Re: Stinky Street
Part 6: Itchy Street
Martin knew something was wrong. Sarah’s room stunk of stale urine. His pullup was lumpy and cold and stuck to his peeper like a wet blanket. When he saw Blue on the front, with a pale patch of blue beneath her, Martin knew he had lost his paw prints.
Sarah was indeed a fan of Barcelona. She had given him her own Jersey to wear to bed. “Fly, Superman.” Martin winced as he remembered how silly he was being. Sarah’s jersey had been stretched out by her breasts. The shirt hung low over his. It hung low over all of his body. When he stood up, it almost covered his pullup, save the the sag he acquired overnight.
Brianne was over, and she was really nice. She was so happy to see him, and even hugged him. She noticed his paw prints were gone, and Martin wasn’t sure how she knew he had them in the first place. Boys his age aren’t supposed to have accidents, and he thought his silliness was a secret between him and Sarah. Brianne was far too familiar with him. She patted his pullup, and squished the sag. Martin backed away. “You can’t touch me there. You’re not a doctor like Sarah.”
Martin was serious, and thought he sounded stern, but Sarah and Brianne burst into laughter, even Gavin started laughing. What the heck did he know? What could he find so funny? Martin stomped his foot. “It’s not funny! I’m serious!”
Sarah cleared her throat. “I’m sorry, Bubba.”
Martin could hear the sadness in Sarah’s voice, and he felt relief that she didn’t mean to be nasty to him. Martin sat next to her, and leaned against her arm. “She touched my peeper, Sarah,” He whispered in her ear. “She can’t do that, right?”
“You’re right, Bubba. Brianne is very naughty.” Sarah was ready to rescue. “Brianne, go to the bathroom and think about what you did.”
Brianne gave a thumbs up before she left the room. This made Martin mad. She wasn’t supposed to be happy about a time-out. Brianne had already been discussing with Sarah about the possibility that Martin had imprinted on her. Seeing how he reacted to her invasive touch confirmed that he developed an attachment to Sarah. Normally, Brianne would let the Simplicity wear off until his mind was close to his current physical age. But since Sarah was planning to adopt him, the attachment had to be nourished.
After Brianne’s time-out, they had breakfast. Martin didn’t make any mess, but he was getting antsy about getting out of his stinky training pants. His penis felt gross and his buttcrack was itchy. The training pants were too thick to scratch through.
Sarah saw Martin was trying to scratch his ass-crack through his diaper. She and Brianne exchanged a look. Sarah remembered the conversation they had the night before, and she knew it was time.
“Isn’t it too cruel?”
“It’s much kinder this way. It’s easier on him if he has a diminished sense of self. And skid marks were a problem for him as a child.”
“It’s not his fault though. We’ve been drugging him with liquid innocence. I should have helped him wipe last night.”
“It’s a good thing you didn’t. No matter how old he feels when he’s up, he’ll be devastated.”
“I don’t want to devastate him!”
“You can give him all the affirmations you want when we’re done. For now, you want him to crave your approval.”
“What about a good mom, bad mom routine?”
“Now you’re thinking like a nanny.”
Sarah put her coffee down and took a deep sigh. “Bubba, why are you scratching your bum?”
Martin looked up at her and gave a faint smile. “I’m not, I’m poking at my pull-up.”
“Oh okay. Could you come here?”
Martin stood up, sending his chair sliding back. He walked over to her and held his arms open for a hug. “I love you, Sarah.”
“Oh okay.” Sarah hugged him, and then pat his back. “Okay, Honey. Can you look at the window for me?”
Martin turned around, and all he saw was the fence between there and the neighbour’s house. Then he felt a cold draft enter his training pants and down his bum. Martin turned around. “Hey, what are you looking at?”
Sarah looked disappointed. “Oh, dear. Let’s go to the bathroom.”
Brianne stood up. “What is it?”
Martin backed away. He didn’t like how Brianne was looking at him. She looked like she was about to catch him red-handed for being naughty.
Sarah shook her head. “Brianne, don’t worry about it.”
Brianne didn’t listen to Sarah. She put her hand on Martin’s shoulder and told him to turn around. Martin was too scared to disobey, and Brianne pulled at the back of his training pants. “Jesus Christ! Martin, did you not wipe properly?”
Martin was baffled. The last time he pooped, Sarah was so proud of how well he did. “You said I wiped good!”
Brianne was mad at Sarah. “Sarah? He needed you to check? Why the fuck is this guy here if he can’t even wipe his own ass? Look at this!” Brianne grabbed Martin’s shoulder to turn him away from Sarah, and then pulled the back of his diaper down. “Look at this! You may as well be wiping him!”
Brianne stood up straight and leaned in close to yell in Martin’s ear. “No wonder your ass is so itchy.” Brianne smacked his buttcheek. “This is why you wipe, so this doesn’t happen. You understand that, don’t you? Do you even want your underwear back?”
It was too much. The itching, the failure at something so basic as wiping, the idea Sarah might make him wear diapers forever and ever, and all the swear words Brianne had dropped left Martin no choice but to bawl. “I’m sorrrry-he-he-heee.”
“Let him go!”
Brianne let go of his shoulder, and Martin ran into Sarah’s arms for a hug. He looked up at her in desperation “Please let me have my undies back! I’m feeling better, I promise!”
“Of course you can.” Sarah looked at Brianne. “Why don’t you worry about your own son’s bottom!? He’s two already, and you haven’t even tried potty training him!”
Brianne held her hands up. “Okay, okay!” Brianne picked Gavin out of his high chair.
“I’m sorry, Martin.”
Martin didn’t remove his face from Sarah’s chest. He just wanted to pretend Brianne was gone.
Part 7: A Hiking We Will Go
Martin had misjudged Brianne. Sarah was far nicer. She was understanding about his stinky street. She wasn’t accepting of it either. She made it clear that he should try to keep his bottom clean. It was nice that she believed in him, even if he was acting stupid for a man his age. She told him not to be afraid to ask for help. She cleaned up his bottom extra clean with baby wipes, and even gave him his underwear back. Well, it wasn’t his. He already paved a stinky street in his boxers yesterday. But Sarah had undies for him. And they weren’t women’s undies either. No, these were briefs, which fit snug and tight around his peeper. Much more huggy than his boxers. Even better, they had purple piping, adding some whimsy to his otherwise boring wardrobe of undergarments. Martin did feel some apprehension when he saw the character printed on the butt. “Isn’t Barney for babies?”
“Oh, Honey. I’m sorry. I thought you used to love Barney.”
Martin put his hand on her shoulder. “No, I did. It’s very-” Martin paused to remember the word. “Thoughtful. But can I wear pants over it?”
“Oh of course. We don’t want Brianne to be looking at your undies, do we?”
Martin smiled. Sarah was so clever. “Yeah.”
Martin was skeptical about going for a hike. He didn’t feel feverish, but he was badly sick the day before. Sarah gave him a doctor checkup so he would feel safe on a hike. She let him use her stethoscope to listen to his own heartbeat. She even let him hear what kind of noises happened in his butt. That was when Sarah taught him a new word: hysterical. His laughter meant his butt sounded hysterical.
After Sarah gave him a clean bill of health, they went with Brianne and Gavin for a small hike by the lake. Gavin couldn’t walk a lot before he would need to sit in his stroller, but Martin held his hand for Brianne. Gavin was little enough that Martin could lift him up by his wrist, and Gavin could swing back and forth for a moment at a time.
Sarah and Brianne followed the two boys playing the repetitive game. Brianne called out to Martin. “Hey, Martin. What’s your favourite shape?”
Instead of walking back to them to join the conversation, Martin continued playing his game with Gavin. “Uh, trapezoid, I guess.”
Brianne waited for him to ask, but that was the end of that. “Mine’s a rhombus.”
Brianne spoke quietly to Sarah. “He could probably use some more medicine soon.”
Sarah stared at Martin for a moment and then Brianne. “Was that some sort of assessment question?” Brianne nodded.
After walking, they came upon a meadow, full of dandelions. Martin wanted to run out and blow them all bald, but he knew he was older than that. Sarah flattened out Martin’s blanket over the dandelions and they all had a picnic. Brianne was right about Martin needing medicine. Before he would accept it without question, but this time, he had nothing but questions. “I’m getting better.” “Do I still need it?” “But I just hiked I’m okay.” “It makes me feel funny.” Sarah had answers for him. She had plenty of experience from when she was a practicing physician. She knew how to explain the importance of medicine to children. It all boiled down to “just because you feel better, doesn’t mean you’re all better.” It seemed counterintuitive to Martin, and a moment of pondering brought back the small piece of wisdom from his adulthood.
After the boys had eaten, Sarah and Brianne watched Martin and Gavin play in the meadow. Martin gave a dandelion to Gavin, and told him to blow. Gavin didn’t understand, and waved the dandelion around. Martin picked another one and showed him. “Look it, like this.” Gavin did it, and thought the seeds blowing in the wind the funniest thing, and Martin was glad he could share such fun.
Sarah chuckled at the two, and then looked at Brianne. “You were right.”
“Forming attachments. Is there. Is there a medicine to make him bigger?”
Brianne shook her head and spoke with a stern voice. “No, Sarah.”
“We can’t let him back out into the world like this, huh?”
“If he was still twenty-two.”
Sarah shook her head. “If I had just waited a few minutes to given him the Space-Saver, he could be home, and calling his family. I didn’t even ask if he wanted to be little again.”
Brianne nodded at the boys playing on the field. “Look at him. Who cares if he wanted it, he’s enjoying himself.”
“You sound like a rapist.”
“Whoa. Where’d that come from? Are you having second thoughts? I can take care of him, you can see him after he’s little. I can even find another boy for you.”
Sarah sighed. “He didn’t jerk himself off, last night. I did.” Brianne remained silent. Sarah brought her knees up and rested her chin. “He got a boner in the bath. I figured I’d let him have one last orgasm while he could. I felt like I was doing him a favour. Then he started to get younger, and it felt wrong. He had no idea what I was even doing. He couldn’t talk, and he peed right there in the tub. He doesn’t deserve this. He’s a sweet guy.”
Brianne shook her head. “A lot of the people I meet are sweet. That’s how they end up such easy targets. If the world had any place for sweet men, Gavin would be starting kindergarten this autumn.”
Brianne had alluded to Gavin’s regression, but this was the first time she told Sarah that it was still happening. “How long has he been two?”
“Long enough. I always wonder if he’s happy. If he can’t wait to get big. Or if he even knows what he’s missing. Those questions don’t go away. I’d tell you to ask Martin while you can, but he might not respond well to any of them.”
Sarah looked back out onto the field. She saw Gavin failing at blowing a dandelion. “Where is Martin?”
Part 8: Martyana Jones
Martin felt like exploring. He was on an expedition in a far and mysterious land, and it was his job to chart the uncharted Woods of Marty Lake. He had to find curiosities found nowhere else in town, and bring them back to the King and Queen. Martin had already discovered the Dandelion Sea and had been planning his journal entry, but there was no time to enjoy blowing them out. He saw the woods past the meadow, and knew he must venture on. Every explorer needs to bring provisions, and Martin brought none. He didn’t bring crackers to snack on, or candy bars to barter with the locals. He didn’t take water to stay unthirsty, and he didn’t bring toilet paper to stay clean. Martin was feeling wary now. This game of pretend was starting to unravel all because he forgot to plan ahead. Then breakfast kicked in.
Martin stopped to lean on a tree when the cramping set in. “Goodness, I don’t eat eggs well.”
Martin wished he asked Sarah for help. He had wandered out of the meadow and into the woods. He had to go to the bathroom and he didn’t want to explore anymore. He knew he could squat anywhere in these trees and no one would see him poop, or even care if he left it in the dirt. He didn’t have any toilet paper or even baby wipes. He was afraid of paving a stinky street, but he was more afraid of running out of time before he got back to Sarah. Sarah had already put him in diapers because he was feeling yucky. He didn’t want to be a different kind of yucky. He’d never get to wear underpants again if Sarah saw him like that. He missed her touch. She was always been better at keeping him clean.
“Sarah?” Martin looked around the woods, and didn’t see his best friend anywhere. “Sarah!?”
Martin knew he was going to need a bath, one way or the other. Oh goodness, the bath. Sarah was an expert at bathtime. Marty always thought his butt was the grossest part of him, but Sarah was so clever and she knew better. She washed his peeper way more thoroughly than the rest of his body combined. [REDACTED] Now he really wanted Sarah to clean him up. “Sewah!”
Standing up was not an issue until the first step back to the meadow. The ground stayed in place, but down couldn’t make up its mind. When gravity went to his left, he put his left foot out. When it went to his right, he put his right foot out. When it went to his front, he put his hands on the ground. When it went to his back, he put his bum on the ground. It was easier to stay upright like this while down kept changing directions. The hard part is figuring out what to do about the cramp in his bum. Sitting with his knees bent meant the poop was pointing straight out of his bottom. Martin knew what the cramp met, and how to make it go away. When we gotta go poop, we go poop, and so he did. He forgot about the part in between, when you get Sarah to take you to the potty.
Martin had to get back. Standing up was a waste of time. He had to crawl, no matter how silly it looked. He had already pooped his pants, and there was no way to look even more like a baby. He called for Sarah over and over as he crawled through the twigs and moss and grass. When he got to the meadow, he could see Sarah and Brianne running towards him. Thank goodness they could hear him. With help on the way, he decided to stop fighting gravity, and there was no way it could make him fall if he was already lying down. He rolled onto his back feeling the mess squish on his bottom. He could almost hear his mommy shouting “bonk!” to announce he had bonked his head on the ground.
Brianne gave him some medicine. It was the really yummy stuff Sarah gave him before his bath. Martin wished he wasn’t so big. Sarah and Brianne couldn’t carry him like this, especially while Brianne had Gavin in her arms. They had to hold him up, and he had to do his best to stand up while they dragged him back to the blanket. By the time they got back, his poop had pulled his pants nearly off his bum. The turd even fell through the legholes in his undies and down through his shorts.
Martin couldn’t tell what they were saying, but Sarah ran her fingers through his sticky accident on his front. He could tell she was mad. This time, it was Brianne who thought it was funny, and Sarah was the one spanking him. He cried and cried, trying to find the words to say it, but he didn’t and Sarah had no way of knowing he was sorry.
After that, they took his clothes off, and Sarah wiped his bottom, legs and peeper clean. They almost ran out of baby wipes doing it. They seemed even bigger now that he could only lie on his back. He knew he deserved it, but he didn’t want a pull-up again. He wanted his undies. This pull-up wasn’t for big kids like him. This one opened up at the sides, and all he had to do was lift his bottom until Sarah could put it under his bum. He wasn’t ready to do that. He tried to sit up, but Brianne was quick to yell at him and hold his shoulders down. He didn’t care if it had Mickey Mouse on it, he wasn’t going to wear baby-pants out here.
Martin was too silly, and they didn’t need his cooperation to get a diaper on him. After they diapered him, Sarah fed him with the water bottle. Martin was indeed thirsty, but he was still mad at Sarah. Naughty Sarah. Good girlfriends don’t make boys wear diapers. Only mommies and daddies can do that.
Sarah and Brianne were speaking a secret language for the next little while. Martin sure felt smart as they walked down the trail. Every minute, he was able to learn a new secret made up word of theirs, and he was fluent before they reached the car. Martin was a clever boy, and there was no fooling him for long. Smarty Marty.
He had to wear a harness with a tether on the back. His chance to explore the Forest of Marty Lake was over. There was no getting away from Sarah while she held on to the other end of the leash. At least Sarah didn’t carry him. Somehow they had gotten even bigger, and it only made sense. Every big kid knows wearing diapers makes you a baby, but Sarah and Brianne forgot that, and put him in a diaper anyways. He tried to tell them, but they didn’t listen. They just said “you can’t turn back into a baby” but he was living proof. As soon as they got home, Martin was going to demand his undies back. He wasn’t going to be a baby if he had anything to say about it. Nope, nope, nope.
Part 9: Cornered
Sarah was uneasy. Martin was raising a fuss in the backseat, and there was no spanking or time-outs while they were driving. Martin’s masturbatory episode meant his mental age was recovering much faster than it would in abstinent circumstances. Brianne gave him some Space-Saver in the meadow, and hoped that ten was young enough to stop him from playing with himself.
Sarah was worried his mind would catch up to his physical age by the time they arrived at the department store. In hindsight, Sarah knew telling him where they were going was a mistake. He didn’t want to go clothes shopping in just a diaper, even if it was to get clothes for himself. Having grown out of diapers a few minutes prior, he was demanding they go back to his house before they went shopping. At his current age, that wasn’t an option. Not only would his own home show him just how small he’d become, his neighbours might see how small he’d gotten. Even in a store, if he figured out what was happening to him, he was bound to make a scene. They couldn’t afford making a scene. Everyone had a camera in their pockets. If Martin was recorded saying the wrong thing, all four of them would be in grave danger. They had to make him complacent soon and Brianne had ideas for that.
Martin had acquired an artifact from his brief babyhood at the lake. Sarah noticed it too. Martin had been sucking his thumb in between talking. Even as his mental age recovered from the Simplicity, he didn’t grow out of it. Now that the main source of his frustration was being treated like a baby, thumbsucking would provide good evidence that Martin wasn’t a big kid.
Sarah was becoming apprehensive. The moment she met Martin, she saw him as a baby- her baby. The idea that the baby she was about to adopt was already masturbating frustrated her. It seemed to be the one thing he actually deserved to be scolded for. And yet, as he got younger, she started to see him as a man- a victim. Brianne had said he’d lose his inhibitions, and pleasuring himself would become irresistible. Sarah knew she was the cause of his shameful behaviour. She knew Brianne thought Martin’s sense of self had to be degraded for him to accept a second childhood, but she was starting to feel sorry for him. Parading him through a store in just a diaper, especially at ten years of age, seemed unnecessarily cruel. It was hard to believe such a humiliation could help him accept being a little boy again. She’d rather hold him until he felt all better. She wanted to join Martin in screaming and kicking, but once the car was parked, it was time to get into character.
Martin knew he was running out of time. Sarah and Brianne were getting out of the car, and he was out of ideas about how to convince them to take him to go get clothes first. “NnnnOOOOOOOoooooo!” When Sarah unbuckled his seatbelt and pulled him by the arm, he was starting to think she wanted him to be a baby, and a spank on his diapered bum seemed a small betrayal. The real betrayal was that she didn’t want him to calm himself down. When ever he put his thumb in his mouth, she would pull it out of his mouth and told him to stop acting like a whiney baby. If he couldn’t suck his thumb, how was he ever supposed to comfort himself?
Martin couldn’t understand what was so wrong with wanting clothes. He was old enough to know letting his underpants show was naughty, but somehow wanting clothes was worse, and he earned a time out in the foyer. When they passed through the first automatic door, he was ready to give up, but as he followed Brianne, Sarah pulled him back. “Oh no, mister. We’ll go in when you’re ready. Go to the corner.”
Martin was wondering if he would ever have Sarah’s love again. He hadn’t had a timeout for years, and if Sarah was resorting to this, he knew his behaviour was hardly worthy of her affections. She wasn’t his mommy, and he was regretting ever thinking she would have the patience of a mommy. But this was not enough to convince him to waiver. Standing with his nose against the wall with his diaper-butt pointed at all the customers coming in and out of the store seemed better than going inside.
In the store, Brianne had a shopping cart with a box of Easy-Ups, a package of Easy-Ups, a package of swim diapers, and a bottle of sun screen. Gavin sat in the basket with his head on a swivel, watching for people who were walking by. Any time he saw someone new, he would hold his hand up and shout “Hi!” Some people said hi, some waved, and some ignored him. Brianne always found it so funny when he sneered at whoever didn’t say hi back, and then his face would change back to a smile when he saw someone else. “Hi!”
The pharmacist smiled at him. “Hello, Gavin! How are you?”
Gavin only replied with a bright smile. This man was polite enough to actually use his name. This man was the friendliest person here.
Brianne smiled. “How’s things, Gary?”
“Oh, the same.” Gary nodded at the training pants in the cart. “Is Gavin graduating already?”
Brianne smiled. “No, sadly. He’s gunna be a stinker for a little while longer.” Brianne pulled the packages of Easy-Ups out of the cart. “Do you have any of these in size eight?”
Gary nodded. “Of course. Let me go get them.” Gary took the package to the back, and later came with a slightly larger package. “Here you are, girl. And what about the box?”
Brianne shook her head. “Oh, no thank you. These are just the right size. Come on, Gavin. Let’s go get Martin some clothes.”
As they started to move, the pharmacist waved. “Bye, Gavin!”
Gavin smiled and waved back at him. “Hi!”
“Okay, Martin. Are you ready?”
Martin turned around and sulked. “Can we please go get clothes?”
Sarah kneeled down, and she still looked upset with him, even though she spoke calmly. “Bubba, we came here to get you clothes in the first place.”
“But I’m only wearing a diaper.”
“Yeah. Because you were being silly and made a mess. Is that why you ran off into the woods? Because you wanted to make a mess?”
Martin shook his head. “What? No, I-”
“You know you’re not supposed to act like a baby, so is that why you ran off? Did you not want us to catch you playing baby?”
Martin couldn’t believe the question. Why would he want that? “It was an accident.”
“Are you sure?” Martin nodded. “Promise?”
Martin nodded. “I promise.”
Sarah turned to see Brianne coming out of the store. “Sorry for taking so long, but Bubba’s better now.”
“Yeah? You gunna behave yourself, Bubba?”
Martin pinched his eyebrows at Brianne. “You don’t get to call me Bubba.”
Sarah could see Brianne’s laughter was hurting Martin. “Come on, Brianne. He has a name.”
Brianne rolled her eyes. “Sorry, Martin. I got you some clothes. Does that make it up?”
Martin shrugged. “Sure.” It was a good start.
Part 10: The Proving Pot
Martin thought the day was done. A hike at the lake and a shopping trip seemed a complete get-together, but Martin was getting excited about a trip to a water park. Martin was also thinking he had been wrong about Brianne. Even though he was acting like a whiny baby, she bought him a pack of underpants. Martin was hoping for Blue’s Clues on them, but he got underwear with different dogs on them. Martin had never seen Paw Patrol, but if they were good enough for underpants, maybe he ought to. Brianne just told him he had one thing to do. At the car, Brianne put the bags and box of training pants into the trunk. While she was taking the cart back, Martin sat in his seat, facing out of the open door while Sarah was giving him another drip of medicine. Just a small dose, now that he was getting better.
“Can I have my clothes now?”
“Not just yet, Bubba. We got one thing left to do.”
When Brianne got back, she opened the truck again and pulled out a big blue bucket. “Okay, Marty. You’re not so silly now. This should be a breeze.”
Brianne put the bucket down on the pavement, and Martin saw that it was a potty. Martin shook his head. “I gotta go to the bathroom.”
“Are you sure?”
Martin nodded. “Can I have my clothes now?”
Sarah looked at Brianne, who nodded. Sarah looked at Martin. “Bubba, those are for big kids.”
“But I am a big kid.”
“Are you sure? You’ve only gone in your pants today.”
“But I need clothes to go in the store.”
Sarah shook her head. “No buts, Bubba. What if you didn’t make it? You’ll ruin your brand new clothes.”
“No, I won’t.”
Sarah looked at the potty, and then back at Martin. “Only one way to know.”
The cars beside them seemed to provide enough privacy, save for the space running between them. If this was how he could get out of diapers, it seemed much better than going inside dressed like this. Martin pointed at the potty. “Can you stand in front of me and Brianne behind me so people can’t see?”
They agreed, and Martin climbed out of the car. Martin started to untape the Huggies he was wearing, but Sarah pushed his hands away and did it herself. While he squatted down onto the bucket, he saw Sarah checking the inside of the diaper. “I didn’t need it.”
Sarah nodded. “I can see that.” She rolled it up and looked at Martin. A smile flooded her face and she clapped. “Look at you. You’re sitting on the potty.”
Martin returned her smile, and then got mad. “Of course I am!”
“Okay, go potty.”
Martin pouted. “Stop it.”
“Awe, don’t be sad, Bubba. I’m proud of you.”
It seemed okay, but Martin became worried when he realized he didn’t have to go. “I don’t needa go.” He heard rustling, and turned his head. Brianne was standing behind him, opening up a pair of Gavin’s Huggies. His heart dropped when she smiled at him. She was ready to pounce.
He looked back at Sarah. “It’s okay, Bubba. I believe in you.”
He pushed and pushed until finally, a fart burst from his butt, making a funny echo inside the bowl. Martin giggled for a moment, and he felt a little drizzle leave his peeper. “Okay, I’m done now.”
He stood up and Sarah looked inside the potty. “That was just a fart, silly.”
“Nuh-uh. Look it.” Martin pointed at the droplets inside. “I peed there.”
Sarah was so happy. “My oh my! Would you look at that!”
Brianne bent over to look down into the potty. “Wow. Good job, Bubba.”
Martin was about to scold Brianne for using Sarah’s name for him. Sarah interrupted his fussiness by holding up a pair of undies. “Martin. Look what you get when you go potty.” They looked so thin and comfy Martin squealed. Sarah laughed at his excitement and held them down above the ground. “Step in, Bubba.”
Martin put his hands on her shoulders for balance, and she pulled the undies up. “They’re tight.”
Brianne picked up the potty. “You just need to grow into them.”
Sarah ripped the tag off a new T-shirt. “Okay Superman. Fly.”
Martin lifted his hands high in the air, and Sarah pulled the shirt over him. “Uh-oh. Where’s my Bubba?” She pulled at the hem and his head popped through the collar. “There he is!”
Martin giggled. “I was still in there.” Sarah was being so silly.
“Of course you were, why was I so worried? Silly Sarah.”
Martin giggled again. “Silly Sarah.”
Sarah helped Martin get into his new shorts, and clapped her hands. “Okay, Bubba. You ready to go to the water park?”
Martin jumped and squealed. “Water park. Water park.”
“Okay, get in the car.”
Martin climbed in. “Water park. Water park.”
Part 11: Splashdown
“Water park” brought a metropolis of sky scraping waterslides to mind. When Brianne parked the car and announced they were here, the tallest structures Martin could see were some trees. Martin had seen this playground before. It was a mini-water park hiding in plain sight, waiting for summer to come before it revealed itself. The rainbow made of half-circular metal bars coloured in Roy G. Biv were sprinkling water beneath it. Jets of water were shooting straight up out of the ground, seemingly at random. There were slides that had sprinklers on the top so you could slide down through a little waterfall. The most intriguing features were the three turrets, that you could swivel and pitch and spray others. The park was calling to him as they approached, but they stopped on the grass a few metres away from the playground.
Martin didn’t grow into his clothes like Brianne said he would. She must have meant the clothes would grow onto him. In the time it took to drive here, they were fitting just right. Sarah and Brianne were serving snacks on his blanket. Martin didn’t care how hungry he was, there was a water park waiting for him. All he could hear was the shrieking and laughing from the other kids. All he could hear was the fun he was missing out on.
“Won’t I get cwamps?” Martin cleared his throat, and remembered he had to curl his tongue for the R sound. “Cerrrramps.”
Sarah chuckled. “That’s only for swimming, silly.”
Martin looked at the park. There was a concrete sill that the water slides fed into. The sill wasn’t deep enough to swim in. Martin was running out of ideas. He worried he just might have to wait.
Luckily, all Sarah expected him to eat were some apple slices. Gavin only had to eat two because he was little. While Martin ate, Brianne was getting him into his swim pants. Martin thought pink was for girls, but Gavin was too little to care about that. Gavin didn’t get to play before he had swim pants so Martin still had time to eat. “Okay, Gaga, time to change your bum.” Brianne let Gavin play with a pull-up to distract him while she got his pants off. “Who’s on your diaper?”
Brianne put Gavin’s feet in the legholes. “Yeah! Who’s with Dora?”
“Yeah! You’re so smart.”
Martin rolled his eyes at them. Brianne was mean and stupid too. “Bubba, you still got one left.” Martin took the last apple slice from the plastic tub. When Brianne stood Gavin up, Martin worried he’d get to play first. Brianne had to put him in his swim shorts to hold them up, so Martin had time to finish his snack.
“Oh no. We forgot to get Martin swim shorts.”
Martin knew where this was going and shook his head. “I can wear these shorts.”
Sarah laughed and tousled his hair. “You can’t wear those in the park. They’d get all wet and fall down. We don’t need a full moon in the park.”
Martin laughed. Brianne did too. “Gavin won’t need all these swim pants.”
Martin stopped laughing. They were really gunna do this again, after he already proved he can still use the potty. Sarah came to the rescue. “Oh don’t tease the poor boy. We got three more pairs of undies. What’s one soggy pair?”
“What’s four?” Brianne sneered.
Martin looked back at the park. Other than the babies, none of the kids were playing in their underpants. “Is that allowed?”
“It is if I say so.”
Martin smiled at Sarah. Sometimes her rules were mean and even confusing, but sometimes it was nice that the woman who made those rules loved him so much. All the other kids had to get their clothes wet, but being Sarah’s Bubba came with special privileges.
“Fly, Superman.” Martin lifted his arms and Sarah took his shirt off. “Stand.” Martin stood up and she took his shorts off. After he stepped out of them he stared at Sarah patiently. “Okay, go play!”
Martin ran off, and Gavin followed him. Sarah laughed. “I think he’s starting to get used to this.”
“I think he already is.” Gavin stopped and turned around. Brianne smiled at him and pointed at the playground. “Go get Martin.”
Gavin turned around and ran off to play.
While the turrets were occupied, Martin crouched through the rainbow sprinklers. He let out a squishy but quiet fart, and went on. He was all soggy, but rainbow sprinklers weren’t that fun. He looked at the turrets, and the same three kids were still playing with them. He decided to go on the slide. It wasn’t very tall. It was more a slide for babies, but at least it was a water slide. Martin landed his bum in the water, and laughed. He wondered why he hadn’t used slides in so long. Somehow he didn’t notice how boring being a grown-up was. Martin climbed up the slide, and as he did, one of the parents was yelling at him, saying that he could only go down. Martin stuck his town out at the man. He wasn’t Sarah, and he didn’t make the rules. He saw Sarah approaching, and Martin wondered if the man was right. “Bubba, you’re not suppo-”
That was when Martin learned why we don’t climb up waterslides. A girl about Gavin’s age went down the slide, and made his foot slip on the slippery slide. Martin grabbed the edge, and rolled out of the way, but he rolled over the edge and hit the pavement. “Bonk!” Martin stood up and looked around the park. He couldn’t see his mommy anywhere. He rubbed the back of his head and looked at Sarah. “Did you bonk your head?”
Martin had a blast from the past. Back before he was talking, Mommy always called out “bonk!” when he bonked into or onto something. He had forgotten about it for so long, he started to wonder when he could have told Sarah about it. “How do you know that word?”
Sarah laughed. “What? I just saw you bonk. Everyone knows that word.”
Martin didn’t. He knew bonk was a word, but he didn’t know it was something you do. He thought mommies just said that when you bonk.
“Did you get a booboo?”
Martin nodded. “I bonked my head.” Did he say that right? It didn’t sound right.
Sarah walked up to him, and he put his hand down. She ran her fingers through his hair looking for a booboo, and then kissed his head. “There is that better?”
Martin laughed. The kiss didn’t make the booboo calm down, but it was indeed nice to have a kiss from Sarah. “Yeah, all better.”
Gavin was watching a large metal post with a bucket up top. The fountain filled the bucket until it tipped over and water poured out, and the bucket turned back up. Martin saw Gavin take a quick step back whenever the water hit the ground. He walked over to the fountain. “Gavin look.” Martin stood under the bucket and made a theatric shiver when he got splashed. “Brrrrr” Gavin giggled. “Wanna try?” Gavin stared at him, and Martin held his hand out. Gavin walked closer, and stopped when he saw the bucket tipping. Martin got soaked again. Gavin dropped his jaw in surprise. Martin had tricked him into thinking it was safe. Martin held his hand out again. “Come on.” Gavin came over and took Martin’s hand. Martin put his hand over his eyes. “Cover your eyes.” Gavin copied Martin and they got drenched by the bucket. Martin opened his eyes and saw Gavin had lost his footing and fell onto his head. Martin called out “Bonk!” and laughed.
Gavin didn’t find it funny. He started to cry, and Martin saw Brianne walking over. Martin thought he was in trouble, but Brianne wasn’t mad, just worried. “What happened, buddy?”
Martin pointed at Gavin. “He got spla-” Another bucket of water interrupted Martin, and he laughed. “He got splashed and fell over.”
Brianne picked Gavin up. “Awe, my poor boy.”
“I thought he wanted to get splashed.”
“I know, Bubba.” For once, Brianne didn’t sound mad at him, and he decided not to scold her about using Sarah’s name for him. “Thanks for trying to have fun with him. He’s just too small for a lot of things.” Brianne bounced up Gavin in her arms. “There, there. You’re fine. You just need a nap.”
Martin yawned. “No I don’t.”
Brianne smiled. “I think Martin might too.” Brianne held her hand out. “Come on, Martin. Let’s go home.”
It was a tempting offer. On the one hand, he wanted to play in the park some more, but he had a busy day too, and it was catching up with him. Martin took her hand.
Part 12: Freeway
They went back to Brianne’s house. Martin went to sit on Brianne’s couch, but she stopped him. “Uh-uh. Not in those soggy undies. Go to the bathroom, we’ll change your bum.”
Martin didn’t like the sound of that. Sarah nodded at him. “Go on, Bubba.”
Martin left and Brianne turned to Sarah. “You have an appointment.”
“At your old house.” Brianne looked to the hallway, and whispered to Sarah. “Martin’s been reported missing.”
Sarah nodded. “Oh.”
“Yes, and they want ask you about him. But you haven’t been home all day because you were having a playdate with your Godson.”
Sarah shrugged. “What should I say?”
“You’ve read his file. I’m sure you’ll think of something.”
Martin didn’t like Brianne’s bathroom. The decorations were nothing like Sarah’s, and Gavin had too much stuff here. There were diapers in the cupboard, shampoo with Elmo’s head on the top in the bath, and far too many bath toys. There were too many temptations for Brianne to be nasty, and try to treat him like a baby. The thought made him cringe and he had to suck his thumb. Brianne didn’t like that. For some reason she came into the bathroom instead, and pulled his hand away from his face. “Martin, are you a baby?”
“No. Where’s Sarah?”
“She had to go home for a little bit, she’ll be right back.”
“Why did she leave me?”
“Because you needed a bath.” Brianne sniffed the air, and pulled at the back of Gavin’s swim pants. “No, it’s not you.”
“But I don’t want a bath from you.”
Brianne start at Martin as he dug his fingers into the back of his underpants. She sniffled at him, but he didn’t figure out what she smelled. He was almost checked-out. “Did you pave stinky street?”
Martin removed his fingers from his bum. “No.” He sniffed his fingers and Brianne pulled his hand away.
“What!? I was making sure my bum’s clean”
Brianne sighed. “You don’t want Sarah to be mad, do you?” Martin was more afraid of making Brianne mad, but he nodded anyways. “How about I throw those undies in the laundry, and I won’t look to see if you paved stinky street, and no one has to know. How does that sound?” Great. He hadn’t pooped since his accident, so if his bum was itchy, he must have had a little accident when he made that wet fart at the park. “Gavin’s gotta have a bath, but I don’t know if he’ll be done before Sarah’s back. We don’t want her to see you dirty do we?” Martin shook his head. “You’re a smarty, Marty. Do you know how we can save time?”
Martin looked at the tub and shrugged. “I think I can fit in there with Gavin.”
“You think so?”
Martin nodded. “Yeah. He’s real little.”
Sarah hadn’t been back at her old house for a few weeks now. It was empty save for basic furniture that gave it the appearance that someone lived here. A quick look in the medicine cabinet, or even the silverware drawer, was enough to shatter the illusion. The idea that her official residence was this obviously empty house made her feel vulnerable. She wanted out of this hallow shell as soon as possible. Lucky for her, a few minutes after walking in, there was a knock on her door.
Sarah opened the door to two suits standing on her door step. “Sarah Basset?”
“May we come in?”
“What’s this about?”
“I’m Detective Angela Cardinal, missing persons. I was hoping to ask some questions about Martin Talbot.”
Sarah nodded. “I saw him two days ago. How is he already missing?” Brianne’s crash course in interrogation taught her to stay relaxed without letting her guard down. While detective Cardinal spoke, the man beside her kept his eyes on Sarah.
“May I ask your relation to Mister Talbot?”
Sarah shook her head. “There was no relation.”
Sarah realized she was the last person Martin saw before he went missing, and after, and she could have been seen at his apartment the day after she bought him breakfast with her debit card. “Yes. I thought he was cute. I paid for his omelette. My friend Brianne got sick later that day from her omelette. I figured Martin would be sick too, so I brought him soup the next day.”
Sarah had the detective intrigued. “And then what happened?”
“I invited him over and, that.” Sarah shook her head. “Martin was a sweet guy, but I had to ask him to leave.”
“Martin was wearing,” Sarah looked around for any neighbours who might be out. “He was wearing a diaper. Which as a doctor, I’m used to. Except it wasn’t out of necessity.” The detective was about to ask her to elaborate but Sarah went on. “I don’t like to seem insensitive to kinks, but I didn’t understand it completely and I had Brianne’s toddler with me. I didn’t want Martin around. I told him it was a dealbreaker and he left.”
“Did he say where he was going?”
Sarah shrugged. “I didn’t care to ask.”
The other detective checked his phone, and then held it up to Detective Cardinal. “Angie.”
Detective Cardinal looked at the phone, and then to Sarah. “Thank you for your time, Miss Basset.” She handed Sarah her card. “If you think of anything else, feel free to call me.”
Sarah closed the door and sighed. A buzzing sound interrupted her moment of relief. She followed the noise to the drawer beneath the television, where she found a small flip phone. “Hello?”
Brianne’s voice was on the line. “Nicely done, girl.”
“You were listening? How?”
“Of course I was. How else was I to know you were okay. And you handled it like a pro.”
“Are you sure? One of them got a text and they left in a hurry.”
“I’m not surprised. Martin’s credit card was just used to purchase a hotel room about an hour south of here. Now come over. I got something to show you.”
The rubber ducky wasn’t as fun as it looked. It only really floated around. But while Brianne cleaned Gavin off, Martin distracted him by using the boat toy to teach Gavin how to play Pass. Martin could see Gavin didn’t take baths with lots of big boys. Any other toddler would just keep the toy and make him cry. Gavin seemed so shocked that he could push the boat to Martin only to have Martin push it back. Gavin repeated the process, always waiting for Martin to declare “Mine!” but he never did.
When Gavin was clean, Brianne diapered him on the floor and then put him down for a nap while Martin finished bathing himself. He almost asked Brianne “Aren’t you gonna help me?” but he remembered he didn’t need help for something as simple as a bath. Especially from Brianne.
She was nice enough to help him dry off, and she was a lot more gentler than he thought she would be. She was probably used to toweling off baby skin, but that suited Martin just fine. After such a long day, he could do with a gentle rub-down. He wasn’t going to accept her help his with Paw Patrol underpants though. When she held them open for him, he took the packet and grabbed another pair. It’s a good thing he was standing so far from the wall, because he fell onto his back trying to get them on. When he hit his head on the ground, just like Sarah, Brianne declared “BONK!” It wasn’t funny. It really hurt but he wasn’t going to let Brianne see him cry. “Lift your bum.” Martin planted his feet on the ground and arched his back.
Brianne pulled his underpants up, and Martin put his bum down and sat up. “I can do it!”
Brianne nodded. “I know. It’s done.”
Brianne made him some leftover spaghetti in the microwave. It sure smelled yummy, but Martin was losing his appetite when Brianne took the tray off of Gavin’s high chair and told him to climb up. This high chair was much bigger than the one Gavin had at Sarah’s house. The adjustable tray meant it could fit babies of all sizes, but he wasn’t a baby. “Martin! Your bum is rashy enough as it is. Do you want me to smack your bottom raw or are you gunna behave?”
“I’ll behave but I don’t need a high chair.”
“No buts. Sarah told me what a messy eater you are. Climb up. Now!”
Martin hung his head. It seemed Sarah kept no secrets for him, and he wanted to go home before she came back. He climbed in and Brianne pulled the straps over his arms and buckled them over his chest. Martin thought it far too much a precaution for his messy eating, especially when Brianne pulled the centre strap over his peeper. Martin’s opinion of Brianne was returning to the norm. He wiggled and the straps gave little leeway. Martin knew Brianne for using any excuse to treat him like a baby. If she wanted to spoon-feed him, there wasn’t anything he could do to stop her in this chair.
That didn’t happen though. She put the spaghetti on the tray with a plastic spork and let him dig in. His hands weren’t as naughty as last time he tried. He could hold the fork somewhat properly, but he did miss his mouth a few times as he got closer to finishing. Brianne just cleaned his face with a baby-wipe when he was done. Instead of letting him out, Brianne was cleaning the dishes. Martin clutched the outside edge of the tray. “Brianne, I gotta go.”
“Sarah will be back soon. Relax.”
“No, I mean I gotta go potty.”
Brianne dried her hands off and stood in front of Martin. “Is it an emergency?”
Martin nodded. Brianne unbuckled him and held his hand as he climbed out. He stood there, with his legs crossed. He hunched over as if he was going to curl into a ball and fall over. He looked up at Brianne. “Let’s go already.”
As expected, Martin needed an escort to the bathroom. If he was wearing a diaper, she could just stand there until he had an accident. Even though Paw Patrol might be for babies, his underpants definitely weren’t. The medicine in Martin’s spaghetti would have him simple soon, and if she didn’t want to mop the floor, she had to get him on the potty fast.
Brianne put her hands on his shoulder. “Okay, let’s go.” Martin kept his legs crossed, and hopped all the way to the bathroom. Brianne kept a few paces behind, and when she entered the bathroom, Martin was already on the toilet. Martin’s legs crunched up as he pushed and Brianne noticed his underpants were not at his ankles. “Martin! Wait!” Martin sighed in relief. Brianne held her palm on her forehead in devastation. Martin looked down at his underpants, watching the pee drip through the fabric and drip-drop drip-drop into the toilet water. Martin looked up at Brianne and gave a big dopey smile. “Poopoo.”
Brianne nodded. “That’s right, Bubba. You made poopoo in- on the potty.”
Martin smiled in elation, and went to stand up. Brianne walked up to him. “Hold on, wait just there.” Martin stared at her as she came over. “We gotta wipe your bum.”
Martin leaned forward, and Brianne looked over his shoulder. She pulled the waistband of his of his undies and shook her head. “Oh dear. Okay, Bubba, stand real slow.” Brianne kept a hold of his shoulders as he stood up. “Okay, stay still.”
She eased his undies down and he stood still. Brianne held his ankles and guided his foot through the undies so they wouldn’t touch the poop. She picked the underwear off the ground and emptied the bulk of the mess into the toilet. Martin pointed at the underpants. “Stinky street.”
“Oh, Bubba. That’s more than a stinky street. That’s a filthy freeway.”
Martin giggled. “Filthy Freeway.”
Brianne put her hand on his shoulder and sat him sideways on the toilet seat. She grabbed half a dozen flushable wet wipes and cleaned him off, and then she opened the big package of Easy Ups.
Martin saw the little boy on the package and shook his head. “No diapers.”
“Silly Bubba, these aren’t diapers.” Brianne held up the training pant and smiled. “These are potty pants. Babies don’t go potty, do they?”
It seemed simple enough, but Martin couldn’t help but think the boy on the package looked far too little to be big. He didn’t think it would fit. The frilly sides were far to small to fit him, but as Brianne pulled the pant up his legs, the sides stretched out until they were almost flat. Just like his Paw Patrol pants, these had little symbols printed all over, even on the sides. Martin couldn’t remember the last time he watched Thomas and Friends, but the pants sure looked cool with Thomas on the front. The blue stripes that ran underneath Thomas and around Martin’s butt made the pant look just like underwear. Even the padding was thin enough that it didn’t look like a diaper. “Aren’t you a handsome boy.” Martin blushed.
Once he was dressed, Brianne lay him on the living room floor, and put his grandma’s blankey over him, and let him watch an episode of Barney and Friends. For the most part, the songs were slow-paced, but they brought so much nostalgia to him, he couldn’t help but bob his feet along until he fell asleep.
Later, Sarah came back, and Brianne pointed at Martin. Sarah covered her mouth. “My oh my. Look at him, he’s so sweet.” She sat beside him and put her hand on his head. Sarah saw he had his thumb in his mouth. “How old is he?”
“Still eight.” Brianne handed her the vial of Space-Saver. Sarah turned Martin so he was lying supine. She prepared the dropper, and gave Martin’s cheek a light smack. Martin opened his eyes and smiled. “Sarah.” He closed his eyes again.
“You just need some medicine, Bubba.”
Martin didn’t open his eyes, but he propped his mouth open. Sarah dripped the medicine into his mouth, and Martin smiled at how yummy it was.
Part 13: Starting a Family
Martin woke up on the couch in the middle of the night. He was back at Sarah’s house. He vaguely remembered seeing Sarah at Brianne’s, but it seemed more like a dream. He pulled his grandma’s blanket off of him, and found Sarah had put him in pyjamas while he was sleeping. Martin tried to remember feeling more loved than falling asleep on a floor and waking up in a bed. Even so, a living room wasn’t the comfiest place for a little guy to wake up in. It was actually kind of scary.
Martin remembered from all the days of waking his parents up to do so quietly. He stood beside Sarah’s bed and whispered. “Sarah.” The fact that it was only because he had two parents was lost on him. “Sarah.” Sarah didn’t stir. “Sarah.” Martin nudged her shoulder a few times. “Sarah.” Sarah moaned and opened her eyes.
“Ah!” Sarah screamed.
“Ah!” Martin screamed.
“Ah!” Sarah screamed as she sat up.
“Ah!” Martin screamed and then he stomped his foot. “Stop yelling!”
“Jesus Christ.” Sarah turned her lamp on. Martin covered his eyes from the light. “What are you doing up so late?”
“The living room is dark. Can I sleep in here?”
Sarah sighed. “Yes, of course. You could have just climbed in.”
Martin shook his head. “I didn’t wanna wake you.”
Sarah stared at Martin, trying to figure out how Martin could reconcile waking her up and not waking her up. She decided she was better off with not trying to understand preschooler logic. “Come on up.”
Sarah leaned back into her pillows and Martin nestled into her side. Sarah reached over and brushed her finger on his nose and up his forehead. Martin smiled. “That’s nice.”
“Really? Are you a kitten?”
Martin chuckled. “No.”
Martin soon fell asleep in her arm, and Sarah nestled into her bed. Just as soon as the moment had come, it was gone, and morning was here. Sarah woke up, and for once Martin was awake sooner than her. She expected to find him in the living room, and when she got out of bed, she found the nursery door open. Martin was sitting against the racecar bed, playing with a couple of dinosaur figures. “Morning, Bubba.”
Martin gave quick smile and looked back at his figures. “Good morning.”
Sarah sat down next to him. “Didn’t expect to find you in here.”
“Sorry. I know the door was closed, but I was curious.”
“It’s okay. What do you think?”
Martin shrugged. “I don’t know, same as everyone. Sometimes I think about what it would be like to live in the woods forever. Then I remember chocolate bars don’t grow on trees.”
Sarah laughed. “I meant about the nursery.”
“Oh. It’s spooky.”
“Spooky? I was going for comfy.”
Martin shrugged. “I dunno. The Blue’s Clues blanket on the bed looks like the one I had, before Gramma made me my blanket. And the toys are a lot like mine.” Sarah nodded. Here she thought Brianne was just filling the room with anything a little boy might need, and yet the attention to the details of Martin’s childhood was meticulous. “Why is there a nursery in your house?”
Sarah sighed. She was new at this, but Martin seemed too lucid for the real answer. “I can’t get pregnant.”
“So why is there a nursery?”
“I was trying to get pregnant. We couldn’t, and saw a doctor. And then I found out why. Now my husband is my ex-husband. We both wanted a family. I wanted to adopt. He wanted his own kids.” Martin kept his eyes on the T-Rex he walked around on the carpet. Sarah realized he wasn’t asking about her life story. “Do you ever want to start a family?”
“I used to.”
“You don’t anymore?”
Martin put the T-Rex figure down and looked at Sarah. “Is that why you made me little? Because you can’t make a baby?” Martin could see he’s scared Sarah. He shook his head. “It’s okay.”
“How did you know?”
“I think I always did. You pet me like a kitten last night. I remembered when I met Gavin, and how little he looked. Then it all made sense.”
Sarah nodded. “You really are a smart boy. Brianne said you wouldn’t.”
Martin hung his head. “I kinda wish I didn’t.”
“God, you must hate me.”
Martin shook his head and started crying. “Don’t say that.”
Sarah sighed. “I suppose it’s too late to ask, but do you want to be little again?”
Martin chuckled and then frowned. “No.” Sarah nodded. “Can I be big again?”
Sarah frowned back. “No.”
Martin nodded and started playing with his T-Rex again. “How little am I gunna get?”
“You’re already little.”
Martin looked up. “How much more medicine do I need?”
Sarah shook her head. “Bubba.” Sarah sighed. “Martin. How do I make this right?”
“Can I still stay with you?”
“You still want to stay with me? You don’t want to see your parents?” Letting Martin see his parents at this size was not an option for Brianne, but Sarah was ready to take Martin home at his request.
Martin shook his head with fear in his eyes. “Please don’t. My family lived in a world where this doesn’t happen. I don’t want to do that to them.”
Sarah almost started to explain what that would mean for his family, but then she realized that would be for her benefit, not his. It would only shift her guilt onto Martin. Sarah nodded. “Okay.”
“Do I need more medicine?”
Sarah bit her lip. Martin had one more dose of Simplicity left before he’d be like any other little boy. But she didn’t want any other boy. “No. You’re done.”
Martin smiled. “Thank you, Sarah.”
“Thank you? For what?”
Martin shrugged and a shy smile flooded his face. “I dunno. Who else gets to be little twice? In a way, I still got to start a family.”
Sarah put her arm around him and kissed the top of his head. Martin looked up at her and smiled. “Can I kiss you?” Sarah nodded and Martin gave her a peck on the cheek. “I love you Sarah.”
“I love you too, Bubba.”
Brianne came over to take a look at Martin, but Sarah had him wait in the nursery. She handed the kit back to Brianne. “I’m sorry, I failed.”
Brianne laughed. “Failed what?”
“I know this was like, a job interview, but I can’t give Martin the last dose.”
Brianne took the bag. “How come?”
“It’s a long story. He’s actually happy, and I don’t wanna ruin that. I’m happy with him too.”
Brianne put Gavin on the floor and laughed. “I’d say you passed.”
“Are you listening to me? I said I can’t make him a real boy. He can’t be mine.”
Brianne stood up and shook her head. “Sarah, you already did great with all the others I showed you. I’d say you’ve done quite well. And hey, you actually formed a bond with Martin. And he did you. He is yours.”
Sarah shook her head. “What?” She took a moment to examine Brianne’s wry smile. “You wanted me to fail?”
“No. Failure would be if you didn’t care about him at all. I wasn’t going to let you adopt him if you didn’t care about him. You’re a mom now.” Brianne patted her shoulder. “The job is yours.”
[B]Chapter 2: Triage
“We have to get out of this fucking town.”
Tiana shook her head. “It’s fine, Elliot.”
“How can you say it’s fine? Look around us. These people are smiling and chatting like nothing’s wrong.” Elliot ducked his head and put his hand over his eyes. “They’re making eye contact.”
“There is nothing wrong. People just pass the time differently here.”
Elliot leaned on the table and spoke in a hushed but dire tone. “Not one child here has asked us if we have games on our phones.”
Tiana looked around the diner. Elliot was right. The children from the birthday party had all been walking past their table while she and her cousin were waiting to regain reception, but not one child inquired about the games they had. “We have to get out of this fucking town.”
“Okay, you get the bill and I’ll call a cab.”
Tiana slammed her hand on the table. “We’re not leaving just because there’s no reception, Elliot.”
“Either of you like a top-up?”
Tiana smiled at the waitress and pushed her mug forward. “Yes please.”
“You know how serial killers feel about cellphones? Who knows how many serial killers live here.”
Tiana shook her head. “There aren’t any serial killers here.”
Elliot pointed down at his bowl. “There’s a finger in my chili.”
The waitress stopped pouring Tiana’s coffee and grabbed Elliot’s chili off of the table. “Ugh. Not again.”
The waitress stormed off to the kitchen and Elliot glared at his cousin. Tiana shrugged at him. “For all we know, someone was caught skimming.” Elliot kept glaring at Tiana. “Relax. We’ll have plenty to do at the campground. We won’t even remember we have them.”
After Tiana paid the bill, the two went outside for an after-meal smoke. Elliot saw a woman standing beside the restaurant window helping a little boy get dressed. Elliot approached her. “Excuse me, ma’am. Would you happen to know where the nearest wifi hotspot is?”
“D-those are bad for you.”
“Hush now, Bubba.” The woman stood up. “I got bad news for you. There’s strict restrictions on radio waves in the valley. They don’t want the observatory to be blinded by light pollution, even to light we can’t see.”
Elliot was starting to wonder why Tiana even wanted to come to this town. “Oh my. That is good to know.”
The little boy grabbed his mother’s hand and glared at Elliot. “D-those are bad for you.”
Elliot looked at his cigarette and nodded. “You’re probably right.”
The woman tugged on the boy’s arm. “Bubba, don’t be bossy.”
Elliot smiled. “It’s okay. He’s a bright young man. Thank you for your time.” He walked back over to Tiana, and she saw him clutching his stomach. “You okay?”
Elliot nodded. “Yeah, I-. Oh God.”
He dropped his smoke and sat against the wall. Tiana picked up the cigarette for him. “Elliot, are you okay?”
Elliot shook his head. “Call an ambulance.”
After she had him dressed out of his swimwear and into his street clothes, Sarah brought Martin into the diner for lunch. Their morning had been spent at the lake. Working in the afternoon meant she wanted her son to tire himself out before handing him off to Brianne. Though Brianne had many activities she could do with the boys, Martin was still distrustful of her. Whether Martin would get his daily exercise in Brianne’s care depended on how cooperative he was feeling.
It had been three weeks since Sarah took Martin in, and they packed up and left to a small town where many of Brianne’s colleagues lived. Sarah had yet to meet any of them. Martin was quite happy to move. Despite the depletion of his sex-drive and any understanding of adult relationships, Martin saw Sarah as a life-partner rather than a mother, even tough their very asymmetric relationship consisted of cuddles, bedtime stories, and bathes. In fact the only distinction between his relationship with Sarah and any other parent-child bond was that Martin didn’t call Sarah “mama.”
Sarah had Martin in her lap, and she was having Martin practice reading with the kids menu. A lot of things frustrated him about being three, but reading was one of the things he still thought he was good at. Sarah certainly seemed to agree. Every correctly read word was met with praise, and every mistake met with encouragement, even when he mistook his b and d. Sarah wasn’t going to be too critical of his reading. His speech had suffered a grievous blow, and she didn’t want to point out correct reading as a mistake.
Sarah looked up from the menu, at Brianne. “Huh?”
“The ambulance out there? I thought you’d be all over that.” Sarah turned around and looked at the front door. She couldn’t see an ambulance through the windows. “Well it just left.”
Sarah shrugged as Brianne sat down. “I was facing this way.”
Brianne bounced her son in her lap. “Say hi, Gavin.” Gavin waved at Sarah and Martin. “Hi!” Martin and Sarah said “hi” back. “Good afternoon, Bubba.”
Martin took a deep breath, and let out a long burp. Sarah bounced her knee under him. “Martin, don’t be gross.” Sarah could cajole him all she wanted. The girls found burps gross, and he thought it funny. Whenever Brianne used Sarah’s name for him, he would burp or fart as payback.
Sarah looked to Brianne. “Small world. Was it a coincidence or not?”
Brianne tilted her head and had a wry smile on her face. “Was what a coincidence?” Sarah’s pager beeped and she stared at Brianne. Brianne shrugged. “Guess you’re busy today.”
Martin looked up at Sarah. “Not alone.”
She lifted him off her lap and sat him beside her. “It’s okay Bubba. Brianne will take good care of you.”
Martin stood up and leaned on the back of the booth, watching Sarah abandon him with Brianne. Martin turned around and slid on his back down the cushion of the booth. He glared at Brianne with folded arms.
Brianne nodded. In order to make Martin attach to Sarah, she had to play the bad guy, which meant he may never like her. “You wanna get out of here?”
Martin shook his head. “I’m hungry.”
“Hello, Brianne. Who’s this with you?”
Martin looked at the waitress. She was pretty, but if she liked Brianne, he didn’t like her. “This is my Godson, Martin. Martin, this is Lauren.”
Lauren smiled at him. “Aren’t you just a handsome little thing.” The compliment made Martin blush, but he wasn’t going to let flattery win him over. “Have you decided on what you’re going to eat, sweety?”
Martin grunted the smile off his face and folded his arms. “Fish sticks.”
Brianne stared at him. “Eh! Manners!”
Martin harrumphed. “Please.”
“Thank you.” Brianne looked back up at Lauren. “And don’t put any fake fingers on his plate. He’s three and Halloween was nine months ago.”
Lauren chuckled. “And only three months away.”
The emergency room was hardly as loud as the others Elliot had been to. Tiana had been sitting beside him since they moved him to a corner unite, with a curtain between them and the rest of the ER. They had been waiting a few hours hours when the doctor came through the curtain. The same woman he saw at the diner stood before him in a labcoat, looking over his chart. “Mister…” She double-took him, and then stared. “Nice to see you again, Mister French. I’m Doctor Basset.”
Elliot sat up. “Elliot, please.”
The doctor looked at Tiana. “Sister? Girlfriend?”
“Cousin.” Tiana tapped Elliot’s arm. “I’ll leave you be. Do you want anything from the cafeteria?”
“Some chocolate milk, please.”
Tiana left and Doctor Basset put the chart down on the tray and began putting on a pair of latex gloves. “Abdominal pain, is it?” Elliot nodded. “Lift up your shirt please.” Elliot exposed his abdomen, and Doctor Basset began palpating. “Does it hurt there?”
“A little lower.” Doctor Basset moved her hand down his belly, and Elliot flinched.
“There?” Elliot nodded. Doctor Basset pushed down and Elliot let out a loud fart. Doctor Basset started laughing. Elliot laughed too, but not as long as she did. She sighed when she saw Elliot blushing. “I’m sorry.”
Elliot forced a smile. “It’s okay. It actually feels better now.”
“Really? All better?” Elliot nodded. Doctor Basset wiggled her finger on his chin. “You were just gassy, was it?” Elliot flinched away. Her behaviour seemed far too unprofessional. “I’m going to do an ultrasound just to be sure.”
Doctor Basset left, and came back a few minutes later with an ultrasound machine on a four-wheel stand. While Doctor Basset examined the inside of his abdomen, Tiana came back with a carton of chocolate milk. “So what’s the word? Are you long for the world?”
“Gas. It was mortifying.”
Doctor Basset laughed, and grabbed some napkins from the tray beneath the ultrasound’s monitor. “And gas is all it was.”
Tiana shrugged. “Well, that’s good news.”
Doctor Basset nodded as she wiped the gel off of Elliot’s belly. “Oh yeah, real good news.”
“So I can go?”
“Just a few things.” Doctor Basset looked at Tiana. “Make sure to toilet him after every meal. You don’t want him to get any build-up like that. Maybe reward him with some animal crackers. And maybe check his shorts. That fart sounded quite wet and he has yet to excuse himself. Talcum powder can also help with the smell, I’ve found. And maybe one day he’ll figure out what that kind of pain means.”
Elliot and Tiana stared at Doctor Basset. Tiana broke the silence. “Do you think this is a joke?”
“I think this is an emergency room. And despite what my three-year-old may tell you, a gas-cramp is not an emergency. I have patients that actually need my help. I don’t need to be wasting my time with boys who are big enough to know when to toot.” Doctor Basset took her gloves off and threw them in the trash. “Now, I’ll go fill out your discharge papers, and when I’m done, I’ll hopefully have a bed for my next patient. Good day.”
Doctor Basset left and Tiana scoffed. “Can you believe that? We should make a complaint.”
Elliot shook his head. “Fuck it, let’s just go.”
Naptime was cut short when Brianne decided she didn’t feel like carrying Martin to the car as well as Gavin. Martin was almost jealous of Gavin for being small enough to stay asleep, but he was never going to tell Brianne that, especially after he saw Brianne put some special medicine in her juice bottle. Sarah and Martin had a long talk about what her new job would entail. She would be working at the hospital and Brianne would be taking in boys and girls and turning them into little boys and girls. Sarah said she and Brianne would never let him drink any special medicine, but he did have a few rules he had to follow. One rule was that he can never ever acknowledge that any of Brianne’s kids are getting little, especially in public. The closets in Brianne’s and Sarah’s rooms were strictly off-limits. He felt he would be better off if she didn’t say that, because all he wanted to do was explore the closets now that they were off-limits.
Brianne drove the two boys to Sarah’s work, but they weren’t picking up Sarah. Brianne’s niece and nephew were in town, and they had stopped at the hospital for a check-up. The niece sat in the front seat, and the nephew sat between Martin and Gavin’s carseats. Martin recognized the nephew’s face and stink. He was at the restaurant asking Sarah about the town. He still smelled like the stink-stick he was sucking on, and Martin didn’t like him. Martin could tell the man was scared of him, and the man had been ignoring Martin the whole drive, instead talking to the ladies in the front of the car. That suited Martin just fine.
“Elliot had like, the worst doctor.”
Elliot glanced at Martin. “Oh, she wasn’t that bad.”
“No, she was talking to me about Elliot like I was his mom, and I should toilet him, and she was all ugh, my son knows when he has gas. Like, you’re a fucking doctor. Shouldn’t you know people get blockages sometimes? Not that it’s any excuse to talk to your patients like that.”
“To be fair to her, I’m not in the normal age range for that kinda stuff.”
“Yeah, abnormal, not unheard of. Why are you defending her?”
Brianne glanced at Martin in the mirror. “She sounds like a much worse doctor than your mommy, doesn’t she?”
Martin nodded. “Sarah’s a best doctor.”
Tiana held the water bottle to Elliot. “Thirsty?”
Martin looked up at Tiana. “Don’t mind if I do.” Elliot took the water bottle. Martin watched him drink the juice Brianne had put the special medicine into. Elliot looked at Martin and held the water bottle up. “Thirsty?”
Martin leaned to the opposite side of his carseat. “No thanks, I don’t like that juice.”
“Suit yourself.” Elliot handed the bottle back to Tiana, and Martin sighed in relief. He started to wonder if Brianne had recruited help in finishing the job Sarah hadn’t.
Brianne’s house was furnished with more boxes than furniture. She and her housemate had just moved in a few days ago, and aside from the bedrooms, little else had been unpacked. A playpen had been built on the floor, beside the entertainment stand. Brianne had her laptop on the entertainment stand, overlooking the playpen. Although they didn’t have wifi, Brianne had downloaded many episodes of kid shows for the boys to watch on demand. Brianne didn’t need to contain Martin in the playpen, but he was okay with spending time in there with Gavin, as long as someone helped him in and out of it.
The three adults were too sophisticated for Mickey Mouse’s Clubhouse. Instead they passed the time with Monopoly. Aside from television shows playing on a laptop, the lack of internet in this town made every hour feel more like the early two-thousands than the late tens. Elliot and Tiana couldn’t remember the last time they had played Monopoly, but the rules had stayed the same. The rule of Monopoly is that the rules are never the same. After Tiana’s father left, Brianne hadn’t kept in touch with either of them, which meant they were re-learning her rules of the game.
“Did you name Gavin after my dad?”
Tiana nodded at Gavin. “Calvin. Gavin. Those are close, eh?”
Brianne looked at her son and then she her shrugged her eyebrows. “I never even thought of it like that.”
Elliot rolled a six and a two, and then advanced the car. “When did you last talk to him?”
Brianne shook her head. “Sooner than I can remember. What about you guys?”
Tiana shook her head. “I barely remember him. I don’t even know if he’s alive.”
Tiana shook her head at her aunt. “Meh. It was years ago.”
Elliot felt a chill on the tip of his penis and stood up. “Uh oh.”
Brianne and Tiana watched him leave. “Uh oh.” Martin echoed.
Brianne looked at Martin standing at the edge of the playpen. “Martin, there’s no gold in there.” Martin pulled his finger out of his nose and wiped the snot on the playpen. “Martin.” Brianne handed the boy a packet of tissues. “Don’t be gross.” Brianne grabbed the metal paper bin and held it beside the playpen. Martin wiped his snot off and tossed the tissue into the bin.
“Ten bucks says Elliot had an accident.”
Tiana smirked. “Already?”
“It never takes boys much.”
“What doesn’t take boys much?”
Tiana and Brianne looked up at Elliot as he walked back in. “Sugar. Tiana tried to offer the boys juice.”
Martin looked away from Minnie Mouse to reconcile his and Brianne’s version of events.
Tiana held up the juice bottle. “Thirsty?”
“Don’t mind if I do.” Elliot reached for the bottle and stood a slug. He sat down on his bottom, and tipped over, hitting his head against a table.
Martin saw this, and had a knee-jerk reaction to Elliot’s injury. “Bonk!”
Brianne looked into the playpen. “Martin, don’t be rude.” She winked at Martin and he smiled.
“Oops. Sorry.” Elliot sat up, and rubbed his head.
Brianne shook her head. “It’s just a table. You guys hungry?”
Tiana looked at her cousin, who was busy watching the cartoon. “Yes, please.”
Aunty Brianne had made them instant macaroni and cheese. By the time he had finished, Elliot had ruined his shirt. Brianne acted frustrated, but he could tell she was just acting. It was quite funny, but he pretended to be sad. He knew she didn’t mind if he mucked up a shirt with cheese sauce. His parents were always the ones worried about appearance. “You have to look nice for your aunty.” The fact that he didn’t was his and Brianne’s little secret. It was a fun game to play, but the fun wasn’t enough to drown out the shame of needing help to get undressed. This was an aspect of childhood he did not remember fondly, and had all but forgotten until now.
Brianne had taken him into the laundry room. He had a little accident, just a few drips before lunch, and he went to go clean up. On his way to the bathroom, he forgot what he had stood up to do, and went back to watch television. He hadn’t been a kid for a long time, but Brianne remembered what he had to do. “Ellie! What is this?” She wagged her finger against the tiny wet spot on his boxers. “You’re not a basketball player, why are you dribbling?”
Elliot was at a loss for words when he looked down at himself. “Uh oh” seemed to say it all.
“Why did you uh oh? Can you step out of those shorts?” Elliot stood up and dropped his boxers to his ankles. He lifted his leg but the shorts clung to his foot. He tried lifting the other foot, and again the boxers refused to stay on the floor. He wanted to get away from the brown spot as soon as possible, but his aunt had already seen it. “Oh no. You did more than dribble, honey-bunny. I think your doctor was right about you.”
His doctor, and as luck would have it, his aunt’s housemate. Elliot had all but forgotten about Sarah. One of the many faces he saw at his aunt’s house over the years. She didn’t remember him at the hospital, but she was going to remember him today. As soon as he was dressed, they were all going to pick Sarah up from her shift at the hospital, and Elliot would be in for a whole weekend of lectures. Elliot could hear it in his mind.
“He didn’t seem cleanly at all,” Sarah would say.
“Oh no, he sure isn’t. Did I tell you about his uh oh? Dribble in the front, fudge in the back.” Brianne would say.
“I can wipe all by myself” Martin would say.
It took Elliot a moment to remember he was nearly a grown man, and unlike when he was a child, an accident was no reason for what his parents called bedtime pants. It was a relief to see Brianne had an extra pair of underpants in his size. She hadn’t bothered to send him for his own bag. The briefs didn’t give his parts the freedom of movement that boxers did, but the Superman print made him feel like too much of a superhero to warrant a complaint. Brianne stretched the waistband out and let them snap against Elliot’s hips. She nodded with satisfaction. “Okay, let’s go get Sarah.”
Brianne stood up and threw his boxers and shirt in the washing machine. She started the machine and stared at Elliot. Elliot pointed at his jeans on the floor. He knew he was still feeling silly and would need help getting them back on. Brianne didn’t know that. She followed his finger and nodded. “Oh of course. Thank you, Ellie.” Instead of helping him into them, she threw the pants in the wash with his boxers. She held her hand out. “Let’s go, then.”
He wasn’t sure what to say, but Brianne seemed certain she had done the right thing. Elliot knew he was no one to question her judgement, and he took her hand. Tiana carried Gavin in one arm, and held Martin’s hand with her other. She was already packed up and ready to go. They had all been waiting on Brianne to finish the clean-up that he should have known to do himself. Tiana didn’t seem mad though. She seemed quite delighted at the sight of him. “Oh, wow. I love your Superman undies, Elliot.”
Elliot didn’t say anything. He tightened his grip on Aunty Brianne’s hand. If Tiana decided to get too mean, his aunty would surely protect him, and she did. “Don’t be mean, Tiana.”
“Oh, okay.” Tiana could tease him all she liked, though. Brianne had told him about her secret power, and if he asked really really nicely, Tiana would need far more silly undies than Superman briefs.
Elliot wasn’t sure why he had to sit in the very back of the van. There was plenty of room for him next to Tiana, but Brianne insisted on sitting him between Martin and Gavin. “We’ll keep the stinkers in one place.” Elliot may have found it a funny word, but he hadn’t been a stinker for a long long time. He didn’t need a towel folded up on his seat. He had one little dribble, and one uh-oh didn’t mean he wasn’t done potty training.
“It was only a small dribble, Aunty.”
“I don’t want to hear it. You’re nineteen. You shouldn’t be having accidents, and I definitely don’t need to tell you something twice. Do I?” Elliot folded his arms. “Yeah, harrumph all you like.” Brianne closed the door and went to the front seat. Elliot saw Martin staring at him with a sad face.
The boy held up his plastic tub of animal crackers. “Cookie?”
Elliot sighed and took an animal cracker. “Thank you, Martin. At least someone is on my side.” Brianne started the car and their road trip began.
“Dowaaa!” Gavin cheered. The monitor hung from the roof of the van, playing the television show for the boys in the back. Martin focused more on the world passing by the windows. Gavin cheered and pointed whenever Dora asked a question. Elliot tried to stay tuned into Brianne and Tiana’s conversation, but the mini-television was stealing his attention more often than not. By the time they reached the hospital, the perceived boredom had shifted from the television to the ladies. The mystery of Gavin’s fascination for Dora soon vanished. She was no longer patronizing them with really basic questions. Dora was offering to take them on an adventure. Elliot was too old for Dora by the time it was on TV, so he had no idea what to expect from each episode.
“We did it!”
“We did it!” Elliot repeated. Then he saw Tiana and Doctor Basset looking at the back of the car. He hung his head and looked down, pretending to play the Game Boy that didn’t work in this town.
The road was winding back and forth up the mountainside. Across the valley he could see the domes of the observatory, and all the grasslands surrounding the small miserable town his aunty lived in. The sharp turns were starting to stir Elliot like a spoon stirring ice cream until it turned into soup. But he wasn’t ice cream, he was a man full of noodles. “Aunty. I gotta go potty.”
Tiana laughed. “Really? Is potty where nineteen year olds go?”
Elliot nodded. He didn’t find it funny, and he didn’t care why she did. “Yeah.”
“What’s wrong, Ellie?” Brianne called from the driver’s seat. “Are you gunna uh oh?”
Elliot shook his head. “I need a potty.”
Martin looked at Elliot, and remembered his first accident. Martin was lucky enough to sleep through it, but waking up was no way for a boy to start a day. Now that he was three, Sarah was much nicer about getting him to the potty. “Sarah, I gotta tinkle.”
Sarah turned around. “Bubba. Are you sure?”
Martin nodded. “I gotta go real bad or I get all wet. I don’t have late time.”
Sarah shrugged at Brianne. “How about later?” Brianne nodded. Sarah faced the back. “Okay, Bubba. We’ll find a stop soon.”
Elliot didn’t have late- long time either. “Aunty, I’m gunna-” Martin leaned away from Elliot when he saw the yellow jetstream spraying out of the man’s mouth. Tiana froze when she felt the noodles pouring down her neck. “Ewwwww!!!”
Sarah faced the windshield and covered her mouth. “Oh my god. Pull over.”
Martin felt his stomach turn into a knot. It wasn’t the kind of belly-pain that goes away when you let your bladder go. Martin had a worse pain than his swelling training pants. “Sarah, I think.” Martin gagged. “I think.” Elliot’s range was far more impressive than Martin’s, but he too managed to ruin his clothes.
Brianne shook her head. “You know what. We’re like ten minutes out. We may as well just drive.” She put her fingers on the switches, and rolled all the windows down.
Sarah took a moment to watch the road, with her hand over her mouth. “It’s just motion sickness. We didn’t share any food.”
Brianne looked over at Sarah. “Huh?”
Sarah shook her head. “It’s just a reflex, from when our ancestors shared food.” Sarah took a deep breath and sighed. She looked back at the boys. “Are you okay, Bubba?”
Martin nodded. “I’m all wet really gross.”
“What about you, Ellie? Did you uh-oh?”
Elliot stared at Doctor Basset. The wind flapping against his ear drums made it hard to understand anything she was saying, and he didn’t really want any lectures from her.
Soon they were at the camp ground, and the river was their first stop after parking the van on their lot. Elliot sat in the edge of the water because his legs were too flimsy to stand. Martin didn’t undress until after he got himself wet, so he had an excuse for a sopping pair of training pants. Sarah pulled him out of the river by the arm. “Martin, clothes.”
“Sorry, Sarah.” Martin dropped his shorts and training pants to his feet. He held his arms up and Sarah held his hands for him to step out of his clothes. He saw the padding had turned yellow, but Sarah made no remark of it. She just told him to “fly, Superman” and took his shirt off of him when he held his arms up.
Gavin had been the only kid not covered in half-digested pasta. Tiana undressed and dipped in the river to rinse her hair out. Martin sat naked next to Tiana on a towel that Brianne had laid out on the shore. The two grown-ups had to help Elliot get out of the underwear he had soaked in the river, as well as wrap a towel over his private parts.
They went back to the campsite, where Tiana and Brianne built the tents while Sarah cleaned Elliot up. Martin and Gavin sat next to each other on the grass, eating crackers. Sarah had given Elliot one of Martin’s letter books, but Elliot was too checked out to recite his alphabets. Martin decided that as Brianne’s nephew, Brianne ought to have been the one showering Elliot with attention. Martin walked over to them and held his arms out. “Hugga Bubba.”
“Not now, Bubba.”
Martin stomped his foot and marched back to Gavin. Daniel Tiger told them to find their own way to say “I love you.” Sarah paraphrased “hagga magga” into “hugga bubba,” and she and Martin used it to declare snuggle-time. This was the first time she had ever turned down hugging her Bubba. Martin dropped his bum next to Gavin. It seemed like Elliot was the new kid in the playpen and Martin was yesterday’s jam. Yes, like yesterday’s jam. Martin looked at his little friend and wondered what he thought of Martin when he joined their family. Martin wondered if Gavin could even think about anything.
Gavin was starting to seriously reconsider his and his sister’s compatibility as housemates. She had annoying quirks that Gavin tolerated for the most part. Brianne would cringe when he ate his own boogers, and then she’d get mad when he put it on the wall or furniture. She would say a bunch of words that didn’t mean anything, but Gavin knew the dynamic had changed. He was the baby and it was Brianne’s responsibility to clean up his boogers. He was doing them both a favour by leaving his snot on Brianne’s laptop. His airway was clear and Brianne could deal with them at her earliest convenience. It was hard to see why she was mad.
It was nice having Martin and Sarah around. They kept things fresh. Martin was nice, but like many Adults who hadn’t yet reached full size, Martin’s idea of play was more perpendicular than parallel. Just the day prior, Martin invited Sarah into the nursery for a tea party, without asking Gavin if he was ready to receive any guests. When an Adult pours him a cup of tea, he expects at least some kind of refreshment. Anything other than air would have been acceptable. Gavin saw himself as a very progressive toddler. He didn’t consider himself age-ist. He had no problem with Adults playing make-believe, but toddlers live in the real world. The scariest thing about Martin’s tea party was that Gavin knew he would soon be playing make-believe. He was closer to two than one, and it wouldn’t be long before he drifted into the senility of childhood.
Our hero endured it all with stoicism and an average of only four tantrums per day. The real issue Gavin was having with his family was camping. He remembered it from when he was an adult, and it isn’t fun when you don’t live in the land of make-believe. For those that don’t know, camping is when adults pretend to be homeless for a night. Gavin didn’t have such a need for novelty. Give him some animal crackers and a warm lap and he’s happy to watch the world go by. Gavin knew people who were homeless. Hell, he was even homeless at one time. This whole weekend was going to be an obscene glorification of The Struggle.
Playing houseless did have it’s advantages though. After Brianne and Tiana built the tents, Sarah and Martin had built a fire. When Brianne wasn’t looking, Gavin took the chastity tape from the diaper bag and threw it into the inferno. Once Brianne changed this diaper, there would be nothing to stop him from playing with his penis like there was no tomorrow.
Once the kids were cleaned off and the tents were built, it was time for dinner. Campfire-roasted wieners and s’mores were on the menu. Sarah and Brianne dressed Elliot and then helped their respective sons dress.
Brianne was walking back from the car with the cooler when she saw her son holding the roll of duct tape. Gavin toddled to the fire pit. “Sarah, can you get Gavin away from the fire.” Before Sarah stood up, Gavin tossed the tape into the campfire. “Gavin!”
“Uh oh” Martin declared.
Gavin stepped back from the fire and giggled at the stinky smoke rising from the pit. Brianne walked up to the fire and watched the duct tape melting into the ash. “You little bugger!” Brianne put the cooler down. “Well what’s done is done.”
Sarah nodded. “Guess our valuables are staying in the car.”
Gavin spent the rest of dinner leashed to Brianne’s hip. Elliot was dozing off when he finished his first wiener. His speech was slurred but returning. If he got any sleepier, his mind was too juvenile to stay sitting upright, so Brianne took him to his tent for a nap.
After the little ones were full of hot dogs and sugar, Sarah took Martin to the bushes to toilet, and then carried him into their tent. She helped him out of his street clothes, and he lied down on his sleeping bag while she chose a pair of pyjamas for him. She saw him pressing his hands on his training pants, looking over the outer layer. “You didn’t have an accident, eh?”
Martin shook his head. “Just Tsecking. My Thomas pants don’t have fading pictsures.”
Sarah nodded. “You’re doing much better these days. Getting a feel for your new body?”
“A feel? That’s an act-word.”
Sarah laughed. “Fly, Superman.” Martin lifted his arms straight up and Sarah pulled his pyjama top over him. “It’s a saying. Like when you learn something you do by feeling. Like cooking, or writing.”
“No, not stitsing.” Martin held his fingers in “okay” handshapes and pretended to sew with a needle and thread. “Stitsing.”
Sarah nodded in agreement. “Ah, of course… Stitching.”
Martin leaned back onto his pillow and held his foot up. Sarah pulled his pyjama pants over his leg. Martin put that foot down and lifted the other. “What if I need my night light?”
Sarah laughed. “I thought you might ask that. Bum up.” Martin put his feet flat on his sleeping bag and arched his back while Sarah pulled his pyjama pants over his bottom. “Bum down.” Sarah grabbed a small flashlight from the corner of the tent. “Always be prepared when you go camping.” Sarah flipped the lever and turned it around. “Winding this charges the battery, so if it doesn’t work, it might just need a charge. Okay?”
Martin took the flash light and winded it up. “Cool.”
Sarah unbundled a pair of socks. “Yeah. Do you remember how to do shadow puppets?” Martin nodded. “Do you know any good stories?”
Martin shook his head. “I don’t want a story tonight.” There was a snap and Martin sat up, pushing his feet away from Sarah’s hands. “There’s something out there.”
“It’s just the fire, Bubba.” Sarah fixed the socks to make sure they were tight on his feet.
“Oh, okay.” Sarah folded the sleeping bag over Martin while he fiddled with the flash light. Martin closed his eyes. “Thank you, Sarah.” She rubbed his chest through the sleeping bag until he fell asleep. Whenever Martin heard a noise he didn’t remember, he would look at Sarah, and when he saw she was calm, he knew there was nothing to worry about. When Martin was asleep, Sarah left the tent and sat by the fire. Brianne and Gavin turned in soon after Martin, and Tiana sat next to Sarah, roasting marshmallow’s.
“I know I shouldn’t say it out loud, but is Martin like Gavin?”
Sarah nodded. “They have their differences.”
Sarah observed Tiana for a moment and nodded. “He turned three almost four weeks ago, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“How’s he doing with that?”
Sarah looked from the fire to Tiana. “It isn’t Martin you’re worried about, is it?” Tiana looked away and pulled her marshmallow away from the flame. Sarah chuckled. “I was starting to realize just what I had done. He figured it out. Brianne said some kids do. And he was grateful of all things. I know there’s things that frustrate him now, like counting, or shoe laces. But he said he felt like the luckiest boy in the world. Gratitude was the last thing I ever expected. Such a sweetheart.” Sarah smirked when she realized she had evaded Tiana’s question. “Don’t worry about your cousin. His best years are still ahead of him.”
Tiana nodded and finished eating the Marshmallow. “Thank you. But if I don’t stop eating these now, I’ll burst.”
Sarah smiled. “Yeah. You get some sleep. Busy day tomorrow.”
Tiana went back to her tent, and saw Elliot was sitting up. She couldn’t discern much else in the tent. “Morning, sunshine.”
“Don’t tell aunty.”
Tiana sat on her sleeping bag and zipped the tent up. “Brianne’s asleep. Tell her what?”
“I think I need a new sleeping bag.”
Tiana sniffled. “Oh no. She won’t be mad.”
Elliot shook his head. “She will. She was mad at the house when I had a little dribble. She’ll freak if she sees my sleeping bag.”
“Okay, I think there’s a spare one in the car. Give me that one and I’ll put it by the fire.” Elliot nodded and scooched out of his sleeping bag. “Throw your underwear in there.”
“But I’ll be naked.”
Tiana scoffed. “It’s dark and I don’t care.”
Elliot slid out of his underwear and shoved them into the sleeping bag. Tiana rolled it up and left the tent. Sarah held the car key up as Tiana approached the fire pit. She took the key from Sarah’s hand without a word.
Tiana returned to the tent with two sleeping bags. “I think Martin has the same problem, becuase he has several more in there.”
“Please don’t do that.”
“Call me a baby.”
“I wasn’t. I don’t care. I’m just glad you went years without an accident.”
Tiana did pick a bad time to move in with Elliot’s family. They were almost twelve and he still wasn’t allowed to have any drinks an hour before bed time. They still shared a bedroom to this day. Elliot couldn’t see the sleeping bags, but he felt them with his hands. “They’re too small.”
“I know. I got two. I think you’ll have to use one as a blanket instead.”
Tiana could hear the stress in his voice. “Are you crying?”
Elliot sniffled. “No.”
Tiana hugged him and kissed him on the cheek. “Don’t cry. Accidents happen.”
“I’m not crying.”
“Good. There’s no need. Okay?” Elliot pushed away and nodded. “Good. Get some sleep.”
Being this far north meant the sun rose far earlier than Elliot or Tiana were used to, not that the sun was enough to wake anyone at their age. Brianne carried Gavin out of their tent. Sarah and Martin were sitting on the log by the firepit. Martin was eating apple slices and dipping them in peanut butter.
Sarah nodded. “Morning. Did Gavin sleep in overalls?”
Brianne nodded and handed her son to Sarah. “He burned the last roll of duct tape.”
“Gross.” Sarah took Gavin into her lap.
Brianne looked at the log across the firepit from Sarah. “Is that Elliot’s sleeping bag?” Sarah nodded and Brianne took a deep breath. “ELLIOT!”
Sarah saw the worried look on Martin’s face. “She’s just working, Bubba.”
They could hear scrambling from Elliot’s tent. He emerged shirtless, with a Paw Patrol sleeping bag wrapped around his legs. Brianne smiled. “Morning, sunshine.”
Elliot’s face went from scared to confused. “Is something wrong?”
“Why is your sleeping bag out here? Why is it damp?”
Martin raised his hand. “Why are you wearing my sleeping bag?”
Elliot laughed. “Funny story. See, after my small case of motion sickness, I woke up rather thirsty. And I grabbed a water bottle and went to the fountains. Then I fell asleep and rolled onto the bottle. And it broke open. I didn’t want to wake you so I borrowed some of Martin’s sleeping bags.”
Brianne nods. “Oh okay.” Elliot sighed when his aunt looked away. “I know what pee smells like, Elly.”
Elliot took a second to respond. “Tiana did it.”
Tiana snorted as she walked around the side of the tent holding a tray of paper coffee cups. “Nice try.”
Elliot glared at her. “Where’d you come from?”
“Why’s there only three cups?”
Sarah snorted as she took hers from Tiana. “Yeah, a diuretic is just what you need.”
Elliot had almost forgotten he was camping with Doctor Basset. “Well, either way, I’m not taking the fall for your little accident.” Elliot took a sidestep to show Tiana’s sleeping bag. “My sleeping bag is dry as a bone.”
Tiana nodded. “Except for your period blood, of course?”
Elliot looked in the tent. Tiana’s sleeping bag was closed, so he couldn’t see the fabric. He grimaced at his cousin.
Sarah chuckled. “Accident or period, he’ll need some padding tonight.”
Brianne laughed at Elliot’s petrified face. “Relax, Ellie. Accidents happen. But if we need to go get you bedtime pants, please let me know now. Go get some clothes and have a shower.” Elliot nodded and ran to the car, still holding Martin’s sleeping bag over his bottom.
Martin looked up at Sarah. “What if I have an accident? D-that sleeping bag is all gross now.”
“You have your Thomas Training pants.”
Brianne squinted. “Pun intended?”
Martin grimaced at Brianne. “Hello, we’re having a conversasin.”
Sarah tapped Martin on the head. “Martin, don’t be rude.” Martin took a deep breath in and let out a burp. “Martin!” Martin glared at Sarah. “Do you want a timeout?”
Martin’s scorn turned to fear in half a second. “Ess-cuse me, Brianne. I’m burpy.”
Brianne smiled. “It happens, Bubba.”
Elliot realized how off he was feeling when he heard Dora the Explorer playing in the far back seat of the van. He could almost remember being immersed in the show on the way to the campsite, but that would have been impossible. He was too big to even stand hearing her voice, and yet he spent the entire drive down the mountain deliberating if he would seem silly if he asked his aunt if he could sit back there.
His clothes seemed to have expanded overnight. His shorts hung on his hip a little bit lower than usual and his shirt hung a little lower. It wasn’t a problem in the car, but he would look silly once they got out. If he didn’t know any better, he would think Brianne was “nannying” him, but she only does that sort of thing for work. The more likely explanation would be heatstroke, or allergies, or something he ate. Probably that finger chili. Who knew what sort of diseases the previous owner of that finger had.
It didn’t seem like a good camping trip if they had to go back into town just to have breakfast. Though Martin was a picky eater and he insisted that hotdogs aren’t breakfast food. All the ladies didn’t feel like hotdogs either.
Tiana decided to have a smoke. She asked Brianne if she could ask her for some advice. Brianne stayed outside while Sarah took the boys in. “What’s up?”
Tiana rubbed her arm. “Is it too late to call this off?”
Brianne looked around the parking lot. “Maybe. Why?”
Tiana shrugged. “I don’t know. He’s only seventeen, but it’s already weird looking at him.”
Brianne folded her arms. “And what happens when he comes to? What happens when he sees his reflection? You don’t think he’ll find looking at himself weird? He knows what I do. So do you.” Brianne shook her head. “I know it sucks, but his parents already paid for it. I’d rather handle it myself than someone else.”
Tiana shook her head. “Fine.”
Brianne stepped close. “I’m not happy about it, either. My sister will answer for it. I promise.”
“What do you have in mind?”
“Let’s just say I get a steep discount, and leave it at that, okay?”
Tiana nodded and Brianne went inside. She finished her cigarette, and decided some half-baked revenge promise wasn’t enough from her aunt. What would be enough escaped her.
Elliot sat on the deep end of the booth, with Martin between him and Sarah. The same waitress who tried to feed him a finger had paper placemats and a cup of wax crayons. Sarah asked for one extra to the two for Martin and Gavin. “No reception.”
Lauren nodded. “Ah, yes. He seemed quite restless yesterday. Colouring’s much better than a phone, anyways. Don’t you think?”
Her sugary tone was grating on Elliot’s nerves. What was it about him that made women think they should talk to him like a child? He could speak up, but the mat was already in front of him, and the black lines over the white background beckoned to be filled in. The lack of colour seemed to be just what his fingers needed to stop fidgeting. As soon as Lauren left, he grabbed the crayons from the cup and began colouring.
Martin grunted. “Hey, manners!”
Elliot scowled at Martin. “Fuck off.”
This earned Elliot a smack upside the head. “Eh! Watch your language in front of my son, you brat!” Sarah put the crayon cup upright beside the crayons on Elliot’s colouring mat. “Do you see what’s wrong with this picture?” Elliot didn’t know the answer, but he knew it wasn’t that the picture wasn’t coloured. “Bubba, do you know what’s wrong with this picture?”
Martin didn’t want to be complicit in making Elliot feel small, but he was plenty happy to educate an ignorant grown-up on proper crayon etiquette. Martin leaned onto the table and put the green crayon into the cup. He stared at Elliot, waiting for it to click. He put the red crayon into the cup, and then the blue. Once the yellow crayon was all that was left on Elliot’s mat, Martin moved the cup back in the middle of the table.
Sarah nodded at Elliot. “Now do you see?”
The one crayon at a time rule came back to Elliot. “This isn’t a daycare.”
Sarah nodded. “You’re right. A daycare just might help you remember your manners. What do you say to Martin?”
Elliot wanted so bad to protest Sarah’s patronization, but he knew she was right, and he was wrong. “Sorry.”
Elliot sighed. “Sorry, for being a crayon hog.”
Brianne and Tiana sat down. Brianne sighed. “Ah, the one crayon rule. That takes me back. We’ll have to teach Martin about that so Gavin doesn’t get any bad habits.”
Martin shook his head as he grabbed the green crayon from the cup. “I’m a crayon hog never.”
The way Martin held his head up while talking irked Elliot. Martin was staring down his nose at his colouring, but speaking to Elliot. He sure was smug for a boy still potty training.
Lauren came back with three chocolate milks and a coffee. Tiana saw two glasses had blue straws, and the third, that Lauren placed in front of Elliot had a green straw. She wanted to say something before he drank any, but Elliot did not give her a whole second before his mouth latched onto the straw. He didn’t even lift the glass up. One hand was colouring, the other held the paper in place. His neck worked, his eyes worked, why not multi-task? Tiana sighed. Speaking up with Brianne between her and the aisle would likely earn her a colouring mat of her own.
Lauren asked if Tiana or Brianne wanted a drink. Brianne ordered a coffee. Tiana shook her head. “I’m not thirsty, thank you.”
Elliot had to stop colouring when the food came. He could tell he needed a break anyways. His line-observance had been getting sloppy. His mouth-observance had been getting sloppy too. A good half of his omelette was ending up in his lap and even inside his shirt. He gave up on making a fool of himself. He would feign being full and take the food to go, and he could use all the crayons while Martin and Gavin ate. His stomach was getting cramp again anyways, but he wasn’t going to have Sarah give him another lecture. He let out a fart, and everyone gasped.
Brianne covered her mouth. “Ellie! What do you say?”
Elliot continued colouring. “Excuse me.” Elliot jumped when he felt something poking down the waist of his shorts. He looked at Sarah, who pulled her hand away. “What are you doing?”
“It sounded pretty wet? You don’t want to go check your bum?”
Elliot scowled and continued colouring. Martin plugged his nose and looked at Sarah. “Ew. He’s stinky.”
“Eat your food, Bubba.”
Elliot had another, stronger cramp. Brianne saw Elliot wincing and he let out another fart. “I remember that face.”
Tiana coughed. Brianne waved her hand in front of her face. Sarah shook her head. “Seriously, I don’t mind standing up.”
“Sorry. I guess gas cwamps aren’t an emerdency.”
Tiana looked up from her food. Elliot’s eyes were on his colouring mat. He hadn’t even noticed his problem with his R or J sounds. Then she saw him wince again, and it was taking him longer to fart. “Ellie, don’t do it.”
Elliot didn’t listen. He was sick of the cramps and he was going to get rid of the gas once and for all. This fart wasn’t as loud, but it sure sounded bubbly. It even felt bubble against his back.
Elliot was leaning forward as he coloured, and Martin could see the poop oozing over the back of Elliot’s shorts. He screamed. “He pooped his pants!” He pushed at Sarah. “Move move he pooped his pants!”
Elliot looked up. All the girls were staring at him. Martin was right, and he was right to climb under the table to get away. The little boy ran out from under the table and into the aisle. Martin pointed at Elliot in desperation. “He pooped his pants! Ew!”
Sarah held her hands up at her son. “Bubba. Relax. It’s just an accident.”
“Accident?” Elliot thought to himself. “I haven’t had an accident since- well, last night.”
Lauren came over to the table. “What’s going on?”
Brianne cleared her throat. “Can you get us some napkins?”
Lauren’s eyes widened at the ooze behind Elliot. “Ew. No. I’ll take care of it.”
Brianne shook her head. “No, really. Leave it to me.”
“Out!” Lauren pointed at the door. “All of you! Out!”
Brianne pulled out her wallet. “How much do we owe you?”
Brianne pulled out a bundle of cash. She put the bills on the table and patted them. “That should cover it. Let’s go.” Brianne picked up Gavin and Tiana followed her.
Sarah stood up and Lauren stepped aside. “Come on, Ellie.”
Elliot shook his head. “Don’t make me stand up.”
Lauren glared at him. “Get out of here, Smelliot!”
After his bedtime pants were discovered at a sleepover, Smelliot had been his nickname for the rest of grade six. He hadn’t heard that name in a long time, and he didn’t want to hear it again. Martin jumped up and down on the way to the door. “Smelliot, smelliot.” Okay, but after Martin was done chanting, he didn’t want to hear that name again. Elliot kept his eyes on the ceiling, ignoring all the people choking from the smell and plugging their noses. He couldn’t ignore the people who were laughing, but he was out of the restaurant soon enough that it didn’t matter.
Then Brianne handed Gavin to Sarah, and grabbed Elliot by the arm. “You’re coming with me, Bud.”
Brianne walked him to behind the restaurant near the garbage bins. There, Brianne unrolled the hose, and told him to undress. Elliot shook his head. “Do you want to ride in the car clean? Or do you wanna walk poopy pants?”
Elliot fell to his knees and groveled. “Please, aunty!”
“Now!” Elliot stood up, kicked his shoes off and dropped his shorts. “And your shirt!” Elliot took his shirt off, and saw Brianne was right. There was poop on the back of it too. “Hold still.”
Martin heard Elliot screaming, and apologizing all the way from the van. He didn’t want to know what Brianne was doing to Elliot. Martin tugged on Sarah’s shorts. “I gotta go.”
Sarah nodded and handed Gavin to Tiana. She went to the back of the van. Martin followed Sarah and when she opened the trunk, he saw the training potty he had to sit on a few weeks before. It was much bigger, but he remembered it well. He stepped back as Sarah put it on the ground. “Go in here.”
Martin shook his head. “No, please. I’ve been good.”
Sarah shook her head. “Huh? Don’t you gotta go?”
Martin started crying. “Please, I’ll stop having accidents I pwomise. I’ll even wear unda-pants like a big boy. Please don’t make me go in there.”
Sarah looked at the potty, and then at Martin. It was the training potty he sat on the afternoon before he shrank down to age three. She kneeled down, and Martin took another step back, tripping on the curb and landing on the grass. Sarah stood up while he scrambled to his feet. “Okay, Bubba. I’m putting it away.”
“I don’t wanna be a baby.”
Sarah put the potty in the trunk and kneeled down again. “You’re not going to be a baby, Martin. Come here.”
Martin shook his head. “I wanna be big.”
Sarah nodded. “That’s good. You’re gunna get so big. Hugga Bubba.”
Martin took a few slow steps and Sarah picked him up. Sarah saw Martin staring at the potty and closed the trunk and stepped away from the van. “You’re not going to be a baby, okay?”
Martin looked into her eyes. “Pwomise?”
Sarah nodded. “Promise. Can you hold it for a few minutes? We can’t go in the restaurant.”
Martin nodded. “What if I can’t?”
Sarah brushed his bangs to the side. “Then you won’t need to feel bad at all. Because it’ll be Sarah’s fault for not bringing you a safe potty. We can even get you a new toy for trying so hard to hold it. Okay?” Martin nodded. “Can you give me a kiss?” Martin kissed Sarah’s cheek, and then she kissed his. “Atta boy.”
Sarah put Martin and Gavin back in the car. Brianne and Elliot came back. Elliot sat in between Gavin and Martin’s carseats, and put a blanket over his private parts. “Where are your close?”
Elliot sighed. “In the garbage bins.”
Martin looked to the front of the van. “Are we going back to the camp?”
Brianne started the van. “We just gotta make one stop first.”
Brianne drove to the pharmacy. Sarah and Martin were the first out, and they ran inside before the others got out of the car. Brianne got out of the car and held the side door open. “Out.”
Elliot shook his head. “I don’t have any clothes.”
“You will. Out.”
Elliot had no legs to stand on today. He pooped his pants, pure and simple. Any illusion of competence had been shattered, which meant he had to do whatever the grown-ups said, no matter how big he thought he was. His cracking voice made him feel even smaller.
Once Elliot was out of the van, Brianne went inside to retrieve Gavin. She grabbed the blanket from Elliot’s hands and threw it into the car. “You won’t be needing that.”
Elliot thought he did, but Brianne closed the door before he could speak. She held Gavin up by his bum with one hand, and she grabbed Elliot’s with her other. Tiana stood aside and sat against the wall next to the only payphone still in existence while the others went inside.
Brianne gave Elliot a twenty dollar bill. He didn’t feel like he earned a present. One of the employees saw them enter and pointed at Elliot. “Ma’am. Please put some clothes on your son.”
“My nephew! Had a little accident. A big one, actually. You can fuck right off.”
“That’s a bad word.”
Brianne glared at Elliot. He always had to declare a bad word when he heard it, but he was rethinking that habit. Brianne grabbed his hand. “Come on.”
Brianne walked her naked nephew through the store. Everyone was staring at him and everyone was mad. Elliot started to tear up. “I wanna wait in the car.” Brianne ignored him, and they turned into the diaper aisle. Brianne plucked a package off of the shelf. It was a different packaging than when he was a kid, but he recognized the logo. These were bedtime pants.
Brianne knew what he was going to say before he even said it. “I don’t want to hear it.”
The cashier’s eyes widened at the naked teenager approaching her till. Elliot looked at Brianne. “Go on.”
Elliot slouched and put the diapers on the counter. The cashier nodded. “Ah, that explains.” She shrugged and waved her hand at Elliot’s state of undress. “Gotcha.” She held up the package higher than Elliot was comfortable with, and scanned the package once she found the barcode. “Anything else?” Elliot stared at the display of lighters while he put the twenty dollars on the counter. “Just the bedtime pants then.” She handed him the change, but Brianne stepped up and took it. “Do you need a bag?”
“No thank you, we’re fine.”
Elliot looked over his shoulder, and to his relief no one was staring at him buying diapers. He sighed and was ready to get out of here. They walked past the tills, and as he stepped to the exit, he heard plastic tearing. “And where are you going?”
Elliot turned around and saw Gavin sitting on the floor, and Brianne opening the package. He shook his head. “Please not here.”
“I’m sorry. Did I say if it please your hiney? Come here.”
Elliot slouched his shoulders and threw his head back as he walked over. He started crying. “Please, aunty.”
Brianne oped up the bedtime pants. “Wah wah. Step in already.”
Elliot held onto her shoulders and as she pulled the pants up he saw everyone staring and giggling at him. Some people even had their phones out. Elliot started to wail. “Please I don’t wanna wear bedtime pants.”
Brianne didn’t bother indulging in the euphemism for his new underwear. “You wouldn’t need a diaper if you went poopoo in the potty.” This remark earned uproarious laughter from the store.
Tiana stood up to get another cigarette from her pocket. As she lit up, she noticed Elliot through the window. He was bawling as their aunt adjusted the waistband of a diaper on him. Then she saw the payphone and decided enough was enough. She pulled the phone off of the receiver and dialed 9-1-1. To her relief, it didn’t require any change for that number. “Nine one one, what is your emergency.”
That was an odd question. Operators only answered like that on television. Maybe that was how they answered in the states, but in Canada they always asked “Fire, ambulance or police?”
Then she saw a man walk by, holding a crying little boy by the hand. The boy’s shirt looked like it it belonged to the man, and the hem was almost dragging on the ground. Then she heard the man say “you wouldn’t be a baby if you went peepee in the potty. That’s where big boys go.”
“Ma’am?” Then she knew something was wrong. She hadn’t spoken, but the man knew she was a woman.
Then she saw the small camera in the top corner of the booth. “Shit.”
Brianne patted Elliot’s diapered bottom. “Why are you crying? You’re so cute in your diaper. I just wanna gobble you up.” Elliot giggled, and when he caught himself he cried even more. Brianne’s pager went off, and she glanced at Gavin to make sure he was still close. She looked at the message on her pager’s display.
“10 o-clock payphone contain tertiary threat”
Brianne looked to her left and saw Tiana in the payphone booth. Tiana looked through the window and made eye contact with her aunt.
As they waited in line for the cashier, Sarah saw Martin digging his fingers into the backside of his pullup. Because of his emergency, they ran to the bathroom before Sarah grabbed his flushable wipes. The padding was too thick to itch his bum. Sarah pulled his hand away. “Stop itching, we’ll wipe off in the car.”
Martin pouted. “I hate potty paper.”
Sarah nodded. “Me too.”
As promised, she let him pick any toy from the shelves. Sarah had forgotten that this town was run by nannies and many stores had anything you would need to get someone into one little space or another. This pharmacy had several toy aisles adjacent to the diaper aisle. Martin decided he was still old enough to drive, and picked out an electric plastic car that he himself could fit in. This toy ran at a little over a hundred dollars.
Sarah heard about small children being asked to wait in front of a piece of candy for a few minutes, and if it was still there, they could have two. Sarah decided to put Martin’s gratification delay to the test. “Martin, I don’t have enough money for that. Would you like to buy a smaller toy?”
Martin looked at the car and pouted. “But you promised I could pick any.”
Sarah nodded. “Well, if you don’t want a toy now, we can come back in a few weeks for a new one.”
Martin pressed his lips together. “Hmm.” Then he smiled. “Okay!”
Sarah smiled. “Great.” Martin walked passed her, and Sarah’s smile disappeared. “What? Bubba, where are you going?”
Martin turned around and sneered at her. “Aren’t we done here?”
So, Sarah had to try another strategy to avoid buying the truck: buy a small toy now and hope he forgets. Martin didn’t see anything wrong with her counter proposal, or that it was even a counter proposal. He settled for a bath and pool toy of Bucky, Jake the pirate’s ship, for now and a giant kid-sized truck next week. She had a feeling Martin would remember. From what she remembered of her childhood, if you make a promise to a child, you better believe they’ll hold you to it.
Elliot had been causing a scene over having to wear bedtime pants. Sarah could tell from the other end of the cashiers that he was far younger in his head than in his body, and he looked even younger when he was lying on the floor hunched over his knees. He had fallen into a full-blown tantrum, but there wasn’t a single person here who would hear his pleas. Anywhere else, Brianne would undergo an arrest for child abuse. In this town, he was just another kid acting out both his past and future.
Gavin sat on the floor, sitting close to Brianne’s feet, watching for someone to walk by. Gavin saw Sarah and Martin and waved. “Hi!”
Brianne was holding her pager with a stunned look on her face. Sarah and Martin approached. “Something wrong?”
Sarah followed Brianne’s gaze out the window and saw Tiana in the phone booth. Brianne put her pager in her pocket without breaking eye contact. “Sarah, can you please take the boys to the van?”
“What’s going on?”
Brianne saw Tiana putting the phone on the receiver, holding eye contact with her aunt. Brianne shook her head. “Don’t do it, Tea.” Brianne took a step forward and Tiana fled, running along the store until she was past the windows, and out of sight. Brianne stopped walking and huffed. “Damn it, Tea.”
Sarah shrugged. “Are we going after her?”
“She won’t get far.” Brianne shook her head and picked Gavin off the floor. “Come on, Gaga. Let’s go home.”
Martin tugged at Sarah’s shorts. “Are we in trouble?”
Sarah shook her head. “I don’t know, Bubba.”
Brianne lifted Elliot by his arm. “You wanna get out of here?”
Elliot nodded and sniffled. “Uh-huh.”
After a few minutes splashing in the river, Elliot had a hard time remembering what he was worrying about on the drive back to the campgrounds, or even on the walk to the river. None of the other campers here would be able to tell the difference between his bedtime pants and regular underpants. They looked much thinner than they would on a child. These one’s weren’t all white like the ones he wore as a kid. These ones were blue just like underwear, and the blue and white camouflage print over the padding actually looked cooler than regular underwear. Just as his fears went away, Brianne called him back to the towels.
“It’s too warm. We can’t have you getting thirsty.” Brianne was so smart. He was so wrapped up in splashing around that he would keep playing until he shriveled up like a raisin, which is pretty hard to do in a river. He sat down to drink his juice while Brianne put sunscreen on him.
“Will it keep me from turning into a raisin?”
“Like if you stay in the bath too long, you turn into a raisin.”
Brianne laughed. “No, Ellie. You can’t turn into a raisin in a river.”
“Because.” Brianne shrugged. “There’s no soap in the river.”
“Soap turns you into a raisin?”
Brianne glanced at Sarah, who was sitting with the boys in the water. Sarah was a much better conversationalist than boys with the mind of a five year old, but she was busy supervising their kids. Although, talking with Elliot made Brianne feel more nostalgic than the rest of her charges. “Yes, Ellie. Soap turns you into a raisin.”
“Why do we use it then?”
“Because it turns germs into raisins.”
“Because soap turns germs into raisins faster than it turns you into a raisin.”
Brianne sighed. “Because germs are teeny-tiny. Is your juice done?”
Brianne took the bottle and shook it. “Good enough for now.” She gave him a pat on the back and he stood up and ran to the water.
Sarah saw him flailing his arms and held up her hands. “Whoa, Ellie, be careful.”
Elliot veered away from the little ones and tumbled into the water. Sarah’s earlier rule about not letting him play with the little ones was still in place. They didn’t want him to hurt them because he’s so big. Elliot looked to the other side of the river, and decided he wanted to swim to it. The only thing stopping him was the dread of swimming where the water was deeper than he stood. He looked back to his aunt. “I don’t have my floaties.”
Brianne chuckled. “Ellie, why do you need floaties? Aren’t you a big boy?”
She was right. Martin and Gavin both had floaties on their arms, but they were really little. Elliot wasn’t sure if he needed floaties. He was sure he did until Brianne reminded him he was big now. The timeline was hard to reconcile. Devoting so much brain power to the confusion made him feel dizzy. Brianne walked up to him, but she didn’t seem worried. She actually looked quite happy. “What’s on your mind, Ellie?”
Elliot pointed across the river. “The side to the swim.”
“You wanna swim to the other side?”
Elliot nodded. “Yeah.”
“You don’t need floaties for that.”
Elliot shook his head. If he didn’t have floaties, he’d sink to the bottom and have to go to a school of fish. “Yeah.”
“You’re just a fraidy-cat, eh?” Elliot shook his head. “How old are you?”
Elliot held up all ten fingers, but he didn’t have enough to show how many. Didn’t that mean he could just say the number? Shouldn’t a this-many year old man be able to say it? It was all to confusing, and he had to sit down. Whenever his kindergarten teacher wanted them to pay attention, she would tell them to sit down. It took him over a decade to realize she did it because standing took so much attention. He sat down in the water, and Aunt Sarah declared “Bonk!” It was certainly a bonk to sit his bum down right on a rock, but his soppy bedtime pants sure cushioned the blow.
Brianne laughed at him, sitting with the river right up to his shoulders. “What are you sitting there for?”
Elliot splashed his arms on the surface. “Kiss koss, appa-sauce.”
It sounded like a question, but Elliot knew she was really asking if he could do it. and he crossed his legs under the water and smiled at his aunt. “What’s with the cheeky smile?”
Brianne had her snorkel handy. She figured Elliot wouldn’t be able to walk for long, and was liable to drown himself. She gave him her snorkel. “Bite down.” Elliot bit the snorkel. “Okay, can you scuba back to the shore?”
Elliot closed his eyes, and started crawling on the riverbed with his head under the water. Brianne walked backwards, holding the snorkel above the water. Elliot was sad the water was getting lower. It wasn’t as fun snorkeling in the shallow end but he crawled lower and lower so he could keep snorkeling.
Finally he was at the edge, and there was no room for his head to keep snorkeling. He spat it out, and Brianne kept walking backwards, coaxing him to follow her. She reminded him of a mommy coaxing a baby to crawl, and thought she was being silly. He stood up and waddled after her. “Why are you walking like that?”
Elliot looked down at the bedtime pants. They had inflated in the river. “My pants are super dooper wet.”
“I know. Did you uh-oh?”
Elliot giggled at Brianne being so silly, and pointed at the river. “No, it’s all de water in dere.”
“Oh, that’s good.”
Elliot looked down at the soppy pullup. He bobbed his hips back and forth, making the absorbent padding swing back and forth. Brianne laughed. “I remember that dance. Is that your change-me dance?”
Elliot laughed. He barely remembered doing his change-me dance. He remembered Mommy and Daddy saying that from time to time, but he had all but disregarded those memories. Brianne giggled at Elliot pondering the remark, still swinging his diaper sag back and forth between his legs. “Okay, we’ll change your pants.”
Elliot was glad she was calling them pants again, instead of the D-word. He was also glad that she brought extra bedtime pants to the river, especially because these ones had gotten so big in the water, that they were about to fall off. He wasn’t happy about the package she was opening. He already bought his own at the store, but she was opening a second package, and except for the blue helicopter and the camouflage sky on them, these were all white.
He wanted to protest, but his soppy pants already fell to his ankles, and he’d rather pants that only sort of looked like the D-word than walk back to the tent naked. “Step in, handsome.”
Elliot held onto Brianne’s shoulders while she pulled his new pants up. Martin and Gavin had grown a lot more in the river, and Sarah was already packing up their towels. “How come Gavin and Martin don’t have to change?”
Brianne laughed. “Those are swim-diapers, silly. Silly babies don’t mind walking around in wet diapers. Not you, eh?”
Elliot nodded. “Yeah.”
Martin grunted, and pulled on Sarah’s bathing suit. “Can you take my Dora pants off?”
Sarah put her hand on Martin’s head. “We’ll change at the tents.”
Elliot had gotten littler. He was still a big kid, but he sure wasn’t acting like one. He couldn’t have hotdogs because they were choking hazards, and Brianne said he wouldn’t remember to chew, so Elliot had a cup of Gavin’s ravioli. Elliot was eating with his hands while Sarah and Brianne kept teasing him. They were being really mean, but he smiled at their bullying. They said things like “do you need a bib?” or “do you need help? are you a baby?”
Elliot was disgusting Martin. Martin couldn’t understand how Elliot couldn’t see they were making him act like a baby, but what made him angrier was Sarah paying so much attention to him. Instead of squirting ketchup on his hotdog, she squirted it into his hand. “Sarah, look.” When Sarah looked at him, he wiped his hand on his face and laughed.
Sarah didn’t find it funny. “Martin, don’t be gross.” She handed him a baby wipe, as if he was supposed to clean himself off, even though Elliot was the big kid. Martin realized he was wrong. Elliot had been drinking the special medicine, and since Gavin was already a baby, Martin was actually the big kid now.
Martin was waiting to finish eating before having Sarah take him to the bathroom, but being three years old made it a lot easier to play pretend. Martin closed his eyes and pretended the log he was sitting on was a potty, and filled his training pants with pee. Sarah didn’t notice his training pants swell, which suited him. She was busy teasing Elliot and he still had half a hotdog left.
After he finished his hotdog, Martin hopped off the log and grabbed one of Gavin’s diapers from Brianne’s bag. Brianne broke off from her conversation with Sarah. “Martin, what are you doing?”
Martin walked up to Sarah and handed her the diaper. Sarah took the diaper in her hand. “Thank you?” Martin had his hands in a fist and crossed his forearms in an X. He turned his hands until they were facing the other way up. Sarah shrugged. “What?”
Brianne had been teaching Gavin a few signs from ASL, and knew Martin had picked up some vocabulary. “He wants a change.”
Sarah wasn’t sure what to think. She thought he would find training pants and being three would have been enough for him, and he wouldn’t want to be a baby anymore. “Martin, you’re not a baby. Clean yourself off, already.”
Martin stomped his foot and threw the baby wipe in the fire. “Well he’s not your baby!”
Martin was storming off when Sarah yelled. “Hey! Get back here mister!”
“Do you want a time-out?”
“I was going for a time-out! It was uh. A self-impose time-out!” Sarah glared at him and curled her finger for him to come back. Martin sighed and walked back to the firepit, but instead of going to Sarah, he went to Brianne, and climbed onto the log on the opposite side of Brianne.
Brianne glared at him. “Don’t look at me. I’d give you worse than a time-out.”
Martin hugged one arm around Brianne’s and mumbled. “Please tell her Ellie’s your nephew, not hers.” Martin noticed Sarah looking at him, and he leaned back so that Brianne was in between him and her.
Brianne shook her head. “That’s no reason to be a brat, Martin.”
Martin huffed. “But she only wanted me because she wanted a baby, but now Ellie’s the baby.”
Brianne glanced at Elliot, who was thankfully oblivious to English. Elliot poked at the front of his bedtime pants. “Pee pee.”
“Martin, what did I tell you?”
“He’s hogging Sarah. He’s badder than a crayon hog.”
Sarah spoke up. “Bubba, come over here.”
Sarah’s voice was gentle, but he still wanted Brianne to scold her. “He’s not her nephew.”
“Go see your mommy.”
Martin sneered and hopped off the log. He felt stupid for thinking Brianne could ever be nice to him. “She’s not my mommy.” Brianne saw Sarah frowning when Martin walked back up to her. “What?”
Sarah shook her head. “Elliot’s not replacing you, Bubba.”
Sarah sighed. “He’s going back to his mommy and daddy when he’s done.”
“Guys, can you take it out of earshot.”
Martin stomped his foot. “Wih having a convisay-sin here.”
Sarah stood up. “Okay, enough, Bubba. Let’s go get you cleaned up.” Martin shook his head and pouted. “Bubba, you’re not in trouble. Let’s go talk. We’ll leave Brianne with the babies. How’s that sound?” Martin glanced at Brianne and nodded at Sarah.
Brianne looked at Elliot while Sarah and Martin left. Elliot was sitting on the ground, covered in tomato sauce, staring at Brianne. “He usually behaves, I promise.”
Brianne’s pager beeped and she pulled it out of her pocket. “Situation persists. Return home. Await inst.”
Brianne sighed and folded her arms. “Damn it, Tea.”
Sarah took Martin to the river to sit down away from the other campers. She suspected everyone else here was in the know, and she suspected someone was listening. Martin sat next to the water, drawing shapes out of ripples with a stick. The task gave Martin something to focus on and calmed him down. “Why are you so cranky, Bubba?”
“I don’t wanda sare you.”
Sarah smirked. “Haven’t we talked about sharing? You’re so good at sharing. You even showed Elliot how to do it.”
“You’re not a crayon.” Martin looked up from the water and shook his head. “I know it’s yo dzob now. I dzust wiss I wasin’ so dzealous.”
Sarah leaned in so her face was next to his. “My job is to take care of you, Bubba.”
Martin smiled but shook his head. “No, it is.”
Sarah sighed. “Maybe we can use a sign.”
“Like Gavin? For what?”
“Sure. How about when I’m busy giving cuddles to charges, you make a sign for when your jealous, and when I’m done with them, I’ll give you all the cuddles I have. I know you’re a very patient boy.” Sarah rolled her eyes. “You’ll have a toy truck to show for it. Will that work for you?”
Martin stared at the water to ponder her proposition. “What’s a sign fo’ dzealous?”
Sarah shrugged. “Don’t know. We can make one up, though.”
Martin winced. “Is that allowed?”
“Of course. Brianne doesn’t know ASL, but she still uses signs with Gavin.” Sarah looked up at the sky for a moment. “We can use the sign for love.” Sarah held her forearms over her chest in an X. “When you do this sign, all you have to do is wait patiently, and we’ll cuddle or whatever once I’m done with the charge, okay?”
Martin smiled and nodded. “I like that.”
“Me too.” Sarah rubbed the back of his head, and he leaned into her side. “Bubba, why did you get mad at Brianne for calling me your mommy?”
Martin rolled his eyes. “Ugh. See always does’at. I twy to tell her no but see never listens me anyways.” Martin slapped the water with the stick and watched the ripples. “See thinks you gotta be my mommy to take care of me. I know you’re like a mommy, but dzust.” Martin shrugged.
“But I’m not your mommy.” Sarah rubbed Martin’s scalp, in a way to keep him facing down while she kept herself from tearing up. Martin kept playing with the water, and just thought she was rubbing his head. “Do you miss your mommy?”
Martin shook his head. “No. I kinda do. But I got you now. I dzast don’t want to forget her, it’s all.”
“You don’t want to see her?”
“No. I said you I don’t want to scare her. See might dzust think we were mean and trying to twick her.”
One other question burned at Sarah, but she decided not to ask it. She had only had Martin for three weeks, but she could already tell things that were obvious to an adult could easily be lost to him. Asking him if he worried his mommy missed him might just upset him. Martin was indeed thoughtful as a child, but there was no way he could think of absolutely everything. “Will you ever like Brianne?”
Martin shook his head. “See’s the meanest person on the planet.”
Sarah chuckled. “Who, Brianne? Why do you say that?”
“See is. See’s mean to Ellie. See got Tiana in twouble. See’s always so bossy me.”
“Martin, she has to be bossy when I’m not around.”
Martin shook his head with a stern look. “No. You’re the boss. Not her.” Sarah chuckled, and Martin pouted. “Don’t laugh.”
“I’m not laughing at you. I’m laughing at how silly I’ve been. I know you don’t like her, I’m sorry you have to stay with her while I’m at work. But can you try to be friends with her? I bet you’re really good at making friends. And she does care about you, eh?”
Martin shrugged. “I don’t think so.”
“Guys.” Martin and Sarah looked at Brianne standing behind them. She had Gavin in one hand and held Elliot’s hand by the other. Elliot had a pacifier in his mouth, which meant he had been sucking his thumb. Martin hated Brianne for that. He always sucked his thumb, and Brianne said he needed a pacifier for that. Martin didn’t care how gross Brianne thought his finger was, a pacifier surely tasted grosser.
“I packed up the tents. We have to go home.”
Martin frowned. “Alweady?”
Brianne nodded. “It’s a bit of an emergency.”
Sarah sighed and saw Martin frowning, and she knew he blamed Brianne for the end of their camping trip. “We’ll come back next weekend, when you don’t have your silly cousins to spoil the fun. Okay?”
Martin nodded. “Yeah.”
After he shrank down to age five, Elliot’s mind was taking a long time to return from babyhood. His booster seat was too big to fit in between Gavin and Martin’s carseats, so he had to sit in the middle row of the van. Just as he did when he was a baby, soon after Elliot’s mind had passed his first birthday, he spat his pacifier out, sending it to the floor of the van.
He couldn’t see the TV screen, but he could hear Mickey Mouse and his friends talking to Gavin and Martin. “Kindaw! Kindaggy! Sawgy zah!” Elliot had only seen Mickey Mouse’s Club House as an adult. Even thinking about Mickey in three dimensions gave him the willies. Mickey talking in silly sounding non-sequi… non-sec… Ahem. Non-words made him sound a lot less intimidating. “Babo nubu obuda?” Elliot heard Mickey say.
“Gwivwav wombio, hamboonjy,” replied Minnie Mouse.
Brianne heard Elliot burst into giggles and looked in her rear view mirror. “Ellie? Eevooga yabva leego?”
Elliot laughed at his aunty’s Mickey Mouse impression. In between giggles, Elliot said “Mickey talks so silly.”
Sarah looked at Brianne in confusion. “Lufu wam leevoo?”
Brianne shook her head. “Neeb. Ellie blanda garb.”
The car ride ended at Brianne’s house. Sarah took the babies in and Brianne helped Elliot out of the car. Martin and Gavin had two beds in their nursery. Gavin had another crib and Martin had another bed. Elliot knew the crib was for naughty people that his aunty turned into babies, but she kept the second bed just for him because she loved having him over. She even had a short railing up so he wouldn’t fall out. Aunty Brianne had his old teddy bear. She bought it for him when he was just born, so it was smaller than he remembered it, but it was just as cozy in his arms. “Any thing I can get you, Ellie?”
“How come you don’t talk like Mickey?”
Elliot saw the confusion on his aunty’s face, and realized maybe he was just being a baby because of his accidents. He shook his head. “Nothing.”
Brianne nodded. “Okay, Honey.”
“I wanna go home.”
Brianne shook her head while she pulled Elliot’s jean shorts off. “It’s too late for that, Ellie. It’ll be way passed your bedtime before I can get you home.”
“I can sleep in the car.”
Brianne laughed. “I can’t. It would be way past my bedtime too.” Brianne shook her head as she pulled on his shoulder, coaxing him to sit up. “How big is Ellie?” Elliot raised his arms and Brianne pulled his shirt off. “So big!”
“But I want to go home.” Then Brianne put her fingers down his bedtime pants. “What do you do that for?”
“Just making sure you’re dry. You don’t want to wake up with diaper rash, do you?”
Elliot shook his head. “No.” Elliot felt silly and thought it might not be so bad that his aunty treats him like a baby sometimes. He hadn’t warn bedtime pants in so long, he had forgotten he can get rash if he doesn’t change.
Brianne flapped at the pyjama top, and it had his favourite theme: rocket ships! “How big is Ellie?” Elliot through his arms up high, eager to get the pyjamas on him. Brianne pulled the top over, and pulled at the hem until his head popped through. “So big!”
“I want my mommy.”
Brianne nodded. “I know. You’re mommy is so nice. How about I call her, and she can come get you tomorrow?”
“Yeah. You don’t have to stay all week.”
“Oh.” Elliot wanted so bad for his mommy to tuck him in, he had forgotten about any other night he would go to bed without her. “Okay.” Elliot lied down and Brianne got his pyjama bottoms ready. “No pants.”
“No pants? Since when do you sleep naked?”
“Too warm. I got my bedtime pants.”
Brianne nodded as she pulled the covers over him. “Oh okay, well as long as we don’t have any of the goods out.”
“How come my bedtime’s before Martin and Gavin?”
Brianne smiled. “Ah yes.” She glanced at the door and then whispered to Elliot. “They’re fussy babies, and it takes them a while to fall asleep.”
“Can I stay up?”
Brianne grabbed a bottle and unscrewed the lid. Brianne looked sad, almost disgusted with him. “Really? You don’t want to sleep? I didn’t think you were a fussy baby.”
Elliot shook his head. “I’m not.”
Brianne pulled the lid out, which had a squeezer of medicine. “Really? You’re not a fussy baby?”
“No.” Elliot propped his mouth open.
Brianne squeezed the medicine and patted his chest through the sheet. “That’s good to hear. Would a story help?”
Elliot swished the fruity medicine around in his mouth and shook his head. “No, I got Teddy to snuggle.”
“Okay.” Brianne stood up and kneeled over him. “Good night, Honey Bunny.”
Elliot giggled at the squishy sound of the kiss on his cheek. “Good night, Aunty.”
Once Elliot was tucked in, Brianne went back to the living room to see a disturbing sight. A dragon flying over men in armour, setting the army ablaze. She recognized the face of Jamie Lannister and glared at Sarah. “Are you watching Game of Thrones?”
Sarah held her finger over her mouth. “Shh.” She pointed to a box on the floor. “It’s fine. Look at them.”
Brianne chuckled. Martin and Gavin had fallen asleep sitting against a box. As cute as they looked leaning against each other’s heads, their posture would haunt them when they were older if it continued. Brianne picked Gavin up and propped Martin’s head upright. “Oh, you’ve had a busy day, haven’t you.”
Sarah noticed the glare of a flashlight on the curtain, the fourth time in the last hour. The mounties were out in full force. “Any news on Tiana?”
Brianne shook her head. “No, but I have to admit I’m impressed. Not a lot of people can stay at large for so long.”
“What’s going to happen to her?”
“It’ll be scary at first. But once she’s in custody, she won’t have much to worry about.” Brianne frowned for a short moment and then went to sit beside Sarah. “So, are you and Martin doing okay?”
Sarah nodded and moved. “Yeah, we’re good.”
Brianne sat down and pulled the throw blanket over Gavin’s back. “He seemed pretty clear that you weren’t his mommy.”
“Well, technically I’m not.”
Brianne raised an eyebrow. “Since when?”
Sarah sighed. “Since he was born. He knows I’m like his mommy now, he just doesn’t want to forget his real mommy.”
“Is he homesick?”
Sarah shook his head. “I don’t know. He seems okay though.” Sarah stared at Martin. She had yet to catch him, but she remembered all the times she pretended to be asleep as a child. “I’m going to tuck him in.”
“Oh, can it wait a while? I want to give the kid some time to sleep.”
Sarah sighed. “Sure.” Sarah grabbed the television remote and backed the episode up a few minutes. “I missed this last part.”
Sarah didn’t want to talk in front of Martin, but that was fine with Brianne. But if Martin had a problem with Sarah, Brianne wanted to act proactively.
Elliot woke up just as the sun was rising. Aunty Brianne’s house was silent. In the room adjacent the nursery, his aunt was asleep even though he was ready to start the day. Elliot walked to the edge of the bed and poked at her arm. “Bwee-Bwee.”
Brianne opened her eyes and stretched across the bed. “Morning, Ellie.”
Brianne patted the bedding. “Come on up, then.”
Elliot shook his head. He wanted to start the day, not waste time with snuggles. “Up.”
Brianne sighed. “You need help climbing still?”
Elliot stomped his foot. “Up!”
“Eh!” Elliot took a step back. “Stop being a fuss-bucket and start being patient. We can’t all be full of piss and vinegar.”
Elliot shook his head. “Piss.”
Brianne chuckled. She could have scolded him for saying a curse word, but she knew he was trying to scold her, and hearing kids curse was always funny to her. She still wanted a few more minutes of rest before she began her day, and she could smell that filling him up with milk before tucking him in had paid off. She reached her hand over the edge of the bed, and grabbed the waistband of his bedtime pants. He stepped back, but his pants pulled back on her fingers. “Ellie, why did you pee your pants?”
“Uh oh!? Did you have an uh oh?”
Elliot nodded. “Uh oh.”
“Go to the nursery and wait.”
Elliot ran off and Brianne rolled onto her side. She had a few minutes to have her eyes closed, though Elliot’s patience was far shorter than he was. Yesterday’s dose of Simplicity made any other five-year old boy look like a Buddhist monk next to him.
Brianne sighed and sat up. “Fine. I’m coming.”
Brianne followed him into the hall and Elliot stood in front of the bathroom and waited for her. He pointed through the door. “Baffoom.”
Brianne shook her head. “No, you don’t need a bath.”
Elliot shook his head. Of course he didn’t need a bath. The bath isn’t the only thing in the bathroom. “Baffoom.”
Brianne ignored his demand, and stood in front of the nursery. “Let’s go, Ellie.”
Elliot huffed and followed Brianne into the nursery. She lifted him up and sat him on Gavin’s changing table. “No. No diapuh.”
“Yeah! You don’t need a diaper now that you’re awake. We’re gunna get you some undies.”
Elliot nodded. “Undy.” He was glad his Aunt wasn’t trying to baby him now that it wasn’t bedtime. He wasn’t glad to see what her idea of underwear was. She had been hanging out with Martin and Gavin too long, and she had forgotten everything she knew about big boys. She put a pair of blue training pants on the table. “Who’s on your undies?”
Elliot shook his head. Mickey Mouse may be fun to have on your underwear, but he knew that wasn’t underwear. “No poddy pants.”
“No?” Brianne reached under the table and pulled out another pair of potty pants, but these were much different. They didn’t look soft like the training pants lying next to him. He could hear these pants rustle as she put them down on the table. These pants were all white, except for a strip of pictures. “You don’t want to go potty?”
He didn’t want to wear either of them, but he was glad to have a choice. If he negotiated some more, she might give him real underwear. “Undies.”
“Do you want underpants or diapers today?”
Elliot nodded. “Pants.”
Brianne put the diaper in his lap. “Do you want diapers?” Brianne put the training pants in his lap. “Or pants?” Elliot put his hands on the crinkly diaper. “Which one do big boys wear?” He could see Mickey, Donald, Goofy, and Minnie on the landing strip, but they weren’t themselves. No, they had all been turned into babies in this picture, which could only mean these pants were for babies. But on the soft training pants, Mickey was flying a plane. Only big boys were allowed to be pilots, but it still looked too thick to be big boy pants. Brianne picked the diaper up from her lap and unfolded the flaps from the inside. Those flaps came open so aunties can get the diapers on their Ellies. “Do you want to be a baby today?”
Elliot shook his head and held the training pants up to his aunt. “Pants.”
Brianne tossed the diaper away and clapped. “Yay! You’re so smart!” Elliot blushed. He was so smart that he didn’t know there was even a puzzle to figure out. The choice seemed rather obvious, if only in hindsight “Okay, lie on your back and we’ll get you changed.”
Changed sounded like a bad word. He knew it also applied to underwear, but the idea of lying down to change underwear felt wrong. He stared at his aunt for any hint that she saw anything wrong with changing his underwear on a changing table. He felt a little dribble inside his bedtime pants and clenched up. He pointed at the door. “Potty.”
“That’s right. You go in the potty now.”
Elliot’s aunty was ignoring him. He couldn’t go now if he wasn’t on the potty, and she was wasting precious time pulling his bedtime pants open. If she didn’t get his underwear on him soon, he wouldn’t be going potty at all. Brianne started wiping his front parts and Elliot cringed at the cold tissue. Brianne stood back and pulled his bedtime pants over him. “Uh oh! What was that? Did you forget to go potty?”
Elliot pointed at the door. “Potty!”
“Okay. Hold real still so we can get your potty pants on.”
“Potty.” Brianne was wasting time wiping him off. He could wear his underwear after he went potty. She could wipe him after he went potty. And she could definitely stop rubbing baby powder on his pee-pee now that he was a big boy.
Brianne saw Elliot’s legs trembling as he tried to hold it. The poor boy was starting to whimper as she put his legs through the cuffs of the training pants. “Why are you crying?”
“No uh oh.”
“That’s right. No more uh ohs. Lift your bum.” Elliot arched his back just enough to lift his bottom off of the table while keeping his legs straight.
Brianne pulled his underwear over his pelvis and fixed the waistband. Elliot sat up and leaned on her as he slid his bum over the edge of the table. Brianne stood back as he fell. The squat Elliot landed it was enough to initiate a stream, and Elliot ran for the bathroom. “Don’t toddle!”
The pee felt way more wet in the pants than his bedtime pants. The pee swished and the padding squished between his legs with each step. Finally, he was at the porcelain throne. He fidgeted out of his underwear, dribbling on the outer side of his pants as well as the floor. With the help of the step stool, he sat on the toilet, leaving splatter on the seat. He used his hand to point his pee-pee down. Elliot finally heard the toilet water tinkling with the last few drops left in him, and he sighed in relief.
Clapping interrupted his relief. He looked at his aunty, wondering if her applause at his pitiful toileting was sarcastic. “What a good job!” Brianne was glad to see Elliot smile. While it wasn’t unheard of, making a charge “adoption-ready” was hard to achieve at five years old. Elliot’s late and extended bedwetting made the joy of finally being rid of diapers much more accessible to him, which meant she might be able to convince him that he really was a big boy before the Simplicity wore off.
“I think you’re finally ready for these.” Brianne held up a pair of briefs, printed with Mickey Mouse, his favourite. To her relief, he squealed in such joy that she was certain he didn’t have a shred of doubt about his age. All that was left to do was get him dressed, call his mom, and clean the floors.
Kathy knew Elliot wouldn’t take things so well, so when her sister called her to pick him up, she had been preparing herself for a long talk on the way home. Instead, Brianne had given her a talk. They sat in a small room in the hospital, with only two sofas and a coffee table. Brianne sat on the adjacent sofa and explained what had happened. Brianne explained that Tiana’s regression went without a hitch, and she was in a half-way home until they found a family for her. But she also added that Elliot had his objections, and they ran out of ways to let him accept what she had to do to his cousin. Brianne took her sister to another room, and Kathy dreaded what she was about to see. The room was lit only by the room on the other side of the glass. Kathy looked into the playroom, and scanned the faces of the children until she saw the boy, a spitting image of her son. Kathy put her and over her mouth. “Oh my god, my poor baby.”
Brianne patted her shoulder. “I’m sorry it had to be like this.”
Kathy shook her head. “Is he frightened?”
“No. He’s fine now. He’s actually anxious to start kindergarten.”
Kathy sighed, keeping her hand over her mouth. “What happens now? What do I tell him?”
“You don’t tell him anything. We’ll help you with the transition, and you’ll get to see for yourself how fine he is with being a kid.”
Kathy dropped her hand and shook her head. “I should have never let her bring him. But they were inseparable. Too inseparable.”
Brianne nodded and looked at Elliot. “He blamed himself for what happened. More than you blamed Tiana.” Kathy stopped staring at Elliot to stare at Brianne, who had her eyes fixed on her nephew. “He seemed a bit too accustomed to not having to take responsibility. He actually hungered for it. That sort of desire can make refreshment difficult if you don’t know it’s there. I suppose I should thank you for making it so easy.”
“You wanted this.” Kathy could see a small smirk pass through her sister’s face. “Why?”
Brianne looked way from her nephew and to her sister. “Look on the bright side. He doesn’t have to know what you did to his cousin.”
Parking E Camera 03
Issue: Video feed lost
Remarks: Maintenance dispatched 09:36.
Kathy returned to her car with the envelope containing directions to the hotel her sister had booked for her. She put her purse down on the passenger seat and took a moment to collect herself before starting her car. She screamed when she felt something poking her neck through the headrest. In her rearview mirror, Kathy saw her niece holding a revolver.
“Not what you were expecting?”
“Where did you get that?”
“Not what I was expecting, either. I knew what would happen. I’d never seen it done before.”
Kathy closed her eyes. “So is that it? I get to die knowing my son won’t know his mother?” Kathy chuckled and shook her head. “I should have known my sister would have done this.”
“Brianne doesn’t know I’m here.”
“Yeah right. This whole town is under surveillance. How could you be here without her knowing?”
“I’m good with computers. Now if you’re done asking questions.” Kathy heard a click as Tiana pulled the hammer back. “I just want to know why you hired our aunt to turn Elliot into a baby?”
Kathy laughed. “Oh good God. She played us both. I didn’t think she’d be so enthusiastic about the job, but I was optimistic enough to believe her. I hired her to refresh you, not Elliot.”
“Excuse me? Why?”
“Because I didn’t want my niece to be the mother of my grandchild.” Kathy watched Tiana’s reaction in the mirror. “I’ve raised you ever since your parents fucked off. You think I didn’t know what you two were doing?” Kathy sighed. “Guess there are worse ways to make a baby. You might want to get comfortable back there. It’ll be a few days before I can take Elliot home.”
Tiana pressed the nozzle into her aunt’s neck. “What makes you think you’re taking him anywhere?”
“Because you want to get out of here too. And like you, I got to see for myself what it looks like. Elliot’s going to need both of us. Unless you want to try your luck with this town hearing a gunshot?”
Tiana held the hammer with her thumb and pulled the trigger, and let the hammer gently fall back into place. “Truce?”
Kathy sighed in relief. “Truce. Hold onto that thing. You just might need it.”
[B]Chapter 3: Writings on the wall
After a fourteen hour shit, she wanted nothing more than a cozy bed, but when Sarah came home, her bed looked anything but cozy, at least to her. The toy dinosaurs and toy cars meant any one of them could be waiting beneath the bed clothes to poke her. The bed was still made, but some how, Martin could find a way to lose a toy in them. Sarah felt sorry for Martin, but not enough to not take a picture of the adorable boy lying on his stomach, with his cheek pressed into the bed.
While he was regressing, Sarah and Brianne had nurtured his attachment to her, and Sarah found it worked a little too well. Martin always had trouble falling asleep if she wasn’t there to tuck him in. Though, tucking him in was neither a guarantee that he would stay in his bed. It was obvious that he crawled onto her bed to play Cars Fleeing Dinosaurs while he was waiting for her to get home.
Sarah cleared the toys off her bed, and placed them on her wardrobe. Summer had been beating down. Even with the constant wind passing through the town, it had been a few nights since even a sheet didn’t make anyone burst into a sweat. Martin was at least smart enough to turn Sarah’s fan on while he played. She wouldn’t have blamed him for taking his training pants off, even if that guaranteed he’d leave an accident on her quilt.
Sarah would have preferred to sleep in just her panties, but since Martin was certain to snuggle, she needed a t-shirt between them. Her and her brother always used shirts a few sizes extra as nightgowns, a habit she carried into adulthood. The thinnest sleeping shirt she had would keep her just cool enough as well as keep Martin’s skin glued to hers with sweat.
Martin moaned as soon her bum hit the bed and lifted his head up with one eye open. “Go back to sleep, Bubba.”
Martin crawled over to her, as she pulled the sheet up. “Where’d my toys go?”
“They’re on the dresser, you can play with them tomorrow.” Sarah held her arm out for Martin to lie down next to her.
Martin plopped down next to her and nestled in. “Do you wook again tomorrow?”
“Yeah, Graveyard shift.”
“When is 'at?”
“Night time. Very late. I’ll be home in the morning.” Sarah turned the lamp down low.
“Do you have to work?”
Sarah chuckled at the silly question. “Yes, Bubba.”
Sarah could feel Martin shaking his head against the side of her breast. “No. Brianne is wits.”
Sarah chuckled again. “Brianne is not rich, Bubba.”
“Yeah. See said dis was one of her houses. You have to be rits to own a house.”
“You have to be rich to buy a house. Owning it, well, most people are poor at that point. And they definitely have to work.”
“Brianne doesn’t work from home like she used to. Besides, I’m still in debt.”
Martin rolled over and lay his chest on Sarah’s belly to face her. “You don’ have to buy me dat twuck if you have to wook for it.”
Sarah chuckled. “I mean student loans, Bubba.”
Sarah ran her hand over Martin’s hair. The man had only been a boy for a month, but he had already mastered his pout. “What does Daniel Tiger say when grown-ups leave?”
Martin sang the strategy song he heard from Daniel Tiger’s Neighbourhood. “Gro-own ups, come back.” Martin sighed. “I sought we’d spend moe time togeder.”
That was a lie. She never said it, but she never not said it either. Sarah loved being mom, but she wanted a career all the same. If Sarah were still married, Harold could have tucked Martin in while she was working nights. Of course, she wouldn’t have been low-priority for the adoption agency, and she would have never met Martin. Sarah was a medical resident, she had a career and a son. But circumventing the adoption system had not stopped her plans from changing, and once again, something had to give.
Sarah’s breakfast consisted of a piece of toast, and the dregs of pasta left over from yet another pot of mac and cheese. “Morning, Sarah. You look like hell. Have some coffee.”
Sarah gave Brianne the stink eye. Sarah was not a morning person, no matter what time of day morning happened to be. Brianne’s chipper attitude was especially off-putting this time of day. The blunt insult was not welcome. At least Brianne had a fresh pot of coffee going. “Morning. How are the boys?”
“Ah, they’re.” Brianne shrugged. “Well, boys. Gavin’s down for a nap, and Martin is outside.”
Sarah looked out the window over the sink. The haze from the forest fires in the southern part of the province was still blanketing the sky. While the wind chill was enough to keep cool, the air quality was still on par with Los Angeles. Sarah turned around and saw Martin through the sliding glass door. Martin was in the backyard, still wearing nothing but a pair of training pants, and kicking a soccer ball at the fence. “It’s not a good day to be playing outside.”
Brianne shook her head. “Nah, it’s great. All this smoke means I don’t have to put sun screen on him every twenty minutes, which is a pain when he won’t dress.”
Sarah stirred her coffee and put the spoon in the sink. “I was thinking more about his lungs than his skin, but while he’s out there, can I ask you something?”
“You don’t work a lot of hours, as a nanny, eh?”
“Nope. Just a two or three day shift, here and there.” Brianne turns to Sarah and smirks. “Are you reconsidering my offer?”
“Well, I do owe you a bit for Martin.”
“And I told you I paid for him out of pocket, he’s yours. You don’t owe me anything.”
“Right. But I would make a lot more money for a lot less time, right?”
Brianne stopped smiling and looked Sarah over. “Time. You’re low on time.”
Sarah shrugged. “Well yeah. Two thirds of the day I’m at work, and the other third I’m taking care of the boys, or if I’m lucky, catching up on sleep.”
“But you’ve always wanted to be a doctor.”
“Dreams change.” Sarah watched Martin kicking the soccer ball at the fence. “I mean look at him. He sucks at kicking a ball. I know he’s little and clumsy. I should be out there practicing with him. Teaching him how to play pass. I should have picked a career where I’d have energy left to be a mom.”
“Well, the jobs themselves will be 'round the clock. But it won’t be as demanding as an emergency room.”
“What about the training?”
Brianne shrugged. “Well, you’ve seen me refresh a few kids. We live together. An apprenticeship sounds more practical, eh?”
It seemed a cliche for the man to hunt and the woman to forage. As much as it was one of the oldest facets of the establishment, Dakota was hungry. Even though she liked animals, they all looked the same once they were skinned and roasting over a fire. She didn’t mind watching animals die either, but Dylan was a horrible shot, and his craftsmanship when it came to bows and arrows left much to be desired. When he actually hit something, it usually suffered. On the brightside, the blackberry situation in these woods meant Dakota could take longer before she had enough to feed her and her friends. Her hands were now covered in scratches and pricks from digging through the vines. It took her a pile of shit to realize the bushes had half of their berries left were not from lazy harvesters. With so many bushes around, bears didn’t have to pick a bush clean. At least the scat didn’t look fresh. She wasn’t going to test it’s temperature with her hand, but the lack of steam rising from it meant she could slowly and calmly get the fuck out of dodge.
Dakota followed the hissing of the highway back to camp. Without any cash for a motel, and no friends nearby, the three of them pitched their tents in the woods off of the road, far enough not to be disturbed or catch the attention of anyone stopping to shit in the woods. The road was busy enough to hear from minute to minute. Once the bushes turned to dirt, she only had to follow the smell of the campfire to the patch of moss they had set up camp. When she heard Dylan screaming, she knew she was close.
Though his archery was shit, Dylan knew how to skin a rodent, at least. Rory was sitting on the ground cross-legged, sewing a patch into his jacket when he saw Dakota return. “You okay? You look like you ran here.”
Dakota shook her head. “Nah, it’s just the smoke. Makes hiking feel worse.”
Dylan came out of the trees, zipping the fly on his cargo shorts, and removing the cigarette hanging from his lips with his other hand. “You haven’t been smoking enough. Here.”
Dakota held her hand up. “I’ll smoke one you haven’t got your piss all over.”
Dylan shrugged and buckled his belt. “I was cranking off, but suit yourself.”
Rory rolled his eyes. “Well ain’t that just fucking good to know.”
“The fuck you ain’t the one huffing and puffing every night. At least I make some distance. Do the neighbourly thing.”
Dakota shook her head. “Not enough distance. You know it’s not supposed to hurt when you bust a nut, right?”
Rory and Dylan spoke in unison. “I beg to differ!”
Dakota shuttered and held her hands up in surrender. “Let’s just eat breakfast while I’m still hungry.” Dylan took what was left of the squirrels and gave each of them one on a stick.
Rory nodded at the first bite. “Mmm. What did you put on this?”
Rory spat out the meat, making Dakota laugh. “As in a spice rub, you dweeb.”
Rory sighed in relief. “Good. I’m starving.”
Dylan pointed his squirrel at Rory with a stern look. “What did you think I meant by jerk rub? What kind of animal do you take me for?”
“Baboon,” answered Rory.
“Macaque,” answered Dakota.
“Basically any animal that blows a load on it’s food before eating it.”
“Man, don’t worry about it. I’m not wasting protein on you ingrates.”
Dakota pointed her thumb over her shoulder. “Did you guys know there’s a town down there? I saw the lights threw the haze last night.”
Rory shook his head. “Stroller country.”
“It’s a fucking suburb of new parents. They got like one elementary school, one high school, and you walk past like three babies every block. How do the only have one school?”
Dakota shook her head. “You’ve been here before?”
“Passed through last year. Place gives me the creeps.”
Dylan laughed. “You don’t think it’s some cult sacrificing babies or something?”
Rory gulped his food. “I didn’t until now! I thought it was just a high infant mortality or something.”
Dakota threw the dregs of her squirrel into the fire. “At the very least we can make some art.”
Rory shook his head. “Nah. 'Nother thing I noticed is they got cameras. Everywhere.”
Dylan tossed the bones into the fire and patted his thighs. “Cool let’s go walk about.”
Dakota gave Dylan a disbelieving smirk. “Oh come on, you’re not that macabre.”
Rory swallowed his mouthful, still with half the meat left on his squirrel. “Did you not hear me? There’s fuck all there. Let’s just hitch on to the next town.”
“Suburban moms. Energy spent on breeding. How does a housewife in a small boring town keep up with the fast-paced vagina-droppings?”
That got Rory’s attention. “I never thought about it like that.”
Something had changed, but it felt like it was for the better. Up until his camping trip, Elliot hadn’t wet the bed for almost a decade. Mama took his relapse a lot better than his Aunty Brianne did. Mama was very insistent that he wouldn’t wear bedtime pants. Instead they bought some disposable sheets that would soak up accidents. However, his pyjamas were wet every night. While he and his family were staying in town, breakfast was spent in the hotel laundry room. He only had so many rocket-themed pyjamas before he had to wear train themed pyjamas, or worse: boats. The last thing he wanted to think about at bedtime was watercraft.
With air quality so low, Elliot and Daddy were hunkered down in the hotel room all week. The air conditioning made it possible to wear pyjamas, instead of having to go naked, which would likely get him in trouble, but that was all that was good with staying indoors. There was nothing to do here. The playroom on the ground floor looked like it was for babies rather than kids, and it didn’t take Elliot long to get bored of them. To work up an appetite, as well as make the time pass, Elliot resorted to playing five little monkeys.
After reminding Daddy about the lyrics, Elliot would act out each verse. “Five little monkeys, jumping on the bed,” was the most obvious line. Elliot jumped on the bed next to the pile of pillows he built on the floor, which was meant for the next, and probably the most fun line. “One fell off and bumped his head” meant he it was time to jump so high he would hurt himself when he landed on the floor, were it not for the pillows. “When they woke up the doctor said, no more monkeys jumping on the bed,” meant it was time to stop playing dead and climb back onto the bed before the next verse started. Despite all his giggling, Elliot found five rounds of diving and climbing far from satisfactory. Daddy was getting hungry, and despite Elliot’s pleases and even his pretty pleases, Daddy was not up for singing One-Hundred Little Monkeys. He decided he was starting to feel as stir-crazy as his son, and decided to take him out to lunch.
Everywhere smelled like a campfire, which made Elliot want to go camping again. The whole town was covered in a fog that irritated Elliot’s eyes and throat, and it was a lot warmer than the fog he was used to. Daddy said it wasn’t fog, but smoke. Elliot didn’t buy it. Smoke comes out of chimneys and campfires, it doesn’t make fog. Whether or not a forest could burn big enough to fog up a whole town, the jury was out, but the verdict on playing outside was clear: No.
Daddy kept pushing Elliot to pick an outfit, despite him being very clear that it was too hot to wear anything more than underwear outside. “Okay, well I hope you’re little enough, because big boys get in trouble for going naked.”
Elliot wasn’t taking that bait. Daddy was obviously pulling tricks out of Aunty Brianne’s playbook, and he was far too big to be manipulated by the risk of being mistaken for a baby.
While deliberating his order, Daddy interrupted Elliot’s decision. “I thought chili was your favourite?”
Elliot shook his head. It didn’t matter how tasty the stew was, Elliot was not in the mood for onions, tomatoes, mushrooms, beans, and any other vegetables he couldn’t name that might be hiding in there. “Chicken nuggets.”
“They don’t have nuggets here.”
“It’s okay, I can wait until you’re done.”
Elliot sighed. You think it would be reasonable to stop on the way back to the hotel to grab take-out, but grown-ups were never reasonable. If they wanted to eat somewhere, they expected you to eat with them. Elliot decided on Alfredo, and while it didn’t come with any fingers, it had green flakes on top. Leaves.
“There’s veggies in this.”
“Those are herbs, Ellie.”
“I don’t like them.”
“They’re in everything. They make everything taste-” Daddy shrugged. “Herby.”
“I don’t like them.”
“Do you like pepper?”
“Pepper’s a vegetable.”
“I don’t like pepper.”
“Just eat it, you’ll like it, I promise.”
Elliot took a bite of his pasta, and as Daddy promised, he liked it. It was probably better than the ways Daddy and Mommy made it. It might have been the best pasta he had ever tasted. “It’s okay.”
The worst waitress ever came to their table while they were eating. “Hello, Ellie!”
“Is this your friend?”
Elliot shook his head. “It’s Aunty Brianne’s friend.”
Lauren chuckled. “Where are your clothes?”
“You’re toasty? You just don’t want to ruin your clothes with another accident.”
“I don’t have accidents.”
Lauren waved her hand. “Oh of course. I must have been thinking of someone else.”
Derek forced a smile. “Sorry. I tried to get him dressed.”
“Don’t worry about it. I’m toasty too. I’d go naked if my boss let me.”
“I’m not naked I got underwear. Does your boss let you feed people fingers?”
“Elliot, that’s nasty.”
Elliot shook his head. “It’s true. There was a finger in my chili.”
“Well that explains this.” Daddy stuck his fork in his spaghetti and lifted a finger out of the sauce. He then slurped the spaghetti sauce directly off of the finger. Elliot gasped. “It’s rubber, Ellie.”
Lauren laughed. “Not a lot of people understand that gag.”
Elliot scoffed as he scooched to the end of the booth. “Maybe it’s not funny. I’m going to the bathroom.”
On his way to the bathroom, Elliot saw another booth with three scary looking grown-ups. The patches made their clothes look like collages rather than proper clothing. That may have been the most obvious deviance about them, but they still gave Elliot a bad feeling he couldn’t place. As much as Elliot would usually avoid people that look like Badguys, one of them was checking their cellphone for reception.
“You got games on your phone?”
The woman grimaced at him. “You got clothes in your home?”
“You got nuts in your dome?”
“Oooh.” The three of them cheered.
The man with the topcut held his hand up. “Nice on. Up top.”
Elliot high fived the man and looked back at the woman. “Really, you got games on your phone?”
“Sorry, Hun. No games. Go get dressed.”
Elliot scoffed and walked away, using creaky voice and waving his arms around. “Uuuuh I’m a stupid grown-up and I wear clothes in the dead of summer.” Elliot heard laughter from the table, but he didn’t care what a gaggle of stupid grown-ups thought of him.
On their way out of the restaurant, Lauren was at the bar, staring down. She was clearly texting under the counter, as if anyone wouldn’t know just by looking at her. Then Derek saw a familiar woman walking in, with a little boy on her hip. It took him a second to see it was the young girl who was friends with his sister-in-law when he lived with his wife’s family. “Sarah Renfrew?”
The woman looked him over and dropped her jaw in surprise. “Derek! I heard you were in town. It’s Basset, now actually.”
“Oh right! You’re married now, eh?”
“Sure. Hi, Ellie.”
Elliot nodded. “Mmm.”
“Say hi, Bubba.”
Martin waved Elliot. “Hi, Bubba.”
Derek chuckled. “Well, it’s good to see you again. I feel old seeing you all grown-up.”
Sarah smiled. “I feel old holding a kid, but that’s life. I won’t keep you. Maybe I’ll see you around.”
“Let’s hope so!” Derek took Elliot’s hand. “Come on, Ellie.”
Martin waved. “Bye, Elliot.”
Elliot stared at Martin until the door closed between them. “Did Martin look bigger to you?”
Derek shook his head. “That was the first time I met him.” He didn’t need Elliot asking more about it. It was obvious why Martin looked big to him. Everyone looked big to him. “How about we go to the park?”
“I thought it was smokey?”
“Meh, it’ll keep you from getting sunburn.” Derek didn’t realize how restless his son was getting couped up in a hotel room, but Derek almost felt his ear drum shatter when Elliot cheered “Yaaaay!”
The screaming kids were annoying, but they weren’t deafening from the bench at the edge of the playground. The beautiful sound of the birds singing in the tree behind him drowned out most of the noise. “Daddy, watch me!” Elliot jumped and wrapped his legs on the pole and slide down.
Elliot rubbed at his inner thighs. “Ow! It burned my legs.”
“That’s why we wear clothes, Ellie.”
“No it isn’t!”
Derek felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up. At first, he thought it was the ever-occurring realization that his teenage son was a child again, but once he noticed the birds had stopped singing at once, he knew the precise reason. He could tell by the bright smile forming on his son’s face that Elliot was a lot happier to see one-by-one, the birds dropping dead out of the tree. “Grandma!!!”
Dakota had noticed after a summer of traveling that the busier the road, the longer it took to hitch a ride. As they walked down the hill, even in stints of low-traffic, no one stopped for them. Dylan decided it would be faster to ride his skateboard, but Rory and Dakota refused to carry his stuff until they caught up with him. When they walked past a lonesome house, Dylan had the industrious idea to steal the plastic wagon off of the front lawn. Dakota hadn’t organized her stuff into easily breakable and uneasily breakable, and even though she knew Dylan was bound to hurt himself, both she and Rory threw their bags in the wagon. “See you down there.”
Dylan sat on his skateboard and leaned back, letting the weight of the wagon pull him down the mountain. He would put his shoes down on the concrete to control his speed, and turning the handle gave him some degree of directional control.
Dakota and Rory laughed as they watched him disappear down the road. “He’s going to kill himself.”
“He’s going to destroy our shit.” Dylan had turned out of view, but Dakota was bound to be right.
Lauren had just been getting out of her car after spending her lunch break eating at not-her-work. She could hear the tracks of a skateboard approaching and after stepping out past the garbage bin she saw what looked to be a severed head riding on top of a child’s wagon. She saw the feet poke out from behind it and slam on the ground. The noise of the padding screeching on the ground almost rivaled a car slamming on the breaks. Lauren stepped back between the bin and her car, and watched a young man lying on a skateboard ride past. Unable to slow down, the wagon turned and flipped over. The young man stood up, needing to run forward before bringing himself to a stop, and smacked his head against the masonry that made up the walls of Lauren’s place of employment.
Lauren mumbled “jackass” to herself. At least he missed the damned windows. Lauren noticed the man’s personal affects strewn(tip?) over the parking lot, and figured this kid was a vagrant. Lauren held her pager up to her mouth and mumbled. “Get me clearance on this guy.” Lauren sighed and collected herself, and then approached the man as he brought himself to his feet.
Lauren laughed and clapped her hands. “Nice save. Sorta.” Lauren pointed at the spot of blood on her walls. “Does that counts as vandalism?”
Dylan stood up and wiped his hand on his forehead, leaving his fingers covered in blood and dust. “Thanks.”
“Ouch. Why don’t you come in and I’ll patch you up.”
“Thanks, ma’am. But I have a first-aid kit.”
“So where on the parking lot is it?” Dylan scanned the concrete, and Lauren patted him on the shoulder. “You look hungry and your breath smells like squirrel. Come inside, I’ll patch you up and treat you to a sandwich.” Lauren noticed Dylan following her. “After you clean up my parking lot, that is.”
Dylan nodded. “Ah of course.” After she went inside, Dylan nodded to himself. “Score.”
The restaurant was nearly empty, save for a man accompanied by a boy that looked like Brianne’s nephew. Lauren pulled out her pager, with no new notifications on it. She looked to the security camera hanging from the ceiling. “You’re taking your sweet time.”
Her pager vibrated. “Searching for associates.”
“Fine. Just get the house ready. We’ll be having a guest tonight. You don’t mind sleeping at the observatory, do you?”
“Sorry, bud. Mama has needs.” Lauren went through the kitchen and into the office, and sifted through the envelopes on her desk until she found the one addressed to her. She then spent the next fifteen minutes stitching up Dylan’s forehead in a booth. “Got anything for the pain?”
“Oh come on, big tough guy like you?”
“You’re sticking a needle in and out of me.”
Lauren nodded. “Not exactly.”
Lauren shrugged. “How do you feel about cheese?”
Lauren sighed. “What are the kids calling cocaine these days?”
Dylan raised his eyebrow in annoyance. “Cocaine? All for it.”
“Cool.” Lauren pulled out a small glass vile and sprinkled some onto her finger, and then rubbed it into Dylan’s gash. Afterwards, Dylan grabbed her hand and held Lauren’s bloodied finger up to his nostril and snorted what he could. Lauren yanked her hand away. “Easy, that cheese is medical grade.”
“You’re old fashioned huh?”
“Easy there. I’m not much older than you. Hold still.”
“Where’d you learn to do this?”
“The kitchen. Cooks drink a lot, and when they drink, they cut themselves. And when they cut themselves a lot, I calling 9-1-1 is a waste of time.”
After Lauren stitched Dylan’s forehead closed, she asked him what he wanted to eat, and he saw Rory and Dakota walking past the restaurant. “Excuse me for a second.”
Lauren’s pager vibrated. “6 o’clock, 3 or 0.” Lauren stood up and looked behind her, Dylan was about to walk outside, after the two kids walking past the diner. “Oh balls.” Lauren picked up the bottle of cocaine and checked the bottom, finding a sticker that read “mundane.” Lauren sighed in relief and gathered her first aid tools. “That was a freeby.”
Elliot was somehow still five years old, and Brianne wasn’t the type of Nanny to put someone through a slow-burn, especially her own flesh and blood. After a quick chat and teasing him about being naked, Lauren found Elliot peculiar, but if anyone, Brianne’s nephew would be the most likely to get special treatment. After Elliot and his dad left, Brianne’s friend Sarah came in, with the son she adopted through the program.
Lauren leaned onto the counter and smiled. “There’s a handsome guy!”
“I campy hansome.”
Sarah bounced Martin in her arm. “Sure you can.”
Martin shook his head. “I got no face-ul hair.”
Lauren shrugged. “He’s got a point. Table? Booth?”
“I’m actually here to see you.”
“Ruh-roh. Am I in trouble?”
Sarah found Lauren’s question odd, but dismissed her playfulness. “Well, I’m new in town. Figure I’d make some friends.”
“And you thought I’d be a good friend?” Lauren saw Sarah become tense. “I’m kidding. I’d love to hang out. What are you up to today?”
“I was just taking Martin shopping. Get some books and maybe furniture.”
“And toys.” Martin interrupted.
“And a toy.”
“Sure, I’ll come with.” Lauren’s pager vibrated on the counter, and she glanced down.
Lauren paused with her mouth open. “I’ll meet you in an hour?”
Sarah nodded. “Sounds good.”
As Sarah left, Lauren could hear Martin say he was hungry, but Sarah reminded him they packed snacks. Lauren picked her pager up. “We talked about interrupting people.”
“Business before pleasure.”
Lauren rolled her eyes. “Alright, alright. What’s the angle?”
Her pager remained silent for a moment. “North east right sleeve.” And another buzz. “Patch just your type.”
“My type?” Lauren looked over at the young man sitting on the north east corner of the booth. “Not exactly a panty dropper.”
Her pager vibrated. “Continue contact!”
“Eesh. No need to be sour, little flower.” Lauren grabbed a glass-tray and walked over to table five. On the north east corner of the booth, sat a young man with his blond curls tied back in a man-bun. “Would any of you like a refill?” All of them accepted the offer. While she collected their glasses on the tray, Lauren scanned the patches on the boy’s denim jacket. The one patch she actually recognized was a circle with one half pink and one half blue, behind a red heart with a horizontal white stripe through it. “Remind me, what are your drinks?”
On her way back to the fountain she smirked and mumbled. “What makes you think he’s my type?” Her pager buzzed, and when she got to the fountain, she filled the glasses with one hand, and checked her pager with the other.
Her pager vibrated. “Husband on break.” And then again. “Please stop sexting us.”
Lauren looked up at the surveillance camera hanging from the ceiling and forced an awkward frown. “Sorry, Jason.”
Lauren returned to table five, with a cream soda, root beer, and a cola for Patchy. “That’s a cute patch. What’s that supposed to be?”
Patchy, as Lauren called him in her head, looked down at his sleeve. “This one?” Lauren noticed a brief glimpse of fear in his eyes. She just smiled and nodded, as she placed his friends’ drinks down. “Heart and Stroke, I think.”
“Ah, of course. I remember their logo being different.”
Patchy nodded. “It’s a new one.”
Lauren put his glass down. “And a cola for you. We do have vanilla cola, if you’d like to try it. Not to presume you’re vanilla. Just thought I’d let you know.”
After Lauren left, Rory lifted his glass and pulled a business card off of the bottom. “She gave you her number?”
“Nope.” Rory turned it over to show Dylan and Dakota, so they could see that it said “Bookstore Cafe, 7pm.”
Dylan nodded. “Which bookstore?”
Dakota rolled her eyes. “How many bookstores do you think are in this town?”
“At no point have you had reception here, and only one kid has asked you if you have games on your phone. Twenty. At fucking-least.”
Rory nodded. “At fucking-least.”
Elliot walked past on his way back from the bathroom and declared “that’s a bad word” without breaking stride.
Dakota leaned forward. “I wonder if we’d keep the cursing to a minimum while we’re in stroller country.”
Dylan nodded at Dakota, and looked to Rory. “Are you going to go?”
Rory shrugged. “What could go wrong?”
Dakota shook her head. “Famous last words.”
Mom could always mean anything by “her office.” Usually it meant get alone, and find somewhere secluded. Brianne chose the park, on a small bench by the river. As she waited, Gavin was inconsolable. He had just eaten, so he wasn’t hungry. His diaper was clean, and he wasn’t clawing at his shorts. The only obvious reason for Gavin’s fuss was the air quality, until a dead crow hit the ground a few feet away from her. “That ain’t smoke.”
“There’s my kids.”
Brianne jumped, making Gavin angry at her knee digging into his bottom. He stopped fussing when he saw his mother, and held his arms up. “Hello, Mom.” Brianne handed Gavin to her.
Their mom showered Gavin in kisses. “Awe, hello Honey Bunny. Calvin looks even smaller now.”
“Well, he makes up for it with a big personality.”
Delores scoffed. “Yeah that must be it. How are the niblings?”
Brianne cringed. “Excuse me?”
“Your niece and nephew?”
“Ah.” Brianne nodded. “Kathy’s harbouring Tiana in the back of her car. I’m worried though. This heat is bad enough out in the open without a bun in the oven.”
“And her disposition?”
Brianne scanned the woods around them. “Unknown. Not in our favour. She wasn’t too happy to see Elliot simple.”
“Probably for the best. She hasn’t had access to cigarettes, has she?”
“Not that I’ve seen. I told the boys in the observatory to let me know if Kathy or Derek buy any tobacco. She’s either scared, or decided she wants to keep the baby.”
“Leave her to ween then. She’ll come out when she’s ready. And Elliot?” A thud from behind interrupted their conversation. Delores turned around to see a dead crow on the ground. “Uncanny.”
“Elliot didn’t take. He’s not lucid yet. I give him two days.”
“That’s a shame. I was just on my way to see him.”
“May I at least ask why I had to refresh him?”
“And what of Martin Basset?”
Brianne nodded. Why she was expecting a direct answer was beyond her. “Okay then. Attached to Sarah, but scared of her. Happy with being three. He-”
“Is he adoption-ready?”
“No. Maybe in a year. We caught him in a growth spurt. Maybe if Sarah notices how big he’s getting, she might be convinced to give him a small dose to extend the honeymoon.”
“And Sarah likes him now?” Brianne nodded. “Don’t let him leave town then.”
“That was easy.”
Delores shrugged. “Meh. Sarah’s a good girl.”
“I still don’t understand the reasoning behind Elliot.”
Delores sighed. “Your sister has refused my offers of some cosmetic Space-Saver. There’s quite an age-gap between you and her, you know.”
Brianne rolled her eyes. “I’ve noticed.”
“I don’t want to bury my children.”
“So you wanted me to refresh Elliot to pass on that same fear?”
Delores shrugged. “I wouldn’t say that.”
Delores handed Gavin back to Brianne. “Either way, put him out of his misery. I have a plane to catch. Let me know when Tiana’s without child.”
Gavin’s vocab had been reduced to a few dozen hand-signs, which left him little food for critical thought, but toddlerhood had not dampened his judge of character. As if on cue, Gavin started to fuss when their mother finished speaking. Brianne bounced her knee under him while their mother walked away. “My sentiments exactly.”
Despite needing a break, Martin wasn’t going to let Sarah out of his sight for anything short of work. Which meant he was coming shopping. Brianne pointed out that since Martin hated her, he would be growing a sense of loneliness when Sarah left him with her. It wasn’t too much of a reach. When she left for work in the daylight, she had to add ten extra minutes of convincing Martin to stop hugging her leg to her commute. It was as annoying as it was adorable.
Shopping wasn’t a very satisfying activity for him either. Sarah let him sit in the baby-seat in the shopping cart, despite Martin fast approaching a size too big to do so. While sitting in the shopping cart usually thrilled him, Martin rested his elbow on the handlebar, pouting with his chin in his hand. “You look bored, Bubba.”
“I don’ like sopping.”
Sarah scoffed. “You love shopping.”
Martin shook his head. “Nuh-uh.”
“You like it when we’re at the toy store.”
Martin sneered. “Not sopping fo funitsuh.”
“It’s furniture for you, Bubba.”
“I have a bed, a potty, and a boosta seat so I can sit at the big table, what odther funitsuh do I need?”
Sarah sighed. “Oh, Honey, you are such a boy. I was thinking things more along the lines of creature comforts.”
“I’m not a cweatsuh.”
“No, I know. It’s a phrase.”
“What’s it mean?”
“Stuff you like. Makes you feel good to have, or look at. The shopping cart for example. You couldn’t sit in the shopping cart since you started school, eh?” Martin cleared his throat and gestured his elbow to the woman passing them. The back of the shopping cart was fitted with a plastic extension that a school-aged child could, and did sit in. Sarah shrugged. “Well you couldn’t sit in the shopping cart when you were a big kid, right?” Martin peaked around Sarah and gestured his jaw to the man behind her, pushing a girl of ten or eleven at the back of his shopping cart. Sarah looked back to Martin and shook her head. “Well, you couldn’t sit in the shopping cart when you were a grown-up.” Without looking, Martin pointed over his shoulder. Then, a man walked past the aisle, pushing another man sitting in the basket of a shopping cart. Sarah sighed. “Fuck it.”
“Dat’s a bad wood. But I t-think I know what you mean. Stuff I couldn’t have as a gwon-up. Like toys.”
Sarah glared at Martin. “Like furniture.”
“Like a flow-mat?”
“You had mats in your apartment.”
“Fo feet. Not anything I could nap on.”
“Oh! I get it. Yes, that’s exactly the kind of thing I mean.”
“A pillow tseh. I used to have one with Winnie the Pooh. And I had one with Blue too.”
“Blue the colour or blue the dog?”
“The dog. Always the dog. What about-” Martin scanned the store. “A cradle.”
“You’re a bit too big for a cradle.”
Martin shook his head. “Not in dthis town.”
“Actually, that gives me an idea. What about a hammock for the yard?”
“What about inside days?”
Sarah looked up at the ceiling with a brilliant smile. After a few seconds, she nodded to herself. “I could probably sell Brianne on setting it up in the living room.”
Martin’s eyes widened when the most obvious answer came to mind. “Blanket forts!”
Sarah nodded. “I haven’t made a blanket fort in years.”
Martin smiled and clasped his hands together, as if he were praying. “You wanna?”
After buying a hammock, a floor mat, a pillow-chair, and more blankets and sheets than the rest of her life combined, Sarah took Martin to the book store. Since some of his literacy had remained intact, Sarah decided she would buy Martin some books, to give him a head start. Lauren joined them soon after they arrived. Martin saw the trainset in the middle of the children’s section. Sarah was going to make him follow her around the store until Lauren insisted he would be safe without supervision. Sarah never had a break from Martin or work at the same time, and she was more than willing to believe Lauren against her better judgment.
Lauren and Sarah wandered the bookstore for books to fill Martin’s nursery with. Lauren pulled a book off of the baby shelf. “How about this one?”
The cover had a pale purple cover with a boy and a girl, each with half of them drawn as a skeleton. Sarah read the title outloud. “Everybody Dies. Getting A Head Start on Coping With The Futility Of Existence.” Sarah winced and shook her head. “Nah, I like his newfound positivity. It’s a bit early to be introducing him to nihilism.”
Lauren pulled a similar book off the shelf. “How about absurdism?”
Sarah read the title aloud. “Everybody Dies. Why Waste Time Potty Training? Closer, but I have a feeling he’s already read it.” Lauren continued thumbing through the spines. “How about we move away from M and M.”
“M and M?”
A medical short-hand, for a conference to decide whether a doctor killed their patient. “Morbidity and Mortality.” Sarah pointed to the tag on the shelf, marking the sub-section on Morbidity and Mortality. “How about something more sunshine and rainbows.”
“How about Beatrix Potter?”
“That’s-” Sarah paused. “That’s actually a good pick.”
“You sound surprised.”
“Well, I was starting to think you wanted to torture my son. I was half expecting you to suggest Everybody Dies But You.”
“Oh no. I wouldn’t presume for you to lie to your kid.”
A little girl who had been walking past them stopped and stared at Lauren, and then screamed. A woman who may have been her mom or her Nanny came to the rescue. “Tawa! I don’ wanna die!”
“It’s okay, Pumpkin! You aren’t going to die. Let’s go get you some medicine, that always makes you feel better!”
The girl took her Nanny’s hand. “Pwomise me! Pwomise me I won’t die!”
Lauren looked at Sarah and gave an awkward frown. “Sunshine and Rainbows it is.”
Sarah nodded. “Yeah! I thought so.”
Sarah followed Lauren through the aisles. “You surprised me a bit with your invite.”
“What’s so surprising about someone new in town making friends?”
“Brianne tells me you’re friends. Did she not warn you about me?”
“What’s there to warn about?”
Lauren stopped walking to stare at Sarah with a grin. “Oh come on.”
Sarah shrugged. “She said you’re a sadist with your charges.”
“And yet you want to hang out with me.”
“I figured you could help me understand my son’s plights.”
“Plights?” Lauren pursed her lips and nodded. “Hmph. I suppose I could use my powers for good. Though the baby comes out the same, no matter the nanny.”
“Brianne also said if there were an exception, you would be it.”
Lauren chuckled. “Ah, she really knows how to make a girl feel special. But what I meant was I can’t really help you after the fact.”
“Martin wasn’t completely. Refreshed, as you say?”
“You left him remaining at three? That’s cold.”
Sarah shrugged. “What? What I do wrong?”
Lauren scratched at her forehead, taking a moment to scan her surroundings. “How do I put it? So at three, you start branching out from your parents. Building your idea of the world and where you fit in it. You follow?”
“So you got a three old’s drive for independence, and an adult’s idea of what independence is. Add the two together.”
Sarah scratched at the back of her head and sighed. “And you get a perfect storm.”
Lauren nodded, and Sarah notice a slight jolt in Lauren’s hip before she composed herself. “I’ve let kids linger at three.” Lauren fought back a chuckle, but not her wry smile. “It’s hysterical.” She noticed Sarah’s cold look and cleared her throat. “But kids can be resilient. Make him help with chores.”
“Since when do kids like chores?”
“Kids like feeling useful. And learning. Have him help with cooking. Or sweeping. Tell them the vacuum is a toy.” Lauren noticed Rory on the other end of the store, walking towards the cafe. She looked at her watch. “Damn it. I don’t mean to be rude, but I have another engagement. Mind if we continue this conversation later?”
Sarah held up her hand. “Say no more. You’ve given me ideas for starters.”
The brick building had been boarded up, but most of the boards had already been broken down. Dylan found this a welcoming sign. Rather than hiking back up the mountainside, an abandoned building would provide even better shelter for half the effort. The beams of sunlight pouring through the shattered windows were highlighted by the haze. Dakota was used to the smoke in the air by now, but she was not prepared for the stink of the building. “God it smells like death in here.”
Dylan nodded. “Good. Means no one living will barge in. Wanna paint?”
Dakota pulled her flashlight from the wagon. “You don’t think this building is robust enough?”
“Meh. We only got one can anyways. A simple A is enough.”
Dakota scanned the room with her flashlight. “Seems wasteful, since someone’s already painted here.”
Dylan followed Dakota’s point at the wall, at the brown writing. “The cake is medicine. Not exactly scathing satire.”
“Satire? It looks more like a warning.”
“It’s a fucking lie, Dakota. Let’s find somewhere to camp.” Dylan gestured at the room hanging from the ceiling. “Up there.”
As Dylan walked up the stairs, one of the rusted steps snapped and fell beneath him. Dylan grabbed the railing and put his foot on the next step. “Watch your step, there.”
Dakota nodded, as if she needed to be told on the hazards of an abandoned building. “Mhmm.”
In the room overlooking the atrium, was a few dozen cribs, all in the same barebones design of rusted iron bars and metal sheets, some still with decaying mattresses inside. Dylan looked around. “Cool. Wonder what happened here.”
“This place doesn’t creep you out?”
“Nah. It’s like a Romanian orphanage in here.”
Dakota sighed. “You know we’re not in Romania, right?”
“That’s what makes it so cool.” Dylan reached into one crib and pulled out a skull that fit in his palm. “Wonder what kinda ghosts are here.”
Dakota screamed. “Fuck. This! Dude. I’m not staying here.”
“Relax, will check that office there. Maybe there ain’t no skulls there.”
Dakota shook her head. “If it’s even an office.” Dakota jumped when she heard children laughing. “Okay, you wanna tell me there isn’t any ghosts?”
“Having flashbacks to your Wiccan phase or something?” Dylan walked over to the window, looking out onto the field. “Look, it’s just some fucking fieldtrip.” Dakota came to the window and saw the children walking two-by-two through the field. “Those ain’t ghosts.”
“Keep your voice down. There’s an echo in here.”
“You’re scared of some kids?”
“I’m scared of the adults reporting us here. Where’s the wagon?”
Dylan glanced at the door and shook his head. “It’s on the other side of the building.”
“Go get it, before a kid wanders off and finds it.”
“Yes ma’am.” Dylan went downstairs and Dakota opened a door, into an office. The room only had a desk against the wall, along with twigs and dust. Dakota opened the drawers, and only the top center drawer had anything in it. Some blank papers along with a large hard-cover book.
The cover was an illustration of the night sky. An anthropomorphic bunny in a diaper slept in the crescent of the moon. A white rectangle had an inscription that read “Elliot McNamara March 11th, 1998.” Inside were details on when and where the baby was born, first roll-over, first time sitting up, first crawling, first steps, first words, first curse word, first exorcism, first tooth. Dylan walked in while Dakota flipped through the pages. “What you find?”
“Just some kid’s baby book.” Dakota closed the book and tossed it back on the desk. “You don’t really want to stay here, do you?”
“I ain’t afraid of no ghosts. Better that than the people out there see us trespassing. Figure we wait until they leave at least.”
“What about Rory?”
“What about Rory? He’s out getting his cherry popped. If he’s smart, he’ll have a warm bed for the night.”
Dakota shrugged. “Meh, if not, he won’t get far. I guess we can find him tomorrow. I’m gunna go get our bags.”
“Try to keep quiet eh?” Before Dakota responded, the floorboards beneath her gave way, and she fell through.
Elliot’s mommy was old, and so was Elliot. She couldn’t lift him up for very long like she used to. Grandma didn’t seem to have that problem. She held him at her hip with almost no effort. “There’s my big boy! How big is Ellie?”
Elliot laughed. “I’m too big for that game, Grama.”
Grandma nodded. “Oh are you? Let me see how big you are then? Make a muscle.” Elliot flexed his arm, and Grandma squeezed his arm with her fingers. “So big!”
“Grama!” Elliot laughed. “I wasn’t playing that game!”
Grandma didn’t stay long, since Elliot and Daddy were already leaving the park and going back to the hotel. Elliot was sad but she promised he would see her soon. Just as well, it was getting late, even though the sun was still out. After his bath, Elliot was brushing his teeth while Mommy and Daddy were watching the news. He was taking the time to admire himself in the mirror, and how spiffy his rocket-ship pyjamas looked on him. He then noticed Daddy’s razor sitting next to the sink. Elliot remembered it had been weeks since he had shaven, and his beard would be out of control in no time. However, when he looked back at his reflection, there wasn’t a single hair on his chinny chin chin. He dropped his toothbrush in the sink and stared at himself. His jaw dropped and toothpaste ran down his shirt and onto the floor as he cried out in terror.
Sarah knew Martin would wake up and climb into her bed. Since she was about to work through the night, she figured she’d save him the time for sleep and tuck him into her bed. “Can I have a story?”
Sarah rubbed her hand over his chest through the sheet. “Actually, I want to ask you something first.”
“I won’t get mad if you say yes, I just want you to answer honestly, okay?” Martin nodded. “Are you scared of me?”
Martin scoffed. “No. You’re dthe least scary puhson I’ve ever met.”
“Are you sure?” Martin nodded. “You seemed pretty scared of the potty in Brianne’s trunk the other day.”
Martin nodded. “Well yeah. Dthat was a potty I used when I got little.”
Sarah nodded. “I remember. You begged me not to make you use it, and not turn you into a baby. You looked pretty scared, Bubba.”
Martin twiddled his fingers. “I am a little.”
Sarah shook her head. “I’m not going to turn you into a baby.”
“It’s not being a baby that scares me.” Martin shrugged. “It was but not anymore. I think I could cwack it.”
“When I found’at nu’sery in your old house, I was sca’ed you didn’t love me. That you dzust wanted me as a baby.” Martin stopped twiddling his fingers and looked up at Sarah. “That scare didn’t go away, dat I mean nothing to you.”
Sarah ran her hand across her mouth, and then she leaned over Martin and put her nose against his. “You mean everything to me, Martin.”
Sarah laughed. She sat up and ran her hand through Martin’s hair. “Of course. I just wanted to be a mom.” Sarah shrugged. “Or something like it. I don’t need you any littler for that. Do I?”
Martin nodded. “I’m not sca’ed of you.”
Sarah smiled and patted Martin’s chest. “Glad to hear it. If that changes, don’t be scared to tell me.” Sarah rolled her eyes. “As silly as that sounds. So, storytime.” Sarah grabbed the book off of her bedside table. “Did you ever read the Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies?”
Martin shrugged. “Maybe.”
“Well, I will right now.”
Brianne knocked on the side of the doorway. “Sarah.” Sarah turned around. “There’s an emergency.”
Sarah sighed. “Typical. Have you got a babysitter or something?”
Brianne shook her head. “No, no. It’s a medical emergency.”
Martin sat up. “Wait, ont there otha doctas deh?”
Brianne shook her head. “It’s a bit of a family emergency. I can read you your story, Martin.”
Martin huffed and threw his back into the pillow. “Gweat! Now I’ll nevuh sleep!”
Sarah sighed and patted Martin’s chest. “Bubba, it’s my last night as a doctor. If I go early, I’ll be back early. That sound fair?”
Martin nodded. “Forever?”
Sarah chuckled. “Just about, yeah.”
Martin nodded. “Okay.”
Sarah followed Brianne into the hallway. “What’s the emergency?”
“I thought he was adoption-ready.”
“So what happens now?”
“I’m working on it. For now, I just need you to go to the ER and calm him down.”
Sarah went to the hospital, where her pager buzzed just as she exited her car. The display read “Bay 2.”
Sarah shrugged. “Why am I surprised by hand-holding?”
After passing through the first sliding door, her pager buzzed again. “Three metres in, face door.”
Doctor Johanson walked up to Sarah. “Last night here, eh?”
“Word travels fast. Did you get paged too?”
“Yup. You’re running point on this.”
Sarah turned to him. “Aren’t you the attending?”
“For medical patients, yes.”
“Mind telling me what we’re waiting for?”
Doctor Johanson sighed. “We’re waiting for the ambulance to stop, and then the observatory will give them the all clear. Then we take the patient to neo-paediatrics.”
Doctor Johanson glared at Sarah before looking back at the door. They waited in silence until the door opened, however it wasn’t EMTs that walked in. Tiana walked in, wearing the same outfit she was wearing the last time Sarah saw her, with the addition of pants wet with blood. “Tiana, where the hell have you been?”
Tiana was shaking, and she grabbed Sarah’s arm. “I think I need help.”
Sarah looked over to the admission’s desk. “I need a gernie, an OR, and some O-neg. Get an ECG for her and her baby.” Sarah lifted Tiana up by her elbows. “Tiana, look at me.” Tiana’s eyes stayed open without effort, and her pupils contracted in unison. “We’re going to get you help.”
Sarah heard the ambulance bay doors open again, followed by a boy screaming. Nurses came with an empty gernie and she let go of Tiana’s arms. “Lie down there, they’ll take care of you.”
Tiana recognized Elliot on the bed the EMTs were brining him in. “Keep him safe. Sarah, look at me.” Sarah didn’t. She just grabbed the front of Elliot’s gernie and lead the EMTs to the elevator.
Elliot heard Tiana’s voice calling out to him from down one of the halls. The neckbrace, and the straps over him prevented him from looking to her, but they didn’t stop him from trying to thrash around. “Tea! I’m here! I want to go home!”
Once the elevator doors closed, Elliot heard Sarah speak to the EMTs. “What happened to his neck?”
The EMTs glanced at each other. Doctor Johanson spoke. “First time.” He looked to her and nodded. “They tend to thrash about.”
Sarah nodded. “Got ya.”
“I can answer your questions, but I was told to follow your orders without feeding you any advice. So what do we do?”
Sarah looked up at the lights for a moment. “I was just told to calm him down.”
“Lorazepam. Half a mill.”
Doctor Johanson shrugged. “If you say so.”
Like the other floors, the nurses station was in front of the elevator and stairwell. The nurse there called out “Seven Oh Five” when they exited the elevator, and Sarah took Elliot to room 705. Doctor Johanson handed her a syringe, declaring it to be Lorazepam. Normally, Sarah would scold an EMT for not already having an IV in the patient, but this wasn’t the medicine she went to school for. “Elliot, are you going to calm down for me?” Elliot did not take a break from his struggling, and instead told Sarah to burn in hell. “Get him on his side.”
The EMTs and Doctor Johanson held Elliot on his side, with his knees bent to his stomach. “Get off a me you scum bags!” Sarah put her hands under the waistbands of his pyjama bottoms and underwear, and pulled them back to reveal his cheeks. “Get away from my ass! Help! Perverts! Rape!”
Sarah shoved the needle and injected the solution, removed the needle and pressed cotton swab against the injection site. Elliot started weeping. “Not again! Not like this!”
Sarah put her first two fingers on Elliot’s wrist, and used her free hand to stroke Elliot’s hair. As his screams turned to whines, and his whines into weeping, his heart rate fell to normal. Sarah nodded at the others and they released their hold on him. “Get out.”
Doctor Johanson shook his head. “Doctor Basset, there’s still-”
“You said I’m running point for him, right?”
Doctor Johanson cleared his throat. “Yes.”
“Get me a sit-rep on his cousin. She’s my patient too. Now all of you, get the fuck. Away. From my patient.”
Martin was leaning his cheek on the wall when Sarah closed the door. Brianne put her hand on his head. “This is her last shift, don’t be sad.”
Martin sighed and followed Brianne down the hall. “I thought see wanned to be a doctah.”
“She doesn’t really have the time for it lately.”
“Can’t you watts me?”
Brianne stopped walking and double-took at Martin. “What the hell just happened?”
“Why would you want that? You hate me.”
“I don’t hate you. I dzust tsink you d-the meanest pe’son that ever existed.”
Brianne rolled her eyes, and continued walking down the hall. “Some days, I think that too. You don’t want her to quit work?”
“No. Huh dweam was to be a doctah.”
“I think her dream was to have you.”
Martin hopped at the edge of the bed, throwing his arms over, only to slide off. After another attempt, Brianne put her hands under his armpits and lifted him onto the bed. “I can do it!” Brianne let go and he sat down. “Am I getting smaller?”
“I hope not. Sarah isn’t allowed to give you anymore medicine.”
“Oh. It’s ha’d to climb up today.”
Brianne lifted the covers back. “Maybe you’re still getting used to your body. Want a story?”
Before Brianne put the sheet over him, Martin sprung to his feet and jumped onto the floor. “I’ll get it.”
“Get what?” Brianne heard a car stop in front of the house, through the window screen, and stood up to see her sister’s car. “That was weird.”
Brianne went to the living room, finding Martin placing his foot stool next to the door. “Martin, what did I tell you about answering the door.”
Martin looked at Brianne and swelled his chest in pride. “When theh’s a knock on the dough, you have a visitah.” Martin squinted and looked up at the ceiling. “Oh maybe dat was Elmo.”
“Grown-ups are the ones who answer the door.”
Martin shook his head. “Nah, d-that sounds mo’e like big bud.”
The door knocked and Brianne pulled it open, dragging Martin’s foot stool along the floor. “Go to bed, I’ll be there in a moment.” Kathy was visibly upset. “Kathy, come in.”
Kathy shook her head. “Brie, I need your help.”
“Elliot will be fine. You kno-”
“It’s not about Ellie.”
Brianne paused for a moment. “What then?”
“Have you heard anything about Tiana?”
Kathy ran her hands through her hair. “Oh God, I don’t know where she is. I need your help.”
“Slow down, she’s not in your car?”
Kathy looked up. “You knew?”
Brianne didn’t bother putting her shoes on before walking outside. Kathy followed her sister to her car. “Brie, I can explain.”
Brianne pulled open her sister’s car door. The car’s inside lights turned on and Brianne saw the blanket, her brother’s old revolver, and a bloodstain on the upholstery. “Where the hell is she?”
“I was hoping you’d know!?”
Brianne grabbed the gun and opened the tumbler, which had no empty chambers. “She didn’t shoot herself, at least. Where the hell would she go!?”
Kathy held her hands up. “Brie! Can I explain myself!?”
“Explain what!?” Brianne grabbed her sister’s sleeve. “You were supposed to keep her safe!”
Kathy struck Briannes hand off her. “I was keeping her safe from you!”
“That’s the point!” Brianne felt her pager vibrate and pulled it out of her pocket. “Oh, thank God.”
“She’s been spotted in the hospital parking lot. Is she headed for the ambulance bay?”
Kathy shrugged. “How should I know?”
“I wasn’t talking to you.” Brianne’s pager buzzed. “Okay, have the bus with my nephew wait for her to be admitted. Let Doctor Basset handle my niece. Redirect her if you have to.”
“Okay, can we talk about this?”
Brianne shook her head. “Later. Help me wrangle the boys.”
Dakota was waiting in the hospital room for the doctor to give her the all-clear to leave. The television only had three channels, airing Paw Patrol, The Backyardigans, and the News. Dakota didn’t feel like watching authoritarian propaganda, nor capitalist propaganda, so she was watching Backyardigans when Dylan and Rory came in. Dakota grabbed the remote and flicked the television off. “Thank God.”
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah I’m fine. How’d Dylan find you?”
“Lauren’s aunt works here. She heard about a girl with a torn up plaid jacket, a bad dye-job, and a potty-mouth who broke her leg. I said that must be Dakota.” Rory noticed Dakota clenching her jaw. “Her words, not mine.”
Dakota nodded. “Uh-huh!”
Lauren walked in carrying a cardboard drink tray. “I brought smoothies.” Dakota forced a smile. “No hard feelings about what my aunt said-” Lauren glared at Rory. “That Rory didn’t keep to himself.”
“Cool cast.” Rory reached into his satchel and revealed a can of spray-paint. “Can I sign it?”
Lauren grabbed his arm. “Not in a hospital, dumb-ass.” Lauren handed Rory the drink tray. “Dish-up, I’ll go get some markers from pediatrics.”
Doctor Johanson was waiting in the elevator. “Going down?”
Lauren smiled. “Absolutely.” She entered and leaned on the back wall, and waited for the doors to close. “So, the little painter has an owie. How goes the reformation?”
“Has she complained about any pain?”
Lauren shook her head. “She looks fine. Though the morphine might eclipse it.” Lauren noticed Doctor Johanson glaring at her. “Yes, I know it’s not morphine. Or at least I hope it isn’t. I just gave them all a heaping does of Simp.” Lauren giggled to herself. “Can you imagine?” Lauren crossed eyes and slurred her speech. “Is dis weal life?” Lauren cringed at Doctor Johanson’s inamusement. “Ever hear the one about loving your work?”
“She’s due for another x-ray. After that, some orderlies can help you leave.”
The elevator door opened, and Lauren smiled as Doctor Johanson stepped off. “Always fun bantering with you.”
Soon after Lauren was gone, and a few sips into their smoothies, Rory and Dylan decided it was a good time to sign Dakota’s cast. Dakota knew they’d get in trouble spray-painting in the hospital, but pulling it off would be a lot more fun with the risk of being caught. They each put on safety goggles and dustmasks. Rory’s attempt failed, leaving a black mark on one side of the cast, as well as casting a shadow on the bedding. Dylan grabbed the can from him, and held the can up close. “See, this is how you do it.”
The two then signed their names, along with obscenities like “I like big cocks,” “this machine kills fascists,” “<-- crab dip,” “i eat fart nuggets,” and “poopoo a-choo!” Under normal circumstances, it wouldn’t have devolved into toilet humour mixed with phonetic play, but as you might have guessed, their smoothies were rather… sugary. So sugary that they were so giggly that the boys couldn’t focus on painting, and Dakota couldn’t keep her leg still.
“I gotta go to the bathroom.”
Dylan and Rory nodded and backed away from the bed. Dakota shook her head. “I can’t walk on this.”
Rory and Dylan stared at each other and back at Dakota. “Go get a crutch or wheel chair or something.”
Dylan put his finger on his nose. Rory huffed. “Fine I’ll go get it.”
Dylan picked up the spraypaint. “Okay, what now?”
While Dakota pondered something for him to write, the television turned on, playing the Backyardigans. “Ah darn. Where’s the remote?”
Dylan looked around. “I can’t see it anywhere. It’s fine though. These guys sing nothing but bangers.”
Dakota laughed. “I wiss I could sing like them.” She cleared her throat. Wiss."
Rory walked in, carrying a crutch, and gasped at the television. “Awe! I loved the Backyardigans when I was little.”
“Same.” Dylan agreed.
“Same.” Dakota agreed.
The three of them shared a laugh at Tyrone calling himself a Scaredy-Moose, because they all knew he meant Scaredy-Cat, except he’s a moose. By the end of Tyrone’s solo, Lauren returned with a handful of felt-tip markers to find the three young adults staring at the television. Lauren coughed and waved her hand over her face. “Oh boy. Now I get the dustmasks. I see you guys decided to sign the whole bed while I was gone.”
Rory pointed at the television. “Look, the Backyardigans are on the TV.”
“That’s fantastic, Rory. And I can see there’s paint on everything else.” Lauren walked up to Dylan and poked at his jeans. “Why are your pants wet?”
Dylan giggled. “I dropped the smoothy while I was painting.”
“And Dakota? Your sheets are ruined, and not just with paint!”
“I forgot to go to the bathroom.”
Lauren shook her head. “And Rory, what about you?” Lauren pulled at the front of his shorts. “Is your diaper wet?”
Rory smacked her hand away. “Hey! Not in front of my friends!”
Dakota cringed. “Ew, why are you wearing a diaper?”
Dylan giggled. “Rory’s wearing a diaper.”
Dakota shuttered. “Gross.”
Lauren put her hands on her hips. “Leave him alone. It looks like y’all need one yourselves.”
Dakota shook her head. “Uh-uh. I’m a big girl.”
Lauren nodded and patted the sheets where Dakota had peed. “So this is what big girls do. Tsh. Kids these days, I swear. You just need new underwear then?”
Dakota nodded. “Yeah.”
“And you all need new clothes then? You’re covered in paint, smoothy, and pee. You kids sure know how to make a mess of yourselves.” The giggles had died down, as they realized Lauren was scolding them, and not joining in their joking around. “Well, Dakota’s leg is fine. You three can come crash at my place tonight, before you decide to start any more art projects. Maybe I can talk my Uncle out of giving you a detention for ruining this room.”
Rory shook his head. “I thought it was your Aunt that worked here.”
For a moment, Lauren didn’t look angry. “Well, I still see her as my uncle sometimes.”
Rory nodded. “Oh, he’s a tranny?”
Dylan smacked Rory’s shoulder. “She! She’s a tranny.”
Lauren shook her head. “Yeah. Real progressive, Dylan.”
Dylan swelled with pride. “Thank you.”
Lauren smacked the two boys upside their heads. “It’s transgender, you doofuses. Either say the whole word or say nothing.”
Dylan and Rory rubbed their heads. Rory pouted. “I didn’t remember the word.”
“Yeah, you kids don’t remember a lot of words tonight. I just offered my home to you guys so you wouldn’t have to sleep in whatever nest you built, and y’all seemed to have forgotten what to say to that. Dakota. Do you know the very important words you forgot?”
Dakota scratched her head. “Uh, thank you?”
“Very good.” Rory and Dylan repeated Dakota. “That’s what I like to hear. Boys, come help me get a wheel chair so we can take Dakota home.”
Lauren could have pushed Dakota herself, but Dylan and Rory had lost wandering privileges. The boys stood on either side of Lauren, and if either of them took their hands off of hers while they walked through the hospital, they were given a smack on the bum. They didn’t have to be told twice, which told Lauren that applying the doses of Simplicity directly in the straws still wasn’t fast enough.
Elliot made her promise. He hoped she’d never have to keep it, but now he knew why he hadn’t seen Brianne since Mommy and Daddy came to town. Ugh. Elliot couldn’t remember just how long ago it was, but he was likely older than he was now. Brianne explained to him and Tiana how their family made their living, and all the dangers it presented. They weren’t worried about the dangers, because Brianne assured them that Grandma and Grandpa had protections in place, and Brianne would do her part to keep them safe. They were young enough to believe it. What worried them most was that Elliot’s parents could turn them into babies at will. There was no insult that could ostracize you into the pariah of the playground moreso than being called a baby. If they became actual babies, none of their friends would even look at them anymore. They might even have been expelled from school.
Elliot looked up to Brianne. Not being much older than either he or his cousin, his aunt was more like a sister to him. “You wouldn’t do that to me, would you?”
Brianne had laughed. “What? You don’t wanna be a baby again?”
“Of course I don’t!”
“That’s good to hear. I’d miss talking to you so much. It wouldn’t be the same.”
“Good, don’t ever do that.”
“If you ever do, don’t play with me.”
Brianne found this funny, but Ellie was serious. “What?”
“I don’t want an aunt who would do that to me. Don’t make me grow up with that kind of aunt. Promise me!”
“I won’t, I promise.”
Looking back now, Elliot found it to be more like one of those hollow promises you make to a child when the child is worried about something silly that wouldn’t happen. His parents broke promises like all the time, but those were the easiest to keep. It hurt when he was little, but he understood the broken promises as he grew up. But Brianne wasn’t like that. Elliot was scanning his whole life, looking for a time Brianne ever broke a promise to him.
“I promise, you only have to try one bite.” Elliot remembered when he found out he liked shrimp. He wanted more, but Brianne denied sharing any more of her appetizer with him. “Uh-uh, I promised I’d only make you eat one. Get your own.”
“I won’t drop you! Just don’t look down.”
“Because I’m eating your candy.”
“What!!!” Elliot looked down, and then clung his body against the climbing wall.
“Because of the heights, silly! You don’t have any candy!”
“Don’t eat my candy! Promise me!”
“I promise! Now take a breath and keep going!”
“Don’t drop me!”
Elliot didn’t fall, and Brianne kept a grip on the line, and on his first time rock-climbing, he made it to the top. The pride made the fear of heights worthwhile.
Then Brianne moved away. She finished high school and started working as a Nanny. “Promise me!”
“I’ll be there to watch your play, I promise!”
Elliot couldn’t remember which play it was, but it was one he did after Brianne moved, and one he had a solo in. He didn’t worry about his parents showing up, because that was their job. He didn’t see Brianne in the crowd, but he was actively avoiding all the people watching him, and focusing on his singing. After the play, he found out she wasn’t in the crowd.
He was angry the whole ride home, even when he found Brianne waiting in his front yard. “You promised!”
“You weren’t there!”
“I know I know, but Mommy taped the whole play!”
“So, we can watch the whole thing together. I told you I’d be here to watch your play. I’m sorry I was late, but I can still do that. Will you let me keep my promise?” That was the closest she ever came to breaking a promise to him.
“I don’t want an aunt who would do that to me. Don’t make me grow up with that kind of aunt. Promise me!”
“I won’t, I promise.”
And then he forgot about it. And then he was little. And then he was alone in a hospital room, with his aunt’s housemate sitting at his bedside, but not his aunt. “Is Brianne coming?”
Sarah nodded. “So I’d imagine.”
“Will I be a baby before she gets here?”
Sarah shook her head. “I’m not going to refresh you, Ellie.”
“I don’t believe you.”
Sarah nodded. “I wouldn’t either. But I won’t. Do you want me to call her?”
Elliot shook her head. “Can you call her from this room?”
“The phone’s at the nurses station.”
“Don’t leave me alone.”
Sarah nodded. “Okay, I won’t.”
Elliot rolled his eyes at himself. “I’m sorry. You barely know me.”
Sarah shook her head. “That’s not entirely true.”
“What, did you read my file or something?”
Sarah chuckled. “When I was in grade eight, I had just met Brianne. Me and Karen, I think it was, came over. You were only four at the time, but you wouldn’t leave us alone. Brianne was trying to act cool and detached from the little brat in front of us, but she cared more about telling you off nicely. You wanted her to show us your guys’s dance to us. Back when you were too little to feel embarrassed about dancing to a girl-band. She didn’t want to, so I told you I would. So you taught me the routine, and we danced for Brianne and Karen, and your parents too.” Sarah laughed. “I dunno. I always find it cute looking back on it.”
“That was you?”
Sarah nodded. “I probably would have adopted a daughter if we didn’t do that. It’s fun seeing Martin learn about the world, even stuff he already knows.”
“Already knows? Martin’s like me?”
Sarah nodded and then shrugged. “He used to be a grown-up. Then-” Sarah shrugged. “I let him be little and took him in.”
Elliot scoffed. “You let him?”
Sarah shrugged. “It’s complicated. I don’t want to bore you.”
“I’m not all that busy here.”
“Ellie, I don’t know the protocol here. I’m not a full-fledged Nanny, and I have a feeling those straps are there for my safety as much as yours. If I let you go, will you promise not to do anything stupid? And we can play cards or something?”
“Can I just sleep instead?”
“Yeah, of course.”
“Don’t leave me though.”
After removing the neckbrace and the restraints, Sarah pulled the blanket over Elliot and let him get comfortable enough to sleep. Even if he had his adult mind back, his body was way beyond its bedtime. When Doctor Johanson came back, he noticed Elliot lying freely. “Whoa. You shouldn’t release him just because he fell asleep.”
“He only fell asleep because I released him.”
“He didn’t attack you? How’d you manage that?”
Sarah didn’t manage anything. All she did was address his concerns, told him a story and tucked him in. She didn’t know how Doctor Johanson worked as a Nanny, but Sarah wasn’t going to treat Elliot like cattle just because her attending was used to it. “I treated him like a person.”
“Right then. Tiana, your other patient. She lost the baby. They’re removing it now.”
Sarah sighed. “Can they bring her up here after they close?”
“Brianne is in the waiting room down the hall. She’d like to see you.”
“Send her in.”
“She told me to bring you to her.”
Sarah looked to Elliot. “If you’re awake and want me to stay, just say it. If not I’ll be right back.” Elliot didn’t respond. Sarah stood up and walked to the door.
Doctor Johanson pointed at Elliot. “You shou-”
“No I shouldn’t. Get out.” Sarah closed the door behind them, and she stopped a nurse walking past. “Nurse. You know I’m running point on this kid, right?”
“Good. If he comes out, tell him I’ll be right there. Do not bind him, is that clear?”
Sarah went to the small waiting room, where Kathy and Brianne sat on the couch. “Sarah, what’s the news?”
“How much do you know?”
“I was told to ask you.”
Sarah nodded. “Okay. I thought you outranked me?”
“Well, Tiana lost the baby.”
Kathy and Brianne clenched up. Kathy sighed in relief. “Well, that’s good to hear.”
Kathy scowled at her sister. “She didn’t want it! Would you?”
Brianne shrugged. “That explains the smoking.” Brianne saw Sarah was disgusted with both of them. “Continue.”
“Right. Elliot is asleep. I didn’t apply any refreshment, just a light anxiolytic”
“In English please.”
Brianne spoke. “Oh come on, Kat. Something to calm him down.”
“Was that so hard?”
Sarah sighed. “Okay, I’m out of my element here. I can break the news, but as far as my job performance goes, I don’t know what I should and shouldn’t be doing.”
Brianne shook her head. “You’ve gone above and beyond tonight. I didn’t hear about Tiana until she was in the parking lot.”
“That’s a relief. Elliot wanted to see you.”
Brianne shook her head. “No he didn’t.”
“He wanted me to call you.”
Brianne shook her head. “Okay, but he doesn’t want to see me.”
Kathy scowled at her sister. “Really? You can’t imagine Ellie might feel better if you talked to him?”
“Shut up, the both of you. He doesn’t want to see me.”
Kathy saluted forward, without looking to her sister. “Yes, Ma’am.”
Sarah continued. “Tiana’s in surgery, and she’ll be up here for post-op. Can I let your sister see Elliot?”
Brianne nodded. “Go on.”
Kathy stood up and left without a word. Sarah sat on the chair facing perpendicular to the sofa. “Where are the boys?”
“Oh, I got them a room at the end of the hall. They’re sleeping, or at least they’ll have me believe. I have a feeling Martin doesn’t find Barney to be soporific.”
“Sleep-inducing. Martin didn’t want me to read Flopsy Bunnies to him, so I read it to myself.”
“Ah okay. Is it normal for kids in Elliot’s situation to be restrained the whole time?”
Brianne looked shocked, and nodded. “Yeah? I had one kid break his own neck in a fit? It’s not the easiest transition to go from ready to lucid.”
Brianne cringed. “No! We put him on by-pass and pumped him full of Space-Saver. Then once he stopped rejuvenating, we restarted his heart. He was lucky he didn’t sever any major blood vessels.”
“I don’t quite understand.”
“Without bloodflow, Space-Saver does jack shit. And even when it does, bone doesn’t rejuvenate perfectly if it hasn’t yet remodeled. Took a few refreshments and surgeries to fully erase the break.”
“I’ll say. I had to foster the poor bastard.”
“Okay, I’ll get the neckbrace back on Elliot.”
“Hold up. He didn’t attack you?”
“No, he just wanted me to be tucked in.” Brianne froze and stared at Sarah for a moment. Sarah shrugged. “Why is everyone so baffled by that?”
Brianne leaned back and patted her knee. “You know, I don’t think you’ll be a good Nanny. I think you’ll do better at something else. I don’t know what yet.”
“Should I tell them I’ll finish my residency?”
Brianne shook her head. “No. You still need to train. I just have to think about it.” Brianne stood up. “In the meantime, I have to see a colleague before sunrise. You mind if I leave the boys here?”
Sarah shook her head. “Nah, they’ll be fine eh?”
“Yeah, I’ll be back for them before you clock out.”