Hope and Fear

Dear Beth,

Guess who’s coming to Jessica’s house? The stork!

We’re finally going to have a baby shower for her next Sunday afternoon. It will be at her house (it’s a surprise so don’t tell her!) at 3:00. She doesn’t know if it’s going to be a boy or a girl yet so please bring something that will work for either. Tell your mom she’s invited too! I hope to see you there!

Aunt Carolyn

Beth stared at her email not knowing quite what to think. In a way she was happy for her since she knew that her cousin (or at least her cousin’s mother) was really excited about having her first baby. All the laughter, the new things, all the adorable clothes and toys and everything else… like getting no sleep, and not being able to so much as go to the store without making a production out of it. The smile that had started to sneak its way onto her face slunk away for a moment, but couldn’t be kept away for long. Sure, it would be a lot of work, but Beth found herself thinking of her own mother and how proud she was whenever the baby pictures came out. She blushed a little bit and looked back to her bed where an old doll and a worn bear still lay wrapped up in the tousled blankets where they’d been left in the rush for school that morning and couldn’t help but wonder if her mother would be so proud of her now.
She sighed softly and turned back to the computer. Maybe the baby shower would provide some sort of excuse to share what she hadn’t told anyone yet… or maybe she could just enjoy the chance to be around all the baby things she so often dreamed of having herself. The latter seemed more likely, given that she had a feeling her mother wouldn’t approve of her teenage daughter wearing diapers or dreaming of being three years old again. Still…
The thought was still tempting her as she opened a new window to start shopping for the shower, but as she stared at the screen, she wasn’t quite sure how to begin; of course Jessica would need bottles, and diapers, and a stroller, and a car seat, and baby clothes (for a girl or a boy… it was a lot harder when she didn’t know which), and… there were a million options. Beth frowned at a thought, blushed and smiled at the same thought, and reached for the telephone.

Daniel was wrestling with his key in the lock as he heard the phone ringing inside. He rolled his eyes and gritted his teeth. “Come on…. come on!” He could almost imagine the lock smirking at him as it gave way and he dashed for the kitchen, catching the phone on the fourth ring. “Hello?”
“Hi Daniel? It’s Beth…”
Suddenly the annoyance of having to rush for the phone was forgotten. “Hey, I just got home, sorry, I had to walk from school. What’s up?” He was glad she couldn’t see his face; he’d had to be more and more careful these days around her to keep her from making any better educated guesses about his feelings.
“Oh sorry…” she paused apologetically “should I call back later?”
“Nah, it’s cool. What’s going on?” he quietly set down his backpack and tried not to make any noise hunting for a soda.
“I just got an email from my aunt, and she’s having a baby shower for my cousin…”
She sounded a little awkward, and he heard it clearly. “Oh cool, those are always fun…” he grimaced, not pleased with his lame response, but stayed quiet.
“Oh yeah!” It sounded like she was smiling sure enough which was enough to bring him back up. Abruptly her voice sounded uncertain. “Well… I’ve never been to one, but I’ve heard…”
Daniel nodded before he remembered she couldn’t see him. “Yeah, me either… you’ll probably have a good time. What is it going to be like?”
He could hear her hesitate for a moment. “I don’t know… but I wanted to ask,” she went on hurriedly “I’m supposed to bring a present, and I have no idea what to get, so I wondered if you wanted to come over and give me some feedback and help me shop for something on the internet since I don’t really know where to go in town since I’ve never had a baby…”
Daniel was fortunate his brain was quicker than his mouth and managed to bite his tongue until he could think of a satisfactory answer. “Oh… sure, that’s cool. I can go but just for an hour or so.” He checked the clock on the wall. “It’ll probably take me… I don’t know, half an hour maybe? Or actually a little longer than that so I can change clothes or something?”
There was a pause on the other end probably so she could look at the time also. “Okay cool, that’s fine, I’ll see you soon then. Thanks a bunch, I really have no clue what to look for.”
He couldn’t help a smile, and again was glad she couldn’t see him. “Totally. It’s okay, we’ll find something. See you later.” He hung up the phone and let a deep breath out.
That was certainly not what he had expected… a baby shower? He didn’t doubt it given Beth’s extensive family, but he wasn’t so sure why she’d have called him. He didn’t have any younger brothers or sisters and didn’t interact with children much. Leaving his backpack on a chair he headed for his room.
In his closet a large cardboard box greeted him from the top shelf. Daniel regarded it for a few long moments. The box was closed, of course, it always was… but he knew that if anyone saw what was in it, the contents would produce more questions than answers, not the least of which was the question of why a teenage boy would have a box of diapers and toddler toys in his closet.
He stared at the box. Had he left it out? No, Beth couldn’t have seen it. It had been a long time since she had been to his house. Granted they had grown up together, their parents had been friends and Daniel had no siblings his age, but as they got older they’d stopped being playmates and just been students together and mostly seen each other at school.
Daniel ran his hand through his hair in thought. He could remember Beth being over at his house since he’d assembled that box; she could possibly have seen it… but unless he’d forgotten it, he would have made sure it was closed. She had been over for dinner with her family a few times… they usually came at Easter… sometimes for the fourth of July. Had she seen the box? Had it been open for some reason? He was sure he would have double-checked to make sure it was closed if company was coming, especially Beth.
Maybe it was something else. Had he accidentally left it open when she was over? After only a moments thought he shook his head. He was more careful than that; he didn’t leave diapers laying about, he picked up all the toys when he was finished playing, he made sure he did laundry when nobody was home… he didn’t take anything to school except his pacifier, and he left that in his backpack.
“Oh, sh…” He clenched his eyes shut and ran a hand over his face. That was it; it had to be. She must have seen the pacifier in his backpack as he was opening it to find something. But when? Where? How long ago? Obviously it was recently enough that she would think of him when she thought of shopping for baby things. He tried to remember as he took off his pants and pulled some shorts out of a drawer.
What could she have been thinking when she had seen it? Surely she couldn’t think that it was for him; he doubted even Beth would put that together. But he knew that she knew there weren’t any babies in his house. Maybe she thought he was babysitting or something. He laced up his shoes, shaking his head. No, that made no sense… guys didn’t babysit… plus he didn’t even know anybody who had little kids. He sighed again and opened his shirt drawer.
Again, he was hit with absolute certainty that Beth had figured him out. The shirt on top of the stack had Winnie the Pooh on it, and the one under that, Mickey Mouse. Granted he had gotten them both at Disneyland but a boy his age wearing them was still not all that common. He chose a plain white shirt and made sure to grab his wallet from his pants. Maybe she guessed from the shirts. Maybe he had left the stupid pacifier in his backpack. He glanced over at his bed where a ratty stuffed frog was hidden in the corner so as to be out of sight of the doorway. It was still there though when he craned his neck to see it. Carefully he shut the closet door and made sure to tuck the frog under a blanket before heading downstairs.

Beth had realized only after she hung up the phone that her room needed cleaning if she wanted to not be embarrassed to have someone see it, particularly Daniel. She shuffled the school papers into neat looking piles (she knew she’d have to reorganize them all, but she’d have time for that after Daniel had left), put all the dirty clothes in the hamper, and ferried a total of five empty teacups back to the kitchen before she was done. Pulling the blankets off the bed she paused. “Oh, now what…” Quickly she set aside her bear and her doll until the bed was made then picked them up again. “What should we do with you two…” Her eyes darted under the bed, where she kept diapers and other things of which she was certain her parents wouldn’t approve. The two babies looked up at her with sad, mournful eyes… and sure enough, she sighed and squeezed them both into a hug. “I can’t put you in there… maybe…”
She looked at the bed and a crazy thought crept into her head. Did she dare leave them out? Surely nobody could fault her for having two toys left over from her childhood (even if they weren’t from her first childhood, she added self-consciously). She stroked the scratchy yarn of the doll’s hair. No, surely they couldn’t fault her for that. Daniel wouldn’t say anything especially considering the baby shower.
Now there was a thought… maybe she could tell him they were for the baby shower, things she’d already been thinking of? But then why would she need his help, if she already had presents? No, it wouldn’t work. She glanced at the bed again. Still, it wasn’t that unlikely that she’d still have a stuffed animal or two… they were a lot easier to explain than some of the things hidden under the bed, especially the diapers. But then…
Taking a moment to close the door to the bedroom she pulled the flat box out from under the bed. In addition to diapers were a couple of outfits, a bottle, several jars of toddler level baby food, and a pacifier sized for an adult that she had had to order on the internet and then race home for a week to make sure she got to the mail before her parents did. She checked the clock and knew she absolutely did not have time before her mother got home to do anything that involved more than the pacifier and maybe the bottle. She took them, and one of the jars of the baby food, and put them out on her desk and shoved the box heavily back under the bed. Picking up her babies, Beth put the pacifier in her mouth and lay down on the bed. Her eyes lazed shut as she suckled. “Mmmmm…”
She let her thoughts drift a bit. What would happen, really, if her mother found her like this, laying on her bed with a dolly and a teddy bear and sucking on a pacifier like a three-year-old? Probably nothing. No, something… it would be something for sure. She’d probably be grounded, or something like that. Maybe she would search her room and find the diapers. Beth nodded a little. That was when she would really be in trouble, and would probably get sent to therapy or something. Naturally her parents would take away all of her baby things and probably her computer too if they saw her browser history or bookmarks. No, she would keep her computer, they knew that she used it for schoolwork, but she certainly wouldn’t get to use it for anything else. That would probably be the worst punishment she could think of, because they wouldn’t dare tell anyone else about it. Or would they? No, that would be worse, if they told all of her friends or family about it, and the whole world knew about her. They wouldn’t dare. She blushed, squeezing her babies tighter. They’d be too ashamed that their mature and well-behaved daughter secretly wanted to be three years old again. No, she’d be grounded, they’d throw out all her baby things, and that would be the end of her privacy. Well, okay, maybe not all that… but she was sure that whatever it was, it wouldn’t be pleasant.
Beth opened her eyes reluctantly and rubbed them a bit so she could look at the clock. Her mother would be home any minute. She put her doll and bear on the bed headed to the kitchen to make some tea.

Daniel’s mind was faster than his feet as he walked through the small town. It was really only one street with a gas station on either end sandwiching a short line of shops, a church, and a library on one side, and a grocery, a liquor store, a video store and a bowling alley on the other. It wasn’t much of a town and there were only three stores that interested him: a children’s clothing store which he had never dared to go into, a drug store he frequented to buy candy but never anything from the aisles for babies or incontinence supplies, and a toy shop he liked to smile at as he walked past but had only twice been brave enough to enter.
The three were relatively close to each other and even with somewhere to be he found himself lingering a bit as he passed. The clothier had an assortment of tiny sundresses up in the window along with a sign reminding shoppers that ‘Summer is coming!’ and though he smiled at the pastel colors he didn’t stop and stare. In the window of the toy shop was a doll’s kitchen and dining table complete with six places and a rather expansive feast. He smiled again; it looked like one family was going to eat well tonight. About two thoughts and three seconds later he started looking for a pay phone.
“Hello?” his mother’s voice came through a bit scratchily over the public phone.
“Hi mom, it’s Daniel.” He tried to cup his hand around the mouthpiece to block some of the wind blowing over the microphone.
“Hi babe! What’s up?” Her voice was cheerful considering it was near the end of the day. “You sound like you’re outside!”
Daniel nodded, even though he knew she couldn’t see him. “Yeah, I’m downtown at the drugstore…” he tried to think of some sort of explanation when she saved him the trouble.
“Oh, where are you going?” she didn’t sound upset, just curious.
He swallowed and had to remember that he wasn’t doing anything wrong. Just as quickly he frowned, wondering why it felt wrong if it wasn’t. He forced himself not to dwell on it and pay attention to his mother. “I was gonna go over to Beth’s for an hour or two, she asked if I could help her shop for something for her cousin I think.”
Daniel could hear his mother pause on the other end. Her voice sounded a bit lighter when she spoke again. “To Beth’s? When was the last time you went over there?”
He rolled his eyes and was again thankful that he couldn’t be seen over the phone. “It was a while ago, I don’t know… she just asked me to come help her shop, that’s all.”
There was a pause on the other end and he could almost hear his mother smiling through the phone. “That sounds fun… you guys used to get together all the time. Do you see her much at school?”
“Um, yeah some…” he shrugged again “I don’t have any classes with her or anything though…”
“Oh, that’s too bad…” she paused a moment expecting him to respond. He didn’t. “Well, I suppose that’s okay. When will you be home? Are you going to have dinner over there?”
Daniel thought he heard her smiling again and realized what she was hinting at. “Oh… no, I’ll be home before dinner. Just a couple hours.” He had a hard time deciding whether to smile or roll his eyes at his mother’s insinuation. “I’m only going there to help her shop for something for her cousin, sheesh…”
His mother’s voice lightened again and he was certain she was smiling on the other end now. “Okay… have fun babe, I’ll see you at home?”
He nodded again. “Yeah, I’ll be home. Thanks, see you later!” He let a breath out and caught himself smiling as he replaced the phone in the cradle, checking his watch and picking up his step a bit.
After a bit of thought he realized that he hadn’t mentioned Beth to his mother in a long time, even though he did see her at school as often as he reasonably could without looking like he was trying to see her. Even though they’d been friends for a long time (were they still friends? Not like they used to be, certainly) now that they were in high school he would just be another guy trying to pick up another girl, one more drop in the bucket of gossip. He sighed, walked on, and slipped one hand into his pocket to find the pacifier he had pulled from his backpack before he’d left as his mind drifted from one childhood love to another.

In the kitchen, Beth sat by the front window peeking through the blinds with her pacifier in her mouth. Long ago she had mastered the art of seeing through the tiny holes where the cords went so as not to show a lifted blind to the street… it was something she’d developed while spending afternoons watching cartoons meant for children much younger than she was. Sometimes it took her mother a few minutes longer or shorter depending on how quickly her sister’s ballet class was over. She was just starting to wonder if they would be late when the kettle started to whistle and the phone began to ring about two seconds apart from each other.
“Ack…” She pulled an oven mitt over one hand, and reached for the phone behind her with the other. “Herro?” As soon as she heard her voice she all but dropped the kettle and yanked the pacifier from her mouth, dropped it on the counter, and turned back to the kettle again to get it off the burner. It was still whistling and she had trouble hearing the caller at first. “I’m sorry, who’s calling please?” A voice Beth recognized as one of her mother’s friends came back, and she hastily took a message down. To her surprise the kettle hadn’t exploded all over the kitchen during the one-minute call. She sighed quietly and looked in the cabinet to choose a cup and saucer to get the tea brewing. With the experienced hands of a thousand cups of practice, it was less than a minute before she was peeking through the blinds looking for her mother’s car again; this time, she saw it just as she heard the front door opening.
“Hello!” Her mother’s voice came from the hallway. Beth picked up the saucer and headed out of the kitchen to meet her mother and sister, though she could already hear her sister tramping noisily back into her room.
“Hi… what happened?” Sure enough, her mother was staring after where her sister had just gone. She didn’t look too happy, so Beth was a little hesitant suddenly about asking the question she had waiting.
Her mother pulled her coat off irritably. She started to answer, then shook her head, signaling that it was something she’d rather not talk about. Beth knew that usually meant that her sister was in trouble for something very foolish to her mother’s thinking. “Amanda had a problem at ballet.” That was all she offered before turning to her other daughter with just a minor change of voice. “How are you? How was school?”
Beth smiled tentatively, teacup in hand, obviously off to study like a good girl. She congratulated herself for her unintentionally disarming position. “It was fine… nothing special.” She went right on. “I got an email from Aunt Carolyn today, it said that Jessica’s baby shower is Sunday.”
“Oh, is it?” The good news warmed her voice a bit. “We’ll have to get her something… do you want to go?” Her mother had set her purse down and started toward the kitchen.
Beth nodded even though her mother couldn’t see her. “I’d like to. Oh! There’s a message on the phone for you…” she swallowed and thought about plunging ahead but was stopped by her mother’s voice.
“Okay, thanks… hey, did you get this pacifier for Jessica?”
The pacifier! How could she have been so stupid? “Oh! Um, yeah…” swiftly she set her teacup down and hurried back into the kitchen. She was too late; her mother had picked up the pacifier and was looking at it. Beth knew her mother wasn’t stupid about baby accessories; she’d already been through two children. “I think it’s too big though…” she offered hurriedly “I didn’t notice until after I’d bought it…”
Her mother chuckled, already reading the message Beth had scribbled. “It sure is… that’s big enough for a three year old, or even somebody your size!” she paused “That would be a really big baby…”
Though her mother’s smirk wasn’t hidden, Beth was grateful that her own blush was. She made sure not to let her face be seen as she scooped up the pacifier in what she hoped was a nonchalant manner. She was careful not to fall further into the obvious if accidental trap her mother had laid and said nothing more for a few seconds until she could reasonably change the subject. “Oh, I thought about shopping for something for Jessica on the internet… I invited Daniel over to help me look, just for an hour or two… is that okay?”
“Daniel? You mean the Daniel you used to play with down the street?” she was already opening cupboards and pulling out pans and utensils for cooking.
“Uh huh… just for an hour or so, we’ll just be in my room on the computer.” Beth was again thankful that her mother was easily preoccupied. “He said he couldn’t stay for dinner…”
“Okay, that was my next question. That’s fine, it will take a while for this to bake anyway.” Her mother paused just long enough for Beth to realize she hadn’t meant to. “Just leave your door open, okay?”
Ducking out quickly to hide another blush, Beth rolled her eyes. “Mommm…” It was the anticipated response; she figured she may as well give it, just to deter her from actually getting the idea to check on them. She had a feeling she wouldn’t hear the end of it if her mom found out she actually did think Daniel was cute. Scooping up her teacup she trotted back to her bedroom and closed the door.

Daniel nearly tripped over an uneven portion of sidewalk. His mind wasn’t on watching where he was walking… it wasn’t even on walking itself; it was flittering back and forth to the places he’d been and the place he was heading now. It had been a long time since he’d talked to Beth. Although they had grown up together they had drifted apart when they had gotten too old to just show up at each other’s houses to knock on the door and ask to play.
Since he had a bit of a walk, he was perfectly happy to let his mind wander a bit. He remembered clearly the first time they’d met… the knock on his door one spring Saturday just after they’d moved in, him standing behind his mother as she opened the door to two little girls in swimsuits asking if they could go in the pool. Soon enough he joined them, his mother found the still-packed box of pool toys, and it was a party. He smiled. Even though he had only been in second grade then, he’d had a feeling about the older of the sisters. He didn’t understand it then but he did know he wanted to play with her as often as he could.
He’d had plenty of chances after that. That summer the two girls became his best friends (the older one did, anyway… at three years old the younger one was a little too young to actually play much). Beth’s favorite game was house, and they played it endlessly. Amanda was too young to understand the game and the girls’ mother usually found something else for her to do while the older kids played. Most of the time they were a mommy and daddy, but without any children, it sometimes became more a game of ‘grownups’ than ‘house’. Once in a rare while (too rare for Daniel’s preference, though he never said a word about it) Beth would ask if Daniel wanted to be the baby. She was always a little awkward about it and was never as good at being a mommy as his own mother was, but they were still the times he remembered best since he hadn’t yet grown out of liking all the things from his babyhood. He enjoyed playing with Beth’s sister Amanda too since it was an excuse to enjoy all the toys and most of the things that he no longer had at home… though Amanda wore diapers, he still had to be a big boy and use the potty.
Another crack in the sidewalk jumped at him out of nowhere. This one also failed to trip him, but it brought his attention back somewhat to what he was doing and focused it on a single question: why did Beth call him? It seemed obvious at first; they had grown up together and she wanted a friend’s advice. But why not ask her sister? Why not her best friend? Why not her mother? No, she’d called him instead.
As he walked his fingers played with the ring of the pacifier. Her mother would know her cousin better. Her friend had a baby brother, surely she would know more about babies than he would. What did she think he knew about babies anyway?
Of course there was only one answer. He shook his head again. She knew about him. He remembered now. That was why she had invited him. His fingers squeezed the bulb of the pacifier hard. It made sense, but it also didn’t. If she knew about him, why had she invited him in the first place? She couldn’t possibly want to hang out with him if she knew. Slowly he nodded. That made sense… but suddenly there was a new and far more difficult sort of question: if she didn’t know, why was she inviting him? And if she did know, why was she inviting him?
Each question made the other more difficult to answer. He sighed. Why was it so hard? If she didn’t know, it had to be random chance that Beth had called him. Maybe his name happened to be on the page when she opened her phone book. Maybe she saw a picture of the two of them somewhere and thought of him. Maybe she found an old email while she was looking at the one from her cousin. It had to be random coincidence.
Then again… he chuckled at the absurdity of the second possibility. Supposing for a minute that she actually did know about him and invited him anyway… it would mean she wasn’t scared or bothered by the idea. Shaking his head, he looked around at where he was to make sure his musings hadn’t gotten him lost. No, he was still on track, aside from having gone a few houses past a turn. He backtracked, thinking again, and just couldn’t believe it was true. The idea that she would actually not be disturbed… the more he thought about it, the more unlikely and the more enticing it became. What if… what if.

Beth glared at the pacifier. It sat in her hand innocently as she stared daggers at it. Stupid thing. Stupid! Never mind that she herself was the genius who had left it out in the kitchen anyway… she sighed, setting her cup on the desk and flopping down on the bed. It had been a while since she’d made a mistake that big. At least her mom seemed more inclined to think she was foolish than accuse her of using it herself and grounding her or disowning her or something. Still, it wasn’t sensible to ignore so obvious a wake up call.
Reluctantly she got up from the bed and went back to the desk. Away went the bottle. Away went the jar of baby food. The evil, malevolent pacifier was dropped onto the desk. At this point it could stay out, her mother had already seen it. The only other person likely to see it was Daniel, and that didn’t matter since he would probably think it was for Jessica.
Beth glanced at it again. The bulb was pretty big… even someone unfamiliar with pacifiers wouldn’t likely think it was meant for a newborn. Daniel was no fool. But he didn’t know about her. He couldn’t. She was careful. The only way he would find out was if she wanted him to know and that certainly was not about to happen.
A radical idea forcibly stomped its way into her head at that exact moment. As quickly as it did, it was chased by another much more rational idea. No, no she was not about to tell him. It was a horrible idea. What if the world ended? Well, the worst that would happen is that he would think her weird and not talk to her again… but that wasn’t much better than the world ending. Her hand picked up the pacifier independently of her wishes. Surely it was better to be safe and silent. She nodded with satisfaction. Surely.

As he turned onto Beth’s block, Daniel’s attention was drawn to a somewhat yard to one side. He grinned again and stopped for a moment. On the grass otherwise cluttered with skateboards, sports equipment and a pair of plastic swords was a tidy playhouse in pink and lavender, a girl’s retreat amidst the chaos of a houseful of brothers, and not unlike another playhouse Daniel remembered.
Amanda had still been three years old then, just three years younger than her sister and Daniel on the day he remembered. They were playing house and including Amanda for the first time that day (at her mother’s insistence and despite her sister’s protests). The girls’ parents had given them the playhouse for the previous Christmas and tension had immediately sprung up between the sisters after the first time Amanda swept into the playhouse and purposely (so Beth claimed) knocked over Beth’s tea set and dashed out again giggling. As a compromise, the playhouse had been moved outside so the girls could choose to play alone or together if they were able to get along.
Amanda was just getting out of diapers and Daniel had acquiesced to Beth’s request to play house with Amanda as the baby. It was the first time ‘mommy’ had had both a ‘daddy’ and a ‘baby’, and though she had protested at first Beth quickly lost herself in the role of the mommy, finding an old bottle for her baby and rocking her gently. Daniel found he enjoyed having a baby too although he admitted he did miss the attention of having ‘mommy’ all to himself. He frowned at the thought. Was he jealous? No, not really… at least he didn’t think he was. Amanda was nearly asleep by the time Daniel asked Beth for a turn to feed her.
Before he got his chance though, Beth’s eyes went wide and she stood up, pushing Amanda off her lap rudely. Amanda’s bottom showed clearly the outline of a leaky pair of training pants, and even Beth’s clothes were wet a little around her lap where her ‘baby’ had leaked on her. Daniel hurried into the house to bring their mother.
The girls’ mother came with diaper bag in hand and ready with a scolding for Amanda for having an accident, but a smile and laughter took its place as she took in the adorable scene of a ‘mommy’ upset because her ‘baby’ had done nothing more than be a baby. Daniel watched with interest as she changed Amanda in front of them, whispering kind words and reassurances, cleaning her gently and soothing her, stroking her curls softly. Beth looked on silently, barely noticed by Daniel, who was intent on the maternal scene between the mother and daughter.
More had happened that day, but it was the exchange between Amanda and her mother that he loved to remember. He often thought of that day as he sat at home in a diaper, holding his stuffed frog, and imagined the kindness of the same words, the same touches, the same reassurances coming from someone like Beth’s mother someday. Holding the scene in his mind, he turned away from the yard and playhouse and approached his destination.

Beth had put the pacifier down and checked the clock again. Daniel would be arriving any minute. She picked up her hairbrush quickly and kept her eyes on the pacifier while she gave her hair a once-over. It was best to put it away before he got there, of course. Yes, she’d remember to do that. There was no sense in ensuring he wouldn’t want to talk to her after today. She did sort of like him… okay, she admitted to herself, she liked him a lot… but wasn’t sure he’d understand. No, it was just better not to tell him. He always seemed a little weird after the day they played house with Amanda… then again, she wasn’t surprised by that, considering what had happened.
After Amanda had had her accident, her mother had changed her and asked Beth to go in and put some dry clothes on too. Beth had told her she wasn’t all that wet, which was true, and her mother had looked at her for a moment, shrugged, nodded and taken Amanda back inside.
As soon as she was gone Beth asked Daniel if he wanted to keep playing house with her. He quickly agreed, until she told him how she wanted to play: this time she wanted to be the baby, just like Amanda. Daniel hesitated since he had never had to take care of a ‘baby’ before but after a moment he nodded. He took up the half finished bottle and set Beth down on the chair in the playhouse since she was too big for him to hold on his lap.
In her bedroom, Beth blushed herself at the memory and set down her hairbrush. She couldn’t help wondering even now if she’d made a mistake then… after drinking the rest of the bottle, with Daniel talking to her like her mother had talked to her baby, she had done… what Amanda had done.
Daniel’s eyes widened but he didn’t say anything as he watched a second dark spot appear on Beth’s clothes, spreading quickly between her legs and through to her bottom. Without training pants she leaked freely onto the plastic chair. Daniel was silent for a few seconds before he finally spoke. “Awww… did baby have an accident? It’s okay baby…” He reached forward to pat her hair just as he had seen her mother do and tried to remember all the things she had said to Amanda. When he couldn’t remember any more he asked ‘Does baby need a change?’ as though it weren’t perfectly obvious.
Beth flushed bright red herself as she realized what she had done. She shut her eyes and listened to him say all the things her mother said, all the warm things that sounded so nice and perfect. She finally nodded a little bit, since they were playing house and she was still the baby, but when Daniel stood up to go inside to get the diaper bag she suddenly felt afraid and told him not to tell her mother about their game. He nodded again quietly.
Beth seemed more uncomfortable after that and Daniel soon left to go home while Beth went back inside to change her clothes. Her mother didn’t see her and never said anything about finding wet clothes in her hamper. Sitting in her bedroom thinking back to that day again Beth found herself wondering what her mother must have thought, and remembered as always the way that Daniel hadn’t shied away until she herself had started being nervous.
She sighed again and gathered her hair into a ponytail. Had she made a mistake? She asked herself the same question often. Would things have been different if she hadn’t had second thoughts? She never asked him to play house with her again, and never had an accident (purposeful or otherwise) in front of him again either. Yet if she had… how would things have turned out? The question of course led her back to the pacifier as it sat on the desk. Ah yes, better put it away. Who knew what could happen if he saw it?
Maybe… no. Well, maybe. How would she ever find out if she didn’t try? She picked up the pacifier and stared at it again. Maybe.

The house stood in front of Daniel. The same walk, the same trees, the same carefully tended flowerbox under one window. He’d walked slower down this street than the others to have more time to think about his quandary. It was probably nothing… but the idea that Beth could have invited him purposefully wouldn’t leave him alone. What if it was true? What if she did know, and wasn’t afraid? Maybe she didn’t invite him here to help her shop at all. Maybe she was going to confront him. Maybe she’d threaten to tell… no, she wouldn’t, and who would she tell anyway? He shook his head again to try to get rid of the paranoia.
Well, there was no time like the present, he thought. He’d told her he’d come, and he wasn’t going to back out on that just because he was irrationally afraid of something from his childhood. The only option was onward and upward. He smiled to himself, took a breath, and walked to the door.

“Beth! Doorbell!” Her mother’s voice rang through the house.
She jumped a little bit, dropping the pacifier on the desk in surprise. “Coming!” she called back and glanced at the mirror again. “Well,” her voice quieted “Here goes… do I tell him?” Her reflection stared back at her without offering any help. Her smile was sheepish and she hoped she could make it look more honest by the time she got to the door.

Daniel stuffed his hands in his pockets to keep them from ringing the doorbell again. He knew she would come. She’d asked him over. He just hoped… he hoped he would be helping her shop, and not answering tough questions.
At the thought of those tough questions he smiled somewhat to himself again. No, maybe they wouldn’t be so tough after all. Maybe they would be welcome. Maybe… bah, he had to get a hold of himself before the door… opened.
“Hi…” Beth smiled as she saw him on the porch. She felt nervous, she thought her smile looked horribly fake, she had to put a hand behind her back to keep it from fidgeting. He was adorable standing there; just as cute as she remembered him way back on the day she knocked on his front door to go swimming. “Come in!”
“Thanks…” he smiled back at her. She was excited about something… it couldn’t possibly be shopping for a baby shower. Something was on her mind. He mentally crossed his fingers and stepped through the door. “Wow, it’s been a long time since I was here…”
She laughed lightly. “I guess so! My mom changed the whole inside of the house probably since you were here last.” She glanced around the entryway feeling suddenly self-conscious. “Um… I guess we can just go in my room.”
He nodded readily. “Okay. That’s where your computer is?” He winced inwardly. Obviously she wouldn’t be bringing him to her room if the computer were somewhere else. Unless…
“Yep, this way… I mean… it’s in the same place…” she couldn’t help a little giggle as she tried not to sound too nervous. “The room, I mean…”
Grinning slightly he nodded. “I guessed.” He quieted then, kicking himself for his sarcastic tone, and followed obediently behind her. “Where is your mom and your sister? Are they here?”
Beth rolled her eyes even though he couldn’t see them. “Ugh, yes… my mom wants me to leave the door open while you’re here…” She was quietly grateful that she had her back to him so he couldn’t see her blush at the idea of needing to keep her door open with Daniel over.
He managed to keep himself from laughing, and rolled his eyes in mock-embarrassment. “Yeah, because we’re gonna make out while we shop for a baby shower…” He made sure to keep the face until she turned and could see it so she could laugh at the idea too.
She did. “I know… she never changes.” She was looking back at him as she stepped into the room. “Do you have any ideas?”
Though he tried to keep a straight face, Daniel wasn’t quite quick enough to hide his surprise at the pacifier on the desk… the one with the adult-sized bulb. That was certainly not bought for the shower… he had had to special order his from overseas since they weren’t available in the United States. “Oh… I dunno…” he swallowed, remembered all his fears, imagined all the worst outcomes in about half a second, and plunged ahead. “Did you buy that pacifier for the shower?”
Beth blinked. Her head turned in slow motion to the desk and the very obviously adult-sized pacifier on it. “Oh… er…” she could already feel her face starting to turn red “That one is too big, I should have gotten the smaller one…” she didn’t look at him for fear of him seeing through her utterly transparent lie.
He nodded, smiling only a little bit and fighting down a myriad of thoughts himself. “Yeah, it looks a little big… well, let’s think of something…” He gracefully turned to face the computer, allowing Beth a moment to relax and collect herself before looking at her again. His mind was racing. There couldn’t be any other possibility. She had to know about him. She couldn’t possibly have bought that by accident, even if it had been available in a regular store. It had to have been left there on purpose. He swallowed. Did he dare call her on it? “Um… so… what are you thinking of?” Carefully he kept his eyes on the computer screen.
With his back to her, Beth shook her head and squeezed her eyes shut tightly. Unbelievable. It was unbelievable that she had forgotten to put it away. Now he’d seen it. She was sure he didn’t believe that she’d bought it by accident. He was too polite to say anything but she couldn’t accept that he hadn’t seen through her thin cover-up. Quickly she tried to decide if it would be better to go with her lie or to tell the truth. “Well, um… honestly I don’t really know… I don’t know what the rest of my family and her friends are going to get for her…” She sighed inwardly. It wasn’t what she had wanted to say.
“Okay, well maybe we’ll figure that they’ll all get her the stuff she needs for the baby…” Smart, good idea, Daniel congratulated himself. Don’t show off how much you know just in case by some chance she did randomly come across the pacifier and doesn’t know about you. “Maybe… oh, what does she like? Maybe something for her instead of the baby? Maybe some bath stuff, or something like that?”
Beth paused. “Huh… sure, that’s a good idea… here, try this first…” Grateful for the distraction (what distraction? she thought… wasn’t this why she had invited him?) she reached over to the mouse and opened a search for bath supplies. “Yeah, that’s good…” Some pictures came up and she chose one. “Maybe a basket with soap and shampoo and bath salts…”
Daniel nodded, smiling. “Sure, that’s easy. And probably nobody else will think about it because they’ll all be buying stuff for the baby. Hmmm… the only other thing I can think of that would go with that is a babysitter…”
“Oh yeah, no kidding…” Beth grinned a bit and clicked on some more pictures, looking through items for a basket. “I bet she’d like a babysitter after the first couple of weeks…” Suddenly she blinked. “Hey, I could totally do that! I could offer to babysit for her for a night… what do you think?”
He shrugged, still with the easy encouraging smile. “Sure… you could print out a certificate or something for that.” He grinned a bit wider, the memory of the day in the playhouse coming back to him. “Babysitting is pretty easy, I did it once…”
Right away she turned to him. “You babysat? When was that?” She asked incredulously. “I don’t remember you ever babysitting…”
Realizing suddenly that he had just brought up the very instance he had hoped she would forget (had he actually hoped that?), he tried desperately to think of something to say that wouldn’t bring it up. Unfortunately his wit completely failed him. “Um…”
She laughed. “Um? That’s what I thought…”
“Don’t you remember? I babysat you once…” Somehow his face stayed even. Did he just hear those words from his own mouth?! “Remember?”
Beth blushed instantly. She tried hard to pretend like she didn’t immediately know exactly what he was talking about. After what she hoped was an appropriate thoughtful pause, she asked “Me? When did you babysit me?”
Daniel chuckled, hoping it would sound real and not like he was trying to steer the conversation. “When we were little kids, in your playhouse? That day we played house with Amanda…” He doubted seriously that she had forgotten that day… it was the last day they had ever played her favorite game, and with the embarrassing accident in front of him too…
She hadn’t forgotten. As often as she revisited that particular day, she remembered it with exceptional clarity. Thoughts of the baby shower were pushed from her mind by the flood of memories of one of her most favorite days. She tried to wait a few seconds and look like she had to remember. “Ohhh… right! Oh, no… I remember that now…” she giggled a little, and made sure to look up at him so he could see her blushing. “That was the day I… I remember it now.”
He grinned wider and nodded. “Yeah… I didn’t do it very long, but I still babysat you…” he thought she did look genuinely embarrassed… maybe he had hit on something after all. He wasn’t sure, and the pause was noticeable.
“Uh huh… that was when I… when I was the baby.” She guessed at his hesitation. Was he remembering what she had done? Did he remember the accident she’d had? Was he working out the reason she had the pacifier? She looked at his face. He didn’t look confused or disgusted… she had guessed that he would be one or the other, certainly not the smile he now wore. She was about to change the subject when he spoke again.
“And remember when Amanda had an accident, and your mom came in?” Daniel’s grin just kept widening. She must have remembered that, it was the highlight of the day. “And she changed her right there, and was talking all sweet to her?”
Apparently Beth didn’t have the same emotions attached to the memory that he did, since as he mentioned it she frowned and turned away. “Oh… uh huh… I remember…” she blushed again, this time a shameful pink rather than the deep red. “My mom always did that for her…”
Daniel stopped and went silent for a few moments. “Well, yeah… she was the baby… she still is the baby I guess…” His eyes looked around the room a bit for something to distract him and keep him from saying anything else he might not be pleased with. “At least you have a sister…” he offered lamely. No, that was the kind of thing he was trying not to say… stupid, stupid. He resisted the temptation to offer her a hug.
She had turned away from him by now. “Yeah, lucky me…” she sighed and stared at the computer screen. A few quick and decisive clicks later, the gift basket was finished and on its way. “There, that’s done…” she looked back at him expectantly.
“Cool…” he nodded, trying, like her, to pretend he hadn’t just brought up something she was apparently very unhappy about. He sighed to himself. How was one of his favorite memories upsetting for Beth?
Her smile seemed a little forced. “Sorry for going all stupid… that part of that day just bugs me.” She turned away for a moment since she felt her face starting to warm again as she remembered what had happened after her sister had left. “It got better though…”
“It did?” Daniel sat down on the bed, all ears now. “What made it better?”
She chuckled a hollow sort of chuckle as if something were perfectly obvious. “Well, I did have fun being the baby after mom took her out…” Beth’s smile was small but genuine. Her cheeks began to redden all over again. “When I got to be the baby for a change it was nice…” she shrugged then, looking down. “But it was just a game, no big deal… I didn’t mean to bring it all up again…”
Daniel tried to sound encouraging. “Don’t worry about it… I brought it up, sorry I didn’t know it would make you feel bad. I thought… well…” his mind was moving quickly, trying to figure out what she meant by what she had said about feeling nice playing the baby. There was the obvious answer, but it couldn’t be true. The other possibility was… no, not quite as unlikely… but how could she be telling him it was okay, that being a baby was okay? It would mean she knew about him… but she couldn’t… “Well…” he forced himself to begin again, but she spoke first.
“Oh, sorry… I guess you did…” she smiled sheepishly and turned away so as not to let him see her rub at one eye. “It’s okay. I hadn’t thought about that day in a long time…” That was certainly not true, but it didn’t matter; she realized she had already said more than she had meant to say. She didn’t need to scare him away from her after everything else that had happened.
Daniel watched her quietly. His guesses were starting to feel wrong. Was he right when he thought that she already knew about him? With all the things she’d said, it still sounded like she didn’t. But maybe… maybe not. He didn’t want to upset her more. Yet there was something else that she had said, the part about feeling nice being the baby… “It’s okay… sometimes being the baby is kind of nice, you get someone paying all that attention to you, after all…”
She looked up at him, her smile starting to come back, rubbing at her other eye. She nodded quietly. “Yeah… that’s a nice part…” Though her mind quickly and helpfully supplied several other nice parts about being a baby, she opted to stay quiet and look back at Daniel. He was listening to her. His face was open and welcoming. He had been quiet, and understanding, and… she couldn’t quite determine the feeling, but she knew it was good. He was her friend, her playmate, her confidante, almost her brother, even after so long. But would he understand? Could he? And most importantly, would he accept her if she told him who she really was?
He smiled softly at her. Even after listening to her he couldn’t be sure. He had to remind himself that it was Beth, one of his oldest friends, one that he wanted nothing more than to see happy. Even so… was hearing about him what she wanted? He couldn’t be sure, but he wanted to be. He wanted her to know. He wanted for her to care and accept and be glad. Would she? He could only tell her once, after that… would everything change? Would anything change?
Shutting her eyes, Beth thought back to that day, to the kind words that he had said all those years ago, to the softness he had shown when he patted her hair, to the calming and accepting way he had told her what a good girl she was.
Daniel thought of how happy Beth had been, of all the games they’d played and the secrets they’d shared, all the friendship and trust they’d built, and the openness they could have now if she knew how he felt about her.
She opened her eyes and looked at him… the boy down the street, the boy she always had imagined as a little girl she’d someday marry. She could barely remember a time when she didn’t want to be around him.
He smiled softly, remembering the childhood games, all the fun, the toys, the play, the enjoyment of having a friend he could be himself with, one who loved to take care of him as much as she enjoyed playing with him.
Moments passed. They both thought, and were both afraid, and both hoped beyond hope. Then, finally, one of them spoke.
“Can I tell you something?”

Re: Hope and Fear

I have a question. Is there a sequel to this? It is a great story, but I really want a continuation. Please reply at the email found on my account.

Re: Hope and Fear

Great story would love read more if there is any.

Re: Hope and Fear

This story is pretty much done… I never thought about continuing it. It’s supposed to end so that the reader can decide what happened from there, so feel free to continue it in your mind however you’d like. :slight_smile:

Re: Hope and Fear

aaawwwwwww nononono you gots to FINISH thu stowy nodnodnod :slight_smile: sighles