Chapter Description: Tommy goes to a birthday part for a child younger than him...and fits right in.
Chapter 22- Not so fun and games
Give them no reason to stare
No slipping up if you slip away
So I got nothing to share
No, I got nothing to say
“Happy birthday to youuuuuuu,” the crowd of party guests sang. “Happy Birthday to youuuuuu.” Tommy sang along. “Happy Birthday dear Deviiiiin. Happy Birthday to youuuuuuuu!” Tommy clapped along with the other guests, even though he didn’t feel much like clapping. It was the polite thing to do; even though Tommy didn’t feel much like being polite.
It had been something of a rough week for young master Dean. Things had not gotten better since Monday. He was still in all of the dumb kid classes, no matter how much he showed that he could do the work. They were barely working on double digit multiplication in math and he’d long ago memorized the names of the Presidents in American History. No matter how many remedial worksheets he’d finished in record time or how insightful his comments seemed, his bevy of new teachers seemed more pleasantly surprised than actually impressed with his accomplishments.
To compound his frustration, not once had he seen the Nanny or that golden playground again. He just couldn’t stop thinking about that day. The “why” and “how” he thought about it varied from day to day and hour to hour: Anticipation, longing, guilt, nostalgia, boredom, and even lust. It was a wide gamut, but that day was almost always on his mind. The school stuff was so easy, he could do most of it in his sleep.
In fact, that’s what he did and was allowed to do. Finish his classwork in five to ten minutes and put his head down, and wait out the rest of the hour. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. He’d managed to fall asleep too, and had been shaken awake by more than one overworked teacher who had actual dumb kids to occupy them until the fifty-ninth minute. It had thrown off his sleep schedule, but that had made little difference. He could literally do this in his sleep.
The clock next to the couch wasn’t opening either. He could be neither the strange realm’s protector, nor the stranger woman’s cute little charge. He was stuck being the short dumb kid that occassionally wet his pants. It seemed that Malacus was abandoning him right when he needed it the most.
Tommy hadn’t wet his pants at school the rest of the week, for what little good that did. He was still a bedwetter, and had to tug even thicker trainers over himself along with plastic pants to prevent leakage. He’d woken up wet, every morning, with no leaks. Then it’d been a matter of dumping wet underwear and plastic pants in the washing machine, showering up and going to yet another day of drudgery filled with fake smiles and easy work. It was quickly becoming routine, almost as if his new body were remembering a lifetime worth alternate hum-drum.
That’s what this was, Tommy had realized, an alternate reality of sorts. He was spell struck, infatuated and frustrated; not stupid. Reality was being restructured around him; he knew that much even if he couldn’t figure out the pattern or the cause and effect relationship. The golden playground, so similar to his armor, definitely meant that this crazy and that crazy were connected. The Nanny had even said she’d been from Malacus, even though all the other denizens had sworn they’d never been outside of it.
The crazy would have to wait for later, when Tommy had time to think.
Later couldn’t come soon enough. In the now, he was at this Devin kid’s tenth birthday party. Tommy didn’t even know anyone here; certainly not Devin, but he’d been lumped in with all the other kids. Devin’s mother was one of Mom’s work friends, (that was weird...Mom having a job...thinking of her as ‘Mom’ instead of Mary was new too), and Tommy had been obligated to tag along.
Tommy had been obligated; but not Katlynn. Katlynn had been allowed to stay at home and enjoy her weekend. Tommy, not so much. He was here with a bunch of kids, and dressed like a nerd: Khaki slacks, a button up shirt, loafers. If he hadn’t come close to throwing a fit, he would have had to wear a bow tie, too. All the fun clothes that had come with this new reality came with an equal amount of bad ones, it seemed.
He was the oldest non-parent here, and yet the only one who looked like his mommy dressed him. Every other ‘guest’ of the party at least got to wear comfortable clothes.
Cake was being served in the kitchen, and the fourth graders were all scrambling for a piece. Those who didn’t want a piece or had already wolfed down their slice were back out in the backyard, playing tag or making like Tarzan on a tire swing.
Tommy would have loved to give that a go, but the line was so long, and the kids were all looking at him funny. It wasn’t something that was inherently aggressive or unwelcoming, but distinctly uneasy. Kind of like how his old classmates tended to look at him these days, minus the friendly familiarity.
He was the weird kid...but also the strange kid, too.
Grown tired and irritable at a wasted afternoon, Tommy wriggled past the throng of ten year olds scrambling for cake. He was taller than them, but just by a head, if that. He tugged on his mother’s sleeve, interrupting her conversation with one of the other parents. It might have been a relative of Devin’s, or another one of Mom’s work friends; Tommy was alone in a sea of strangers. “Can we go home?”
Mom turned to face him. “They’re just serving cake, then we’re doing party games.“ Her voice was patient and quiet; a grown-up explaining to a child without being embarrassed by him. Better than nothing.
“Why do we have to stay?” Tommy was trying to control the amount of whine in his tone. It’d been getting harder and harder.
“Because we were invited,” Mom said. “I thought you’d like to play with some kids closer to your own…” she stopped, obviously searching for the right words.
“My own what…?”
“Kids that were a little more like you.”
Tommy looked at the assembled fourth graders. Some were wolfing down chocolate cake, others had already lost focus and were playing in the backyard. They appeared more with it than the gaggle of drones and jerks he’d been penned in with back in the remedial class, but that was only because they were ten. Their brain tanks were fuller, but they were smaller, too.
“They’re not my friends,” Tommy said. “I don’t know any of them.”
“So? Mom shrugged. “Go make some friends.”
“Why didn’t Katlynn have to come?” It was the question that was bothering Tommy more than anything. When you’re a twin and most every activity is co-op, the absence of your other sticks out in a major way.
Mom tried to shoo him away. “Go play, Tommy.”
“Why couldn’t I have stayed home with her?”
“Seriously,” Tommy pressed. “Why couldn’t I have stayed home with Katlynn?”
Mom put her hand on her hips and gave him a look; it wasn’t quite the infamous and otherwise indescribable ‘Mom glare’, but it was darn close. Tommy was pushing it. “The last time you were alone with Katlynn, you wandered off and fell asleep at that disgusting old playground.”
Oh. Right. Mom had been meeting them at the bus stop every afternoon since. He hadn’t thought to examine that till just now.
One of the mom’s stepped in and grabbed Tommy’s hand. Reflexively, Tommy gripped back and allowed himself to be led. “Come on Tommy, let me introduce you.” Anything to get away from the potential wrath of Mom.
A group of kids stood in a circle and were tossing around a plastic ball. “Hi guys,” she said. “This is Tommy. Can he play with you?”
The kid with the ball pressed some kind of button on it and held it tightly. It wasn’t a regular ball after all. The game on pause, boys all looked at each other, wearily. An outsider was in their midst. It was the dwarven forges all over again. Tommy wasn’t the best at reading people, but he knew he was being measured up. “Okay.” One of the kids finally said. The others shallowly nodded their heads.
It was okay. Not fine. Not great. Not sure. Just okay. Tommy was being allowed in.
The circle widened, and Tommy was allowed to join it. That was enough for the mom. She walked away without so much as a word beyond “Have fun.”
Tommy looked around the circle. “What are you playing?” Tommy asked. “Catch?” He then noticed that several of the kids’ pants were wet. “Whoah!” Tommy said. “Do y’all have accidents, too?” A silent wall of shocked stares met him in response.
Stupid. Real Stupid. Only one kid had a wet patch on his shorts, and he was soaked from the waist down. Several of the other boys had drenched t-shirts. “Accidents?” One of the boys scrunched up his face. “How old are you? Three?”
“Eighteen…” Tommy sounded defensive. Which made sense because he felt defensive, too.
Another boy, Devin, Tommy thought, overheard and joined the circle. “He’s...different,” he said. “My mom and his mom are friends.” He held out his hands and got the ball tossed to him. He held it out so that Tommy could get a closer look.
It was hollow, kind of like a wiffle ball, but through the little grates and holes, Tommy could make out something squishy with a thin membrane.
“It’s got a water balloon in it,” Tommy said.
Devin smiled a little too brightly. “That’s right!” He turned it over to show the button. “And this button is connected to a timer. When it goes off, the balloon pops and water goes everywhere. But we don’t know how much time is left.”
“So you gotta get rid of it as quick as you can, then.” Then Tommy added, “Like a hand grenade.”
“See?” Devin said to his friends. “He gets it.” That sunk Tommy’s mood a bit. Nothing like having to have your intelligence verified by a ten year old to put any lingering self-esteem in check. “Ready?”
Tommy nodded, Devin pressed the button, and the game was on. Toss. Yelp. Catch. Toss. Catch. Yelp. The little plastic orb went sailing across the circle. Tommy hunched over, tense, ready for a catch that never came.
He was part of the circle but not much else.
“Aww! Got me!” The kid’s hair used to be dry, now from his head to his shoulders, he was dripping.
“Loser replaces the balloon,” Devin called. There was a lull in the conversation as the newly soaked kid unscrewed the hollow sphere, reached into a bucket and loaded up a new water balloon. “So...uh...what do you like to do for fun?” he asked Tommy.
Tommy shrugged. “Oh, y’know. Spider-Man. Music.”
“That’s cool….” Devin said. It was empty of any thought. The most literal definition of small talk. He was being talked down to by someone whose voice hadn’t even changed. “What kind of music? Rock? Rap? Country?”
“Oh yeah?” The kid on Tommy’s other side, asked. “Like what? Like uh...Loud House? SpongeBob? We Bare Bears?”
Tommy shook his head. How did he explain theater to a bunch of kids from Scrumpton without an example? “More like...musicals…?”
“Kinda...but not just Disney…”
“Okay…” The other boys nodded their heads in the shallow way people do that means ‘I want you to stop talking but I don’t wanna be rude’. Great, he was being condescended to by people whose voice hadn’t changed yet.
“Ready? Go!” The sphere went back across the circle in the wettest game of hot potato Tommy had ever been witness to. This was a cool game! Now if only he could actually play it. He waited for someone, anyone to throw it to him, but no one would. That was the problem with being the odd man out.
He’d had more fun playing in the old park by himself...himself and Nanny.
“Can I play next? Tommy asked when it was time to reload. “I wanna show you a trick.”
Devin looked askance at him. “Okay…” he finally said. “I’ll give you a turn.”
Oh how generous of him, Tommy thought sarcastically. “Throw it here!” the birthday boy called when the water grenade was loaded up and the timer was ticking. Like the king calling court, the orb was in his hands the very next toss. He placed it in Tommy’s hands. “Okay. Your turn. Now throw it.”
Tommy looked down at the orb, he even felt the slight ticking of the timer if he held it still enough. Suddenly the children who’d been all but ignoring him were all staring. “Throw it!” They said.
“Toss it away, Tommy!”
“Tommy! Throw it to me! Throw it here, buddy! Come on buddy!” Their tones were high(er) pitched, their eyes bright. Some were. They were talking to him like he was a puppy; a simpletone.
Tommy decided to work his trick. “I’m gonna let it cook.” This thing was on a timer. The longer he held onto it, the closer it would be to bursting when he handed it off.
Devin scowled. “This isn’t cooking.”
Tommy just rolled his eyes. He was getting tired of being talked down to. “It’s something people do with hand grenades.”
“But it could explode!” Tommy just smiled at the kid. “Did you hear me, Tommy? The idea is to get RID of the hand grenade, Not hold it!”
A wicked grin spread across Tommy’s lips. “Ohhhhh...not hold it.” Tommy echoed low and slow. “I’m not supposed to hold it. Holding is bad. Got it.” He still held it, quietly counting to himself. He’d spent the last two rounds counting the timer. It was random...between twenty and thirty seconds...so not THAT random. “What am I supposed to do?”
“GIVE IT TO ME!”
Tommy lobbed the orb high and slow over the kid’s head. “Okay.” The thing exploded right before Devin got a good grip on it. “Oh wow.” Tommy smirked. “That really was bad, wasn’t it.”
The kid stood there; fuming; nostrils flaring. No one laughed. No one, save Devin moved. He was staring Tommy down. There was a flare in the kid’s eyes, and even thought Tommy still had a few inches on him, he couldn’t help but feel small by comparison. “You...you...you idiot!”
Two hands shoved Tommy in the chest. Hard. Like a fawn that hadn’t quite learned how to walk yet, Tommy stumbled back and tripped over his own heels, crashing into the grass. He gasped! He’d just gotten shoved down by a little kid! Devin gasped too! But it wasn’t for the same reason.
A wet spot started to form on the front of Tommy’s pants. The thick trainers were instantly overtaxed, and Tommy’s accident immediately started soaking through and stained the front of his khaki pants. Had he already had an accident in them? Tommy couldn’t remember. There was no way he’d be able to claim that it was from a water balloon.
“I’m sorry! I’m SO sorry!” Devin said as Tommy skittered back, staring in horror and disbelief at his own pants. This wasn’t like wearing a diaper; he couldn't just laugh it off and keep playing! He’d done bad. He was going to get in trouble. He had to...he had to…
Tommy had to get away!
“I’ll go get your Mom!” Devin was running back into the kitchen as Tommy dashed in the opposite direction. Devin didn’t sound mad. He sounded like he was running for help. But that didn’t matter. Mommy had been cross with him all week since the playground. Now he’d gone and wet his pants. Mommy would be mad! Mommy would be real mad!
Like a baseball player sliding into home plate, Tommy dove for cover underneath an abandoned snack table. Most of the delicious vittles had been picked clean off of it before cake had been served inside, and now only the cheap quasi plastic table cloth remained.
With the table cloth as a kind of privacy barrier, Tommy poked at himself in the front of his pants and felt the squish, and saw a little puddle form right beneath his finger. God, he’d really messed it up this time!
A pair of familiar legs came into view. He hadn’t seen them from this view in years, but there was something indelible in his mind; memories of him and Katlynn playing hide and seek (badly) with their mother; burying themselves beneath the kitchen table. “Tommy?”
He sensed, more than heard the other boys pointing his direction. An all too familiar pair of legs closed in. With a slight rustle, the table cloth was lifted up and Tommy found himself face to face with his mother. “Tommy? What’s wrong?” Her eyes immediately looked to his pants. “The boys told me you ran under here.”
Tommy felt his mouth go as dry as he wished his pants were. She knew. She already knew. This was a test, nothing more. Confession time. “I hadda accident.”
Mary Dean’s sigh filled the dark little grotto under the table. “Again…?”
The eighteen year old little boy nodded. “Yes ma’am.” He closed his eyes. “I’m sorry.”
His vision temporarily forfeited, Tommy could only feel his mother gently take his hand. “Come on,” she said. “Let’s get you cleaned up.” Tommy had only had two accidents in the last seven days, (he didn’t count the Pampers on the playground), but his mother acted like this was an all too common inconvenience for both of them. She didn’t sound angry, as much as she did weary.
Tommy opened his eyes and allowed himself to be taken inside by the hand. His head down, he allowed her to lead him through clusters of onlookers and party guests; the dark dripping stain on the front of his pants a badge of shame. Even though he avoided it, he still heard Devin’s apologetic mumblings of “Sorry, Tommy.”
The mumblings of kids and adults who had infinitely more control over their bladders than he, faded as Mom shut the bathroom door behind them. Steering him by his shoulders, Tommy was maneuvered to the toilet. Without waiting, warning, or asking, Mom pulled his pants and soaked trainers down to his ankles. Poor James the Red Engine. “Sit down.” Her tone was not scolding. There seemed to be a great deal of patience behind it.
Tommy sat down as he was told. Not even caring that he was half naked. “Yes ma’am.”
“Go pee-pee,” she instructed, peeling off his shoes and socks and working his pants off. “Get anything you’ve got left out.”
Tommy strained and flexed his bladder. Nothing. “I think I’m empty.” He was bare from the waist down. Mommy was folding up his wet pants and slipping it into a gallon baggie that she’d been keeping in her purse.
When that was done, Mommy opened up another compartment of her big bag. “Let’s get you into some play clothes, hon.”
Young master Dean felt his heart skip a beat. “Play clothes?”
She took a packet of baby wipes; not quite as big as the ones Nanny had had; more of a sample pack or travel size. “Stand up.” He did so without question. He waited and breathed in shallow, wincing breaths as his mother wiped his penis and public area for him.
Nex out came something blue and red and crinkly with a certain wall-crawling web slinger plastered all over. “Spider-Man diapers?”
“Not diapers, honey,” Mom corrected him. “Goodnites. You’re still a big boy.” She didn’t see how his face fell. I was going to have you put this on later,” she said. “In case the party ran late and you fell asleep on the car ride home. Looks like we gotta do it now.”
“Yes ma’am…” Tommy tried to hide his embarrassment.
She popped them open and Tommy stepped in. “I also think we may have to look into something a little more absorbent than your training pants. You might have to wear these during the day.”
“Yes ma’am…!” he did his best to hide his excitement. She slid them up his hips for him, and he bit his lip to suppress a smile. Mom went back and started digging around in her purse. “I’ve got a pair of shorts in here, somewhere.” She did.
Tommy stepped into those and then put his socks and shoes back on all by himself. His trainers had been absorbent enough at least to at least spare them. “I’ll finish cleaning up in here,” she told him. “Go play.”
Tommy stumbled out of the bathroom and back into the birthday party. The kids throwing him pitying looks as he walked back out to the backyard. A pinata was being set up by one of the adults. After his freak out and accident, Tommy felt terribly conspicuous. The only highschooler at a kid’s birthday party. Moreso, he swore he could hear the crinkle in his baggy shorts every step he took, and he still had the button up shirt on.
He’d come to the party looking like a toddler who’d been dressed by his Mommy. Now he looked like a Toddler that had been allowed to dress himself.
“Hey Tommy!” one of the kids called, breaking him “You wanna play on the tire swing?!” "DO I?!"