels the phantom brush of a kiss against his cheek. “But it used to say, ‘true am I to my country,’” he argues, sure.
“Oh Peter, it’s always said that,” his mother laughs, waving him away. Her smile is too bright, the corners of her lips tight and sharp.
Peter flicks the coin into the air with a thumbnail and catches it in a fist. Then he puts it back in the box.
Peter reaches under his bed to pull out his favorite, well-worn issue of Red Lantern/Red Arrow only to find a comic book featuring a hero called Green Lantern and no mention of Red Arrow at all.
Something in his chest gives a shudder.
He tucks the feeling away with the blue of his bedspread, the white of the shutters, the way his mother doesn't make bacon anymore and how his father no longer kisses him goodnight.
Green is Peter's favorite color anyway.
When the school bus arrives, Peter's mother almost doesn't let go of his shoulders, like it's his first ever day of school all over again instead of just his first day of sixth grade.
Peter lets her brush back his hair and fuss with the zipper of his jacket without complaint. When he looks out the window as the bus pulls away, he thinks she might be crying.
In history class Ms. Allen gives a lesson about John F. Kennedy, as if they've already forgotten learning it last year. Peter follows along in the textbook dutifully regardless.
He's listlessly turning a page when Ms. Allen says, "On November 22nd, 1963, President Kennedy was visiting Dallas, Texas when he was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald. Oswald fired a rifle at the President's motorcade from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository..."
Peter sits up straight. Last year they'd learned President Kennedy was shot by Robert Samuels from atop a grassy knoll.
He turns the page to see an unsmiling photograph of a young man with dark eyes. Lee Harvey Oswald the caption reads.
Peter feels betrayed without knowing why. He closes his history text and takes out his math workbook, flipping three chapters ahead of the class and feverishly solving the equations. The numbers, at least, look the same.
Peter's best friend is Sean Walker. He lives across the street, and every Monday afternoon they watch Batman cartoons together.
The first Monday afternoon that his parents will let him go outside after his father cures him, Peter runs across the street to watch Batman with Sean. At his excited knock, Mrs. Walker opens the door, smiling at him. "Well, hello. What's your name?" she asks.
"I'm Peter Bishop," Peter answers, confused. He's known Sean and his family since he was five years old.
Mrs. Walker's smile goes frozen. "Does your mother know you're here, sweetheart?" she questions, glancing across the street at Peter's house.
"Yes," Peter confirms. "Is Sean home?"
"Sean," Mrs. Walker calls hesitantly down the hallway. "Peter is here to see you."
A boy with sandy blonde hair comes barreling into the foyer. "Hello," he says. "I'm Sean. Do you like Batman?"
Peter already knows that Sean's favorite dinosaur is the raptor, that he'll do almost anything for a chocolate chip cookie, that when they play cops and robbers, Sean likes to be the cop.
Sean doesn't remember that Peter's favorite dinosaur is the triceratops, that he'll do almost anything for a slice of pecan pie, that when they play cops and robbers, Peter likes to be the robber.
But Peter doesn't mind teaching Sean those things again. Best friends look out for each other.
It's past midnight.
"Peter," his father says softly from beside the door, where he is unwinding his scarf and removing his new overcoat. "What are you doing?"
Peter dreams more now than he used to. He wakes up in the middle of the night feeling out of place, out of phase.
All Peter wanted was a glass of water. But the glasses aren't in the right place anymore. He's opened half the cabinets in the kitchen, finding pots and pans and plates but no glasses, and he's left all the doors ajar to make sure he doesn't double back.
"I just wanted some water," Peter explains, watching something flash through his father's eyes.
"I think your mother rearranged the kitchen," his father offers, and it comes out flat, like a lie, but Peter can't imagine why his father would lie about something like that.
His father reaches unerringly into the furthest cabinet on the left, the last place Peter would have looked, and pulls out Peter's favorite cup, Green Lantern etched on the side. He steps over to the sink and turns on the faucet, holding a finger under the tap until it runs cold before filling the glass halfway to the brim and handing it to Peter.
"Thanks, Dad," Peter says quietly.
The next night Peter snaps awake at 1:14. His arms tingle with phantom frostbite.
He sneaks downstairs for a glass of water and he's already opening the cabinet to the right of the sink before he remembers that Mom rearranged the kitchen. But when he opens the door, the glasses are where they should be, his Green Lantern cup on the bottom shelf, in easy reach.