As Professor Milton began walking around the classroom handing back the final tests, Audrey bit her lip in barely disguised terror. She crossed her fingers on both hands, as if this small superstitious act might somehow mitigate the blow she was sure to come. When Professor Milton got to her, he slid her paper face-down onto the desk with what Audrey thought was unwarranted deliberateness, as though making a point to the whole class that he didn’t want to reveal Audrey’s grade, thereby confirming its status as awful.
Audrey almost couldn’t bear to turn the paper over. She was afraid of what she was going to find on the opposite side. Whether or not she was able to pass Psychology was dependent upon this test—she and her friend Lilah had done the math; Audrey needed at least an 85 on this test to have a chance at passing. Based on her track record in this class, achieving that would be nothing short of a miracle. She could not see through the upside-down paper on her desk, so she braced herself for the inevitable. Her face flushed with anxiety, Audrey turned the paper over. She was subsequently greeted by a large, fat 67.
Involuntarily, the tears rose and stung behind Audrey’s eyes. She had always known, deep down, that she was a fool for pursing her dream of being an art therapist. This first semester at college had confirmed that for her. From day one, psychology had been a monumental struggle and, try as she might, she always seemed to screw up multitudes of little things, forgetting a fact here or there, resulting in subpar grades. She had dug herself into a hole that, finally, was too deep to escape. Through her swimming vision Audrey noticed Lilah, who sat next to her, glancing over at her paper with an infuriating curiosity. Quickly she stuffed the test paper into her backpack, gleaning a scintilla of pleasure as it crumpled. It was extinguished, however, in a sudden rush of annoyance.
Of course Lilah had gotten a wonderful grade. She always did. Audrey and Lilah bonded whilst complaining about Psych homework, and had subsequently become friends. Audrey, however, had never been able to get over the extreme irritation she felt whenever Lilah outshone her—which was pretty much always. And now Lilah would be continuing on as a Psych major while Audrey would wind up flipping burgers for the rest of her life. Then again, the one time her dad had asked her to help with the barbecue, she had set the picnic table ablaze, so she probably wasn’t even talented enough for a burger flipping gig.
Audrey tried to fight back her tears. She hated crying in public. Not only did it make her face go blotchy and her nose run like a river, but it also announced to everyone that she was a failure. Thankfully, class was now over, and no one paid her much mind as they poured out of the stuffy little classroom. Some gave her concerned looks as they passed, but most ignored her completely. Audrey was glad for that. Sympathy might just do her in at this point, because her situation was beyond help. All grades were final. She had failed.
Audrey dawdled, taking an unnecessarily long time to pack up her Psychology stuff. For the last time, she thought bitterly, and a fresh stream of tears threatened to fall anew. She wanted to be the last one out of the room so that she had to encounter as few people as possible. She didn’t want to hear startled queries as to what was wrong, or why she was crying. She didn’t want to face the answer.
As Audrey swung her backpack over her shoulder and turned to leave, she heard a voice.
“Wait,” said Lilah.
A stab of anger went through Audrey, but was quickly replaced by a heavy, hopeless feeling. This was not Lilah’s fault. This was due to her own ineptitude.
“What?” She answered tremulously. Aware that a rivulet of snot was leaking from her nose, she surreptitiously wiped it on the sleeve of her cardigan. She realized how pathetic she must look.
“You’re a mess. What’s wrong?” Lilah’s head was tilted in concern, her wavy black hair spilling from under her ski cap.
“Oh, not much,” said Audrey thickly. “Besides the fact that I failed Psych and now my entire effing life is ruined.” Her voice broke on the last word, and she furiously brushed away a tear that threatened to fall. Dammit, she was already a failure. She didn’t need to add “emotionally unstable” to the list.
Lilah pulled Audrey into a reassuring hug. “Oh Audrey…I’m sorry! I can’t say I know how you feel…”
“Thanks,” Audrey mumbled into Lilah’s shoulder. “You always know exactly what to say.” She rather though she got some snot on Lilah’s sweater by accident.
Lilah laughed. “I’m sorry, that’s not how I meant it. But I do think you’re overreacting.”
“I don’t know, from where I stand, things seem pretty sucky.”
“Why don’t you talk to Professor Milton? He’s a reasonable guy, and he definitely doesn’t want anyone to fail,” Lilah suggested earnestly. “I visit his office whenever I have questions on anything, and he’s never been anything but helpful.”
“You sound like an advertisement,” Audrey said. She didn’t see how visiting Professor Milton would make anything better. He had made very clear on the syllabus that all grades were final. She didn’t see what he could do about her plight. If anything, the finality that would result from a visit to his office would sink her spirits into the negative realm. She relayed this to Lilah.
“Well, he wouldn’t be telling you anything you don’t already know,” she said frankly. “Give it a shot.” She smiled toothily at Audrey. “After all, if you and I weren’t classmates anymore, who would I complain to?”
And so Tuesday afternoon found Audrey rapping her knuckles timidly on Professor Milton’s door. She had never visited him outside of class (which, she had to admit to herself, was a contributing factor to her lackluster performance) and was slightly nervous. She always felt extremely awkward and self-conscious when talking to people she didn’t know very well.
“Come in,” She heard the professor’s gruff voice issue from behind the gleaming wooden door. Upon entering the office, Audrey’s was shocked. Haphazard mountains of white papers and other random office paraphernalia covered every horizontal surface, looking as though a tornado had obliterated an Office Depot and dumped its contents everywhere. She had imagined him to be an orderly guy, based on his lectures, but the teetering Everest of papers swaying ominously on the edge of his desk told a different story.
“Pull up a seat,” he said kindly, gesturing to a wooden chair in the corner. It too had been deluged in an avalanche of books and papers. She tentatively deposited them on the floor and scooted the chair up to face the desk. “Advanced Psych papers,” he explained, misinterpreting Audrey’s worried glance at the precarious stack. “Got a ton of them to grade, and only three days left until break! I guess my students have been rubbing off on me,” he said with a good-natured guffaw. In light of her situation, Audrey did not find the joke particularly funny.
“So, what can I do for you, Audrey?” Professor Milton asked, putting down his red pen and placing the tips of his fingers together inquisitively.
“Well, you see, sir,” she gabbled, aware that her throat was going dry. “I, um…haven’t been doing so well in Psych as you…you probably noticed. I needed to get an 85 on the last test to even have a shot at passing and, well…I didn’t get it.” Her face burned red with shame. “I was wondering if there was, y’know…something I could do…”
“To not fail?” Professor Milton supplied.
Audrey nodded, willing her stupid face to go back to its normal color.
“Well,” said Professor Milton, “as you already know, once a grade is in the gradebook, it is final. We had at least one student that got a perfect score, so there won’t be a curve—”
“But,” he continued, “since you took the initiative to come to my office and talk to me about this, I think I can arrange something.”
“Really?” Audrey’s excitement was building.
“Yes, really,” Professor Milton smiled genially, his glasses winking cheerfully in the sunlight that streamed from the cluttered window. “You remember what we’ve been discussing recently in class?”
“Social experiments. Stanford Prison Experiment, stuff like that,” Audrey said promptly.
“Here’s what I propose. If you design your own social experiment and document your results, I would be willing to give some extra credit. Thanksgiving break is just a few days away…I daresay that’ll give you enough time to complete this project.”
Audrey could hardly believe her luck. “Thank you!” she gushed, smiling for the first time since she had seen that awful red 67 adorning her test paper.
Professor Milton simply smiled in reply. “Have it to me by midnight the day we get back from break,” he informed her.
“I will!” Audrey said, grinning widely. “Have a good afternoon, Professor!” She shouted over her shoulder as she left the office.
She practically danced down the hallway. Lilah had been right, and this time, Audrey didn’t mind. She scurried off to tell her the news.
“Your own social experiment, huh?” Lilah chewed a mouthful of Goldfish thoughtfully. “Sounds like it could be fun.”
“Yeah, it does,” Audrey said unenthusiastically. When she had first delivered the news to Lilah she had been ecstatic, but her amazement at her good fortune had been dampened by the realization that she had no idea what kind of experiment she was going to do, and what was more, she had only three days to figure it out.
“You’ve really convinced me,” Lilah joked. She was laying on her stomach on her bed, chin propped up on the heels of her hands. Audrey shifted in her beanbag chair to a more comfortable position.
“It’s just that if I don’t think of something fast, I’m going to blow this opportunity. I’m tired of blown opportunities. What I need is some inspiration,” Audrey said, glancing around the messy dorm room as if a brilliant idea were going to crawl out from under the crumpled pile of discarded leggings in the corner.
"Well, said Lilah, searching idly in the Goldfish package with one hand, “you can’t exactly do something as grandiose as the ones we talked about in class, so…think simple.”
“I should be good at that,” Audrey mumbled to herself.
“Nothing,” Audrey sighed. She rubbed her eyes and stifled a yawn. The emotional rollercoaster of the past two days had left her exhausted. “I still have two days left to figure something out. I’ll just keep my eyes peeled.”
“You sound like you could use a little pick-me-up,” Lilah said. She grabbed the remote from her bedside table and switched on the television. “Let’s see if there’s anything good on. It’s November, so they’re probably already showing Christmas stuff.”
“All right.” Audrey yawned again. “I might fall asleep, just warning you.”
Sure enough, after flipping through a few channels, Lilah found a showing of Elf that was just beginning. Elf was one of Audrey’s favorite movies—she basically knew it by heart. It just wasn’t Christmas until you had seen Elf forty-seven times.
As the intro played, Papa Elf explained Santa’s disastrous attempts at finding suitable helpers before he settled on elves. “They tried using gnomes and trolls,” Papa Elf said, “but the gnomes drank too much. And the trolls weren’t toilet trained.”
Audrey chuckled as a memory rose in her mind. “Me and my sister used to lose it at that part,” she told Lilah. “It seems silly now, but when we were nine years old that was comedy gold.”
“Like your sense of humor is so sophisticated now,” Lilah teased.
The two girls lapsed back into silence as they watched the glowing screen. Suddenly, in a pensive, tentative voice quite unlike the jovial one she had been using minutes ago, Lilah broke the silence. “But that’s an interesting idea.”
“What now?” Audrey said. She had been nodding off.
“Not being toilet trained.” Lilah spoke casually, but her cheeks were tinged slightly pink. Audrey, however, wasn’t looking at her friend.
“What are you even talking about?”
“As a social experiment. What if, say…someone pretended not to be toilet trained and wore diapers, to see how other people would react?”
Audrey continued to watch the screen, her tired brain puzzled as to why Lilah would be thinking about this. “That’d be weird,” she said.
A brief silence followed. Finally Lilah said, “Yeah, it would, wouldn’t it?” and laughed. It was an oddly flat laugh, and it died out quickly. The room once again fell into silence, this time awkward rather than complacent. Audrey, however, didn’t notice. She had fallen asleep.
Later that evening, Lilah sat at her desk, feeling distinctly worse that she had before her impromptu nap. She still had no idea what kind of experiment she wanted to do, and what was more, she had a strange lingering feeling of guilt that had been plaguing her ever since leaving Lilah’s room. Lilah had seemed cheery enough, smiling as she bade Audrey goodnight, but Audrey knew her well enough to know when something was off. Her smile had been faux and her face had still been rather pink when Audrey had left her.
Racking her brains, Audrey could only think of one possible reason that might have caused Lilah to be upset with her. She had dismissed her proposed experiment idea as “weird.” But that couldn’t be the reason for Lilah’s strange behavior. It didn’t make any sense. Why would she be upset about that? Lilah was a jokester. That had been just another one of her amusing throw-away comments…hadn’t it?
But what if it hadn’t? What if Lilah had genuinely been trying to help her, and was now angry with her for waving it away without a second thought? But that didn’t really make sense. Lilah didn’t get offended that easily. There was something Audrey was missing…or, perhaps, something she was refusing to see. She allowed herself to dwell on a theory that had been roiling in her mind for the past few hours. What if Lilah had been posing the statement in such a casual manner so that she could hear Audrey’s honest opinion on the matter? Audrey had given a less-than-positive response, and now Lilah was acting off. The more Audrey thought about it, the more she realized it could not be a coincidence. That must mean the idea Lilah had put forth had personal implications. Which must mean…
Audrey did not feel repulsed or weirded out. She merely felt guilty. She usually tried her best to be open-minded and nonjudgmental, but it seemed that in this one crucial instance she had failed. To be honest, she hadn’t even really stopped to ponder the idea. In fact, she had, underneath her exhaustion, been worried that anything other than the response she gave would make Lilah think she was weird or gross. Audrey hadn’t even considered Lilah at that point; she had been focused entirely on herself. Now she had wounded her friend in a place she hadn’t even known existed.
Figures, Audrey chastised herself. A failure and narcissistic to boot. I’m quite the package, aren’t I?
But now Audrey paused to consider Lilah’s idea. The more Audrey thought on it, the more intrigued she became. Wearing diapers would certainly elicit a strong reaction from her family and friends, just what she wanted for her paper.But was she really willing to go that far? Having to expose her diapered state to her family and friends would be horribly embarrassing, but she had no better ideas. Plus…Audrey found something oddly alluring about the idea of being back in diapers. Even the thought of the embarrassment wearing diapers would incur inexplicably excited her. She was suddenly overwhelmed by a burning curiosity. What would it be like? She had no memories of her diapered days. She no longer recalled what it felt like to be completely at the mercy of her own bodily functions. All these things she had forgotten and never once had she dreamed she’d want to remember them…and yet….
An involuntary shiver passed over her body. She glanced over her shoulder, as though afraid someone might be standing behind her, looking into her mind and reading her thoughts. There was no one there, of course; her roommate had a night class on Tuesday that she always complained about. Audrey was alone.
She pulled out her laptop and logged onto the internet. She deliberated for a moment, as though hypnotized by the little flashing cursor in the search bar, before typing out:
Her heart beat a tattoo against her ribs as she scrolled through the search results. She hadn’t realized how many different brands there were. She explored several links, reading reviews, looking at sizes, her excitement mounting all the while. It was almost as if she were on a strange sort of high.
After a few minutes, Audrey came across a site adorned with a photo of a bright red package of diapers. Tranquility, read the fancy white font. She selected a size of Extra Small and browsed through the different options. A single pack of ten would be too small for a week, she realized, so she selected three of the ten packs for a total of thirty diapers. Audrey was oblivious to how much the diapers cost and so, upon clicking Add to Cart, she was shocked to see her total. The estimated delivery with standard shipping was four to seven business days…she didn’t have that long. She was leaving on Friday. Reluctantly, she selected the grossly expensive overnight shipping. Thank goodness she had had a paying job that summer. She could almost feel the pangs from her wallet, but it would be worth it to save her Psychology grade…and, hopefully, repair the link with Lilah that she had inadvertently severed.
For the first time since she had begun her excursion, Audrey froze, her mouse poised over the Confirm Order button. Her hand shook slightly as she considered her actions. This was the point of no return. Was she really going to do this? She very nearly decided to cancel the order, but then a sudden rush of guilt washed over her. She couldn’t explain it, but in some weird way she felt she owed it to Lilah to go through with this. It would definitely provide her with adequate material on which to write a thorough paper. Also…she could not deny the thrill that was building up in her chest, making her breathing quick and shallow. She could tell that if she backed out now, the burning curiosity would still linger, making her wonder “what if?” A golden opportunity she hadn’t even known she’d wanted had fallen into her lap. She’d be crazy not to take it. Or maybe she was crazy because she was taking it. Either way, it didn’t matter. Before she knew what she was doing, Audrey had clicked Confirm Order, and a happy little message appeared, informing her that her package would arrive tomorrow by noon. The deed was done. Closing out her browser as if in a trance, Audrey pulled out her phone. She was going to make things right. She texted Lilah these words:
Meet me sometime tomorrow afternoon. I’ve got something to tell you.
to be continued