9 - The Threshold Is Breaking Tonight
“I told you, no,” Lela repeated, starting to sound exasperated. “Now please stop asking me.”
“Come on!” I pouted, setting my sandwich - peanut butter and jelly, with the crusts cut off, apparently because that was just how Lela was used to making them - down onto my plate. “Don’t be a bitch.”
“Skye…” Lela started to reprimand me before remembering that her other charge, some baby I hadn’t seen before, was taking a nap. To be perfectly honest, I wouldn’t have minded doing the same thing, even though I’d put myself to bed even before my parents could start pestering me about it being my bedtime, and woke up only when my mom popped her head in to check my forehead again before heading off to work, leaving me in Lela’s care.
“You -know- this could be my ticket out of this!” I took a sip of my water, managing both to spill it on myself and then almost knock the glass over when setting it down. I brushed the water off the front of my T-shirt - plain yellow, even though Lela had suggested one with a unicorn - and glared across the table, daring Lela to suggest that maybe I should be using a sippy cup.
“I don’t know any such thing,” Lela sighed. “I’m not going to let you go bother some poor woman just because she happens to have the same name as the author of some book that you say existed.”
“It -does- exist!” I slammed my fist down on the table, pleasantly surprised at how loud the resulting sound was, no matter how much it hurt.
“Of course it does,” she back-pedaled. “But…”
“It has to be behind all this,” I said before she could suggest otherwise. “What else could be? And why else would it have vanished?”
“Well, probably for the same reason that everything else in your room changed.”
I rolled my eyes. Obviously, she just didn’t get it. “Whatever,” I sulked, picking my sandwich back up and slouching down into my chair.
“Come on, Skye, don’t be like that. I’m sorry.” But she didn’t sound that way. After a few moments, she shook her head and stood up, heading over to the kitchen to straighten it up. I ignored her, staring down at my food as I heard various drawers opening and closing, and then heard the sink running. I flinched when she called over to me, “Do you need to go to the bathroom?”, something she’d taken to asking me far too often, though, I have to admit, it had kept my pants dry a couple times that morning.
Unfortunately, those “pants” were Pull-Ups. I’d insisted that I hadn’t had any accidents the evening before, but I really hadn’t been awake much longer after she took me back to my house, so that wasn’t overly impressive. Even more unfortunate, however, was the fact that, this time, the reminder came too late, and that I hadn’t even realized that until she asked, causing me to squirm a bit, preparing to shout back my answer. It must have happened during the argument, I realized, when I had been too busy concentrating on getting Lela to stop being so stupid.
“Did you hear me?” she asked, peeking her head back into the dining room. I nodded, prompting a, “Well?”
“No, I’m fine,” I told her, squirming slightly in my seat, getting a raised eyebrow in response. I blushed, wishing I could sink into the floor. How did she know? Well, other than all that time she spent babysitting, but surely I wasn’t acting like an actual kid.
My lip trembled a little as I stared up at her. I knew that she was probably just used to dealing with this kind of thing with actual kids, and that was the only way she knew how to deal with it, but that didn’t make it feel any less humiliating. “I’m sorry,” I sniffled involuntarily.
“No, I’m sorry,” she said gently. “I didn’t mean to upset you…”
“It’s not you,” I sighed, hopping down from my chair. It was, really - if I had been alone, I probably wouldn’t have cared, but that wasn’t likely to happen, so I guess out of all the babysitters I could have had, she was the one I’d most want around for all this. “I’ll go get changed.”
“You done eating?” she asked, and I nodded, prompting her to collect my dishes. “If you keep the volume low, you can watch some TV while I finish up in here, okay?”
I reminded myself that I was lucky to have someone who knew the truth about my age, biting back a reply about how I didn’t need her permission, and went off to the living room to grab my backpack, which I had left sitting next to my flip-flops. I had only brought a couple of spare Pull-Ups, in the hopes that I would be a little more used to controlling my younger body, so there was just one left after getting myself changed. Lela had wanted to pack my backpack for me, even going so far as to open up my underwear drawer before I practically shouted that I was perfectly capable of doing it on my own.
I walked to the living room, standing next to the coffee table with the remote in my hands for a minute or two, staring down at it, and over towards the kitchen. Finally, I switched the TV on to whatever channel the baby’s parents had been watching last, put my flip-flops on, then crept over to the front door, opening it slowly, just enough to slip out, and closing it behind me just as slowly.
I pulled the paper out of the pocket of my cut-offs as I approached the house’s mailbox, trying to figure out which direction I would need to head. I stared back at the house, making sure Lela hadn’t heard the door and come to investigate, shaking my head at the sight of her mother’s car in the driveway. If she had just agreed to take me, we could have been there so much sooner… And if I was still big enough to reach the pedals, and see over the dashboard, I could have stolen the keys from her purse and driven myself.
Since she hadn’t, and I wasn’t, I just had to hoof it, running at first, to try and get as much distance as possible between me and Lela before she noticed I was missing. You always hear about how energetic little kids are, but I suppose that was balanced out by how tired I was, and how much shorter my legs were, since I hadn’t gotten all that far before I had to slow down.
It was a pretty nice day, so there were kids playing outside every now and then, and usually some teenager watching them, or at least vaguely near them. I always sped up a little when I approached, not wanting to catch the attention of any of them. When I was sixteen, I didn’t give them a second thought, but now that most of them were bigger than me, I found myself feeling a little scared at the very sight of them. I was sure the babysitters were going to ask me what I was doing wandering around all alone, and it felt as if all the kids were staring at me, either wondering who this new little girl was or, like Olive the day before, recognizing me and wondering how I had suddenly become younger than most of them.
Of course, it’s hard to tell how many of them paid me any mind at all, as most of them were engrossed in whatever little games they were playing. However, there were a couple that I know for certain noticed me, as I was alerted to that fact by a sudden spray of wet water hitting me straight in the chest.
“Hey!” I exclaimed, glaring over at the culprits.
“Oh, I’m sorry!” one of them yelled back, her voice sounding strangely familiar. “I didn’t mean to… Miss Skye?”
“Megan?” I gulped, stepping further away from her, feeling a little queazy as I looked at her, so that finally I just glanced down at my feet instead. How could I have possibly gotten so small?
“Melanie,” she corrected me, stepping closer, water gun in one hand. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” I told her. “I…”
“That’s not her,” another voice said snidely. I glanced up to see another girl from my class, also holding a water gun, one whose name I could never remember, but who I thought I remembered seeing run out in tears during my last class.
“Yes, it is,” Melanie told her. I blushed, shuffling my feet.
“Nuh-uh,” the other girl responded. “She’d be yelling at us by now if she was.”
I hadn’t been -that- mean! “Hey!” I protested.
“Shut up,” the girl said nastily. She always had struck me as a brat.
“You shut up!” I shot back, putting my hands on my hips. I wasn’t about to take that from a little kid, whether I was one now, too, or not. I prepared myself, just in case she tried to hit me or something, now that she had a couple inches on me, but I wasn’t ready for what she actually did.
“Look!” she declared, pointing at me. I glanced down at myself, confused, then turned bright red as I saw that my shirt had ridden up far enough to show off the top of my Pull-Up quite plainly. I tugged down on my shirt desperately, but it was too late. “And she was always picking on Laurie for havin’ accidents, too.”
“I wasn’t picking on her…” I tried to defend myself, only to get a blast of water right in my face. I sputtered, wiping the water out of my eyes, only to get my shorts shot.
The girl said, “Oh, look at that,” or something to that effect, though it was hard to make out, since she was impersonating me, I guess. “How can you expect to learn how to dance if you can’t even keep from peeing your pants?”
“I never said that!” I protested, stomping my foot, getting only another mouthful of water in response. “Stop it!” I squeaked, looking over to Melanie for support. After all, I’d always been pretty nice to her, since she wasn’t half bad, but she was just standing there, giggling. “This isn’t fair!”
And then Melanie raised her gun, making me think for a moment that she had decided to even the odds a bit, but she aimed hers at me as well, and then both let loose at the same time. “Stop it!” I screamed, before finally realizing there was no reason for me to just stand there. I tried to turn and run, only to slip in the puddle growing around me, falling hard onto my butt. I could feel the cold water soaking through my shorts, shivered as it reached my skin, and more of it rained down on me.
In the back of my mind, I knew I could just stand up and walk away, but my body didn’t seem capable of doing that, or of doing anything other than uselessly bursting into tears. At least that stopped my two tormenters, as they glanced at each other, bewildered.
“What are you two doing?” came the voice of my rescuer, barely audible through my blubbering. “Leave her alone! I’m surprised at you, Melanie!”
“I’m sorry, Miss Lela,” Melanie squeaked.
“Go on, get out of here!” The two girls did Lela’s bidding, the nameless one giggling as soon as she thought she was out of earshot. Lela knelt down in front of me, brushing my tears, and the rest of the water, out of my face, so that I could see she was holding her actual babysitting charge in one arm. I stared up at her, lip quivering, half expecting her to yell at me, too.
“Come on, honey,” she said instead, holding out a hand. “Let’s go.”
I took it gratefully, tears starting to run down my face again. I was even more sure that I was being stared at on our way back, but, even so, it didn’t bother me as much, knowing that Lela was there. I was more bothered by how little ground I had managed to cover in my escape, and how quickly we were back at the baby’s house. Lela put him back into his crib, leaving me standing, shivering wet, in the bathroom, somehow not even thinking about getting out of my wet clothes until Lela came back to help me.
“I didn’t bring any spare clothes,” she apologized, slipping my backpack off of my shoulders and setting it on the floor before lifting my shirt up over my head and draping it on over the curtain rod for the time being. “Sorry.”
I sniffled, trying to unbutton my shorts by myself, only to have my fingers keep slipping off. Lela waited patiently until I gave up and let her do it, pulling the shorts down to reveal my Pull-Up, flowers already faded off, though I wasn’t completely sure if that was the cause of liquid from within, or without. I let her dry me off, too, not sure I could have moved even if I’d wanted to.
She picked up my backpack, fishing out the last Pull-Up. “I’m afraid you’re going to have to run around in just this until your clothes dry.”
“But, Leeelaaa,” I pouted.
“I’m sorry, Skye,” she said gently, “but if you hadn’t run off like that…”
She was right, of course, as hard as it was for me to admit. “Fine,” I sighed.
“Good gi…” she started to say, then thought better of it and just smiled at me, setting the Pull-Up down on the edge of the sink while she grabbed my clothes and headed for the laundry room to throw them into the dryer.
I stared over at the Pull-Up, briefly flashing back to my ballet class, staring down at all the little kids who wore “protection” with disdain, hardly able to believe there were so many children that old whose potty training was still so shaky. And now, somehow, I had become the one being stared down at, being made fun of. Had all of those girls felt as helpless as I had?
I was still standing there, frozen, when Lela came back in. “Aren’t you ready yet?” she asked. “Do you need some help?”
“Yes,” I whispered. “I need to get out of this.”
“Okay, honey,” she said quietly, kneeling down and starting to rip the sides of my Pull-Up.
“No, not this,” I protested. “I need to talk to Lydia. I need her to tell me how to change back.”
“Skye, you know…”
“I need it, Lela,” I pleaded, falling onto my knees and staring up at her with watering, puppy dog eyes. “Please, if you’re really my friend, you’ll take me.”
“Of course I’m your friend,” she said with a sigh. “If you really think it will help, I’ll take you.”
I fell into her arms, mumbling thanks as I started to cry again. She held me for what felt like a long time, and then, the next thing I knew, I was waking up on the couch, covered in a blanket. I pushed it back, finding myself clad in only the last dry Pull-Up underneath.
I sat up sleepily, rubbing my eyes, then hopped down, wandering through the house, looking for Lela. I found her in the nursery, cooing softly at the baby while she changed his diaper. She turned around when I entered, not quite able to keep from giggling.
“Whasso funny?” I asked in the middle of a yawn.
“Nothing,” she answered, too quickly.
“Don’t you dare say I look cute,” I warned her, glaring.
“Okay, I won’t say it,” she said, but started to giggle again. I rolled my eyes and left, almost going to look for the laundry room, to see if my clothes were dry yet, but instead decided to go see what was on television.
The answer was: Nothing much. Still, I managed to find something halfway amusing, and quickly found myself completely transfixed by it, likely helped by my still being a bit sleepy. In the back of my mind, I was aware of my body squirming, seemingly of its own volition, and of my tummy grumbling every now and then, but I was becoming more and more engrossed with the TV, its pretty colors swirling and dancing and….
“Whatcha watching?” Lela asked, suddenly breaking me free.
“I don’t know,” I shrugged, turning over towards her for a brief moment.
My tummy grumbled again, eyes going wide a second before they made it back to the screen. I scrambled off of the couch, almost falling, which probably would have been disastrous, made a mad dash for the bathroom.
“What’s wrong?” I heard Lela calling from behind me, before I closed the bathroom door. I tugged down my Pull-Ups, hopped onto the toilet, just in time. It was probably a good thing I hadn’t been wearing my shorts, I realized, since I wasn’t sure if I’d have even had time to get those down.
“That Lydia woman better have some answers,” I said to myself. “That was too close…”
But when we showed up at her house later that afternoon, she just looked down at me, confused. “What’s that, little one?”
“Your book!” I repeated, starting to get frustrated.
“Now, Skye,” Lela lectured, patting my hand gently, “Calm down. This nice woman let you into her house…”
“Oh, is your name Skye, too?” Lydia asked, staring down at me with a smile from the big armchair across the coffee table from her sofa, where she had sat Lela and me. “Did your big sister read it to you?”
“No! I read it! Myself!”
“Oh,” she said in surprise. “That’s quite impressive.”
“No, it isn’t!” I yelled. “Why won’t you listen to me?! I’m sixteen!”
“Skye!” Lela reprimanded me. “I’m sorry, Miss Newman.”
“Shut up, Lela,” I snapped. “Look, I need to know what happens in your book! I need to know how to reverse this!”
“This what?” Lydia blinked. “I’m sorry, I’m just not following.”
“How do I grow up again?!” I demanded.
“I don’t…” Lydia shook her head, then turned to Lela. “What does she want?”
“Don’t talk about me like I’m not here!” I screamed.
“Skye, please, calm down. Let me handle this.” Lela laid her hand on mine until I took her advice, leaning back into the couch and staring at Lydia. “This is going to sound strange, Miss Newman, but did the main character in your story regress at any point?”
“What? No, of course not.”
“Skye,” Lela warned, glaring at me threateningly.
“She’s got quite the mouth on her,” Lydia shook her head. “Kids these days…”
“Tell me about it,” Lela rolled her eyes. “I’m sorry about that.”
“It’s all right,” Lydia nodded. “Anyhow, no, my book is based on the summer I was sixteen years old. I only picked the name Skye because I thought it was pretty. I didn’t mean to take your name, little one, or to confuse you. You see…” And she started to lean in, probably about to go into some explanation of the difference between fantasy and reality.
“But it all happened to me!” I protested, not bothering to mention I had only looked through the first couple chapters. “All of it! How…”
“Lots of teenagers have similar experiences,” she shrugged. “Of course, you have quite a ways to go before being a teenager yourself. Maybe your big sister here told you about some things that happened to her, and…”
“Oh, I’m not her sister,” Lela interjected. “I’m her babysitter.”
“Sorry,” Lydia smiled. “Your babysitter, then. Maybe she told you something similar, and you had a dream, or something. But I promise you, that book has absolutely nothing to do with you.”
“It wasn’t a dream!”
“Thank you, Miss Newman,” Lela said, grabbing my wrist before I could jump across the coffee table at the woman. “I’m sorry about all this. You know kids.”
“Oh, it’s quite all right,” Lydia assured her. “It’s always nice to meet fans, especially ones so young and bright and imaginative. Maybe she’ll be a writer one day.”
“Maybe,” Lela agreed, before dragging me out of the house and putting me into the car.
“Thanks for all the help in there!” I exploded, slapping her arm. “Why did you tell her you were my babysitter?”
“I am now,” she said calmly, buckling herself in. “She obviously doesn’t know what’s going on - I’d rather she not think I’m crazy, too.”
“Too?” I glared over at her. “I’m not crazy!”
“I know you’re not,” she sighed. “But you were sure acting like it in there. You can get away with it, since you’re just a kid, but…”
“I am NOT just a kid!”
“Then would you please stop throwing a tantrum like one?” I started to open my mouth to yell something back at that, before realizing that she was right, so instead I just sank back into my seat, folding my arms and sulking in silence for the rest of the ride home.