LittleMatt's The Error - Final Chapter Posted 6/21/2022

“Good morning mommy,” Tommy said as he rubbed his eyes.

“Good morning baby.” She replied as she got him out of his crib. She hugged him and sat him down on the changing table. “I sure enjoyed our day yesterday, thanks for hanging out with me,” she said as she unzipped his PJs.

“I had fun too, thanks for taking me.”

She removed his night-time diaper and tossed it into the pail. “We have to go to the store today.” She paused for a moment as she retrieved a fresh one from the diaper stacker. “Which is lucky because you’re almost out of diapers.”

She cleaned and powdered him before setting him down and taping him up. “Try and think if there’s anything you want.”

He was dressed in a pair of blue checkers shorts and a shirt with a simple picture of a sailboat before following her downstairs to the breakfast table. His mommy drank a cup of coffee and ate half a grapefruit while he enjoyed a bowl of strawberry cereal. He peered at the maze on the back of the box. It looked impossible, almost dizzyingly complex. “It must be for big kids,” he thought to himself. He was surprised at himself for not including himself in that category, but it seemed undeniable.

Karen sat down her empty mug. “Almost ready? I’d like to get to the store early.”

He grabbed his bowl and slurped the last of the milk. His mother took one look at him and dunked her napkin in her glass of water. She reached over and wiped a smear of strawberry milk from his mouth. “Keep up like this and I’ll need to get you a bib too.”

“I was going to wipe it off,” he protested.

She patted his head. “I know, I just want to make sure it’s all gone, sweety. Don’t worry about it.” She stood up and grabbed his diaper bag from the counter. “Come on, let’s go.”

As they arrived at the supermarket Tommy noticed several large coin-operated rides outside the entrance. One child was giggling with delight as he rode one shaped like an airplane while his mother watched. He had hold of the pilot’s yolk and was clearly controlling the movement of the ride.

“Wow, that looks fun,” he exclaimed.

“I bet we can find some time for that if you’re a good boy,” she said as she grabbed a cart.

The door slid open and they stepped into the store. A soft chime played over the PA system followed by a cheery voice “Autostockers are active throughout the store. Please ensure that small children are seated inside the shopping cart at all times. Thank your cooperation, and enjoy your shopping experience.”

No sooner were those words out than a golf-cart-sized vehicle sped by before quickly turning and darting down an aisle. A mechanical arm quickly unloaded a few boxes and neatly placed them on the shelf before it sped off. Tommy had little doubt about what was coming next.

Before we could say a word he was plopped down in the front of the cart. “But mommy…” he started.

“You heard what they said. Just let me get what we need and we’ll see about one of those rides outside.”

Tommy watched another Autostocker silently whiz past and realized he was better off not needing to dodge them. “OK mommy” he relented.

“Good boy,” she said as she pushed the cart towards the produce section.

As his mother filled the basket Tommy sat in his perch and observed as people went about their shopping. He became aware of dryness in his throat. “I’m kind of thirsty,” he said as she placed a bag of carrots into the cart.

“There you go baby,” she said as she took a bottle from his diaper bag.

“Thanks, mommy,” he said as she went off in search of more vegetables.

He looked around. The crowd in the store was growing. He saw elementary school-aged children simply walking along behind their parents, free of any shopping cart confines. He watched as one girl left to another part of the store to help her mother find something. An awareness of himself sitting in this cart sucking on his bottle began to dawn on him. Then he looked further down the aisle and saw another boy contentedly enjoying his bottle, obviously unworried by anything around him. With a smile, Tommy went back to nursing.

She returned and began pushing the cart towards the next aisle. She smiled at him“You really were thirsty,” she ruffled his hair.

“This stuff is pretty good I guess,” he said.

“Well I know just the place to get more,” she said as she turned down an aisle stocked with stacks of diapers and other baby products. She took a package from the shelf and sat it in the basket. She looked at him slyly “How about some strawberry flavor for a treat? You seem to like that.”

He shifted around bashfully. “Thanks, mommy.”

“You’re welcome, honey,” she said as she moved down the aisle scanning the bags of diapers. As she started grabbing several bags Tommy heard a small but familiar voice.

“Hi Tommy,” Josh said excitedly.

Tommy looked over at the boy from the pizza place seated in another cart. “Oh, hi,” he replied.

“Stocking up too?” Nicole said as she set a few packages in her cart.

“Oh, hi Nicole. I didn’t see you there.” Karen said in surprise “Yeah, they’re having a sale so I thought I’d grab enough to last a while. These are great, I thought we were going to have a disaster yesterday but they held up.”

Tommy glanced at his shoes.

“The designs are cute, but we haven’t had any luck with them at night” Nicole replied.

“I put Tommy in these at night,” Karen said as she reached for some night-time diapers “He’s soaked in the morning, but no leaks.” She tussled his hair as he blushed.

“Maybe I’ll give them a try,” Nicole said as she grabbed a package “Thanks for the tip.” She started back down the aisle. “Bye. Nice to see you two again.”

Josh waved as he was carted away.

“Bye. Good to see you guys too.” Karen waved.

She turned to her son. “I hope that stuff doesn’t make you too embarrassed, it’s just what mommies talk about.”

Tommy shrugged “It’s OK mommy, I understand.”

She smiled “Good to hear.”

Tommy rode along from aisle to aisle watching people shopping. Somewhere in the middle of the bread aisle, he felt a finger sneak into his waistband.

“Come on, let’s get you changed,” his mother said as she turned the cart around and whisked him to the back of the store. She found a place to park their cart, grabbed the diaper bag, plucked him out of his seat, and carried him into the restroom. She paused and looked around for a bit. “No changing table,” she said as she searched one last time. “Well let’s see what we can do.”

She exited back into the main store and found a woman wearing a name tag emblazoned with the store logo.

“Excuse me,” she said as she gave him a little bounce. “I need a place to change this guy’s diaper.”

Tommy blushed slightly as he hid half his face behind his mother’s shoulder. Still, a shy smile slid across his face.

The woman smiled back warmly “There’s a family restroom over there with a changing table for little cuties like him,” she said pointing to a far corner of the store. “It’s really easy to miss.”

“Thank you,” Karen as she started toting her son in that direction “You’re a real lifesaver.”

“You’re welcome,” she said giving Tommy a little wave as he was carried away.

They entered the spacious brightly-painted room and Karen lowered the changing room from the wall. She laid him out on it and, in an impish moment, fastened the strap across his chest.

“Mommy…” he began to complain.

She put a finger to his lips “I wouldn’t want you to roll off, don’t forget about those rides outside.”

Tommy just rolled his eyes.

She worked quickly but thoroughly, making sure his bottom was clean, dry, and sufficiently powdered. After a few moments, he was back in her arms being carried back to their cart.

They finished their shopping and proceeded to the checkout.

Tommy watched his diapers travel down the conveyor belt before they reached the scanner. The clerk took them and scanned them giving him a little smile before handing them on to the bagger. He found himself returning the smile.

Once their groceries were bagged and paid for they passed back through the sliding door.

“Thank you for being such a good boy about all this,” Karen said as she released him from his seat in the cart and set him on his own feet again. “Still want to try out one of these” she motioned toward the line of rides.

Tommy hesitated for a brief second but smiled “Yes please,” he said excitedly.

“Well go ahead and pick one.”

He looked them over for a moment but he was already nearly decided. He climbed into the airplane ride he’d seen earlier. In front of him was a set of almost realistic-looking controls and gauges beneath a large screen. He heard his mother drop in a coin and suddenly they all lit up and the ride rose beneath him.

The screen displayed a cartoonish scene of a sky and ground below as viewed from the cockpit of an airplane. For the first few moments, he simply flew along. The ride responded to each of his inputs as he glided through the sky. But then a spinning target appeared before him. Instinctively he flew towards it. When he reached it a happy clinging sound rang out. Another target appeared, this one requiring a change of course. He grinned and began to maneuver his way towards it. As he closed in he noticed a timer had appeared. When that target had been hit more appeared. And each one he managed to fly into brought about new more challenging ones. The ride rolled back and forth and side to side as he navigated his way through the course. Eventually, it became too difficult and his game came to an end.

In his excitement he halfway leaped from the ride before his mother caught him and sat him down “Careful sweety,” she said. But he barely noticed as he enthused about the experience.

She smiled “I could tell you were having fun. You were laughing the whole time, just like that little boy when we came in.”

“Really,” he asked in somewhat embarrassed surprise.“I didn’t really notice,” he shrugged. “Thanks, mommy, I had a lot of fun.”

“You’re welcome baby, do you mind getting up for me one more time so we can get to the car?”

“OK, mommy,” he answered.

She hoisted him back up into the cart and started back to the car. Tommy looked up to the clouds gathering in the sky.

“Looks like we made a good call going shopping early, it’s really going to pour.”

“Did you know cause you’re a scientist,” he asked.

She grinned and tussled his hair “Mommies just know these things.”

He smiled up at her. He knew she was joking, but he felt lucky to be cared for by the smartest person he knew.

Chapter 25

Tommy sat on the living room floor carefully building his skyscraper. Rain had begun to fall steadily outside, a storm they’d only just missed as they came inside. The cartoon he’d been watching was now nearly tuned out as he contemplated his growing structure.

Working elevators had proved to be the most challenging element. But he’d spent the afternoon wrangling the complicated pieces into something he thought might work. He pressed a button and watched in delight as his elevator rose to the top.

“I did it,” he exclaimed.

“Good job,” his mother said as she set her book down and stood up. She came over to him and knelt down. “You mind showing me how you did it.”

Tommy looked away. “It’s nothing really. It’s just s silly toy.”

“It’s a big deal to me. I’m proud of all the things you’re learning.”

Her praise easily overcame his reluctance to open up. He excitedly explained the system of gears and pulleys he’d constructed as she looked on smiling.

She gave him a pat on the back. “That’s very impressive honey. Bet you didn’t think you could something like that just a little while ago.”

Tommy shook his head “Not really.” He thought for a moment. “I guess going to school where I do really does help.”

She nodded “I think so too.” She checked his diaper. “Ready for a little break?”

“Oh,” he said. “I guess.”

She reached for the stash of diapering supplies she kept by the couch. “Just lie back, baby.”

Tommy stretched out in front of her. She undid his shorts and pulled them down. “Good thing the roof is sturdy or this wouldn’t be the only thing soaked around here,” she said as the rain began to pick up again. She untaped the sodden diaper bundled it up and put it aside.

She lifted his bum before cleaning him up shaking out a healthy dose of baby powder.

“I”m glad we went to the store early,” she opened a new package of diapers “You’re all resupplied and we can stay out of this.” She removed a new diaper and unfolded it before she let his freshly-powdered bottom down.

“That means we can just spend a nice afternoon at home, can’t we,” she said sweetly as she fastened his diaper in place and checked its snugness.

“Yeah, it’s nice to just hang out together sometimes,” Tommy smiled as his shorts were pulled back into place.

“I have an idea for something we can do,” she said, helping him to his feet. “How about we make cookies together?”

Tommy laughed “Come on mommy, that’s just…”

“Just what?” She said giving the tip of his nose a pinch “You used to love it.”

“But… It’s just different now.”

She gave him a pat on the bottom “Well if you’re too grown-up to be mommy’s helper I guess we won’t have any cookies.”

Tommy rolled his eyes and laughed “OK, mommy. It sounds like fun.”

They went into the kitchen she began gathering supplies. “I’ll mix all this together and you can use this.” She handed him something that looked almost like a detached sink faucet. It had a funnel at the back end. Several levers and buttons ran along the side of the “spigot.”

“What’s this?” he said puzzled.

“That takes the cookie mix and makes it better. I” ll show you how to use it when all this is ready.”

She worked quickly, pouring flour, sugar, butter, chocolate chips, and other ingredients into a large bowl. After some button-pushing, a cover slid neatly in place and the bowl began to shake. She tried explaining the process, but Tommy just nodded. The lid slid open again revealing a quantity of rich thick dough.

“Want to taste a little bit?” she said offering him a dollop of the mixture on a spoon.

He hesitated “Isn’t that…” he started.

“Don’t worry, it’s safe.”

He took a taste from the spoon. “Wow, that’s already really good,”

She nodded “And now we’re going to make it even better.”

She quickly gave him some instructions on how to use this device. He understood this explanation a lot better, but it was still hard to grasp.

“Ready to give it a try?” she asked.

“I think so,” Tommy replied uncertainly.

She dropped a bit of dough into the funnel and Tommy went to work to the best of his ability. Finally, he pressed down on the lever and squeezed out a lump of dough onto the cookie sheet. He looked it over, it clearly wasn’t quite right.

“Here baby let me show you,” she reached around him and began guiding his hands while she again patiently explained the process.

Outside the rain had grown considerably and in the distance, he heard a worrying clap of thunder. He glanced out the window and noticed a faint orange glow ripple across the clouds. It was like no storm he’d ever seen, but he felt his mother’s embrace as she gently guided him through this task and it quickly left his mind.

Together they created several perfectly round drops of cookie dough.

“OK, now try,” she said as she let go of his hands but remained close behind. With some effort, he managed to create one not as good as the last few, but much better than his first attempt.

“Good job baby!” she exclaimed.

He knew how silly this all was, but he couldn’t hide the fact that he was already beaming. And with a little more hands-off guidance he managed to complete a sheet of not-so-perfect spots of dough.

She gave him a peck on the cheek “Aww, my little helper.”

He groaned but the smile never left his face.

She took the sheet and put it in the oven. “I’m serious. You really did good.”

“Thanks for showing me how, I had fun.”

“So did I,” She said smoothing his hair.

They sat at the kitchen table and chatted for a while until the oven dinged. She took the cookies from the oven and set them down on the counter. He immediately reached for one.

“Uh uh uh,” she admonished “they’re still hot.”

He quickly withdrew his hand “Sorry.”

“That’s OK honey. They’re pretty tempting aren’t they?”

He watched in anticipation as she took a spatula and moved them to a plate. “I thought we could have these on the couch and watch a movie.”

Tommy nodded “That sounds like a good idea.”

She took the plate of cookies into the living room and set it down on the coffee table. “What do you want to watch?” She asked picking up the remote.

Tommy shrugged “I don’t know.”

“How about the Floppy Bunny Movie.”

Tommy had to admit he’d probably like it. “Yeah sure.” He ventured a hand towards the plate of cookies but stopped and looked to his mother “Are these cool enough now?” he asked hopefully.

“Yes, I think so,” Karen laughed as she started Floppy Bunny.

Tommy grabbed a cookie and settled into a spot on the floor.

“What are you doing over there?” she asked as she unfolded a blanket.

He smiled and sat and the couch where his mother wrapped the both of them in the blanket before grabbing the plate, setting it down on her lap, and taking a cookie.

Tommy snuggled close and took a bite of his cookie. It was warm and sweet, perfectly crispy on the edges with a soft gooey center. “Wow, this is the best cookie ever,” he said his mouth still full.

His mother took a bit of hers “These are good” she wrapped an arm around him and pulled him in closer “and all the better because we made them together.”

Tommy smiled and rested his head on her shoulder as the scene on TV opened on Floppy Meadows. Together they enjoyed the cookies and watched Floppy and his friends try to outsmart Sneaky Fox.

Halfway through a series of thunderclaps roared outside. He looked outside and saw the strange orange glow again.

Instinctively he nestled closer. She squeezed him tighter. “It’s still far away,” she said reassuringly as she turned up the volume.

Finally, the scene closed on Floppy and friends celebrating their victory and the credits began to roll.

Karen looked over to her son as he rested drowsily against her. “Feeling a little sleepy?”

Tommy nodded and yawned “Yeah, I’m tired.”

She swiped a dob of chocolate off the corner of his mouth. “Think you can sit through a bath?”

Tommy just nodded.

“Well come on then,” she said as she collected him from the couch and held him in her arms. She carried him upstairs to the bathroom and sat him down before running the water. She turned her attention to his clothes, getting him down to his diaper before ripping off the soaking thing and throwing it away.

She sat him down in the tub and grabbed the bottle of soap and a cloth. “That was a really nice weekend,” she said happily.

Tommy smiled through his sleepy state. “Yeah, it was really nice. Thanks for doing stuff with me.”

She grinned as she began to lather him up. “Aww, it’s my pleasure sweety. Thanks for going along with me.” She began to wipe his face “You really liked those cookies huh?”

“All that stuff really works,” he closed his eyes and allowed her to wash his hair.

Suddenly thunder sounded again, closer than before.

She rubbed a bit of soap into his back “Don’t worry about baby, you’re safe inside.”

“I know,” he said “It’s just sort of…”

“I understand,” she said as she began to rinse him off.

“Alright! All clean and ready for bed,” she said she lifted him from the tub and wrapped him in a big fluffy towel. She dried him off and picked him up again, still wrapped in his towel.

She settled him down on the changing table and went to the dresser. “How about bunnies tonight since we enjoyed the movie so much,” she asked holding out a pale blue sleeper decorated with a pattern of little white rabbits.

Tommy was too tired to groan, he just smiled and laughed “OK mommy, that’s fine.”

He was powdered, diapered, and dressed in his PJs. She took him from the changing table and laid him down in his crib. She glanced toward the window “Don’t worry about anything, I’ll be right here,” she said as she closed the curtain. “Just call for me and I’ll come get you.”

“Thanks, mommy, but I think I’ll be fine,” he said seeming unconvinced.

“Just in case,” she tucked him in and kissed his forehead “Good night baby.”

“Good night mommy,” he said as he got his bear and nestled in.

She clicked the side of his crib closed and turned out the light on her way out the door.

Tommy squeezed his teddy and looked over the shaded window. He couldn’t see but he knew that a storm unlike any he’d ever seen was raging outside. He allowed himself to be comforted by the glowing light of the baby monitor and managed to drift off to sleep.

He was awoken by a deep rumble that seemed to shake the entire house. He looked over to the window and saw the orange glow coming in from the edges of the curtain. He closed his eyes and hugged his bear again. Suddenly the house shook forcefully with a crash of thunder. The orange glow rippled with an intense blue light. Several more bangs followed, each louder than before.

He looked at the baby monitor. He couldn’t quite make himself do it.

A whirling spasm of light shone around the curtains followed by a deafening roar that seemed like it would take the whole house down. “Mommy!” he hollered.

In moments the door opened and the light turned on. She hurried across the floor, lowered the side of his crib, and took him in her arms. “It’s OK baby, everything’s fine.”

“We’re still safe right?” he asked through tears of fear.

She laughed gently “Yes baby, we’re safe.”

She sat down on the rocking chair and held him in her lap. “Let’s just sit here until it all calms down. OK?” She said.

He nodded “OK, mommy,” he said with a sniffle. He became aware of a bottle being pressed to his lips and took it.

“There we go,” she said encouragingly as she began to rock. “Just relax and everything is going to be OK.”

Thunder rang out closely again. But he just laid motionless, nursing his bottle in his mother’s lap. She hummed a soft lullaby. The gentle melody seemed like it drowned out all the chaos outside.

Slowly the storm died down, leaving nothing but a soft rain falling against the window. “Just try to sleep baby,” she smiled. “I’ll put you back in your crib.”

Tommy closed his eyes and happily drifted away.

He awoke to a soft morning light shining from around the curtains. He was tucked cozily in his crib, his bear was cuddled under one arm, a bottle in his hand. A single bird sang merrily in the tree outside. He looked at his school uniform waiting, hanging neatly from the closet door. In a few hours, he’d be back at school, playing and learning under the watchful eyes of his teachers before coming back home to mommy. It all seemed perfect. His life before a distant memory.

This is the home stretch. Chapter 26 is a little odd, but I hope it helps wrap up the story.

Chapter 26

Tom woke up to the screeching of his alarm. He rolled out of bed and silenced it. Pausing briefly to stretch, he made his way to the bathroom, used the toilet, and stepped into the shower. As the warm water washed over him he thought about how his time in the sixth grade was coming to a close. At last, he’d be in Junior High. At last, he’d have a chance to be as grown-up as he knew he was.

But did he really know that?

He shut the doubt down and tried to focus on the future. There was some uncertainty. He didn’t know if his mother would take the job in the new town or not, or what exactly waited for him if she did. Nobody seemed to know much about the strange far-away place. Some people said they had different technology than everybody else. But it was hard to know what to believe. With a twist of the tap, he turned off the water and stepped out of the shower, grabbing a towel as he did.

He opened his closet and took a moment to select a shirt and pair of jeans. Months ago picking out his own clothes seemed like it would make him feel like a big kid. He’d insisted on it, but hadn’t quite worked yet. He’d heard that kids in Junior High started to care about fashion more. Maybe then?

A small piece of frayed fabric wafted down from its hiding place in the upper reaches of the closet. He picked it up. Feelings of comfort mixed with shame came over him. Two competing memories he’d wrestled with for years. He looked down the hall and saw no one. He quickly stashed it under his pillow.

He dressed and went to the kitchen. “And in other news,” some voice on the TV stated “the fifth anniversary of the erupt…” His mother clicked off the TV to focus on something on her phone. “Good morning hon,” she said as he walked in.

“Good morning mom,” he replied as he grabbed a box of cereal. “Have you decided yet?”

She shook her head and set down her phone. “What do you think?”

He shrugged “I don’t know” he motioned toward the TV “Is it true that stuff hasn’t affected them cause of that… thing ”

She nodded “Yes, they have a sort of shield if you want to call it that.”

“Is that why nobody really knows about them,” he asked as he poured out the milk.

“Mostly, but I’m sure they’re just like everybody else,” she wiped at a stray speck of dirt on the counter.

Tom shrugged “Whatever, I’m just glad I’m going to this little kid school anymore,” he rolled his eyes theatrically as though trying to make a point.

She smiled “Ah yes, my big junior high schooler,” she looked him in the eye “but enjoy this while you can you might miss it.”

“No way. I’m already way too mature for all this,” he said with a dismissive wave.

“Of course,” she said, “But just try to enjoy this while you can.”

He just rolled his eyes “I’m sure I’ll really enjoy it.” He quickly dug into his cereal and tried again to bury his doubts. After a few minutes, he let his spoon clatter into the empty bowl as he grabbed his backpack and hurried for the door. “Bye mom,” he said as he rushed out.

“How about a goodbye hug?” She said as the door shut behind him. She sat back down at the table. He seemed determined to grow up. But something about it never seemed quite right.

Tom climbed aboard the school bus and shuffled past a gaggle of noisy first graders sitting in the front of the bus. He reached the back and fell into his usual seat near his friend Ethan.

“Boy I can’t wait to go to a different school than those little runts up there,” he said.

“Good morning to you too,” Ethan said chuckling.

“Good morning,” Tom sighed “It’s just that my mom keeps trying to convince me to be a little kid. Bet things are different when I’m not in the same school as those babies. I was never that immature in first grade.”

“Are you sure?” Ethan said, “Didn’t you bring that piece of your old baby blanket to school that one time?”

“Yeah yeah but…” Tom stammered.

Ethan grinned as he continued “You said your mom had cut it out so you could keep it in your pocket. Then all those kids made fun of you.”

Tom glared. “Yeah and then I threw it away since I wasn’t a baby anymore.”

“Sorry, I didn’t know you were so touchy this morning,” he put up his hands. “So do you think you’re really going to move,” he asked changing subjects.

Tom relaxed a bit “Maybe, my mom hasn’t decided yet.”

“That place sounds really interesting, nobody knows anything about it. It’d be like an adventure,” Ethan opined.

“Yeah maybe,” Tom said uncertainly.

“At least they don’t have any of this,” Ethan said motioning to the haze already obscuring the sun.

Tom looked out the window “Yeah I sure hope somebody can fix that.”

“I’m still thinking about it,” Karen said into the phone as she puttered about the house before work.

“Of course, I’d love to move back,” she collected Tom’s cereal bowl from the table and set it in the sink “I’m just not sure how he’d react to the added… challenges.”

“They keep saying he’ll find his level,” she moved down the hallway “But I just don’t know. He seems so determined to be big.”

“He used to be like that,” she smiled to herself “He had the little blanket he took around everywhere. When he was starting the first grade I gave him a little corner of it to keep in his pocket. He was so proud of what mommy did he did a show and tell on it. Then he got teased, and it just wasn’t the same. Always trying to be grown up.” She wiped away a small tear. “But I don’t know. Sometimes it seems like a front.”

“That’s kind of you to say,” she said composing herself “But I’m sure there’s someone else who could do it.”

“No, I haven’t told anyone” she opened the door to her son’s room.

“I’ll let you know soon,” she slid the phone into a pocket and spent a few minutes straightening out a few things around his room. She turned to his bed and smoothed out the heap of sheets. She picked up his pillow and found a small frayed piece of cloth underneath.

She looked at it for a moment before putting it back.

She returned to the kitchen and sat down at the table and spent a few minutes lost in thought.

She took her phone from her pocket.

1 Like

Nice touch with this chapter

Wow. What a story. Man I was so upset when things went bad for him. But this turn out to be a wonderful story. I tip my hat off to you.

Chapter 27

Tommy tried to stand still while his mother adjusted his clip-on bow tie and straightened out his suspenders. She gave his bangs one last tweak and kissed him on the forehead.

“You’re going to do great baby,” she smiled proudly.

“Thanks, mommy, I’ll do my best,” Tommy replied as he fiddled with the pacifier in his pocket. Over a few weeks of practice, it had helped him prepare for this day but had to be hidden away momentarily for this performance.

“I know you will. Your teachers say you’ve been practicing really hard. And that pacifier has really been helping.”

He nodded “Yeah it works really good,” he thought for a moment “Can I keep using it?”

“If you want to honey,” she smiled wistfully and put a hand on his shoulder“There’s something I want to show you after you’re done.”

Tommy blinked “OK mommy,” he said curiously.

She kissed his forehead again “Such a good boy.” She checked his diaper. “All set. Let’s get you with your class.”

She took his hand and led him to where other preschoolers were assembling in a backroom of the museum where the concert was being held.

She approached Mrs. Hansley who was wrangling the class into a neat line. “This guy is all ready to go,” she smoothed his bangs once more “all clean and dry too.”

Tommy squirmed slightly but quickly fell into line with his classmates.

“Thank you,” Mrs. Hansley chuckled. “We’ll take care of all that from here.”

Tommy waved goodbye to his mother as she exited.

He fidgeted in nervous anticipation as he heard the kindergarten class take to the stage. His class would be next and while he felt nervous about getting up in front of all those people, he couldn’t wait to show mommy what he’d been working on.

A round of applause signaled the kindergarten’s exit from the stage and Mrs. Hansley quickly called the class’ attention while her fellow teachers made sure to keep everyone in line. They filed through a large wooden door and up onto the stage to the awwws of the audience.

He searched the audience for his mother and saw her beaming at him at the edge of the third row. He smiled back for a moment before the piano started. He stood in front of the audience a happy smiling preschooler and sang loud enough that his mother could hear, he wanted nothing more than to make her proud.

The song came to a close and his heart soared as he watched her grin and applaud. He filed back behind the stage and into a small playroom that had been set up for the preschoolers. He sat down and busied himself with some toys while he waited for her to come and get him after the concert ended.

After some time he looked up and saw her coming through the doorway. He took off and ran into her arms as she knelt down to hug him.

“You did great baby,” she said as she embraced him.

“Thanks, mommy,” he said returning the hug.

She paused and rubbed his back for a while “Remember how I said I needed to show you something?”

Tommy nodded.

“Are you ready?”

“Sure mommy, what is it,” he asked curiously.

“Come with me,” she took his hand and led him through the museum. The crowds were gone now, and they had the entire place to themselves. They arrived at a large round room in the center of the building. Pictures and artifacts of the town’s past lined the walls.

“Do you know anything about the old seed project?” she asked as she paused in the center of the room.

“That was when they tried to make other places like this right?” he said scrunching his face in confusion.

“That’s right,” she nodded “If you can set up the initial technology then all of this becomes possible. The idea was to get it started wherever they could.”

“Didn’t they send out families, like undercover,” He asked.

She nodded and stepped toward one of the displays “You see this picture?”

Tommy peered at the photo of two adults with a teenage girl. His jaw dropped. “You…”

She nodded.

“But why didn’t you say?” He said in shock

“It was supposed to be a secret,” she explained. “Their plan hadn’t worked, and they thought I might be able to restart things.”

He stammered for a moment before being able to spit out a coherent question. “Did you know I’d have to go to preschool and stuff?”

“I really didn’t know how things would go. Everyone said you’d find a place to fit in. I wasn’t sure at first but” she paused “I found that piece of your old baby blanket hidden in your room.”

Tommy frowned a bit and nodded “Yeah I just said I threw it away cause everyone at school was calling me a baby.”

“But you kept it. You still sort of wanted to stay a bit little right? Even back then?”

Tommy looked down “Yeah I guess, it was sort of hard to tell.”

“After that, I thought they might be right and I decided to move us here,” she looked at him seriously “And I’m really glad I did. I think it’s been good for both of us. And I did what I came here to do.”

He looked at her in puzzlement “What do you mean?”

She took a breath “You know how things were after the eruption?”

“All those volcano gasses in the air? Yeah, that was really bad.”

“We found a way to fix it,” she said smiling. “That’s what I’ve been working on this whole time.”

His jaw dropped even further than before. “That’s amazing. You did that?”

She smiled “Well it was a whole bunch of us, but yes. That was my project,” She put a hand on his shoulder “I always thought we might move back once it all got fixed, but you seem so happy here. Are you?”

He nodded his head vigorously “Yeah, I like things this way. Like, I want to grow up someday. But this is like a second chance, you know?” He smiled.

She smiled as tears welled up in her eyes. “So I can be your mommy a little while longer?”

He grinned “As long as I can be your baby.”

She picked him up and squeezed him tightly “Of course, you can. You’ll always be my baby.”

He hugged her back “I love you, mommy.”

She rocked him gently “I love you too baby.”

He smiled proudly at her “Do you think I could grow up to be a scientist like you?”

She grinned “Of course sweety, you can be anything you want when you grow up,” she patted his bottom “No hurry though.”

He shook his head and smiled “No mommy, no hurry this time.”

She kissed his forehead “That’s my little boy,” she gave him a bounce “How about some ice cream to celebrate your debut performance?” She started making her way towards the exit.

He laughed. “Yeah mommy, that sounds good.”

She took him to the car and strapped him snugly into his car seat. “And before I forget,” she said reaching into her purse. “I thought you might want this.”

She pulled out an old care-worn baby blanket, its once stray corner now stitched in place.

“Do you want this back?” she asked.

Tommy beamed “Of course mommy,” he said in delight as he took the soft fabric and held it tightly.

“Just promise you won’t pretend to throw it away again.”

He shook his head “No way, I’m going to keep it forever.”

She smiled “I thought so.” She kissed his forehead again. “Let’s go get that ice cream.”

She shut the door and got into the driver’s seat.

Tommy rode in his car seat, his baby blanket in hand as he nursed his pacifier. He didn’t know what the future held. But it didn’t matter. His mommy loved him and he loved her. And together they’d face that future.

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Thank you to everybody who encouraged me to keep this going. You’ve all been just unbelievably kind and patient.

Chapter 28

Tommy turned into the driveway and parked. He walked in through the open garage, casting a nostalgic look to the stroller folded up in the far corner. He cracked open the door.

“Ma, I’m here,” he shouted.

“Come on in,” she replied. “I was just starting some coffee.”

He pushed open the door and walked to the kitchen. “Good to see you ma,” he said wrapping her in a hug.

“Good to see you too,” she said returning the hug. “Off on your big trip?”

“It’s not that big a deal,” he said. “Just a boring speech and then shaking some hands.”
“Oh it’s just opening a building you designed as part of the first successful seed project,” she said scoffing.

“I was just on the team that designed it,” he said as he poured himself some coffee. “And there were a lot of people that made the project a success.”

“You can’t fool your mother with this false modesty,” she said sitting down with her mug “You must have forgotten I still know people who work there. I know your ideas were what finally made it all work.”

“If you say so,” he smiled as he joined her at the table.

“Well, can I see it,” she asked.

He took a stack of note cards from his pocket and set them on the table. “That’s not quite the final draft. But that’s more or less what I’ll be saying.”

She adjusted her glasses as she read through them. She paused at one card in particular as a tear came to her eye. “You’re more than welcome baby,” she said reaching across the table to take his hand “Every single moment was a joy.”

He squeezed her hand. “It was for me too,” he said as he teared up as well.

She quietly read the next card “And there it is,” she said as she sat it down “That’s what finally made this whole thing work. Did you learn that here?”

He nodded “I just wasn’t ready to move forward until I knew myself and knew what I needed and knew that I could ask for those things and depend on people I love,” he paused “I just tried to apply that to helping other people adopt our technology.”

She smiled proudly at him “My little boy, saving the world.”

He laughed “You were no slouch either, we never could have done it without the air purification project.”

“We’re a great team,” she chuckled. She looked at her watch “You probably need to be going.”

He nodded “I guess so,” he got up and gave her a hug “Bye, ma.”

She hugged him back and gave him a kiss on the cheek “Goodbye baby, and good luck. I know you’ll do great.”

“Thanks, ma, see you in a week.”

He waved and walked out the door. As he climbed into the driver’s seat of his car he took a moment to take a pair of sunglasses from his backpack. Next to them was an old faded piece of cloth, one corner stitched carefully in place. He took it in his hands for a moment, enjoying the memories it brought, before stowing it securely again. He backed out onto the road and took one last look at the house. He took a breath, smiled, and drove off into what he knew could be a whole new world.

                                                                      The End

Great ending !!!
Hope someday you can show him growing up ! Maybe showing his trying to potty training using a new technology that have there !