The big white car gleamed in the afternoon sun as it rolled down the driveway, shining brilliantly against the barren dirt patch where it came to a halt. A man in a worn but clean suit stepped out and looked over the yard for a moment before focusing in on its sole occupant, a shouting, laughing, naked little boy who was trying and failing to catch a flitting cerulean butterfly in his hands. The man smiled and strode over the grass.
“Hi there.” He called out. The boy turned and stared at the stranger. “Do you remember me?”
The boy stuck a finger in his mouth and rocked uneasily. The man chuckled, stepped up to the boy, and dropped to one knee.
“Guess not, huh? Tell me, son - do you know where the occipital lobe is located?”
The boy blinked and cocked his head.
“No? How about the thalamus? The pons? The medulla oblongata?”
“Buttahfly.” The boy blurted out, pointing at the fluttering creature with his free hand. “Dat’s a buttahfly.”
The man chuckled.
“Yes, it is. How smart of you to know that. You’re a very clever little boy.”
The boy grinned and squirmed at his praise.
“Well.” The man chuckled. “Since you’re so smart…can you tell me what sound a doggy makes?”
The boy’s eyes lit up. He knew that one! Without a moment’s hesitation he fell to his hands and knees, lolled out his tongue, and wiggled his bottom.
“Woof! Woof!” He giggled. “Doggy go woof!”
The man smiled - and held back his laughter when the boy unintentionally took his pantomime a step further, quite unknowingly urinating all over the dirt that lay beneath him just like an untrained puppy. At no time did the boy ever notice that he was relieving himself - but he did see the mud that he had inadvertently created, a sight that made him squeal with joy and immediately abandon his performance. With a big clumsy grin on his face the boy dug his hands into the muck, pulling out two heaping handfuls and offering one to the friendly man. He smiled and gently refused the gift, which made the boy frown for just a moment before he slapped his hands together, roaring with laughter at the way the muck exploded between his palms. The man chuckled and took a step back to stay free of the debris and it was then that he saw the man and woman stepping out of the house.
“It’s good to see you, Professor.” Hank said as he pulled the man into a hearty handshake.
“Likewise, Hank.” The professor said as he grinned and slapped the man’s shoulder. “It’s been far too long.”
He gave Joanne a warm hug and when he pulled away the three of them stepped back and watched the boy play, grinning and laughing and the supreme joy he took from a little bit of mud.
“Boy, you really did a number on him.” The professor chuckled.
“Oh, Charlie’s just a little ball of energy.” Joanne smiled. “We couldn’t even get him down for a nap today. His brothers and sisters had to rest for a little while but Charlie just wanted to keep on playing.”
“So I see. He looks very happy.”
“We hope to keep it that way.” Hank said. “You’re sure that nobody knows he’s out here?”
“Not a soul.” The professor said. “I considered telling his parents but after spending a few seconds with them it became immediately apparent why he had been so uptight.”
“I dare say he was the worst case you’ve ever sent us, professor.” Hank mused. “Oliver and James, hell, even Christina…none of them needed us as badly as Charles did.”
“He gets along so well with his siblings.” Joanne beamed. “We just love having him. Thank you, professor.”
“Oh, no, it was my pleasure.” He said as he reached out and shook their hands. “I’m very sorry that I can’t stay - I just wanted to come down and make sure everything turned out all right.”
“It certainly did.”
The professor turned to Charlie, who had slapped the mud onto his bare stomach, laughing and wriggling as he spread the warm muck all over his tummy.
“Bye-bye, Charlie.” He said. “It was nice knowing you.”
The boy looked up at him with a gaping grin.
He waved a muddy hand at the nice man, flinging little sodden chunks of earth in every direction, watching him as he walked over to his big shiny car. He watched him until his attention was diverted by the flappy little butterfly, a sight that made the boy forget even about his beloved mud, that set his spirit alight as he clambered to his feet and chased after the elusive creature, laughing and giggling as it deftly avoided his clumsy swipes. It would be very hard for him to catch, but he wouldn’t get discouraged. He had all day to catch the pretty butterfly. He had all the time in the world.