Chapter Description: Clark has one last, awful stop before he has a chance to see his wife...
People think that love is patient. They think that love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It goes on a bit, all the great and benevolent things about love and how nice it is. It’s a nice sentiment.
It’s also patently false. Love is when you feel incomplete, missing something, like a hunger for your soul. Then suddenly, you meet someone and they complete that part of you. You’re complementary to each other, and when you’re around each other you feel less empty; more complete if not totally complete. And selfishly, oh so selfishly, you want to be around that person who is a bandaid to your brain and nourishment to your soul.
Love is selfish. Love is a longing that can only be satisfied by having a certain someone in your life. Love is just as intense and addictive as the sweetest drug. Love makes you desperate. Love makes you stupid. Love tears you open and spills your guts out onto the floor if you don’t get it or isn’t returned.
To hear someone say that they love unconditionally and freely cheapens the very concept of love and makes the connections that you have with that love flimsy and less special. To say that is to say that everyone is equally replaceable in your eyes; no difference beyond perhaps a choice of menu item at a fast food joint.
Love makes you do stupid, stupid, horrible things. Janet loved me. Of that I had no doubt. It was a twisted, crazy, Amazonian love, but to her it was love nonetheless. It’s that love that destroyed our friendship when I couldn’t return it. It’s that love that got her to adopt me. It’s that love that made her agree to take me to see Cassie one last time, even though there was no good tactical reason for her to do so. In the same way that I’d come to the realization that seeing Cassie this one last time would do nothing to help me or her in the long run, Janet must have realized that dangling my wife over my head was a carrot that would quickly expire.
She agreed to it because she loved me. Later on, other Amazons would tell her that she was spoiling me and approaching that love from the wrong angle…
I loved Cassie. She was the love of my life and I was doing something incredibly dangerous, incredibly stupid, and profoundly tactically unsound. I’d allowed myself to be cowed and gaslighted throughout the day all on the promise that I’d get to see her one last time before being taken away (as far as my captors were concerned) forever.
I’d have done it again, too. If the previous day, Janet had promised me that I could see my wife, but only if I lasted a week without incident, I’d have done it. A month. A semester. A year. I would have chased that carrot right over a cliff. I’d have still plotted my eventual escape; the rendezvous with Tracy would have gone over the same, but I would have behaved. Within a week I’d have been dismissed as a model prisoner.
That’s what love does to a person. It makes them stupid. Breaks their spirit and reins them in faster than any amount of torture could do.
I behaved that first day in Beouf’s class: swallowed my pride, filled my pants, tried not to cry, and did everything I could not to make the scene I so desperately had wanted to. I did it for love. I did it for one last chance to see Cassie.
If you’re reading this, I want you to step back from the particulars of my situation. Maybe you’re a Little that has avoided capture up until this point, and you’re judging me strategically. Perhaps you’re a Tweener and you’re idly curious as to what life might have been like for you if you were just a couple of feet shorter. You might even be an Amazon, cosseting and chuckling to yourself that this can’t possibly be real; no Little could really write this well; certainly not one who was so immature.
Clear your mind.
Pretend you have an affliction that’s more universal than adoption and a quack diagnosis of Maturosis. Pretend you’re afflicted with a terrible disease, one that will eat away at you and leave you a shell of your former self. Perhaps you’ll live; but odds are you’ll die. Not only that but you’re going to die far away and sequestered from almost everyone you’ve ever known and loved. A few people will visit your hospital room, you can tell that they don’t see you anymore, but the cancer that is eating away at you.
Now pretend that you’d get one final chance to see the person whom you love most in the world one last time. You still might live, but that’s an outside chance. You might never get the opportunity to see them ever again. The catch is, in order to be cleared to see your love, you’ll have to undergo a series of painful treatments. Treatments that will hurt you and make you scream out in pain and agony; they might even cause your disease to progress faster. But it’s the one and only surefire chance to see the love of your life, even if it’s just one last time.
Just one last time. So much hurt. So much risk. You might even accidentally infect your love.
Would you do it?
Love is neither patient, nor kind.
You’re damn right I would.
I stood there on the curb towards the very very back of the bus line, anchored in place by the incredibly strong Ivy Zoge and her Mommy watching over us. Beouf was busy loading the other Littles onto their bus, with the help of a driver and attendant; strapping them into child seats that they had no hope of escaping.
The ol’ cheese wagons staggered their arrival times in the morning, but left as one giant fleet in the afternoon. Even with strict travel routes and teachers doing their darndest to herd the massive tide of kindergarten through fifth graders, it still had the rushing disorganized quality of an anthill that had just been kicked.
Almost there. That’s what I kept telling myself. I was almost there. Almost to Cassie. Everyone at school already knew. They’d already seen me in my white and navy blue play clothes. Even the kids knew that the sudden waddle and the bulge in my pants had nothing to do with weight gain. The worst, for the time being, was over.
A few more minutes and I’d be home...sort of. One last time. I’d at least get to go to sleep in that crib with fresh memories of my own front door.
I told myself this and stood there, being a ‘good baby’. A bad report from Beouf seemed unlikely, but still possible. An inopportune freakout might be witnessed by Janet and then I’d be labeled as too fussy to go see a ‘Grown-Up Little’ like my wife. So just breathe in and out.
“Sorry I kissed you Clark.”
I looked to my side and regarded Ivy. I was legitimately surprised. “Um...I forgive you…?” I said. I didn’t say ‘it’s okay’. Another old teacher trick. Don’t use words that give the kid tacit permission to transgress again. What happened wasn’t okay by me, but I had forgiven her; in part because Ivy really was a kid on some level of my psyche. I’d never known her any other way.
“Mommy said that even though I’ve known you for a long long time that you’re still new to being a baby and so I gots ta treat you like a new kid instead of an old friend.”
“Oh...um...I understand.” I shrugged lightly. My head started swiveling. From Ivy to the bus. As usual, the pre-schoolers and the Littles were last to load up. Where was Janet? She normally dropped off her students by now, and it’s not like she didn’t know where to find Beouf’s bus. Had I misunderstood the plan this morning?
“So do you want to?”
I stopped making my neck do an impression of a sprinkler. “Want to what?”
“Be my friend?” Ivy asked.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Beouf come out of the bus. All of my new classmates had been loaded up. Next stop: their own personal nursery prisons. “Sure,” I lied. “We can be friends.” I held up a finger, half expecting a pair of puckered lips. “But just friends. You don’t kiss just friends do you?”
A not-so-goody goody grin snuck onto Ivy’s mug. Over the roar of the departing buses, Ivy’s answer would only be heard as an atonal murmur. “Just the cute ones.” She put her pacifier in her mouth and started sucking on it, looking away from me.
“Another day, another dollar, right my love?” Mrs. Zoge asked Ivy once the rumbling roaring fleet had pulled out onto the concrete riverway. The surprisingly strong girl let go of my hand and reached towards her surrogate mother in the near universal sign for ‘uppies’.
Just that space was enough to make me feel an inch of relief. Beouf was standing beside me, staring at me like I was a kitten or something. “So what now?” I asked in the sudden quiet of the moment.
In reply two hands covered my eyes, blocking out the world. “Guuuuess who?”
“Ja-....?” I halted my speech. It wasn’t just the two of us. A deal was a deal and I hadn’t gotten what I wanted from her. “Mommy…” I said as monotone as I could. Not aggressive, but certainly not the cheery little bleating she’d be craving. Damnit. There is literally no way to call someone ‘Mommy’ and have it be dignified.
My vision came back, and the walkway fell away from me. “Thaaaaat’s right!” I was back on her hip in that instant, holding onto her shoulder for balance even as she scooped her arm under my bum. Her lips were peeled back in a bright toothy smile. “It’s Mommy!” She kissed me on the cheek. “I missed you!”
Not that I wanted to, but I didn’t get so much as a chance to reply.
“How was he?” she asked Mrs. Beouf. Her voice was slightly lower, more even keeled in talking with the other Amazon; the other ‘Grown-Up’. A blatant reminder of my status, as if I’d had the opportunity to forget.
“Clark was very good,” Beouf replied. “He was a little cranky at breakfast but he ate it all like a good boy after he went poop. Just needed to make some more room.”
A very large part of me wanted to curl up and die. I would have thought I was emotionally numb to it at this point, but the present company and lack of other suffering Littles made the talk feel hyper focused and the burden heavier; less spread out.
“Oh? He went poop?” Janet repeated as if it wasn’t loud enough the first time. “Good. I was worried he might be constipated when I changed him this morning and didn’t find any presents.”
The two women laughed, knowingly. Zoge too. The tired laugh of motherhood from people who had to find humor in the banality of everyday situations. Ivy kept sucking on her pacifier and stared at me.
“He was very good the rest of the day,” Mrs. Beouf went on. “Got along with all the other kids, even after Ivy went and kissed him.”
Janet looked over to the Little in Zoge’s arm. “Ivy!” she scoffed. “That’s too nice!” She sounded like she was scolding a naughty puppy, but not particularly mad about it. The opposite was more likely true.
“Don’t worry, Ms. Grange,” Zoge said solemnly. “Ivy and I had a talk about it. No more kissing without asking. Promise.” She looked at Ivy. “Right, Ivy?” Ivy buried her head in her Mommy’s shoulder and elicited ‘Awwwws’ all around.
Was Ivy actually blushing? Did this full native actually have a bit of pride left to embarrass? Why had I never seen this side of her before? Maybe because I hadn’t looked for it. Or maybe she was playing them, which would have been even more cunning than I had given the girl.
“He was a tad over-stimulated, after our first round of centers,” Beouf continued. “So I gave him some quiet time. Miss Tracy even gave him a nice visit and talked to him for a few minutes.”
“That was nice of her,”Janet commented. “We’ll have to tell her thank you later.” She bobbed me up a bit to let me know I was included in that ‘we’.
Almost all of this was something I might have told Janet on my own if she had asked me directly. She didn’t though. I wasn’t trusted to be a reliable narrator in my own life, anymore.
“Last time he needed changing was just before Lunch. He woke up dry and was dry just before we left for the buses. But we gave him plenty to drink. If he hasn’t turned into a fountain yet, he probably will soon.” Beouf’s report on the state of my pants got me another jostle, this one a not-so-subtle attempt to see if I squished more than crinkled.
It was true. I woke up from the nap and walked the playground needing to pee. Not desperately, mind you, but my bladder was likely over half full. Had I actually needed diapers, I’d most certainly have been wet. It’s almost like I wasn’t actually a baby. Funny that.
“I hope he’s not trying to hold it in,” Janet raised her tone slightly. “We had a talk with the doctor about that. It’s not good to try.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Beouf waved the concern off. “He’ll get distracted or tired and anything that needs to come out will come out. Happens all the time with them. Happened before Lunch.”
As things stood, I’d resigned myself to no potty breaks until Janet was good and sure that I’d accepted my fate. I was going to hold it in until after I’d said my goodbyes and whispered my plans to Cassie. The padding wasn’t going to come off, but I could still keep it dry a while longer. Easily.
“So good day?” Janet asked.
“Very good day.”
The three started walking. “Coming over?” Beouf asked. “I don’t mind if Clark plays with the toys while we chat. Or are you going to your room to grade papers?”
Janet slowed and started to pivot towards the front office. “Neither. I’m checking out early. I promised someone a treat if he was good on his first day.” I saw the wink. I felt I was meant to.
“Ivy and I are going to get going too,” Zoge said. She appeared to be headed toward her car.
Beouf nodded and waved. “That’s fine,” she said. “See you all tomorrow, bright and early!” My old mentor looked up at me and added in a chirpy “Bye, Clark!”
“Wave Bye-bye,” Janet whispered. I did, just so that Beouf would stop trying to get me to copy her.
“Oh! MY! GOODNESS!” The sound of Raine Forrest’s howling was loud enough to hear even before Janet had opened the door all the way. She was standing up from her desk and hopping. “HE LOOKS SO FRIGGIN’ ADORABLE!”
“Hey Miss Forrest,” Janet said amiably enough. I looked back over Janet’s shoulder, counting the seconds to when I’d be buckled into a five point harness and taken back down the familiar path to my house one last time. “Just leaving work early.”
The school receptionist took out a book and opened it. “Sure, sure. Sign here. Date and time.” I started looking away and could still feel Raine’s eyes burning a hole into the back of my skull.
“Thank you.” Janet started signing out. Slowly. So slowly.
I was beginning to understand why Ivy sucked on a pacifier. My tongue would be a bloody stump by the end of the month and my teeth would be ground into nubs if I didn’t find some kind of replacement behavior. When even an eye roll could be seen as a form of rebellion, sucking on one’s thumb or masking with a rubber bulb felt safer.
“He looks so much better this way.” Raine said. “So much more appropriate. I just wish it had happened sooner.”
“Well, his Maturosis hadn’t kicked in yet,” Janet replied dreamily.
“Thank goodness it did.” Both women appeared to be glowing; oddly content. “Finally. You’re so lucky.”
“Thank you,” Janet kept glowing. “I think both of us are. Some things are just meant to be.”
Raine slumped back down into her chair. “Yeah. I guess so.” If only I could bottle that bitter disappointment lurking just beneath the surface, I’d sell it as a cologne and be rich.
“Actually,” Janet said, putting down the pin. “Before I head out, I need to go to the bathroom. Would you mind watching Clark for a minute?”
That’s how I ended up in Raine Forrest’s lap.
Raine was already bobbing me up and down in her lap, holding me loosely by the wrists like I was her marionette. “I’d love to.”
“Okay, Clark. You be good for Miss Forrest.”
Don’t growl, don’t growl, don’t growl, don’t growl. “Yes.”
“Yes…?” It was Raine who was verbally proddingprodding me.
Damnit. I kept my eyes off my least formidable enemy.
“Yes...Mommy.” I was going to call her Janet as much as possible when we got in the car, just to counterbalance her crazy and remind her that there was more than some imagined baby riding in the back seat.
“I’ll be right back!” And she rushed off to the bathroom. If I had done it like that, Raine would be snatching me up proclaiming ‘potty emergency’, or something equally contrived.
No need now. She had me, and the only consolation I had was that her hold would last only as long as it took for Janet to wipe, flush, and wash her hands.
“Hi Clark.” I felt her smile and sneering down at me from her lap. She bounced me. “Little crinklebutt!” she cooed. “So cute.” I didn’t respond. If you can’t say something nice and can’t get away with punching them in the nose…
“This is so much better, don’t you agree?” She prodded me. “Don’t you.”
Lie. Lie for Cassie! Lie just to shut her up. “Yes, ma’am.” For once, I sounded as defeated as I felt. So that was kind of nice in a weird cathartic way.
“Aren’t you happier now that you’re in your proper place?”
“If you say so, ma’am.”
“No more having to pretend to be a big boy. You finally got what you needed!”
Comparing and contrasting my experiences, I imagined I looked like the Little girl back in the salon chair a few days ago. I certainly felt like it. It was weird when Janet Grange, Melony Beouf, and even Zoge infantilized me. I’d had good memories of them. Adult memories that made it hard to completely close myself off to their treatments.
Raine? Emotionally speaking, this was cake.
“Ohhhh Clark.” I looked up at my long time nemesis. “I have something for you.” She’d let go of my right wrist and opened a desk drawer. In her hand was a lump of chocolate. A bon bon. Something that came in a tiny pre-packaged box, possibly with a safe chili variant that Amazons might find tolerable and proof to a foolish Little that the rest was safe to eat.. “A treat. A gift.”
If I ate that training chocolate, I’d be all but bowel incontinent in the space of a few hours. Possibly it might last for days. Longer, depending on how my system reacted.
“I…” I faltered. “I’m not hungry, Miss Forrest. Thank you.” I started wriggling in her lap, uncomfortable. Wanting distance. Needing Janet to get back.
“Oh, it’s just a chocolate,” she replied, ever the snake staring at its mouse. “One teensy chocolate. For being such a good baby.”
“I want to be a good baby,” I said. “That’s why I don’t want to spoil my appetite.” I felt like breaking into a cold sweat.
Her other hand coiled itself around my waist. “This won’t spoil your dinner, baby. I promise. If anything it’ll help make lots and lots of room.”
Threat confirmed. My hands started prying at her fingers. The hand with the chocolate started closing in. “Clark,” the monster woman hissed. “Do you really want your new Mommy to see you like this? Struggling and fussing? What would she think? I know she wants you to be good.”
“I don’t have to eat it!” I took a swipe trying to hit the chocolate out of her palm and onto the dusty carpet below. Missed! “Oops!”
“Clark,” she leaned down and whispered. “Be a good baby and eat it. No need to be naughty.”
Teeth clenched, I snarled, feeling like a cornered animal. “I’m. Not. Naughty.”
“Good babies don’t struggle and fuss when offered a treat by a Grown-Up.” Raine said simply. “Good babies don’t cuss and say naughty words to the Grown-Ups who are watching them. They don’t call those Grown-Ups bad names like bitch...or cunt…”
Oh fuck that noise! I had never called that fucking cunt a bitch to her face! “But I didn’t…”
“Do you think she’ll believe you?”
No. Probably not. Not with the incident at the shower fresh in her mind and the nasty things I spouted off to everyone. Not with my history with Raine and my obvious disdain for her.
I didn’t verbally reply. I just opened my mouth. Accepted the candy. The worst part of it all? It was delicious. Sweetest poison I’d purposefully tasted. A terrible, near illegal laxative, coated in the most decadent chocolate I could imagine.
I swallowed. Reminding myself that if the rumors were true, this wouldn’t hit me until close to dinner or bedtime. If nothing else, I might sleep through the night.
For Cassie. I’d do anything to make sure I saw her this one last time.
Janet came back too late to stop it, and was seeing the world through mad Mommy eyes. “Okay. Back!”
Raine released me into Janet’s slightly more tolerable grip. “He was a perfect Angel,” she said without prompting. “You’ve got a good one, Janet.”
“I know, thank you. “ Janet blushed. She actually blushed. We were starting back towards the door. To my reward. To seeing Cassie that one last time. I was Orfeus escaping the underworld. Or maybe I was Eurodice and Janet was Orfeus. Her leading, and me following. The point being that I was just a few Amazon sized strides to being out of that particular hellscape for the day when...
“If only he was this well behaved last week.”
Like Orfeus before her, Janet stopped and turned around. “Why? What happened last week?”
“Clark locked me in the staff bathroom.” Raine was trying to act nonchalant about it, but I could see the spite simmering just beneath the surface. “It’s okay though,” she said. “It was probably just his immaturity or Maturosis or whatever kicking in. Playing with the potty.”
Janet glared at me. “Is this true?”
“No!” I said. “It’s not like that! Not like that at all! She was trying to lock me out!”
“I just went into the men’s room,” Raine replied coolly. “The bathrooms are unisex, and it’s cleaner because we have so few grown men on campus. If I had known it would have upset him so…”
Like a quantum yo-yo I was back behind the front desk, now on my feet, and with Janet behind me crossing her arms over her chest. “Clark,” Janet said. “That wasn’t a very nice thing of you to do. Say you’re sorry.”
I wasn’t sorry. Not one bit. “But Janet-!”
“What did you call me?”
“Mommy!” I strained. “You know how she is!”
“How is she?” I was walking myself into a trap and I couldn’t stop it.
Raine spoke up behind me. “Janet, it’s fine. Really. Clark didn’t know what he was doing. He just thought he was playing a funny joke. He didn’t stop to think about all the calls I missed.”
“He’s just a baby. They do these things from time to time. They can’t help but be naughty every once in a while.”
“Not my baby.” Janet insisted. “Clark, apologize.”
“I-!” I was shaking. Of all the days for Raine Forrest to figure out how to best me!
I turned around to face Janet. “You helped me dress up for silly sock day!” I pointed my finger up at her accusingly. My face felt like it was swelling. My gut was tying itself up in knots.
“And that was my fault,” Raine said oh so gently and condescendingly. “I shouldn’t have lost my temper. You were following the rules the only way you knew how, and you did nothing wrong. I’m sorry about that, but that was last school year. You hurt my feelings just last week.”
“She’s right Clark,” Janet said firmly. “You should apologize for what you did.”
I couldn’t take it! Apologize?! To literally one of the worst people I’ve ever had the displeasure of knowing? No. Never.
“Janet! She tried to-”
“CLARK! GRANGE!” My back went stiff and my ears burned as Janet boomed my new name. She knelt down and wagged her finger in my face. “You apologize to Miss Forrest right now or no treat, and you know exactly what I mean.”
My bottom lip started to jut out. For Cassie. I’d do it for Cassie. “Yes Mommy,” I rasped. I turned around and looked at the floor, staring at my shoes and grinding my right heel into the carpet like the naughty Little boy. Standing there, in the front office where I used to be one of the faculty passing through on my way to work. I was stuck and dressed like an eighteen month old, wearing underpants that I now had zero chance whatsoever of either keeping clean or so much as making dirty on my own terms. “I’m sorry...Miss Forrest.”
It wasn’t loud. But it was loud enough.
“It’s okay, baby.” Came the cooing reply back.
Janet reached down and took my hand. “Good job,” she said. “Thanks for telling me about it,” Janet said.
“No problem.” I heard Raine say back. “It takes a village and all that. Let me know if you ever need a sitter. I’d be happy to look after him for a few hours.”
“Sure,” Janet said. She tugged at my hand. I was being allowed to walk to the car instead of carried. “Come on, Clark. Let’s go.”
“Home?” I sighed in defeat.
She waited to respond till we were out of the front office and well out of earshot “Yeah,” she said. “Home. Your old one. To say goodbye. One last time.”