Merry Christmas

Alright y’all, it’s still the season to do holiday stuff. I would’ve posted this… you know… on time, that is before Christmas, but you know how that goes, everything gets hectic and you have no time for anything. Also, don’t worry, I’m definitely not abandoning my other project I’ve yet to finish; I’m still working on that, but it’s going slow. (and for a lot of the same reasons as this one was late.)

Now, if this seems familiar, it’s probably because of two things.
One: it is very much related to Spirit of Christmas which is another holiday-themed story. Structurally and in terms of content, both of these may appear very similar. That’s intentional. I wanted to try something else within that same format. If that bothers you, too bad. :stuck_out_tongue: I plan to do it again later.

The other reason: I already posted a rough draft of this back in February in the Donor’s Lounge. So if you’ve donated and read it there already, this isn’t anything new. This is just the (hopefully) polished-up final version. With a few exceptions here and there, I plan to continue this release format in the future. I will be posting stories in the Donor’s Lounge first, and then releasing them later on the public boards. If, for some reason, you feel the need to read my stuff as soon as possible, consider donating to the site. Heck, a monthly-recurring donation of even a few dollars will certainly add up if a bunch of people get on board.

But enough of that. On with the story. I’ll be posting this in a few parts. Might take a few days.

Merry Christmas

A dead-end job was still a job. Something to do, to be engaged in, even if the engagement was mostly out of a need to escape the constant state of awareness pertaining to the fact that a dead-end job was a dead-end job. There was more to it than that, yes, but for all intents and purposes, it could simply be called a dead-end job and left at that.

Bruce had a dead-end job.

It was one of those jobs which doesn’t have well-defined responsibilities. During any given day, Bruce could end up performing any of dozens of tasks. That didn’t bother him too much. Really, it was just the low pay. If it wasn’t for that, Bruce wouldn’t mind the rest. Inconsistent hours, seemingly random assignments, no real benefits to speak of; well, he wouldn’t mind it too much in the short term. He knew it wouldn’t last forever; there was no foreseeable future. He knew he should be doing something for the future—working toward making it better—but that was hard to do when it meant engaging with the present.

The less he thought about the world around him, the better.

The world was overwhelming. It was hopeless if he really thought about it—and he often did. Everything was going downhill and there was nothing he could do to stop it. Not even to save himself from being dragged down too. Most people never put any thought to, well… much of anything. When he stocked shelves, he quickly learned how people didn’t care to leave anything organized; not the workers in the back, nor the customers in the front. No matter which shelf, no matter how many times he organized it, someone would come along and move something, displacing it to another location for seemingly no reason. When he cleaned things, they were hardly ever dirty from standard use. Sinks never merely collected grime, they were adorned across their counter tops with dirt and other various substances he dared not even guess. Rarely did a trash can or ash tray need cleaning because it was full, but instead the area around it was covered with the exact things it was supposed to collect. He watched people cut in line, people block aisles, hallways, doors, and roads. People hindered each other at every possible turn. At first, he developed a resentment, a bitterness toward them. It seemed they were all just cruel, evil in their very nature.

But that was wrong. The more he watched, the more he paid attention to the details. Everything was in the details. Eventually he began to see that it was not malice which caused them to act in such a manner, but negligence. Few and far between were people who actively and consciously sought to hinder or harm. They just didn’t pay any attention to anything or anyone around them. They cared only for themselves. Worse, this behavior wasn’t limited to those in his immediate vicinity; it was everywhere. Everything from preschool all the way up to governments was poisoned with selfishness. But self interest at its most dangerous was also at its least blatant. It had matured far beyond greedily snatching toys from other toddlers. It was pervasive. Like an invisible gas, tasteless, barely detectable save for its effects, and its effects were sickening.

But Christmas was upon them. That wonderful time of cheer, of gathering, of giving. Or at least, that’s what it was supposed to be. Instead, the modern practices created stress, strife, greed, discontent. It was totally commercialized to no end, and whatever beliefs, origins, traditions there ever were, they were long gone. Bruce didn’t much care for whatever was left.

He would be spending Christmas alone that year. Maybe he would get a card from his parents. Not much else except work. That wasn’t too bad, he figured; work. At least with work, he could bury himself; disappear for days at a time, focusing entirely on doing everything as thoroughly as possible. That was all he could do, even if it was never enough. He put all of his effort into each task, focusing on every step, making sure he never left anything unfinished. Unlike most, he often wished he could work longer—much to everyone else’s surprise and prompting more than a few confused comments. They may not understand, but it made sense to him. More hours meant more money, and it wasn’t like he had much to do at home anyway.

Tonight was one of those nights—not the surprisingly good kind. He wasn’t allowed to work any later than his usual hours. It comforted him when his boss told him he really wanted to give Bruce more hours as he recognized his effort and drive, but the limiting factor was company policy. It wasn’t the first time it had happened. Sometimes Bruce suspected his boss might just be lying, that he could very well give him more hours, but that his boss knew Bruce would get the work done even without them. It was true though. Here Bruce was, staying too late, hoping no one saw him finishing something. He was already off the clock, but he would rather have this task done now than pick it up later or let someone else finish it. He knew no one else would finish it the way it should be done.

But even that would only last for a few minutes more, then he would be forced to go home.

~

The cold wind blew Bruce’s hair all around his face as he dashed across the nearly barren parking lot. It was dark out and the temperature was dropping again. He hoped his car would start. He’d been hustling all day and his clothes were still damp with sweat—not at all helpful in this weather. His cold fingers fumbled the keys in his pocket, but eventually got the car door open. It took a few agonizing tries to get his old beater started, but it finally rumbled to life and he sat shivering for several minutes as the engine warmed.

Thank God the heat worked.

Even after the car had begun to warm up, it took a minute before Bruce felt he could breathe a long sigh. For just a moment he relaxed. He needed it, just those few short moments before he put the car in drive and rolled out onto the busy streets. It had been a long day, a long week even. Not by any extra hours, it just seemed like everything had turned into a huge ordeal. Nothing seemed to work out the way it should. Despite his best efforts, despite him working harder than anyone else around him, he’d still gotten complaints. He knew they were misplaced, that they were either just someone needing to vent or someone who didn’t comprehend the situation. They still stung a bit. Everything was done in a rush, there was no time for details, no time to ensure quality of work. If he took his time, it was too slow; if he rushed, the details he skipped over came back to bite him as something missed. It seemed he could never win.

Well, ten seconds was a long enough respite, time to hit the road. He checked his mirrors and all corners as he pulled out of the parking lot.

He hated traffic. No matter how fast he went, it was never fast enough for the person behind him. It always seemed like his lane was going slower than the rest. He would stress and strain his eyes, focusing on the cars around him, monitoring them, tracking them, discovering their patterns. Thousands of hours on the road had given him plenty of time to learn. He could see their patterns, their rhythms; then when an opportunity arose, a space became available, none of it mattered because some other car would come rushing up from out of nowhere and cut in front of him. If he honked, they flipped him off as if it was his fault; if he merged, the car behind would turn on their highbeams to let him know he had cut them off; and heaven forbid he use his blinker, which served only to alert other drivers so they could intentionally block him.

It never mattered how much effort he exerted, how much he tried to accommodate, it never seemed to make any difference. Somehow, much of this lunacy might be more tolerable if he at least had something to listen to. He had just caught the last fifteen seconds of a song when he started, and the station had been playing commercials ever since. Wonderful. Sleet was starting to fall; traffic would soon be worse. Even better.

It was worse, for far too long.

Finally, somewhere near his apartment, traffic congestion began to ease. Just one last exit and he would be off the highway. He put on his blinker, checked his mirrors, then merged, only to have a car appear behind him with highbeams flashing and horn blaring. They took the same exit, following him down to the stop light at the bottom, tailgating closely the whole time. The light was green, thankfully, but with the distraction of the car behind him, he very nearly didn’t see the large box truck barreling toward the intersection. He slammed on the brakes, letting the truck cross in front of him. Legal right of way didn’t matter when fifteen tons of metal were involved, they had the right of way because they had the mass—he did take some comfort knowing the stoplight camera had caught the truck running the red; they would get a ticket at least. All at the same time, his light turned yellow. He was still rolling, and made it through just before it turned red. The car behind him had to stop. He cringed, knowing how upsetting it was to be forced to stop at a light by a car in front. He knew the other driver was pissed, blaming Bruce even if it wasn’t his fault at all.

Fifteen minutes later, he was finally at his apartment, stomping the ice and frozen mush from his shoes. After cleaning up the mess so as not to track it through the whole apartment, he made his way to the thermostat and turned it up a few notches. Even with that, he knew it wouldn’t be what most people considered warm. It cost too much to run the heat enough that his apartment was truly comfortable in the winter. He had a solution for that.

First, he took a shower. The hot water did wonders to ease his mind and body. Even that was gone all too soon as he knew better than to run the water very long. More concerns about utility bills. Drying off in the winter was always a frantic event, a mad rush to get clothed again, safe from the chill of the apartment. He also knew that the activity would get his blood pumping a bit, but it was far from enough to overcome the cold. Once dry, he rushed to the bedroom as the bathroom had far too little floor space to lay down. Yes, this was something for which he needed to lay down.

With an urgency from the cold and from just a little excitement, he dug into his tiny closet and pulled out the thing which had been calling to him the whole day. Probably the only present he would receive that year, and he had gotten it for himself. It was a small package. From inside he pulled a flat white object. The object was thick, folded thrice; he unfolded it. A shiver raced down his spine as he held the object in front of him, but it was not the cold this time. He was holding a large adult diaper. This one was plastic; white all over, save for some decorative print on the landing strip for the tapes, and the baby-blue leg cuffs. It had two large tapes, one on each side. For all intents and purposes, it looked nearly identical to the diapers he had worn as a baby. This one was just bigger; big enough for an adult his size. He had found baby pictures of himself and marveled when he found a near perfect replication of that same diaper. He had splurged on these, and on the red footie pajamas which also matched the ones he’d worn in infancy.

Lying down on the bed with his items, he unfolded the diaper and sat on it. As he applied a light coating of baby powder, he paused, taking a moment to drink in the old familiar scent. Before taping the diaper in place, he took extra precaution to clean the powder from his hands, lest it mess up the tapes. He only had two of these diapers; they weren’t cheap and he wasn’t rich—he had to opt for a sample pack even though a whole pack was a better deal by far. But once the thick, crinkling garment was secured around his waist, he wasted no more time before he zipped himself into his new, comfy pajamas. The whole outfit couldn’t actually take him back in time—hell, he couldn’t even truly remember from when he was two—but he nonetheless had an exceedingly strong sense of nostalgia just from what he was wearing. Now he was warm.

On his way to the kitchen, he got to enjoy the crinkle of his diaper as he walked, as well as the accompanying rustle as it brushed against the inside of his pajamas. For the next few minutes, he stood in front of the microwave, watching his frozen dinner spin around slowly. He watched, but wasn’t really paying attention, his pajamas distracted him, as the soft texture fit snugly round him, it continually touched his whole body in a pleasant and gentle way. With his food and a glass of water in hand, he went to sit down and eat. He wanted distraction. TV didn’t entice him much at the moment, and since he had work the next day, it was too late to start a whole movie. He grabbed his laptop and sat down on the couch in the middle of the main living area. It could hardly be called its own room as it conjoined with the kitchen area. It was a tiny apartment, only the bedroom and bathroom were actually separated from the rest.

As he sat, he couldn’t help but notice the extra cushioning underneath him. It was a shame he wouldn’t be able to indulge himself for more than a few hours. Despite what his boss had promised earlier in the month, he still had work the next day. Sunday was supposed to be his day off. Worse, he only had a half day tomorrow, and it wasn’t even first thing in the morning; it was situated right in the middle of the day, perfect for completely minimizing the usability of his free time. He wanted to say he couldn’t work the shift, but he knew he needed the hours—even as minimal as they were. With a sigh, he ran his hand over the bulge in his pajamas. Maybe he should have waited till Christmas. It almost seemed like a waste to wear one of these expensive diapers when he didn’t have enough time to fully enjoy it. Still, he needed the break; it had been a tough week.

Finished with his food, Bruce scrolled through various websites and forums. He was just looking for something to distract him from his everyday life. Just like his interest in wearing infantile clothes, he also enjoyed stories, fantasies about being a child again, when the hardships of the adult world were a distant thought, easily forgotten. He searched for a while, skipping past stories which didn’t meet his criteria. Anything with heavy drama was too serious for escapism, and he wasn’t in the mood for anything erotic—unfortunately such limitations made his search all that much more difficult. You can’t judge a book by it’s cover, and sometimes the nature of a tale doesn’t become apparent until many chapters in. Even still, finding anything particularly innocent took him longer than he’d liked.

But eventually he stumbled upon a promising story—Christmas-themed too; he was trying to be in a Christmas-y mood. This one started with the usual tropes, a young boy has an accident and has to wear a diaper. Unfortunately for the boy, this happens during a large family gathering at Christmas time. His older cousins soon find out about his diaper and start teasing him, making him dress up in cute girl’s clothes. Bruce imagined himself in place of the boy in the story, being made to wear diapers, being made to use them. At first it’s fun, but Bruce soon imagined the shame, the humiliation as everyone he knows finds out about his diapers, how his close friends exclude and mock him, how his mother is disappointed, and how others exploit his misery for their own entertainment. The story struck a chord, perhaps a little too close to home.

While this one may have just been a story, he knew that similar events had happened countless times before; he knew how such treatment could affect a child as they grew; he knew it was very much like how he came to have his own interest in diapers. He knew how crippling that could be—to be like him: liking diapers and other baby stuff. How it felt to be alone. He stopped reading.

Bitter memories of the time when he was not alone came flooding back. Memories of her, his girlfriend. Oh how awkward that breakup was. He would do anything to get her back, but he knew that it was impossible. It hurt even more during the holiday season, not having her there by his side, not being able to wrap his arms around her and feel her warmth. The resident chill in his apartment bit a little more fiercely in her absence. It’d been too long. But what could he do? How could he ever find a decent girl who also shared his interest in diapers? Too far away, too old, too dominating, too interested in only one thing; it seemed there was always something that prevented him from ever meeting someone. He really just wanted a fairly normal girlfriend who also happened to like diapers. That was too much to ask, it seemed, and was unfortunately the lesser prayer to that of his not being burdened with the fetish—he had long since learned that much.

He wished he could do without the interest in diapers as a prerequisite, but he knew better. Regardless of her other traits, if she wasn’t into diapers or age-play from the moment they met, it would only be a matter of time before one or both of them ended up getting hurt. He couldn’t risk that. From the couch he rose with a heavy sigh, his interest in reading: lost. A strange, yet all-too-familiar loneliness floated around him like a cloud while he got ready for bed. The thick blankets he buried himself under could only protect him from the physical cold. A faint glow from Christmas lights filtered through the blinds. Christmas, oh, of course; how had he forgotten? Christmas; merry, if only it could be. Well, he could dream, at least.

~

Eyes closed, he lay in bed. Blankets over him rose and fell with his rhythmic breathing. For a time, his face relaxed, his mind isolated from the world by the fog of sleep. But something else in the room was moving. A shape, a shadow, amorphous, silent. Something crept up from the corners as if it were reforming after being scattered—all directions into the dark. But as the shape coalesced, its own self was not dark but lighter, seemingly of earthy tones—though they were all but lost in the pale of the moonlight.

And the shape drifted across the room like a cloud, hovering beside Bruce’s sleeping form. Distress now creased his face. The shape, though having no features, very clearly hovered over and looked down upon the sleeping young man, observing in silence. Bruce turned, kicked around beneath his covers. Sweat upon his brow.

The shape reacted, and reached out. Part if its wispy nature closed more tightly on itself, becoming an appendage, a limb of sorts. With this, it reached toward Bruce. Its arm solidifying, darkening, sharpening. Now it was like a blade gliding through the air toward his head. Bruce made sounds, tossed and turned as if he could sense the impending danger but could not wake himself from the prison of sleep. The now dagger-like shape floated over him, raised high, then plunged down.

It was then that Bruce jolted awoke. Disoriented. Heart racing.

He looked around the room, but the shape was nowhere to be seen. The pale lighting was gone, replaced again by the cheery colors drifting in from outside. He sighed deeply. There were no such things as otherworldly spirits, only dreams about them. But with the sudden return to reality, his mind returned as well to the concern of the real world. What time was it? It was still dark, so he checked his phone. That meant getting out of bed, stumbling across the room. Damn. It’s only been twenty minutes. He double-checked that his alarm was set then put the phone down. It wasn’t entirely uncommon; jumping awake for no reason—probably a symptom of constantly being dragged out of bed by a screaming alarm at ungodly hours of the morning. Bruce sighed.

He was thirsty so he went to the bathroom and drank a large glass of water. He hadn’t needed to pee yet, making his expensive and absorbent underwear all that much more of a waste—the thought pricked his mind. Forcing himself to pull his focus away from stresses, he tuned his hearing to the distinct crinkle as he walked back to the bedroom. He very nearly had to waddle for the thickness of the diaper. He liked that. That was something he could fall asleep to; the thought of his diaper and the feeling of how thick and crinkly it was. It would be kind of nice if he actually needed his diaper; that would at least justify wearing it to sleep. He let himself entertain the fantasy just a moment more as he found a comfortable spot under the covers. Like he read in so many stories, he thought it comforting to at the same time need diapers as to know they would do their job and keep his bedding dry.

Yeah, that might be nice.

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Outside, night time, a mix of sleet and rain came down. Icy slush collected on the road, save for the tracks where cars had just driven. The highway was a blurry mess of vehicles, lights, and road mist—brine and ice kicked up into frozen, hazy cloud. Normally, traffic would have cleared long before this time of night, but with so many people traveling for the holidays the highways were packed with cars, many of which were from several states away. The result was a chaotic throng.

In a nice, silver sedan, a woman drove with two children in the back seat; a boy who looked no older than eight or nine, and a little girl in a carseat—maybe two and a half. The girl was asleep, the boy loosely held a Nindento 3DS but he wasn’t playing, he looked desperate; the woman, frustrated.

“Mom, hurry!” The boy whined, his voice wavering as if on the verge of tears.

“I am, Curtis, I am.” Her tone was decidedly less than patient. She gripped the steering wheel a little harder and muttered obscenities under her breath. There was suddenly an opening in the traffic which she used to her advantage, quickly jumping across several lanes toward an upcoming exit. The exit lane itself was farther ahead but there was a blockage of cars between them. Speeding up, she closed as much distance as she could before pulling out onto the paved shoulder to cover the remaining few hundred feet to the exit.

She continued to mutter under her breath. “Come on, come on, don’t pull out.” A car ahead of them had their blinker on, a car which she had apparently not seen from behind the others. They were just approaching the exit lane and she was fast approaching them. The car ahead merged over, just as the exit lane began, and also directly in front of them.

“Asshole!” She slammed on the horn and flashed her highbeams as the old, beat-up car in front of her quickly accelerated, apparently now aware of her presence. “Yeah, you better hit the gas.” She went back to muttering.

Now she was stuck behind the other car as they exited the highway. The light at the bottom of the ramp was green as the approached, but the car in front of her slammed on the brakes almost too quickly for her to stop in time. As her car skidded, the other car accelerated and drove through the intersection; the light turned yellow. She hesitated a moment, then pushed down harder upon the brakes, bringing them to a full stop as the light turned red. A muttered stream of curses followed, most of them about the other driver, his shitty car, or her pure distaste for the stoplight cameras in this city. The woman impatiently tapped her fingers on the steering wheel as she waited for the light to change.

“Mom!” The boy, Curtis, cried from the backseat again.

“Just another minute, honey. Look, there’s a gas station right over there.” She pointed across the intersection. “Just wait one more minute.”

“Mom…” Curtis’ cry barely registered as a whimper. Defeat in his voice. “I didn’t make it.”

“What? I can’t hear you.” The woman spun to look back at her son. His eyes were watery as she looked him up and down. There was a dark patch on the front of his pants which he was trying to cover with his game. Stretching, the woman reached back and pulled his hands away. “Did you pee your— get your hands out of the way. Did you—” She stopped, finally seeing the evidence. “You peed your pants. Well that’s just great.”

“I’m sorry, mom. I didn’t mean—”

“Sorry isn’t going to fix this…” She turned around and stared blankly at the red light. When it turned green, they took off, passed the gas station, and re-entered the highway.

“Mom, aren’t we gonna stop there?” Curtis pointed out the window to the receding gas station.

“You already peed your pants, there’s no point stopping to use the bathroom, is there? Now I’ve got another issue to deal with.” With the exception of muttered curses, they drove on in silence for another ten minutes, eventually taking an exit and stopping at a pharmacy. With the car in park, the woman paused, leaned against the steering wheel, taking several deep, slow, breaths, as though she was trying to meditate.

“Mom?”

Her eyes snapped open at the sound; she did not look happy. “Honey,” she said with a don’t test me tone, “just wait here with Peggy, I’ll be right back.”

“But mom—”

“Don’t… Just don’t.” She sighed. “Stay with your sister; stay quiet. Do not wake her up, I don’t want to deal with it right now.” She cast a stern look back toward the boy.

Several minutes passed as the boy waited in the car, his sister sleeping quietly beside him, his game resting limp to one side. Every now and then he would reach or look down at his crotch, warily, as if hoping it might somehow be dry. It wasn’t.

Eventually his mom returned. He tried to open the door the inside, but that set off the car alarm. Headlights flashed and the horn blared while his mom frantically dug out the keys and turned off the alarm. Panic and terror washed over Curtis’ face, but his mother wasn’t looking his way. She was watching the little girl, Peggy, who had somehow not awoken from all the noise. Satisfied, apparently, that the baby was still asleep, Curtis’ mother unlocked the car and opened the door.

“I’m sorry, mom—”

“Shh,” she hissed.

“Mom, I—”

“Zip it.” She leaned in and reached for him, but he recoiled. “Don’t, your gonna get—”

Bump. Whimpering. Peggy began to stir. Curtis’ mother froze.

“Mommy?” Peggy whimpered in a groggy voice, rubbing her eyes with balled-up fists.

Their mom shot a menacing glance down at the cowering Curtis before answering with a soothing tone. “Shh, don’t worry sweetie; go back to sleep.”

Peggy just started whimpering and crying softly, reaching out toward her mother.

“Looks like that ship has sailed.” The woman rolled her eyes. She tried to offer Peggy a nearby bottle of juice, but the girl threw it down.

“No,” the little girl whined. “Wanna out”

The woman looked up, peering out of the windows of the car, scanning their surroundings. Her eyes locked on something nearby and she sighed with slight reluctance. Reaching down under the center buckle of Peggy’s car seat, she again flashed some form of confirmation across her face. “You’re wet too, sweetie. Okay, fine, we’ll get out for a while. Curtis, put that game away and unbuckle your sister.”

Peggy didn’t appear to get the message, and she continued to whine and cry while her mother climbed back out of the car and went to the trunk. Curtis climbed up from his hastily sprawled recoil and gazed out through the rear window. Their mother soon returned looked less than pleased.

“Curtis, did you seriously only pack one set of clothes?”

Curtis looked confused.

“No socks, no pants, your pajamas, and just one— well, no underwear.” She held up a duffel bag. “But there’s shorts in here, those’ll be useful in December. And of course you brought your gameboy games.”

“It’s not a gameboy, it’s—”

“I don’t care what it’s called. It’s not clothes. I told you to pack clothes. Can you do anything right?” She pulled an item from the bag before tossing it in the trunk. “And I just told you to unbuckle your sister.”

At this point, the woman was very obviously frustrated, and she poured that frustration into each and every word and action; she only seemed to hold back when dealing with Peggy. A bundled up item from Curtis’ bag in the trunk, the bag she’d just gotten from the pharmacy, Peggy’s diaper bag, her purse, and finally Peggy herself—who was still crying. With everything in her arms, their mother bid Curtis to get out of the car.

“Where are we going?”

“In there.” His mother pointed to the coffee shop next door.

“But what about—”

“We’ll get you changed in the bathroom, I need to change Peggy anyway. Now come on.” She gestured away from the car with her head—the only thing she had left to motion with.

“But people will—”

“I said come on. I won’t say it again.” She gave Curtis a stern look.

Tears welled up as he complied. He tried his best to slouch as low as he could, but his mother kept prodding him along until they entered the coffee shop where they were greeted by warm air, soft music, and the thick aroma of various brews and pastries.

“Hi there, welcome.” A young man greeted cheerfully.

“May we use your restroom?” Curtis’ mother asked right away, raising her voice to be heard over the crying baby in her arms. She mostly concealed her previously-evident frustration while she spoke.

The young man pointed to the back of the room. “Right over there, ma’am.”

Curtis had been doing his best to hide behind his mother, but she quickly prodded him, forcing him to march along in front of her on their way to the restroom. Only once they had cleared half the room did Curtis quicken his pace, very nearly rushing by the time they reached the door. The restroom was clean and had the faint smell of fruity air freshener. His mother locked the door and immediately took Peggy over to the changing table and laid her down.

“Go ahead and take your pants and underwear off, Curtis,” his mother said, beginning the process of changing Peggy’s diaper. “Then try and use the toilet.” The smell from Peggy’s diaper quickly filled the air, overpowering the resident fragrance. Her mother worked quickly, methodically, soothing all the while; and soon the young girl was changed into a clean diaper. When she was finished, she spoke softly to Peggy until she was calm, then she tickled her, causing the toddler to giggle before she was set on her feet. She offered the little girl a pacifier and a toy. Peggy took them both. The children’s mother sighed, taking a brief moment to breathe deep before she turned to address Curtis, her face holding more reluctance than before opening Peggy’s diaper. “Are you done over there? Come here then. You’re next.”

Curtis stood awkwardly at her side.

“Well, go on, take your clothes off.” She clicked her tongue as she considered him for a moment. “Now, Curtis, I already told you once.”

Curtis shot a glance toward Peggy; his mother noticed.

“Don’t worry about her, Curtis. Start stripping, now. I won’t ask again.” Her tone got him moving, and he soon stepped out of his shoes and disrobed. He left his shirt on, but his mother saw the damp spot around its hem. Her eyes rolled in time with a frustrated sigh. “This comes off too; it’s clearly wet.”

She only waited a moment of before deciding to just peel off first one, then both of his shirts. “Here, clean yourself.” She thrust a wipe toward him, then busied herself quieting Peggy for a minute. When the apparent time was up, she shushed Peggy once more then turned back to Curtis. “Come on, let’s get this over with.”

Curtis gasped when his mother lifted him onto the changing table. “Mom? What are y—”

“Just lie still, honey.” His sniffed deeply, then grabbed another wipe, but Curtis began to struggle and protest. She pinned him down with a strong arm. “Curtis, I’m trying to clean you up, stop fighting.”

Curtis relaxed for a second until she started wiping. He squirmed as she cleaned, but he didn’t kick or try to break free. That was until she grabbed the bag from the pharmacy and pulled out a package of large-size diapers. It was right as she unfolded one that he suddenly tried to crawl back, nearly falling off of the changing table. His mother grabbed him, quickly pinning him down.

“Stop thrashing, you’re gonna fall.”

“No, Mom, don’t make me—”

“I said stop fighting.” She had to lean over him and pin him down to keep him from falling. After another brief struggle, he stopped. “Curtis, listen. There’s nothing else for you to wear, alright?”

“Mom, I’m not a baby! I’m not gonna wear a diaper. You can’t—”

“Curtis, stop.” She forced him down and looked him in the eyes. “You are going to lie there quietly or there is going to be hell to pay, do you understand me?”

Curtis struggled again in vain but, seeing that he had no chance of escaping, quickly gave up. Tears filled his eyes and he began to cry. His mother prompted him again before he finally whimpered “yes.”

Ignoring his tears, his mother released him and resumed right where she’d left off. Unfolding the diaper completely, she commanded him to lift, sliding the diaper underneath when he obeyed. The papery material of the diaper made a light scraping sound as it slid over the hard plastic of the changing station; the noise caused Curtis to cringe even harder than before.

“Mom—” But his mother cut him off by pushing his belly down until he gave up and willingly lowered himself onto the diaper.

She wasted no time pulling the front up between his legs and over his privates, then she released each tape and pressed it down across his waist with a light crinkle.

“See? That wasn’t so bad.” She attempted to soothe, offering a reassuring smile which went unnoticed. All that came in response was tearful whimpering.

“I’m not a baby, Mom, please—”

“Oh shush. Of course you’re not a baby.” Her voice now sounded less comforting and more obligated. “But…” She began as she bundled up his wet things and stuffed them into the plastic bag from the pharmacy. “You did just pee in your pants, instead of the toilet like a big boy.”

“But mom—”

“I’m not done.” She was in the middle of putting the new package of diapers into Peggy’s diaper bag, but stopped and gave Curtis a stern look.

“You didn’t even tell me you had to go until you could barely hold it; you were too busy playing your gameboy.” She held up a hand to preemptively silence his protest, quickly reforming the flat palm into an accusatory, pointed, finger. “You didn’t pack your clothes like I told you to, and you didn’t even take off your wet clothes when I told you. So no, you’re not a baby, you’re a big boy. But somehow I still have to do everything for you like I do for Peggy. Now instead of whining and complaining about it, why don’t you think about how to be better at being a big boy instead of acting like a baby.”

Curtis didn’t reply at first, he just laid his head back on the changing table. “Can I have my pants?”

“That’s ‘may I please have my pants,’ and no, your pants are all wet. All I have is your pajamas.” She held up a Minecraft-themed two-piece. “Come on, it’s a long ride and we’re going to arrive late, let’s just get you in your pajamas now so you can get right into bed when we get there.”

Leaving him lying in the changing table, she pushed his feet into the legs of the pajamas and worked them up his legs and around his waist. After putting his shoes back on, she set him on his feet. His pajama bottoms wrapped his form tightly, the shape of the diaper underneath was quite visible and the waistband peeked up around the back. “You can handle it from here while I use the toilet.” She said, and handed him the top to his pajamas.

When he slipped into the pajama top, it only passed the waist of his pants by an inch or so—barely enough to conceal his peeking diaper. Over that he put his winter jacket, which did help hide the diaper bulge a bit more. “Mom, I don’t like this.” He tugged at his pajama bottoms, seemingly unable to decide if it was worse for them to be pulled up tight or riding a bit lower.

“I’m sorry you don’t like it, but I don’t wanna hear any complaining from you unless you want me to take away your video game.” She finished up and exited the stall, pausing in the door to catch Curtis’ eye. “Do I make myself clear?”

Curtis nodded with haste. His mother soon collected him and his sister and lead them out of the bathroom. Immediately upon exiting, Curtis hung back, preferring to stay behind his mother, probably in hopes that the other people in the coffee shop wouldn’t notice him or his diapers. Of course, his eyes were red from crying and the diaper’s profile was easily visible, even below the lowest reaches of his jacket. The friction between the papery exterior of the diaper and the soft lining of his pajamas produced a light rustling sound, one accompanied by the faint crinkle from the plastic inside the diaper’s cloth-like shell. Curtis walked awkwardly, though it could have been from either the odd feeling of the diaper or from an attempt to lessen its noise. Regardless, he likely drew only more attention to himself than he would have otherwise attracted.

Peggy started whining again, and her mother picked her up as they approached the counter. Curtis, now focused exclusively on the front door, kept walking for a few seconds before realizing his lack of cover, then darting back behind the protection of his mother.

Their mother sighed as she stood at the counter, staring blankly for a few seconds while the barista waited patiently with a smile. “I guess I’ll get a large mocha latte, and an extra shot of espresso, Lord knows I need some caffeine right now.” She looked around for a moment, at the counter, at the menu, before turning to her son. “Curtis, do you want something? They have hot chocolate. How about a cookie?”

Curtis looked surprised by the offer, his mother’s now-pleasant tone instantly drawing his full attention. “Uh, yeah,” he stammered out.

“One hot chocolate and a cookie.”

Outside, in the car, after they had gotten their drinks and snacks, Curtis’ mother quickly scrubbed down the damp spot on Curtis’ booster seat and then placed a plastic bag over top. By now, Peggy’s crying had only increased, more so now that she was back in the car. Their mother checked that both children were buckled before handing Curtis his hot chocolate and Peggy her bottle.

She paused, close to Curtis, looking him in the eyes. “That was a much longer stop than I wanted to take. It’s already late and I still have several hours of driving. We’ve had to pull over too many times already. No more stops, okay. Not unless I say so. Understand?”

Curtis nodded.

“Do you? That means I don’t want to hear you suddenly begging me to find a bathroom.” She walked around and climbed in the driver’s seat, starting the car and sipping her coffee while she waited for the vents to blow warm. She turned to Curtis again. “I have another job for you. Play with your sister. Give her a bottle, rock her seat gently; I just need you to help me get her back to sleep. If you do that, I’ll give you back your gameboy.” She held up the red, plastic device before flipping it shut and setting it in the passenger seat. They soon pulled off, Curtis trying to get Peggy to stop crying while occasionally shifting in his seat.

Hours passed as they drove into the night. The sleet continued for a time, but eventually stopped. Finally clear of the city, the traffic began to ease and they could finally make a decent pace. Peggy had long since fallen back to sleep and Curtis had been playing his games ever since. Their mother had put in a call to say that they would be arriving very late.

Eventually, Curtis began to fidget with an increasing frequency. It wasn’t even twenty minutes before he lowered his game; apparently he now had bigger concerns. Not long after, he spoke up. “Um, mom?”

“What is it, honey?” Her tone suggested she already knew the answer.

“I gotta pee.”

“Curtis,” she enunciated slowly, “what did I say?”

“I really gotta go.”

“And I said I didn’t want to hear you demanding I find you a bathroom.”

“But mom…”

“Stop it. If you couldn’t hold it the rest of the way, maybe you shouldn’t have drank so much. Let that be a little lesson about foresight. I told you I don’t want to hear you asking to stop anymore, so not another word. I already found you a toilet and you’re wearing it.”

“But—”

“I said stop.” She commanded. “Don’t you say another word about needing the bathroom unless you want me to take your games away.”

Curtis didn’t say anything else.

It was nearly three more hours before they reached their destination. When they arrived, their mother changed both children’s diapers before they all went to bed.

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The sun was well up by the time they rose. In a little bedroom was a bed, beside it an air mattress, and beside that a crib. There was also the boy, Curtis, and his mother who was carrying his baby sister, Peggy. Curtis was complaining, his face looking rather indignant.

“Mom, no, I don’t wanna wear this. I want my underwear; I want my pants.” Curtis retreated a step toward the back of the bedroom while his mother continued toward the open door.

“Well I hate to break it to you but you can’t have them, they’re still wet; they need to be washed.” She spun and faced him, pausing, and beginning again with a slow, accusatory enunciation. “I told you last night, when we got here, when I had to change you again: you didn’t pack any clothes, so if you wanna know who’s to blame for why you don’t have anything to wear; it’s you. I have to go put your clothes through the wash, and until that’s done you’ll be wearing diapers and pajamas, which honestly is just fine by me; maybe you’ll learn something.”

Curtis opened his mouth, but his mother cut him off. “Don’t like it? Just remember that this is your fault.”

With a scowl, Curtis went to the air mattress, turned, sat, and picked up his 3DS “Then I’m staying in here until they’re done.”

“You absolutely will not.” His mother beat a quick path toward him

A new voice spoke from the doorway. “Why would you even want to? Your grandmother is downstairs making her famous animal-shape pancakes.”

Curtis’ mother turned to face the new woman. “Kelly, good morning,” she said with a smile.

Kelly immediately approached, drawing Peggy and her mother both into a hug. She was a middle-aged woman with graying, shoulder-length hair; she wore an over-sized green sweater which had reindeer knit across in patterns. Her face beamed with a wide smile. “Good to see you, Cassandra. When did you get in?”

“Around two, this morning. We hit bad traffic,” she cast a glance toward Curtis, “and had to make several stops.”

“My goodness, you must still be tired.” Her countenance darkened slightly with concern.

“A little. I just need a coffee. We were just on our way down to the kitchen anyway.” Again, she cast a strong glance toward her son who remained seated. “Come on, Curtis.”

Curtis slunk beneath the covers. His mother exchanged a look with Kelly and handed Peggy over. She approached Curtis and snatched away his game. “Enough of this. No more games for you. Now get up, we’re going downstairs to breakfast.”

Not bothering to reach for his game, Curtis backed further away until he was up against the wall. “No. I’m not hungry. I wanna stay here.”

Kelly approached, taking a place beside his mother. “What’s the matter, Curtis?” she asked in a soft voice of genuine interest. “All your cousins are down there. Everyone’s having pancakes.”

Curtis burst out in protest. “No! I don’t care. Leave me alone.”

“Curtis!” his mother said sharply. “You don’t act like that. Tell aunt Kelly you’re sorry.” She pointed a stern finger.

Kelly didn’t seem fazed. “It’s alright, Cass, if he wants to stay here, I say we let him. I just don’t know why he’d want to.”

Curtis mother straightened, looking coldly down at her son. “Curtis doesn’t want to come downstairs because of what he’s wearing.”

Curtis’ eyes went wide. “Mom!”

Kelly looked quizzical. “Why? What do you mean?”

Keeping full eye contact with Curtis, his mother continued deliberately. “We had a bit of an incident on the way here. Someone didn’t tell me they needed to use the toilet and then someone’s pants got wet. Someone also didn’t pack any clothes. So now someone gets to wear a diaper under their pajamas.”

“Mom!” Tears were in his eyes.

Kelly raised an eyebrow at the mention of a diaper, an amused grin pricking at the corner of her mouth. “You put him in a diaper?”

Curtis’ mother also looked amused, but she seemed to be pulling from Curtis’ current state of distress. She nodded, ignoring his continued pleas, and turned to face Kelly. “It’s a good thing I did, too.”

“Mom, please!”

“Please what, Curtis?” His mother stooped to address him directly. “Should we stay here and keep talking about you, or do you think maybe you can get up off your butt and come downstairs for breakfast.”

The now teary-eyed boy glanced back and forth at the two women above him. He hesitated for a moment, but then got up and followed them down to the kitchen. Kelly passed Peggy back to her mother then tousled Curtis’ blond hair, keeping a hand on his shoulder the whole time.

The house was huge, they traveled through a couple long, festively-decorated hallways and down some stairs before they reached the well-populated and aromatic eating areas. The adults had mostly gathered in the dining room, while the kids were around the kitchen table. At one end of the table were three boys, two of them looking at least a few years older than Curtis. The youngest of them looked up to greet him as he approached.

Kelly lead Curtis to an open seat and had him sit. “What would you like to drink?” She asked with a smile.

“Um, milk,” Curtis replied sheepishly.

His aunt walked away and he remained almost motionless, stiffly rooting himself to the chair, hardly daring to breath. Around him, three of the boys crowded over a phone which was playing some video at a high volume. They boys laughed along as cacophonous noise from the video continued to grow louder. Curtis looked over at them, interested, but didn’t move from his chair. He jumped when his aunt set a glass of milk next to him on the table.

“Th—thanks.”

She leaned close to his ear and whispered. “Relax, kiddo, no one’s gonna notice what you’re wearing. Have some fun.”

Curtis looked up at her silently, his face a mixture of surprise and hesitance. She just patted him on the shoulder and walked away saying “I’ll bring you some pancakes.”

A voice from the other end of the table called loudly with annoyance. “Clint, for crying out loud, turn that crap down!” All heads turned. The speaker was a girl in her mid-teens, a few inches taller than the two girls beside her, who also looked to be somewhere in their teens. They both had straight blonde hair while she had wavy brown hair. Her dark eyes glared at the boy with the phone.

The boy had blond hair and looked a couple years behind the girl. “Shut up, Judith.”

“Whatever you’re watching sounds like a robot having diarrhea.”

“Judith!” Aunt Kelly exclaimed in shock as she returned to set a plate of pancakes in front of Curtis. “That’s disgusting.”

“What?” Judith said defensively, “it does.”

Kelly gave her a long look, possibly a warning, before turning to the boy. “Clint. She’s not entirely wrong, that sounds terrible… whatever it is. Why don’t you turn it down.”

With some reluctance, Clint obliged, though the sound could still be heard across the room. Judith glared at him, but soon went back to her conversation with the other two girls. Curtis sat quietly and ate his pancakes while the groups of boys, girls, and adults each chatted and laughed amongst themselves. After leaving Peggy in a highchair with an assortment of pre-sliced food, Curtis’ mother and his aunt Kelly both left the room for a few minutes, disappearing down another hallway, this one adjacent to the one which led to their bedroom. It wasn’t long before they returned, but Curtis didn’t seem to even notice. Instead, he occasionally leaned over, trying to see what the other boys were looking at on Clint’s phone. Eventually, most of the kids had finished their food. The boys then decided they were going to the kids’ room to play Super Smash Bros. on the big TV.

“No you’re not,” announced one of the girls. “We’re going to use it.”

“No fair, we already called it,” said Clint.

One of the aunts spoke up from across the room. “You boys have played enough videogames. Why don’t you go outside for a while, save the games for later.”

At this, the boys began to talk amongst themselves. A minute later they got up in unison and proceeded to collect their coats and hats. “Come on, Curtis,” the youngest boy said. “It snowed last night. Let’s go outside.”

Curtis’ brightened at the invitation, quickly wolfing down several more bites of pancake. But when he got up to follow the other boys, his mother called out.

“Curtis, what are you doing?”

“I’m going outside with Clint and them.”

“Not in your pajamas you’re not.”

The other boys turned around to look at Curtis. “Dude,” the eldest boy said, “it’s like ten in the morning, get out of your pajamas.”

Curtis looked down momentarily to inspect himself. “Come on, mom,” he said in complaint.

“No, Curtis. Your clothes are all in the wash. Plus, I want you to watch Peggy for a while.”

“Aww, mom.” Curtis whined. At this point, the other boys wasted no time leaving him behind. His eyes followed them out of the door, disappointment evident across his face.

“What do you want me to say, Curtis?” She looked at him with no small level of annoyance. “You didn’t pack any other clothes. It’s freezing outside and your pajamas are too thin. When your pants are finished in the wash, then maybe you can go outside. Now go back to your seat and finish your pancakes.”

Curtis went to the table and stuffed the last of the pancakes into his mouth. The next several minutes he spent sitting idly at the table. When his mother was finished feeding Peggy, she got up, collected Curtis—after making him wash both his and Peggy’s dishes—and took them down the same hall she’d disappeared into with Kelly, to the first room on the right. Evidently a playroom, this room featured a large TV, several shelves of movies, boxes of toys for kids of varying ages, and two couches. Their mother set Peggy down with a few toys and a bottle. “Stay here and play with your sister for a while so I can have a chance to talk with my sister. I haven’t seen her in years.”

“Can I have my 3DS back?” Curtis sat in the middle of one of the couches.

“No.”

“Then what am I supposed to do this whole time?”

“You do what I said; you play with your sister. Now get down off that couch and sit next to her.” She reached over and dragged over one of the boxes of toys. “Look, there’s Legos in here, I know you like Legos.”

Curtis looked in the box. “These aren’t Legos, these are the big ones for babies.”

Rolling her eyes, and with a sigh which clearly indicated her impatience with the conversation, she reached down to check Peggy’s diaper before replying. “Well, you just have to make do.”

“This sucks.” Curtis crossed his arms.

“Watch your mouth. Try thinking of someone other than yourself for five minutes. Your sister has no one to play with.” His mother left, pausing in the door for a moment. “You can’t just sit around and play by yourself all day.”

Curtis scowled at the toddler next to him. Peggy sat and played happily. After a minute, Curtis grabbed a few large building blocks, stuck them together haphazardly, then angrily tossed them across the room where they tumbled on the floor and came apart.

“Only babies throw their toys like that.” A voice spoke from behind him. “What, are you a baby?” Curtis turned and saw Judith standing in the doorway, idly looking at her phone.

“I’m not a baby,” he said in a grumpy tone, “go away.”

“Oh really?” She rocked her weight from one hip to the other. “Then why did your mom tell me to come in here and watch you like a baby?”

“What!? No way she said that.”

Judith took a few steps into the room. She leaned toward him with a mean smile. “Well, if you don’t want me to go tell her you’re in here breaking stuff, then you’d better go pick that up and put it back.”

Curtis’ scowl deepened, but he got up and started across the room.

“No,” Judith said, stopping him in his tracks. “Crawl.”

“What?”

“Crawl on the floor like a baby. Crawl over there and get your toys.”

“They’re not my toys, and I’m not gonna crawl.”

Judith turned and yelled down the hall. “Auntie Cassandra!”

“Judith!” Curtis’ eyes went wide. “Shut up. What are you doing?”

Judith just laughed. “You’d better hurry.”

Curtis dropped to his hands and knees in a flash, thumping loudly across the room. He quickly gathered up the blocks and crawled back across the floor, depositing them in a small pile near Peggy, who giggled joyously at his antics. “There, I did it, now shut up.”

Judith’s phone never lowered from her face, but she giggled along. “Good baby.”

“I’m not a baby.”

“Uh oh, your mom’s coming. You better look like you’re playing with Peggy.”

Curtis quickly sat and started looking around for something. There were toys all round him, but he didn’t grab any of them.

Judith reached down, grabbing a baby doll in a frilly dress, and a pink rattle, handing them to Curtis. “Here, play with these.”

“Ew, no—”

Judith shoved them forward again, this time with force. “Yes, play with them or I’m telling your mom you’re being bad.”

With a huff, Curtis snatched the toys and pretended to play, bouncing the doll around and shaking the rattle. At that moment, his mom walked in. She eyed him for a moment, slight surprise on her face.

She turned to Judith. “Yes? What’s going on?”

“Oh, nothing.” Judith said nonchalantly. “Curtis said he wanted some chocolate milk.”

“I just left—” Curtis’ mother sighed, then eyed him again. “Curtis, did you want some chocolate milk?”

“Uh, um, y—yeah. I mean, yes please.”

She looked like she was thinking for a moment. “Nice to see you’re playing with your sister, at least.” She turned to leave.

“Oh, um…” Judith interjected, “Maybe you should get him a sippy cup. Someone spilled a drink in here yesterday; grandma and grandpa were kinda mad about it.”

Curtis’ mother sighed. “Yeah, you’re probably right.” She turned again and headed for the doorway.

“He’s really good with her, isn’t he?” Judith said abruptly, causing Curtis’ mother to stop and turn around once again. “Just look at him playing. He likes playing down at a baby’s level. He’s such a sweet little kid.”

“Yeah…” his mother said hesitantly, an eyebrow raised. “I guess he is.” She then left the room.

Judith looked after her, waiting until she was gone before returning her gaze to Curtis. “You’re welcome.”

Curtis looked confused.

Judith rolled her eyes. “So, you wanna tell me why you’re wearing a diaper, or what?”

Curtis’ eyes went wide as saucers. “What!?” he gasped

“What do you mean, ‘what?’” She looked disinterested, nonchalant, occupied by her phone. “I mean, I can see you’re wearing a diaper. How about you tell me why.”

Curtis hesitated, then his face became angry in protest. “I’m not wearing a diaper,” he said adamantly.

Judith lowered her phone. “Is that so, should I ask your mom, then?”

His protest faltered, replaced by alarm. “No!”

“And what if I pull your pants down?”

Curtis got up and backed away.

Judith smiled and took a step toward him. “C’mon, kid, I can see that diaper shape plain as day. Stop trying to lie, just tell me what happened. Do you pee your pants or what?”

Curtis made his best attempt to scowl in as threatening a manner as possible. Judith didn’t seem to be fazed.

“Well, did you pee your pants like a baby?”

“No. I didn’t.” Curtis fumed with rage, but managed to keep himself from shouting.

“So why are you in a diaper, then? Where are your other clothes?”

“In the washing machine.”

“And why is that?” She leaned closer, intimidating.

“I spilled something.”

“So you wet your pants, and now they’re in the wash?” Judith paused for a second, then added with a chuckle. “And you have no other clothes?”

“I said I spilled something.” He stomped. “And stop laughing, it’s not funny.”

“Well, I think it’s cute.” Her smile broadened. “You even fit into your sister’s diapers.”

“Go away, Judith.”

Judith pretended to think. “No, I don’t think I will,” she mused out loud.

Curtis only scowled more deeply. “Why don’t you just leave me along, okay?”

Now Judith put a look of shock, though clearly fake, and dramatically placed her hands on her hips. “You know, Curtis, you’re being mean to me.” She shook a finger at him. “I should tell your mother how mean you are.”

Curtis’ scowl vanished to worry, pleading. And he whined, “Judith, come on…”

“Show me your diaper.”

His jaw dropped.

Judith’s face became stone, eyes narrowed. “Show me now, before your mom gets back… or else.”

Instantly, the scowl returned to his face.

“Hurry up, baby, she could be here any second.”

Curtis hesitantly pulled his pajamas down a little, looking up at Judith again.

“No, all the way down. C’mon, time’s a-ticking.”

Curtis obliged, fully exposing his diaper to Judith. At this point, even Peggy was watching. The diaper fit pretty well around his slim frame and wasn’t pulling too tightly at the tapes or sides.

“Spin around.”

Curtis spun, showing Judith the back of his diaper, complete with its little, red-encircled “6” denoting its size. There was the click of a shutter and he whirled around to angrily face his cousin, who took another couple pictures with her phone.

“Judith!” He raised his voice.

“Shut up,” she hissed. “Put your pants back up and sit down. I hear your mom.” She leaned close. “And smile.”

Curtis then abandoned his anger in favor of compliance, quickly clothing himself once more, and returning to his place beside his sister, all just before his mother came around the corner and into the room.

Judith giggled, apparently entertained by something on her phone, while Curtis’ mother, who looked just a little puzzled, delivered a bright red sippy cup to her son. Curtis accepted the cup, not managing to do a particularly good job hiding his disappointment.

His mother wasn’t amused by his reaction. “Don’t look like that, Curtis. You asked for chocolate milk, this is what you get.”

“But I don’t want a sippy cup.”

“Curtis,” Judith said, raising her eyebrows in an expectant, prompting manner, “smile.” And she offered a smile of her own, though hers looked rather smug. “Thank your mom.”

Curtis made his best effort of a smile toward his mother. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.” His mother wore a look of surprise. She turned to Judith. “I wish he listened to me like that.”

Judith shrugged, still looking idly at her phone. “I’m good with little kids.”

“Alright then.” Curtis’ mother glanced back as she left. “Curtis, you behave.”

After her aunt left, Judith wasn’t in any hurry to engage Curtis, who just sat for a minute and stared at the floor. Peggy rolled a ball across the room, then chased it.

Curtis spoke first. “Why can’t—”

“You’re welcome, Curtis.”

“What?”

“I said you’re welcome.” Judith enunciated more clearly.

“For what?”

“Chocolate milk, among other things.”

“I didn’t even want it.”

“You’re still welcome.” Her eyes narrowed. “And unless you want me to tell your mom that you’re being mean and rude, or if you want me to share those pictures with a whole bunch of people; then you’re welcome for that too.”

Curtis didn’t reply.

Judith sat on the arm of the couch, ignoring his. “You do like chocolate milk, right?”

Curtis paused. “Yes.”

“Then you’re welcome.”

“But I—you… why are you doing this?” he asked, deflated.

“Because I like you, I think you’re cute, and I’m bored.” She glanced across the room to where Peggy was retrieving the ball. “I can do a lot of nice things if I feel like it.”

He looked down at the sippy cup in his hand. “Whatever.”

“Not even a ‘thank you?’” she prompted.

“Um, thanks, I guess.”

“Just so you know. I can make a lot of other nice things happen to you.” She toyed with her hair, casting a quick glance at Curtis to see if he was looking. “Like maybe I can get you some different pants to wear.”

That got his attention; she continued. “And maybe I can find someone else to watch Peggy, so you don’t have to.”

“Really?”

“I sure can,” she said cheerfully. Then her face went dark. “Or I can show these cute pictures of you in your diaper to all your friends.”

“What!? Judith, no!”

“You play Xbox, online, with my little brother, right?”

He nodded.

“Did you know that’s not his own account? It’s also mine too. As a matter of fact, I have the app on my phone, so if I wanted, I could send this picture to everyone in your friends list.” She showed him her phone screen. It displayed the picture she’d just taken a moment ago: him standing, with his pants down, diaper exposed, an angry look on his face. She swiped the screen, scrolling to the picture of him form the back.

He lunged at her. “Judith, get rid of those!”

“Ah-ah-ah.” She waggled a finger at him. “You’d better behave… or else.”

Curtis stopped his assault but was still fuming. Hot tears in his eyes.

“Let’s not worry about that, shall we. You’re going to behave, right? Remember, I can do a lot of nice things too.” A grin played at the corner of her mouth. “But you have to do something in return.”

Curtis was a bit hesitant. Betrayal and anger flared on his face. He wiped his tears on his sleeve. “What is it?”

Just then, Peggy toddled back past the couch; something caught Judith’s eye. She reached out and caught Peggy by the arm, gently steering her around, and performing a swift diaper check. “Curtis?” She turned back to the boy as she released Peggy. “Come here, Curtis.”

“What? Why?”

“Curtis, if you want me to be nice, you’re gonna have to be more obedient than that. I won’t help you if you aren’t gonna listen to me.” She was severe, her voice snapped at him.

He backpedaled. “No, that’s not what I meant—”

She cut him off. “And what did you mean? All I did was ask you to come here. That’s it. You just come over here and you’re done. I don’t see why you need to ask me any questions; you either do it or you don’t.” She waited a few seconds while Curtis sat in silence. “Well? Are you gonna come over here or should I just start sending these pictures?”

Curtis jumped up and went over to Judith. “What are you gonna—”

“Don’t worry,” Judith said with a now sweetly flavored voice. Grabbing Curtis as soon as he was within reach, she spun him just like with Peggy, and checked his diaper.

“Hey!” He pulled free, twisting and backing away from her.

“What?” Judith was grinning widely now. “You just showed me your diaper a minute ago, what’s so bad about giving you a little check?”

“I don’t need to be checked. I didn’t… use it…”

“Oh yeah? Then why are these diapers just for you?”

“What?”

“You’re wearing a size six, your sister wears a size three; and they’re not even the same brand. That means that these are definitely your diapers, not your sister’s. So, do you wear diapers all the time?”

“No.”

“Do you wet the bed?”

“No!”

“So instead of spilling something, what actually happened was you wet your pants and then your mom put you in diapers?”

His next response came after a delay. “…No.”

Judith caught his hesitation and smirked knowingly. “You did, didn’t you? When did it happen?”

There was a long pause, Curtis sighed in defeat. “When we were driving; but she wouldn’t stop for the bathroom, it wasn’t my fault.”

“Does your mom make you wear diapers when you drive?”

“No.”

“Did she buy these because you wet your pants? Was she mad at you?”

He didn’t answer.

Judith nodded to herself, grinning wide. “Did you pee in your diaper after that?”

“…no.”

“Oh really? And what if I go ask your mom?” Judith got up.

“No!” He looked pleadingly at her, then down at the floor. “Okay, I did. Don’t go ask my mom.”

“You peed in your diaper when you were in the car?”

Curtis nodded.

“Did you tell your mom you had to go, or did you just pee?”

“Yeah, uh… I told her.”

“And did she stop?”

Curtis shook his head.

Judith chuckled. “Well, kid, it looks like your mom wants you to use your diapers.”

“No she doesn’t!” Tears filled his eyes.

“It’s okay. Hey, don’t worry about it.” She soothed. “Come here.”

He didn’t move; she raised an eyebrow, keeping her arms outstretched, then Curtis moved. Wrapping her arms around him, she pulled him into a hug, sneaking a hand down to pat him on the bottom. He tried to pull away, but she held him until he stopped struggling, then put him at arms length, holding him by the shoulders, looking him face to face. “See, Curtis, this is what I’m talking about. You won’t even let me hug you without trying to pull away. You lied to me, and now you won’t do what I say. It’s like you want me to share those pictures; it’s like you don’t want my help at all.”

Curtis looked desperate. “No! I want your help. I do.”

“Are you willing to prove it?”

His brow wrinkled in apparent confusion. “I guess.”

Judith got up. “I don’t think you are.”

“I am, really,” he said in earnest.

She studied him, then spoke in a deadpan. “Wet your diaper.”

Shock upon his face, Curtis shook his head. “No—”

“So you want me to message all your friends?” She put her hands on her hips.

“No!”

“Really? You know what your problem is? You argue too much, Curtis. If I have to fight with you every time I ask for something, I’m just gonna stop trying to help you. In fact, I might just go and make things worse for you. Do you want that?” She bore down on him with fierce eyes. “Because I can do a lot more than just some embarrassing pictures. Do you really want me to make things worse for you?”

“No—”

“Then do what I said, this is your last chance.”

“Judith, please…”

“Okay, that’s it.” Judith stood and headed for the doorway.

Curtis called out to her. “Wait! I’ll do it.”

She spun around, flashing a wide grin. “It’s too late now. I’m gonna go talk to your mom.”

Desperation and panic were in his voice. “No, please! I’ll do it; I’m doing it right now, okay!”

“Well, I don’t believe you.”

Curtis was already cringing and squirming, his feet seemingly rooted to the floor. There was struggle in his face, but the latest reply from Judith seemed to cause hurt. He looked down, then slowly, reluctantly slid his pants down until his diaper was exposed. No longer crinkled or bunched or dry, his diaper now hung lower and had swollen, vanishing every previous crease or fold into a smoothly rounded bulge. Curtis raised his tearful eyes to meet Judith’s.

“Very good, just like the baby you are.” She beamed, then looked away wistfully, her voice dropping. “But I already said you’re too late.”

“That’s not fair…” He mumbled.

“What’s that, baby?”

“I said I hate you!” He fumed, suddenly relenting his outburst upon seeing Judith’s reaction.

Judith approached.

“I—I’m… I didn’t mean it.”

“Shh…” She reached down and pulled his pajama bottoms back up. She was thoughtful for a few moments. “You know what, you just think about that for a few minutes, whether you’re gonna do what I say without question. I’ll be back soon.”

“Wait…” he begged through his tears, but she was gone.

Judith had left quickly. Curtis remained standing for a minute, then sat and watched his sister toddle around and play with toys. Occasionally, Curtis would look toward the doorway, fearful hope in his eyes, desperation, sadness. His countenance fell every time she wasn’t there.

But eventually she did return, and she brought someone with her, someone who hadn’t been at the table at breakfast. The person with Judith was a young woman carrying a small child. “There you go, Susan; there’s Peggy. I’m sure she’d love to play with Maggie.”

“What do you think, Maggie?” The woman asked the little girl in her arms, “you wanna play with your cousin Peggy?”

The little girl giggled and waved. It wasn’t long before the young woman had collected Peggy and disappeared, leaving Curtis alone with Judith. Judith had a smile of self-satisfaction.

“Well, Curtis, how about that? You don’t have to watch your sister any longer.”

Curtis was silent, glancing between Judith and the empty doorway.

“See, I told you I could be nice.” She smiled at him. “Now if you think that’s nice, why don’t you go ask your mom if you can play videogames on the TV in here. Tell her I said I don’t mind. You could even ask her if she’ll let you take the top off of your sippy cup.”

Curtis’ surprise was evident on his face.

“Hey, cheer up.” Judith leaned close, grabbing a tissue and wiping around Curtis’ eyes. “Go on, kid.” Judith motioned toward the doorway.

With a hesitant smile on his face, Curtis left the room. His steps were awkward at first, and he paused to adjust his pants, now protruding more noticeably at the front. He made his way past the dining area and into the kitchen. At one end of the room, Peggy and a few other toddlers were playing on the floor. There were two women sitting on chairs nearby, one of them was Susan, the one who had just collected Peggy. Apparently, there were even more people still arriving.

Curtis went over to his mother. “Mom, can I—”

“Curtis, don’t interrupt, can’t you see I’m talking with someone?”

Curtis glanced over at the woman sitting next to his mother. His aunt Kelly was also at the table, but she was talking with an elderly man. The woman looked at his mother and nodded gently toward Curtis.

His mother sighed, then addressed him with half-concealed annoyance. “Yes, Curtis, what do you want?”

“Um, can I play games on the TV in there? Judith said she doesn’t mind if I do.” He stopped for a second. “And uh, can I take the lid off the cup I have? I don’t like it.”

“You’re supposed to be watching your sister.”

Curtis turned and point across the room to where Peggy was playing with the other kids her age. “She’s playing with Maggie and them. Susan said she’d watch her.”

His mother peered to where he was pointing. “I suppose she is…” She thought for a moment. “Why don’t you wait until after lunch before you think about game.”

Curtis looked surprised.

She narrowed her eyes. “And no, the lid stays on.”

“Aww, but—” He started to complain, but his mother cut him off with a snap.

“I said no, and that’s final.” She took a sip of her coffee. “Go on, go play, and don’t make a mess.”

Curtis went back to the play room where Judith had already turned on the TV. The main menu screen for Mario kart was shining brightly. She looked up as he entered. “You don’t have to say thank you.”

“Mom said I couldn’t play.”

“Well don’t worry about it.” Judith approached and squatted down next to Curtis. “But I want you to do something.”

“Do what?”

Judith looked him in the eye. “Do you want your diaper changed?”

He nodded.

“I’m gonna take care of you, okay? You want that, right?”

Curtis nodded slowly.

“And I’m gonna take care of you because you’re gonna be my baby, right?”

“What?”

“Is that a no?”

“No, I mean, it’s a yes. I just—”

“Should I go get your mom to come change you?”

His eyes went wide. “No!”

“So you want me to change you?”

He looked at the floor.

“How about this, then. You just sit here and play games for a while.” She moved him by the shoulders, guiding him to the couch. Then she grabbed the sippy cup, adjusting the lid before she set it on the coffee table in front of him. “Just have some fun; enjoy your games, drink your chocolate milk. Take some time to appreciate all the things I just did for you.”

She started to leave. “Finish your milk, and when you’re ready to get out of that soggy diaper, come out to the kitchen with your empty cup. That’ll be our little secret signal. Got it?”

Curtis nodded and took the game controller she offered.

Judith exited the room. Turning right, she made her way down the hall to the end. Around the corner was a utility room which also had a washer and dryer. The washer was running. She stopped it and opened the lid. Inside was a pair of pants, a pair of boy’s underwear, and two shirts. She pulled out the pants. Grabbing one side in each hand, she pulled them apart until the stitching tore along the middle seam. She inspected the damage, then tore them some more. Now there was a large hole right down the middle of the butt. With a satisfied grin, she tossed them back in the washer, and then grabbed the underwear before restarting the cycle. The room had another door which led outside. Beyond that was a small concrete pad and some steps; there were a few large, rolling, trash cans set in a row. Judith took the underwear and dropped it in one of the trashcans, shaking it until the underwear had shifted down below the other trash.

Taking a long look around the snow-covered surroundings, she shivered, then made her way back inside the large, warm, house. Curtis didn’t notice her as she passed by the game room on her way to the kitchen.

“Isavelle,” she approached another girl about her age, one of the girls that had been sitting next to her at breakfast. “Hey, you want a coffee?”

The girl looked up from her phone. “Sure, whatever.”

Judith tossed the old filter and rinsed out the carafe before pouring in some new grounds and filling the tank with water. While she waited for the coffee to brew, she took a seat next to Isavelle.

“Man, this sucks.” Isavelle plunked her phone down on the table. “All my friends are at a Christmas party while I’m stuck here. There’s nothing to do.”

A few minutes later, when the coffee was ready, Judith poured them both a mug. “I think Lucy’s upstairs watching Netflix in my room.”

She sat down and took a sip, sliding the other mug over to Isavelle. For a while, they sat and chatted, but Judith always kept the hallway in view, the one which led to the game room. Adults came and went, sometimes individually, sometimes in groups; occasionally one of the boys would come in from outside, probably to use the bathroom. They would disappear out through the front door not long later. Across the kitchen, the really young kids played in a small group. Every once in a while there would be a squawk or cry. A few of the women and a couple of the men were constantly busy in the kitchen preparing food. The smell filled the whole area, spilling over into the rooms adjacent; smells of sweets and meats and treats, all mixing together in a wonderful way. Judith and Isavelle munched on crackers and dip while they drank their coffee.

Later, after some time had passed, Judith’s name was being called loudly from down the hall. She looked up with an expectant grin.

“Judith!” It was Curtis’ voice. “Please come here!”

“Who’s that?” asked Isavelle.

“That’s Curtis, aunt Cassandra’s kid.” Judith sipped the last of her coffee and got up.

“What’s he want you for?”

“Probably needs his diaper changed.” Judith chuckled, shooting Isavelle a sly look; Isavelle laughed. “He’s really attached to me for some reason.”

Isavelle picked up her phone again. “Sounds real annoying. You have fun with that.”

Judith shrugged as she strode away. “Nah, he’s a cute kid. I think it’s pretty fun.”

When Judith arrived in the hallway, Curtis was standing at the door to the game room. He was covered down the front with chocolate milk. Judith saw him and started laughing. “What happened to you?”

Curtis had tears in his eyes. “The lid came off.”

Judith passed by him and peered into the room, immediately seeing the large brown stain on the couch. Her expression was unfazed, but her tone was one of exaggerated concern. “Wow, you really made a mess. I bet your mom’s gonna be pissed.”

“Judith…” Curtis whined pitifully.

“Me? What do you want me to do?”

“Please, please don’t tell my mom,” he begged.

“Don’t tell her? What, you want me to clean all this up?” She crossed her arms, challenging him with a stern face.

But his face was still pleading. “You said you’d help me.”

“I said I’d take care of you if you were my baby.” She leaned close to him.

Just then, Isavelle appeared at the door. “Wow,” she said in a rather disinterested tone. Curtis noticed her, and looked over Judith’s shoulder, but Judith didn’t pay her any attention.

“Curtis.” Judith caught his attention again, she was whispering now. “I said I’d take care of you. Are you gonna be the baby?”

Curtis kept looking over at Isavelle.

“Well, are you?”

He squirmed with reluctance, but replied. “Yes.”

“Alright then, kiddo, let’s get these wet things off you before you stain the whole house.” Judith started to pull up on the hem of his shirt.

He resisted, glancing again at the girl in the doorway.

“Curtis,” Judith said in a normal voice again, easily loud enough for Isavelle to hear. “Don’t worry about her.”

“But she’ll—”

Judith finished his sentence for him. “She’ll see your diaper, yeah.”

“Judith!” He cried.

“Get used to it, kid. She’s gonna find out, one way or another. Now if you don’t want your mother to get mad about you spilling chocolate milk on everything, you’d better start doing what I say. Right. Now.”

Curtis sniffled, then submitted with obvious reluctance, letting Judith remove his shirt. She bundled it up, using a dry portion to wipe around his face. His pants were already low enough that his diaper peeked over the waistband, but Judith soon started working them down. Curtis almost reached to stop her, but she gave him a look which made him give up. When the pajama bottoms were around his ankles, Judith had him step out of them. Curtis was doing his best to cover his diaper with his hands.

“Alright now, there’s a bathroom near the end of the hall. Go down to the right and it’s on your left.” She pointed in the general direction of the hall. “Go in there and wait for me. I’ll come change you out of that diaper, but I have to clean this mess up first.”

Curtis didn’t move.

“Don’t worry about her, Curtis, she won’t laugh. Just go wait in the bathroom.” She spun him and gave him a push toward the door. He took off running, disappearing around the corner as Isavelle burst out laughing. A moment later a door was heard slamming shut.

“I thought you were joking about the diapers.” Isavelle raised an eyebrow. “How old is he?”

“He’s like nine or something, who knows.” Judith set the dirty pajamas on the floor and left the room. Isavelle followed behind, Judith turned to her. “You gonna help or something?”

“Nah, I’m gonna go upstairs.” Isavelle veered off when they reached the main room.

Judith collected several washcloths from the kitchen, moistened them, then returned to the game room. First, she scrubbed up the few spots where chocolate milk had dripped on the floor, then she returned to the kitchen to rinse out the cloths before starting on the couch. The cup which previously contained chocolate milk sat on the coffee table, the lid lay on the floor. Judith picked them up and smiled. The cup she set back where it had been, then she cleaned the top of the lid and set it over on the side table. After she had scrubbed the couch for a few minutes, she returned once again to the kitchen to rinse out the washcloths. Curtis’ mother’s head tracked her as she came and went for the third time. Finally, after everything was clean, save for the pajamas, she collected the washcloths, the pajamas, and the cup; and went back to the kitchen.

“Just leave those right there.” An elderly lady directed Judith to a bundle of other washcloths. Judith left her own cloths on top of the pile and then approached Curtis’ mother, who was now watching her intently.

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“Aunt Cassandra, where are Curtis’s other clothes?” Judith set the cup on the table but held the pajamas in a bundle.

“Why? What happened?” She looked perplexed, with just a hint of suspicion.

Judith unfolded the pajamas, revealing the brown stains. “I guess Curtis had some sort of chocolate-milk-related incident.”

Cassandra, Curtis’ mother, snatched the pajamas from Judith. “What?” She turned and picked up the cup from the table. “Arg— he took off the stinkin’ lid. Oh, for crying out loud! Don’t tell me there’s a huge mess in there.”

The frustrated woman started getting up, but Judith held up her hand. “No, not really. I cleaned everything up, but his pajamas are soaked.”

Cassandra kneaded her brow. “Curtis doesn’t have any other clothes; he didn’t pack anything except his stupid video games.” She started toward the game room. “I swear I’m gonna kill that boy if—”

Judith spoke quickly. “No, Aunt Cassandra, don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of him. I just need to get him a change of clothes.”

Curtis’ mother stopped. “Wait, where is he now?”

“He’s in the bathroom down the hall.” Judith pointed. “Like I said; don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of everything.”

The woman thought for a moment, then sighed. “Honestly, Judith, that would be amazing if you could take care of it. I hate to ask you if you don’t want to—”

“No, it’s no problem at all.” Judith shook her head dismissively. “You can relax. I’ll just have to go find something else for him to wear.”

Curtis’ mother landed heavily back in her chair as if she’d just come in from a long day of work. “Oh, you’re a lifesaver, Judith.” She heaved a great sigh. “I swear that boy does everything he can to make more work for me. You’re sure you want to take care of him?”

Judith forced a laugh and started to leave. “I’m sure.” She nodded. “I babysit kids all the time.”

She smiled as she took the dirty pajamas. “I’ll throw these in the wash, too.”

With that, Judith left the room and went upstairs. In one of the many bedrooms was Isavelle and the other girl. Isavelle’s golden hair was spread haphazardly over her pillow; the other girl was tying hers into a braid. Both were reclining on a large bed, a tablet propped up between them.

“What’cha doing?” Isavelle asked.

“I’m trying to find a change of clothes for Curtis.” Judith went to the closet. “I think there’s some stuff left in here from a few years ago.”

“He doesn’t have any clothes?” Isavelle looked confused.

“Nope.”

Isavelle turned to the girl next to her. “Lucy, hey, Lucy. You know that kid wears diapers, right?”

Lucy wasn’t paying much attention. “Who?”

“Curtis.”

Lucy raised her head, now sharing Isavelle’s puzzled expression. “Ain’t he like ten or something?”

“I think he’s nine.” Judith offered.

“And he’s in diapers!?” She seemed to ponder the idea. “Are you gonna change his diaper?”

Judith shrugged. “Babies need their diapers changed, right?” She pulled out some clothes from the closet and held them up. “What do you think? You think he’ll like these?”

Both girls looked over, smiles and astonishment washed over their faces. Judith was holding up a three piece pajama set. The shirt was Disney themed, with the two princesses from Frozen on the front. The bottoms were alternating teal, white, and fuchsia horizontal stripes and snowflake patterns. There was also a matching fuchsia skirt, ruffled, and with white polka dots.

The girls burst out laughing. “You’re really gonna make him wear that?”

Judith just beamed. “He doesn’t have anything else to wear. Does he have a choice?”

“He’ll never do it.” Isavelle warned, still smiling.

“You wanna bet?”

Isavelle rejoined Lucy in her attention to the video on the tablet. “If he does wear it, I wanna see.”

“You got it.” Judith laughed and left the room.

Downstairs, she went along the hall to the bathroom door. She knocked. “Curtis, are you gonna let me change you out of that diaper now?”

A whimpering voice came from within. “Yes.”

“Alright, just wait here for a minute. I won’t be much longer.”

From there, she proceeded farther down the hall until she reached the utility room, once again stopping the laundry cycle. The chocolate-milk-stained pajamas fell loosely on top of likely twice-washed pants already in the bottom of the washer’s basket. They were followed by a small cup of detergent and the cycle was restarted once again. Judith returned to the kitchen, going right up to Curtis’ mother.

She spoke hesitantly once she had her aunt’s attention. “Um, so I got some clothes for Curtis, but he also needs his diaper changed.”

“He what!?

Judith looked aside for a moment. “I didn’t wanna go in your room without asking, though. Is it okay if I go and get wipes and another diaper for him?”

“Wait, what’s goin’ on?” Cassandra was flabbergasted, Judith’s response to her initial shock having done absolutely nothing to help—almost making her more confused. “He needs his diaper changed? Why?”

“He’s wet.” Judith spoke flatly, looking her in the eye.

“From the chocolate milk, right?”

“No, he peed.”

The woman started looking tired again; she started to rise, then stopped. A moment of calculation on her face as the statements seemed to settle in. She raised an eyebrow at Judith. “And you’re okay with changing him?”

“Sure.” Judith shrugged. “I babysit; I do it all the time.”

Cassandra held up her hands, her face relaxed a bit. “Well, if you don’t mind, I certainly don’t either. That’s one less thing I have to worry about. Peggy’s diaper bag is upstairs in our room. There’s also diapers in there for Curtis. Go ahead and take what you need.”

Judith left again. Cassandra turned to the woman next to her. “The kid had an accident on the way here, wet his pants. He hadn’t packed any other clothes, so I bought some diapers, had to put him in his pajamas.” She sighed. “He even had another accident in the car so I guess it’s good thing he was in diapers, I just wasn’t expecting him to keep having accidents.”

Upstairs again, Judith first went back to her room where she collected a tote bag and into it placed the Frozen-themed pajamas she intended for Curtis. Then to the bedroom where Curtis and his family were staying, she found the diaper bag and transferred a whole pack of wipes and several of the size six diapers to her own bag. She thought for a moment, then smiled and transferred all the remaining size six diapers to her bag. Next, she made her way to a large bathroom at the end of the hall. She looked through the cabinets under the sink and beside the mirror until she found baby powder.

“Jackpot,” she said aloud. After stuffing a large towel on top of the rest, she took her tote bag and headed back downstairs.

“Knock knock,” she called into the bathroom.

“Judith?”

“Yeah, it’s me. I got some clothes for you to wear. Let me in.” The door opened and Judith entered, setting the bag on the floor and locking the door behind her. “So, are you tired of wearing that wet diaper?”

“Yes.” Curtis was clearly upset, barely keeping his composure. “I wish you didn’t make me… pee… in it.”

“That’s okay. Let’s get you changed, okay?” Judith pulled out the towel and spread it out on the floor. She gave it a pat. “Come on, lie down.”

Curtis remained standing. “Why don’t you just give me my clothes and let me do it myself?”

Judith held her gaze on Curtis. “Don’t make this difficult.”

“But I don’t need your help.”

“Curtis.” Her tone was serious, as was her face. “You just told me you were gonna let me change you out of that diaper. Now I’m going to count to three. You’d better lie down before I’m done.”

Curtis whined. “But I don’t want you to do it. I wanna do it myself.”

Judith remained silent for a few moments, her gaze locked with Curtis. “One.”

He didn’t move.

“Two.”

A longer pause.

“Three.”

Curtis still didn’t move.

Judith arose, grabbing the tote bag. “I’ll be right back.”

Curtis was left alone. He was beginning to look a bit less sure of his actions—or lack thereof. He didn’t have to wait long, however, as the bathroom door opened again, barely two minutes later. But it wasn’t Judith.

It was his mother. Curtis backed away as she entered. She eyed him up and down, shaking her head. “Judith tells me you aren’t cooperating.”

“But mom, I can do it myself—”

“Do what? Pee your pants again? Make a huge mess all over the den?”

“But I didn’t!”

“You didn’t? You didn’t pee or you didn’t spill your drink all over the place?” She crossed her arms. “Because it looks to me like you definitely peed, and I already saw your pajamas. Curtis, what did I say? I told you to leave the lid on.”

“But I did. It wasn’t—”

“Curtis.” She spoke in a flat monotone, but it was apparently one that he recognized because he snapped to attention and stared up at her. “Do you want to be grounded all through Christmas… or…” She paused for effect. “Worse?”

He shook his head rapidly.

“Then you will do what Judith says, do you understand?”

Eyes glistening, he nodded.

“Judith is in charge of you, and if she has to come to me again about your bad behavior, I can assure you that you won’t like what happens. Do you understand?”

He sniffled, nodded.

His mother left the room, putting a hand on Judith’s shoulder. “Thanks again.” She turned one more warning glare back to Curtis. “Behave, Curtis.”

Judith wore a victorious smile. She entered and locked the door. Curtis backed away, but Judith spoke softly. “Lie down, Curtis.”

This time, Curtis obeyed. His bottom lip quivered.

Judith eased him onto his back. “It’s okay to cry if you want to. Just lie still and I’ll get you all cleaned up.” Out came her phone and the sound of the camera shutter clicking.

“Hey!” Curtis protested, tears now streaming down the sides of his face.

“I said to lie still.” Judith produced the package of wipes from her bag and opened the lid, leaving one wipe at the ready. Kneeling next to Curtis, she pulled back the tapes on his diaper and pulled it away. Curtis jumped when the wipe touched him, but Judith put a hand on him to keep him steady while she worked. A couple wipes later, he was clean and the air now smelled like a mix of lavender and disinfectant. Judith wrapped up the wipes in the used diaper and tossed the bundle in the trash can. She returned the wipes to her bag and took out a fresh diaper.

Curtis saw the diaper and started to get up.

Judith whirled and pressed him back down. “Lie still.”

Curtis sniveled pitifully. “No, I don’t want another diaper; I want my clothes.”

Judith looked him in the eyes. “You aren’t getting your clothes, they’re still in the wash. Now. Lie. Still.”

He only struggled for a few second more before the tears came again and he lay motionless.

Judith released him and immediately set to work. Unfolding the diaper, she flexed it back and forth, loosening it up before placing it on the towel and sliding it underneath as Curtis lifted. Louder sobs announced his displeasure as he lowered onto the diaper. At first, Judith began pulling the diaper up between his legs, but then she stopped and opened it once again. Curtis managed to slow his crying long enough to look and see what she had stopped for. From the bag she had pulled the bottle of baby powder and promptly covered Curtis’ private in a layer of white. The dust plumed up, instantly dominating the air with the distinct scent of lavender and talc. Judith put the bottle away and returned to the diaper, continuing where she left off by pulling it up between his legs and pressing it down over his waist. Two quick rips released the tapes before she stuck them down again across the front. Curtis was now diapered again, and smelling strongly of baby powder.

Judith rocked back onto her heels. “Now, do you want the clothes or should I send you out just like you are?”

He sniffled. “I want the clothes.”

Judith pulled him up to his feet. From her bag, she first pulled the shirt. “Arms up.” She bunched up the shirt and slipped it over Curtis’ head as he fed his arms through the sleeves. It fit him snuggly and she tugged its hem down; it barely touched the diaper’s waistband. Judith stepped back.

Curtis looked down at the shirt he now wore. “Wait, this is Frozen. This is for girls!”

“So you don’t like it?”

“No!”

“So, you’d rather go without it?” Judith reached for the shirt.

Curtis seemed about ready to cry again. He hugged his arms around himself, whimpering. “No… I’ll wear it.”

“I thought so. Now, do you want more clothes?” Judith asked with a smirk. “Or is just the shirt good enough?”

“More.” Curtis looked up pleadingly. “Please.”

“Nice of you to be polite.” Judith smiled as she retrieved the next piece. “But if you want the next piece of your new outfit, you need to agree to certain conditions.”

“Whaddya mean?”

“I mean unless you want to wander around in only a shirt and diaper, I’m going to give you a new rule and you’re going to follow it.” She peered down at Curtis. “Are you gonna do that?”

Curtis nodded. “What’s the rule?”

“No more bathroom.”

It took a moment for this to register on Curtis’ face; terror in his eyes, mouth open. “What!?”

“You’re wearing a diaper; use it.” Judith’s tone was flat, matter-of-fact. “Is that gonna be a problem? Am I gonna have to tell your mom that you’re misbehaving?”

The boy’s face scrunched up as tears flowed once more. “That’s not fair!”

“I told you not to make this difficult. Do you remember?”

Curtis nodded.

“And back in the den, I told you I could make things nice if you were good, or I could make them worse if you were bad. You remember that?”

He nodded again.

“Well, this is what happens when you don’t listen to me. You had every chance to obey, but you didn’t. So now, you get to use your diaper.” She reached down and held open the bright pink skirt. “Here, step in.”

Curtis’ eyes went wide when he saw the skirt. “Judith,” he cried.

“It’s either this or nothing at all. Put it on or I’ll put it away.”

Saying nothing else, he just cried all over again as he stepped into the skirt, holding onto Judith’s shoulders to steady himself. She slid it up to his waist and fluffed it a little. The skirt did conceal his diaper, but not by much.

“Smile for the camera.” Judith snapped another picture, then put her phone away.

“Stop taking pictures, Judith!”

Judith just grinned. “Just remember that I can send these whenever I want. You should do your best to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

“You’re so mean. I hate you.”

Judith was unfazed. “Okay, one more item, you might like this one.” She again reached into the bag, this time coming back with the patterned pajama bottoms. “These also come with certain conditions. Basically, you’re gonna be a baby. I’m gonna take care of you. I’m gonna feed you and change you. You’re a baby, so if I remind you to do something babyish, you do it. Got it?”

Curtis hesitated, still crying, but trying to stop.

“You don’t have to do that one if you don’t want. But I’m still gonna change your diapers and you’re still gonna use them. You just won’t get any pants; you’ll only get a skirt… or maybe a dress.” Judith looked like she was contemplating. “But trust me, Curtis, these pants will definitely help hide your diaper. Do you want them?”

“Can I have the pants without the skirt?”

“No.” Judith crossed her arms again, the pajama bottoms draped over them. “It’s either the skirt by itself, or with the pants. You can’t have the pants by themselves.”

“Why? That sucks.”

“Those are the rules. Don’t like ‘em? Well, too bad.”

Curtis said nothing.

Judith shrugged. “I guess you only want the skirt then.” She reached to put them back in her bag.

“No, wait!” Curtis stepped forward. “I’ll do it. I want the pants.”

Judith smiled and held out the pants, bunching up the legs, letting Curtis steady himself on her shoulders while he put each foot through the holes. The pants slid into place with a little more difficulty than the skirt. They were tight on Curtis’ form and certainly wouldn’t conceal his diaper by themselves. Judith worked, flipping the skirt up to see and ensure the pants were pulled all the way up and the waistband wasn’t inverted. The diaper peeked even farther above these pajamas than the last, but it was otherwise covered by the skirt. When she was done, Judith collected the towel and her bag, but paused, looking curiously at Curtis.

An amused grin pricked at the corners of her mouth. “Oops, looks like I almost forgot something.”

“Wha—” Curtis gasped in surprise as Judith hoisted him up and sat him on the bathroom counter.

“Hold still for a sec.” She dug around in her bag again until she had a wipe in hand. “You’ve still got mess on your face. Hey, sit still, keep your hands down.” She swatted his hands out of the way and wiped the remnants of chocolate milk from his face. She also wiped above his mouth, where tears had run down, carrying mucus out of his nose. A wad of toilet paper from the roll she used to dab around his eyes before she returned with one last wipe to make sure he was clean and fresh all over.

“I can to it myself,” he protested.

“Yeah, but you’re the baby so I’ll do it for you.” With the last of it cleaned, she stepped back to admire her work. “There, all better. Now come on, it’s almost lunch time, let’s go eat.”

Curtis recoiled as she reached to grab him, his eyes wide and glistening. “But Judith, everyone’s gonna see.”

Judith leaned toward him, her face suddenly bright, with a smile stretching wide. “Of course they are, silly, you’re a baby. There’s nothing to hide.”

“But—”

She held a finger up to his mouth. “I already know what you’re gonna say. Everyone’s gonna wonder why you’re in girl’s clothes and wearing a diaper. Easy. If they ask, you can just tell them you’re pretending to be a baby and that I’m taking care of you. They’ll think it’s a game. Trust me, this will be a lot easier if you play along. Who knows, you might even enjoy it.”

Curtis looked down and mumbled. “I don’t wanna be a baby. I hate this.”

“Do you want me to take off those pants?”

His head shot up. “No, I wanna keep them.”

“Then you’d better get used to being a baby, otherwise it’s bye bye pants.” Judith stood up, tilting her head with a nonchalant shrug. “And who knows, maybe if you’re a good baby, you might get something nice.”

Curtis looked like he was about to cry again.

Judith sighed, sympathy showing faintly in her eyes. She reached into the medicine cabinet and poked around. Inside was—among other things—a selection of small, colored cups; she grabbed the pink one and filled it with water. “Here, drink. It’ll help you calm down.”

Curtis took the cup and began drinking.

“Okay, I’ll give you two options and you can decide.” She spoke while he drank. “From here, you can either crawl to the kitchen, or I can carry you. If you crawl, you also have to let me feed you.” When Curtis didn’t respond, Judith took the cup and refilled it, handing it back to him again. “Drink. Slowly. Give me your answer when it’s all gone.”

When he was done, Curtis set the cup down. “You can carry me”

Judith shifted the tote bag to her left shoulder. “If you wanna be carried, put your hands up, and say ‘up.’”

Curtis did so and Judith scooped him up, hoisting him up onto her side. Her arm under his bottom lifted his skirt and made his diaper crinkle slightly. With him so close, she could look him right in the eye with ease. “So, you remember the rules?”

“Kinda…”

“If you have to go, just use your diaper, that’s what it’s for. And don’t even think about bothering me, asking if I’ll let you use the bathroom. I won’t. And I’ll take something away if you ask. Got it?”

Despite the sullen face, Curtis nodded.

“You’re pretending to be a baby, you eat and drink what I give you. You do what I say, when I say it.” She nodded toward the kitchen. “When I put you in your seat, you don’t get out until I take you out. Got it?”

He nodded again.

“Alright then, let’s get some lunch.”

2 Likes

So, clearly you’re following the same path as the previous Christmas story, but I’m at a loss to how this connects to the department store clerk’s plight.

Judith stifled her laughter as Curtis clung to her, trying to hide himself from everyone else in the room. Most people didn’t pay them much attention, but Curtis’ mother watched them with an amused grin; Judith gave her a slight nod. Across the room they traveled until they reached the kitchen. As before, the adults had loosely congregated in the adjacent dining room, while everyone else was in the kitchen. There was now a small table and matching set of chairs positioned off to one side of the kitchen, around it sat a few toddlers, including Peggy. Other than the toddlers, Curtis and Judith were the only non-adults in the room.

“Look at that, Curtis, there’s a table for the little kids.” Judith spun so Curtis could see the small table. “You wanna sit there?”

Curtis only raised his head a little, then buried it again in Judith’s shoulder. “No, I wanna sit at the big table.”

Judith feigned surprise. “Are you sure?”

“Yes.” Curtis’ voice was shaky. “Please. I wanna sit at the big table.”

Judith smiled in response. “Okay then.”

Taking him over to the end of the kitchen table, she let her bag slip to the ground and used both arms to set Curtis in a chair. “And there you go.” She slid the chair in close to the table. “Just sit tight, I’ll get your lunch.”

A minute later, Judith placed a cup of apple juice in front of Curtis. It was a sippy cup; he didn’t seem to like it. His displeasure didn’t go unnoticed.

“You don’t like the sippy cup? If you’d like, I can get you a baby bottle instead.” Judith reached for the cup, but he snatched it quickly and started drinking. A few minutes later, she set two plates on the table; on for him and one for her. Curtis slowly picked away at his food which consisted of a sandwich, apple slices, and crackers with cheese.

Judith was nearly done with her own food when an elderly woman approached the table. She was carrying a baking sheet which was covered in gingerbread men. “Hello there, kids. Enjoying the holiday?”

“Yes.” Judith took a cookie as it was offered.

“And how about you, little man?” The woman turned to Curtis. She had short, curly, white hair, and eyes that were magnified from behind a pair of thick glasses. Her face shone with an inner joy, a smile visible as much in her eyes as her mouth. She sniffed the air. “My, but don’t you smell nice today.”

“I don’t wanna wear this…” Curtis grumbled.

“You don’t like your clothes?”

“They’re not mine. These are for girls.”

“Aw, you poor thing.” The old woman’s face softened and she leaned close. “Don’t worry about it, I think you look cute as a button.” She held out the baking sheet with a reassuring smile. “Here, take two cookies. It’ll help cheer you up.”

Curtis took the cookies and bit the head off of one before going back to slowly nibbling on the rest of his food.

“Merry Christmas.” The old woman called cheerfully as the walked away.

Curtis slouched a little lower. “It’s not very merry for me.”

It wasn’t much later that the other boys came bursting in the front door, cold air drafting even into the kitchen. One of their mothers immediately began directing them not to track snow all over the house. Their laughter and stomping filled the whole room as they energetically took off their boots and coats. Curtis head shot up when they entered, and he quickly gave Judith a pleading look.

“You’re not going anywhere. Now sit there and eat your food.” Judith had her phone out, and was scrolling through her messages.

“Judith…” Curtis whined.

“It’s okay baby,” she said cheerfully. “I’ll be right back in a minute. Stay there.”

“I’m full; I don’t wanna sit here anymore.”

“Well, you’re gonna have to sit there anyway.” Her tone was less sweet this time. “Now eat your food.”

Curtis sat dead still as the boys were herded into the kitchen; one of them left the room, another to get a soda, and the third one, Clint, sat down at the other end of the table. At first, he occupied himself by drumming on the edge of the table, then he looked around until he saw Curtis.

“Curtis?” He asked hesitantly.

Curtis didn’t answer.

“Why are you wearing girl’s clothes?”

Curtis’ mother answered as she walked past. “Because he spilled a drink all over himself. Judith had to lend him some clothes.” She set a plate of food down in front of Peggy.

“Mom!” Curtis exclaimed in horror.

“Don’t even start, Curtis, you’re lucky you even have that to wear.” His mother walked away.

Clint started laughing. “Are you wearing perfume too?”

“No, shut up. It’s not funny.”

Clint ignored Curtis’ protests, and looked around until he spotted the other boy, returning to the kitchen. “Diego, look at Curtis. He’s dressed like a girl and wears perfume.”

Diego started laughing as he approached, now matching Clint’s smile at Curtis’ expense. He had removed his winter hat, revealing a buzz cut. He stood a few inches taller than Curtis. Veering off course, he came over beside Curtis.

“He’s wearing a skirt too. Look, it’s pink.” He lifted the hem above the edge of the table.

Clint leaned forward to see, then started laughing even harder.

“Stop it!” Curtis pushed the bigger boy away.

“Boys, don’t tease him.” Aunt Kelly came over with two plates of food and set them down on the table; one in front of Clint, the other at the place beside him.

Diego took his seat in front of the plate. He and Clint were still snickering. The third boy returned from the kitchen with his own plate and a glass of orange juice. The other boys immediately alerted him to Curtis’ attire and then he too started laughing. Aunt Kelly returned and set down a cup each for Clint and Diego. She again gave a warning glance at the boys, but that only brought their laughter to a quiet volume rather than stop it entirely.

That was when Judith returned.

“And what are you boys giggling about?” She asked with a smile, setting her bag and her cell phone on the table.

“Curtis.” Clint said.

“Look, he’s got a sippy cup too.” The third boy pointed across the table. This brought another round of giggles.

“Did you spill your bottle or something?” Diego broke into laughter almost before finishing his sentence. “Is that why you have to wear girl’s clothes?”

“No, I said shut up.” Curtis was getting red in the face, his eyes beginning to glisten.

“Oh, he didn’t tell you?” Judith asked, smiling at the three boys. Her smile faded as her eyes landed on Curtis. “Curtis, you were supposed to tell them what you’re doing in girl’s pajamas. You know, the thing you’re pretending to be; the reason I let you have those pants.”

“Judith, no.”

Her face became like stone, her voice flat, but strong. “Tell them.” She tapped her fingers on her phone.

Curtis swallowed hard, his lip quivering. “I—I’m… pretending…”

“To…?” Judith tapped her fingers a little louder.

“Pretending to be a… a baby.” He hung his head.

There was a momentary pause before the boys resumed their laughter.

“More like a baby girl,” Diego said through a mouthful of food.

Just then, Isavelle and Lucy approached the table. Lucy snatched a cookie off of one of the boy’s plates. “You could put his hair in pigtails and no one would know he’s a boy.” Both girls started laughing.

“Alright, Judith, you win.” Isavelle nodded affirmatively. “He’s actually wearing it, I’m impressed.”

Somewhere between the mouthfuls of food and near-constant laughter, Clint found time to ask one more thing. “Does that mean you wear diapers, Curtis?” He laughed again, then paused with an expression of sudden realization. “That’s not perfume I smell, it’s baby powder. Are you really wearing a diaper?”

“Are you going to tell them, or should I?” Judith prodded Curtis with a look.

Curtis only withered further, rage and tears boiling in his face.

Judith shrugged and picked up her phone. “He is.” She spoke nonchalantly, and her confirmation didn’t register with the other boys for a few seconds.

The trio of astonished faces didn’t speak except for one of them to gasp “no way.”

“He’s definitely wearing a diaper. I saw it earlier.” Isavelle passed by again, this time with a plate and drink of her own. “And if I recall, Judith, you were about to change him, yeah?”

Judith nodded, much to the amusement of the boys. Except Curtis, who broke down and started crying. Judith got up and went over to Curtis, but her arm bumped the bag and it spilled across the table. Several diapers and the bottle of baby powder lay there for everyone to see. Curtis tried to reach forward, but Judith caught him in a hug. She whispered to him in a soothing voice while the other boys laughed uproariously. After a few moments, Judith got up, patting Curtis on the shoulder. “Finish your food.”

“What’s all the fuss about?” The voice came from the elderly woman who had given them cookies earlier. She was currently holding another tray of Christmas goodies.

“They won’t stop making fun of me.” Curtis pointed angrily across the table.

Judith sighed as she picked up the scattered items and returned them to her bag.

“He wears diapers.” One of the boys stated, making a great effort to stifle his laughter.

“And girl’s clothes.” Another boy said.

The old woman turned a surprised look to Curtis, who met hers with tears. She then turned to Judith, who turned back to the boys.

“That’s right, he does.” Judith’s voice was stern. “You’ve had your laughs, now how about you leave him alone and eat your food.”

The boys quieted somewhat.

The old woman clicked her tongue and shook her head. “Judith is right; it’s time to leave him alone. It’s not something Curtis can help. It’s Christmas, you should be nice to one another.” She turned to Curtis with a soothing tone. “Maybe you could ask one of these boys if they’d lend you some clothes.”

“Not if he’s gonna pee in them.” Diego said. He wasn’t laughing anymore, and his words carried no obvious edge of aggression. Still, they seemed to cut, leaving Curtis looking hurt. The other boys nodded in agreement.

The old woman sighed again. “Okay, you don’t have to help, but I won’t allow this bullying.” She went over to Curtis and set down three more treats on his plate. “Those were for Clint, Diego, and Tobin, but you can have them instead.” She looked back at the other three boys. “Maybe they’ll get some treats when they stop making fun of you.”

Curtis’ mother passed by again, bringing something to Peggy or collecting something from her. She stopped to direct an cold stare toward her son. “It’s his own fault he’s wearing what he’s wearing. The way I see it, this is a good lesson for him.” Her gaze drifted to the old woman where it held for a few seconds before she turned and walked away.

The other boys began to chatter amongst themselves while Judith returned to Curtis. This time it was to perform a quick diaper check.

“Stop it.” He hissed, trying to keep his voice down.

“I’m checking, silly.” She tousled his hair and circled the table. The old woman’s gaze followed her.

“He doesn’t really need diapers, does he?” The old woman whispered to Judith as she passed.

Judith nodded solemnly.

The woman looked puzzled. “I thought I heard it was only because he hadn’t packed.”

Judith shook her head. “I just had to change him before lunch.”

“Oh my.” The woman shook her own head in slow oscillation, finally turning back to face Judith. “Well, you keep an eye on him. And let me know if the other boys are tormenting him too much.”

“I’ll take care of him.” Judith took her seat once more, this time setting the bag on the floor beside her. “Curtis, if you want to get up from the table, you need to finish your food first.”

At that, Curtis began stuffing down his food as fast as he could, only stopping to wash it down with a drink. His drink was soon empty, and Judith collected it, saying she would get more. The other boys laughed and chatted among themselves now, leaving Curtis to eat by himself.

“Let’s go play Smash Bros. now,” announced one of the boys.

“Forget it,” Isavelle said, calling over her shoulder as the two girls headed for the kids’ room. “We’re gonna watch a movie.”

“But you already had the TV earlier.”

“No we didn’t; we went upstairs instead.” Lucy stopped at the doorway.

“Well then, you forfeit. It’s our turn.” Diego stood up, followed by Clint. They almost looked like they wanted to start a fight with the older girls.

“Boys.” A strong male voice drew their attention. All three of them turned to see the man standing between the kitchen and the dining room, at the opening to a hallway which led away, opposite the one which led to the kids’ room. He was leaning against the jamb, a short glass of dark liquid in his hand.

Clint spoke up. “Dad, they won’t let us use the TV.”

The man held his eyes upon Clint. His face was stone, features hidden largely behind his bushy mustache. Only his eyebrows raised. “How about you all come with me to the back room. There’s plenty to keep you occupied.” All three started to get up, but the man raised his hand. “Finish your lunch first, and put your plates away.” He turned and left without another word.

Seeing that their dominance of the TV was no longer contested,the other two girls had disappeared down the opposite hall with their lunch.

“Can I get up now?” Curtis was quiet, enough so that it took a few seconds for Judith to notice and look in his direction.

She noted his empty plate. “All done?”

“Yeah.”

“You still have juice.”

“Aw, come on, you just gave me that.”

Judith simply raised her eyebrows expectantly. Curtis begrudgingly picked up the cup and tried to drink it as fast as he could. His efforts conflicted with the design of the lid, causing a lot of loud sucking and slurping sounds as he drank.

A minute later the cup was empty and Judith collected both it and his plate, taking them away to the sink. She returned with a damp paper towel and the sippy cup refilled with water.

“Hold still.” She began wiping around his face, though it appeared clean. Curtis struggled for a moment, but soon relented. “Let me see your hands.” She next took each as is was held out, wiping carefully between his fingers.

The other boys laughed and muttered to each other under their breath. Judith pointed a glare which quieted them.

“I didn’t even make a mess,” Curtis protested.

“Shh baby. I know, but I have to clean you up anyway.” She tossed the paper towel in the trash and returned, holding her hands out expectantly.

Curtis looked puzzled.

“Are you ready to get down from your seat?” she prompted.

Realization over his face, Curtis cringed, and his eyes darted to check if the other boys were watching. They were.

“You wanna sit there all day?” Judith smiled down at him. Warmly, but with a hint of mischief.

Curtis raised his arms toward Judith. “Up.”

Judith’s smile widened as she reached down and picked him up. The action was celebrated with a wave of laughter from the other boys.

“Don’t pay any attention to them, Curtis.” Judith spoke softly in his ear, while at the same time, she reached down and pulled out the back of his diaper, peering over his shoulder, and letting everything snap back into place when she was done. Again her actions prompted the other boys to laugh.

“Is he stinky, Judith?” Clint teased.

“How about you all shut up or I’ll tell mom you’re being mean,” Judith shot back, quickly collecting her bag and carrying Curtis out of the room.

The laughter died out quickly behind them.

Curtis grumbled as he was set on the couch and handed the sippy cup. “I don’t want it.”

“Would you rather have apple juice?” Judith addressed him, but turned away and began rummaging through the various electronics around the entertainment center. “That’s just in case you get thirsty,” she added casually, continuing her hunt. The TV was already on and a movie was playing.

“I don’t wanna watch this,” Curtis whined.

“Go away then,” Isavelle said, rather bluntly. “We’re watching a movie in here.”

Judith was still fiddling with stuff in front of the TV. “It’s okay, I told him I’d let him play some games in here after he ate his lunch. If you—”

“Well he can’t. Not on this TV.”

Judith spun to face the other girls, snapping out her response. “Can I finish?” She waited a few seconds, then continued. “He can play on the Nintendo Switch. He won’t make a sound; right Curtis?”

Curtis was openly surprised to see his cousin waving the tablet at him. “Y—yeah, I’ll be quiet.”

“No, Judith, he’s too young for this movie. Get the baby out of here.” Their protest seemed part sincere, part provocation.

Judith glanced up at the TV, then back to the girls; an eyebrow raised in question. “How about the both of you babies get out of here? You’re also too young to see that.” She held her gaze, staring down the two girls. They made no further protest. Another minute of fiddling saw Judith bringing the device over to Curtis with a smile. She was also carrying a handful of game cases.

“They got a bunch of stuff here. What do you wanna play? Super Smash Bros?” She began shuffling through the stack. “Mario Kart, Super Mario Maker, or Minecraft?”

“Minecraft.” Curtis replied almost instantly.

Judith chuckled. “I should’ve guessed from your pajamas.” She handed him the game and within a few minutes or so he was playing happily. Judith observed him for a time, then got up. “I’m gonna go get a drink. Curtis, did you want anything other than water?”

Curtis looked up, taking a moment to think before returning to his game. “Juice, I guess.” He shrugged; he hadn’t touched his sippy cup.

Judith took the cup and disappeared. Isavelle and Lucy began chuckling between themselves. Curtis didn’t take notice until Lucy called over to him.

“Nice skirt, Curtis.”

Curtis just glared at them, adjusted his clothes, shrank down a little further into his seat, and continued playing. Judith soon returned and sat down next to him. She gently pulled him in close to her. He started to resist, but she quieted him and moved him so he was lengthwise on the couch with his head on her leg. She stroked his hair gently.

“Is that comfy?” She smiled down at him.

His eyes flicked up to her; his face softened. “Kinda…”

“Thirsty?” She held up the sippy cup.

“Nah.”

She then produced a pacifier with a blue shield. “Here, open.” He started to sit up as she moved it to his mouth, but she rested her other hand on his chest, holding him down. “Remember the rules.”

Her motions were gentle, as was her voice. He took the pacifier in his mouth without any further resistance. “See? It’s not so bad.” Her hand still resting across him, she lightly rubbed his middle, chuckling to herself and commenting absently. “Looks like you’ve got a bit of a pot-belly.”

Curtis mumbled something indiscernible from behind his pacifier.

Judith laughed again, lighthearted. “It’s okay. You’re just so slim that it shows as soon as you eat a big meal. Is someone’s tummy full?”

Curtis twitched when his cousin tickled his belly, making inaudible protests through a smile which peeked around the sides of his pacifier. The assault quickly let up and they both returned to their previous positions, the older girl’s hand resting lightly across him. Curtis shrugged and kept playing, fidgeting a few more times before settling down for a while. At one point, one of the other girls commented on Curtis’ pacifier. His face scrunched up with annoyance, but he didn’t break from his game.

“That’s right, sweetie, ignore them.” Judith patted him lightly on the head. “And the TV too, while you’re at it,” she said, her comment following a stream of profanity as two characters on-screen engaged in a heated exchange.

Maybe twenty minutes later, Curtis began to fidget again. At first, it wasn’t anything more than just the occasional repositioning to get comfortable, but it soon became more frequent. Judith began to notice.

“Lie still you wiggle worm,” she said with a chuckle.

Curtis pulled out the pacifier. “Judith,” he whispered, glancing over to make sure the other girls weren’t listening.

“What is it?”

“I… I… I gotta… you know…”

Deliberately returning her attention to the TV, Judith spoke a quiet warning. “Curtis, you know better.”

“Come on, Judith.” His whispered protest barely reached her ears, but still he checked to see if the other girls had heard. “Please. Let me use the bathroom.”

Judith sighed and shook her head, her eyes slowly descending upon the boy at her side. “I wish you hadn’t said that.” She lifted him to a seated position. “Come on, give me that.” Her hand was outstretched toward the game he was playing.

The young boy recoiled. “What? Why?”

She leaned close, whispering as quiet as he. “You remember the rules; you don’t ask to use the bathroom or I take something away.”

Curtis’ face fought between pleading and rebellion before settling on acceptance. His head drooped and he handed the game over to his older cousin. Judith set the game on the side table and got up. Across the room, she pulled out a box and peered inside.

“Come here, Curtis.” She motioned him toward her. “Look, you can play with these Legos if you do it quietly.”

Curtis didn’t respond, so she continued, quieter this time.

“Sorry kid, but rules are rules. Now listen, if you can sit here and play quietly for a while, I’ll let you play Minecraft again. But no more rule-breaking. Remember, you’re wearing a diaper for a reason. And I check you to see if you need to be changed, you don’t tell me. Okay?”

She waited until he nodded, then popped the pacifier back in his mouth.

Curtis knelt down beside the box. No sooner had he done so then Judith pulled at the back of his diaper for a quick check. She also reached to his front and pressed the back of her fingers between his legs.

“Huh.” She shrugged, standing up. “I guess not.”

Curtis watched, curious, as she returned to her seat on the couch. He kept staring for a minute before she pointed to the box of Legos, at which point he nearly leaped toward them. His sudden urgency to comply triggered a grin which spread over his cousin’s face. For the next few minutes he would look over his shoulder to see if she was still watching, but he soon abandoned the cause in favor of digging through the box, setting the ones he wanted off to the side.

There were only a few scattered blocks on the floor when he stopped. Bracing himself on the edge of the box, he held very still and closed his eyes. Several seconds later, when they opened, he looked straight down. He carefully prodded the front of his pants several times, then awkwardly moved around until he found a more comfortable position.

Again, he cast a series of cautious glances, quick flicks of his eyes toward Judith, who didn’t seem to be paying attention; and again, his own focus slowly shifted back to the box of Legos. Starting with a few small handfuls of blocks, he began assembling them into something resembling a house. The clatter of plastic pieces announced his retrieval of a large flat base to build on.

“If you want a toy house to play with, why not that one?”

Curtis looked to see the girl with her hair in a braid, Lucy, pointing toward a large Barbie dollhouse. It stood nearly up to his shoulders and was colored several shades of pink and other pastels. Curtis glared angrily at the laughing girl.

“Keep it down, will ya?” Now Isavelle directed her words bluntly toward the boy. The movie paused. “You’re clattering too loudly. I can’t hear the TV.”

“But he’s not saying anything, is he?” Judith’s flat voice drew everyone’s attention. When no one responded, she repeated “is he?”

“No, but—”

“You know why he’s not saying anything? Because I told him to be quiet. Or would you rather he not be quiet?”

“He can go make as much noise as he wants out in the living room with the other babies.” Isavelle gestured toward the door.

Judith shrugged. “You’re right, I guess. He can play out there if he wants to.” She looked to Curtis, her next question sounding genuine in a neutral tone. “Curtis, do you want that? Do you want to go and play with the other babies?”

Curtis’ eyes widened a little.

Judith softened to a disarming smile. “It’s a serious question, Curtis. If wanna go play with them, that’s fine. But if you don’t, just say so.”

Curtis shook his head.

Judith’s smile vanished as her eyes flashed back to the other girls. “He said no; he’s staying right there.”

“Well I want him to leave.” Isavelle met her older cousin’s glare with one of her own.

A wicked grin across her face. “Sure, I’ll take him out there for you. But maybe he’ll say something to his aunt Kelly about how many times he just heard the word fuck on the movie his two cousins are watching.”

Both Isavelle and Lucy instantly backed down. “Don’t be shitty, Judith.”

“Don’t you be shitty.” The older cousin pointed a finger toward the girls, then toward Curtis. “That’s my cousin over there, leave him alone.”

I’m your cousin too, dumbass.”

“Yeah, but he’s just like a cute little baby and I’m taking care of him. If you’re jealous, I can change your diapers too if you want.” Judith leaned back with confidence, crossing her legs casually. “You’re just being a jerk. You can be a jerk if you want, I don’t care. But don’t do it to him.”

Isavelle rolled her eyes. “Man, whatever.” The movie unpaused, resuming its near-constant stream of expletives.

Curtis still knelt by his small creation, but his attention was on the girls. Total surprise adorned his countenance as he gazed in shock toward his older cousin. She merely winked at him and his face lit up like a bulb.

“You having fun over there?” Judith called over to him.

He nodded with enthusiasm. When the other two cast shaded scowls toward him, he beamed even more. The movie played on, but he ignored it, now digging a little more boldly as he searched for each desired piece. The other two girls occasionally shot annoyed looks toward him when caused the blocks to tumble and make noise. He played happily for some time, only breaking away to grab the sippy cup from the table beside Judith. When he did, she stopped him for a diaper-check.

“Oh, looks like someone’s a little wet,” she said, smiling at what she’d found. She pressed again with the back of her hand, pondering for a moment. “Not too bad though; go keep playing.”

Curtis started to leave.

“Or maybe…” She caught his attention. “Since you’ve been a good boy. Would you like to play some Minecraft again?”

“Yeah, I wanna play Minecraft.” He happily took the colorful tablet she held out.

Guiding him to a seat beside her allowed her to whisper in his ear. “See? When you’re a good boy, you get nice things. Remember that.” She kissed him on the cheek and got up.

Over by the box of Legos, she called back to him. “Are you done with this, or are you gonna play with it later?”

“I’m done with it.” Curtis looked confused for a second, and began to get up.

“No, stay there, I’ll clean it up for you.”

Curtis seemed to be confused for a moment, then said “um… thanks.”

Judith managed to make an uproarious noise as she dumped the Legos back into the box, instantly catching the attention of the other girls. When she was done, she walked slowly in front of the TV and stopped by the couch to lean over Curtis’ shoulder. “I’ll get you a soda, if you want, when you’re finished with your juice. Or maybe a root beer float if you’d like that instead.”

“Thanks. But um… my mom doesn’t let me have soda.”

“Well, she’s not taking care of you, is she?”

Curtis looked up in surprise, then smiled.

Judith tousled his hair and walked away, disappearing down the hall. She returned some time later to find his cup emptied. He didn’t even notice when she took it away, and he barely protested when she popped the pacifier back in his mouth. Eventually she reclaimed her seat beside him; her attention was on the movie while his was entirely consumed by Minecraft. At some point he began fidgeting again, a pained expression showing lightly on his face. His eyes flicked up to Judith once or twice. This time, he said nothing, made no protest. After a few minutes, he stiffened bodily for a short time, slowly relaxing before lightly pressing a finger against the front of his pants.

A minute later, Judith reached over and also felt the front of his pants. “I’d say it’s time for a diaper change, hmm?”

Curtis shrank down in his seat for how loud Judith said it. The other girls heard it too, and snickered. His face descended a couple shades toward red. Judith was already up and had collected her bag. Curtis set down the game and started to follow her out the door.

But she wasn’t going out the door, instead, she was laying out the towel on the floor behind the couch. Curtis froze, looking a little panicked. A glance toward the other girls.

“What are you doing?” he said, after popping the pacifier from his mouth.

She poked him lightly in the tummy. “I’m gonna change your diaper, silly. Isn’t that what you want?”

“Yeah, but,” he shot a look toward the other two girls, “not right here.”

Judith matched his glance and, seeing that Isavelle and Lucy were still watching their movie, said “what? They can’t see you from here. Just lie down and let’s get this over with.” She patted the towel, cocking her head sideways. “Be a good boy.”

Curtis took a step forward, and Judith took him by the hand. Guiding him gently but still pushing him past his hesitation, she laid him down on the towel and popped the pacifier back into his mouth.

She paused and said “I’ve got an even better idea,” then grabbed the Nintendo Switch and handed it to Curtis. “You don’t even have to stop playing.”

Quickly digging through her bag again, she produced the bottle of baby powder, the pack of wipes, and a clean diaper; each one she set nearby. Up went Curtis’ skirt, then down slid his pajama bottoms until they were around his ankles. Judith was quick about removing his soggy diaper and wiping him clean; and she lost no time unfolding the clean diaper and placing it under his bottom. Then came the baby powder, which she applied rather liberally.

“And now you’re all clean she dry.” Judith smiled, the fresh diaper now taped snugly around his waist, she tugged the pajama bottoms back into place.

Curtis peered around the side of the tablet, not entirely sure what to do next.

Judith was still smiling at him. “What do you think? Am I quick with the diaper changes or what? I bet you didn’t even have time to dig through five blocks.”

Curtis sort of half-smiled. “Yeah… I guess.” He looked up at her, but she just kept beaming down at him, her held expression seeming to prompt him to suddenly remember something. He quickly added “Oh, y—yeah, th—thanks. Thank you.”

She caught him by surprise when she leaned down and blew a raspberry on his belly. Instantly he burst into giggles and squirms. She paused for a second, letting him calm down, then tickled his sides until he dropped the tablet entirely.

“Stop!” he gasped between laughter, pacifier barely still in his mouth.

“Alright.” She feigned reluctance, giving him a minute to catch his breath before offering him a hand. “Come on, how about we go do something else.”

Curtis took her hand and was pulled up to his feet. Judith quickly packed away the supplies and then led Curtis from the room. Down the hall and into the bathroom, Curtis followed, waiting patiently while Judith disposed of his wet diaper and washed her hands.

“What do you think, Curtis?” The question was directed absently while she straightened her hair in the mirror. “Is wearing diapers all that bad?”

Curtis shrugged; Judith pulled the pacifier out of his mouth.

“Come on, kid. Tell me the truth. Do you like it? Even a little? Isn’t it nice to just go whenever you have to, without getting up and running to the bathroom?”

Curtis looked at the floor. “It’s okay. I mean… I kinda like it I guess, but not all that much.”

Judith studied him. “I bet it’s just the other kids laughing at you that you don’t like. Is that right?”

He nodded.

“How about this?” She put a hand on his shoulder. “How about the next time someone makes fun of you for wearing diapers, you just say ‘so what?’”

Curtis didn’t respond.

“Go on, try it.”

Curtis mumbled “so what?” with little conviction.

“No, try it for real.” Judith picked him up and stood him on the counter top, facing the large mirror.

She pointed to his reflection, her voice suddenly harsh, cutting. “Ha! Look at that kid, he wears diapers like a baby.” Then she turned to him and asked “what do you say to that?”

“So what?” He mumbled again.

“No,” she said, pointing to the mirror again. “Say it to that mean girl in the mirror. Tell her you don’t care what she thinks. Say it like you mean it.”

He looked into the mirror, this time speaking with a little more force. “So what?”

“Louder.”

He raised his voice and repeated. “So what?”

“Louder!”

He said it even louder. “So what?”

“Say ‘yeah, I do wear diapers; what do you care?’” She gave him a pat on the back when he hesitated.

“Yeah, I do wear diapers; what do you care!?”

“Now say ‘who cares?’”

“Who cares?” He smiled a little.

“Who cares if you wear diapers?” She smiled. “Say it.”

“Who cares if I wear diapers?” By now, he was smiling widely, but blushing all the same.

“I care if you wear diapers.” She squeezed him in a light hug. “But that’s okay, right?”

He nodded.

“You’re being a good boy, you know that, right?”

Her hands slid to his waist, her fingers hooking into the waist of his skirt. She slid it down to his ankles. “What do you think? Do you wanna get rid of the skirt, or keep it?” She spun him to the left so they could see his profile in the mirror. “I think the skirt hides your diaper-butt. But you’ve been so well-behaved, I think I’ll let you decide for yourself.”

It was true, without the skirt, the tight, colorful, pajama bottoms left little to the imagination. The contour of his diaper was clearly visible, bulging roundly at the front, and protruding even more at the back. A larger rounded shape that was somehow also flat—almost squared side-to-side; clear edges defined by the absorbent padding underneath. The papery, pale-turquoise waistband rose at least a full inch higher than his pajama bottoms. Only if he stood completely still, arms at his sides, did the hem of the shirt fall low enough to cover anything. Curtis stared for a good couple minutes.

“Everyone already knows you wear diapers. Why hide it?” Judith spoke softly. “Unless you like the skirt, that is.”

“No,” Curtis said at some length. “I’ll go without the skirt.”

“Alrighty then,” Judith said cheerfully. “Here, step out.”

Curtis held onto Judith for balance while he stepped out of the pink skirt. His cousin then stuffed the skirt into her bag. They both looked at him in the mirror for another minute until Judith lightly pressed the front of his pants.

“Stop,” Curtis recoiled a little. “I’m not wet. You just changed me.”

“I also just tickled you,” she said sweetly. “Babies tend to wet their diapers when you tickle them.” And with that, she gave him another quick tickle.

“I didn’t pee.”

“Alright, I was just making sure. Come on, let’s get you down so we can go get you that soda.” She reached up and lifted Curtis down from the counter top, setting him gently on the floor. “Then, I’ve got something fun to do that I think you’ll enjoy. What do you think about foosball, or maybe air-hockey?”

“Judith?” He looked up at her; she stopped.

“What is it?”

“Do you think that… maybe… maybe you don’t check my, um, diaper?”

“But then how will I know when you need to be changed? You know you’re not allowed to ask for the bathroom.”

“What if I just tell you when I, um… when I need to be changed?”

“No,” she said flatly. “Babies don’t do that.”

“Please.”

“No.” She thought for a moment. “But if you really want me to, I won’t check your diaper as much.

He brightened just a little. “Really?”

“Sure, but only because you’re a good boy.” She poked him lightly in the navel. “Now remember, you don’t get to ask for the bathroom and you don’t get to ask for a change. I’ll have to punish you if you do, and that won’t be fun. Got it?”

Curtis nodded.

“Okay. Now how about one more diaper-check before we go out there? This’ll be the last one for a while; I promise.”

The boy waited patiently for her while she peeked down the back of his diaper, letting it snap against him with a crinkle and a tiny cloud of baby powder.

“Don’t forget your pacifier.” She poked the dummy back in his mouth and gave him a pat on the behind. “All done. Let’s go.”

In the kitchen, they found a large selection of sodas, several boxes of cans. Judith asked Curtis which one he wanted but wouldn’t let him take out the pacifier to answer. He hesitate for a moment, worry flashed across his face for a moment. Judith tapped on the countertop to get his attention. He pointed, and she put her hand on one of the boxes. “This one?”

He shook his head.

She moved her hand to the box adjacent. “This one?”

He shook his head again.

She moved to the next box. “This one?”

He nodded.

“You want Mountain Dew?”

He nodded again.

After collecting a can, she led him back through the groupings of people and down the hall toward where the other boys had gone earlier. They passed a set of stairs and a few closed doors before turning a corner. At the far end of the hall, a doorway opened into a brightly-lit room, out of which poured the voices of both adults and children. Judith urged Curtis in front of her until they both entered the room.

The room was large, appearing at first to be somewhat of a man-cave; the few windows had blackout curtains. Most of the space was dominated by the large pool table at its center. At the far side of the pool table was a small bar and stools, a wall-mounted TV, and a mini-fridge; a few of the men had gathered there, talking jovially over the sound of the TV, drinks in their hands. Nearest them were two more tables, a foosball table and an air-hockey table; Clint, Diego, and Tobin were playing around the air-hockey table, loud clattering accompanied each serve and return.

“I’ll hang on to this for now.” Judith took Curtis’ pacifier, then opened the soda and handed it to him. “Do you like air-hockey?”

“Yeah.” He took a sip of soda.

“Come on then.” She led him over to the table. Clint and Tobin were presently engaged in a rather heated match while Diego rested his elbows on the side of the table.

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“Oh look, it’s the diaper-butt.” Diego jeered.

“Watch it, kid!” Judith barked harshly, snapping the tallest boy to attention. She then gestured to Curtis. “I brought a fourth, so now you all can play doubles at foosball.”

“I don’t want him on my team,” Clint said, breaking his concentration for a moment and letting Tobin score a point. “Crap!”

“Then Curtis takes the loser’s place after this match, which unless you stop playing like total garbage, is gonna be you.” Judith smiled a taunt toward the blond-haired boy; he was down a few points.

“Shut up, Judith, stop distracting me.”

“Hey, I already called loser.” Diego rose up.

“And you’ve already been in here playing for almost an hour, it’s time to let someone else have a turn.” Judith crossed her arms. “You can play the winner after that.”

“Hey, can we play Super Smash Bros. yet?” Clint turned to Judith after digging the puck out of his goal.

“No, Isavelle and Lucy are watching a movie.”

For the next couple minutes, the two players went silent while the puck shot back and forth at high speed. Eventually, Tobin scored a few more points, giving him the victory.

“Ha! You suck,” Diego said, directing his words to the loser.

Clint went to retrieve his drink while Curtis handed his off to Judith and then took his place at the table.

“I already beat you too, so I guess you both suck.” Tobin took a sip from his own drink before returning to the table. “I kinda wanna play foosball, it’d be fun with two versus two.”

“Well you can have diaper-boy on your team, I’ll take Clint.”

Curtis looked at Judith, a little hesitantly. She whispered in his ear. “Don’t forget what you say to meanies.”

“You ready, Curtis?” Tobin asked.

“Yeah, Curtis.” Clint cut in. “Are you ready, or do you need your diaper changed first?”

“What do you care?” Curtis shot back.

All three boys and Judith were taken by surprise. The boys’ shock lasted a few seconds while Judith beamed a proud smile.

Clint recovered and taunted from across the table. “I can smell your diapers from here.”

Curtis, still riding on the success of his previous statement, only replied “so what?”

“Are you all gonna play or what?” Judith butted in before anyone else could reply.

The match started, Curtis and Tobin sending the puck flying from side to side. For a time neither of them scored, but after a wild, sideways shot, the first point went to Curtis. Curtis grinned widely and they began again. The second point was his, then Tobin scored, then Curtis scored again.

“Looks like diaper-boy is kicking your butt,” Judith said with a laugh.

“Shut up.” Came the reply.

They continued like that for some time, Curtis maintaining a solid lead for most of the game. Eventually, Tobin got on a good streak and caught up. With two points to go, Tobin scored again, moving himself into the lead.

“You better not lose to him.” Diego directed toward Tobin.

The curly-haired boy only concentrated on the game. Curtis did too, bringing himself a little closer to the table. The puck shot back and forth for another minute. Curtis very nearly scored a goal, but Tobin stopped it and returned with a direct shot while Curtis was still focusing on offense. The shot scored, giving Tobin the victory.

“Bam! Take that.” He slapped the paddle down on the table.

Curtis looked a little disheartened, but Tobin came over and shook his hand. “Good game, that was close.”

“Thanks,” Curtis replied a little sheepishly.

“Good to see at least someone knows a thing about sportsmanship,” Judith muttered to herself.

“Alright, diaper-boy, give it up. It’s my turn.” Diego took the paddle as Curtis accepted his drink back from Judith.

“Wait a sec,” Tobin said.

“Nah, he lost, I get to play.”

“No, not you, dummy.” Tobin turned to Curtis. “You, take my spot.”

“What!?” Diego said, surprised.

“What’s the matter, afraid you’re gonna lose?” Tobin shot him a sly look.

Curtis accepted the position and the match began. Clint and Tobin looked on eagerly. Both players quickly scored a couple points on each other, then Curtis pulled ahead by two.

“Bullcrap!” Diego grumbled angrily as he retrieved the puck from the return.

“You know the diaper-boy is in the lead, right?” Judith stated flatly, much to Diego’s vexation.

Curtis went on to score a few more points, furthering his lead. The other two only laughed more and more as Diego lost his composure. Even Clint joined in the taunting.

“You’re about to get beat by a kid in a diaper, how does it feel?”

“I said shut up!

Diego managed to land a couple goals, but then Curtis scored two more of his own. By the time they were on the last point, Curtis was ahead by eight. Diego was angrily sending each shot with as much force as he could manage. He scored a point but didn’t celebrate.

“What are you gonna do when he beats you?” Tobin grinned through a mouthful of crackers. “You should have to wear a diaper too.”

Tobin burst into laughter, Judith chuckled; Clint laughed too, but he looked a little worried—probably for what they would say if he lost to Curtis. Diego stewed angrily but Curtis spoke up.

“How about you stop making fun of me?”

Diego looked him in the eye from across the table. “Not a chance, diaper-boy.”

Curtis sent the puck flying and no more than a minute later, had claimed victory.

“Now you suck it!”

“Whatever, man, you just got lucky.” Diego tossed the paddle carelessly across the table and walked away to get his drink.

“How about we play foosball now?” Tobin chimed in.

After a couple minutes of discussion and one bathroom break, all four boys gathered around the foosball table; Clint and Diego on one side, and Curtis and Tobin on the other. The match was close, but Clint and Diego took the win. They swapped Clint and Curtis, and then Curtis and Diego won. After that, instead of swapping teams again, they began a rotation of one-on-one. Curtis played two rounds first, beating Clint narrowly, then losing to Diego. The name-calling didn’t exactly stop, nor did it even slow down, but the hostility toward Curtis quickly faded, notably more so after each of his wins. Instead, they boys continued to exchange a steady volley of insults as the matches carried on—they just came across as less mean-spirited.

Judith, who had been content to watch thus far, now came over and asked to play. “I just wanna play one match and then I’ll leave you alone, fair enough?”

“Fine,” Diego said, having just beaten Curtis. “I’ll play you, but I’m not giving up my spot after.”

The other boys agreed and the match began. Up until that point, Curtis had be table-side for every match he spectated, but now that Judith was playing, he lingered by the wall next to the shelf where everyone had set their drinks. Judith furiously worked the bars, but soon lagged behind in points, and ultimately lost.

When the match was finished Judith returned to her seat, watching from a safe distance while the boys played. She eyed Curtis, noticing him standing away from the other boys. He was holding his drink, but wasn’t taking a sip. The other boys launched into the next match while Curtis began to fidget. As the match progressed, so too did Curtis’ movements. Every so often, he would turn around and look toward Judith, who pretended to be engrossed in her phone.

But she wasn’t; she was watching Curtis struggle every moment he wasn’t looking directly at her. His movements were a clear sign of someone struggling to hold an urgent need to use the bathroom. It was as if he couldn’t stand still, desperation making him twitchy and on-edge. This went on for several minutes while Diego and Tobin continued their match; the other boys didn’t seem to notice Curtis’ plight.

“And the champion reigns supreme!” Diego announced, having throughly beaten the other boy.

“Whatever, I still beat you at air-hockey.”

“Whatever, four-eyes, you’re still a loser.” The taller boy spun the bars idly while Clint took his position.

“Does Judith wanna play again?” Tobin looked over at the older girl.

“She can play after I beat Clint.”

“You mean after I beat you,” Clint shot back.

“Judith, did you wanna play again?” Tobin called over.

“Nah.” Judith waved them away.

“Whatever, let’s get this started.” Diego dropped the ball into play and the match began. From then on, there were gasps and jeers and mild curses, all while the continued sound of the bars spinning accompanied the clack and bang of the ball rocketing around the table. If it wasn’t the two players yelling at each other, it was the third boy calling out the score or pretending to be an announcer.

Curtis, however, was not participating; he clearly had his own problems.

By now, he was starting to look desperate in such a way that it would be obvious to anyone who saw him; and at the same time, he looked entirely unsure what to do about it. He would shoot a glance toward the door, then toward Judith, then back to the door, then down at the carpet beneath his feet, all the while twitching, shaking, and clenching with steadily increasing intensity. Strain was etched into his face as the force of urgency seemed to hit him in waves, a visible shiver traveling down his body, pulsating as he rocked slightly on his feet.

Sometime during the middle of the match, he lost his own battle and filled his diaper with something conspicuous. His face scrunching as he tensed, bending in the middle. It seemed he couldn’t hold on any longer. Rapid breathing paused with a light whimper and he leaned into a push on his tummy—one final stand or an intentional effort to relieve the immense pressure, it didn’t matter. Soon there was a quiet rustling and a sticky sound as a great mass forced his diaper outward, expanding it from inside his pajama bottoms until the shape was unmistakable. He paused for breath—or maybe he managed to regain control for just a moment—it didn’t last either way. Wrinkling his face again, biting his lip, he bent his knees this time. The already prominent lump around his bottom quickly doubled as more poop surged into his pants. Curtis grunted as the last of his messy accident entered his diaper, and heaved a great sigh when he was finished. His diaper was now very obviously in need of changing.

Judith stifled a giggle; no one noticed her.

Curtis straightened and carefully reached around to feel the back of his pants. He looked around again, not daring to move from his position. Once more, it seemed like he didn’t know what to do, but as he still had the drink in his hand, and was too far away from the shelf to set it down, he chose instead to sip it occasionally and watch the game from his current position and awkward stance.

Eventually, the match ended with Clint celebrating loudly while Diego muttered excuses. All three boys made their way past Curtis to where their drinks were set.

“What’s the matter, Curtis? Why’re you standing like that?” Diego elbowed him lightly. “You need your diaper changed or something?”

“No!” Curtis said defensively.

“Smells like you do.” Clint laughed and made his way back to the table.

The next match started, but Curtis still hadn’t moved. Judith got up and dragged a vacant chair over to him. “Here, you can have a seat if you want.”

“No, it’s okay.” He dismissed the chair, but Judith left it right next to him.

“Suit yourself.” She turned to leave.

“Umm, Judith?”

She paused, then slowly spun around. Her face was like stone, her eyes narrowed. She could probably guess what he was about to ask and she didn’t look like she wanted to hear it.

Her expression sent his gaze dropping to the floor. “Never mind…”

She tousled his hair. “That’s a good boy, you have fun.” And with that, she left the room, pausing to glance back only after disappearing from sight.

Curtis looked longingly after her but didn’t move. Again, he felt around the back of his pants. He looked at the chair. The other boys weren’t paying any attention to him, but he watched them carefully, trying to hide his actions. He slowly moved to the chair. Bracing himself with one hand, he lowered. His bottom, or rather the protrusion around it, made contact and he stopped. Stopped, then lowered some more, his face twisting with disgust. Too much, apparently. He stood back up and felt his pants again.

“Hey diaper-boy,” Diego called to him. “Come over here and keep score for Clint so I don’t have to keep running around the table.”

Curtis hesitated.

Tobin waved him over too. “Come on.”

Reluctantly, Curtis set down his drink and awkwardly waddled over to the table. The smell which followed him was still mostly that of baby powder, which, given its excessive application, managed to overpower the odor from the other contents of his diaper. The match was still heated, Curtis took his place at one end.

“So, Curtis, does Judith change your diapers too?” Diego flashed a mean smile.

Curtis replied after a minute. “Yeah.”

The taller boy laughed at him mockingly. “You know, you were walking kinda funny. Is it ‘cause you crapped in your diaper?”

Clint added. “It sure smells like it.”

Diego shot back to Clint. “Nah man, that smell is ‘cause you farted. Don’t try and blame diaper-boy for you being nasty.”

“Shut up, man.”

Diego turned back to Curtis who was looking very guilty, face red with embarrassment. The older boy prodded the younger with a look; the younger boy faltered. Diego had his answer, but it seemed he demanded an admission.

“Did you really poop in your pants?”

Curtis nodded weakly.

“Why?”

“I…I had to go.”

“Like, it doesn’t bother you?”

Curtis shrugged, but it was barely noticeable.

“Dude,” Clint paused, about to drop the ball back into play. “You’re gonna get in big trouble. You did the same thing when we went to Six Flags.”

Curtis suddenly looked worried, the other two looked confused.

“What happened at Six Flags?” Diego’s eyes darted between Clint and Curtis.

Clint rolled his eyes. “Like, a year ago or whatever, we went to Six Flags and he crapped his pants. His mom was pissed, my mom was pissed, Judith was pissed. The whole car smelled like crap; we had to stop and wait forever for his mom to clean him up. I think he got his butt whooped.” He turned to Curtis. “And didn’t you get grounded for like a week?”

Curtis couldn’t respond his eyes started glistening.

Diego laughed, then looked at Curtis and laughed even harder. “Man, I don’t think his sister’s gonna wanna change your diaper if it’s stinky.” He nodded toward Clint, then focused on Curtis. “You better hope your mom doesn’t throw away all your Christmas presents.”

Curtis shrunk down while the others laughed.

Clint and Tobin resumed their game; Diego turned once more to Curtis. “But why though? Do you like it or something?”

Curtis seemed to boil over and spoke up. “What do you care if I wear diapers?”

“’Cause only babies wear diapers.” Diego’s eyes narrowed.

“Well, I beat you at air-hockey, so what does that make you?

Diego’s face fell to a scowl. “Shut your face, diaper-baby.”

Curtis only wore a victorious smirk, one which only made Diego look more annoyed. Eventually, the match came to a conclusion, with Clint claiming the win. Next, it was Curtis’ turn to play against Tobin. Right from the start, Curtis managed to pull together a sizable lead. As the match continued, however, Diego began sniffing the air.

“That doesn’t smell like fart anymore; that smells like legit crap.” He made a face at Curtis. “Dude, you’re weird.”

Tobin then scored a goal.

“Uh oh, Curtis. Can you keep playing or are you gonna have to go get your diaper changed?” Clint laughed as he added a point to Tobin’s tally.

“Shut up, I’m still winning.”

“Not for long, I bet.” Diego sniffed again. “Not with a big ol’ crap in your diaper.” Adding emphasis on the word diaper got a reaction from the younger boy.

Curtis shot the tallest boy a dirty look, but quickly returned his attention to the match. Tobin managed to score a few more points on him, but he then scored more of his own. In the end, Curtis managed to win by a couple of points.

“Wow, Tobin,you lost to everyone; you stink,” Clint jabbed, sliding the score counter back and forth. “You stink almost as bad as Curtis.”

Diego laughed, then seemed to remember something. “Wait, Clint, you never played against diaper-boy at air-hockey.”

At this, both Curtis and Clint were hesitant, but the other two boys almost literally pushed them toward the table. Once they’d started, the other two boys took their places watching from one side, though they did make loud mention that they preferred to stay away from Curtis’ end of the table. Curtis only steeled himself and planted his feet. It didn’t take long, however, for it to become apparent that the state of his diaper wasn’t about to make a difference in the outcome of the match. He gained the lead almost right away and held it for the entire match.

“Nice job, Curtis,” Judith said. All the boys looked up in surprise as none of them had seen her approach. She looked around at them in turn. “So, what if I said I kicked the other girls out of the kids’ room so you can play games?”

All their faces lit up, except Curtis, who looked rather concerned.

“But.” She held up a finger. “Curtis and I get the first match, one on one.”

Clint and Diego looked a little bothered each, but shrugged. They all gathered up their drinks and snacks and made their way back through the bustle of the main room, then down the hall on the other side. Curtis attempted to keep up with the other boys, but his awkward waddle soon let them out of sight. Judith was right behind him. Her hand on his shoulder cause him to jump.

“Here, finish your drink so I can throw it out. It’s almost empty anyway.” Judith handed the can to Curtis, who quickly drained the last of its contents. Judith took it back from him, replacing the pacifier in his mouth. She veered away to dispose of the can and then rejoined the group in the kids’ room.

The TV was on, and Super Smash Bros. was already started, waiting at the menu. The boys had taken their seats on the couch, except Curtis, who remained standing. Judith strode into the room and pulled up an ottoman. As the seat was quite wide, she only took up half of it.

“Come on, take a seat, grab a controller.” She patted the cushion beside her. “Let’s get this started.”

Curtis approached hesitantly, taking the controller. Judith pulled down on his arm and even though he resisted for a second, he ended up landing firmly beside her. He grimaced, letting out a squeak of discomfort, but Judith ignored him. She picked the game rules, then the stage, then they picked their characters. Curtis picked a swordsman named Roy, while Judith picked a Princess Peach. Unfortunately for Curtis, his character had no ranged attacks, while Judith’s character had both ranged attacks as well as the ability to glide long distances through the air. Judith just kept provoking him with thrown objects until he rushed in blindly, then she would either counter or run away. This led to a rather sound victory for Judith, which was celebrated with a round of laughter and taunts from the other boys.

Curtis whined as Judith got up and moved back to the furthest couch. His pleading look trailed after her, but she paid him no heed.

After that, the other three boys joined in for a four-player free-for-all. Diego muscled the controller from Curtis’ hands and changed his player-name to diaperboy. Naturally, Curtis’ immediately removed it, but the other boys all demanded he put it back, so he gave in, much to their amusement and his chagrin. Somewhere amid the teasing about his pacifier and the laughing at his new player-name, they finally started a match. The rules were simple elimination, and Curtis was the first to be eliminated.

After the match, Judith called out loudly. “Come here, Curtis.” Curtis obeyed hesitantly, and the other boys all turned and watched. “I guess it’s about time for a diaper-check, isn’t it?”

She spun him around and pulled out the back of his diaper, instantly recoiling and letting it snap back into place. The other boys laughed.

Judith then gently felt the firm bulge in the seat of his pants, remarking with a smile, “looks like someone made big present for me. You want me to change you, I guess?” She spun the boy to face her.

Curtis nodded frantically.

“Come on then,” she said, slinging her bag over on shoulder. Then, before Curtis could react or protest, she scooped him up too. He threw his arms around her and almost started crying.

“There, there,” she soothed. “We’ll get you out of that yucky diaper and then you can come back and play with the other boys.”

Their exodus was accompanied by laughter and taunts like “Ooo, you’re in trouble now,” and “did the diaper-boy make a big stinky?”

Safe in the bathroom, Judith set Curtis down. Instead of a towel, this time she laid out a baby changing mat. Curtis let himself be laid down on top. Judith set out her supplies and then peeled away his pajama bottoms.

Curtis spit out the pacifier. “Judith?”

Judith was already at work. She spoke softly in reply. “Quiet now, sweetie. Let me get you all clean.”

“Judith.” More urgent this time.

She looked up, concerned at his tone. “Yes?”

There was a look of worry on his face. “Are you mad?”

“No, of course not,” she said, after recovering from her surprise. “Why would I be?”

“’Cause it’s all stinky and yucky.”

Judith caught herself chuckling. “That’s part of taking care of my little baby.” She stroked his hair back. “You get to play, I get to clean up all your messes.”

“Don’t tell my mom.”

She just smiled. “Don’t worry, kid, I’ll make sure—”

“Please don’t tell her!” He spoke in earnest.

This puzzled Judith. “Why?”

“I’ll get in trouble.”

Judith thought for a long moment; Curtis looking up with great distress. Finally, she took a deep breath and smiled down at him. “You won’t get in trouble, I promise.”

“But—”

“Shh.” She gently offered the pacifier; he accepted. “I’m taking care of you now, and I will be the whole time. All the way until after New Years. You’re my little baby. Babies don’t get in trouble for using their diapers, do they?”

Curtis shook his head.

“That’s right. Now how about you lie still and let me change you. The longer you talk, the longer you have to stay in that yucky diaper. You don’t want that, do you?”

With Curtis quiet, Judith began the process of changing him. She didn’t recoil at the smell, but kept a neutral expression while she worked. Curtis cringed at first, squirming involuntarily, but the more clean he became, the more he relaxed; Judith smiled to match. No more than a couple minutes later she was taping him into a clean diaper.

“Now, doesn’t that feel much better?”

He nodded, a smile peeking from behind his pacifier.

She got up and began washing her hands, glancing over her shoulder as she spoke. “You like a clean diaper better than a dirty one?”

He lay still but nodded again, this time with a little more emphasis.

“You had to wear that mess for a while, didn’t you?”

His look was quizzical.

“I know; I saw.” She turned to face him, drying her hands as she continued. “But I promised not to check you so much, just like you wanted me to, so you had to wait a long time.”

No response.

“So, are you ready to let me check you again? Wouldn’t you rather me check you more often so I can change you when you need it?” She returned to his side, smiling, but with just a hint of triumph. “I can’t change you unless I know you need it. What do you say we go back to regular diaper-checks instead of letting you stay in dirty diapers all day?”

Curtis just shrugged with a smile. Blushing as she patted him on the thigh and leaned away.

“Now come on, I’ve got something nice for you.” She dug into her bag and pulled out his pair of jeans and half-zip, hunter green, pullover sweatshirt. “How about these?”

Curtis’ face lit up right away, the pacifier came out of his mouth. “My clothes!”

“Yup.” She beamed. “They’re all clean.” Judith then helped Curtis change into his regular clothes. His diaper still rose above the waist of his pants, but the pullover easily covered it.

Curtis inspected his clothes, evidently happy to wear them again. He couldn’t see the odd stitching along the seam between the legs. “Thanks Judith.”

“Go on,” she said, giving him a light swat on the rear. “Go play games while I clean this up.”

Curtis hesitated.

Concern furrowed across Judith’s brow. Then she wore knowing frown. “They’re making fun of you, aren’t they?”

He nodded.

“Who? All of them?”

Curtis stared down. “Mostly Diego, sometimes Clint.”

Judith put her hands on his shoulders. “I can make them leave if you want. You can play games all by yourself, or with just Tobin.”

Curtis’ head shot up and he shook it side-to-side. “No, I wanna play with them.”

Judith thought for a moment then popped the pacifier back in his mouth, swooped him up in her arms, and carried him into the kids’ room. Gently placing him back on the ottoman, she kissed him on the forehead.

“There you go, sweetie,” she said in a cheery voice. “all clean again.”

She left him looking confused. A minute later, she returned with a plate of cookies and other sweets, setting it on the coffee table beside Curtis. She also set down a baby bottle with milk in it.

The other boys scoffed, but then Clint started to reach for the plate. “Nice.”

Judith swatted his hand. “Those aren’t for you, dummy. They’re for Curtis.”

“Well, can you get some for me too?”

“No, there’s no more gingerbread.” Judith tossed her hair carelessly, then looked down her nose at the two boys on the couch. “And don’t bother going to get some yourself, mom already said you can wait till after dinner.”

“Aww, come on.”

Judith started to walk away again but then she stopped behind the couch where Clint and Diego were sitting. She leaned over the back, right down between them, a hand on each shoulder. “If you’d like some cookies, maybe Curtis will share some if you ask nicely.” She raised her voice enough to catch Curtis’ attention as well. “Or maybe he’ll tell you that he doesn’t wanna share his goodies with a bunch of jerks.”

Clint shot her a dirty look.

“You behave,” Judith said sternly as she turned to leave. “Curtis.” She called, pausing in the door. “Tell me if they’re mean to you.”

Curtis nodded, and when she had left, set his pacifier aside so he could munch on a cookie. He caught Clint and Diego staring at him, but ignored them and began selecting his character.

“Can I have a cookie?” Tobin asked. “I’m sorry if I was mean.”

“Sure.” Curtis said, handing him a cookie. He turned to the other two boys, who were seated behind him, on the couch. “Do you, uh, want a cookie?”

Clint shook his head, Diego did the same. Then Diego asked “are you still wearing a diaper?”

Curtis nodded, but didn’t seem as bothered as before.

“Whatever, just don’t stink up the place,” Diego said with a scoff.

They each picked their characters and started the match. A four-player free-for-all. This time Curtis did much better, being eliminated only right before Diego, who placed second. Between matches, Curtis would eat some of his snacks and drink from his bottle. Tobin asked for another cookie, but the other two didn’t say anything more. Well, nothing other than the usual banter as they sliced, pummeled, and shot each other’s characters out of the level. This continued for another couple matches before Judith came back. As soon as she entered the room, she went right up to the couch where Clint and Diego were sitting.

“Alright, move. Both of you. I’m sitting here.” Her command was punctuated with a snap of her fingers. She had waited until the current match had concluded so all the boys were busy arguing about game rules and which stage to play on.

Clint got up right away, but protested. “Come on, Judith.”

Judith only intensified her stare.

Diego hadn’t moved, but Clint tugged his sleeve. They moved over to the other couch, which was positioned farther from the TV, and at an angle.

“Oh, you can have the ottoman if you want.” Judith offered. “Curtis is gonna sit with me.”

Curtis turned to see her beckoning him with a finger. He collected his bottle and plate of goodies and took a seat next to Judith. However, she had something else in mind, and quickly had him sitting on her lap. She removed his pacifier and offered him the bottle, which he drank. Once the next match started, she held him tightly around the waist, occasionally offering cookie or piece of candy.

“I see you’re playing a lot better now that you’re in a clean diaper.” She teased him with a light tickle, but quickly stopped so he could concentrate on the game. For a while, she just held him, sometimes looking off to one side at her phone. The boys continued their usual taunting and jeering at each other while smashing their characters to bits. A few matches later, however, Judith noticed that Curtis was getting eliminated almost right away. He was starting to get frustrated. Judith watched the game for the next couple of matches. Finally, she’d seen enough.

Diaper-boy loses again,” Diego mocked.

“You two are just picking on him.” Judith pointed an angry finger toward Clint and Diego.

Diego shrugged his shoulders in an exaggerated motion. “What? It’s not my fault he’s too much of a baby to not suck at the game.”

Clint stifled his laughter.

“If you’re gonna play like that, why don’t you just play teams?” Judith said hotly.

Diego shrugged again. “What’s it matter? He still sucks.”

“You know what? How about I kick all of you off the game and let Curtis play by himself?”

“What!? But I didn’t do anything!” Tobin protested.

Judith offered him a smile. “Okay, well not you then.” Her eyes flared as she pointed them back at the other boys. “But you two, you’re just being mean. Why don’t you just go play somewhere else instead?”

“That’s not fair! Why do you like Curtis so much just ‘cause he wears diapers?” Diego pointed a finger right back at her.

“If you wore diapers, everyone would make fun of you too. I’m nice to him ‘cause everyone else just wants to be a jerk. It’s Christmas, somebody should be nice to him at least.” The tiniest bit of hesitation flashed over her face before she bore down and steeled her gaze.

Diego just grumbled in response.

“You know what?” Judith said, a wicked smile spreading across her face. “How about we settle this in the game? You two versus me and Curtis.”

“Easy! You’re on!” Diego sat back down wearing his own wide grin. “Prepare to get your ass handed to you.”

Clint looked confidently toward Curtis and Judith. “So when you lose, we keep playing and you have to leave.”

“No. If we lose, Curtis will wear a dress and I’ll—” She paused to shush Curtis as he began to protest. “And I’ll wear a diaper just like him.”

For a moment, all eyes turned toward her, even Curtis. No one said anything. If it weren’t for the background music in the game, it would’ve been quiet enough to hear a pin drop.

“You’re on.”

Judith reclined back as Tobin handed her his controller. “Yep, we’ll both be in diapers and then you can make fun of us all you want.” Again, she had to shush Curtis before he could protest. “But if you lose, then you have to wear diapers.”

Once again, the room was brought to utter silence. Judith smiled wide enough that her teeth showed, but everyone else was in shock.

Judith reached into her bag, pulled out two diapers, and threw them on the ground next to Clint and Diego. She eyed the two boys. “So, what’s it gonna be? Are you scared you’re gonna lose? Don’t worry, I’ll change you when you need it. I’ve changed your diapers before.”

Diego leaned close to Clint, whispering something in his ear. They seemed to be discussing the decision amongst themselves. Judith was greatly enjoying their sudden hesitation.

She leaned back confidently. “You can pick the stage too, I don’t care.”

Diego kept whispering in Clint’s ear; Clint was shrugging and shaking his head. They both kept looking down at the diapers, then up at Judith. Finally, Diego set his face and said “fine, we’re picking Hyrule Temple.”

“Remember, winners take all, losers have to wear diapers. No rematches or excuses.”

“Got it.”

Judith pushed Curtis off her lap so he was sitting beside her. “And don’t even think about trying to back out of it when you lose,” she called over to the other boys, then pointed to Tobin. “Tobin, you’re a witness.”

“Judith,” Curtis whispered. “I don’t wanna wear a dress.”

Judith took a hand off of her controller and put it around Curtis. “Don’t worry, sweetie, they’re only good when they team up and you’re by yourself. Now you’ve got a teammate. Just pick your best character and we’ll win, I promise.” She squeezed him in a hug, then let him go. “Okay?”

“Okay,” he said, flashing a faint smile.

Clint and Diego selected rather quick swordsmen—Chrom and Marth respectively, while Curtis went with his usual pick of a swordsman named Roy; Judith, however, picked a character named Link, who had a sword as well as many ranged attacks. The stage they selected was a large level of varying height.

“I’ll keep shooting them and you hit them while they’re distracted,” Judith whispered in Curtis’ ear and the match began.

That’s exactly what she did, too. Since all of the other characters had no ranged attacks whatsoever, she was able to stand back, lobbing a nearly endless assault of speeding arrows, whirling boomerangs, and tumbling bombs. Curtis, who would otherwise be out numbered as well as slower than the other two, was now able to land heavy blow after heavy blow, each one sending his opponents flying. Soon, the other boys picked up on the strategy, and decided to shift their focus to Judith’s character instead. Judith, using herself as bait, kept leading them around the level, all while continuing her ranged assault any time she had the chance. Curtis only had to wait for Judith to lead the others past him and could land easy hits as the other two almost completely ignored him.

At some point, Clint and Diego managed to corner Judith in a lower part of the level. The close quarters of the area gave them the clear advantage and they were able to knock her character out of the stage, leaving her with only two lives remaining. Of course, their small victory was short-lived, as Curtis moved into position to guard one of the only two exits to that area. Judith’s character then respawned and she went to guard the other exit. Despite loud grumbling and shouting about strategies, the other boys weren’t able to coordinate an effort to punch their way through, and they both ended up losing another life as a result.

As the match continued, Curtis and Judith were able to play more and more off of each other’s strengths. The other boys almost exclusively focused on one of them or the other. They were easily baited, and soon became frustrated. But once Curtis was down to one life, they renewed their attempts to finish him off and leave Judith outnumbered. They ignored Judith’s arrows in favor of an all-out assault on Curtis’ character. However, they messed up their timing and Curtis was able to pull of a powerful counter-attack which sent them both flying. Clint was eliminated by the attack, and with no one else to back him up, Diego immediately ran away. He didn’t get far, as Judith’s ranged attacks were able to slow him down enough for Curtis’ character to catch up and deliver the finishing blow. Match over; victors: Curtis and Judith.

“Bam! Suck it!” Judith celebrated her victory with a muscle-flex. Curtis jumped up from his seat while the other two threw their controllers down in rage.

“Bullshit!” Diego shouted. “You just kept shooting us and running away the whole time!”

“Yeah, come on. That’s a bunch of garbage!” Clint added.

Judith rose up and pointed across the room. “You lost.” Her voice boomed. “No rematches, no excuses. You lost, so you know what that means…?”

Both boys backed away a step.

Judith advanced. “Which one of you is gonna be first?”

“It’s not fair!”

“It wasn’t fair when you picked on Curtis. Now you’ll know what it feels like to wear diapers.” She closed in, stopping to pick up the diapers she’d thrown earlier. “Now which one of you is gonna be first? If you don’t pick, I will.”

Clint started to push Diego toward Judith. “Hey man, this was your idea.”

“Diego,” Judith said menacingly. Fire in her eyes. “Don’t make me chase you, I promise it’ll be so much worse if you do.”

“No!” He stumbled backward.

“Wait!” Curtis called out. They all turn in his direction. “Wait, don’t. You don’t have to.”

“What?” almost everyone said in unison.

“Curtis,” Judith regained her composure first. “We won, fair and square. They lost, this is what they agreed to.”

“I just want them to stop harassing me.” Curtis’ voice cracked a little. “That’s all I want. Can’t you just make them be nice to me?”

Judith turned slowly back to the other boys. “I don’t think they will.”

“Please,” Curtis begged.

Her gaze bore into the two boys and they withered. “If I let you go, will you stop harassing him?”

Clint clasped his hands. Diego tried to look tough, but only managed to look bitter. “We will; we promise.”

Judith leaned down close. “Okay, I’m gonna let you off the hook on this once, but only because Curtis wants me to.” She grabbed them by their shirts. “But I swear, if I hear or see one more time that you’re being mean to him, that’s it: you’re going in diapers. And I won’t stop even if he begs me.”

She released them and held up the diapers. “As a matter of fact, he retains the right to demand you wear diapers at any time, for any reason, or even for no reason at all. You got that?”

“Yes.” They nodded frantically.

“That means that if he wakes me up in the middle of the night and tells me he wants you to wear diapers after all, then I’ll come and drag you both out of bed and put you in diapers right then and there. Do you understand?”

“Yes.”

“Now, listen close.” She leaned up to Clint’s ear and whispered something. His face showed completed horror. After she whispered in Diego’s ear, his face did too.

“I understand, yes.” Clint began to babble, he was on the verge of tears. “I promise, I swear.”

Diego’s look went sullen. “Fine, okay, I get it.” He pulled away from Judith. “You made your point, now leave me alone.”

Judith glared at him for a moment. Then there was a lengthy and awkward silence.

“How about…” Tobin began hesitantly. “How about we play Mario Kart?”

Again, there was a silence.

“Can I play?” Clint looked toward Curtis. “I uh… Please?”

“I’m sorry, Curtis.” Diego still looked sullen, defeated, and bitter, but his tone was true.

“It’s okay, man. Don’t worry about it,” Curtis said, shrugging and flashing a half-smile. “Tobin’s right, let’s just play Mario Kart.”

It took a few minutes for the unease to die down, but it did, and not long after, the boys were happily crashing and banging into each other on Mario Kart. Judith took her place on the couch once more, Curtis climbing back onto her lap. She pulled him into a hug.

“That was very sweet, Curtis.” She kissed the side of his head as she whispered in his ear. “I’m proud of you.”

Curtis didn’t break his gaze from the TV. “I don’t want to be mean to them, I just don’t want them to be mean to me.”

“Well, that’s okay.” She stroked his hair gently. “I didn’t really want to change their diapers anyway, yours are enough for me.”

Curtis’ cheeks flashed crimson.

After several races, Curtis dropped out of the game, claiming he was kinda tired. Setting the controller down, he turned sideways on the couch and stretched out across Judith’s lap. She just smiled and stroked his hair again.

“I’m thirsty.” Curtis looked up at her with a smile.

“Okay, baby.” She held up the bottle of milk, inspecting its contents. “Hmm, not much left.” She offered him the nipple and he drank until it was empty and made a loud sucking sound. She pulled the bottle from his mouth, replacing it with the pacifier. “Hang on, sweetie, we’ll get you some more.”

The other boys were just finishing a race.

“Clint, can you go fill this up again?” She held out the bottle, giving it a little shake. “Just milk, please.”

Clint had taken the bottle from her, but paused for a moment to stare curiously at Curtis as he sucked happily on his pacifier. After a few seconds, he pulled his eyes away and left, returning shortly with the bottle now full.

“Thank you, Clint.” She smiled as she took the bottle and put it in Curtis’ mouth. Immediately, the boy began sucking on the nipple; his eyes closed and he let out a sigh of contentment.

They lay like that for some time while the other boys played video games. The smell of cooking had been almost constant throughout the day, whether it was a savory ham roasting, or golden bread rising, or sugary sweets and treats; there was never a point when the aroma of something tasty wasn’t pouring out of the kitchen like an invisible cloud. The scent had been getting progressively stronger of late. More and more, they could hear commotion and clatter of people talking and moving out in the main living room.

Finally, one of the aunts poked her head in the door. “Alright kids, it’s time for dinner. Come on and get cleaned up.”

“Can we finish this race first?” Diego called over his shoulder without pulling his eyes from the TV.

“Looks to me like you just started it,” the woman said flatly. “How about you just turn it off and go wash your hands.”

With much grumbling, the other boys all started to get up. They turned off the games and dropped the controllers right where they’d been sitting.

“Hold it, you two,” Judith said, drawing the attention of Clint and Diego. “Don’t forget those.”

Their faces fell when they saw she was pointing at the two diapers on the ground. The diapers were laying right where they’d fallen earlier. Both boys were frozen in place, neither one daring to move.

Judith was obviously amused at their hesitation. “Pick them up,” she said with a smile. “Put them back in my bag.”

Curtis too, had moved from his position. Judith checked his diaper and collected her bag. She motioned for him to follow, but he stood still.

“Come on, Curtis.”

“Up,” he said, holding his arms out.

She smiled and scooped him up, much to the wonderment of the other boys. “Do you really want me to carry you?” she asked when he put his arms around her. “Or are you thinking this is like at lunch time and you can get out of having me feed you?”

His cheeks flushed a little. “I want you to carry me.”

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The crowd of people in the living room had grown, as had the veritable mountain of gifts around the giant Christmas tree. Many of the adults were already seated around the table in the dining room. In the kitchen, Isavelle and Lucy had taken their seats at the kitchen table while the youngest of the children were seated around a smaller table near the end of the room; one of the aunts had taken a seat nearest them at the kitchen table—likely for the purpose of supervision. Judith sat Curtis down at the same end of the kitchen table, placing the bottle of milk in front of him; then she disappeared into the throng of moving bodies.

People were moving back and forth, carrying serving dishes and plates of food. There was laughing and talking and carrying on. Curtis’ mother was sitting at the dining table, sipping a glass of wine; she glanced over at him as they sat down, but ignored him after that. Gradually, the busyness slowed, and everyone found their place at one table or another. The other three boys returned and sat down with plates of food; the girls shushed them as they were making a lot of noise. Finally, Judith returned with two full plates, setting one in front of Curtis and one at the place next to him.

The two other girls eyed Judith curiously as she began to cut up Curtis’ food, as did the aunt sitting across from them. None of them said anything, so Judith made no comment even though she did notice them staring. The three boys were too busy giggling about their own conversation to even pay them much attention at all. Curtis drank from his bottle until Judith gently removed it from his hands and set it out of his reach. Then, from her bag, she produced a large, colorful bib, which she promptly secured around Curtis’ neck.

“Alright baby, open wide.” Judith speared a piece of meat on a fork and brought it to Curtis’ mouth, pushing it inside when he opened.

Isavelle and Lucy giggled amongst themselves, but neither Curtis nor Judith seemed to care. She just kept feeding him, piece after piece, pausing every so often to let him drink—and taking those breaks as an opportunity to eat some of her own food. When she moved on to the less solid foods such as gravy, casseroles, and mashed potatoes, a lot of them ended up spilling down the front of Curtis’ bib. Some of it was due to the nature of trying to steer a spoonful of food into someone else’s mouth, and some of it—after the giggling began—was more than likely intentional, though uncertain which of them was to blame.

When both dinner and dessert were complete, Judith wiped Curtis’ face and hands with a wet cloth, and then cleaned up both their dishes. She returned and picked Curtis out the chair, setting him on his feet.

“I see you’re wet again,” she commented more to herself than to Curtis. “Come on, it’s not too bad, but let’s get you changed anyway.”

Down the hall, toward the bathroom, they passed Isavelle and Lucy, who were heading in the other direction and looking rather mischievous.

“Judith,” Isavelle whispered, sounding rather giddy. “You wanna come upstairs with us? We’re gonna watch some TV. Lucy has eggnog.”

Judith narrowed her eyes as she read the other girl’s face closely. “What kind of eggnog?”

“The good kind.” Lucy beamed.

Hardly a muscle moved on Judith’s face. “Stay out of my room.”

“What?” Isavelle quickly lost her giddiness for surprise. “But your room has the TV.”

“I don’t care, I’m not gonna get caught with that.” She pointed to the conspicuous bundle of clothes in Lucy’s arms. “If I catch you in my room with it, I will tell your mom.”

“Come on, Judith, you’re being no fun.”

Judith sighed and softened her tone. “Look, I’m not trying to be shitty, I just don’t want that stuff anywhere near my room.”

“We won’t get caught, we promise.”

“Which you will do by staying away from my room.” Judith’s words hardened again. “Are we clear?”

The other girls glared for a moment, then Lucy scoffed. “Whatever.”

With them gone, Judith took Curtis into the bathroom for a quick diaper change. A couple minutes later, they had returned to the main living room where a lot of the parents had gathered around the Christmas tree. The youngest of the kids were all sitting in a group on the floor, each one had a small present in their hands.

“Alright kiddies, it’s getting late.” A large man spoke to them, he was far and away the oldest of everyone present. “But since it’s Christmas Eve, you get to open one present. You can play for a little while, but then you’ll all go to bed; tomorrow is the big day!”

Even now, some of the toddlers were getting fussy. Curtis’ mother was helping Peggy open her present and trying to keep her calm at the same time. Once it seemed Peggy could finish the rest on her own, her mother rose and looked around, immediately zeroing in on Curtis.

“Curtis, the other kids are opening a present before bed,” she said, walking up to the pair. “There’s one over there for you too.”

Curtis looked around. “Where’s everyone else?”

“Huh? Everyone’s here.”

“Clint and Tobin and Diego and Lucy and Isavelle aren’t, it’s just all the babies. Should I—”

“Oh,” his mother said, cutting him off. “They’re gonna open theirs a bit later, after all the youngest are in bed.”

“So why am—”

“I want you to open yours now because I’m putting you to bed with Peggy.” His mother started to sound less interested in the conversation with each word.

“What? Why?”

“Because I don’t want you making a racket and waking her up when you go to bed later. If I put you both to bed at the same time, you’ll have no reason to make any noise.”

Curtis looked like he was about to cry. “But I want to keep playing with—”

She cut him off again. “You can play for another half-hour, but—”

Now it was Judith’s turn to interrupt. “That won’t be necessary.”

Both Curtis and his mother turned toward Judith.

“What won’t?” his mother asked.

“Sending him to bed early.” Judith spoke matter-of-factly as she met the woman’s inquisitive gaze. “I’m taking care of Curtis; he’ll be staying in my room with me.”

It seemed to take half a minute for her words to register. Finally, Curtis’ mother replied. “Just how long are you planning on watching him?”

“Until you leave. On the second, right?”

“That’s right,” she said slowly. More gears seemed to be turning in her head before she replied with half-hearted concern. “Well, in that case, you have fun with him.”

Before Judith could reply, her aunt had collected her wine glass and walked away.

“All week long, huh? You and me, the whole time.” Judith pulled Curtis closer. “But right now, I gotta go out for a bit. How about we find my mom so she can make sure your mom doesn’t put you to bed before I get back?”

In the kitchen, they found Kelly. “Hi you two,” she said cheerfully as they approached.

“Mom, can you keep an eye on Curtis for a bit?”

“I can, but why?”

“That’s the other thing, can I borrow the car for a little bit?” Judith put on her best puppy-dog face. “I gotta run to the store for some last-minute gifts.”

Just then, Clint came running up. “Curtis, we’re all playing sardines, come play with us.”

He looked up at Judith who just said “in a minute.”

“Clint,” Kelly said, pausing the boy in his tracks. “You all be quiet, they’re gonna put the little ones to bed soon. Don’t you dare wake them up.”

“We won’t,” Clint said over his shoulder as he disappeared around the corner.

“What’s this about going out?” Kelly raised an eyebrow. “I don’t think you should be driving out this late, plus the roads could be icy.”

“But mom, I really gotta get something.”

“Get what?”

Judith flicked her eyes toward Curtis. “It’s a surprise,” she said quietly.

“Why don’t you get your father to take you. He said he was gonna thinking about going out anyway.” She nodded toward the far end of the room. “He’s over there talking with the other men. Curtis can play with the other boys.”

“Okay, but just make sure his mom doesn’t put him to bed before I get back. I told her I’d be watching him; I just don’t want her to get the wrong idea.”

Judith turned to Curtis. “Curtis, go on and play with them. Quietly.” She put a hand on his shoulder. “I’ll be back soon. If you need anything, just come ask your aunt Kelly. I’m leaving your diaper-bag with her, there’s a bottle of water in it if you get thirsty.”

Curtis nodded and ran off to find the other boys while Judith went to find her dad.

Curtis found the other three gathered in the mud room by the garage. They had apparently decided that Tobin would be it. Upon Curtis’ arrival, Tobin took off, and Clint started counting. Curtis immediately took off in the same direction as Tobin.

“Wait!” Diego called after him. “Where are you going?”

“I’m gonna go hide.”

You’re not hiding, Tobin is.”

“I thought you said he was it?”

Diego butted in. “Have you ever played sardines?”

Curtis shook his head.

“Okay, it’s like this: one person goes to hide and everyone else goes looking for them. If you find the person hiding, you have to hide with them. Whoever is the last person to find them is the one who gets to hide next round.”

“Oh, okay.”

“So he goes to hide.” Diego gestured toward where Tobin had disappeared. “We’ll count to a hundred and then go find him.”

Clint had been counting the whole time they were talking so it wasn’t much longer before he was finished and they all spread out. For the next several minutes they raced around the house, checking behind and under furniture, in nooks and crannies. Curtis checked upstairs first, poking his head into each and every room, occasionally passing Clint and Diego as he looked. Next he searched the downstairs and that was the point when it became apparent that Diego was the only other one searching; Clint was nowhere to be seen. This dragged on for another ten minutes with them passing each other as they began to retrace their steps, this going slower and looking more closely. At some point, Curtis no longer saw any of the other boys during his travels. He had already searched some locations two and three times to no avail.

He did find them eventually, at the end of the hall, in the utility room, they were all bunched up between the washing machine and a set of shelves.

“You finally found us.” Tobin smiled brightly. “I thought I was gonna be there all night.”

They all reconvened in the mud room on the opposite side of the main living room.

“Alright, now you go hide.”

“Aren’t you supposed to close your eyes while counting?” Curtis asked.

“The only other room down this hallway is the back room and grandpa said it’s off-limits anyways.” Clint shrugged. “If we’re in here, we can see where you go.”

Just then, a middle-aged man poked his head into the room. “You kids are playing hide-and-seek, right?”

“Yeah, we’re playing sardines.”

“Okay, well, they’re putting all the little ones to bed right now, so keep it down.” He seemed to be directing his words mostly toward Diego. “Upstairs is off-limits from now on. No more running or you won’t be allowed to play any more.”

They all agreed and he started to leave.

“Oh, one more thing.” He stopped suddenly. “It’s getting late, so maybe play another forty minutes or so and then you all can open a present before bed.”

They all said “yes” but with a lot less enthusiasm than before.

“Alright Curtis,” Diego said, after the man was finally gone. “Go hide.”

Tobin started counting and Curtis took off toward the main room going as fast as he could without running. He scanned the kitchen quickly, then the living room. Not finding a suitable location, he peeked down the hall toward the kids’ room before he found a coat closet in the foyer. Being as quiet as he could, he climbed inside, working his way to the back and burying himself under a small heap of clothes which had fallen or been tossed on the floor.

Not long later, he heard someone call out “ready or not, here we come.”

Minutes passed, several of them. People could be heard talking as could the footsteps of the other boys. Curtis waited silently in the dark. The only light was that which poked through the louvers in the door. Eventually, footsteps came up outside the door and stopped; Curtis held his breath. The door was flung open and light poured in. Clint stood there for a moment, then looked off toward the the rest of the living room, then closed the door and left. Curtis let his breath out slowly.

Not more than a minute later, the door was flung open once again. This time, Clint came inside and closed the door behind him.

“Move,” he whispered. “Let me in.” As quietly as he could, but still in somewhat of a rush, Clint climbed to the back of the closet and sat down beside Curtis, pulling his own heap of clothes up over him as camouflage.

“I thought you saw me before,” Curtis whispered.

“I did,” Clint whispered back. “But Tobin was there, I didn’t want him to see me try and hide.”

“Oh.” Was Curtis’ only response.

They sat like that for some time, only occasionally hearing the other boys shuffle past the door. One minute stretched into two, then into several, then into several more.

“Man, they’re taking forever,” Clint whispered.

“Yeah.”

“You’re lucky you’re wearing a diaper.”

“What?”

“I said you’re lucky you’re wearing a diaper.” Clint shifted his position ever so slightly.

“Why?”

“’Cause I always gotta pee when I’m playing hide-and-seek.”

“Yeah,” Curtis replied after a minute. “Me too.”

“So just go.”

“Oh, yeah.”

A couple minutes passed.

“So, did you go?”

“Yeah.”

“Lucky…” Clint said, then added. “Just don’t poop in here.”

Curtis waited a minute before responding. “I don’t have to.”

It was another several minutes of silence before the door swung open and Tobin appeared. He quickly looked around and then shut the door behind him as he climbed inside.

“Holy crap, I thought I’d never find you.”

Shh.”

For the next minute, no one said anything while Tobin shuffled his way to the back and tried to cover himself. After that, they all just sat there quietly, waiting for Diego to find them. Several minutes later, they heard the front door open and somebody come in. A rush of cold air blew in along with them, making its way into the closet before the door was shut. The people who entered were apparently greeted by someone else.

Judith’s voice could be heard speaking. “Has anyone seen Curtis recently?”

“No,” a woman’s voice said. “But I think he’s playing hide-and-seek with the other boys.”

“That’s fine,” Judith said. “I’m gonna go upstairs for a bit.”

“Be quiet up there, all the little kids are in bed now.”

“Got it.”

A man’s voice spoke next. “I’ll take your coat.”

“Thanks,” Judith said.

A minute later, the closet was opened by a man holding two coats. He stopped when he noticed the boys hiding inside. With a smile on his face, he reached in and hung up the coats, winking at the boys as he closed the door. Clint and Curtis did their best to keep from giggling.

Shh, you guys,” Tobin whispered aggressively.

“What’s it matter?” Clint said, his voice rising above a whisper. “Diego’s already gonna be it.”

“Yeah, but let’s see how long it takes.”

“Easy for you to say, you don’t gotta pee real bad. I’m ready to get out of here.”

“Well that’s ‘cause I’m not a dummy. I went pee before we started.”

“Shut up,” Clint said.

“What about you, Curtis?” Tobin asked after a minute.

Clint replied for him. “He’s wearing a diaper.”

“Oh yeah,” Tobin giggled. “Did you pee?”

“Yeah.”

“I told him not to poop though,” Clint said, “’cause of the smell.”

Tobin giggled even louder, Curtis laughed too.

“I bet Clint wishes he was wearing a diaper.” Tobin continued to laugh.

“No I don’t!”

Curtis laughed a little louder.

They calmed down and then there was an extended silence. No one said anything until there was a sudden and loud sound of flatulence. Curtis and Tobin immediately burst into giggles.

“Eww, Curtis!” Clint said.

“That wasn’t me.” Curtis barely managed to speak he was giggling so hard.

Seconds later, the smell hit them.

“Aww, dude!” Clint stood up. “That’s nasty!”

He moved for the door and flung it open, nearly bumping into Diego.

“What the…?” Diego stood confused as the other three boys piled quickly out of the coat closet. Then the smell reached him too. “Aww, gross. Curtis, did you poop again?”

“No,” Curtis said, trying to catch his breath, both from laughter and of fresh air. “That was Tobin.”

All four boys backed away from the closet, waving their hands and holding their noses.

“Well, you’re the sardine anyway,” Tobin said to Diego.

“Time out though.” Clint began to leave. “I gotta go pee.”

Aunt Kelly had broken away from the group of adults and was coming toward them. “Alright boys, game’s over. It’s time to get ready for bed.”

“Aww, I didn’t even get to hide.” Diego kicked at the ground.

“You can play more tomorrow, we let you play longer than you were supposed to anyway. Go on and quietly put your pajamas on and brush your teeth. Come back down and we’ll let you each open one small present which you can play with for ten minutes; but then it’s time for bed.” She was starting to shoo the boys toward the stairs, but stopped and sniffed the air. Immediately, she turned to Curtis. “Curtis, are you stinky?”

Curtis backed away. “No, that’s not me. It was Tobin.”

“Well let me check real quick, then.” She reached down and held Curtis in place while she peeked down the back of his diaper. “Nope, all clean back here.” She announced, gently feeling the front of his pants. “Hmm, but you are wet though.”

The other boys were still standing there when Clint came back. He looked confused.

“Go on, then,” Kelly said to the other two, then turned to the latecomer. “You too, Clint, go get you pajamas on. It’s almost time for bed.”

When the others had gone, Kelly took Curtis with her while she retrieved the diaper-bag from the kitchen and then started leading him toward the stairs. Judith was just coming down; she had three gifts in her hands, two were small and the third was a large rectangular box which she was being very careful not to jostle.

“Oh, Judith, there you are.”

“What’s up?”

“Well, I just sent the other boys up to get their pajamas on. But this one here had a little accident and needs a change.” Kelly put a hand on Curtis’ shoulder.

“Oh, just hang on a sec, I’ll take care of it.” Judith quickly descended past them. “Let me just set these down.”

Judith deposited her gifts around the corner, collected Curtis and the diaper-bag and took him upstairs.

“Oh, and you might as well get ready for bed too,” Kelly said quietly as they passed her.

Judith led Curtis into a small bedroom with a large bed in the middle. He noticed that his duffel bag was over in the corner. Judith dropped off the diaper-bag and then took him to the bathroom across the hall where they both brushed their teeth.

“Alright, now that that’s taken care of let’s get you change and into some pajamas.” She closed the door and laid out the changing mat.

Curtis took his position on the mat. “Why’s my bag in here?”

Judith smiled as she removed his pants and wet diaper. “Because, silly, you’re sleeping in here with me.”

“Really?” he asked, looking a little excited.

“That’s right.” Judith raised an eyebrow. “Unless you really wanna stay in the room with your mom and sister.”

Curtis shook his head; Judith chuckled.

“Also, while I was at the store. I got these.” She held up the fresh diaper, it looked a bit different than the one he had been wearing. “These are for overnight which just means they’re thicker and more absorbent, which is probably what you need anyway since you’re a little bigger than most kids in diapers.”

Curtis eyed the diaper she held up, but said nothing.

She raised an eyebrow. “Or, I can make Clint and Diego wear them. Since they’re thicker, it’ll mean they end up with a bigger diaper-butt.”

Curtis shook his head. “No.”

“Alright, let’s just get you changed then.”

Once he was changed into the new diaper, Judith stood him up and peeled off his shirt.

“Now then, we actually have a pretty good selection of pajamas for you. I’ll let you pick out the ones you want.” She began laying out clothes on the bed. “We have your Minecraft ones, these Frozen ones…” She paused as she laid out the last item. “And these cute footie pajamas.”

Curtis looked at Judith before pointing to the last item. “Those ones.”

“Good choice.” She smiled, holding them up.

They were a pair of sky blue, fleece pajamas, decorated all over with sheep and clouds and moons. They had a zipper in the middle which ran all the way down to one of the feet. The feet themselves were white with little dots all over the soles to provide grip. Judith helped Curtis step into the feet and feed his arms through the sleeves before she zipped the zipper all the way up to the neck. The pajamas were snug around him, but given that they easily accommodated his height, it seemed to be by design. The tightness of the fit once-again highlighted the padding he wore underneath—the new overnight diapers showing their form just a little more prominently as their absorbent layer was thicker and didn’t fold like the others.

“There you are, cute as a button. Do you like ‘em?”

“They’re really soft.” Curtis rubbed his hands over the surface.

“Can you put the other pajamas into your bag while I change?”

Curtis blushed at the pat on his bottom, but smiled and took the remaining articles of clothing from the bed. Judith stripped down and was soon clothed in a loose-fitting two-piece with a red flower print. With both of them in their sleepwear, she ushered Curtis back downstairs—each step he took produced a dry rustle as his diaper scruffed against the inside of his pajamas. Judith seemed to be considering something, a look of worry flashed momentarily. Whatever was bothering her must have been forgotten as she watched Curtis crinkle along in front of her. Her face lightened and a smile pricked at the corners of her mouth by the time they reached the living room.

The adults were still scattered about, but the older kids were gathered over by the large Christmas tree. Curtis joined the group and the eldest man in the house handed him a small gift. The other boys had already opened theirs and were already playing and chatting amongst themselves. Judith came over and quickly snatched the gift from Curtis’ hand.

He looked up at her in confusion.

“Not that one, this one.” She held out the smallest of the gifts she had brought from upstairs.

Curtis took the small box while Judith placed the gift she’d taken from him on top of the large box she’d brought down earlier and sled them under the tree; there was another small package which she took for herself and held onto.

She nodded to Curtis who was eyeing the present in his hands. “Go on, open it.”

Curtis tore through the wrapping and his face lit up. “Lego Minecraft!”

Judith beamed widely. Even the other boys came over and admired his gift.

“I was hoping you’d like it,” Judith said.

Curtis looked up with surprise. “Wait, did you get this for me?”

“Sure did.”

“Wow, thank you.”

“Come on, let’s all go in the kids’ room and you can build it on the table in there.”

All the boys followed her and they quickly had the pieces spread out over the coffee table. Judith switched the TV to a Christmas music channel and set the volume down low. The boys all chipped in the effort to assemble the Lego set. It wasn’t very big so they made quick work of it. However, ten minutes later, three women appeared in the doorway, two of them being aunt Kelly and Curtis’ mother.

“Alright boys, time for bed.”

“Aww, but—”

“No arguing. Tomorrow is Christmas, you can have fun in the morning.” Kelly gestured, directing them out of the door.

As the boys rose and began to depart, Judith called out. “No, Curtis, you stay here.”

The others stopped too, but Curtis’ mother cut in. “No, he’s going to bed right now,” she said with more sternness than perhaps seemed necessary. “And he better not make a peep and wake up Peggy.”

Judith’s voice was cool, and while the others were surprised, she remained steady. “No, aunt Cassandra, he’s staying in my room. He’ll go to bed when I go to bed.”

Curtis looked back and forth between Judith and his mother. His mother looked like she was about to say no, that she wouldn’t let Judith contradict her. There was a momentary stare-down between the two. Judith won.

“Fine.” Curtis’ mother waved her hand dismissively. “But don’t keep him up all night.”

Curtis smiled and started back toward the couch where Judith was sitting. The other boys followed him but were stopped.

“Nope, you three go to bed.”

“What? But Curtis gets to stay up.” Disappointment hung over the lot of them.

“That’s between aunt Cassandra and Judith. You all know it’s bedtime, now get moving.” Kelly spoke gently, but firmly, motioning again for them to exit the room. The boys hung their heads and begrudgingly shuffled out of the room.

“Come on Curtis.” Judith patted her lap. “Have a seat.”

Curtis grabbed one of the mini figures from his new set and climbed into Judith’s lap. Judith grabbed the present she’d brought with her from the far end of the couch. The two of them reclined against the arm, Curtis fiddling around with his Legos while Judith turned the present over and over in her hands.

“Is that for you?” Curtis asked after a minute.

“Curtis.” Judith seemed to ignore the question, eyes still locked on the slowly-rotating gift in her hands. “I’ve been thinking about what you said earlier, and I feel I have to apologize.”

“For what?”

“Even after those other boys were mean to you, you didn’t want to be mean to them by making them wear diapers, you only wanted for them to be nice.” Judith stopped spinning the present. “I was mean to you and I’m sorry.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean this morning, after your sister went to play with Maggie, you said you hated me, remember?”

Curtis remembered and suddenly looked apologetic. “I don’t really hate you. I shouldn’t—”

“I know, but I wasn’t being very nice. I made you really embarrassed and unhappy. I know you’ve had fun some of the time—at least I hope you did—but I also know that there was a lot of times when you weren’t having fun. That was my fault and I’m sorry.” She set the present in Curtis’ lap. “I wanna give you this, because I know this is the one thing you wanted all along.”

Curtis held the present in his hands but he only stared at it.

“This one is just for you. That’s why I waited until all the others were gone. Go ahead, open it.”

Curtis tore through the paper until it was gone and he was left holding a soft package in his hands. “Underwear?”

“Yes,” Judith moved Curtis from his position on her lap, turning him to face her directly. “Your clothes were dry long before I let you wear them. And worse, I even threw out your only pair of underwear so that you’d have to keep wearing diapers. But you don’t want that, you never wanted that. I like taking care of you, but if it makes you miserable, then it’s just mean.” She hung her head. “I’m sorry. I know I should have given these to you before your pajamas but… I don’t know what I was thinking. I hope this will help make up for how I’ve treated you.”

Curtis was silent as he took it all in. “You mean you won’t make me your baby anymore?”

Judith smiled and put a hand on his shoulder. “No, you’re free to go.”

Another pause, this time longer; and this time Curtis looked like he was about to cry. “But… I… no one’s nice to me like you are.”

Judith turned away. “Didn’t you hear me? I wasn’t being nice, I was being selfish. I just wanted you to be a baby because I thought you were cute.”

“You mean I’m not really cute?”

“Well, I still think you’re cute, but you’re a big boy, not a baby.”

“But I don’t wanna be a big boy.”

“You… don’t?”

“No, it’s not fun being a big boy, people aren’t nice like when I’m a baby.” He looked earnestly at Judith. “I like it when you do nice things for me like carry me around and feed me and give me hugs and presents. And you made the other boys stop making fun of me. It’s fun being a baby with you. I wish you were my mom. Please let me be a baby again. I’ll wear diapers and you can check my diaper and change me and do all the things like you did today.”

Shock, surprise, Judith’s month hung open, but it soon morphed into a broad smile. “Really? I thought you hated wearing diapers.”

“Not if I get to be with you,” Curtis said shyly, a grin creeping across his face. All at once, it became a full on smile as he couldn’t contain himself any more. He threw himself into a hug, nearly knocking Judith off the couch. “Please. Let me keep being your baby!”

Judith embraced him. “Okay. You’ll be my little baby as long as we’re here.”

“Thank you, Judith.”

Judith smiled, rubbing his back slowly. Her eyes moistened just a little. “Merry Christmas, Curtis.”

“Yeah… it is,” Curtis said at length. “Merry Christmas.”

Judith reclined lengthways with Curtis in her lap. She dug out a bottle of milk and offered it to his lips. He immediately began suckling as she laid her free hand across his belly. His eyes drooped and he let out a contented sigh. They lay together for a while, but it wasn’t long before Curtis drifted off to sleep, a smile on his face.

~

Bruce woke to a hazy warmth. Blankets piled over him, soft pajamas, the bulk of a diaper between his legs. The room was still dark, save for the outdoor Christmas lights filtering through the blinds. He was in his apartment, in his room, in his bed. He didn’t want to move. Not only was it physically comfortable in his bed, but he also knew that the moment he stirred, the dream would vanish from his mind.

The dream. Yes, the dream was over, but it was not yet gone. He held onto it for a few moments more, enjoying the pleasant buzz of wishes and nostalgia. Staring at the ceiling, a sigh escaped his lips. Bittersweet. Though it hurt to wake, still alone, from such a pleasant dream, it was better than to have dreamed of regret, of guilt, and of worries. The dream was so much like his own past that he wondered if it was not just a memory. It wasn’t though, that was certain, as his own past was far from pleasant. It was strange how he now so desperately wished to relive a thing he once hated.

But as he lay there, and his mind cleared, he noticed something, something strange, unexpected. His diaper felt far more bulky than it had when he went to sleep. It didn’t crumple or fold when he pushed his legs together. Instead, it was firm, swollen.

It was wet.

He knew the feeling, but this surprised him. He was dry when he went to sleep, and he couldn’t remember waking with the need to go. Had he really wet himself unconsciously? The last time he’d wet the bed was so long ago that he barely remembered. His hand rushed to inspect, to confirm—and confirm it did. Sure enough, his diaper felt of that firm, spongy bulk that could only be due to being wet. In fact, the distinction was pronounced beyond the norm; he wasn’t just wet, he was very wet.

Usually, in the mornings, he would get up immediately because he needed to pee. Now, he did not. The sensation of urgency simply was not there. His heart picked up a couple beats. Excitement, and also a little fear. But mostly comfort, as for him, this was significant. Nothing and no one in his life, it seemed, could be trusted. Every time he had to rely on anything other than himself, it failed, whatever it was. People never completed the tasks he left, timing never lined up, the car wouldn’t start, things just didn’t work out. Murphy and his law were always out to get him.

But this… There was just something, some deep sense of security knowing he could fail, he could have an accident, and his spill would be contained. Not a drop escaped, not even a hint of moisture made it beyond the plastic confines of his diaper. It had done its job, to take over when he gave up. And to lift even the slightest burden from him; it felt like the greatest generosity. All that from an inanimate object and the most simple of functions. In that moment, he was able to forget all the times he’d been let down.

He faltered for a second, aware of the depressing reality wherein things went wrong so much that he would so easily cling to the one thing which did not—even something so insignificant as this. But no. He willingly clung. Snuggling farther under the covers, he let himself enjoy the moment, short though it may have been. He liked the feeling between his legs, as well as the reassurance it gave him.

But after a few minutes of bliss, he threw back the covers and swung his feet to the floor. Across the room, he checked the time on his phone: twenty minutes to go before his alarm went off. That was pretty typical; him waking before the alarm. He was about to put the phone down and crawl back into bed, but something stopped him. There was a new message. It was from his boss; sent last night, maybe twenty minutes after he’d gone to bed. He flicked the screen to see the message.

“Bruce
Stay home tomorrow, I found someone else to work that shift. enjoy ur day off!!”

There was a message sent right after that.

“be sure and come see me first thing Monday. we need to talk about ur position with the company. I think you’ll like what I’ve got for u.”

Bruce’s face lit up, but he reread the messages several times before finally accepting they were real. He’d been promised a better position for a long time, but there was always something holding it up. Was this the break he’d been looking for? A wave of excitement went through him. He turned off the alarm and was about to dive back in bed, but when he spun around he saw something that nearly caused him to scream.

Floating in the center of the room—or rather existing—was a strange and almost shapeless visage. A spirit or ghost, it was translucent, hazy, and ever-changing in form. That it was even attached to reality was a stretch of the imagination. But there it was, and even without face or eyes, Bruce was sure it was staring directly at him. Through him. Into him.

He stumbled backward, tripping over something and falling on his rear. His landing crinkled, but his terror prevented him from even noticing. His lungs pulled deep, ready to scream, but there was a silence and then a voice. The voice sounded to his ear as if it came from within. The voice whispered, yet rumbled with power.

“Do not fear, I mean you no harm.”

Bruce wasn’t ready to speak as his scattered nerves left him with no reply or response of any kind. But the voice did not continue, and the shape did not move. Slowly, Bruce calmed. Collected his thoughts. This shape, this spirit, it was the one from his dream. He was having another nightmare. It dawned on him and his heart sank. This wasn’t real. He thought for sure he was awake, especially since he had just finished accepting the fact that he’d woken from another bittersweet dream. Would his mind really go so far as to play this many tricks on him?

“No,” the voice spoke again in his head. It was the spirit speaking to him. “Your mind is not playing tricks upon you, and neither is this a dream. This is very real. So am I.”

Bruce snapped to attention, his eyes searching the amorphous thing before him, trying to find a connection in the pattern of its wispy movement which matched the words which came to him. He found nothing.

“You did indeed awake to find your garment wet. And your employer did indeed contact you with good news. Both of these things happened, you need not fear that you will wake to find them gone.”

The words, their lack of threat or challenge, their calm rhythm, their flat, steady tone—if it could be called a tone—Bruce found comfort and managed to relax a little. The grip of fear weakened and he could take a moment to think.

“I’ve seen you before. You were here last night in my dream.” He stumbled at first, but found his voice quickly.

“No,” the voice said. “What you saw came from your own mind more than it came from another.”

That didn’t make sense. Bruce tried again. “What? But I have seen you before, in the past.”

“You have not.”

“But—”

“It was not I which appeared in your dream and which stabbed you and awakened you. That was your own guilt and worry. Guilt which you have in abundance. I have not come to bring guilt, nor have I ever before.”

Bruce thought for a moment. “Then why have you come?”

“I have come to show you things.”

Instantly they we no longer in Bruce’s dimly-lit bedroom. They were over the city, then lower, over a highway. It was night, it was sleeting; but neither the precipitation nor the cold reached them. They looked down from a bird’s eye view; Bruce recognized the location. It was the highway he traveled to work. This was the exit he took on his way home. It was then that he saw his own car amongst the throng of countless others. This was from the night before. Bruce knew what came next.

He watched as everything played out again. His car merged toward the exit, just as he had last night. This time, however, he could see that the car he cut off had been speeding up from behind another car, and had swerved abruptly, riding down the hard shoulder even before the exit ramp began. Just as before, his car pulled out in front of them. Inside the other car was the same mother and her children, the ones from his dream. He watched as the other car followed his car closely, all while honking their horn and flashing their highbeams. He cringed as he watched. The feelings came back. Anxiety, disappointment, anger at self, frustration at the other driver. He could feel the other driver glaring at him all over again.

“Watch.” The voice pulled his attention back to the scene.

Not that he needed to pay attention; he knew how it played out. The car followed him to the bottom of the ramp and got stuck at the red light. He watched his own car speed away, but their view stayed focused on the other car. He could see inside as the the boy in the back seat wet his pants—just across the street from a gas station with a restroom. The boy’s mother began to berate him.

“Enough, I’ve already seen what happens.” Bruce was a little frustrated.

“Have you?”

“Yeah, she gets mad at him and makes him wear a diaper. Then his cousin takes advantage of the whole situation and forces him to keep wearing diapers.” A glare toward the spirit was met without response. Stress lines on his face, Bruce turned away. “And it’s all because of me.”

“Not all of it.”

“Well, I set it in motion.” Bruce spun again, facing the spirit again, fury in his eyes. “You can read my mind, I know it. So we both know I could’ve done better. I could’ve checked my mirror more thoroughly and not blocked them.”

“You say you have seen what happens next, and yet you feel as though the effect of your actions was a detriment.”

“And you’re saying it’s not?”

The spirit didn’t seem to respond to the question, but instead made a statement anew. “The boy discovered something, did he not? Something with which you are familiar.”

“Yeah, he ends up liking diapers.”

“Did he not enjoy it?”

“Look, if you’re trying to make it seem like that’s such a good thing, then how about looking at me. Look how I am now. Alone, ashamed, frustrated. He ends up like me, right?” Bruce tossed his hands. “Don’t even try and tell me that that’s a good thing.”

“The path he will walk is not unlike your own. There are many hands which will lead to the same path. Some gently, some by force. Yours is but one of the many hands.” The spirit seemed closer now. “Would you have it, instead, that his time with his relatives, his time in diapers, be one of torment and pain?”

“No, of course not. But how can I change that? I can’t change whether he ends up liking it or whether his family is mean to him. But I am the reason he wet his pants.”

The spirit waited for him to calm down a little. “Suppose you did not block them at the intersection and that they were able to stop at the gas station. I can assure you that even still, the boy never had a hope of making it to the toilet, and instead will have an accident just as he is exiting the car.”

There was a flicker as the scene quickly played out as described by the spirit, leaving the mother yelling angrily at her cowering son.

“So it happens either way?” Bruce began to wonder what the point even was.

“It can happen many ways. As I said, many hands shape the path. This would simply be one where your actions are not the cause. Now suppose what comes of this. His mother will become angry, but without you present, without you to blame, all of her wrath is directed toward the boy. Their strife then affects the others around them, such as his cousins. Suppose then that what follows is much the same, excepting that the boy does not enjoy it. He will be tormented throughout instead of cared for. Suppose this changes his perspective. In the future, he will still return to the same base interest—one which is etched into his mind—but will instead pass on the torment he received. He will end up tormenting another. A chain of events begetting only more misery and sadness.”

Bruce hesitated for a moment, considering the words. But he pushed them aside, his face hardening. If this was to be heartwarming, it was full of holes. “I already told you, I could’ve done better. I could’ve seen their car coming and not pulled out front of them.”

“Yes, knowing what you now know of the outcome, you could. But you did not know. You did the best you could.”

“Well, the best I could do obviously wasn’t good enough! Thanks for reminding me.”

The spirit moved closer. Warmth reached out like a hand on Bruce’s shoulder. Comforting. Soothing. “You cannot be expected to do more than you are capable. Furthermore, what you perceive as failure will not always bring harm. You are forgetting something, something which led to another path; watch.”

Bruce felt the spirit lift its comfort from him, leaving him to watch as time flowed backward. The scene went back to before his car merged in front of the other. This time, it did not. The other car sped down the offramp toward the intersection. The light was green, but as they sped through, a large box truck entered from the side—the one which Bruce had previously braked to avoid. Both traveling at full speed, the truck ran the red light and rammed into the car’s driver side doors. The truck didn’t even hit the brakes. The shattering of glass and the tearing of metal. Tires screeched as the truck’s momentum pushed the car down the road and they both spun around, eventually colliding with a light pole.

Bruce watched the whole thing play out in shock. But now he could see something new. There were lights glowing, like lanterns, even shining through the roofs of the vehicles. Three lights inside the car were the lives of the woman, her son, and her daughter. The light inside the truck was that of the driver. On impact, the mother and son were snuffed out instantly. The truck driver’s light flickered, but continued to burn. As the vehicles ground to a halt, the baby girl’s light grew dim. It wavered, then it too went dark.

Bruce watched, mouth agape.

“Thankfully, you prevented this.”

“Is that what this is about?” Bruce managed to pull his eyes away from the now burning wreckage.

“Do you see now? You feel guilt and shame for your failures. Every mistake you make, every margin short of perfection; you hold onto them as if you must serve penance. I have said once already that you are only expected to do what you can. Do your best; learn and improve. But forgive yourself your failures.”

The scene faded and they were once more in Bruce’s bedroom.

The spirit spoke. “Take comfort and know that not all that you think has gone wrong is decidedly so and cannot be altered. There are many hands upon the world, and yours are but two. There are forces beyond your control, and beyond your understanding, which seek to aid the world, to better it, to help and to hinder where appropriate. However, they cannot prosper without assistance. Yours is but a small part—and like all parts it is essential that it is carried out to its fullest potential. That is why you must always make your best attempt, even if it seems fruitless from your perspective. However, your efforts are not fruitless, though you may not always see their effect. ”

Bruce sighed deeply as he began to break down internally. The spirit had struck a nerve with the word fruitless. That’s what it seemed like sometimes—a lot of the time really. Again he felt the warmth like a hand on his shoulder. A smile began to play at the corners of his mouth. Only for a moment though. His brow creased. “But… why?”

“A gift.”

“A gift?”

“Yes. You did not earn this opportunity. You are not owed any of what comes to you. Your part was small; your role in this event was but momentary, yet you afflicted yourself with hours of guilt simply because you thought you were in the wrong. However, it was decided that this time you should be shown the effects of your actions and how they were not as you believed them to be. You enjoy knowing, do you not?”

Bruce still had many other questions; they would have to wait a moment. The spirit was right; he did enjoy knowing. “I do, thank you.”

“You need not thank me. A gift is a gift. It is tradition to give gifts on Christmas, is it not?” Bruce could almost feel the spirit grin with its words—there was a hint of warmth. Its tone remained flat, though.

“It was also concluded that you might enjoy waking to find you had wet yourself while you slept. Was that correct? Did you enjoy it?”

Bruce blushed, but nodded.

There was a pause.

The spirit spoke. “There is one other matter. The dream you had. What you observed; you enjoyed it, did you not?”

Bruce looked quizzically at the spirit, knowing already that the spirit had read his mind. It must already know his innermost desires. He answered anyway. “I did.”

“You are wondering why you were shown all, rather than merely the part you played. You enjoyed the dream, and you found comfort seeing that the boy was not simply tormented, but was cared for and loved. You merely observed what happened to someone else, and how they ultimately found enjoyment in such strange circumstances. Perhaps you would find even more merriment if you could experience such circumstances first hand.”

Bruce’s eyes widened.

“If you could take the place of another—of one such as you have seen in your dream—what would you say if I offered you the chance?”

A smile spread across his face. He couldn’t contain it even if he wanted to—and certainly didn’t have any intention to contain it. What the spirit seemed to be offering; he absolutely wanted it. His heart and his mind were already racing, excited by the possibilities. If there was more, if this was all part of the gift, this may be the best one he’d ever received.

What a lovely Christmas present.

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And that’s it for this one. Let me know what you think.

Seriously though. I know this one and the last one are a bit of an oddity with the jank bookends, but I’m now stuck with the idea and will definitely keep going… maybe. So, was there any point to writing this when I’ve already written Spirit of Christmas? Were they too similar? The idea of doing a second one much like the first comes from me being a big fan of works like Groundhog Day, Westworld (the TV series), Butterfly Effect, Edge of Tomorrow, and Steins;Gate, where they take the same scenes, the same events, and have them play out in slightly different ways to great effect. Of course, I don’t claim this is anything as good as those. I just thought, after Spirit of Christmas, “what if it wasn’t so mean?”

But I did maintain the third person limited perspective for all but the bookends–something which I think made the antagonist even more imposing in the last one. I’m not sure I was able to bend it to my uses this time around, or at least not as much.

Oh, and one little easter egg which literally no one will pick up on without me saying it is that all of the named characters within this and Spirit of Christmas have names derived from song titles in my music library. Some of them might be pretty easy to guess, but hell, I know I couldn’t guess them all, and I made the list myself. :man_shrugging: I don’t know, might be interesting to somebody.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed it.

OK, so my question got answered, as did my observation about the similar parallel.

Judith’s “change of heart” moment at the end was abrupt, but in retrospect, it makes sense, mostly.

Do I have an issue with the similar path? Not this time, but you’ll have to do some spectacular plot gymnastics to avoid me taking issue with it if you do the same thing next year. :smiley:

Well done.

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I read this on maximum speed i had a lot to catch up on I’ll have to go back and re-read.
But you’ve earned the Brownowl pineapple of excellence so far

:pineapple:

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This sentence structure definitely supports its assertion. :smiley:

Yeah, one of the struggles of third person limited. I tried to hint at it earlier than the absolute end, or at least try to let on that she wasn’t being wholly evil–up until the point it became clear. But without being able to show her actual thoughts, it’s difficult.

You mean later this year?

And now I have something to put on my pizza.

That was what made it make sense in retrospect. Starting with her building his confidence against what she knew would be typical boys being boys about him wearing diapers, clearly the guilt was getting the better of her.

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Alright, now I’m picking up what you’re putting down. Gotcha.

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Also, by “next year”, clearly I meant “next Christmas”. :smiley: