by: sumner | Complete Story | Last updated May 11, 2006

A brief cautionary love story.

Chapter 1
Part 1

Chapter Description: Originally intended as the second installment of the Clockmaster series. I wrote two short endings, which I've posted as separate chapters. Feel free to inform me which is better...

Nathan licked the envelope and sealed it. After weeks of hints and shy suggestions, he knew the moment would come. Hesitating briefly, he tucked the modest Valentine’s Day card underneath Katie’s officer door and continued walking briskly down the hall.

The last thing Nathan wanted was a secret office romance. A careful young conservative, Nathan knew instinctually that the relationship could complicate work and even earn him a pink slip if the bosses caught on to the tryst. It began so innocently a few months before - inconspicuous coffee breaks, lunches, maybe a movie on the weekend - and now they found themselves drifting headlong into an affair. As if the clandestine canoodling wasn’t risky enough, another dilemma hovered over their relationship like a stormcloud: a substantial age difference.

From their first introduction, Katie appeared out of place at Thomas, Holden, and King. With her short red hair styled into a fiery decoration, the divorced 41-year-old secretary possessed a certain youngness that defied description. Her smile seemed transplanted from the face of some freewheeling college freshmen while her figure remained remarkably intact for a woman old enough to be his mother.

Last Friday the ruse nearly unraveled when Jeffrey King, the newest partner at the law firm, abruptly entered Katie’s office just as she and Nathan parted lips.

“Katie, I need these faxes out to Ian by four,” he had said, pausing momentarily to squint at Nathan, who was seated suspiciously close to his coworker. “Nathan, you getting friendly?”

“Oh no, sir, I just needed to borrow a stapler.”

“He was helping me with some filing,” Katie came to the rescue. “Anyway, by four you said?”

The mountain of prohibitions surrounding their relationship had unintended effects. Rather than scare either party off, the danger fueled the attraction and Nathan discovered a new, more daring side of himself. That led to the card, and his proposal that he and Katie dine out that evening. Dinner was always a chancy proposition. Any number of friends or colleagues might catch a glimpse of them and send rumors swirling around the office.

But despite the potential hazards, later that afternoon Katie text messaged with a simple “yes.”

That evening, Nathan, looking cautiously debonair in his imitation Armani jacket, escorted his date to the entrance of DeKay’s, an affordable yet trendy restaurant downtown. He felt like a celebrity requesting the most discreet corner booth available. DeKay’s was known for its low lighting and subdued atmosphere, two pluses for any couple wishing to remain anonymous.

Following a few minutes of compulsory small talk, the unavoidable topic once again came bubbling to the surface. The exchange was nearly verbatim every time.

“You’re uncomfortable, I can tell,” Nathan said, unwrapping his silverware.

“No, really, I’m not,” Katie replied. “It’s just...“

“Just what?”

“Nathan, you’re a wonderful, sweet, thoughtful guy,” she said, placing her hand on his, “but you’re 24.”

“I thought we talked about this. I don’t care about the difference.”

A waiter passed by the table, paused upon hearing the conversation, and decided it best not to interrupt.

“But we’re from two different generations. I was in college when you were still in diapers. Doesn’t that bother you? Don’t you want someone your own age?” Katie asked, blushing slightly at her own question. “You could be my son.”

“What can I say?” Nathan sighed. “I like you.”

“You’re sure about this?”

“Positive,” Nathan stated emphatically. “And to prove it...” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small handwrapped box.

“What’s this?” Katie asked, reluctantly accepting the gift.

“Open it.”

Smiling uneasily, she untied the miniature ribbon. Much to her relief, the mystery object was not an engagement ring, but an ivory necklace with an engraved talisman attached.

“Oh, that’s so sweet. Thank you.” Katie hastily fastened it behind her neck and tucked the rest inside her top. All the while, Nathan appeared almost entranced, as if concentrating intently on something.

“Are you all right?” she asked, touching his hand again.

“Oh, yeah,” Nathan mumbled. In fact, there was something on his mind.

A month ago when he purchased the necklace from a little hole-in-the-wall called “One Wish Jewelry,” the owner had related some farfetched story about his wares - namely that any item in the store, if given in the spirit of true love, granted wishes. He remembered humoring the old craggy jeweler, even asking if the necklace came with magic instructions.

And now, despite his better judgment, Nathan found himself silently entertaining his most avid wish just as the talisman dropped between her breasts. If only I could meet Katie when she was my age...

“Do you like it?” His face softened, like a little boy handing a crayon drawing to his mother for approval.

“Of course I do,” Katie said, glowing. “I have to say, you make me feel special...”

Those were the words Nathan wanted to hear. The rest of the night he took pleasure in seeing the contented air surrounding his date, even if something about it seemed a little less than romantic. When they kissed goodnight, Nathan worried that Katie might be patronizing him. It didn’t help when she ended the evening with “Sleep tight!”


That night Nathan struggled with sleep, twisting and turning in search of a comfortable position. Every lump in the mattress felt like a mountain. When the alarm clock finally blared at 7:00, he swished his legs back and forth underneath the covers, noticing they felt tethered together. Apparently over the course of the night his pajama pants had crept down his waist and gathered abruptly at his ankles.

Yawning and swallowing the sleep taste in his mouth, he pulled back the covers and kicked the wayward pajamas from his feet. When Nathan finally opened his eyes, the picture startled him.

He was naked from the waist down; this was no surprise. What nearly took his breath was the completely changed look of his lower body, most notably his penis, which had shrunk back to its prepubescent size and now dangled limp across his hairless groin.

“The hell!” he cried, standing up beside the much-larger bed, his baggy nightshirt hanging from one shoulder.

In the ensuing moments, the full scope of the changes became painfully plain. Nathan’s body had somehow rocketed backwards through puberty in the space of one night, leaving him a mere gradeschooler to the eye. With trepidation, he ventured into the bathroom, climbed onto the toilet seat, and stared timidly at his reflection in the mirror.

This can’t happen he thought, caressing his flush young cheeks. I can’t be a little kid again.

The phone rang. He jumped.

Still numb and spinning from the confusion, Nathan answered in a daze. Before he could even marshal a complete hello, Katie interrupted, her voice ecstatic and high-pitched.

“Nathan, I know you’re not going to believe me, but the most incredible thing happened this morning. I look like I’m fifteen years younger! It’s insane! It’s like some miracle turned back the clock overnight and now I’m back in my twenties. Anyway, I’m standing here in my bathroom and, you just won’t believe it...“ she squealed.

Then it hit Nathan between the eyes like a two-by-four. The necklace and that damn wish.

“No, I believe you,” he said, voice creaking.

“Nathan? Is that you?” Katie stopped and inquired.

“Yes, it’s me.”

“But your voice...“ she said. “Are you playing a trick on me?”

Nathan took a deep breath. How to explain.

“Katie, last night when I gave you the necklace I made a wish,” he regretted aloud. “I wished that I could meet you when you were my age. The old man who sold me the watch said his jewelry had magical properties. I didn’t believe him, but now it seems to have come true.”

“What?” Katie interrupted. “What are you talking about?”

“The wish. I wanted us to be together,” he sputtered.

“So... you wished... for this?” Katie’s voice trembled as she tried to wrap her head around the notion of a magic necklace.

“Yes,” Nathan admitted. “But the necklace made me younger too. I wished to meet you when you were 24, and when you were 24...”

“Oh my god! So what you’re saying is...”


“You’re... a little boy now?”

“I didn’t plan it this way,” Nathan began to sniffle like an upset child.

“How old are you?! Oh shit, if I’m 24, you’ve got to be...” Katie went silent for a few seconds then breathed an audible gasp. “... 7 years old. Jesus, you’re back in elementary school!”

Her astonishment only served to intensify the mortification Nathan felt speaking over the phone with a considerably higher child’s voice.

“I’m coming over,” she assured him. “We have to straighten this out.”

“But Katie...“

“No buts.” She already sounded like his mother. “There has to be a way to fix this.”

The next sound Nathan heard was the click of Katie’s cell phone hanging up. Whatever dread seized before, it was fast becoming all out panic. A swift pain attacked his stomach as he hunched over the toilet seat like boy sent home sick from school. Still naked, Nathan quivered as a cool draft blew over his backside.

“Not this,” he mumbled, staring down angrily at his bare white legs. “Why this?!”

With his mind going a thousand different directions, Nathan fought to calm himself and think straight. This is important, he thought. I have to remember exactly what the old jeweler said. At the time, he had considered the man a quack, a desperate old salesmen spinning folksy yarns in order to increase sales. Now Nathan was stuck trying to recall every last syllable the old man had spoken.

The gift afforded one wish, he remembered that much, but there was more to his little spiel. How did it go? Then it struck him. The wish was mutual. Both the giver and the receiver had one chance to see a desire come to fruition.

Nathan had barely strung his legs through an old pair of swimming trunks (the only item that fit snugly around his waist, thanks to the elastic) when he heard the knock at the door. With a queasiness not felt since Field Day in the second grade, Nathan reluctantly grasped the handle and tugged the now-heavier door open.

“Oh my god. Nathan?”

Katie was right; she was gorgeous, better looking than even Nathan had imagined, though he had not planned on viewing his love interest from such a low angle.

“Yes, it’s me,” he whined, shyly turning his back and slinking down the hall.

“I’m sorry. It’s just unbelievable,” Katie said, dropping her purse on the floor and kneeling to Nathan’s height. “Where are you going? You don’t have to hide from me.”

“I’m not hiding,” Nathan whimpered.

“Well, then at least let me talk to you.”

Donning an unintentionally cute frown, Nathan emerged from the corner, his eyes glued ashamedly to the floor. He could hardly bear to look into Katie’s beautiful twentysomething face, knowing he was scarcely old enough to ride a bike now, much less make out with a girl.

“Aww, Nathan. Don’t be that way,” Katie cajoled. “Come here. Please?”

“I didn’t want to be a kid again,” Nathan finally spoke, tears gathering. “I wanted to be with you.”

“I know.” She pulled him close to her chest. “Like I said, you’re a sweet guy. You still are.”

After a beat of silence, Katie let go, pushed his little chin up, and looked consolingly into his watery eyes. “You’re a cute little boy, you know that?”

“I’m not a little boy!”

“I know you’re not,” she said, taking his hand, “but we have to deal with this.”

Nathan could only think back through all their uneasy negotiations about age and Katie’s persistent worries about how society might view their relationship. Now the gap between them had widened - not by number, but by appearance. While Katie lost a few wrinkles, Nathan had forgone his entire adolescence. Not exactly a fair trade.

“Well, there is one thing...” Nathan remembered, seeing the troublesome gift dangling from her neck.

“What’s that?” Katie’s face brightened. “Just tell me.”

“The necklace grants two wishes, one for the giver and one for the receiver,” Nathan explained. “At least I think that’s how it works.”

“So all I have to do is wish for you to grow up?” Katie asked, untucking the necklace from her shirt.

“I hope.”

“Well, what are we waiting for?” she said, closing her eyes and clutching the talisman tightly to her chest. “I wish Nathan was 24 again.”

Opening their eyes together, Katie and Nathan were disappointed to see that nothing had changed.

“Was something supposed to happen?”

“I don’t know,” Nathan mumbled, discouraged. “My wish took effect the next day, so maybe we have to wait until tomorrow.”

“So you’re stuck like this until Sunday?”

Nathan wore his dissatisfaction like a body cast. “I guess so.”

Hearing the dejection in Nathan’s voice, Katie endeavored to lighten her shrunken beau’s mood. “Hey, come on. It doesn’t have to be all bad,” she coaxed. “Look at it this way. You get to be a kid again for a day. Who wouldn’t want to do that?”


“Aww, don’t be that way,” she continued with a smirk. “We have the day off. Let’s hang out. We can go to the mall and no one will even know it’s us...”

“I’m not going like this!” Nathan fussed. “I look ridiculous.”

“Nonsense. Nobody will know the difference. All you need are some clothes that fit and no one would guess you’re not a real 7-year-old.”

“Yeah, great. Just what I wanted to do today. Go buy some boy’s underwear,” Nathan pouted, his cheeks turning a deep red.

“I told you. I think you’re cute this way,” Katie said, standing up.

“This way? What is that supposed to mean?”

“You know what I mean. You’re an adorable little kid. Now get over it,” she laughed. “Besides, it’s not forever. Just think of it as a vacation from adulthood.”

Katie’s halfhearted attempts at cheerfulness did little to assuage Nathan’s mounting embarrassment. Still, given the circumstances, he could do nothing but accept being stuck in a preadolescent body until tomorrow.

As promised, the two spent their Saturday driving around town, engaging in activities under the guise of mother and son. A Freudian scene if ever there was one. Even the simple act of holding hands had transformed from a pleasantly amorous gesture into a vaguely punitive act.

“Do we have to hold hands?” Nathan complained on more than one occasion. “I can cross the street by myself you know.”

“You always wanted to before,” Katie replied, winking down at her minor partner.

“Well, I wasn’t four feet tall before,” he repeated, growing steadily annoyed with Katie’s disregard for his situation.

“Were you really this bashful as a kid?”

“I never counted on being a kid again,” Nathan grumbled, “so you’ll have to excuse me if I’m a little less excited than you seem to be.”

Again detecting that her charms were failing, Katie stopped, bent down, and hoisted her young friend into the air, planting a quick kiss on his lips.

“What are you doing?!”

“Jesus, Nathan. Live a little!” she sang. “So you’re a little boy for one day. Who cares? Have some fun while you’ve got the chance.”

Nathan took her advice to heart for the remainder of the afternoon, even going so far as to swing from a jungle gym and test out a nearby slide with a group of bubbly second-graders while Katie watched from the sidelines with an assembly of parents. He had spent all day fretting over his appearance and forgot to have fun. Katie was right, he thought. Some people would kill for the chance to relive their childhood for 24 hours. Why not make the most of it?

That evening, Katie insisted on spending the night to make sure the spell aged Nathan back to his mid-twenties self. Watching the exhausted 7-year-old crawl into bed, she took one more mental snapshot of her little man. By tomorrow, the boy would disappear and her young suitor would return. But he won’t be young anymore, Katie reminded herself. The chaos of that morning and the seeming impossibility of her day with little Nathan hadn’t allowed her time to contemplate her own shift in age.

“Goodnight,” Katie whispered.

“Night,” Nathan said, his head already on the pillow. “I sure hope this works.”

“It will.”

Just after Katie turned out the light, her heart jumped. Not because of anything in the room, but because of something she remembered.

That morning, when she woke up, she had discovered the necklace still fastened around her neck. The realization barely fazed her at the time. Before she shuffled into the bathroom and met with her new reflection, a thought had crossed her mind.

What was it? Katie backtracked.

It was less of a thought and more of a fantasy, a hopeful fantasy. Was that a wish? She prayed it wasn’t. Maybe it didn’t count. Trying her best to remember, Katie couldn’t be certain what exactly she had wished for in that groggy, early morning fog, but, considering the trouble caused by Nathan’s first wish, she hoped she hadn’t inadvertently caused more.

Better not to tell him now, she decided. Let him sleep.



End Chapter 1


by: sumner | Complete Story | Last updated May 11, 2006


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