Chapter Description: Clark has a close call with an upset tummy.
It was the second day back at school. As was routine, teachers were given a full week to set up our classrooms and attend (largely pointless) staff meetings before students returned and things returned to their strange mix of manic and dull routine. As was routine I hadn’t told Cassie anything about the last few days before summer; largely putting it out of my mind. Spending a summer cooped up in my fortress of a house not thinking about my problems and completely vegging out was another routine. I needed routine.
Looking down at my slight paunch, I patted my stomach and shook my head. Most animals fattened up in winter. It would be an annoying fall of losing weight. But at least it was routine. I needed this year to be routine; to go back to normal.
I needed my normal again and had spent more than one morning waking up from any number of vaguely recalled nightmares and unpleasant memory dreams.
If you’ve read this far, three guesses as to what said nightmares and dreams involved.
“Ready to start the new year?” Mrs. Beouf asked me from across her teacher table.
I took another sip of coffee. “Not yet,” The stuff in my mug was so sugared up and filled with mocha that it was more akin to warm cocoa; just the way I liked it. Beouf was drinking hers black, of course. “Spent most of yesterday submitting lesson plans waaaaaay in advance. Will probably have to modify them if my students have specific accommodations in their I.E.P.’s, but best to keep busy.”
This was routine: Pre-work coffee and small talk. Tracy wouldn’t be in till later in the week; teaching assistants didn’t have to be on deck until Friday. That meant that Zoge wouldn’t be in either. More than a fair trade. Bonus points. WIth no buses looming down on us, we were all given more time and freedom of movement. That meant more time to just shoot the shit first thing in the morning. I took another sip. “How about you?”
“Me neither.” Beouf drained her comparatively giant mug. “Spent most of my free time moving around the heavy stuff. Easier to do and still be kinda zonked out from vacation.” True to form, Beouf had done a good chunk of the heavy lifting. Toy shelves were already moved back into place and tables and chairs that had been pushed against the wall for the summer were back in their proper locations.
It didn’t look like a true classroom. But the basic framework was in place. Beouf wiped her mouth on a paper towel. “Want some help in your room today?”
I finished my mug and shuddered at the delightful sugar rush as the bottom gave up the last of its contents. I placed it on the hard wood with a thunk and wiped my own mouth. “Yeah. That’d be great. Thanks.”
My own room was still a ghost town of shelved chairs and learning centers stashed away in supply closets. I’m clever, but there’s only so much I can do, physically.
“So you can show me where you want everything this morning,” Beouf said. “Then after lunch, how about you help me with restocking some stuff? Shelving the toys? Organizing the art center?”
I winced. My stomach had just started to wake up with the rest of me. “Sure,” I said. I always took the fact that she wanted something in return for her help as a sign of respect on her part. She could move heavy furniture. I could rifle through cardboard boxes. It didn’t bother my back as much, either since I didn’t have to bend down as far.
Beouf looked over my shoulder and into the nap room. “Mind helping me make the beds in there, too?”
I looked behind me. The lights were off, but the dark outlines of cribs show’d that they’d been moved back into their normal places. More than any other piece of baby furniture, cribs gave me the willies. It was a reminder that we were prisoners. Even my students got to lay down on floor mats. It wouldn’t take much for an Amazon to lift the rail up as I was putting a fitted sheet on a mattress.
“Sure,” I said. It was a testament to just how much I trusted her. I winced at a minor stomach cramp. Nothing major. “How was your summer?”
Beouf let out a throaty sigh. “Ugh. Probably the last good one I’ll have for a while.”
“My daughter’s about ready to pop.”
Pop? The lightbulb went on. “Oh yeah, I forgot. You’re about to be a grandmother. “
“Moved her and her husband back in. Shopped around for baby furniture. The whole shebang.”
I didn’t know much about Beouf’s family; but I knew her daughter didn’t marry a rich man. So moving back in made sense. Amazons could ask for help without having to worry about being diapered. “Shopped for names yet?”
Beouf shook her head. “Not that they’re telling me. Her and her husband want things to be a surprise. They don’t even know if it’s gonna be a boy or a girl. Had to buy a bunch of yellow, green and red stuff. Pinks and blues not allowed.”
I laughed politely. “Sounds like they want to get to know their baby first before they make any decisions about it.”
My coworker stroked her chin lightly. “Hadn’t thought about it like that,” she admitted. “Sounds a little bit like adoption when you put it like that.”
Damnit. Way to go Beouf. So typical. Another gnawing in my gut that was only partially anxiety related. My anxiety was only getting worse, and I needed things to get back to normal. I badly needed it.
“Got your class roster, yet?” I asked. It was a shit question. Pointless. Beouf had almost a hundred percent roll over from year to year. But it was the first thing I thought of when it came to steering the conversation away from adoption...even if it was only a half-step away.
Beouf frowned. “Yeah…”
I arched an eyebrow and frowned as another cramp pinched my gut. I had to get used to coffee again. “What’s up?”
She avoided eye contact and took her glasses off. “I went through my roster yesterday so I could stock the bathroom. Not all my kids are coming back.”
I wanted to shrug. ‘You’ll get new ones,’ is not something I cared to say, even in comfort to Beouf. “Moved? Private daycare?”
“Worse,” she said. “Taylor’s parents transferred her to New Beginnings.”
“Oh….oh wow…” I had no idea who Taylor was. As a rule, I tried to avoid learning the names of Beouf’s ‘students’. It was less painful that way. Only Ivy stayed in my memory banks for long, and she didn’t really count, being Mrs. Zoge’s doll.
I did however, know about New Beginnings. Damn. That poor woman.
“Her parents thought I wasn’t strict enough with her. Her Maturosis was mild. The data around her developmental plateau was showing that she’d be better off in Pull-Ups. Diapers only for naptime. But they just wanted me to unpotty train that girl.”
I stayed silent. I had no idea how to attack a place like New Beginnings without attacking Beouf. They were both doing essentially the same thing, even if Beouf was a lot gentler about it.
Beouf rubbed her eyes and replaced her glasses. “Places like New Beginnings need to be shut down. They don’t care about the Littles there. They just want to make them into...into…”
“Dolls?” I offered.
“Yeah. That.” Her tone turned angry. “I have a Master’s in Early Childhood Education and a Bachelor’s in Child Psychology with a minor in Maturosis and Developmental and Emotional Plateaus. Some people just want me to be a torturer.“ She looked at me. “I love my students. I really do. They’re my babies, too.” The most painful part of it is she really believed it.
“Yeah,” I said. “That sucks about Taylor. I’m sorry.” That part wasn’t a lie at least. Just not for the reason she might’ve thought.
“Thanks,” Beouf said. She stood up. “Ready to get to tell me where to move stuff?”
“Yeah…” I copied her, and instantly regretted it. Something shifted around. I clenched my stomach and gritted my teeth.
“I know that look,” Beouf said. “Bathroom’s over there.” My eyes were still closed, but I knew where she was pointing. Internally I did the math. I could probably make it back to my own bathroom. Probably. Maybe. “Clark?” Maybe if the door into my room wasn’t closed and I didn’t have to stop “Clark? Can you hear me? Mr. Gibson?”
That did it. Cheeks clenched, I ran to the class bathroom, quietly praying that I’d make it. It was a close one. The kind where things were pretty much on their way out and plopping into the bowl before my ass had completely settled around the rim.
I seemed to exhale from both ends at the same time, opening my eyes only after the first tidal wave of cramps passed out of me. The fuck was that about?! You abstain from coffee for two and a half months and the first cup hits your gut like a jackhammer!
Tenuously, I opened my eyes and looked down at my boxers. Spotless. Good. No excuse. It’s not that I didn’t trust Beouf; it’s just that I only trusted her so far. She’d just seen a Little run off into her kiddie bathroom, and was bemoaning a missing student. Ten years had bought her the benefit of the doubt, from me.
“Clark?” she called. “Mr. Gibson?”
I turned my head to the side and felt my pulse quicken. I’d forgotten to close the door! Rookie mistake, Clark! Rookie mistake! The door opened outward too! It was so big that I’d have to step out to close it! It didn’t even open in a way that I could use it as a barrier. It was either waddle out with my pants around my ankles (a non-option) or finish, redress, and then close it; (pointless).
I was so...so...vulnerable. So incredibly vulnerable. If Forrest or Brollish- even Janet, I told myself- had caught me like this, they would have had ample cause to adopt me on the spot.
“Mr. Gibson?” My title and last name were something of a safeword. Beouf didn’t call the Littles in her class Mr. or Miss. All the same, I couldn’t help but clench up.
“I’m in here…” I said. “I’m fine.” That was a lie. This was not fine. But fake it till you make it.
“Okay,” she said. “I’ll give you some privacy. Meet you in your room?”
“Sure.” I heard the heavy door to her classroom open and then close shut. Both ends of me sighed in relief. Ugh. I gave myself a courtesy flush.
I’d never been in Beouf’s bathroom before. Not surprising, all things considered, but in the quiet of the moment I took a minute to observe. It wasn’t that different from mine, actually. Roughly the same dimensions.
The toilet that I sat on was, in fact, a toilet; and not a potty. It was hooked up to the plumbing. No cutesy decorations. Near as I could see, it was the same white porcelain and black seat, too. Nothing too infantile. It was sized for me, but so was the toilet in my classroom.
That probably meant it was very clean, considering how long it had been since it had been used. Last person who had tried to use it was about to be shipped to Oakshire’s premier public brainwashing facility; and that was months ago. Beouf certainly wouldn’t want to use it; her knees would almost go up to her chest, funny image though that was.
No. This toilet was here simply because it was mandated that this room have a toilet in it; even if after today no one was going to be allowed to use it. The Amazons did love their insane rules and plays at fairness. Also, who knows; once upon a time, an architect or contractor might have thought that there’d be a big enough Pre-Kindergarten population to warrant two tiny toilets.
The only difference between Beouf’s bathroom and my own was the furniture. Straight ahead of me, looming over me, in fact, was a giant, sturdy, unmovable changing table. It was a heavy thing; at least as thick and almost as wide as my own teacher’s desk. It was taller to boot. It took up most of the bathroom. Unlike my father-in-law, my spatial awareness wasn’t the best, but chances were only a single Amazon could squeeze in here at a time. Them and whatever Little they were diapering, anyways.
The cabinet in front of me was already stocked, because of course it was. Wipes and baby powder were in the upper levels for easy Amazonian reach mid changing. At the foot end, a packet of wipes was already resting in a little nook near the edge.
The lower shelves were of course, already stacked with diapers. White ones. Colored ones. Plain ones. Decorated ones. All arranged in neat and tidy stacks of four or five. Beneath each stack, was a piece of masking tape and a Little’s name written beneath.
Chaz. Ivy. Tommy. Shauna. Mandy. Billy. Sandra Lynn. Jesse. Annie. There but for the grace of some capricious and fickle god go I. These were leftovers from last year, I knew. Their so-called parents hadn’t bothered to take the diapers home because most of the Littles would be coming back at the end of summer. Beouf hadn’t bothered to throw them out, because it’s not as if her ‘students’ would grow out of them. Ever.
Taylor’s actually had some Pull-Ups on top. Poor girl wouldn’t even get that much at New Beginnings. I wondered who would replace her. Someone always did, it seemed.
Idly, I craned my neck up and away and caught sight of my reflection. That was weird. Why would there be a mirror on the ceiling? Maybe to make sure that whatever Amazon was on diaper duty didn’t miss a spot? But that didn’t make sense.
Best not to dwell on it, I decided. I finished and cleaned myself up; even daring to snag an Amazon sized baby wipe, just in case. Beouf was on my side now, but a skid mark was practically a death sentence. It all got flushed down the toilet anyways; and it’s not like anybody counted wipes. That’d be like counting squares of toilet paper.
Come to think of it, how old was this bathroom’s toilet paper?
It was a morbid and fatalistic curiosity that overtook me when I pulled one of Chaz’s diapers from the top of the stack and looked at it. Chaz, the last fellow Little that had gotten my bullshit “find a way to quietly rebel” speech. Poor kid. Literally. Most of us got at least a taste of adulthood before one of the giants took an unhealthy interest in us.
Chaz probably still had his peach fuzz before a laser zapped it off his lip for ever. Pubes too. Now all of his underwear crinkled and had balloons on the butt; and the only thing that would change that is if his captors switched to a new brand.
I shuddered at the thought and placed it back on top of the stack. Not me. Never me.
I flushed and walked back through to my classroom. Mrs. Beouf had been considerate enough to leave the doors open for me and was waiting. I hadn’t yet attached my pull-chords. “Ready to get started?” I asked.
“Did you remember to wash your hands?” She sounded like a mother just before supper time.
My mind went on full alert. My body didn’t even miss a beat. I made a hurried but confident bee-line for the step stool in front of my classroom sink. “Sink in your bathroom is a little high, actually,” I lied.
“Yeah?” my coworker asked. I was gambling that she didn’t pay attention to how tall or short the sink was. Like the toilet, it was something that was largely ignored in her class.
“That and I didn’t want to take soap from your classroom,” I added. “Your guys need soap too.”
My gamble paid off. “Nah,” Mrs. Beouf waved my remark off. “We stick mostly to wipes and hand sanitizer in my room. Mrs. Zoge and I are the only ones who wash our hands, and we use the bigger sink.”
I figured as much, but the faux consideration made the lie more believable. Beouf was talking to me like I was a person again; not a doll.
“Where do you want these chairs to go?” she asked.