Chapter Description: Clark overhears a conversation between Janet and Beouf
The rest of that afternoon and evening went about as I expected. I slept peacefully until about half past two; closer to a quarter till three. I might have even had some good dreams, though I couldn’t quite remember. It was a relief to sleep without worrying that a piece of Amazon tech was quietly conditioning me. Or having to listen to Billy and Chaz’s snoring. Very refreshing.
Jessica came in and put the monitor back in its place. And I timed things right so that I wouldn’t have to choose between an aching bladder and sitting in a wet diaper until dinner. Janet got home about half an hour after and Jessica gave her the most basic of rundowns. She left out the not-quite-revelation she’d had before Barnaby’s and the diner incident after. She did mention that I’d only had a bottle of milk so far and that I should be hungry.
My stomach agreed.
Lastly, she presented the bags of new and stylish children’s clothes. Even said “Ta-da!”
Janet seemed pleased, but sad at the same time. All those clothes were just a silver lining to a very dark cloud hovering over her.
“Thanks,” Janet said. “You’re a good friend. I’ll call you tomorrow and talk about some stuff.”
“You know it.”
Jessica left and Janet’s walls came right back up. She found new places for the clothes to hang and new drawers to stuff. She cooked dinner with extra portions and let me feed myself with an extra large spoon. Gave me some time to myself, bathed me, and put me to bed. The entire time she was quiet. I imagined there were babysitter drones more talkative to her.
I tried once with an awkward, “How was your day, Janet?”
“Good.” She said it in such a way that I felt afraid to ask any follow up questions. Damn it, why was I still trying with her?
I’d just finished my nightly ritual of a thousand Hate Janet’s and was settling in for the night. Sleep wouldn’t come, in part because of the extra long nap I’d had, so I just laid there and tossed and turned. Hoping to lose consciousness before my body told me that I wasn’t going to be allowed to sleep until I emptied something.
My ears started to twitch and my eyes opened when I heard something unusual. Normally, if I heard anything, it’d be the muffled sound of the living room television just loud enough to know if it was on, and maybe if it went to commercial, but too indistinct to make out what Janet was actually watching. That was a best case scenario.
Tonight, the television wasn’t on and I could hear the door being open and shut. I detected the faint echoes of a door being heavily shut and locked, and the sound of voices. I couldn’t hear the words, but the cadence was easy enough.
Hello’s, how are you’s, and thanks for coming’s. Awkward transitionary small talk stuff. Rough day. Me too. Maybe something about eating or offering drinks. A polite refusal. That sort of thing.
Their voices faded as they moved through the house, looking for somewhere to sit. I guessed that they were going to the kitchen. I would have been able to hear them slightly better if they were in the living room just at the far end of the hall.
I was probably able to guess the rough basics of the introductions because of how well I knew both voices. I’d know them anywhere from almost any distance. There was Janet, of course. And…Beouf?
What was Beouf doing here? I sat up and stood on the mattress, grabbing the bars. I leaned forward and closed my eyes in a pointless attempt to somehow increase the range of my hearing. Yeah, that wasn’t working. I was probably strong enough to climb up and out of the crib despite my widened gate and the tremendous mattress give, but I had no way to get back in when I was done eavesdropping
If they were discussing punishment -and why wouldn’t they be- would it really be worth it to add to my mounting offenses? Part of me thought yes. In for a penny and all that.
My head whipped sideways to the baby monitor. It’d never done THAT before. Was it supposed to be some kind of motion detector or something? Something to alert or discourage me from getting out? Next gen blanket training?
No. Impossible. I’d stood up in bed all the time.
“- ease don’t call me that, Mrs. Beouf.” Janet’s voice cut in from the monitor.
I slapped my hand over my mouth lest I scream. Was this happening? Was this really happening?!
“Please,” Beouf’s voice rang in. “call me Melony, or Mel. Or at least Mrs. B. like the kids do.”
It was happening. It was really happening. My two ex-friends were talking and I was able to listen in without lifting a finger. Janet had done the ultimate rookie parent blunder and installed the wrong end of the baby monitor in my room. I moved over to the foot of the crib and leaned closer so that I could hang on every word, every detail.
Through the monitor I heard Janet exhale. The sound was that good. From the slight echo, I determined my guess was right. They were in the kitchen.
“Fine, she huffed. “Please don’t call me his Mommy right now, Mel. I don’t feel like I’ve earned the right.” Her voice cracked a little bit with emotion. “He doesn’t even call me Mommy unless he wants something.”
“But you are,” Beouf insisted. “You’re his Mommy and you’re doing your best.” I could just imagine Beouf sitting on an adjacent side of the kitchen table, reaching out and trying to comfort Janet by touching her arm or patting her shoulder. Then tentatively looking at the empty highchair like I was there.
“My best isn’t good enough, Melony. It’s just not.” Janet sounded like she was on her way to a long heavy sob. Good, or so I told myself. “I’m not good enough.” Damn right.
Beouf probably took Janet’s hands and folded them into her own. “Easy honey, I get it,” she said. She lowered her voice to a stage whisper, not that it avoided detection. “But keep it down. He’s sleeping. He might still be awake.”
There in my crib, I let loose with a big, maniacal smile. They were talking about me. I’d suspected that they’d talked about me a lot and often. In this moment I could hear for myself, with nothing filtered out or added in for my supposed benefit. This was a rare kind of power to have. I was thrilling in it.
“He won’t hear,” Janet said, regaining some composure. Little did she know. “He’s never once cried out. He’s a deep sleeper.” A sudden revelation came to me. If Janet had messed up and put the wrong end of the monitor in my nursery, then she hadn’t heard any of my whispered hates late at night. Not one.
It also meant that I wasn’t being hypnotized by the monitor. Amazons bought into their own hype and were drowning in their own propaganda, Beouf in particular, but they’d never willingly mind fuck themselves with their own products. “That’s good at least,” Beouf accidentally echoed my own conclusion.
“But that’s it,” I heard Janet moping. “That’s where it stops. And I’m a horrible Mommy and he knows it. That’s why he’s rejecting me.” Her tone had shifted into a kind of depressing deadpan. All of the desperation with eighty percent fewer volume. “And it’s not his fault, but it’s taking everything I can just to keep a straight face and not scream at him or cry or something.”
“I know, Jan. I know.”
I let out a quiet little, “Heh”, and kept listening. It was like I was back at a good old fashioned teacher to teacher bitching session. This time it just so happened to be about me.
“At least he was good for my friend, Jessica,” my would-be Mommy sighed. “But that only makes it worse because he goes out of his way to be horrible to me. What did I do?” It was fortunate that I was across the house. I might have let her know.
“No, he’s not rejecting you,” Beouf lied to the both of them, “He’s just got some big feelings and-”
“Cut the bull, Melony,” Janet interrupted. “Nothing in those meetings or the pamphlets or anything like that is working.” There was silence. Beouf didn’t know what to say. I could just imagine her eyes going wide behind her glasses and her lips puckering like a fish out of water.
Janet kept on. “He’s…I hate saying this, Mel, but he’s awful. He’s spiteful. He’s manipulative. He’s just mean.” There was a brief silence. Just a beat. “It’s like he goes out of his way to make everybody around him miserable and then claims that he’s an adult like it explains his behavior and should be rewarded.”
“Yeah,” Beouf added a sigh to the conversation. “ I know. I know. Same with in class. I have to give him to Hana sometimes just to make it through the day. I think he likes her better now because he liked her less before.” And that’s how I learned Zoge’s first name. Also, honestly? Beouf was probably right on that part. “Zoge’s not a shock to him.”
“Why, though?” I heard Janet sniffle. “Why are we ‘the shock?’”
“It’s probably how he sees things, now,” Beouf said. “Amazons in general and us in particular.” I imagined she was shrugging ruefully in a what-can-you-do sort of way. “Sometimes Littles going through this spike can get aggressive. Especially to the people they knew before the flare up. They don’t care that they’re being taken care of or that the care is coming from a place of love and necessity. They just fixate on how they’re not all that mature anymore and make the real adults in their lives out to be evil. He’s acting out because he wants us to be the bad guys and thinks that acting like how he sees us will make him a Grown-Up again.”
I found a pacifier and bit down in it as hard as I could so that I wouldn’t scream at the crock of shit Beouf had just spilled out of her mouth. Misplaced monitor or not, it wouldn’t do for me to scream out my frustrations and risk detection.
How had I not seen this from Beouf before? Was I really that blind? Or was I just that in need of a social bodyguard and deliberately looked the other way?
“That doesn’t make sense,” Janet said. I pointed directly at the monitor as if Janet might feel my acknowledgement of her point.
”Nope,” Beouf replied. “No it doesn’t. That’s Maturosis, sometimes. Littles with it don’t always make sense. Kids don’t always make sense. Doesn’t mean we refuse to help.”
My hair was in my hands and I was tugging so hard I might have ripped it out. My impromptu I.E.P. discussion had turned into a faux doctor’s consultation, and the quack in question only had one diagnosis for everything. How convenient. How Typical.
“Is it going to last forever? Is it always going to be this way? I want to be his Mommy, not his monster.” She sounded like a parishioner asking a high priest for guidance and forgiveness. All hail the church of the Little Voices…
The faintest creak came across the monitor’s speakers, as if someone was leaning back in their chair. “I don’t think so,” Beouf said. “I think it’ll get better.” She sounded very sure of herself.
“Why?” Janet said.
I leaned forward, eager and terrified. What machinations did that bitch have up her sleeve? If I could predict, I could prepare. I could brace myself if not completely sabotage.
“Clark is definitely turning into one of my most challenging cases,” my ex-mentor said with surety, “but he’s not the most challenging I’ve ever had.”
“Who is? Or was?” Janet sounded like she was calming down, no longer on the verge of sobbing. A pity. She was being drawn into Beouf’s story as much as I was.
Simultaneously I tried to scoff and hold my breath. Somewhere deep in my massive ego I was insulted that some poor mindfucked doll of Beouf’s past haunted her more than I did. Still, it could be fun to learn about the past. Maybe I could replicate or adapt a few things to up my game and figure out where my predecessor went wrong.
“She was a Little girl I had a couple years ago,” Beouf said. “Named Amy.”
My pacifier fell out of my mouth and I banged my forehead accidentally on the wooden bars. I reeled back and stumbled over my heels onto my rump. It was more from surprise than pain, but I was seeing stars.
“Amy?!” Janet sounded as surprised as me. “Amy Madra?! That Amy?!” From the sound of things, Janet didn’t know whether to laugh with relief or laugh to call out Beouf’s claim.”
“Yup.” I could practically hear Beouf nodding again. “She’s a sweet Little thing now but you have no idea how bad she was when she started out.”
Beouf was right. I had no idea. Amy the nuisance and nutter? Amy the girl who had been crying in my time out all those years ago? Animal fact Amy? Eat gum off the floor Amy? That Amy? Little Voices Amy? Zoo Amy? My Amy?
“You’re joking,” Janet said plainly. I stayed seated, worried that the crinkle of my movement might magically obscure whatever happened next.
Beouf answered Janet with a question. “Are she and her Mommy still regulars at the Little Voices meetings? They got really into that, I remember.”
“Yeah,” Janet said. She sniffled slightly. I thought I heard the tear of a paper towel. An improvised tissue. “Helena and I took them on a playdate to the zoo.”
“Thought so.” Beouf sounded even more confident. “Just before she graduated she developed an attachment to one of my classroom stuffies. This purple octopus with a top hat. She named it Jessinnia. Clark used that name for it and I just knew. Darn near gave me flashbacks for a second.”
“But she’s so sweet.”
“Now she is,” Beouf let out a light chuckle. “It was rough at first. Very rough. Clark is a lion, but Amy was a dragon baby.”
“That bad?” Janet’s disbelief and curiosity nearly mirrored my own. Our emotions, however, were likely inverses. She was gaining amusement and hope. I was swapping out mine for dread.
Another creak. Beouf was getting more and more relaxed in the kitchen chair. “That bad and worse,” she said. “Did the same kind of stuff that Clark’s doing right now. Wound up the teachers and students with nonsense and mean-spirited games and tricks. Played innocent so that we kept giving her the benefit of the doubt.”
Yeah….that was my playbook alright. The pacifier found its way back between my lips. I needed to do something to feel like I had some kind of control or autonomy. The pacifier was the only option at the moment.
“One time,” Beouf continued, “she got eight other kids to all play ‘kitty-cat’ on the playground. They were just crawling around on the ground trying to rub up against Zoge’s and my legs and trip us up.”
Holy crap! Why hadn’t I thought of that? That would have been such a great answer to the physical therapy conditioning and Chaz could have played, too.
“Oh yeah?” A note of competitiveness crept into Janet’s words. “Did she gag herself with cinnamon?” Janet wanted me to be the worst kid.
Beouf let out another quiet, slightly rueful chuckle. “Nope. Didn’t have to. She had a gluten allergy. All she had to do was steal a leftover grilled cheese that one of the other kids snuck to her and hide it in her diaper. Then she downed it and puked. I think Ivy tried to stop her and got bit for it. Such a mess. Got everywhere. Picture day, too.”
My face was buzzing and burning. My breaths were getting deeper and slower like I was trying to stop myself breathing. My greatest act of rebellion, my masterstroke…was a repeat? A rerun?
“Holy shit.” Janet’s voice was low and awestruck. “Do you think she told him to do it? They see each other almost every week.”
“If she did,” Beouf told Janet, “I don’t think she did it on purpose or with any bad intent. She’s very happy and good as far as I know. It might not even be Amy. Clark might have heard me bitching about it back when it happened and tucked it away. Hard to say.”
Incorrect. No, no, and no. False. I never knew or forgot about that and came up with the plan the night before. But was the act really mine, if it wasn’t original or if it was subconsciously inspired?
“Amy didn’t try to get others in on it, though,” Beouf admitted. “Should have seen that coming.” That made me feel a bit better. “I slipped up and accidentally called him Gibson too. Sorry.” That made me feel ecstatic. Same plan but better was still better.
“That’s not going to help things,” Janet moaned. “He probably thinks he’s closer to growing up or something.”
“How’d you help Amy?” Janet asked. “What did the trick?”
My jubilation died down. I needed to know and listen. If Amy was as bad as Beouf said she’d been and she was who she was now, what hope did I have of escaping that fate? An image of myself flashed across my mind: Gap toothed and drooling, crawling around aimlessly and content. Eating whatever I could find on the floor and calling Janet ‘Mommy’ unironically. I shuddered in revulsion at the very possibility.
“No trick,” Beouf said. “Just patience, persistence, love, and boundaries. She kept escalating and escalating. Zoge and I kept containing and redirecting. Eventually, she just sort of burned herself out and she mellowed; started being a sweet baby. Took about half a year and then things started looking up. She was ready to graduate by the end of Spring. One of my biggest challenges but also one of my biggest success stories.”
Amy? Give up? Burn out? That didn’t track at all. That wasn’t the nutter who had pestered me at every opportunity. Beouf was holding something back; had to be.
“That doesn’t make any sense.” It was like Janet was reading my mind. “Wasn’t there some kind of ‘Aha’ Moment or lightbulb? For either of you?”
“Not for her,” Beouf said. A slight jostling and a thud came over the monitor. One or both of them were leaning forward with their elbows on the table. “That’s just how Maturosis is sometimes. She and her Mommy had some kind of breakthrough and she’s been a sweetheart ever since. Shame about her teeth, though.”
“Yeah,” Janet said. “What happened with that? Helena doesn’t seem like the type to do that level of cosmetics with a kid.”
“Don’t know,” I pictured Beouf shaking her head. “All I remember is that Amy was out of school for a couple days and came back missing those teeth. I brought it up, but Mommy didn’t want to get them fixed. You’ll have to ask Helena for more than that.” I’d known Melony well enough to have a sense of when she was lying by omission. She was keeping something from Janet, but I didn’t think it was the teeth. “Of course,” she told Janet, “If you wanted to ask her, that would mean going to the meetings…”
“Okay…fine.” A note of reluctant happiness had wormed its way back into Janet’s voice. “I’ll keep going to the stupid meetings. It’s just annoying because everyone is so cheery and they’ve already got their perfect happy little Littles that want to be themselves.I mostly keep quiet or hold back on what’s going on at home. Everybody else gets cute baby stories. I just feel inferior.”
“Talk to Helena,” Beouf replied. “In private if you have to. I bet she’s got some stories for ya.”
Stories I might want to hear, too. Could I potentially get the same info from Amy? I’d asked about her teeth before and it was the one time she got close to serious.
“I kind of like the lap bounce songs and silly games, anyways.” Janet confessed. “I just wish Clark liked them, too.”
“He might like them and not want to admit it,” Beouf took on a consoling approach. “He might not, though. Some kids don’t like that stuff and just want a quiet lap to rest in or for their Mommies and Daddies to watch them show off doing something silly. Maybe Clark is or was one of those kinds of kids the first time around.”
“Right now,” Janet groaned, “he’s just a spiteful brat.”
I blinked in surprise. That was one of the most honest things I’d heard from Janet Grange.
“Janet,” Beouf said, “think about it. Clark’s always been kind of a brat. He’s always loved going up to Forrest or Brollish and poking the bear. He was always a cheeky brat with a bunch of maturity piled on top.” She added a dejected sigh to the air. “Now, all that adulthood has just sunk to the bottom and the brat has floated up to the top.”
Janet echoed the sentiment. “Yeah. But he was our cheeky brat. I want him to be that cheeky brat, again. Not…not whatever this is.” I could almost make out her eyes getting all wistful just from how she said it.
“He was a great teacher, too” Beouf started to sound annoyed and angry. “Better than that bitch Ambrose, that’s for sure. That woman is a disgrace. Now we can’t even hang out with Tracy most days. I hope she’s coping.”
“Tracy’s tough. How did Ambrose even get that job?”
“No clue,” I heard Beouf scoff. “Who knows where Brollish gets her pets? She’s definitely not a good teacher. Gods, I wish Clark had never been caught. I’d ignore a thousand missing diapers if it meant he was back in that classroom instead of her.”
There was a silence that followed. It was less than a minute, but it felt long and uncomfortable; like Beouf had just said a quiet part out loud. It was a strange compliment for me to hear.
Janet broke the silence. “Don’t tell anybody,” she almost whispered, “but… I still let him grade papers sometimes. My mother let me do that when I was a kid, too. I thought it might help bridge the gap or something. It’s one of the few things he still genuinely likes.”
“Yeah. I figured you were. I recognize his handwriting and he’s initialing the assignments down at the bottom. Saw it on your desk the other day.
“He’s sign…-? Janet’s voice leapt upwards in surprise. She lowered it back down. “You don’t think…? What if…? You know…? Brollish is gunning for him.”
“I wouldn’t worry about it. Brollish doesn’t give a damn about basic assignments as long as you’re monitoring them and putting in the correct grades. You’ll be fine.” A grunt came through the monitor. “Devil woman is gunning for me, anyways. Not you. Bitch thought she could buy me off by approving grants and requests she’s been gumming up for years. Fuck her if she thinks she can tell me how to do my job.”
“Fuck her in general.”
A light clinking of glasses. Beouf had agreed to a drink after all.
“Okay,” Janet said. “Okay. What are we gonna do for Clark? Is there anything either of us is missing?”
Yet another tired sigh found its way out of Beouf. “Hard to say. I’ve never known a Little before a flare up. That’s what makes all of this so hard. Some mornings I still have to fight the urge to want to sit with him and sip our morning coffee again and complain about nothing in particular.” Her tone fluctuated mid sentence like her nose was clogging. A paper towel tear pretty much confirmed it.
“Me too.” Janet’s throat sounded tight.
Beouf was still holding on. “Best we can do is wait him out and look for an opening to help. Just hafta do our best. Show him we still love him.”
“I loved him before.”
“I did too.” A pause. “He was my best friend.” Beouf’s throat was tightening up now. “I went home and cried my eyes out after you took him home.” I heard a honking nose blow. “No offense.”
“None taken,” Janet blew her own. “I just wish I’d have told him what a good friend he was and how much I cared about him before all of this happened. I wish I’d met him sooner. He was fun to be around, and I liked him as a person, and it wasn’t just me cosseting.”
“Stop…stop…don’t get me started…”
Janet didn’t listen. “The last time we talked before his Maturosis flared we had a big fight. I wanted to help him and say I’m sorry and be his Mommy. It just feels like the fight never stopped.” These last few words came out as the tiniest, breathiest squeak; a deathbed confession of sorts. It just wasn’t hers. “I just wish I could go back in time and talk to him before…everything!” The ‘everything’ came out in one big long sob.
Before? Before? Why not now! Why not come in and tell me now?
Beouf joined the pity party, barely able to speak over her own looming sobs. “I didn’t tell him what a good teacher I thought he was until I’d changed him and put a bottle in his mouth. I had years, Janet! Years to tell him! I knew this could happen. I knew it but I never told him how proud I was or how much I enjoyed just being around him. He was my friend and now I have to pretend like none of that ever happened so he can be happy.” She didn’t make it to the end of that sentence before she sounded like a sobbing mess.
“I just want my friend back!”
I wasn’t listening in to an I.E.P. meeting or a doctor’s visit or a cult meeting. I was listening into my own funeral. They weren’t saying it in those exact words, but it was as if I’d been dead to them and they were only just now giving themselves time to mourn and grieve and the corpse of my adulthood was entombed in a nearby crib. Listening to the quiet but heavy breathing and nose blowing and gentle sobs of two crazy giantesses trying to give comfort to one another, I felt wetness drip onto my own cheeks.
“Janet?” Beouf suddenly said. “Why is that light blinking?
“What light?” Janet asked.
“The baby monitor. There on the counter.” Beouf had regained her composure and with it came a sense of urgency. I started to crawl back under the crib’s bed sheets.
“I always keep the monitor with me when he sleeps,” Janet said defensively. “He’s never needed it, but just in case. This thing is supposed to be portable so I can keep it in earshot.” I waited and listened to the sounds of chairs sliding out and scuffing against the kitchen floor. “Never noticed that before,” Janet’s voice sounded louder; more distorted. She was closer to the receiver. “Is that a low charge light or something? Thought I plugged it in this morning.”
“Janet,” Beouf said, sober of all emotions, “this is a King Fisher model. I don’t think that’s the broadcaster. That’s the receiver.”
The panic in Janet was instant. “You mean this whole time he’s been listening to…?”
“Hush and turn it off!”
I spit the pacifier out and closed my eyes. I tried to steady my breathing as gigantic footsteps shuffled in approached. Breath in. Hold. Breath out. Don’t fake snore. Don’t react.
The door opened slowly. The light from the hallway was practically a spotlight shining up against my eyelids. I didn’t stir. Breath in. Hold. Breath out. Don’t fake snore. Don’t react. Don’t even stir.
“He’s fine,” Janet whispered. “We didn’t wake him. I bet I messed up installing that end, too.”
“Okay, come on and close the door,” Beouf beckoned.
“Nini, Clark,” Janet said. ”I love you.”
I untensed muscles I hadn’t even known I was tensing when I heard the door click shut.
“It’s okay,” I heard Janet say. I knew the cadence of her voice so well that a couple inches of wood wasn’t going to stop me. “I’ve been waking up every night and checking in to tell him that. He sleeps right through it.”