Chapter Description: In a backwards version of Physical Therapy, Clark probes for secrets to torment the therapist
As a general rule, I don’t believe in karma; not the pop-culture version, anyhow. I don’t believe that people who do good in the world are rewarded so that despite their suffering they’ll see a net positive and that people who do bad are punished despite their prosperity so that they’ll experience a net negative. The world wouldn’t be like it is if that were the case. I don’t think there’s a balancing force to the universe that puts people where they need or deserve to be; not in this life, anyways.
Standing there in the OT/PT Therapy Room naked save for a clean diaper; alone save for Maxine Winters; I believed in one thing: Amazons talked to each other. The double whammy my crew and I had pulled on Skinner and Sosa had made its way to the Physical Therapist through the usual watercooler gossip chain. “I think I’m going to work with Clark one-on-one today,” she’d said cheerily enough.
Damn. No chance to be a ‘bad influence’. No big deal. I could present my findings on the best ways to mess with Winters to the others at the old oak tree on the playground. Beouf and company could only keep me from the other Leaguers for so long. Notes could be passed. Secrets could be whispered. Even broken Littles like Ivy and nearly totalled headcases like Sandra Lynn and Tommy unconsciously observed an ‘Us and Them’ mentality.
An extra wrinkle was thrown in when Winters started undressing me the moment the door was closed behind us. The world turned neon green when she yanked my shirt up over my head. My arms were all caught up in the sleeves when she yanked down my shorts. “Why are you-?”
Shoes and socks went off, shorts followed. I finished taking off my shirt and was given a ‘good job!’ for my troubles.
“You could have given me a little warning, Maxine.” I muttered, searching for even a tiny glint of that outrage I’d seen when I invoked Sosa’s first name. Not so much as a twinkle of anger. So much for that being her weakness. Internally, I sighed. If life had meant for it to be easy for me, I’d have been born taller. The dig had been worth a shot.
“Sorry Clark,” she said. “We’re going to do some crawling today and I didn’t want you to get your nice clothes all dirty.” She put my clothes on the same chair that Sosa had occupied before.
Bullshit. There was nothing inherently ‘nice’ about a neon green toddler t-shirt and shiny black soccer shorts with an elastic waistband. Almost all clothing that Amazons made with Littles in mind was meant to be crawled and rolled around in. The floor might have a dust bunny or two, but the custodial staff did it’s job. Eat off it? No. Crawl around for a couple of minutes? Sure. Winters just wanted to see me in my diaper.
Whether by Janet, Beouf, Zoge, or just intuition from the baby shower, Winters knew how I felt about being seen in my plastic backed padding. The joke was on her: Amazons saw my diaper all the time. I had become all but numb to it. The icy cold grip of paralyzing fear and embarrassment only came over me when a friend or an actual child saw me in that state. I no longer had any Amazon friends.
My skin was pale, and no hint of blush anywhere on it. “Alright,” I said. “So what are we gonna do?”
“We’re gonna practice reciprocal crawling.” I was about to try and pick apart her rationale in some form or another when she preempted me. “Crawling can strengthen your shoulders, arms, and back, and makes your wrists, fingers, and ankles more flexible.” Damn. She beat me to it.
She’d said this kind of schpiel to I-don’t-know how many Amazon parents at I.E.P. meetings when either she or Sosa brought up crawling. “Shifting between crawling and sitting works your core, abdominal muscles, and hips, and is good for posture,” she kept on prattling. “And learning to shift your focus from the floor to other objects in the room is good for visual tracking and hand eye coordination and rocking on all fours is an excellent source of sensory stimulation for some.”
I lightly chewed on my bottom lip. On some level, I appreciated that she was at least talking somewhat clinically to me. On the other hand, like so many other Typical Amazon scenarios, she was using real science to mask a completely different goal. She just wanted me to get used to crawling around on the floor.
“That’s why we’re gonna work on crawling. And I promise,” she smiled at me. “You’ll be able to do it.” So much for that respect. Sosa and Winters communicating after hours: confirmed.
Winters indicated the rest of the space. “We’re going to do a kind of hide and seek scavenger hunt. I’ve hidden rubber ducks all around the room in different nooks and crannies. Find them all and you’ll get a special prize.”
I did a quick scan. Under a low table where my preschoolers no doubt used to do cut and paste activities with Sosa , I saw a tiny yellow rubber duck that would fit neatly into the palm of my hand. Like an egg hunt, a few were always in the open; chum in the water to entice the kiddies to find the rest. “How many ducks?”
I chewed on my lip some more. “Any of them hidden? Ballpit? Drawers?”
“Of course they’re hidden,” Winters said, kindly enough. “But nothing is in a spot where you can’t reach or where you’re not allowed. I don’t want you to get in trouble.” That made one of us.
This could still have been another bit of gaslighting, I thought. ‘Keep looking baby Clark, you’ll find that tenth ducky’, when really there were only nine but meanwhile I’d been forced to crawl on the carpet for close to half an hour.
“What if I don’t find them?” I asked, looking up at Sosa.
Sosa looked back down at me. “I think you’ll find them. Most Littles are good at this game.”
“But what if I don’t?” Amazons were like stage magicians. What they didn’t say was often just as important as what they did. “Will you show me where you hid them if I run out of time?”
Winters chuckled. “You’ll be fine, Clark.” I stared at her, unblinking and resolute. “Okay.” she sighed. “Yes. I’ll show you if you can’t find them. No giving up, though. Most Littles are really good at this game.”
“Like Ivy?” I prodded.
“Like your friend, Chaz.”
Accidentally, I scowled. Obviously, Chaz was good at this game. When Amazons fuck up your equilibrium to the point where crawling is your only option, you get good at seeing the world from a crawler’s eye view. If Chaz was getting good at this game, it was a bad thing for him.
I pushed that bit of contempt for my youngest pupil back into my subconscious, and looked for any other loopholes that might be exploited. “Do I have to carry them all at once?” I pictured myself having to drag around half a dozen baby duck toys in the crook of one arm, constantly dropping them.
The therapist pointed to a bright yellow plastic bucket. “Nope. When you find a duck, you just drop it in there and keep looking for more.”
For what it was, this seemed fair. Too fair. I had to be missing something. There had to be something to entice me or frustrate me or desensitize me so that crawling seemed like a better or more natural habit than it was. “What happens if I cheat?” I asked. “Like what happens if I get up and walk or something?”
“No prize,” Winters said simply.
“You don’t put the ducks back or in new hiding places so I have to start all over again?” That seemed like a good way to keep me on the floor.
Like a horse, Winters’s lips flapped, pushing air through them in an almost laugh. “Nope. I’ll just give you another chance or find something else for you to do. Simple as that. I’m not gonna crawl around to hide them all over again because you’re feeling cheeky, mister.”
She’d definitely been talking to Sosa.
Maxine Winters crawling around on the floor. There’s something I would’ve liked to see. Something that if it was brought attention to in the right way, might suitably get under her skin.
Yeah… maybe...could be fun.
“”Recyclical crawling?” I purposely mispronounced the word and put on my best ‘confused kid’ face. “Wussat?”
“Just a fancy word for crawling and taking turns with your arms and legs,” she explained. “Left leg, right arm, right leg, left arm. That kind of thing.”
I dropped to my hands and knees. “Like this?” I pretended to ask. I pushed my arms ahead and then hop-dragged my feet behind me. I moved like a cross between a slug and a chimp. This was on purpose.
“No no no,” Winters told me. “You’ve got to alternate.”
“Alternate. Take turns with your hands and legs. Hand turn. Leg turn. Hand turn. Leg turn.”
I did the exact same thing that I had done before. I looked like a gorilla with two bum legs. Now though, I parroted her oversimplified explanation. “Hand turn. Leg turn. Hand turn. Leg turn.” To some people, there is nothing more frustrating than trying to teach or explain something and getting the sense that the other person just isn’t getting it. I’m one of those people. So was Winters. We can smell our own. It’s how I knew she’d be an easy crack. The lack of other Littles around made pride a non-factor.
It was a good thing that the movement allowed me to have my back turned or my head down. If not, Winters might have seen the damn near maniacal grin that was peeking through my facade.
“No, kiddo, not like that. You have to move your arms and legs one at a time.” She didn’t even notice it, not consciously, but she was already coming closer to the ground. Closer to my level.
“One at a time? One? At? A? Time?” Again. I did the exact same thing, only now I did it with an incredible deliberate slowness. “One. At. A. Time.” Maxine was on her knees and looking at me the way a mechanic might look at a smoking jalopy.
I kept my face blank and did my best to imitate the same kind of passive innocence that so many actual children did when they were trying to be a brat and get away with it. The difference between brattiness and jackassery is chronological age. I was too old to be a brat; didn’t mean I wasn’t having fun acting like a jackass.
An electronic ping from her pocket seemed to stir something in her brain. “If Miss Sosa was here, we could work your arms and legs together. Show you kinesthetically” Her eyes wandered over to the door. “Maybe I could borrow Miss Tracy…”
Shit! She wasn’t taking the bait! Course correct! Course correct! “Can you show me what I’m doing wrong? Mrs. B says I’m more of a visual learner.” The inside of my tongue tasted like turned milk just from saying it. “Please?”
Another ping from her pocket. “Good idea.” Wow. ‘Please’ really was a magic word. She got down to her knees and took a few shuffling scoots up beside me. Funny how she didn’t have to strip down to her granny panties and show off her pasty white skin and big butt.
“Watch me closely.” She got another ping, and wrinkled her nose. She got back up to her knees long enough to reach into her pocket and look at the phone. “Not now,” she muttered, sounding irritated.
Stupidly; carelessly; oh so fucking typically; she placed the phone on the edge of the ballpit and my eyes dilated like a junkie who had just seen his next fix. I’d already gotten her down on her hands and knees. I was just a few precious seconds away from getting her to crawl. What if...just what if...I could film it?
Okay. No. That was a stupid idea. A power fantasy within a power fantasy. I didn’t have my crew there to run interference and there was no way that I was fast enough to snatch it, figure out her password, film her crawling around on the ground like a six month old, and then post it anywhere meaningful. She was literally just doing her job; it’s not like she couldn’t explain. I’d just be the ‘naughty baby’ that played with the camera. I was going to be the ‘naughty baby’ no matter what. The real question was how could I make it hurt.
Her willingness to humor me was a weakness. How to exploit it? “I’m gonna stand up…” I said. “So I can get a better look.”
“That’s fair,” Winters said. “You watching, bud?”
I nodded. “Mmmhmmm…”
Winters started properly crawling, slowly and deliberately, one limb then the other, like a dinosaur that was so heavy it had to keep three feet down to support its weight. I inched over to the ballpit. I didn’t know what I was going to do with the phone, but I’d figure something out. “When I say ‘reciprocal crawling’, I mean this type of crawling. Normal everyday crawling.” Notice how she didn’t say ‘like a baby’? She didn’t want me to make that connection, knowing that I’d resist. It really is all about what they don’t say...
“Oooooh,” I said. “Crawling! Regular good old fashioned crawling!” I slapped my forehead. “Duh! Do I have to do it that slow?”
The therapist rotated into a seating position. “No, sir. You can go as fast or as slow as you’re comfortable with and at your own pace.” Sir. Huh. Even then, hearing it felt kind of good. She was willing to participate too. In a lot of ways, Winters’s act was what Sosa and Skinner had been trying to achieve.
“So what am I supposed to do?” I stalled. “Exactly?”
The lady started to roll back over. “You’re supposed to…” she stopped and went back to facing me in a seated position. “You’re trolling me, aren’t you?”
“You knew exactly what I was talking about all along.”
I took a step back, towards her phone. My lips retreated inside my mouth. “Maybe…”
“You’re trying to trick me into doing all the hard work for you.”
A nervous giggle from me “No…?”
Coyly, I shrugged. “Okay. Ya got me.”
She laughed through her nose. “They said you’d been acting up and getting tricksy.”
Was I surprised that Maxine Winters had talked to Chandra Skinner or Jasmine Sosa, or Beouf? No, not at all. Was I relieved that even now my acts of malice were being written off as childish pranks? For once, yes, absolutely. Sometimes the difference between crazy and stupid is a degree of success. So I was going to let her be stupid and assume the best of me instead of antagonizing her directly and driving her crazy right away.
“Can you show me?” I faux begged. “Just once?” I pinched my thumb and forefinger together and inched closer back towards the pit. “With the duck under the table right there?”
Good naturedly, Winters rolled her eyes. “Fine. Points for cunning.” She rolled over onto all fours and crawled to the most obvious duck she’d hidden. “You crawl over. Like this.” I had my back up against the ballpit. “You grab the ducky, like this.” She palmed the toy.
“Do they squeak?”
“No,” she said. “But…” She crawled over to the bucket. “When you drop it in the bucket, this happens.”
My world started spinning in the best way possible. “Heeeeeee!” What a rush! It was like the jingling wrist rattle Renner had tried to pawn off on me, or the one given in stuffed animals in the courthouse, or the music from Sosa’s puzzle boxes, but on steroids. I stumbled back and accidentally knocked the cell phone into the ballpit. It was like getting tickled and spun around all at the same time. For all of half a second my guard came down and I felt positively fucking giddy despite myself.
“There’s a false bottom and a sensor,” she explained. “When you add weight to it, it makes a happy little ringing noise.” I picked myself back up to my feet. “You like that, huh?”
“Yeah….” I gasped. “Wait. NO!”
I didn’t have time to catch my breath before she dropped it in again. The world started spinning and I couldn’t help but laugh as I crumbled down to my knees and lowered to my hands to keep balance long enough for the world to stop spinning.
Panting like I’d just survived a seven story drop, I felt my bladder empty into the front of my diaper. The unnatural combination of adrenaline, pleasure, and disorientation rocketing from zero to sixty had been enough to where I’d had an accident. A real one, too. Damn. I was planning to keep dry until at least after lunch to see if I could with all of the bottle feedings and juice breaks.
A new realization hit me. Chaz had been good at this game. Maybe too good. There was a reason he was the only crawler in class. Amy might have been good at it too. MistuhGwiffun talked about this stuff and the drunken pleasurable sensation, but maybe there were long term side effects from too much use. In the back of my mind, I realized how this could be addictive; up until the point where there was literally no walking away from it.
“Clark?” Winters cut in as I caught my breath. “You okay, baby?” I was inhaling through my nose and exhaling through my mouth to get it together. I stood up. “Did you wet your diaper?” Damn. No pants to hide the sudden swell or the sag, or the slight off-white discoloration. “Do you want me to take you back to your class for a change?”
Inwardly I was fuming. Another no-win question being added to the pile of my life. I’d either be a compliant ‘good baby’ and paraded around in just my wet diaper, or give them an excuse to say that I was comfortable in my wet Monkeez. “No,” I huffed. “I’m okay. I’ll get changed. After this.” My decision came down to the phone and the opportunities it might yet provide. No chance I’d get changed, brought back, and get a chance to fuck with Winters’s phone. She’d miss having it.
“Are you sure?”
“Alrighty then. Get crawlin’, buddy.” Wasting no time, I swung my leg over the side and tumbled into the ballpit, clattering around as rainbow hued globules buried on top of me. “Clark? What are you doing?”
“Looking for the duck you might have hid!” I called back. I twisted myself and groped around until my hand clasped on the bulky rectangular device.
“Why would I put a ducky in there if it wasn’t some place I thought you could reach by crawling?”
I looked at the screen. Score of scores! She’d forgotten to lock it! “Um...this is our first session together? Maybe you didn’t know where I could and couldn’t crawl yet?” She had a new text message.
“Clark,” her voice took on a playful warning tone. “Are you stalling and trying to play?”
I opened the text message and skimmed:
<3 Jazzie <3
Just saw the time
realize who youre probably with
Jazzie? With hearts on either side? “Clark? Are you stalling?”
Quickly I scrolled back and saw:
<3 Jazzie <3
- Waffle Mix
- Toilet Paper
- Dog food
- Bird seed
- Bloody Mary Mix
The biggest dumbest grin planted itself on my mug. I was not the world’s greatest detective. I didn’t need to be to figure out that Sosa and Winters were more than just co-workers, or that there was more than one reason Sosa bristled at being called ‘Jazzie’. Holy shit, this was a potential goldmine!
“Huh?” Crap. I’d gotten distracted. “Uh..maybe.”
I heard Winters huff. “Fine, but only because I’m in a good mood. Two minutes, then you’re back out and finding the other ducks for me. No more stalling.”
“Yes ma’am.” I wanted to giggle. I wanted to cackle. Probably could have and gotten away with it. As far as she knew I was getting away with something, too. But I had to work quickly. It might not take two minutes for her to miss her phone.
I started scrolling through to see if there was anything I could use. Dirty talk or pictures to forward somewhere scandalous. Anything embarrassing. Anything at all. Nothing at first glance. What I did find was:
<3 Jazzie <3
Gotta take my phone to the shop
I’ll get everything but the pet food.
Sorry babe. How’d that happen?
Will tell you more when i get home
Ah. That makes sense.
We are not getting a bird.
You take care of the dog ill take care of the bird
We’ll talk about this at home.
Trouble in paradise! Nice! What to do with this, though? I could taunt her about it? ‘Ha-ha! You work with your girlfriend! Aaaand you’re arguing! Jazzie and Maxie sitting in a tree…’
I could send an interesting text. A ‘fuck you bitch’ or a less vulgar ‘I told you not to bother me at work’. Perhaps an anxiety inducing ‘We need to talk’. That probably wouldn’t work either. Any strife I might sew with a random texts could easily be written off with ‘Oh, the baby got a hold of it’.
Damn. What was I supposed to do with this gorgeous bit of gossip and how could I use it? Sosa and Winters were dating, living together even. Maybe married and just kept their last names. More importantly, they were having some kind of tiff. How to exploit that? What could I say to turn that against them?
The sad truth was, that I couldn’t turn that against them. Me and Cassie had our share of fights, but any attack on her would have been like an attack on me, no matter how much we’d fought the night before. Love was funny like that. Sometimes Love is ‘never having to say you’re sorry’. Other times, it’s ‘nobody fucks with her but-’
I had an idea. I’d been searching for silver bullets to use against Winters. What I’d found, instead, was a cache of golden landmines. Time for me to lay some.
I popped my head up above the ballpit. Winters was turned ninety degrees and staring at the second hand of the nearby clock. Softly, I put the phone back on the very edge. “Okay. Bored now.”
“It’s not even two minutes.” Winters turned and looked at me.
I swung my leg over and allowed myself to tumble back out onto the floor. “I know. Bored now. Let’s look for ducks.”
She brightened. “Well, alright then!”
I started crawling around on the floor, playing two games at once. The first game was finding ducks, the game my ex-colleague wanted me to play. The second game was waiting long enough to plant a few ideas and not have it seem suspicious.
The heck was a ‘Missississippi’ anyways? Some long forgotten unit of time that just fit the meter, no doubt. It turned out I was closer than I thought by diving into the ballpit. One of the ducks had been artfully placed on the other side.
“Good job!” Winters clapped lightly as I crawled back around to the yellow bucket. I crawled to the bucket and gently, very gently, lowered the rubber duck down into the bottom next to its twin.
“HAAAAAAAA!” I rolled over on my back, wanting to claw my eyes out to stop from grinning. Two seconds later, I was back on all fours. I rocked back and forth slightly, testing my balance. I wasn’t going to be a crawler by the end of this, but smokers didn’t develop emphysema after just one pack. Better to avoid it altogether.
“Keep going. That’s two.”
Grumbling, I started going for the one underneath the platform swing. I doubled back to the bucket. I reached to the rim and tilted it over. I held my breath waiting for Winters to right it or instruct me to. She merely observed. Slowly, I put the duck down on the side.
Nothing. No dings. No complaints. Thank goodness.
I pretended that I didn’t see the one underneath the trampoline until I got to a Hundred-Mississippi. That was about as long as I was willing to wait. “Miss Winters?”
“What’s a good way to get what you want?”
“I think I’d start with saying things like ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.”
Typical. “Yeah,” I said. “But what if you really really want something, and they won’t let you have it?”
“Grown-Ups know what’s best,” Winters said. “So if your Mommy’s not giving you something you want, there’s probably a good reason for it.”
Not quite there yet. “I know, but…”
“I’m not thinking about my Janet...I mean my Mommy.” I wasn’t thinking about Janet at all, but a good way to sell a lie is to use the target’s expectations against them. Amazons weren’t the only magicians.
Predictably, Winters countered that with. “Same goes for Mrs. B, kiddo.”
“Not talking about her either,” I said.
I shifted onto my diaper and did my best to ignore the wet squish just barely under my butt. “Like what if it’s not a Grown-Up though?” I clarified. “Or like, someone who’s just as much of a Grown-Up as you are?”
Take the hint, Winters. Take the hint!
“Like a friend?” she asked.
“Yeah” I pretended to be lost in thought for a moment, when I was really just thinking about anything other than the text I’d just seen.
“Then you’d have to talk with your friend and try to convince them to give you what you want.”
“What if they won’t listen to me?” I asked.
“Then I guess you don’t get what you want.”
My frown was a toddler's pantomime. “How is that fair?”
“Life isn’t fair, bud.” More to herself she added. “Especially for Grown-Ups…”
“Yeah?” My crawling back to the bucket gave me more proximity to her. “How is life not fair for Grown-Ups?” I plopped the duck in the tipped over bucket and saw a companion in the shade of the platform swing. Then I noticed that a waste basket wasn’t quite straight. “I was a Grown-Up. Seemed pretty fair then. Now I gotta beg and beg and beg just to get a good stuffie from one of the other kids at Janet’s...I mean Mommy’s….Little Voices meeting.” A gamble, perhaps, but half-truths of where I’d been and what I’d done were meant to put her mind at ease.
“Do you have a Grown-Up who can come help you work things out between you and your Little friend?” She thought she was setting me up for a one-two punch. Quite the opposite by my counting.
“Grown-Ups don’t have that.”
I took the duck from beneath the trash can. “Oh...good point.” I doubled back and made sure she hadn’t put one inside the can either. She had. Clever. “So what do you do?”
“Are you stalling again?”
Two ducks made their way to their resting place without setting off the bell.. “No. See?”
“Good. Keep going.”
“What do Grown-Ups even argue about?” I did my best to sound mildly curious, but not wholly interested. Had I been any other size and not dressed as I was, such a question would seem absurd concerning my age. Feeding into her crazy was greasing the wheels I hoped, and getting her to let her guard down. I was already moving, playing two games at once. Of course she’d hidden a duck under the desk.
Tiredly, the PT sighed. “Lots of things.”
I was an adult trying to sound like a child trying to sound like an adult. Had to reel her in without looking like I was doing it. “Like what kind of paint to get at the paint store or something?”
YES! Jackpot! Duck number seven joined the flock and I felt the kind of giddiness that I could conceal. “Pets?”
“Yes. Keep looking.”
I started crawling aimlessly. It was mattering less and less if I found those last three props. “I like pets. What’s there to argue about pets?”
Even from as far away as I was I could practically hear the annoyed exhale blow out from Winters’s nostrils. “I’ve got a friend who wants to get a pet bird.”
“What kind of bird?” I asked.
“That’s a type of parrot, right?”
I’m not sure how a three foot green feathered monstrosity that could bite off the hand of a Little was in the same ballpark as a parrot, but to most Amazons I was in the same ballpark as a child not yet ready for potty training. “I used to have a buddy who was a zookeeper. They said that parrots lived a long time and didn’t stop screaming. Kinda like big feathery toddlers that you don’t get to dress up or take anywhere and they smell funny.” Amy’s random batshit that weekend might just pay dividends. I’d have to thank her except no I wouldn’t.
“Yup…Pretty much.” Winter’s sentences were becoming clipped. Her mouth was drawn into a tight thin line. Just thinking about this was drawing back unpleasant memories of conflicts not yet resolved. And with any luck, they wouldn’t be.
I stumbled into duck number eight in the corner where I should have seen it earlier. “So just don’t get it. Right?”
“It’s more complicated than that.”
“Because my friend thinks they really wants one and I don’t.”
I crawled back, deposited it and kept going. “Why not?”
“Because my friend wants the bird now, but I’m going to have to be the one to clean up after it and smell it and listen to its squawks and pick up the food for it when my friend is busy. I just want a Cerbernard.”
I froze and looked up at her. “The big dog breed? With three heads?” I pretended that dogs big enough for me to saddle and ride were the most exciting things in the world.
“They don’t actually have three heads,” Miss Winters told me. “but yes.”
“I like dogs.” Not really. They’re big slobbery brutes and yappy annoying things that can’t be bothered or taught to even poop in a box. But my mark liked dogs, so I liked dogs, too.
“Me too.” Winters nodded. “If I get a pet, I want one that won’t poop all over the place and isn’t squawking all the time.” She looked over by the door.
How about that? I’d somehow missed rubber duck number nine by the door. Sucker was giving me hints! “And if you and your friend can’t both get pets because you’re sharing money or something so you have to decide which pet is best?”
“It’s not that. It’s more complicated.
Of course it was. Even a thirty-two year old child would know that. “Like what?”
“Hmm...how to put this?” She fiddled with her fingers and tugged at her ear. “Good things don’t cancel out bad things. Even if I got my Cerbernard and my friend got their Rocaw, that wouldn’t cancel the things I don’t like about having a Rocaw around.”
“Oooooh.” I pretended that the lightbulb had just clicked. “It’s like getting two flavors of ice cream in the same bowl and you and your friend gotta eat both of them. Just because they really like their flavor and are okay with your flavor, doesn’t mean that you wanna eat their flavor.”
There were several other real life instances in which the good didn’t cancel out the bad - for example when financial and physical needs are at the cost of dignity and freedom- but this was better for the character I was portraying.
“Exactly,” Winters said. “So no ice cream for anybody.”
“Why not just get separate bowls? I mean...don’t go over to your friend’s house?” Friend’s house. Yeah. As if I didn’t get it. As if a baby couldn’t get it.
“My friend and I..” She stopped herself. “It’s complicated. Let’s just say it’s complicated.”
“And you don’t have a Grown-Up to help settle it.”
“That sucks.” I said.
I saw my opening. Time to plant my ticking time bomb. “Too bad you can’t decide who's more of a Grown-Up.”
My ex-colleague blinked in confusion. “What?”
“You know,” I said nonchalantly. “Figure out who’s the most mature or the most Grown-Up or whatever. You or your friend? Who makes more money? Or who does the most chores? Or pays more taxes? Grown-Up stuff. Who’s the boss? Who’s in charge?”
Amazons: Adults should be mature and speak to each other respectfully and as equals.
Also Amazons: I have more power over you and am going to wield that power like a sledgehammer.
“It doesn’t work like that, sweetie.”
”It...it...huh…” Winters paused, frowned, and then said. “From the mouths…”
Seed planted. Fuse lit. Pick your metaphor. I’d just primed two people whom I’d considered decent work buddies for a fight in the near future and at least one of them had no idea that fight was coming. Neither of them would suspect me.
Damn that felt good.
I patted the lump tucked into the right cuff of the Amazon’s pants. “Found it!” Ha! Knew there was a trick there, too!
“Good job!” Winters said. I stood up and applauded with her like I’d just won something. I had, in a way. “Your knees are looking a little red. Wanna get those shorts back on?”
She snatched up my pile of clothes and started to redress me, starting with popping open the shorts and allowing me to step in. It felt a little weird, I’ll admit, getting the shorts back on and being wet. Muscle and sensory memory almost demanded that I be changed. “Shirt too. Good job! Socks and shoes.”
“Thank you,” I said.
The giant looked at her phone, completely unaware of everything that had gone on. “Still got some time. Do you want to go back in the ball pit?”
“No thanks. How about the trampoline?”
Approximately ten minutes later, I was being handed over to Zoge.
“He’s soaked.” she said. “I don’t know how else he’s been for everybody else but he was a perfect angel for me. I even gave him a sticker.” She poked the ‘Great Job!’ she’d slapped on my chest. Pretty shitty prize.
The A.L.L. looked at me like I’d betrayed them and gone over to the dark side. I just winked and put my finger to my lips while Beouf carted me to the bathroom, and they got enough of the hint to be relieved. I’d share what happened later that afternoon. Maybe not the whole thing. They might blab if they knew Winters and Sosa were ‘friends’, but I could teach a lesson about quietly stringing along Amazons and playing to their crazy so that they make themselves vulnerable without getting mad.
All in all, an excellent session, I’d say. Very therapeutic.