Chapter Description: It's Spring Break and Clark faces a new kind of challenge.
Cassie and I were in the back of a strange car, strapped into booster seats that barely fit us. We were close to an hour outside of town. None of my Amazon co-workers, not Beouf, not Janet, not Zoge, knew where we were. None of our neighbors knew where we were, either (not that they’d care). We couldn’t even reach each other, couldn’t hold hands. Our seats were on opposite sides of the car.
Every now and then, we’d steal glances at each other while the driver rambled on and on about what a fun time we were going to have. The rest of the time, I’d look out the window, dreading what was to come for myself if not for Cassie.
Cassie just looked at her phone and texted her friends. “Be there soon,” she said.
This wasn’t every sane Little’s worst nightmare: We weren’t captured. Neither of us were diapered or gagged with special pacifiers. The booster seats were Tweener sized and were the only way we could manage to get the seatbelts on properly. The belt buckles had been modified so that even a Little could press down and unlatch themselves. The only dread I was feeling was having to stay with my in-laws for a few days. Welcome to the start of our Spring Break.
The aforementioned driver was Tracy, of course. After ‘the bus incident’, both Cassie and I were a little gun shy about traveling among strangers; doubly so after the close shave in my classroom. But we couldn’t make the trip all the way on my scooter- not with our suitcases- and Little sized luggage stood out and could be tampered with. So, I asked Tracy for a favor and offered to pay her for the gas money. Tracy refused the gas money.
Tracy sat on an elevated seat so she could see all of the road in front of her. Pedal extenders made it so she could work the gas and brakes. Even with the Tweener mods, I’d be lucky to see past the hood. Little sized cars weren’t permitted for sale outside of Little-centric countries.
Cars sized specifically for Tweeners didn’t exist. They had to make do with modified versions of whatever was available. At least it was common enough where no one thought it strange for a Tweener to be driving. I’d been independently commuting for years and I still turned heads on my scooter.
I had been riding high all of the last week. With my co-workers at my back, and Brollish with no choice but to clear me of the charges, I was practically bulletproof. I felt invincible. Janet did me the solid of making copies of those nice essays my former students wrote. Even Cassie grinned when I framed them and hung them on the wall next to her paintings. She had her accomplishments. Now I had proof of mine.
Now after going through hell and having a solid week that was completely free of excess paranoia, I was getting a real vacation.
“What are you guys going to do?” Tracy asked.
“Not worry about giants who want to burp me.”
“Aaaaaaahaaaaahaaaaahaaaaa!” Tracy was slapping the steering wheel as her laughter drowned out the radio.
Cassie put down her phone and scoffed. “Clark!” Cassie wasn’t mad. Not really. I’d definitely said the quiet part loud; the parts that big folk aren’t supposed to hear. It’s not even that quiet, if I’m being honest. It’s just that your typical Amazon doesn’t listen.
“What?” I said, doing my best to sound innocent. “It’s true! We’re definitely not going for the view.” Connecting with other Littles wasn’t about the location, it was about the company. Littles communities were places where we could let our guard down just a little bit. Where we were headed, no one towered over us. Furniture was made, (not adapted) to fit us, and there was absolutely no risk of coming across someone in a diaper who wasn’t older than three.
For an entire week, Cassie and I were treating ourselves to feeling how Amazons must feel every day of their lives: In control. At ease. Normal.
Cassie was still giving me side-eye, tinged by good humor though it was. “Sorry, Cassie,” I said. In all honesty, I was not sorry. Not even a little.
“It’s true, though,” Tracy said. “Amazons are bonkers! Most of them are jerks, too! I’m pretty sure I’m tolerated because Amazons just like to boss people around. Clark treats me way better than any Amazon ever did.”
“Well, yeah. You’re a good person,” I said. “Why wouldn’t I?”
“That and I’m still big enough to kick your ass.” I caught glimpse at Tracy in her review mirror. She was sticking her tongue out at me.
“That and you're still big enough to kick my ass,” I repeated, rolling my eyes. “That helps, too.”
Cassie crossed her arms. “If you two dislike working with Amazons so much, why do you do it?”
Tracy and I closed our mouths. Her eyes went back to the road. Mine went over to Cassie. She was back to looking at her phone. So many different ways to take this. I wanted to yell at Cassie and argue and tear her down a little bit.
It was easy to criticize working with crazed giants when they never had to see your face. Honestly, I could have probably gotten by on some kind of online teaching gig. As long as there wasn’t anything in the background to give perspective, I could have posed as an Amazon teacher via webcam.
But then I wouldn’t have made the friendships and relationships that I had. Then I wouldn’t be working with kids as much as I was talking to a camera and giving lectures. I wouldn’t have essays framed on my wall about what a good teacher I’d been to those third graders back when they were my preschoolers.
I wouldn’t have learned to befriend the Melony Beoufs and Janet Granges of the world; nor would I be able to differentiate between the Zoges, the Forrests, and the Brollishes. There’d be a lot more Jeremies than Hyacinths and Masons at Oakshire Elementary. Jeremies grew up into Forrests and Brollishes.
Time for a change of subject. “What are you gonna do this week, Tracy?”
Just looking at the back of her head, I saw Tracy wiggle. In the mirror her poofball bangs were starting to wag like a poodle’s tail. “Me and hubby are paintballing!”
Cassie looked up from her phone. “Paintball?” She sounded genuinely perplexed.
“Yeah! It’s great! I get to shoot people and nobody gets hurt!”
The phone was now in Cassie’s lap, screen side down. “I thought something like paintball would be more of an Amazon game.”
Tracy looked at Cassie in the mirror. “No, ma’am. I mean, like, Amazons play, but it’s like...like…” Tracy stopped talking to make a turn. “It’s like...like..it’s perfect.”
“My legs are longer so I can run faster than a Little, no offense…”
“But I’m still small enough to be able to crouch down and hide in the trees and the tall grass. I can both run and hide!”
“The guns?” Cassie asked.
“Amazon strength doesn’t matter when the gun is doing the shooting. What matters is hand eye coordination, reaction time, and using the surrounding terrain to your advantage.”
“I wouldn’t mind shooting an Amazon…”
Tracy ignored Cassie’s comment and couldn’t stop herself. “Everywhere else, I’m either too big for one thing or too small for another thing. At paintball I’m just right. I’m an M.V.P.”
“The world feels like it was made for you,” I said.
“Yeah. Pretty much.”
I looked back over at Cassie. “See? Tracy gets it. That’s what we’re going for. Not paintballing, but that feeling.”
“I getcha, boss.” We giggled. I still loved it when she called me boss.
“Aren’t you worried?” Cassie asked. “You could be out there in the woods or whatever, and if you get scraped or bruised, some random Amazon will decide that you’re too fragile…?”
“Not really,” Tracy said. “Derek’s an Amazon.”
I cocked an eyebrow so that Tracy could see it in her mirror. “Derek?”
“My husband…?” Oh right! The husband she was joking with Janet about...the one that she barely ever talked about at work. I could feel the surprise on my face. Obviously, Tracy saw it. “Yeah. He’s an Amazon. Can’t help who ya love.”
Cassie laughed. Actually laughed. “Nope. Really can’t.” In the backseat of the car we exchanged middle finger salutes and blew a quick kiss to one another. You know you love someone when you can flick them off as a way of flirting.
“We’ve got a plan worked out,” Tracy told us. “If some Amazon decides I’m too immature or whatever, he’ll pretend to adopt me and then we’ll get out of town and act like it never happened. He’s a mechanic, he can work anywhere. Also he’s great at modding my paintball rifles.”
Huh. Solid contingency plan.
The last fifteen minutes of the car ride was spent on increasingly twisting and empty streets with a few “shortcuts” off the paved roads. Tracy spent most of those fifteen minutes of the car ride explaining the nuances, positions, and common strategies in paintball. Apparently, in the competitive paintball circuit (yes there is such a thing she told us) there’s a formation called ‘Master Blaster’ where an Amazon puts a Tweener or a Little on their shoulders and runs like hell while the person on top shoots in all directions from their living perch. Not tactically sound, but it’s a hell of a show when it works.
Tracy pulled over at the entrance and left the engine running. Cassie and I got out of our booster seats and Tracy helped get our suitcases out of the trunk. “This is the place?”
I looked at the old worn sign that read ‘Misty Brook’. “Yup. This is us.”
My coworker looked doubtful. “You sure?”
“Okay then,” Tracy said. “Pick you guys up in a week?”
“Please and thank you.” I reached for my wallet and started to open it. “You sure you don’t want some gas money?”
“Naw, we’re good. You’d do the same for me if you could. See you in a week.” And as her car pulled out, the tallest person within at least a mile was out of sight, leaving me and Cassie at the front entrance of Misty Brook.
As a kind of institution, Misty Brook followed a few universal constants. For example, the surrounding meteorological situation was anything but misty, and it was nowhere near any natural body of water. But it’s an unwritten rule of trailer parks: Their names always have to include some vaguely peaceful sounding adjective and a body of water; kind of like the way that all retirement homes always seem to be named after something bright and cheery and then a kind of tree.
Misty Brook sounded much better than Hot Parking Lot. (And Sunny Oaks sounds like such a nicer place to send grandma and grandpa than Dimly Lit Concrete Building.)
Another rule that Misty Brook followed was that it always seemed kind of dirty, even when it wasn’t, and anyone outside of their trailer somehow seemed their worst possible selves. The outside of everyone’s homes were all clean, any garbage was bagged up and canned. That just made every scratched paint on a window shutter, and every spot of rust or scratch in the paintwork stand out all the more. A single piece of litter wafted by on a hot breeze like a tumbleweed and it made everything in twenty yards of its path seem a bit more unclean.
If the people outside their homes had had lawns or garages, they would have been playing, or lounging or just working outside. Instead, they were up to mischief, or loafing around.
Another rule of Trailer Parks is that anyone living in them is fiercely proud of whatever they’ve managed to scrape together and anyone not living there finds themselves having arrogant, judgemental, and classist thoughts interrupt their inner monologue; even if they grew up in places just like this one.
Misty Brook was a Little’s Trailer Park, however, and that meant there were extra certainties. Any vehicles big enough to move the trailers were illegally tinted, so that Amazons couldn’t tell who was driving. A Little standing on the driver’s seat while their partner worked the pedals was still illegal, if necessary. Rent was always paid on time for fear of adoption and everyone knew if you were leaving and when to expect you to be back. Lastly, anytime someone taller than six feet was nearby, everyone old enough to know better slowly and inconspicuously found a reason to go inside.
I looked at the Littles reading books on their front stoops, politely not noticing our ride. I nodded the grimaces from old timers listening to their radios who’d seen Tracy. I appreciated the school kids playing hopscotch who were too involved to notice. No one was going back inside, thank goodness. Scooters and sidecars were still in plain view.
I looked at Cassie. “That could have been worse,” I remarked.
“Yeah,” Cassie said. “Because my dad spread the word.”
“Would you rather your folks risk driving the car to the bus station and back like last time?” I elbowed her, playfully. THAT visit was close to a year ago, and I’d yet to let Cassie the paranoid live that one down.
Cassie pulled me for a side-hug and nuzzled me. “I know. I know. You’re right.” She kissed me on the cheek. “This time.”
“Dear diary,” I joked. “I was right today. Reset the counter.”
Cassie squeezed me a little tighter. “It’s only because it was Tracy,” she whispered. “If any of your Amazon co-workers had come here, we’d be banished and this place would be deserted by tomorrow.”
“Yeah,” I whispered back. “Not happening. I’m not that stupid.”
“But you are stupid,” she teased.
“Dear diary. At least I broke even today. Maybe next time.”
Misty Brook and the surrounding neighborhoods and businesses were the closest thing towns like Oakshire had to a Little Town. Large metropolitan cities inevitably develop their own Little Towns. When in large enough groups and with a little bit of luck (or Amazonian negligence) Littles have always been able to pool together enough resources and ingenuity to live together in communities that end up resembling the few cloistered Littles nations in relative comfort and safety.
Amazons tend to avoid these areas, either due to general physical discomfort (everything is too small for them), or cognitive dissonance, (babies don’t go grocery shopping or play baseball). The more extremist Amazon activists and politicians (the Raine Forrests of the world) demand that Little Towns be forcibly disbanded ‘for socialization purposes’. It’s hard for one of the giants to snatch up a single Little when there are over a hundred more surrounding them, and Little security guards with tasers who have been authorized to escort the offending Amazon off the premises.
Funnily enough, it’s probably the Brollish’s of the world that keep Little Towns working. They’re crazy. They look down on us. But they understand practical and keep to the letter of laws if not the spirit. Money is money for landlords. Votes are votes for politicians. Amazons don’t have much to worry about when it comes to pissing off other Amazons.
All they have to do is sit back and collect rent checks or rack up votes, and stay away from the property they own and the people they represent. Easiest job in the world, really. Anything resembling a massive raid on these neighborhoods would ruin their narrative of fairness. Forced adoptions are easier to justify when they’re presented as a case by case basis. The Beoufs of the world wouldn’t be able to justify that an entire neighborhood of Littles suddenly had their “maturosis” flare up and express itself all at once.
My parents got to retire to a Little Town. I’m happy for them.
Misty Brook was no Little Town. Just the closest thing around to one. Trailer parks, warehouses, and a handful of struggling niche businesses did not a private community make. Old rumors like an Amazon landlord deciding his newest tenant was too cute not to adopt, and her boyfriend was better suited for petticoats were the ghost stories Little teenagers told each one another to stay awake at night. Places like Misty Brook would be abandoned lots at the first sign of real trouble.
“I don’t think anyone’s coming out to meet us.” Cassie started walking away, rolling her suitcase behind her. “Let’s go.”
I trudged along behind her, pulling my suitcase and waving at anyone making eye contact. “Good morning.”
As we stood in front of the double wide, I closed my eyes and breathed deep. Damn it was good to be back. Now please, I prayed, give me the strength to deal with my father-in-law.