Chapter Description: The beginning of Clark's first day back as a "student".
The sun wasn’t up yet when I got to school. Just like always. I wasn’t yawning, though. I’d had nothing to eat or drink since my highchair feeding the night before, but I was more awake than if I’d chugged fifteen espressos.
My head was on a swivel. To my right was the empty P.E. field and playground. To my left was the school building; most of my co-workers...ex coworkers...just turning their lights on. I was just short of having a full on panic attack, only the grim reminder that I was already functionally dead...that Clark Gibson was functionally dead...kept me from a complete and utter freak out.
No rubbing the sleep out of my eyes. My hands were too busy flexing and grabbing at the air. That and fiddling with the absolutely humiliating outfit Janet had dressed me in this morning. In lieu of wearing any number of babyish onesie, Janet had selected to dress me in the sailor suit.
“Gotta make sure you look proper for your first day back!” She’d told me. Any arguments I’d had were cut off by the reminder that she’d only promised not to dress me up in that horrible mockery of my old teaching outfit. Bound by my word, my pride had to take a back seat.
Speaking of back seats: Soft smooth plastic and loose waisted pants with elastic waistbands are like oil and water. Every few steps I took I kept reaching back to hike up the white sailor shorts so that the top of my diaper was properly covered. That, or yanking the shirt down. Nothing did much good. No matter what I did, it was going to be obvious to any passerby that my toilet and my underwear had been combined.
The crinkle with every step I took kept me on my toes, too. Janet and everyone else had toted me around so much (not to mention my screaming) over the last few days that I’d yet to fully account just how much the sound of my state would be following me around. It was like I’d had an empty potato chip bag stuffed into my pockets...except that these shorts didn’t have pockets.
Between the sound and the constant paranoid feeling that SOMEONE SOMEWHERE could see the top of my diaper poking out of my shorts, it was the emotional equivalent of picking at a scab. At least it kept me distracted from messing with the hat. Yes, the stupid hat was included in the outfit.
“Clark, if you keep playing with your clothes, I’m going to hold your hand.” No threat there, from Janet. No malice. Just fact. That almost made it scarier.
I turned my head around and looked back to Janet. She was walking a few steps behind me, a box of Monkeez tucked under one arm and her cell phone in the other hand. I heard a few clicks and dings from it. She was taking pictures and posting them already. Baby’s first day of school, no doubt.
I’d been allowed, trusted even, to walk ahead of Janet, because of the talk we’d had sunday. Also, I was a diapered Little at a school where everyone on faculty knew my face and had longer legs than me. The first waves of buses hadn’t arrived yet, so only “Teacher’s Kids” were on campus. No crowd of anysort to slink off into.
Also, where the fuck was I gonna run to? My old house was a fifteen minute to twenty minute ride away by scooter; not on foot. I stuck out like a sore thumb. I MIGHT have stood a snowballs’ chance of slinking off if I had any of the plain and conservative outfits Beouf had gifted at the baby shower...not in this getup though.
I could strip off the white shorts and navy blue trimmed shirt, but no Little stood a chance of taking off an Amazon manufactured diaper. I’d done all of these calculations before I’d been unbuckled from the car seat.
“Yes, Jan-...” I stopped myself. We were technically in public. “Yes... Mommy.”
Janet squealed a little bit at that, but kept her stride. Yikes, she really liked being called that. I was almost eighteen months older than her, but she absolutely thrilled in me calling her that…
Her long dark hair was tied up in a bun. Her pristine white blouse and ankle length navy blue skirt matched the color scheme of my sailor outfit. That was nothing new for Janet. She always dressed at the height of professionality, form over function. But in Amazon society, form was function. The more “adult” you dressed, the more “adult” you were. Outside of picture day, Beouf got away with her more relaxed attire because her job involved having to chase around Littles all day. The fact that she was regularly drowning in “babies” made her more than adult enough by the giants’ standards.
I looked like (maybe) an eighteen month old, dressed up to match his Mommy.
I hadn’t even realized I’d been trying to hike my shorts up again… My hands instead went to my stomach as an overdue cramp made itself known. I hadn’t pooped the night before. Tossing and turning in the crib hadn’t done anything to speed up the inevitable. This time last week, I would have simply excused myself and gone in my own private bathroom in the classroom, and caught up just in time for clocking in.
That wasn’t in the cards, today. I wasn’t ready to say “anymore” in place of “today”. I said a quick, vain, silent prayer that I could hold it in; knowing just how unlikely it was. My classroom wasn’t my own anymore, and the bathroom I had available was personalized, but far from private.
Part of me told me that I’d get used to all of it. A bigger part was still turning gears on how I would escape this situation. I didn’t need to get used to it. I just needed to get through it. I just needed to get through today. If I was “good” today, I’d get to see Cassie again.
I didn’t know what I was planning to do; maybe slip a note to her? Maybe give her my blessing to run back to her Dad’s? Maybe find a coded way to get her to start finding a way to bust me out? I don’t know what I was thinking. Desperate times called for desperate thoughts. I was desperate. Cassie was the one thing that was keeping me going.
So yeah. If that meant having to poop my pants and pretend to be okay with it…
Still not there yet.
So yeah. If that meant not screaming my head off for close to seven hours and not try to break toys and flip tables and punch every person taller than me right in the nose, so be it. If that meant having to humor Janet and call her “Mommy”, sure; I’d play along. I might have to fold a few hands before it was even time to ante up. I might have to even fold when it was my turn to be the big blind, but I still had a place at the table as far as I was concerned.
The front door of Mrs. Beouf’s room opened up a few steps before I got to it. “Helloooooo!” Beouf practically sang. “Good morning, you two. Come on in!” Obviously, she’d been waiting. Ten years. I’d known Beouf for ten years, seen her almost every morning, and I could count on one hand the number of times, I’d walked through the front door. Almost always, my morning ritual was me going through to my own room and sneaking in the back. It was the difference between visiting prison and being frog marched through the front gate.
If anyone thinks I’m exaggerating, think of it like this: Littles don’t get to go to prison; even in movies. We just go to places like Beouf’s room. Gaslighting daycares or re-education classes or etiquette schools or whatever the trendiest name is for everyone knows is essentially the same thing.
I felt another light cramp in my gut. Hopefully it was just anxiety. Hopefully I’d vomit.
“It’s okay, baby. Go on in.” Janet gently nudged me. “Go to your teacher.”
Beouf stepped aside for me to cross the threshold, and held the door open for Janet. I looked around the room. So familiar, but I’d already noticed changes that had been made. There was still coffee, but the pot was more than half-empty. The bevy of sugar and creamers and flavors that I liked were conspicuously absent. The pot was pushed all the way to the back of the counter. I’d have had a hard time reaching it even if the step stool hadn’t been removed. The morning java had been poured; but none of it was for me.
With just a few minor modifications stripped away, Beouf’s preschool nursery had been completely Little-proofed. Me-proofed. The backdoor was closed, but it would have been an easy bet to say that the pull-chords I used to gain access on the other side were also things of the past.
“Here’s his diapers,” Janet said. She handed the box to Beouf. “Oh, and a couple bibs on top. He can be a messy eater. I didn’t think he’d need a backpack, since any papers he has can just be sent to me when I pick him up. Oh, how are we gonna do pick up? I haven’t even thought of tha-?”
Beouf cut Janet off with a knowing head shake and an even more knowing laugh. “Oh, you first timers. So worried about every tiny thing that you forget the basics. It’s a good look for you.” Janet blushed. “For both of you. It’s cute.” Was it possible to blush and be angry at the same time? I think so. “I’ll just keep him with me after his classmates get back on their bus. You can pick him up here after you drop off your students in the loop.”
My old mentor took the box to the bathroom. She came back with the bibs still in hand. “I’ll have Mrs. Zoge unpack his diapers after breakfast. I’ll let you know when we’re getting low so you can bring another.”
“I prefer it to the parents who only send two or three diapers a day in their kids’ backpacks,” Beouf said.
A backpack! That’s what I needed! Something with lots of pockets to spirit away contraband and escape tools should the opportunity present itself. That and another layer to hide the back of my diaper when my pants started creeping down again...
Janet scoffed. “No way. If I forget to refill his backpack one day, that’s putting you on the spot to find spares.”
“Yeah,” Beouf replied. “I understand parents wanting to keep track of how many diapers their kids are going through in a day, but it’s just not practical.” I saw her roll her eyes. “But,” she said, “If I complain too hard about it, Brollish will probably have me filling out some form or another every time I change a diaper and send it home with them.”
Janet agreed. “Totally. She’s petty like that. Always bends over backwards for the parents.”
“You’re the parent now, though.” Beouf said. The two giggled and looked at me. I looked away.
“Oh,” my so-called Mommy added. “I don’t mind if some of Clark’s diapers are used as back up if one of his classmates runs out. What about the bibs?”
My oldest friend flopped the bibs in her hand. “Sharpie marker them real quick. Put his name on them. We’ll drop them off at the cafeteria before sign-in. The ladies there are nice enough to wash them with the dish rags.”
“Oh great!” Janet took the bibs back and strode over to Beouf’s desk, snatching up a marker and labeling them.
Complaining about parents. Bitching about administration. Last minute preparations before the kids got to class. Random smalltalk. It was so normal; so everyday. Just talking shop. It felt different knowing I was the shop. Even when Beouf had a tendency to go Amazon crazy and talk about forty year olds like they were toddlers and I had to tune out lest I cringe, I was still part of the conversation.
“Excuse me,” I said. I even raised my hand. “I’m kind of thirsty. Could I have some…-?” I looked over to the coffee pot. Hope against hope bubbled in me.
“Use your words, Clark.” Janet looked delighted that I was talking at all after the weekend.
Beouf looked sad for an instant; but only just so. “I’m sorry, baby. Coffee’s a bad idea for you. That’s for grown-ups only, and I don’t have any more syrups or sugar or the stuff you used to like.”
“I’ll take it black.” I said. “Just like when we first met, remember?”
If that reminder bothered Beouf, it didn’t show. “I have some juice or some milk that I can put into a bottle for you. Would you like that?”
“No.” I said. Then I remembered what was at stake. Janet was still in the room. Then, “No thank you.”
Mrs. Beouf hunkered down so that she was eye-level to me. “Aww, Clark. Are you still worried about what you said to me this Saturday.” I didn’t have time to answer one way or another. “It’s okay, baby. I forgive you. I’m not mad about it. You were having some really big feelings.” She opened her arms wide in the universal gesture for an embrace. I didn’t move. She may have forgiven me, but the feeling wasn’t quite mutual.
“You don’t have to give me a hug if you don’t want to. That’s fine.” She stood up, and Janet handed her the sharpie marker. “Now what time is-?”
The door opened up again, this time from the outside. Right on schedule, in walked Mrs. Zoge and Ivy. “Good morning every-” She stopped when she saw me. Between her gaping smile and her clapping her hands to her cheeks, Zoge’s face became so taut with joy that every wrinkle on her face disappeared for an instant. “Ooooooh! He’s wearing the outfit I bought for him!” Her flats pattering on the floor as she marked time and flapped with excitement sounded like galloping horses.
Ivy’s reaction was slightly more delayed. She came in a rose colored sleeveless dress, her hair kept in place with a bow and did her curtsy, the bottom of her plastic backed padding peeking out a bit as she did it.
“Hiiiiiii!” she froze mid curtsy. “MR. GIBSON!? “YOU’RE A BABY, TOO?!”
The giants all laughed. “Clark’s maturosis finally kicked in,” Beouf said. My ears burned at that “finally”. “He’s gonna be in our class, now. Will you be a good girl and help him learn what it’s like this week?”
Ivy lost all composure. “UH-HUH!” Just like her captor, she marked time and flapped in excitement. It really was uncanny. Unlike Janet and me, Zoge really was old enough to be Ivy’s mother. Mine and Janet’s too, technically. It made the resemblance between Amazon and Little seem that much more familial. How much was coincidence and how much was the workings of a Little’s Salon, I wondered in that moment.
The thirty year old woman-child tromped up to me and gave me a rough approximation of a hug. I say “approximation” here because:
1. In no way did I even attempt to hug her back and,
2. It was one of the most physically painful things that I could imagine.
I couldn’t breathe! My arms were pinned to the side and I was wheezing for air. I didn’t know if the crackling sound was coming from our two diapers or if my ribs were cracking! Incredible! This girl gril was almost half a foot shorter than me, wore a size smaller Monkeez than I did, and could absolutely positively kick my ass in a fight! She might’ve been stronger than my father-in-law! If she had squeezed at my gut instead of my chest and shoulders, there’s no doubt in my mind that I would have been forced to fill my pants on the spot!
This...this is why Ivy was so often the line leader in Mrs. Beouf’s class. Not just because she was a full-native goody two shoes; but because her grip was damn near Amazonian! Any Little forced to hold her hand wouldn’t get away; and misery sure loved company, so the next Little in the chain would get no mercy, and so on and so forth.
“We’re gonna be bestest friends Mr. Gibson!” she said.
“He’s not Mr. Gibson anymore, Ivy.” Janet said. She took a knee and placed her hand on Ivy’s shoulder. Thankfully, that reminded the girl to let me go. I audibly gasped, sucking breath back into my lungs. “He’s Clark. Clark Grange.” I was too busy not dying to wince. “You can just call him Clark.”
Ivy took the cue. “Hiiiii Clark!” she waved again. “I’m Ivy.”
Janet was watching us like we were two kittens batting around a ball of string.
“Sorry if I hugged too hard. Mommy says I gotta be gentle with my friends. Can we be friends, please?” No. No we could not. Absolutely not. Never in a million years. “I always wanted to be friends with you, but I was a-scareded.”
Shit. Fuck. Damn.
I broke a little bit. “Um...sure…”
Fuck it. In all the prison movies, the brilliant hero always made friends with a well meaning brute, right? Right. Same rules applied to mind fucking daycare. That and in ten years, those few sentences were probably the most I’d ever heard out of Ivy. What can I say, I melted a little. I felt bad for her.
“Janet,” Beouf said, thumbing to the clock on the wall. “It’s time to go.”
Zoge was putting her purse down. “Don’t worry,” she said “I’ll watch the babies and take them to the bus loop in a few minutes. We’ll meet you there, ma’am.”
“Okay,” Beouf said. “See you two Little Ones, there.”
Janet nuzzled me on the forehead. “Have a good first day at school, Clark.” She kissed me on the cheek and stood up. “I love you.” The thing is, in her own weird way, I think she meant it.
“Don’t worry,” Mrs. Zoge said. “They’ll be fine.” She looked at Janet. “He’ll be fine. I promise.”
The two mad giantesses got up and left, Janet having to double back because she forgot the bibs she’d just marked. It was the first time in forever that I hadn’t joined any of them, speed walking along to keep up with their leisurely stroll.
Maybe it was just me being sensitive, but the pair seemed to be walking faster without me. They didn’t have old Clark to slow down for so he could hustle on behind them. They didn’t have Old Clark at all. They now had the ability to leave Little Baby Clark behind…
Another difference in the ritual this time: No Tracy. Normally, Tracy would have popped her head in long before Zoge and Ivy intruded in on our jokes and bitching. Beouf and Janet were exiting the same way we always had, through Beouf’s back door to cut into my classroom as a shortcut.
Why no Tracy though?
Was she sick? Avoiding me? If so, why? Was she ashamed of bailing on me? Not coming to my defense? Or was she just busy un-Littleing my classroom; removing step stools and ladders and such?
I clutched at the dumb sailor hat on top of my head and pulled it down, wishing I could rip it apart. I wish I could have torn out my newly curled and even redder than red hair. Anger was such a more useful emotion than sorrow.
I watched the door closed, shutting me out of an aspect of my life that I’d had no idea that I’d miss as much as I did right then. All my old friends were walking up to the front office without me, and I was left with people who knew nothing about me but felt they already knew everything.
I felt myself start to tear up and had to bite my tongue to focus. Just get through today. Just get through today. Tomorrow will be a new problem and the day after that. Just get through today.
That’s when I felt two Amazon sized fingers hook into the back of my pants...