"Mr. Hammond, thank you for joining us," Simon said, as the man approached the front door.
"You two have such a beautiful home," Mr. Hammond commented, marveling at the exterior decorations.
Both Simon and Angelique thanked and shook hands with him before they made space for him to walk through the door.
"Come on inside," Angelique said, gesturing towards the living room.
Intrigued by the large, bald-headed man, Jacob peaked over the couch to observe his social worker from a distance.
"Jacob! It's nice to finally meet you!" Mr. Hammond exclaimed when he noticed the toddler hiding on the couch in the living room.
"Jacob, why don't you come on over here and shake Mr. Hammond's hand," Simon suggested.
Obediently but warily, Jacob slid off the couch and padded over to where Mr. Hammond was. He reached his arm up and shook the older man's hand.
To Mr. Hammond, just that small action was a very good sign. Jacob would have to be regressing smoothly if he was actually obeying their verbal instructions.
"He's so adorable," Mr. Hammond enthused. "Did you give him that haircut yourselves? It looks professional, but I didn't think you'd be so brave to take him out this early," he remarked.
"I did the haircut and Angelique did the styling," Simon said, proudly.
"It's amazing. He looks like a model," Mr. Hammond commended, looking down at the tyke.
Unused to having that much attention placed on him, Jacob anxiously shifted his weight between his feet.
"We made lasagna for lunch. Are you hungry?" Angelique asked, moving towards the kitchen.
"Yes, I haven't had anything to eat yet," Mr. Hammond replied, joining them in the dining area.
"I already know Jacob is hungry," she said, before asking, "Is it normal for him to eat frequently? His appetite is enormous."
"It's normal," Mr. Hammond answered. "It's just a side effect of the Restalsis. His body is probably still recovering from downsizing so rapidly," he explained, taking a seat at the table.
Simon seated Jacob in the highchair and made certain to grab a bib for him. It would be far too easy for him to stain the light-colored clothes he was wearing. "Try to eat slowly," Simon advised the little boy.
"Sure," Jacob amicably agreed, knowing he intended to wolf down the food the moment it was served.
Throughout lunch, Mr. Hammond asked them small questions to gleam an idea of their daily routine. He asked about what their typical day was like and about Jacob's punishments. The couple took turns answering his questions in detail, knowing exactly what he was looking for as they had both studied to be social workers themselves.
Jacob didn't pay any attention to their conversation, fixated on the lasagna. It was hard to eat since he only got a plastic fork, but he made it work. Before everyone else was halfway through their food, he had finished his. Contentedly patting his stomach, he learned back into the highchair, yawning.
"Does he typically have a nap after lunch?" Mr. Hammond asked, in between sips of lemonade after he finished the lasagna.
"He does," Simon answered. "I'm trying to encourage him not to eat so fast. I'm sure that contributes to why he can't stay awake after eating," he explained.
"Alright, we should talk in detail after he's asleep," Mr. Hammond suggested, watching Jacob yawn and stretch. "By the way, this lasagna was amazing. Thank you so much for the meal," he added politely.
"Can I watch TV?" Jacob asked, trying to prevent them from discussing anything in private. He needed to know what was happening to him, and he got the feeling Mr. Hammond had a very good understanding of the mystery that was unfolding in front of him.
"You can do that after your nap," Simon said, untying his bib and cleaning his face with a wet paper towel.
"But I don't want to sleep," Jacob whined, upset that they were weaponizing his blatant sleepiness.
"That's alright. I'm sure you'll change your mind in a few minutes," Simon responded, lifting him in his arms. "Now be a good boy and tell Mr. Hammond goodbye," he instructed.
"Bye," Jacob grumpily said, sulking.
"It was nice to meet you Jacob. I hope you have a good nap," his social worker told him.
Jacob was certainly not a happy camper when he was placed in the crib, knowing that his quest for answers was so easily thwarted.
"Have a good rest," Simon said, closing the blinds.
"Whatever," Jacob grumbled, curling into a ball on his side.
Simon quickly left the nursery and returned to the kitchen, anxiously waiting to hear Mr. Hammond's assessment.
"So, it does appear that he is regressing smoothly. I can tell that he is minding your rules and instructions as he should at this stage. Has he been crying more?" he asked.
"Yes, he has," Angelique answered. "In fact, he cried this morning when I caught him misbehaving," she added.
"That's good. It's a sign that he is emotionally regressing and consequently losing his ability to emotionally regulate on his own," he explained. "I do have some suggestions for the following week that you may want to write down," he started, giving them a chance to take notes.
"I've got some paper," Simon said, grabbing a pen from the counter.
"First, I do think Jacob's ready to start joining you two on errands. It would be good for him to get used to being around other people as a toddler. If random strangers are speaking to him like a child, he will more quickly acclimate to being one," he said, pausing to make sure he wasn't going too fast.
"Got it," Simon reported, encouraging Mr. Hammond to continue.
"Next, it's good to keep him active in household duties. Try to give him small chores to keep him occupied. The idea is that if he's voluntarily doing chores, then he will be less likely to throw a tantrum when he feels a small loss of control," he pointed out.
"We can definitely do that," Angelique said, enthusiastic about his idea.
"Also, keep an eye out for any behavioral changes. His cognitive capabilities may shift in the next week. So, you all may have to more frequently remind him of rules and responsibilities. He isn't ignoring you. It's just eventually going to become more difficult for him to keep track of everything," Mr. Hammond explained, pausing for another sip of lemonade.
"Do you think he's ready for playdates?" Angelique asked.
"Hmm," Mr. Hammond, replied, taking a moment to decide. "I'd say he's doing well enough for that, but it would be a good idea to keep a watchful eye the whole time. There's a good chance he might try to involve the other child in his rebellious shenanigans which may not go so well with the other parent," Mr. Hammond explained thoroughly.
"That sounds good. We'll be sure not to rush into anything," Simon promised, diligently taking notes.
"Great. One last thing, in place of next week's visit, I'd like you all to come back down to St. Ives. I know that Dr. Kelly has some testing she wants to do to see how the Restalsis is affecting his cognitive abilities," Mr. Hammond said.
"We can do that," Simon agreed, taking note of the date in his calendar.
"It will be another fun road trip," Angelique enthused.
"Do you two have any other questions before I head out?" he asked after downing the last of his lemonade.
"No, that was all for now. Would it be okay to give you a call if we have any other questions as things come up?" Simon inquired.
"That's always fine. In fact, let me give you my card with my cellphone number on it," Mr. Hammond said, reaching into his wallet for a business card. He placed the card on the table and stood up to tuck his wallet into his back pocket. "Thank you both for so graciously having me this afternoon," he said, fishing his keys out of his front pocket.
"It was a pleasure," Angelique responded.
Closing the door behind him, the couple heard Mr. Hammond's car start, and they watched from the window as he drove down the path. When his car was fully out of view, Angelique turned to Simon and gave him a big hug. "I'm exhausted," she admitted.
"Why don't you take an afternoon nap too?" Simon suggested.
"Will you join me?" she asked, playing with a stray strand of her hair.
"Yes, I'll join you in the bedroom, but I'm watching TV while you nap. I don't feel sleepy," he explained.
"That's fine with me," she said, taking his hand in hers and leaving the kitchen. Angelique made sure to grab the baby monitor from the coffee table, checking to make sure that Jacob was still soundly asleep.
In their bedroom, the couple romantically celebrated the success of the house visit. They enjoyed a passionate moment where they were free from all of their responsibilities. The house was clean, and Jacob was asleep. Dinner wasn't for another few hours, leaving them with plenty time to be at ease. For the past three years, the therapists enthusiastically and consistently kept the passion alive in their marriage, and that afternoon was no exception.
Moments later, Simon laid back in the bed, listening to his wife's peaceful snores and flipping through the channels, completely at peace.