Unfair- A Diaper Dimension Novel

Chapter 69: Lionize
In terms of class and therapy, most of the week was unremarkable. Just like with work, confinement, conditioning, and resisting said confinement and conditioning take on a kind of daily grind. Things aren’t ‘fine’, but you might say they were if nothing of note happened. Even torture can become unremarkable after a few weeks.

The time in the classroom with Beouf. After the shakeup involving Ambrose and an actual factual crying child, Beouf doubled down to try and recondition us and stabilize emotions. I caught the barest mutterings of her complaining to Zoge about “disrupting routines”. Beouf still casually complained about work, she just made sure to do it more quietly and in coded language when she knew I was around.

The other Littles seemed off for a day or two afterwards as well. A four year old had been traumatized right in front of them and bawled about how he wasn’t one of us. That had shattered more than one illusion. It’s hard to pretend the plastic bowl on your head is a helmet when you’re standing in front of a real suit of armor. It’s hard to think of yourself as a baby when an actual child is freaking out right in front of you.

It’s hard to imagine yourself and believe that you’re cute and cuddly and adorable and everything is right with the world in a soft pastel palette when someone looks at your situation and cries in sharing it. Elmer’s justified freak out disrupted more than just the center schedule that day.

I’m getting off track, though.

The room’s routine went back to normal, relatively speaking, even if there was still this lingering underlying tension.

Therapy was ‘fine’, too. It was downright boring compared to the week before.

I was separated from my peers for both Occupational and Physical Therapy for one on one sessions. Physical therapy was me being forced to crawl up stairs and balance on a platform swing, (thankfully with my clothes on). Nothing to talk about.

Occupational Therapy was picking beads out of extremely stiff and sticky putty. Great stuff for developing fine motor strength, if the stuff wasn’t practically cement to Little digits. Great. Another thing that I needed help with! The stuff was so thick that it rivaled the tapes on diapers. I could tell that Sosa was enjoying watching me struggle, but she kept her mouth shut about it beyond asking if I wanted help every now and then. She didn’t give me much to work with, so I decided to mirror the relative emotional distance.

Sosa also stayed off of her phone.

Sosa also looked tired. Really tired. Bags under her eyes that rivaled my own. She didn’t crinkle like me, and her pants were neither puffier nor baggier to hide any extra padding, but she was definitely off.

Someone had been staying up late. Someone had been having trouble sleeping. Fighting with their partner maybe? Arguments about pets perhaps? I didn’t dare ask. I’d wrapped Winters around my finger and lit the fuse. If Sosa knew about my involvement, she’d likely snuff it right out.

The strength of that particular sabotage was in my marks not knowing that I was trying to sabotage them. Fitting considering how Sosa operated with Littles. In a weird way it made me appreciate her relative finesse compared to some of her peers.

But no, I didn’t give into temptation to rub it in. I asked neither one about the other. I mentioned nothing about dogs or birds or phones or anything that would so much as sprinkle salt into any wounds I’d created. Maybe later. Not this week.

I was quit proud of my restraint.

That’s how Sosa and Winters went.

With Skinner, I was beginning to think I’d get to miss out on a week with her. Skinner didn’t come to Beouf’s room to collect anyone. Not me. Not the A.L.L. Not the regs. I was beginning to wonder if she was sick, except that I caught fleeting glances of her around campus during transition times. It did my ego good to think that I’d already broken her enough that she’d skip a week. Being one-on-one with Sosa and Winters limited me to a degree; being alone in a room with Skinner would have empowered me. Skinner was the type that I could just demolish if I was alone in a room.

Being one-on-one with Skinner was also a lot less likely, I reminded myself. Skinner had a larger caseload on campus than either of the other therapists. There were a lot more kids in Oakshire who had speech impediments or language delays than kids with fine motor delays or muscular dystrophy. Getting a single student, even if it was me, to herself when she had mountains upon mountains of kids to work with was a luxury she didn’t have.

Right alongside my ego, my paranoia was whispering in the back of me. Ambrose had been a sharp reminder that I didn’t have to see them for the giants to be doing awful things. If she wasn’t seeing her regular caseloads. What was she doing?

Prepping a counter attack, evidently. Changing up the routine. Trying to catch us off guard.

It was just after morning whole group instruction when Skinner came in through the front door. “Hello, hello! Ready for some speech?”

Ivy perked up immediately and raised her hand in the air. “Me too? Me too?”

“Yes, Ivy,” Skinner said. “You too.”

Even Tommy and Sandra Lynn threw her shady glances. Ivy didn’t go to therapy sessions. She’d pretty much ‘graduated’ Beouf’s program and was being kept as professional courtesy to Zoge. That same professional courtesy would keep me trapped there, too, thanks to Janet.

Zoge quickly beat feet back to the nap room. Beouf got up from the floor circle and jogged to her classroom closet. Both came back with their arms full of stuffed animals. Questions and exclamations bubbled out of everyone’s mouth and tripped over each other into a discorganized babbling, but the general consensus was ‘What’s going on? What are we doing?”

Skinner took the time to sit down where Beouf had been reading us a propaganda story moments ago. “We’re going to try doing something different, and hopefully kinda fun.” She said. “Instead of taking you all the way to the speech room, I’m pushing in here and will teach you all at once. Then, if Mrs. B. and Mrs.Zoge like it and you’re really good, it’s something they can do with you, too.”

“Everyone gets a stuffie,” Beouf said. “If you like your stuffie, you can use it next time. If not, you can get another one. But no whining right now. You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit. Make good choices.”

I braced myself and got ready to dig my fingernails into my forearms. There was no telling what was inside these monstrosities. Bells that assaulted the senses? Hypnotic songs when you squeezed? Pheromones maybe? Were pheromones really a thing? I didn’t know. Best not to discount the possibility. That’s how they got you.

“Clark,” Zoge cooed. “Your Mommy made sure to get this to us just after the buses came in.” She placed Lion right into my lap. The dumb stuffed animal had been smuggled from the edge of my crib and into the classroom.

“Awwww!” Billy mocked. “Gibson’s Mommy bwought him his own stuffie from home!”

I felt my ears go hot. “Got a problem with that?”

Billy stiffened. “Nope. Just sayin’.” Billy got a penguin shoved into his arms.

I started turning Lion around and examining him: Dangling him. Shaking him. Squeezing him. Sniffing in. Nope. Nothing different. Still my Lion.

“What are you doing?” asked Shauna.

“Checking for traps,” I said.

Shauna thought for a second, then said, “Good idea,” and started copying me.

“Before we continue,” Skinner said. “Why doesn’t everybody share what their new friends’ names are?”

“I don’t know,” Jesse said. It was a protest and a pout as much as anything else.

“Just listen,” Skinner said. “That’s what we’re doing today. We’re gonna listen to each other using our new friends.” Every Little with so much as two brain cells to rub together looked like Skinner had just peeled her own lips off. Ivy nodded thoughtfully.

What kind of pop-psychology hokum was this? Puppet therapy? Really?! And here I was thinking that Maturosis was the dumbest crackpot pseudoscience bullshit I’d be forced to participate in during my thirty-two years of life.

Sage on the stage that she was, Skinner took our collective silence as a cue to demonstrate. “Watch. I’ll do it.” She took a stuffed lamb and put it to her ear. “Oh? Oh. Okay. I’ll tell them.” She put the lamb back down in her lap. “Everyone. This is Velma.”

“Hi Velma!” Ivy, of course. Chances were she’d done this sort of thing before.
“And Velma wanted me to tell you that she’s really happy to be doing this and she has soooooo much to say and she’s ready to listen, too.” Skinner looked among us expectantly. “What’s everybody else’s name?” No one made a move or opened their mouths. Some of us decided now would be a good time to suck on a pacifier. “Go on. What’s their name? All you have to do is listen.”

Sandra Lynn broke first. “Clip Clop.” She held up the patchwork horse that looked so worn it might have actually rivaled her in age.

Then Shauna held up her panda. “Pam.”

And so it went like dominoes crashing down on themselves…

“Chomper”

“Rex, I guess.”

“Jason.”

“Miss Ella Bella. Ella for short.”

“Mookie.”

“I’m thinking this is Hansen.”

Ivy held her stuffie in a death grip, wrapping it around herself like it was a boa or a blanket. It was a purple stuffed octopus that had a top hat and monocle. “This is Akko,” she said. Wrong. She was wrong. She gave the dumb fake animal the wrong dumb fake name.

“What’s your lion’s name, Clark?”

“Hm?” I said. “Oh. Uh…Lion.”

“Yes,” Skinner said. “I know that it’s a lion. But what’s his name?”

“His name,” I repeated more firmly, “is Lion.”

“Pffft…” Chaz laughed into his teddy bear. He saw where I was going with this, or thought he did.

“Are you sure his name is Lion?” Skinner asked. “Maybe he’s a Walter? Or a Randal? Maybe his name was-?”

I held out my finger. “I’m sorry to interrupt you, Miss Skinner, but I’m trying to listen to my friend, over here.” I held the stuffie closer to my ear. “What’s that, Lion? You’re feeling invalidated that this stranger who sold you into slavery is now going so far as to suggest other names for you? She’s invalidating your identity? Your heritage? Your very sense of self? Wow, we have something in co-”

“Okay, okay, Clark,” Skinner interrupted. “You’re right. He’s your lion. He belongs to you. You can name him Lion.”

“I didn’t name him Lion,” I said. “That’s just his name. I listened.” I’d like to think that in the distant future, there will be a word that has evolved and bastardized itself but still has roots traceable back to ‘Clark Gibson’ and that it will have a singular meaning that roughly translates to ‘malicious compliance’.

“Okay, Clark.” Skinner bunched. “You and Lion have a very good point. I’m sorry.”

“Why are you apologizing to me?”

Skinner bent over and made a little bow. “I’m sorry, Lion.” Everyone else giggled. Skinner blushed. She sat back up to her full height. “What Clark was doing was very good, though, boys and girls. He listened to Lion, told me how Lion was feeling, and spoke up for him while not being rude about it.”

“Mmmm…hmmm…” I looked up. I hadn’t realized that Beouf was standing right behind me, quietly tapping her foot. “Not overly rude.”

I gave my best ‘I’m just a baby’ smile to my ex-mentor. She wasn’t buying it, shaking her head and closing her eyes. I didn’t very much care.

“So what do we do now?” Mandy asked.

“Let’s practice,” Skinner said. “We can all try taking turns listening to our Speech Buddies. And if there’s anything we want to say for them, or they want to say for us, they can. Just make sure to be clear who’s saying what.”

I exhaled. Someone had to say it. “This is fucking stupid.”

“Clark Grange!”

I tensed up. That was literally the sternest I’d ever heard Zoge speak to anyone, and she did it saying my kinda-sorta-name. “It wasn’t me!” I said, pointing to the stuffed king of the jungle. “It was Lion. Honest! I was quoting him!”

“Maybe Lion should take a breather, then,” Skinner said. I shot her a challenging look, daring her to take my stuffie away from me when she’d insisted I get it. She broke eye contact first.

Beouf knelt down and gently placed her hand on my shoulder. “No,” she said. “No. Let Lion stay, Miss Skinner. Lion’s not a part of our class and isn’t subject to the same rules. Lion’s a Grown-Up and should know to phrase things better around babies, but he’s free to speak his mind.”

“Did you…?” I was shaking with anticipation. “Did you…?”

Chaz saw the opening. “The rules don’t apply to the stuffies!”

“Mookie says we should get changed more often,” Mandy shouted. “She says that even though Sandra Lynn is only wet, she can smell Sandra’s pee pee pants two spaces away.” Mandy softened and leaned back. “No offense.”

“That’s okay,” Sandra Lynn said. “You didn’t say it, Mookie did. And she’s right.”

“Chomper thinks its dumb that we have to eat all our food at breakfast and lunch.” Tommy said, wagging his alligator. “We’re not gonna get any bigger or stronger. If we’re not hungry we’re not hungry, and I…I mean he…I mean he says…grr…it’s hard to do stuff when you got a tummy ache.”

“Wow, that’s some big feelings,” Skinner replied, on scripts “Velma thinks-”

“Velma had her turn,” I said.

“So did Lion.”

“Lion’s not talking. I am. And I’m trying to listen to everybody else.”

Skinner looked to Beouf like a drowning woman looks at a lifeguard. The lifeguard seemed unphased to the plight.

“The books are boring and never change, Jason says. It’s why nobody ever reads them and just stares off to space or poops during reading time.”

“Pam wants to go out to play first thing in the morning when it’s cooler and fewer people can see us. That or be allowed to strip if it’s too hot.”

And on it went.

“Rex wonders why we gotta sit in our mess if it happens in the cafeteria? Every bathroom here has changing tables. Would it be that hard to pack a damn diaper bag with some spares and put it on the fucking cart” Billy held out his dinosaur like he was trying not to associate with it. “I’m quoting. I’m quoting! He’s right though…”

And it kept going.

“Sometimes Clip Clop thinks that Mrs. B. and Mrs. Zoge are just going through the motions. That’s why we have nap time, even though our bodies don’t really need naps. Also Clark snores.”

And going.

“Hansen told me to tell you that this place is like a cage,” Chaz said. “We go to this school because it’s the same building, but we’re not a part of it. We don’t do anything with the others and are just shut away here most of the time. We’re display pieces. Freaks. Just look at how that one kid acted when he got dragged here.”

And going.

“Ella wants a less demeaning verb for this Bee-Ess. ‘condition’,” Annie said. “I’m not ‘suffering’ from Maturosis. I’m not ‘afflicted’ with it. I don’t even really have it.” I sucked in my breath. Now, Beouf would lower the boom. She didn’t and Annie kept rambling. “How am I supposed to be a baby to you and a victim of some kind of disease? Ella wants to know. Is it some weird attempt at love, or is it an excuse not to listen to me? If you think I’m just a child, then why use words and terminology like something is wrong with me? Amazons talk to me like I’m a toddler but use language to describe me like I’m a…a…”

“A leper?” I suggested.

“Yeah,” she pointed at my stuffie. “What the lion said.”

“Lion.”

“Right. Lion.”

Peppered throughout there was plenty of, ‘cock’, ‘shit’, ‘motherfucker’, ‘twatwaffle’, ‘asshole’, ‘dingus’, and whatnot followed by smirking naughty grins and blaming it on the stuffed animal that such and such was translating for. I honestly expected Beouf or Zoge to slam on the breaks; to talk down to us; to stop our momentum or turn our language around on us. After every curse word or complaint or criticism, I waited for them to take away the stuffies or demean us or discredit us. It never came.

By the time it was over, Beouf and Skinner were hurriedly jotting things down on notepads. Skinner stopped performing whatever schtick and just directed traffic and conversation. She started pointing to us in turn for our stuffed animals to air our collective and individual grievances.

“The activities suck.”

“The rules don’t make sense.”

“Give us some kind of fuckin’ choice. We have literally none in our lives.”

For a solid thirty minutes, all we did was bitch at them.

“What’s that Akko? Akko wants to know why people aren’t allowed to kiss or hug or touch each other without permission, but we have to hold hands everyday when walking in line. That’s very hypocritical.”

Billy let out a low whistle. “Damn, Ivy.” He shook. “Rex said! Rex said! Not me!”

“What do you want us to do about it?” Skinner asked after everyone had said her piece.

“You’re supposed to be the adults,” I spat. “You hold way more cards than we do. Figure something out.” I inhaled. “And I said that. Not Lion. You don’t want me to quote what he said.”

The Speech Therapist stood up and dusted herself off. “I actually think this was very productive. Would it be okay if they brought their stuffies to speech from now on?” The question wasn’t directed at us.

Beouf looked vaguely thoughtful. “I think that might be a good idea. Is it okay if we used them in the classroom, too?’

“By all means!” Skinner looked delighted that some idea of hers had an application of some sort.

The three Amazons huddled up and started mumbling to each other. Likewise, my own peers started to gravitate towards me.

“Clark. Way to go, dude.” Tommy patted me on the back.

“That was pretty cool.” Jesse added.

“You should’ve seen Gibson last week,” Billy smirked. “Grade A shit. You had to be there.”

Annie pointed to the ground. “You dropped Rex.”

“Oh sh-!” My foul mouthed friend went over and retrieved his dinosaur. “Gotta keep this guy on me to uh…translate.”

I put Lion down by my feet. “Yeah…”

“Clark?” Chaz poked me in the knee. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” I didn’t mean it. Not one bit. I’d subverted the Amazons’ expectations and turned their game on them just like i’d wanted to. It was a victory. Classic Clark. Vintage Gibson. It didn’t feel like one, though. They weren’t angry enough. They weren’t distressed. They weren’t folding or lashing out to stuff us back into the neat little boxes they’d made for us. Their hypocrisy wasn’t laid bare for all to see.

I’d won. It just didn’t feel anything like a victory. Not at all. It just felt like I’d been allowed to whine and bitch and moan for half an hour.

And all my friends were loving it. Chaz handed Lion back up to me. Without thinking about it, I accepted the stuffie. All of my friends had found a renewed interest in stuffed animals.

“Akko says, ‘Domo’,” Ivy said. “That means ‘thank you’.”

I huffed. “I know what domo means, Ivy.” I felt my anger rising. “And that octopus doesn’t speak Yamatoan. He’s Albienese.” Irrational frustration was building. “Don’t you see the top hat and the monocle?!” Poor Ivy. “And his name isn’t Akko!” I shouted. “It’s Jessennia!”

Ivy positively deflated. She didn’t cry. She didn’t stomp. She didn’t whine. Just a bit of the happiness of being included leaked out of her face right before she slinked off. “Oh. Sorry. I didn’t…I didn’t know…”

Beouf turned around and looked back at me, seeming more than a little disturbed. I’d worked with Melony Beouf for ten years. She was unflappable. I’d already cussed her out and hit every pain point I’d known she might have from her personal and professional life and she remained completely unphased. She’d shoved me into a glass tube and fried every hair follicle off my body as I screamed myself hoarse and went right back to cooing at me while I passed out. She enrolled me in her class and gave me away like a decade of camaraderie had never happened.

Something about what I’d just said to Ivy had piqued her interest. More than ‘piqued’; it bothered her. Immensely. For some reason, Melony Beouf looked shaken.

And I had no clue why.

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Chapter 70: Little Voices: Games Grown-Ups Play
I sulked in Janet’s lap at that night’s Little Voices meeting; still brooding and stewing over what went wrong with Beouf. Beouf gushed over how ‘well’ things had gone that day, and said how much of a joy it was to have Lion in the class with me. Beouf was happy, and that meant I couldn’t be. I felt like a chess player going over a game in my head to see where I made the wrong move. Where had the gap in my defense been? Had I not attacked hard enough? Had I jumped in too quickly?

I felt like the comedic relief in my own story. I wasn’t some idiot who didn’t know he’d been manipulated. I’d been just with it enough to realize I was being manipulated, but not enough to fix it back. I was Sheriff of Nottingham, instead of his bumbling henchmen. I knew just how screwed I was and I hated that I couldn’t figure out how to unscrew it. What had I done wrong back there?

In between replaying the events with Lion, I couldn’t help but overhear the other Little Voices members and their Littles talking and interacting with each other. “Yes, we had a scare with her the other day,” one Amazon said to another. “I don’t know how it happened, but one of the drawers in the kitchen was open and batteries were scattered everywhere. They were right next to her playpen. I almost ran her to the emergency room. Not sure how the baby proofing got undone, but we’ve ordered some stronger ones.” She looked down at the Little by her feet. The doll was wearing a matching denim jumper. The Doll had a doll. “It’s that darn cat.”

“This is why we never had pets in my family,” the other Amazon said. “far too much work.” I suppressed a bitter laugh. Changing diapers for decades was fine, but litterboxes were crossing a line? “Plus some of them are just so…small…I’d be afraid to hurt one or step on it. Or something.”

Typical.

“Yes,” the first agreed, “but the cat came with her, and they’re so adorable together. Especially snuggled up. It’s just so precious, almost makes it worth it. Although I don’t think we’ll get another one.”

The Little in the jumper took exception to this. “WHAT?!?!?!”

“Don’t worry, Bea, Kit-Kat isn’t going anywhere.”

Bored, I listened in on conversations elsewhere.

“You know that coffee shop, a town or so over, that we encouraged everyone to avoid because of their um… ‘special’ items?”

A Daddy with sandy blonde hair arched his eyebrow. “Yeah, ‘Le Grande Bebe Cafe’, right? With the spiked chocolate milk?”

“Right. That one. Same place where they have the Amazon with Maturosis working full time.”

“Are you sure she has Maturosis and just isn’t parading around in a diaper or something? Using it as an excuse to dress like a baby in public?” I must have been punchy because of how hard I laughed at that. If I was the Sheriff, these were my henchmen. I was in a room where a bunch of pots were calling kettles ‘black’.

Janet looked down at me. “Something funny, giggly boy?” Her smile took mine away. Her light hug stole my laughter but at least let me listen.

“Not sure. I’ve heard rumors, but…” the woman shook her head. “Getting off topic. We won’t have to worry about them slipping anything into people’s drinks without asking. New store policy. Less innuendo. Someone had to take their Little to the emergency room for dehydration. Didn’t know what was meant by ‘special’ chocolate milk.”

“Oh my god!”

Mentally, I disengaged. There was far too much to take in there, and the cult meeting proper hadn’t even started.

Another pair of ladies took a seat next to Janet. “How did the date go last night?”

“Oh it was going really well, until we started talking about kids and how to look after Littles.”

“Let me guess,” the first hen covered her Little’s ears. “H-Y-P-N-O?”

“Yep, and kept going on about how good that place was.”

Ironically, both of them joined me in an unconscious shudder.

“Oh my gosh, that’s ridiculous.”

“I tried to talk to him, see if he was open minded, but I could barely get a word in edgewise. Honestly I think he may have seen one of those videos.” They both laughed. As if high and mighty Amazons could be hypnotized. How absurd!

I rolled my eyes. Of course they weren’t hypnotized. Why rely on hypnotism when they’d already broken themselves with nice comfortable propaganda and feigned empathy?

“Well I’m sorry it didn’t work out, but you know I hear Mark is single.”

My ears started burning. Mark. Stupid, plain, milquetoast, Mark with his thick rimmed glasses and mess of black curly hair. I could never have gotten away with hair like that back before Janet started toddlerizing me. He was the only Amazon without a Little prisoner of his own.

Even with a week between sightings, I still felt my hackles rise up at seeing him. The only thing worse than an Amazon who’d adopted was one who hadn’t yet but wanted to. I looked up at Janet only to realize that she wasn’t checking on me. Her eyes were also drifting across the circle of chairs, over to Mark casually chatting up two other husbandless- but not Littleless- giantesses.

“It’s about that time,” the balding meeting leader said. “Weeeeeeee’re-”

“-All together again,
We’re here! We’re here!
We’re all together again,
We’re here! We’re here!
And who knows when,
We’ll be all together again,

Singing we’re all together again,

We’re heeeeere!”

The opening hymn was always the same. Set the tone, set the mood, set the expectations. It’s how indoctrination worked best.

“It looks like we have some new visitors with us this evening,” Baldy said. “Please, introduce yourselves.”

“Hi,” a red-haired Amazon said. “I’m Lois.”

“HI LOIS!” She bobbed a Little man with dark black hair who was absolutely quivering in her arms. He was terrified. Traumatized. “This is Bradley.”

“HI BRADLEY!”

“I LIKE TO PEE MY PANTS!” The new guy shouted at the top of his lungs. No one laughed. No one said a thing. New guy’s declaration about him pissing himself rang out to a near vacuum. What’s more, he sounded excited, but not happy about it. He wasn’t celebrating his unpotty trained state, but calling out a safeword. “I LIKE TO PEE MY PANTS!” He was begging. Pleading.

A couple of the other Littles exchanged worried, but knowing looks. Cindy, the pink-haired older little whom I’d ruined last week whispered two words to Baldy’s Little. I didn’t need to read lips to guess what she said.

“I just adopted Bradley,” his keeper, Lois, said sheepishly. “Money got kind of tight, and so I wanted to enroll him in a public school instead of a private daycare. But there’s a waiting list at Oakshire, and the only other accredited Maturosis and Developmental Plateau unit in the area was…” She gulped.

“DO IT CAUSE MOMMY SAID SO!” Tears were leaking out of the poor guy’s eyes, and he didn’t blink. Not once.

“I didn’t do my research,” the newcomer said. “I only looked on their website. The staff seemed very nice and professional.” Mark put his hand on her shoulder, and nodded solemnly, not saying anything.

Fuck Mark.

“I did some more digging when Bradley started…”

“I’M A GOOD BABY! POTTY BAD! CUP BAD!”

She looked like she was about to cry. “that.”

“How long was he in there?”

Her answer came out just above a whisper. “Two weeks.”

Two weeks? I heard my heartbeat in my ears. That? All of that? Happened in two weeks.

There was a brief rumble from the gathered.

“I don’t know why the school board doesn’t shut them down.”

“Lobbyists at higher levels. Governor. Misinformation.”

“Those kinds of ‘therapies’ have a lot more standing…for now.”

“What about bugging them?”

“Illegal. Won’t hold up in court. Can’t record without consent.”

The newcomer drew her Little into a sobbing hug. “I just wanted him to be happy…”

The bald cult leader stood up and quieted everyone down. “The important part is you got him out of there and we’re all here to help you. Both of you.”

“Abso-fuckin’-lutely.” One of the men said.

“Carl! The children!”

Amy Madra snapped out of whateverself-induced. “FUCK!” She seemed more amused than anything “Fuck-fuck-fuck!” Helena pushed a pacifier into her lips. Amy kept happily swearing with the bulb in her mouth. No one heard the words, but that didn’t stop her cadence. “MMMMMMMMMM! Mmm-mmm-mmm.” Helena shushed her, but that only got her to lower the volume.

“Whelp,” someone joked. “Guess Carl isn’t watching the babies during the second half.” That lowered the tension. Even the Littles who were still with it enough to get the joke laughed.

Two weeks. I was almost breathless. I felt Janet hug me again, tighter than before and around the chest like she was afraid I might slip away into nothingness. I could hear her heartbeat, feel it through her chest like a jackhammer. I looked up and saw her looking down at me.

She kissed me on the forehead and whispered down to me. “I love you. I love you so much.” There was fear there; guilt too; and I knew why.

“I’M NOT A BIG BOY! I’M NOT! I’M NOT! I’M NOT! I’M NOOOOOOOT!” Bradley sobbed into his Mommy’s shoulder.

Two weeks. That poor bastard had been at New Beginnings for just two weeks and he was shouting words at the top of his lungs that didn’t sound like they belonged to him. “I’M! JUST! A! BAAAA-A-A-A-BEEEEEEE!” It was almost a relief when he started sucking his thumb and stopped saying real words.

Two weeks. That’s all it had taken to wreck this guy. Cut the crying and add a pull-string into his back and he would have been perfect for an Amazon.

Janet’s grip on me only got tighter. For once, I leaned into and returned it, and wrapped my arms upward over hers, pulling them down to me like a harness on a roller coaster. He could have gotten into Beouf’s class. Beouf would have broken him, sure. But not like that. The worst part of my day had been carrying around my stuffie, agitated that using him as a loophole to cuss wasn’t getting Zoge to clutch her at her pearls enough. Except he couldn’t have gotten into Beouf’s class. Waiting list. And I’d snatched up the last spot. We’d snatched up the last spot.

It’s a weird feeling. Feeling privileged and doomed at the same time. Looking at someone and having survivor’s guilt, even though you too, are a dead man. Feeling a shared sense of guilt with your captor: If there’s a single word to encapsulate that feeling I don’t know it.

The meeting got way off track. No silly songs or lap bounces tonight. It was all about people sharing resources with Lois so she could ‘fix’ Bradley. Talks of ‘deprogramming software’ that was hard to find but obtainable ‘if you knew where to look’ and ‘specialists’. I heard Dr. Milton’s, my so-called pediatrician, name dropped. Someone mentioned grants and charities that could at least help fund getting him into a regular daycare. Regular by their standards at least.

Part of me, a very small part, wanted to help. I bit my tongue sitting in Janet’s lap, almost fantasizing about martyring myself by offering myself up and offering my spot in Beouf’s. I wasn’t gonna do it. Not really. There were a million reasons not to speak up, the fact that I didn’t have an actual say in where Janet put me during the day being one of them. Opportunities for vengeance was another. What the A.L.L. might think of me was a distant but present factor. Mostly, though, I was just scared.

Janet wouldn’t send me to New Beginnings, but I still wanted, no, needed the familiarity of my own personal hellscape that I’d been adapting to.

The meeting would have dragged on longer than that, had the other Littles not had their routines already driven into them. “Looks like the tots are getting restless,” someone said. “Let’s get them off to the nursery and we’ll finish talking here. Let them play.”

“NOOOOOOO!”

“It’s okay. Bradley can stay with his Mommy.”

Janet reached into my diaper bag. “Don’t forget Lion.” I took it and went to get in line, only to freeze when fresh air hit the rack of my ass. It was practically second nature by now. “Just checking. You’re good.” I got sent away with a pat on the butt. If Lion had had bones his ribs would have broken in my grip.

I waddled up with Lion in my arms straight to the Amazon on guard duty that night. “Put me in a crib, please.”

“Are you tired, Clark?”

Stupidly, I looked down at my shirt or on Lion, wondering if there was a nametag or something. It’s weird when someone knows your name and you don’t know theirs. Not that I wanted to know her name. “No,” I replied to the sandy haired woman who walked her Little on a toddler leash. “I just want to be alone.”

“Are you sure?” She asked. “We’re going to play Feather Wand in a few minutes.” She said it loud enough so excited murmurs rippled around the holding pen.

“Yeah. I’m sure.”

“Okay dokie. Do you need a change?”

My eyes darted to the single changing table out in the open. No bathroom. Everyone could see. “No thank you.” I brought up Lion to just beneath my eyes to hide the rosiness that was coming out of my cheeks… “My Mommy just checked me a minute ago.”

“Oh yeah,” the guard said. “That’s right.” She picked me up and dumped me in the crib in the back. “Thank you for being polite, too.”

“You’re wel-…” I stopped myself and silently cursed.

She didn’t notice. The lady unleashed her prisoner and dug through her diaper bag. “Look what I got!” She brandished two feathers that were so perfectly black and white and proportioned that they just had to be synthetic. “Who’s ready to play Feather Wand?”

All around the room, Little hands shot up like a Kindergarten class. “Me me me me me!”

The lone Amazon seemed singularly enchanted. “Wonderful! Just remember the rules. Black feather makes things heavy. White feather makes things light. Black feather and white feather can cancel each other out,” she paused and grinned, “but I don’t think anyone’s going to bother doing that.” More knowing laughter. “And how many times do you get to use a feather?”

“Three times!”

“And then you-?”

“Give someone else a turn!”

“That’s right!” The sandy haired woman clapped her hands together. “I think tonight, we should start with…Kylie for the heavy wand,” she gave the black feather to a Little girl who’d been dozing in her Daddy’s lap the week prior. “Aaaaand Paul will start with the light feather.” The older man who had been talking blocks the way Burt Braun talked construction, got it.

“Mommy!” The Little woman in the toddler leash whined.

“Prudence…” That was enough to put a stop to it. “We play Feather Wand enough at home. Give someone else a chance.” The others, oddly enough dispersed and spread out of the room, but instead of looking at the holders of the wand, they started breaking out blocks and balls and other toys like the game wasn’t happening at all.

Curious. Very curious.

“Ready?” Prudence’s Mommy called.

“Ready!” The two Littles holding feathers said.

“Then one…two…th…oh wait!” The Amazon said. “Don’t forget kids. These wands don’t work on clothes! So you can’t make somebody’s shoes heavy and stick them in place.” A few of the girls raised their hands to ask a question. “And you can’t make somebody’s skirt or shirt go up.” The hands went down. “Okay. One…two…three!”

And then they just started playing quietly. Blocks were being stacked. Dolls were broken out and played with. The two with the feathers? They didn’t blast off or run around. They just walked around the playroom, like pool sharks lining up their shots.

No one else was paying attention to me, but this was so bizarre that I felt the need to exclaim something. I caught sight of Amy crawling around. I might have been able to wave her over and ask what was going on.

Nope.

Wasn’t gonna happen.

I looked at Lion. Close enough. “The fuck?” I whispered to no one but him. This must be why actual children developed imaginary friends: Sometimes the world didn’t make sense and no one was around to just listen.

About a minute into it, the real game started in earnest. The girl with the black feather walked up to a girl combing her dolly’s hair with a tiny brush. “Heavy-One!”

The girl with the hairbrush let out a yelp of surprise and dropped the pink plastic brush to the floor like it was a brick made of dwarf star matter. “What?! Oh no! Clementine’s comb is soooo heavy!” She pinched it between her thumb and forefingers and pretended to tug, grunting and groaning. “Grrrr! How am I supposed to comb her hair now?”

Black feather giggled and skipped off. I kept my focus on the girl with the dolly to see if she’d break character or get distracted. Quite the opposite as it turned out. Unable- more like not allowed- to pick up the hair brush, she turned the doll upside down and started rubbing its head against the brush, humming happily.

“Light-One!” Block boy used the feather on his mate, and now the guy was up on his toes holding an orange brick up over his head by the very tips of his fingers…

“Whoaaah! Whoooooah!” The guy was acting like the piece of plastic was a hot air balloon threatening to tug him away. “Must! Get! Block! Back on top…of tower! Reggie! Cindy! Help!” Almost breaking, the three pantomimed forcing the block back to the top like they were pressing on a giant spring.

As soon as the other two backed off, block boy’s buddy was back on his toes.

“I am not sitting on that,” Reggie laughed.

“I know,” Pink Hair said. “What if we build the tower up high! It’s lighter up in the air anyways so it should say!”

“Yeah! That might work.”

From the safety of the nursery’s rent-a-crib, I nodded. I was beginning to understand the appeal of the game; from both sides. The people with the feathers were empowered to create problems, and everyone else had to creatively solve them.

No winners. No losers. Just an improvisation game. It looked kind of fu-

“Hey Clark!” Amy smushed her face up against the bars. I scooted to the very back of the crib. She couldn’t walk properly, her underwear crinkled, she was the only face that regularly registered to me in this place, and I had a wall to my back and still she managed to sneak up on me. “How you doin’ did you have a good week in Mrs. Beouf’s class I know the week’s not over yet but we haven’t seen each other and Friday doesn’t really count if you think about it I’ve been meaning to ask you about a ceeeeertain purple-”

“Yes yes yes,” I snapped, cutting her off. “Yes. I saw your stupid octopus. I saw Jessennia.”

Amy stopped, but only for a beat. “Oh yeah? When?”

I leaned to the side. Amy had pulled herself up to a standing position and was just barely blocking my view of the game. “This morning.”

“Aaaaaand? Did he say anything about me?”

This nutter. This fucking Full Native nutter. “No. He’s playing with Ivy now. She calls him Akka.”

Amy rolled her eyes and sighed. “Oh Ivy,” she said. “I do not miss her very much. Did you tell her she was wrong and that his name is Jessennia and he talks with an Albienese accent, you know I bit Ivy once but she didn’t bleed or anything but I warned her not to take the grilled cheese I’d put down the front of my diaper that I was saving for later cuz I didn’t have any pockets and even though it had gluten in it and I wasn’t s’posed to eat it we had picture day that afternoon.”

It took me about five seconds to process that particular stream of consciousness. “You bit Ivy?”

“Uh-huh.”

I smirked. “Is that how you lost your front teeth?”

The brightness and curiosity left Amy’s eyes and she sunk down. “No.” I felt a pang in my gut. I had crossed a line. I had guessed it might be there. I knew I was crossing it. Didn’t stop me from doing it. DIdn’t stop me from regretting it as soon as I did. I didn’t apologize, either.

“Mommy, catch!” A green rubber ball sailed into the lone Amazon’s arms. The tip of a black feather brushed it.

“HEAVY-THREE!”

The Amazon dropped like a stone, arms first onto the floor. She practically belly flopped! “Oh no!” She said like the lead in a B-Movie, “This ball is sooooo heavy! And my hand is trapped under it! Oh wooooe is me!”

“We’ll help!” The call went out. Two or three other prisoners started playing the game of trying to move it off of the lady’s hand. For extra emphasis, the Little Voices cultist kept it in her vice-like grip making the Littles have to really work to move it.

I jumped up and looked over the railing so I could see over Amy’s head. “She’s playing?! “ I yelped. “Why is she playing?!” Amazons didn’t play baby games! They forced Littles to play them and watched while feeling smug about themselves!

“Why wouldn’t she play?” Amy looked back over her shoulder. “Prudence’s Mommy likes playing with Littles. Most Grown-Ups do.”

I plopped back down, suddenly more interested in what Amy had to say. “What are you talking about?”

“That’s why Mrs. Beouf does it? Playing with us is like…her job or something.” I glared at her to no effect. “You know sometimes I think they invented movie theaters so Grown-Ups would have an excuse to watch the fun stuff cuz it lets them pretend they’re doing it for us streaming services are really hurting their access to real art these days, ya know?”

“Beouf plays games to mess with us,” I replied. “Playing games, even these, just for fun, would be…be…considered…?” Damn it I didn’t have a better word for it.

“Immature?”

“Yeah,” I huffed.

Completely straight faced Amy peered through the bar and said “What’s more Grown-Up than playing with Littles?”

My face was getting hot, and this time it had nothing to do with embarrassment. “Maybe paying a dentist to replace the gap in your teeth?” That’s what I should have said. That’s what I wanted to say. That pang in my gut came back when I started to say it, though, and so I stopped.

Instead, I asked. “Why do you call them that? Grown-Ups? You’re smarter than that.”

“Thank you.”

“Not my point,” I pressed. “Why do you keep calling them Grown-Ups? Why talk like that? It’s stupid.”

“No, it’s not, it’s complete zoological sense.”

“We’re all adults. Janet is two years younger than me.”

“Yeah, but we’re not Grown-Ups, like them,” Amy said. “Never will be, and that’s okay.”
The Amazons really got her good. I didn’t have anything to add, so she just piled on more nonsense. “Some adult tadpoles are called toads. Some adult tadpoles are called frogs. But you don’t call a frog a toad or they’d get very upset.”

I tried to piece it all together. “So a Grown-Up, to you, is just…?”

“A word for an adult Amazon.” She shrugged. “I’m a Little, not an Amazon, so I’m an adult, but not a Grown-Up. Adult just means you’re done growin’. That’s it. Calling them Grown-Up makes it less confusing.” She smirked. “Imagine if you just walked around calling all physically mature creatures ‘adults’.” She stopped and squeaked laughter. “Can you just imagine the signs at the zoo? Adult, adult, adult, adult, adult.”

Just when I thought I’d seen the bottom of the crazy barrel. “Is this why Beouf looked so freaked when I brought up the octopus’s-”

“ Jessennia.”

“-righ, when I brought up Jessennia’s name?”

“Hmmm?”

I repeated myself. “She looked kind of scared when I called Jessennia by his name. Why?”

Amy twisted her mouth and squinted. “I dunno. She used to look like that all the time.” She paused. “She was fun. I kinda miss her. Say hi to her for me?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Sure.” I wasn’t lying. A potential silver bullet was a potential silver bullet.

“I like your lion,” Amy said, pointing to the stuffie in my arms. I don’t know when I started holding him again, or if I properly stopped. “What’s his name?”

“Lion.”

“That’s a good name. He looks like a Lion.”

I allowed myself a smile. “I know, right?” I exhaled and relaxed a bit. I really needed to lighten-

“Light-One!” A white feather snuck it’s way between the bars of the crib and tickled Lion. Amy talking to me had drawn some attention and a feather had exchanged hands again.

Pinned to the floor by a rubber ball, the sandy haired giantess called out, “Prudence, Clark doesn’t want to-”

“WAAAAAAAAH!” I screamed, chucking Lion so hard that he bumped the ceiling and thudded on the floor. “How in the-?” I said. “How’d you do that?!”

Prudence giggled so hard she doubled over. Amy squeaked through her nose so loudly she sounded like a guinea pig. “Hurry! Pin it down! Before it floats again!” A couple of guys dog piled onto Lion like they were heroes throwing themselves onto a grenade.

“Ooooooh,” Prudence’s Mommy groaned, finally releasing the ‘heavy’ ball from her grip. She stood up and continued the show of flexing her arm and shaking it’d just been released from a vice or something. “Clark, does that mean you want to get out of the crib? Do you wanna come out and play?”

Ever the trouble maker, I was seeing potential. Not for now, but for later. When the time was right.

“Yeah,” I said. “Yeah. I think I will.”

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Oh, poor Clark out smarted and beaten before he could understand what has happened. The guards have upped their game by many levels. lets hope he finds the way around this nasty bit of shaping before he losses the game all the way.

Chapter 71: Self-Soothing Super Market Sweep

Late Saturday morning. Just before lunch. Plans were for me to stoically allow myself to be stuffed with ravioli and then fall asleep in a semi-bloated haze. But first; grocery shopping. The cart glided down the dairy aisle.

“Huh,” Janet said, picking up the tremendous jug of milk. “Goat’s milk. Let’s give it a try.” She put it in the cart and moved on. “Eggs? Sure. We need eggs.” It went into the cart behind me. I sat in the cart’s built-in baby seat, a wire mesh basket with two holes for my legs to dangle through and a hard plastic flap that went up when an infant or a Little wasn’t occupying the space. It wasn’t made for comfort, the only cushioning I got was currently taped around me and more than slightly damp.

Diapers go through a kind of life cycle. The first wetting is often absorbed so quickly that it’s easy to forget you peed within seconds; not unlike flushing a toilet and walking away. By the time you’re washing your hands, your brain is onto other things. Around wetting two or three, you start to feel it. You’re obviously wet, and feel the soft pulpy squish with every movement and it’s swollen to the point where it’s pressing up against you as much as you’ve pressed up against it. The ratio of pillow to sponge is roughly fifty fifty.

After that, the feeling gets physically disgusting; gruesome even. The thing starts sagging so much that the tapes aren’t holding it up as much as willpower and whatever you’ve got on over it. The ratio of pee to padding has shifted in the pee’s favor and your privates start to feel like they’re being dipped into microwaved swamp water. Even if you wet up front, the moisture travels all the way to the back before it settles in, and the feeling of dryness becomes almost like a foreign thought, a word like ‘schadenfreude’ that describes a complex feeling that doesn’t exist in your own language.

But, you keep going, because after a few weeks of being forced to wear diapers, you adapt to having a laissez faire attitude. A little damp stops being so bad and if it gets too damp, you ask for a change. Even if you don’t or the Amazon won’t listen, sometimes it feels easier to just release into an already soaked diaper. Languishing in an uncomfortably wet diaper, and then holding your bladder becomes a mental exercise that rapidly fatigues you. Why bother? If you hold it, the dry one that replaces it won’t stay dry for long. Might as well deal with it and hope whoever is in charge of your pants takes the hint.

I sat in that shopping cart, as happy as I could manage, which is to say not particularly so, but nothing had stirred my anger or resentment just yet. I’d had two bottles since breakfast, both in the confines of Janet’s lap, and she hadn’t checked or changed me since just after getting me out of the crib. As a result my pants were in that state where they could go either way. Not good, but good enough considering the context I’d been forced to live in.

The last bits of Summer had faded and the temperature had just started to shift so that it was chilly first thing in the morning but by ten if not earlier, the heat had returned in force. This was enough of an excuse for Janet to dress me in overalls, which was nice. Yeah, they still had snaps along the inseam, and anyone who stared at my waist could likely tell what I was wearing, but at least I didn’t have a light plastic waistband constantly peaking out over the top of my shorts. This might have been the first time in nearly a month that I’d had anything other than socks or footie jammies covering my ankles.

Too bad they weren’t denim. If the overalls had been a plain blue denim, I might have been able to fantasize about being back in Misty Brook, where Bert and his friends- Littles far handier than I- tinkered and built while tromping around homemade construction sites in dust and grime coated coverings. The white and blue pinstripes I’d been dressed in made me look more like a train engineer out of a children’s book than any sort of construction worker.

With Lion wedged in the basket by my side, I also had something to crush and squeeze in the event that Janet inevitably said something to get my teeth gnashing. Speaking of teeth gnashing, a binky had been clipped to the bib of the overalls, but the bulb remained dry and dangling. I wasn’t going to give her that satisfaction.

As the cart moved, I pivoted and turned around in the seat to see where we were going. I didn’t know the layout of this particular grocery store. Other than the Modest Proposal, which was a kind of treat I indulged in a few times a year, grocery shopping had not been a big part of my life. Everything had to be delivered and left at the front door of my house. The delivery fee, in a way, was a tax I’d paid to prevent giant people from trying to diaper me.

That battle having been lost, I had to twist my head and pivot in my seat every which way to see where we were going. The baby seat wanted me to just stare at Janet as the center of my world; or more likely, make it easier for Janet to look at me and make sure I wasn’t stealing anything from passing shelves. To be fair, that had been an idea the moment she told me where we were going. I’d never been to a Wall-Roxie, but the idea of taking anything and everything and subtly dumping it in the cart, pressuring Janet to pay for it was…appealing.

Too bad she started at the dairy aisle. With products behind heavy glass refrigeration doors, the cart was nowhere near the goods and I had no hope of reaching far enough to snag something. Not that it would have mattered in that instance, the smallest size container was a gallon. I wasn’t going to be able to lift much. Maybe the cookie aisle or something would bring me better luck.

“Someone’s excited to be going to the grocery store with his Mommy.” Janet chirped.

I squeezed Lion’s paw. “No, I’m not. Janet. I’m just not used to looking backwards.”

Janet’s expression soured like I’d just cussed at her. “Clark, I thought we agreed that you’d call me ‘Mommy’ in public.”

“And I thought you agreed to let me see my wife. That hasn’t happened yet.” Janet looked like she’d just been slapped. I felt like I’d just slapped her. The gasp leapt out of me and I just stared at my hands like I’d struck her. That was only supposed to have been something I thought, not something I said.

Other shoppers, Tweeners and Amazons milled around. Some had Littles in carts like mine. Others had their, children actual or adopted, tag along them holding hands or walking beside them. The social invisibility factor had kicked in. If any passerby noticed our growing tiff, they didn’t say anything… I was just a fussy baby with a doting Mommy trying to manage me.

The pain on Janet’s face shifted and contorted into an almost Beouf-like mask of neutrality. “I know you’re dealing with a lot of big feelings, but that’s not fair to me. I did my best and acted in good faith.”

I shrunk down and shriveled up in my seat. “Yeah…” I did not and would not apologize, however.

Like a chameleon her tone shifted immediately, the pain gone with my admission. “We should play a game.”

“Like what?”

Her eyes drifted down to my bib. “How about the quiet game? I bet you don’t have the willpower to keep quiet and keep your pacifier in your mouth the whole trip while I do our shopping.”

I crossed my arms, bringing Lion up to my chest. “What if I win?”

“I’ll take you to the potty before we leave.” My pacifier was in my mouth before she’d finished speaking. “As long as you’re not already wet or poopy.”

The pacifier went back to dangling immediately. “That’s not fair!”

Janet broke out into a full out witch’s titter. “Gotcha!” She leaned in and nuzzled my forehead. “I knew it, you little stinker, you! Gotcha, gotcha, gotcha!”

It’s a good thing Lion didn’t have bones and his insides were made entirely out of cotton. If not I might have committed animal-slaughter. “That’s not fair, Janet, and you know it,” I whined loudly.

For a moment, Janet’s embarrassment mirrored my own. Her face was just as red and her mannerisms just as skittish as my own. For her, having other ‘Grown-Ups’ hear me call her by her first name was akin to her signaling to any given passerby that I was sitting in wet pants. Weird, right?

We both inhaled through our mouths and then exhaled through our noses before either of us continued. “Okay,” she said. “You don’t like using your pacifier because it embarrasses you.” She said softly.

“True.”

“Even though it helps you self-soothe and everybody else in your class does it.”

“Extremely debatable.”

She kept going. “It also embarrasses me when you call me by my first name, especially in public.”

“Uh-huh.”

“But I’m not going to purposefully silence you by getting one of those inflatable pacifiers.”

I was actually quite thankful for that. “Good.”

Produce started going by on the periphery. We were walking and talking. “I’m not going to spank you, either.”

“Good.”

“So I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do to get you to do what you promised.” There was no inkling of threat.

I shrugged. “Sucks to be you, I guess.”

“If I can’t trust you to keep your word, how can I trust you with anything?” She countered. “Grading papers? Telling me about your day? Whether your teachers are being nice to you? Whether or not you know you need to go to the bathroom? I have to trust you, baby.”

I bristled at being called that. She shouldn’t trust me. Yet thinking back on Little Voices and the game with the feathers, I needed her to trust me. “What do you suggest?”

“How about, from now on, you don’t have to suck your pacifier…”

I wasn’t falling into this trap a second time. “Unless?”

“Unless you call me Ja-” she stopped herself, “Unless you call me something other than ‘Mommy’.” Damn, I was hoping to get her on that technicality. She was learning. “If you call me something other than ‘Mommy’ in public you have to keep your pacifier in your mouth until I think I can trust you to talk.” Then she tacked on, “Unless you don’t think you can do it…”

“You’re trying to use my competitiveness against me.” Actually I was kind of impressed.

The right side of her mouth creeped up into a smirk. “It’s working, isn’t it?”

My lip curled and I gave Lion one last squeeze. I put him back to my side. “Kind of. Deal.”

She offered her hand out to me, almost like we were equals. I took it and shook it, even though her palm literally dwarfed mine. “Deal.”

The shopping trip continued, as one might expect: Janet took stuff off of shelves and pretended to examine them when she knew full well what she was going to buy anyways, and then placed it in the cart. Once or twice I had the opportunity to grab some random item and toss it in among the growing pile, but that line about ‘trust’ had caused me to hesitate. I instead took the opportunity of knowing she wasn’t looking directly at me to empty out more of that morning’s apple juice, wincing as I sat back and felt the dampness go past my taint.

Janet really was playing me.

There was no rhyme or reason to how she shopped, as far as I could tell. Where other people might make a list and slowly walk through the store, aisle by aisle, scanning the shelves for whatever they might have on a list, Janet did the exact opposite. She’d look on the list she’d made and try to find the corresponding section of the store. Then she’d zero in on it and move on, even if there was another item we needed somewhere down the list. Lots of “Oops, we need this”, or “Almost forgot that.” I almost wanted to help.

When we got to the cereal aisle, she deigned to ask my opinion. “So what do you want for breakfast tomorrow?”

“Breakfast shakes.”

Janet seemed to hem and haw over something. She didn’t want to tell me now, but she wanted to pivot. “Mrs. Beouf says you’re a very good eater at school.”

“Did she tell you that if I’m not I’m not allowed to leave? Even if I’ve pooped and am sitting in my mess? Even if I”m keeping all the others waiting?” I let out a huff and stared back at Lion as if he were sharing in my commiseration.

“She did, actually,” Janet replied. “She said she’s going to be fixing that…”

A creeping feeling worked its way into my head. “When did she…?”

“The first day that you got to bring Lion to school.” That hadn’t come up around me when Beouf was giving her daily report. More confirmation that my ex-friends were talking about me behind my back.

Janet didn’t give me time to sulk. “How about this?” She went and grabbed two cereals off a shelf. The boxes were nearly identical, with the same dopey looking bird hovering a bowl of cereal that two cartoon children were wolfing down. The only difference was that in one box, the bird and cereal were pink and in the other they were both brown. “Chocolate or Strawberry?”

“Do I have to eat it with goat’s milk?” I asked.

“That or have it dry.”

“Chocolate,” I said.

The winding zig-zag trip went on and on. Janet included me in a few more choices. What type of peanut butter, what flavor jelly, what flavor ice cream to get for dessert did I want raisins or dried bananas as a healthy snack; that sort of thing. Then came the part I’d been dreading. I knew it had been coming. Janet had saved it for last, on purpose no doubt.

Cleaners, paper towels and garbage bags zoomed by, and the cart U-Turned into the next aisle. Packages and packages containing pictures of babies and adult Littles smiled out at me with unblinking eyes and silly rictus grins. I looked past Janet’s head and read the hanging sign above the row. Disposable Diapers, Training Pants, Formula, Baby Food, Baby Wipes, Baby Needs.

I quickly took in the displays and started trying not to lose my temper. The jars of mush had pictures of actual infants on them. The buckets of formula were specially marketed for either “Littles” or “Infants”, kind of like how different brands of dog chow specialized in large or small breeds. The packages and boxes of diapers had a nearly fifty-fifty split on whether a Little was depicted on them or not, often within the same brand and size.

Yet another example of typical Amazon propaganda: It was supposed to be the Baby Needs section, but ‘Little’ and ‘Baby’ were practically interchangeable here. Meanwhile, any incontinence product that could fit on one of the giants was discretely stashed away with the tampons, maxi-pads and other hygiene products closest to the store’s pharmacy. ‘Incontinence’ hadn’t even been on any of the signs.

A body would have to know where those diapers were and find them in their discreet packaging at the very end of the row near the back. The most embarrassing thing on them were the pictures of the plain white and gray pull-up diapers themselves.

My diapers were out in the open with half a dozen other Littles faces attached to them, forced to pretend that they were super happy waddling and crawling around in garments they’d long since outgrown. How much of the pain in those Littles’ eyes was just my own reflected back at me?

“Mommy,” I said, “Can we please leave here?” I wasn’t sure whether playing up the M-Word and giving her what she wanted would make her more pliable or not.

“We’re almost done, baby, just a few more things.” The cart sped up for a few strides until we were right in the thick of it. She wasn’t oblivious to my discomfort. “Mommy had a lot stocked up before she brought you home, but we’re almost out of diapers.”

I sulked. “I can live with that.”

“But your clothes and bedsheets can’t.” She tossed a small package of Monkeez Nighttime onto the cart pile, and moved a whole heaping box of the daytime ones under the cart. “Barely,” she huffed to herself. I got a good look at the box, both Littles and Amazon infants were featured on opposite yet otherwise identical sides. Turn the baby around one-hundred eighty degrees and you saw the Little in the exact same pose.

“Why can’t we just order them online through an app?” I whined. “Diaper Dash or BabHub or something?”

“We’re already here, hon,” she said. “And those apps get expensive over time. Let’s just get what you need, and get out of here.”

I quietly caved Lion’s skull in. “Fine.” No sense in arguing that I didn’t need them. She was in no mood to hear that song.

She grabbed two smaller packs of diapers. “While we’re here, why don’t we get something different besides Monkeez?”

Something different?! Alarm bells started going off in my brain. “What?” I yelped “Why?”

“Some of these look cute,” she said. “And some might work better than what you’re wearing.” There was just enough space in the cart for her to poke the front of my pants and feel the sodden sopping squish.

For reasons I couldn’t immediately articulate, the thought of being changed into a different style of diaper sent off all kinds of alarm bells. My pulse started racing, and even though we were the only ones in the baby aisle at the time, I felt like the entire store was looking and listening into that conversation right there. I thought I was getting over it. Suffice it to say, becoming numb and desensitized doesn’t happen all at once, nor does it happen at a steady pace or in a straight line.

“A diaper is a diaper,” I said through gritted teeth. “What does it matter how they look? Nobody but you and Beouf or Zoge or Jessica is gonna see them.”

“Not necessarily.”

My face was on fire. “Mommy!”

She took a second to suppress a guffaw. “I’m just saying, Clark. Your diaper isn’t anything to be embarrassed about, and sometimes just a t-shirt and diaper is enough for you. You spend most weekends laying around the house in just your Monkeez. It’s cute!”

Too loud! Way too loud! There were people on the other sides of the shelves. There had to be! And they were hearing every word. About me. In my diapers. I lowered my voice, hoping she would follow my lead. “That’s because that’s all you put me in some days.”

She didn’t follow my lead. “Well if I have to look at your wet and messy diapers when I’m changing you, I think I should have a say in what they look like.” If anything she was getting louder.

“J…Mommy…stop. You’re embarrassing me!”

She quieted herself. “And I keep telling you, baby boy, there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. You’re safe with me. Maturosis is perfectly natural. Just go with it and let it happen.”

I was not convinced. “Easy for you to say.

She pivoted, reached up, and presented two packs, relatively small ones, twenty-four count. Wouldn’t last more than a week, tops. One was blue with hippos on it, and the other was white with smiling cartoon bees on it. “Which one do you want to try? Bee Gees or Hippobottomuses?”

“Why do the bees not have stingers?”

Janet looked at the front of the package, allowing me to see the back: “Leak Free Guarantee” it said, and “For babies of all ages: Little, Tweener, or Amazon.”

“If they had stingers, they’d probably cause leaks,” Janet mused. “That or maybe they’re baby bees. Bay-bees.” She laughed lightly at her own lame pun. “Is that the one you want me to get for you?”

I remembered something from Amy. “Aren’t bees grown, too? Shouldn’t they be Larva-Gees or something if those are supposed to be babies?”

“Clark. You’re stalling.”

My ‘Mommy’ wanted me to stall? Fine. Let’s stall. Lion in hand, threw my arms up into the air. “What do you mean ‘stalling’? I’m just asking quest-IONS?!” Just as planned, my stuffie slipped loose from grasp and went behind me. Far far behind me, skidding almost to the end of the aisle before he stopped. It had been a really good and lucky toss. I did my best to look confused and bewildered. “Lion?! Mommy?”

Janet growled a bit and huffed. “I really shouldn’t…” This was true.

“It was an accident,” I lied.

Had it been the beginning of our outing, Janet might have pushed the cart the twenty or so odd feet over to Lion and picked him up. The cart was full now, and inertia was still a thing. She did what was easier and walked over to my stuffie, bent over, and brought him back. Given how fast and wide her stride was, it wasn’t very long. It was still enough time for me to reach back, grab the pack of night time diapers off the pile in the cart and toss them on the nearest shelf. She wouldn’t miss those until it was too late.

My ex-friend gave me back my stuffie. “If it happens again, he’s staying with me.”

“Yes ma’am.” I cuddled Lion to hide my guilty grin.

“Now,” she said, re-grabbing the two packs. “Which one do you want?”

“Neither.”

She was getting irritated enough that I could see her chewing on her tongue and puffing up her cheeks. “Okay. Let’s try this another way. Do you want the Bee Gees? Yes or no?”

“No.”

“Okay then.” She put the Bee Gees back and put the package of hippo diapers in the cart. “Hippobottomuses it is.”

Those were the type that Amy had been changed into at the zoo. Not my favorite parallel. “Hey! That’s not-!”

“I made it very clear that you were getting one or the other, hon. Those were your choices and you made it.” My cage on wheels was already moving away, down to the other end where the training pants were. None of the kids on the training pants packages were Littles…

“NOOOOOOO! NOOOO! MOMMY! NOOOOOOOOOO!” My impending tirade, likely starting with the word ‘Janet’ was cut off by a child screaming bloody murder. Rounding the corner, dragging along an absolutely distraught child, was a very pregnant Tweener woman. “NOOO! I’M NOT A BABY! I’M NOT A BABY! I’M NOT A LITTLE!”

Oh no. I didn’t have to turn around. I didn’t need to look to see who it was. I shouldn’t have looked. I didn’t want to look.

I did, though.

I recognized them both. His features were chubbier, hers more bird like, but they had the same flaxen hair. “I already told you,” Elmer’s mom said. “We’re not getting the diapers for you, honey. We’re getting them for your sister for when she gets out of my tummy in a few weeks.”

Elmer wasn’t having any of it. “NOOOOOOOO!”

“Janet!” I tried to whisper. “Stop! Turn around! Pl-!” The pacifier went into my lips so fast it might have been a reflex on Janet’s part.

“Ah-ah-ah.” Janet waved her finger at me. Taking her hand off the push bar slowed our roll. “Deal’s a deal.”

My hands impotently jerked at the air and fidgeted as I resisted the urge to take the pacifier out and beg Janet to turn around and take us out and around the back of the store. Doing that might upset Janet. She might say my name and Elmer or his mom would hear. Doing a U-Turn and exiting out the back would give them a better look at my face.

The social invisibility of being ‘just another baby’ wouldn’t work. Not with Elmer and a parent whom I’d actually met. Another no-win situation. I really thought I’d be used to it by this point.

Pleasedon’tseemepleasedon’tseemepleasedon’tseeme. We slowed down. Too slow. Janet was looking at pouches of applesauce and baby food. I started sucking on the pacifier to quiet myself, and burying my face in Lion. Pleasedon’tseemepleasedon’tseemepleasedon’tseeme.

“I know you’re having a rough time at school,” Elmer’s Mom said. “But I promise those training pants we bought are just so that Miss Ambrose doesn’t bother you anymore. No one is gonna turn you into a baby.”

“Or a Little?” Elmer sniffed.

I tensed up. I wish I’d been mistaken. It was Elmer. Should I turn my head more and deliberately look away or would that only draw more attention?

“Or a…” Elmer’s mom gasped. “Mr. Gibs-?!” Three things happened in that moment: I sheepishly peered out from behind Lion, Janet whipped her head around and looked down at the pregnant woman who only came up to her breast and Elmer ducked behind his mother’s legs like it might save him.

“Oh. Hello.” She readjusted her gaze to meet Janet. “I’m sorry. I thought your um…baby was someone else. From behind he looked familiar.”

Janet smiled lightly and nodded, oblivious to the Tweener’s discomfort. “Do you know Clark?”

The woman looked at me sucking on my pacifier and then back to Janet. She was doing the same kind of social calculus in her head that one did when interacting with a stranger Janet’s size. “I think maybe…that is to say I thought…um…I’m really sorry if my child’s screaming bothered you or your baby, ma’am. He’s going through a phase. He’s normally such a good boy.”

From behind his mother, Elmer eeked out a pathetic, “I’m not a baby,” but did his best to stay obscured. Poor kid. He couldn’t articulate it, but he was absolutely terrified to end up like me. Poor me. I hid behind my pacifier and Lion.

“Oh he’s fine. Kids will be kids.” As tall as she was, Janet could see Elmer just fine, much to his dismay. “Say…does your son go to Oakshire Elementary?”

Elmer’s mother placed her hand behind her back and held her son’s hand. “Yes…?”

Janet immediately brightened. “That’s why he looked so familiar! He was part of Clark’s class!” She finally read the look of pure worry on the Tweener’s face. “Oh my goodness,” she said. “I’m so sorry! Janet Grange. I’m a teacher, too. Third grade. Before Clark’s Maturosis expressed I watched his class while he was in meetings once or twice.” She pointed around the mother. “Elroy?”

“Elmer,” his mother corrected. She seemed a bit relieved as it all sunk in. She wasn’t in any real danger to begin with, being pregnant and Janet having me, but a stranger doesn’t seem so strange when they say they’re a teacher at your child’s school.

There was a beat, and then Janet threw a curveball at all three of us. “I’m sorry that this all happened so suddenly,” she told them. “I adopted Clark because I wanted to make sure he got the best care possible. He deserves that much.”

“Yeah…” the Tweener agreed in that way that people do when they’re not sure what else to say. “Mr. Gi…Clark deserved,” she stopped and looked at me, “deserves the best he can get.”

“That doesn’t make it easier,” Janet said. “On anybody. Especially his students. Year’s already started and they’ve got a new teacher all of a sudden. That’s a lot to get used to for a bunch of three and four year olds.”

“There’s definitely been some adjustments.” Elmer’s mom left it at that. “Anyway, I’m just getting some-”

“Can I ask you for some advice, mother to mother? I’m still learning some things.”

The Tweener hesitated. “Uh, I don’t know if I can help, but sure.”

“I’ve got Clark in Monkeez right now,” Janet said, and my heartbeat thudded in my ears so loudly I couldn’t hear the end of the question. Doesn’t mean I didn’t know what it was.

Elmer’s mother pointed near the top shelf. “If you’re looking for other diapers, these new Koddles have a wetness indicator,” she said. “Right down the middle, changes colors when the baby’s wet.”

Janet reached up, just by the training pants and pulled a package down. “Hmmm…Are these for potty training?”

“No, but they could help. Makes it so you can catch it and change him right away.”
The Amazon frowned lightly. Wrong answer. It wasn’t what she wanted to hear. Janet had no interest in letting me pee outside my pants.

“The Hippobottomuses fade when wet, too.”

“Uh…uh…also makes it so it’s easier to check him,” the Tweener woman said. “You can just pull down his pants or pop open a few snaps and see how wet he is by looking at how long the blue line is. A lot easier to see than fade away. Plus they have lots of different decorations on them, Fairy tale creatures and such! Different diapers have different characters on them!” She kept looking at me and I wasn’t sure whether she was silently apologizing for digging me in deeper or whether she thought she might be doing me some kind of favor.

“Hmmm,” Janet considered the small package. “Yeah. That’s worth a shot.” In it went with the blue hippo diapers. By the end of the day I’d have a variety stack under my changing table. “Thank you.” She started to go.

“Ma’am,” Elmer’s mom said to Janet. “Can I say something to your baby for a moment?”

“Of course.”

The Tweener reached up and placed her hand on top of mine. “Thank you,” she said softly. “I’m really glad that you were Elmer’s first teacher. You’ve helped him a lot.” Beouf had said something similar to me after I’d woken up from the bug zapper she’d crammed me into. Beouf was a fucking traitor who chose her worldview over ten years of friendship. This lady who I’d known for a lot less time than Beouf meant it from the bottom of her heart. She was trying to do right by me.

It’s a good thing I had Lion in my other arm and the pacifier in my mouth. If I hadn’t had something to pour the stress I was feeling into just then, I’d have completely burst into tears and started sobbing. I didn’t want Elmer to see me like that. I didn’t want anyone to see me like that. This is why Littles in my class sucked on pacifiers and hugged stuffies. It was either that or completely break down and lose control. The world got blurry and it started getting harder to breathe. I buried my face and looked away.

“Thank you,” Janet said for me. “That means a lot to him.”

“I know.”

Part of me wants to say that’s where the story of my first outing to the grocery store as a ‘baby’ went. It got so much worse though…

I kept suckling on my pacifier and squeezing Lion with every tense muscle in my body. I slammed my eyes shut to keep them from leaking. Based on the feeling in my pants, my eyes weren’t the only thing in danger of leaking; my diaper had passed into that swampy stage.

“That was a lot,” Janet whispered to me. “It’s okay to cry if you want.”

No. It wasn’t. “Mmmm-mmm!” I shook my head.

“That’s fine,” she said, her voice taking on an almost musical, soothing quality, not unlike Zoge but without the accent. “I understand why you broke the rule there. You weren’t being naughty, you were just nervous. You can spit the pacifier out if you want. We can reset. Start over again.”

“Mmm-mmm!”

“Okay,” Janet petted me and I flinched. “That’s fine. Do whatever you want. You’re fine. This is fine.”

I squeezed Lion harder, somehow. I sucked so hard on the rubber nipple in my mouth I briefly thought I might be loosening my front teeth.

Front teeth?!

AMY!

FUCK!

I wasn’t enjoying this at all. It didn’t feel like an accomplishment or malicious compliance or any of the other darkly uplifting victories I’d accrued over the last several weeks. Upon reflection, I don’t even think it was pure contrarianism. It was just some stupid, immature, adolescent part of me now wanted- no, needed- to keep the pacifier in. I needed to feel pain and anguish and hurt. I needed to keep all the pressure up and weighing down on me. I needed to keep that negative feedback loop going and that pressure on, because if I didn’t I’d break down and it wouldn’t feel like a choice.

The cart slowed to a stop and moved forward slowly in jolts. We were in the checkout line. The electronic beeps and boops of the price scanner mixed in with the ambient noise of shoppers entering.

“Daddy! Daddy!” A passing voice called. “I want a that lion! I want a lion like that!” I didn’t open my eyes. The voice came from far away enough that I couldn’t tell if it was a mind fucked Little or an actual kid.

Did it matter?

I finally untensed myself and slowly opened my eyes. The beeping was loudest here, meaning it was our turn. My breathing had slowed. My muscles ached and unclenched, not to mention my mouth. I kept the pacifier in, just in case. I was right to.

“Wow! Lotta stuff here,” a heavy set woman with a nametag that read ‘Maude’ remarked. Her face was double chinned and her hair was snowy white. She was sixty, if she was a day. “All of this for just you two?”

“‘Fraid so,” Janet said. “Had a lot stockpiled up but we’re almost out, so…you know.” Idle and meaningless chit chat at the check out, the great retail tradition. “Everything goes faster with an extra mouth.”

I tried to just gaze off into the middle distance and tune the drivel out, but only succeeded at staring at Janet’s v-neck top. Had her breasts always been that big? I did a double take. They were almost as big as the overweight cashier’s. Was she putting on weight? Stress eating? Because of me? That gave me some good grim feelings.

The cashier’s voice went up almost an octave. “Hi buddy!” she waved. “Are all these just for you?” She indicated the Monkeez and other diapers Janet had gotten while a teenage Tweener was busily bagging it all up. Half a dozen snarky comebacks would beam themselves into my head on the ride back to Janet’s. In the meantime, I retreated into the back of Lion’s mane.

“Seriously,” she said over to Janet, talking in a ‘Grown-Up’ voice again. “Are they all for him? I see a couple different packs. We offer discounts to daycare people. Got some good bargains if you’re buying in bulk.”

Janet smiled, politely, “Oh no. They’re just for him. A box of his old reliables and something different just to try it.”

“He’ll go through them fast enough.”

“Definitely.”

“But that’s okay,” Janet tousled my hair, now even curlier than it had been when she’d first taken me. “When we’re all out, we’ll just get more. Isn’t that right, Clark?”

I was bristeling again, tensing up. People talking over you about you soiling yourself is not something that’s easy to get over.

“I remember when my grandson was his size,” Maude said. “Almost didn’t get him potty trained in time for school. You’ve got the right idea. Just skip it.”

Janet stiffened. “Excuse me?”

“Frankly, I don’t know why we bother potty training them to begin with.” To make her point she waved her hand toward me. “If we didn’t make ‘em, they’d just sit in their diapers all day, perfectly happy.” Her face scrunched up and her voice went squeaky. “Wouldn’t ya, buddy? Wouldn’t ya.” Her fat fingers ringed forward to pinch my cheeks. I leaned away.

All good nature and compassion left Janet’s face. Her countenance transmogrified into stone and her pupils went ablaze with a quiet fury. Then she said the words that every retail worker not-so-secretly dreads “I’m going to need to talk to your manager….”

“Hmm?” Maude said. “I was just saying-”

“Littles are perfectly valid with thoughts and feelings!” She half-shouted. The people behind us in line were starting to back away. Others from out of line were drawing closer to the scene. “Would you say something like that to a chronological chi-?”

“Whoah whoah whoah!” Maude took a step back and held her hands up. “I wasn’t talking about Littles, ma’am. I meant boys! Boys! Men!” A beat. “They’re all like that!”

Complete silence. No one breathed. I took a few pulls from my pacifier.

“Heh.”

“Heh-heh.”

“Haha”

“Hahahahahaha!”

“HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!”

“HAW-HAW-HAW-HAW!”

“Oh my god, you’re so right,” Janet finally said, all tension gone from her. The rest of the checkout line resumed their positions, and Maude kept scanning the items. The awful small talk continued in earnest.

“I swear, if he could get away with it, my husband would wear diapers, too. He’d watch football, drink all the beer, and then make me change him at halftime.”

“Right?!” Janet agreed. “It’s much cuter though when I change Clark during his shows. Right there on the floor so he doesn’t miss anything!”

My pacifier popped out. “Mommy!”

“Sorry, baby.” She wasn’t. Clearly.

“Nothin’ to be embarrassed about, munchkin.” The cashier chuckled. “Your Mommy and me are just havin’ some gal talk.”

“About me!”

The cashier shrugged. “Point taken.” She finished ringing Janet up, and let her swipe her card. “Have a nice day, you two.”

“Thanks!” Janet called back. I chose not to reply.

From the checkout line, the shopping cart should have turned left. We turned right. “Where are we going?”

Janet’s eyes honed in on the restrooms. “Diaper change.”

I looked down at myself. The bulge from my oversaturated Monkeez made it look like I had a water balloon where my underwear should be. Okay. Fair call. I’d done a number on this one.

My dark haired ex-friend ruffled through the grocery bags and took out a fresh packet of baby wipes she’d tossed in with the diapers. She rummaged around the bag. “Just. Gotta. Get. It. Open.”

Open? “J…Mommy?” I stuttered. “Where’s the diaper bag?”

She stood up with a single, bright blue diaper, dotted with cartoonish hippo stencils. “In the car,” she said. “I accidentally left it there when I dug Lion out.”

My everything jumped up into my throat… My forehead started to become as clammy as my Monkeez. “Can we just go change me, “ I gulped, “in the car?”

Fresh diaper in hand, Janet picked me up. “Nope.”

“Can it at least be a Monkeez?”

“I am not breaking open that big box here and now. Do you want me to put you in a night-night diaper?”

The corners of my mouth plummeted. I couldn’t let her go looking for what I’d stashed away. “But…but…but…”

She took me inside the “family restroom”, a smaller room with a single toilet, sink and changing station. It was only slightly bigger than Beouf’s bathroom, and that was because it thought to accommodate space for Amazon sized wheelchairs and such. Janet pulled down the changing station and laid me down. I sat back up.

“Clark? What’s wrong? I’ve changed you in public before.”

I broke out into a sweat and stared past the locked door, imagining Elmer, or his mother, or any number of people who knew me were outside. Waiting. Watching. I’d misdiagnosed my neuroses back in the OT/PT room. I’d been okay with being so exposed, but it had less so to do with the people who saw me like that and more to do with where it was happening.

Oakshire Elementary, for all the anxiety it caused me, was still a place of familiarity and therefore a place of emotional strength. This was a friggin’ grocery store bathroom.

Janet petted my hair. “Clark? Talk to me.”

“No.” That bit of automatic defiance whistled right out.

She picked me back up and I thought I’d won. She was only doing so so she could poke her head out the door and get Lion. “Here.” She sat me so my legs were dangling off the table. “Hold Lion. Maybe he can tell me.”

I shook. I shuddered. “No.”

“Clark. I’m going to change you, one way or another. But I want to know why you’re acting like this. You’re hurting and I want to understand.”

I put Lion in a chokehold. “Because everybody will know, Janet! Everybody will know!”

“Know what? That you just got changed?”

Mutely I nodded, fighting to stay in control.

“I don’t know how to tell you this, honey,” Janet said. “But most people have known for a while now. It’s not a secret. It’s not supposed to be.”

“It was to me!”

Janet cocked her head as if I’d spoken in tongues.

I loosened my grip on Lion but held onto him tight. “All Monkeez look the same. Plain white diaper. Size indicator. Cartoon monkeys on the front.”

“Uh-huh…” She wasn’t getting it. To be fair, I hadn’t gotten it until I’d started saying it just then.

“So when I get changed, I get to pretend, even if it’s just to myself, even for just a second, that I’m wearing the same…” I blushed. “You know…”

“And if I put you in a blue hippo diaper,” Janet said, “you can’t pretend that anymore.”

I hung my head. It was so stupid. “And one of my kids is out there. And he’s scared of being a Little and being a baby because Ambrose put him in a diaper and…and…” I closed off Lion’s windpipe just as my own airflow started getting more and more difficult.

Janet- my jailer, my tormentor, my confidant- said nothing. I hadn’t realized that I’d shut my eyes again until I felt her lean in and hug me. I didn’t hug her back, but I didn’t shove her off either.

“It’s okay,” she cooed softly to me. “He’s gone. He left with his mother.” It was a lie. She had no way of knowing. But those words were the ones that I needed to hear just then. “He won’t see you. He won’t know. You’ve got your overalls on. Nobody will know. And if anybody out there asks, I’ll lie and tell them that you went potty like a big boy.”

I pulled back from her bosom just so I could see the look in her face. It was crazy. But it was also kind; compassionate even. “You’d do that?”

“Of course.” Slowly she guided me back into a lying position. “Let’s get you comfy.”

Keeping Lion close to my chest, I closed my eyes and pretended this was any other day. I’d never admit it out loud, and I’d trade so much to be rid of the forced necessity, but sometimes a good diaper change felt like a mini-spa day. I felt, more than heard, the poppers up my legs come undone, followed by the bathroom air traveling up past my knees and tickling the backs of my sweaty thighs.
What I did hear was a very uncomfortable “Oooof…”

I lifted my head and looked down at my body. “What?”

Janet sucked on her teeth and put a hand on my chest. That wasn’t sweat on the back of my thighs. “You leaked.”

My body started thrashing, twisting and kicking itself against Janet’s gigantic strength. “No! No! No! No! Stop! Stop! Don’t!”

“Clark, I’m sorry. I need to take your overalls off.”

“No!” I screamed “No! Change me! Just change me and put them back on!” My hands gripped at her wrist, as if that would do anything

Her free hand unbuckled the shoulders. “I’m sorry kiddo. I can’t let you sit in leaked in pee-pee clothes. Not in good conscience.”

“Fuck your conscience!” I yelled up. My fighting was nothing to her. My struggling only made it so she had to switch hands once or twice, stripping me down to just a t-shirt and destroyed Monkeez. She switched a second time pulling the changing station’s strap over my chest, and pulling it taught.

She flapped out the overalls like a towel and held them up to the light. “Look,” she said. “You see these spots?” Two massive crescent moon shaped patches discolored the blue and white pinstripes just below where my ass would have been. “If anyone saw these, they’d know that you leaked.”

“No one would see them with me in the cart.” I spat

“They might in the parking light or just as we come out of the bathroom.” She was already folding them up and placing them on the sink. “They won’t see much of your new diaper either. This isn’t up for discussion.”

“I hate you.”

She picked up Lion from the floor where my struggling had sent him. “You know I’m right. You can suck on your pacifier if you want to scream.” Lion went back to me. She carefully inserted the pacifier back into my mouth. “Be brave. For Lion.”

“Uh hayph yuh.”

“I know.”

I tried not to look while she ripped the tapes off and started wiping my groin. I covered Lion’s eyes when my ankles were crossed and Janet started caressing the back of my legs all the way down to the crack of my ass. I suckled a little harder and flinched when the wipe made it’s way between my cheeks, just in case.
“Almost done.”

The new, blue diaper was slid underneath me before my ankles were released. She’d gotten good at unfolding them one handed. I watched in silent horror as Janet carefully pulled it up between my legs. “This one’s cut a little differently.” She had to lift my legs back up and adjust. I could only lay in quiet agony.

It was the first day all over again. They would know. They would all know. Everyone.

I watched as the Hippobottomuses took shape around me and Janet pulled the tapes taught, going so far as to smooth them out. “All done.”

Clean and dry, I felt grosser than I did when I’d been wallowing in my piss. I was wearing a beacon now. A crinkly happy blue marker that broadcast my infantile state even more. “Cheer up,” Janet told me. “My underwear looks different from day to day, too.” My expression said enough. “Sorry…”

We didn’t leave the bathroom right away. No one was knocking, or jiggling the handle, trying to get in, and frankly I didn’t care if someone stole from our shopping cart. Maybe they’d make off with the new diapers. Janet unbuckled me and just held me for about half a minute.

I’d run out of words. So had Lion.

“You’re being really brave.” Janet told me. “How about when we get home, you can help me grade some papers?”

I liked that idea. Needed it after this ordeal. Something quiet. Something that I could control. Something that I was good at besides stealth peeing and annoying Amazons. Silently, I nodded, gently nuzzling Janet’s shoulder.

“Let’s get you home.”

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Poor Clark, beaten down harder than the first time. I have lost a great deal of any warm feelings that I might have been growing toward Janet. The way she shopped was designed to waste as much time as she could, just to make sure a diaper change would be needed after “forgetting” the diaper bag too. Clark was so wound up at this that he missed the comment about maybe Loin could tell her what was wrong. so yeah the whole bit in class about the idea of the “GROWNUPS” listening to the complaints when the littles saying those things would at best been ignored and for likely punished for the thoughts and feeling or the statements would have been used as more proof of their Maturosis. I really feel bad for Elmer and for Clark right now.

Looking forward to new chapters

Chapter 72: Things Get Better For Worse

As usual, the sun wasn’t up when I got into Mrs.Beouf’s room first thing in the morning. Neither was Beouf. “Sorry Ms. Grange,” Zoge said to Janet. “Mrs. Beouf is already up front.”

“No problem.” Janet said. “Should I give her Lion there or just leave him with Clark?” she patted the diaper bag. Lion’s head was poking out of it.

“Mrs. Beouf would be best, I think.” She looked down at me and then at Ivy. “Even if we have favorites, we shouldn’t play favorites.”

“Yeah…” Janet blushed. “We are kind of biased, aren’t we?”

I rubbed the corner of my eyes, and yawned. Give me the damned stuffie or don’t. Just quit talking about it.

“Maybe we should do a playdate some day.” Janet suggested.

“I think Ivy would like that.”

I was too tired to argue. I would’ve thought I’d be used to being up this early without coffee. Not so, evidently. It didn’t help that after the store, I’d redoubled my efforts in trying to keep Janet awake via baby monitor. “Eight minutes” I said, after checking.the wall clock.

My captor was kind enough to take the hint. “Bye Clark,”she said. “Be good. Mommy loves you.”
As was tradition I did not reply, just stood there while she kissed me on the temple and trotted off, diaper bag in tow.

Zoge closed the door and looked directly at me. “We’re going to have lots of fun today, Clark.”

No we weren’t. I might have lots of fun, or they might have lots of fun, but we weren’t going to have any fun. Our respective sources of amusement were at completely cross purposes. “Okay.” I yawned. “Whatever.”

Ivy crinkled up and pulled on her Mommy’s skirt. “Mommy! Mommy!” she said. “Can I be green? I want to be green!” They were making green diapers now? I yanked up the toddler shorts over the plain white waistband of my Monkeez. It would slip back out with just a few steps, I knew, but it was all I could do to keep myself cognizant of my surroundings.

Janet had had the kindness to keep me out of Hippobottomuses or Koddles the rest of the weekend. They hadn’t been uncomfortable as far as diapers went, but hang-ups don’t go away that easily. Watching the hippo stencils disappear when I’d wet was kind of disturbing; like it was rubbing my forced accident in my face. Just then, I had the realization that I was learning to differentiate between different brands of diapers. Fuck my life.

“Pleeeease, Mommy. Can I be Green?” Ivy pressed. She added in what I could only assume was the same plea but in Yamatoan.”

Zoge brushed her pet’s hair out of her face with her hand. “Very well, my love. You can be green when we get to the buses.” She added, “As long as you clean up the dollhouse before we go.” The crack that followed was either Ivy’s underwear being extra crinkly or her breaking the sound barrier to tidy up Beouf’s play area.

That woke me up. No way were they talking about diaper changes during pick up. That begged the question: What were they talking about? What kind of ‘fun’ was Beouf planning for us?

One way or another I was doomed to find out. Ivy finished cleaning up the mess she’d made before my arrival and then waited by the door like it was the entrance for a roller coaster ride. Typical teacher’s pet.

“Come along, children,” Zoge said three minutes before the bell. My body on autopilot, I took Ivy’s hand, she took Zoge’s, and we walked out

“Ivy,” I asked. “What’s going on?”

“It’s a surprise!” she said. “You’ll see.”

“Come on,” I whispered. “How about a hint?”

“Nope, nope, nope.”

My anxiety and my competitiveness were mixing together to make a cocktail. If we were going to find out as soon as we got to the bus, I wanted to know at least thirty seconds before those cheese wagon doors flung open… I needed to.

“Okay,” I coaxed. “I get it. You don’t really know.”

“Clark…” Zoge let out a warning. “You’ll find out in just a minute, baby.” Even whispering, it’s hard to go undetected when the guard is holding the hand of your chief informant’s other hand.

“You’ll find out when we get there.” Ivy echoed. To punctuate it, she stuck her tongue out at me.

“Ivy!”

“Sorry, Mommy.” I was beginning to see why Amy bit her.

I didn’t need to coax a hint from Ivy afterall. As soon as we rounded the corner. I started to piece things together. The surprise wasn’t something that could be hidden. Standing there in the dawn light as the buses were rolling in, Beouf had a white mesh bag slung over her right shoulder. Seeing Lion tucked under her left arm, it didn’t take a second to figure out what was in the bag. Beouf was going all in on the stuffies today. The plush faux animals, save mine, had been emptied from her closet and decorative areas and then shoved in the bag. I could see rounded paws and heads pressing out from the inside like balled up diapers on the inside of a pail.

Something wasn’t adding up. What did this have to do with Ivy being ‘green’?

“Morning, Mrs. Zoge!” Beouf said as we closed.the distance. “Morning kids! Ready to try something new?”

I was not.

“Uh-huh!” Ivy bounced.

Beouf put Lion and the bag down at her feet and opened it. That’s when the final piece presented itself. A long, flat, blue nylon rope came out of the bag first “Hook ‘em up.” Beouf said. She tossed a rolled up length to Zoge.

“I want to be green! I want to be green!” Ivy let go of her Mommy’s hand, but kept me bolted to her.

“Of course, my love,” she said. “You can be green.” She unrolled the rope, so new and stiff it was just barely out of the packaging.

It wasn’t just one rope. The main length of nylon ran straight through with a loop at either side, big enough to fit comfortably in an Amazons’ hands. Threaded in and intersected throughout the main rope were shorter sections of rope, made from the same sturdy material, but colored differently: red, orange, yellow, green, and purple. The ends of these ropes were loops too, only the loops could be fastened and adjusted with buckles.

Beouf already had access to communal high-chairs. Now she’d gotten whole-group toddler leashes.

Zoge knelt down and buckled and end the emerald green tether around Ivy’s waist. “There you go. I’ve got a green girl.”

Ivy let go of my hand. “I don’t have to be line leader if I don’t want to any more!” Ivy beamed. Green was second to last, closer to Beouf’s end than Zoge’s.

I met her with a scowl. “Good for you.”

Zoge stepped over the mass of nylon, and held up the other end of the green tether. “Hold still, Clark.”

Even if I didn’t have to hold her hand, I’d be chained to the biggest mind fucked Little in a mile radius. “Can I have purple instead?”

Still kneeling, Zoge dropped the rope and moved me back one row. “How’s this?” She didn’t wait to start buckling me into my restraint.

I took a moment and examined what I was being bound into. It was tight, but it fastened on like a belt; no shoulder or leg harnesses. “Good.”

The buses had started filing in. The Little transport, even if it came in last, got there plenty fast. The rest of the class came out of the bus in twos with reactions ranging from curious to awestruck while they were moved from sitting restraints on the bus to standing ones on the sidewalk.

“Cool!”.

“Neat!”

“Yellow! Can I be yellow Mrs. B?”

Soon, like the lost Little Animals in the story of Moses’s Ark, we were lined up two by two, tethered by rainbow rope. There was enough slack in it so that even Chaz in his stroller could be tethered. A real daisy chain gang.

“Gibson!” Billy yelled to me. “Look! No hands!” LIke an idiot he wiggled his wrists and grinned like he was doing a beginner’s dance class. I didn’t so much as try to hide my contempt. “What’s your problem?”

Billy was at the front. Everyone could hear him.

Screw it. “They’re treating us like idiots!” I shouted back. “Too dumb to even hold hands!”

Beouf caught my reply. “That’s not true at all,” Beouf said. “We did this for you guys.”

“Yeah right…” I huffed.

“Just listen and wait.” Beouf said. “Mrs. Zoge?” The two opened up the bag and started passing out the stuffed animals. Lion was last. “Everyone got their stuffed friends?” Beouf asked.

Everyone nodded. Some cuddled and nuzzled the inanimate objects in their hands like they were actual pets.

“We’re trying something new this week.” Beouf said. The buses had hauled off, and her voice rang out in the morning air. “If you like it, we can keep doing it. If you don’t, we’ll go back to holding hands.”

“What are we doing?” Tommy asked. He didn’t even raise his hand, the mass of cotton he was hugging preoccupied him.

“We’re going to breakfast,” Beouf said. “Just like every other day. We’re trying this because when your stuffies talked to us they said there were some problems. Mrs. Zoge and I are fixing some of those problems.”

“Isn’t this gonna take longer?” Jesse called out, his voice a hungry whine.

“Not if we get good at it and everyone cooperates.” I waited for Beouf to shoot me a warning look. None came. “The cafeteria will wait for us. So will the buses.”

“Why do we have the stuffies now?” Mandy yelled out.

“In case your stuffies want to tell us more,” Beouf said simply, smiling like she was enjoying herself.

“Can we still hold hands if we want to?” Annie asked.

“If the person you’re holding hands with is okay with it, sure.”

Billy and Annie immediately shifted their animals and interweaved their fingers together.

“We’ll find out more as we go. Let’s go.”

Beouf took her position pushing Chaz’s umbrella stroller and held the back end of the group’s walking rope. I walked along, faintly listening to the adulations of my so-called peers.

They saw increased freedom. I saw the truth: We’d been demoted ever further. Now we were babies incapable of self regulation and needing to cuddle stuffed animals just to get from one place to another. That’s how the rest of the school, the rest of the world would see us. We were no longer trusted with holding each other prisoner, and now the only luxury we were receiving in turn was the ability to hold both hands in front of us.

“What are we gonna do?” I looked down at Lion and realized that I wasn’t exactly talking to myself.

“You dropped Lion,” Beouf said behind me. She didn’t even have to break her stride to pick him up off the pavement. “That’s okay. I’ll hold onto him.”

Still walking, I yanked my shorts up again. Elastic waistbands and smooth plastic over bulky padding were not a great combination. Everyone else still lacked the freedom to make such micro adjustments. You couldn’t pull up your shorts or pull down the hem of your dress, or futilely tug out at the bottom sides of a onesie if you were holding a stuffed animal all the time. Couldn’t do it when holding hands either, but hand holding stopped once we got to our location.

“Did Brollish get you the money for these?” I asked Beouf.

“Nope.” Beouf said. “Bought this myself. Do you like it?”

We both knew the answer to that. “Are the stuffies coming with us to lunch?” I was careful not to say ‘our stuffies’.

“If you’re good.”

“What happens if we’re eating messy food?”

“We’ll put them somewhere safe where they won’t get messy.”

So she was giving us a voice and adding emotional value to the stuffed animals, and also controlling when we could use that voice. I peered up front. Annie and Billy were making their toys make out with each other. Chaz was headbutting his.

Was I losing them? Had the stuffies been tampered with? Given some kind of addictive pheromone spray? Was that even a thing?

The surprises didn’t stop when we got to the cafeteria. The food carts had already been brought out. Dry cereal on top. Bottles of milk in the middle. And on the very bottom of the cart.

“Diapers?!” Shauna screeched loud enough for everyone who hadn’t straggled off to class yet.

The Amazons kept fielding questions as they switched us from rope to highchair. “Only for emergencies,” Zoge said. “Like if we think you’re about to leak or something.”

“Or if you poop as soon as you sit down…” Annie glared at Billy.

Billy shrugged like it was nothing.

“Emergencies only,” Zoge reiterated. “Only if we think you need it. If you poop and we’re almost done with breakfast, you’ll just have to wait for Circle Time just like everybody else.”

“No complaining if you don’t like color or decoration either,” Beouf said. “It’s just like the changing table in our room. You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.”

I shook and turned beet red from my seat. In addition to the highchairs and bottles of milk, everyone in the cafeteria would be associating us with stuffed animals, and stacks of diapers.

“Why didn’t you do this before?” Sandra Lynn asked, surprising me.

Beouf kept peeling back cereal lids. “Honestly? I didn’t think of it. Listening to your stuffies gave me and Mrs. Zoge ideas on how to better teach and help everyone.”

“We couldn’t have done some of this before this year,” Zoge chimed in. “We couldn’t take kids away to change them before. Not in here. Not with those rickety old high chairs.” She sat down at her spot in the center, seeming content.

“Yeah,” Beouf agreed. “A real ‘all hands on deck’ thing.” She passed out the cereal, and most of us immediately started picking at it with their hands. No spoons offered or asked for. “I’m glad we had that teachable moment with Miss Skinner last week.”

“Me too.”

“Me too.”

“Me too.”

“Me too.”

“Me too.”

“Me too.”

Only one of those replies was from Zoge. Only one of the echoes was from Ivy. Bread and circuses: They were tricking us into giving up our adulthood by making our infancy slightly more comfortable. I pushed the cereal away, having lost my appetite.

“At least drink your milk,” Beouf shoved a bottle of milk in my face. “I’m not going to make you eat the whole thing, but you gotta have something for breakfast, bubba.” I saw that glint in her eyes. She was compromising, but would only compromise so far. Either I’d take the bottle or she’d hold it in my mouth for me.

I took it and started sipping on the cold cow juice, literally drowning my sorrows. I wasn’t the only one capable of malicious compliance, it seemed.

“Thank you, Clip Clop!” Sandra Lynn hugged her stupid horse. “This is so much better!”

A chain reaction immediately followed.

“Thank you, Chomper.”

“Thanks, Rex!

“Thank you, Pam!”

The Amazons shared pearly white smiles with each other, clearly pleased as punch.

I tilted the bottle back, lest spontaneous stupidity become expected. I couldn’t be told to say ‘thank you’ to Lion if my mouth was busy working a rubber teat. The pacifier took its place when I wasn’t thirsty.

“Clark? Do you want Lion?”

Vehemently, I shook my head. “Aw,” Beouf cooed. “So sad. But that’s okay.” It was okay for Beouf. Everyone else was having side conversations with one another. Not about things that they missed, or terrible trespasses that had been done to them over the weekend, not the kind of things that I liked to talk about.

“Mookie is from outer space, he knows a form of martial arts that is impossible to do with bones. That’s why he doesn’t have any.”

“Hansen has a beautiful singing voice, but they’re very shy.”

“They?”

“Yes. They.”

“Cool. What kind of songs do they like to sing?”

They were building fucking elaborate backstories to their fictional friends. I could have sworn it was Thursday night. Meanwhile I could only sit back, fume, and pee my pants.

It got empty and quiet enough in the cafeteria to where everyone could hear everyone else. The Littles talked amongst each other and their new toys, while Zoge and Beouf took turns wiping down tables, faces, and hands. The preschoolers ate with disciplined silence, with Tracy giving them quiet nudges of encouragement. Ambrose stood at the head, glowering the entire time.

We were being tricked into acting far more childish than we should have, and three year olds more closely resembled inmates in a supermax. It was enough to make me want to rip my own eyes and ears out.

“I love you, Jessennia!” Ivy hugged the octopus in between bites.

“I thought his name was Akka,” Beouf said.

“It was. But Clark told me his name was Jessennia.”

“Clark isn’t right about everything,” Beouf said. “That’s your stuffie now. You can call him what you want.”

‘Clark isn’t right about everything’? More like ‘Clark doesn’t control the narrative like we do’. I felt like screaming. I dropped the paci and searched for the plastic bowl of dried cereal to fling into the air. No such luck, unfortunately. Beouf had been careful to move it out of my reach.

Damn.

Ivy looked at the purple octopus with the top hat and wire rim monocle. “No. I think he’s right this time. Clark?” she called over to me. “Do you wanna teach me how to do an Albienese accent so I can copy what Jessennia is saying better?”

I started to say ‘yes’, then corrected myself. “Nope.”

“Oh…okay.”

“Don’t worry, dear.” Zoge said. “Clark’s just a little grouchy this morning. He gets like that sometimes.”

“He always has,” Beouf agreed. “But he’ll come around. He always does.”

“They always do,” Zoge nodded. She gave Sandra Lynn a quick pinch on the cheek.

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Chapter 73: Off The Mark

By Tuesday afternoon my frustration had begun to reach a boiling point. “Really?” I said to my group behind the big oak tree. “You guys are really buying into this?” All three held their stuffed animals tight. Even Chaz had perfected a kind of tripod crawl so he could keep his close to his chest.

“Not really,” Annie said. “We’re just going with it. Using it to our advantage. Like you taught us.”

THat last part was like raking nails across a chalkboard and calling it classic rock. “How the fuck is playing with stuffed animals using it to our advantage?”

“How else can we fuckin’ swear and get away with it?” Billy replied. I might have taken him seriously except he made his stuffed T-Rex bob up and down and talked in a cartoonish growly voice when he said it. Sonofabitch thought he was being clever.

Or…

Frustrated, I dragged my palm over my face. “By swearing.” I said. “Like a normal fucking adult.”

“Did you say that, or did Lion?”

Billy’s question made me look down at my own stuffed animal, hanging by a paw from my right hand. We were being forced to carry them everywhere. We carried them from the bus to the cafeteria, and back to the classroom. They were in our laps during Circle Time and in our arms on the changing table. We had to carry them and sit them in front of us or beside us at the different stations during center rotations.

I’d lost count of how many times I’d ‘accidentally’ left Lion behind. Beouf and Zoge were always there to pick him up. My protest went unnoticed because enough of the others accidentally left theirs too. Even Ivy. It got to the point where Beouf and Zoge started walking me from one station, checking my visual schedule, and to the next holding Lion for me. It was impossible to get rid of the furry little bastard.

I let him drop to the dust and grass. “The Amazons aren’t around right now, guys. Why are you still pretending?” I took two steps around the base of the tree to get a decent view of the rest of the playground. “Tommy and Jesse are making theirs fly around like superheroes. The girls are having some kind of tea party with theirs, and you assholes are still-”

“Hey,” Annie interrupted, “I’m a girl!”

I huffed and rolled my eyes. “I know, Annie. I meant the other girls. The ones who want to get more mindfucked instead of just regular fucked. That’s all well and good for them. Most of them are at least fifty-one percent of the way there.” I leveled a finger at her. “Why are you still playing with dolls? Why are you doing what you want them to do?”

Billy pouted his lip out. “But we tried that. There’s no wrong way to play with them.” To their credit, all three had made a game of stalling by ‘forgetting’ their stuffies at first, and crawling and waddling back to the last station or center to get them. The Amazons had developed infinite fucking patience on the matter; probably because they had all the time in the world. Real teachers had curriculum maps and big benchmark assessments to worry about. Even a Kindergarten teacher was pressured to make sure their students were sufficiently caught up so they were ready for first grade. Every minute counted in a way.

There was no catching up for us. Ever. So what did five minutes here and five minutes there matter as long as we were behaving within certain parameters?

“Then we shouldn’t be playing with them any more than they make us play with them! Malicious compliance!” It was taking a supreme degree of self control for me not to raise my voice and shout the obvious truth at them.

“You’re the one who said we couldn’t win,” Chaz said. “We can’t escape. Why not make things easier on ourselves?”

I felt myself tugging at my hair. “Because it’s not about making things easier on ourselves. It’s about making things harder on them!” Why couldn’t they see it?

“That’s not what you told me last year.”

“We’re being patient about it,” Annie said. “We’re doing what we’ve talked about. We’re playing along. Looking for openings.” Her argument would have held more weight with me if she weren’t playing with her rag doll’s hair the entire time.

“What if there are no openings with this? What if this is just a trap meant to string you along into accepting your role? Like with Sosa and the boxes?”

Chaz huffed. “So what? This is the first time where I’m able to say something and the Amazons listen, or at least let me talk. I got second helpings at lunch today because I said Chomper was hungry too.”

“Ella got me changed an extra time this morning,” Annie said. “Mrs. Zoge even let me pick the decoration on the next diaper. She normally only does that for Ivy.”

“And you want to be treated more like Ivy because…?”

They had no answer for me. There was a collective shrug. I just turned and walked away, straight for the bench where Zoge and Beouf were. They were potentially better company than what I’d been dealt.

“Everything okay, Clark?” Beouf asked as I approached.

“Yeah.” I lied. I sat down on the ground next to their bench.

“You don’t want to play with your friends?” Beouf asked. “This is your time.”

“I’m well aware,” I snipped. “I just need some quiet. Assuming that’s okay with you.”

Beouf arched an eyebrow; suspicious. “It’s your time, buddy. Just wondering if you had a sad feeling or something.”

“No ma’am. I’m fine.” I made no eye contact. Just glared into the middle distance, trying to get lost in my own thoughts.

Billy came trotting up with Lion. “Hey Clark,” he said to me. “You forgot this.” He didn’t wait to hand my stuffed animal to me. My face fell. Not only because I was not-so-secretly hoping to be invited back and apologized to, but also because it had been the longest time since Billy had called me anything but ‘Gibson’. I liked hearing my old last name.

“Awww,” Zoge remarked from her spot on the bench. “That’s so nice of you, Billy. What do you say, Clark?”

I breathed deep. “Thank you.” Fuck you, Billy.

“No problem!” You too, buddy. You too.

He went waddling back off to his trio. The A.L.L. was more than fraying; we were falling apart, and if I didn’t do something soon, we’d be joining the rest of the class in a toddlerized haze

“Mrs. B.?” I looked up to catch her face. “Does the name ‘Amy Madra’ mean anything to you?”

I was hoping for a flash of surprise or shock from Beouf. I wanted to send her into a flashback like a survivor of a brutal war. I was so keyed into her facial tics that any kind of micro expression would have lit up like a solar flare for me. Eyes widening; nostrils flaring; a sudden exhale; or a clenched jaw. I got none of that. Nothing.

Her face was a mask of pleasant matronly professionalism. She was ready. “Yes, honey. She was a student of mine a few years ago. I think you met her, too. She went to your room for a timeout once.”

“That doesn’t narrow it down.” Zoge chimed in.

“Are you friends with her now?” Beouf asked.

“No,” I said. “Just wondering.”

It was unnerving how at ease she was. “Okie dokie. Tell her I said hi next time you see her.”

Damn.


Wednesday morning was no better for my mood.

“You look…chipper.” I said to Sosa.

“Thank you, Mr. Grange.” Sosa chirped back at me. “I’m feeling really good today.”

I kept my eyes down, trying to cut out an overly complex shape using completely fucked up scissors. Unlike normal scissors, the blades stayed closed while the handles were forced open. Pressing down on one end would open the other, kind of like the business end of jumper cables. Just like said alligator clips, the blades would snap closed automatically, and because it was Amazonian it took a relatively large amount of pressure for Little hands to bring the two handles together.

One had to squeeze the handles together with a gorilla grip to open the blades, move the scissors to the next point that needed to be cut and then gently release just in case the cut over shot its mark. It felt like the finger equivalent of doing bench presses. To add insult to energy, the damn thing was decorated with a green plastic coating over the blades with scales and eyes drawn on so it looked like an alligator.

“Is Ivy good at this?” I wondered aloud, trying not to stress.

“She’s very good at it.” Sosa told me. “That’s why she doesn’t have any therapies.”

“Maybe that’s why she’s so strong,” I grumbled. This was a stalling tactic on my part. I’d reached a part of the shape where the margin for error was so small, one miscalculation and I’d chop the bizarre modern art on construction paper in two. I could have done it well enough with a regular pair of scissors, but the croc-scissors added an unnecessary level of difficulty.

Typical.

Sosa smirked. “Pfft. Ivy’s not that strong.”

“Maybe not to you,” I growled.

“Then keep on cutting, and maybe you can get as strong as her.” Sosa replied. “Or do you want my help?”

Not this again. I pivoted the conversation. “So why are you in such a good mood?”

The brightest, most non-malicious, most genuine smile lit up Sosa’s face. “I got a new pet.” She seemed so excited to talk about it that I almost felt like vomiting. There was something I hadn’t thought about: Kids that vomit automatically get sent home for the day. More than diarrhea or even fever, School Board policy was particularly squeamish when it came to one’s food going back up the way it came in.

My mouth twisted, and I pretended to concentrate on cutting; impotently opening and closing the blades. “A dog?”

“Nope.” Sosa said. “A birdy. A Rocaw.” I twitched and the blades tore the cut out up accidently. She wasn’t supposed to get that bird! Winters was supposed to get her dog! “Oops. It’s okay. I’ve got extra. We can start again. Do you want me to get you started? I can take over for a bit.”

“No thanks.” I took the cutting sheet and started over, my fingers long since aching. “How’d you-?” No. I couldn’t lead with that. “Is that why you looked tired last week? The bird keeping you up?” Internally, I was hoping she’d slip up and give me a sneak preview into the fight they must have gone through for her to get her way.

Amazons hurting Amazons. Just a hint, just a taste would lift my spirits.

“No, he’s an angel. I just got him, too. My friend wanted a dog. But it didn’t work out.”

I saw an opening. “I’m sorry it didn’t work out. Did your boyfriend not like the dog?” Couldn’t let her know I knew as much as I did.

“No…sh-they…she did. It was a good dog. I’m just not much of a dog person.”

Darn. She hadn’t mentioned Winters by name, but there had been hesitation there, nonetheless. Probably just didn’t want a ‘baby’ to know about her personal life. “So what happened?” I prodded. “Did you two argue and yell until one of you figured out who was more of an adult? Did you put her in diapers and decide you were the Mommy in the relationship and that you didn’t want a dumb stinky dog?”

There was the faintest hint of a blush in her Sosa’s cheeks. “Don’t be silly, Clark. That’s not how Grown-Ups settle things.” Bullshit it wasn’t. That’s exactly how adults settled things if they were tall enough. “We had to get rid of the dog because it turns out I’m allergic. That’s why I looked like I did last week. My allergies were flaring like crazy.”

“So your friend let you try the bird…”

“Pretty much. We’re going to work on teaching it how to talk this weekend.”

Well sewn discord undone by common allergies. Well….fuck.

Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!


Such a week so far. Such a shitty week. Nothing had gone to plan. Nothing. I’d started out so strong, too.

Thursday night I sat moping on the Community Center’s nursery floor, sitting with my knees up to my chest and my arms wrapped around. My stomach was poking out. “Damn I need to find a way to exercise again,” I said to myself.

What would be the point, though? Janet would probably like it if I had a pudgier, plumper, rounder baby face. That was reason enough to try a starvation diaper and daily 5k sprint, actually.

Feeling stuck in my angry impotence I wanted to hurt something and make it bleed. If Lion had been real I would have sent him on a rampage, and cackle with glee like a mad Roamin’ Emperor. As he was, I left him crammed in the diaper bag with just his head poking out.

The Little Voices meeting had been particularly grating that night. In no small part because it was Janet’s turn to watch the Littles during the back half of the meeting.

And she was absolutely fucking loving it.

“Missus Clark’s Mommy, can you change me? My diaper bag is the one over there.”

“Of course, dear!”

“Missus Clark’s Mommy, listen to this, I can play the Helga Hogg song on this xylophone almost!”

“That’s beautiful! Would you like to play it again?”

“Missus Clark’s Mommy, do you know any new games to play?”

“I’m afraid I don’t, honey. Do you wanna teach some?”

Janet was positively melting everytime a brainwashed Little waddled up to her to interact. I’m surprised she wasn’t a puddle on the floor with the number of times people referred to her as ‘Clarks’ Mommy’. Her melting would have been preferable, in fact. I might have been able to get away with more were she somehow in a liquid state.

No such luck was coming my way tonight. For as much as Janet was loving on the Littles who wanted her brand of loving, her eyes kept darting back to me. Things were going to get a lot worse. I knew that much instinctively.

The Little Voices meeting provided a sense of strength and community for the Amazons so they could all pat each other on the backs and indoctrinate each other on their preferred methods and attitudes. Nursery duty reinforced those attitudes by giving new Mommies and Daddies a glimpse of what they might achieve if only they stick with the program. It was brilliant in an insidious kind of way. Janet was getting an OD on babified Little dolls and would press me even harder to get her fix.

A terrible intrusive thought: What if they let Mark watch the Littles next? I wanted to throw up a little in my mouth at the idea.

A ping from Janet’s phone and she stopped playing with Pink-Haired Mary long enough to check it. A robotic message jumped out from her speakers proclaiming, “You’ve. Got. Diapers.” She smiled and put the phone back.

She’d taken my advice and gotten more diapers via an app. After she realized she couldn’t find the pack of night time Monkeez I’d tossed out of the shopping cart. Even that petty bit of rebellion had failed. I was a monster hunter who was low on silver bullets and my aim was that of an action movie extra.

“Hi Clark!”

I heaved a weary sigh that was three inches from becoming a yawn. “Hey Amy…” For somebody who crawled everywhere and tended to use thirteen words when five would do she had a way of sneaking up on me lately.

“You okay, bud?”

Her calling me ‘bud’ made me bristle almost as much as an Amazon calling me ‘baby’. “No. I’m tired and I wanna hurt something.”

“Wanna say something witty and super mean to me?”

Not when she just laid it all out there like that. “No.”

“Ah, well then would you like me to tell you how often your average Albienese octopus drinks tea, how many sugars they take in it and what tentacles they take it with? Though I must confess I’m not sure what they do in instead of sticking their pinky out emus have the same problem, or they would if they drank tea, but they fought a war to not hafta, and everybody knows that they prefer ginger beer now cassowaries, and don’t get me started on casso-”

“Amy…” I interrupted. “could you not? Could you please not.”

“Okay.” She hunkered down and rolled over onto her seat. She straightened the bright white floppy bow that matched her crinkling underwear like she was a news anchor straightening papers. “How can I help?”

I need help that week. Even if it was from a complete and total loon. Any port in a storm.

I pointed to Janet. “How do I hurt her?”

“Why would you want to do that? She seems nice.”

“How?” I repeated myself

She looked thoughtful for a bit and stroked her chin theatrically. “Hmm…First you’ll need some matches and several keg-” the rest came out as muffled nonsense. I slapped my hand over her mouth before she could finish whatever batshit homicidal sentence she was trying.

“I said hurt,” I whispered. “Not murder! Like…get inside her head or whatever but not get in trouble.”

“MMMMMMMMM!” Amy said. “Mmm- mmm-mm-mmm!”

I took my hand off her mouth. “What?

“You wanna brat!” she repeated herself.

Considering one of the titles in Beouf’s library center was entitled ‘Baby or Brat’ I didn’t exactly like the vocabulary. “Kinda. Yeah. I guess.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Much easier. Have you tried swearing? Grown-Ups genuinely don’t like it when you do that. I just think the words are really funny.”

“All week long. Believe you fuckin’ me.” It wasn’t even fun any more.

“What about singing the same song for a long long time?”

“No.”

“They think it’s cute at first and then they get super sick of it.”

“No.”

“It goes ‘Two little men in a flying saucer’-!”

“Amy! No!”

Her laugh came out through her nose in quiet little squeaks. Something clicked. “You’re bratting now, aren’t you?”

“Maybe…”

“Fuck off.” I turned my back to her.

“Does your mommy take you shopping? You could try the shopping cart trick.”

“I already tried it.” I said back over my shoulder. “She just ordered more diapers to replace the ones I tossed.”

More squeaking chirping laughter. Then she said, “Wait? You’re serious?”

“Yeah.” I said. “She noticed it was missing and just got more.”

Amy crawled back around and plopped back down. “Rookie mistake, my duede. You’re not supposed to throw things out of the cart, you’re supposed to throw them in. The more expensive the betterer.”

“Yeah, but then she can just not buy the thing she doesn’t want.”

“Not if you want it badly enough.” The hell did that mean? My expression must have said enough. “What do babies get to do when they don’t get what they want?”

“Cry.”

“And?”

“And what?”

“Then what happens?”

“They cry and…” And…and…it hit me. They make a scene and embarrass their parents and the adults have to find a way to stop the baby from crying, possibly even going so far as to bite the bullet and give in, buying something they didn’t intend on putting in the cart. “…oh.”

She smiled at me. It was the thin, sophisticated, smug smile of an experienced con-artist. “Yup!”

Holy shit. Why hadn’t I thought of that? It was dawning on me that I might be able to learn something beyond random animal facts and nonsense from this woman. “Thank you.” I said, even though it came out as mostly a yawn.

“No problem,” Amy replied. “Sleeping troubles?’

I hung my head. “Something like that.” My eyes flitted to Janet. She seemed bright and peachy, living her best life with not one but three Littles cozying up in her lap so she could read them a pop-up book. “Trouble keeping somebody else awake.”

“Cry louder?” Amy suggested. “I know some excellent songs that might help you work on singing from your diaphragm and prolonging both pitch and volume it goes like this ‘Two little men in a flying sau-’”

“Her room is on the other side of the house and the walls are too thick.”

“Ah.” The more experienced brat said. “Soooo…baby monitor?”

My stomach gurgled and I felt a certain fullness down below. Great. Now I’d have to take a dump before tonight’s bath if I didn’t want to have to sleep in it. I let out another yawn. “Nope. It’s just for show. She turns it off at night.”

Amy turned around like a dog chasing its tail so she could get a better look at my jailer. “Hm? No she doesn’t. She sleeps pretty good and mommies can’t sleep unless they think their babies are safe. Bonus snoozes if baby is happy.”

“Then why can’t she hear me talk about how much I hate her?”

“I don’t know. Maybe the monitor’s broken or something?”

“Maybe…”

“Have her check it out,” Amy told me. “That’s what Grown-Ups are for.” She left me to yawn and brood for the last ten minutes.

Another downside of Janet working the nursery that night was that we were the last out of the meeting. Once the so-called parents started filing out from their mind-fuckery think tank, they’d come in and check out their Littles and take them home. Meanwhile, I had to wait on Janet’s hip until the last couple of stragglers finished up their conversations and went home with their brainwashed babies.

Tons of cute little rituals and special hugs and nicknames. Mentions of treats on the way home, but only if Mrs. Grange said they were a good baby. Of course they were. Even Bradley got Janet’s approval, and he spent the entire night shaking in a corner muttering about how he liked to pee and poop his pants and suck his thumb.

The bar was so ridiculously low, that Littles had to actively try not to meet it.

“Ready to go?” Janet finally asked me. I was more than ready. But silence had served me best, and I was running out of new tricks to try. “Yes or no? Are you ready? If not, we can stay here longer.”

I growled slightly and nodded my head.

“Uh oh. Somebody’s being a grumpy guts.”

My guts agreed. “Janet?” I said. “Can you take me to the bathroom?” There was no looming emergency or inevitability. This was no first breakfast with Beouf. It was still worth a shot.

“Janet?” She replied disapprovingly.

“What?” I said. “No one else is in here.”

“We’re still in public. Anything outside our house or the car is public. That’s common sense.”

I nibbled on the sides of my tongue to keep myself under control. “Fine. Mommy can you take me to the bathroom?”

“You want to go potty?”

Not in those words but… “Yes.”

“I don’t know,” Janet clucked. “I don’t think they have any potties that will fit you here. You’ll fall in.”

My eyes did a loop. “I’ve been trained for thirty years. I know how to balance on an Amazon toilet.”

“Is your diaper clean?”

My cheeks flushed. “Obviously.”

“Yes or no?”

“Yes.”

“Dry too?”

A quick knock on the door interrupted any kind of answer I had. In stepped the one Amazon without their very own living doll. Black hair that was almost curly, with thick rimmed glasses, Mark came into the nursery uninvited. “Janet?”

“Oh!” Janet brighted. “Hey Mark!” She turned to look at him directly. “What’s up?”

The dork awkwardly scratched the back of his head and broke eye contact. “Nothing. I just…uh…wanted to see what the Little playroom looked like from the inside.” Wow, that sounded creepy. “Wow, that sounds creepy! I’m sorry!” At least he was self aware.

“No,” Janet said. “I know what you mean.”

“Thanks,” Mark blushed. He pretended to look around, but it was obvious he was trying not to look directly at us. The gangly asshole caught me staring at him. “Hi, Clark”

Fuck off, creeper. I turned up my nose.

“He’s feeling kind of shy tonight,” Janet told him.

I blanched. “No I’m not. I just don’t like him.”

“Clark!” Janet gasped. “Be nice!”

Truth be told, I was.

“No, no, no,” Mark laughed. “It’s fine. It’s awesome that Clark feels he can express himself so freely with you around. It means he trusts you and feels safe.”

I had a front row seat of Janet’s cheeks turning rosy. “It does.”

“No it doesn’t!”

“Oh hush,” Janet told me. “You’re just being a fusspot, now.”

“No.”

Mark flashed a smile Janet’s way. His front teeth were so big and toothy, like a horse’s. I wanted to punch them in but good. “Sounds like a fusspot to me.”

I bit my tongue again as my flaring nostrils picked up the last traces of Janet’s perfume. She’d put it on early that morning, and the very last fading notes of honeysuckle and lilac wafted up my nose. Meanwhile, my crinkling ass still reeked of baby powder.

“Missed you at the back half of the meeting today,” Mark went on. “Frank told this funny story about him and Cecily when she first got adopted that I thought you’d really like and would relate to.”

“Yeah?” Janet said. “I’ll have to ask him to tell it to me before the next meeting.” Yes!

A horse tooth chomped at a swollen toad-like lip. “Yeah,” Mark said. “Yeah…” He hesitated, but only just. “So if it’s not too personal, can I ask you a question?”

“Mommeeeee!” I whined. “Can we go home now? I’m getting sleepy.” I yawned to add to the lie. Didn’t even have to fake that one.

“Just as second, baby.” She lightly jostled me as an almost reflex. After a second thought she asked Mark, “Would you mind reaching into his diaper bag and getting his Lion?”

“Oh yeah. Sure.” I focused with laser eyes as the creep snatched Lion up by his main. “Here you go buddy.”

I grabbed Lion from Mark like I was saving him from a hostage situation. “Thanks.” I didn’t say it like I meant it because I didn’t.

“You’re welcome,” Mark said evenly, like a true Beouffist. Beouffist? Beouffite? Beouffian? Point being he’d clearly read all the same books that Melony had. Little Voices was more popular in his old town. Janet was adopted by this cult. He’d grown up in it. “So…question?”

Janet smiled politely. “Go for it.”

“No offense, but you’re the um…newest Mom in the group, right? Not counting Lois and Bradley, I mean. You’ve only had Clark for a month?”

My ex-coworker shifted her weight uneasily. I gave her a hug. Good. Go with that feeling. “Yeeeeeah….” she said. “Why?”

“How’d you know when you were ready to adopt? How’d you know you were meant to be Clark’s Mommy?” He scratched the back of his head again. Probably because. “It’s just…I want to start my own family and help a Little who needs me and everybody else seems so old hat at this by comparison. I was hoping to talk to somebody who was maybe going through the same stuff I’m going through but more recently.”

I was so surprised by the question that Lion ended up on the ground. Oh hell no! No way was I going to have to live through another retelling of the second worst day of my life.

“Yeah. Janet said. “Sure. So Clark, actually, went to my school…”

“Oh,” Mark interrupted. “Hold on!” He bent over and handed Lion back to me. “Here you go, Clark.”

I took Lion, a little softer that time. “Thank you.”

“Welcome. Go ahead.”

“Thank you,” Janet continued. “And it all started when I got called in to substitute for his class. Just for an hour.”

“Beouf, right? Maturosis and Developmental Plateau Unit?”

“No. His class. Before his Maturosis started expressing himself he was a teacher. Preschoolers.”

“Ooooh! Okay.” As if the very concept that I might have enough brains to teach was a novel concept. I wondered if Mark’s parents had faces as punchable as his. I dropped Lion again. He picked it up. “Here you go, bud.”

Fuck it. Janet didn’t have the finger mittens with her. “Ooops.”

“He’s playing games with you,” Janet told him.

“I know,” Mark said. “I like games.”

“Mommy, can we please go home? I’m tired.” I wanted so many things. To not have to hear this again. To go back to Janet’s house and go to sleep. To get rid of this supremely punchable douche. Lion went on the floor again.

“Put it in the bag,” Janet instructed. She nuzzled me while the fuck boy did as she bid. “If you can’t hold onto your stuffie, he’ll just rest in the bag till we get home.”

“Can we go home?” I pleaded. “Pleeeeeease?”

“In a minute, honey. Mommy’s talking with her friend.”

Mark brightened a bit. My mood turned a shade darker.

“So, before I was his Mommy, we were friends. Then his-”

“J…” I stopped. Somehow her hand had already gotten to the pacifier. “Mommy! Dooon’t!”

“It’s nothing to be embarrassed about,” Janet replied. She let the pacifier dangle at my onesie’s collar. “Then his Matur-”

“Mommy, you said you were gonna take me to the potty!” How did Amy do this?

“Maturosis started to express itself,” Janet finished her sentence.”

Mark adjusted his glasses. “He’s potty training?”

“Oh no. He’s just going through a phase.” Her free arm hooked and squeezed the front of my Monkeez. “Definitely a phase. He’s trying to push boundaries and see what he can get away with. Insisting he’s bigger than he really is.”

Mark was gaining confidence. “Oh yeah! ‘Terrible twos’ stuff.”

“Terrible thirty-twos,” Janet chuckled.

“I’ve got a brother who’s ten years younger than me. I remember when he was two or three and just starting to figure out the potty he’d hold it in for as long as he could, and then decide he had to go to the bathroom right as we were getting ready to go somewhere.”

“Yeah,” Janet said. She was starting to sway slightly. “Kinda like that, but in reverse.” The kisses and nuzzles she peppered me with were failing to put me at any sort of ease.

“Sorry,” Mark blushed. “You were saying?” For all his Amazon strength, Mark’s eyes were as soft and jelly-like as my own. If I could just figure out a way to get him to take off his glasses and reach them…

Janet’s blush started to match his. “So then I think the early signs of his Maturosis started creeping out. He started getting more temperamental, not quite tantrum-y. We think he started to lose his potty training and was sneaking diapers from Mrs. Beouf’s room to try and hide it.”

“No,” I interrupted. “You were cosseting me! You said so!” Her body flashed hot like an oven.

Douche came in for the rebound. “That’s cute. Maybe that meant you were sensing it or noticing it on a subconscious level?” Janet didn’t shut him up so he kept digging. “Not that I believe any of that instinctual mambo jumbo stuff or whatever or just because if people cosset on Littles it means their Maturosis is expressing. It’s just nice to think that you saw someone you knew who was in trouble, and your first reaction was to want to take care of them. I think it says a lot about you.”

“Thank you. That’s very sweet.” I saw Janet’s smile and my stomach sank.

“He’s really lucky.”

“Mommy…”

“Just a second, Clark. We’re still talking.”

Not if I had anything to say about it. I couldn’t gouge out Mark’s smug douchey eyes but I could get him to leave. I didn’t have the fuel or energy to do anything more than a half-assed tantrum, but I had one semi-metaphorical bullet in the chamber.

“When did his Maturosis fully express itself? I hope that isn’t too personal.”

I leaned forward, and grabbed Janet’s shoulder, just enough so I could lift my butt up off of Janet’s cupped hands.

“At school. We think it started happening late last school year, like I said. But it became more obvious the first week of this one.”

I closed my eyes and tried to pretend that I was alone, like in my crib, or in the corner of the room. This was fine. This was doable. No one was really looking at me. Billy did this kind of thing all the time. I just…

“At least he had a diaper on for…you know.”

…had to…

“He wasn’t wearing one at the time. He couldn’t figure out the tapes.”

Push!

My whines turned into quiet groans while my seat filled up. There’s a kind of predictability in the lifespan of a diaper when it comes to wetting. Poop is a major wild card. Some are wet and rocket out of you. Others are like tiny rocks that have to be forced out. This particular one was a day and half’s worth of solid mess, the kind that comes out on its own after the initial push and you swear you’re a couple pounds lighter afterwards. I kept my eyes clenched as it slithered out of me. If Janet had taken me to the toilet it would have likely resembled a giant brown snake. As is, it was going to be a huge stinking lump.

Now three red faces were in the nursery. Mine wasn’t just from straining. It felt more than weird doing that on purpose.

“Good thing he’s got one on now.” Mark chuckled nervously. He knew. He definitely knew. They all knew.

Good. Fuck ‘em.

Janet hoisted me up on her shoulder. She patted me, smushing my personal humiliation against me even more. “Yeah.”

“Like the ‘Terrible Twos’,” he started

She finished. “Only in reverse.”

“I’ll give you two the room.”

Janet started carrying me over to the nursery’s changing table and digging through the diaper bag. It really wasn’t so bad with no other Littles to watch. It’d be even better when Mark left. “Thank you,” she said, not looking back. I did my best to hide my dirty smile. I immediately failed.

Yes!

Horseface Doucherson could see the writing on the wall, too. “Yeah. See you next week?”

Janet handed me Lion and I gave the dumb thing the biggest most rib crushing hug. “That’d be great.” She unpopped the snaps between my legs. “Maybe we can keep talking after? Or leave the meeting early? Maybe get some coffee or something?”

“What?!” I shouted. Janet started unfolding the new diaper.

“Okay.” Mark replied. “I’d like that. I’d like that a lot. See you then!.” He left us while Janet pulled the bottom of my onesie up past my navel.

“Janet!” I called up.

She handed me the pacifier. “You know the rules of the game, Mister.”

I put the binky in my mouth. “Huff ong iff oo?” Rules of our agreement said I had to put it in, not be quiet.

“What’s wrong with me?” The tapes coming off the plastic backing sounded extra loud there. Practically a crack of thunder. Janet’s voice, by contrast, was unnervingly kind and quiet. “I know when you’re trying to get under people’s skin, Clark. I know when you’re pushing people away.” She crossed my ankles, lifted my legs up and started wiping my backside for me. “My big…smart…secure…mature…Little boy…who begs to go potty even in a wet diaper…and then poops his pants so that Mommy will stop talking to her friend and give him all of her attention.”

The wipes she dragged across my penis felt extra cold. She put on a little too much powder too. Still, she made sure the diaper was snug and secure before she tossed the old one and buttoned me back up.

“It’s okay, baby.” She picked me up and gave me one last kiss on the cheek. “You don’t have to be jealous.”

Jealous?

Jealous?!

Fucking jealous?!

Seeing a creeper hitting on a recent divorcee and ‘new mother’ and wanting to take a taser to his balls was not jealousy! In my fury I sucked the pacifier harder and mumbled indecipherable obscenities that would have made even Lion blush all the way to the tub.

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Chapter 74: Lack of Progress Report
Janet was grinning like an idiot all the way home after school that Friday. On one hand, this was unsurprising. Beginning of the weekend meant she had more time to obsessively try to be ‘Mommy’ with me. Just being around me and holding me in her lap seemed to recharge her batteries.

For my part, I dozed in the car seat somewhere between sleep and wakefulness. Such a shit week. Everything was falling apart in the worst ways. It was like the old saying: A Little plans and gods laugh.

I’d been relatively ‘good’ that day and spent most of it half-awake inside my own head, daydreaming what awful ways I could hurt the giants in my life. I’d barely noticed when Beouf handed a stack of envelopes to the Littles’ bus driver that afternoon, eliciting promises to hand them off to their parents.

How to repeat my early successes of catching them off guard and making them as uncomfortable as possible? How to use their own rules against them without them adapting? How could I Gibson things up a notch?

I didn’t know. I really didn’t. Somehow, that Friday, I’d felt more alone than I had on Monday. Perhaps it was because of the sailor onesie Janet had dressed me in that morning. White with navy blue pinstripes, and a matching collar and a fake dress try stitched in it was like what I’d worn on my first day, but worse. Zoge, of course, felt compelled to gush about it.

On second thought, ‘alone’ wasn’t a good word for how I felt. Beyond bedtime, I was never really alone. Chances are I wouldn’t be ‘alone’ this weekend, either. No doubt Janet would be projecting perceived ‘jealousy’ onto me and use that as a pretense for spending every waking moment possible with me.

At least she was leaving me alone in the car.

Just reliving what I’d done to myself, right in front of her and that douche Mark made me shift uncomfortably

“Poopin’?”

I opened my eyes. “No!”

“Okie dokie. I’ll check when we get home, just in case.” She didn’t even comment beyond “dry” a few minutes later. But why would she?

“Janet, can I please get this onesie off?” I asked as soon as I was out of the car and in her arms.

She took us from the driveway through the front door and straight into the living room. “Sure. You can toddle and crawl around in just your diaper.” She sat down on the couch and shifted me over to her lap with one hand while she pulled something out of her purse with the other. “But first, look what I got!”

A manilla envelope full to nearly bursting was clasped in her free hand. At the speed of thought, at least a dozen semi-hopeful scenarios blitzed in my brain. They came to a screeching halt when I saw the Oakshire Elementary insignia stamped on it. “What is that?”

Janet squeezed me tight with her other arm. “It’s your progress report! Mrs. Beouf handed it to me this morning. I thought we could read it together.”

Immediately, I tensed up to the point where I could hear my heartbeat faintly thumping in my ears. Fuck. I knew this day was coming, but I’d thought I had at least another week. No such luck.

Progress Reports: The not quite report card given halfway between reporting periods. For most students (and their parents), progress reports are either warnings or reinforcers. The student is doing great! Keep going to maintain that A average! The student is slipping. Best dig in and make sure that that C doesn’t slip further. The student has eight missing assignments and an F. Conference requested!

Beyond the fact that report cards were more ‘permanent’, there wasn’t much difference. To people who were either too young or treated as too young to the point where graduating to the next grade wasn’t really a concern, there was no difference. My three and four year olds didn’t see the difference; one way or another they would eventually go to Kindergarten. I hadn’t given much thought to it, either. It’s not like I’d get to ‘graduate’. Professional courtesy would likely keep me in Beouf’s room even after they’d figured out how to soften me up for a ‘regular’ daycare.

The other thing I hadn’t thought of, was that progress reports and report cards were the perfect place for Skinner, Sosa, Winters to add in any kind of comments in my therapy notes alongside Beouf’s analysis. Teachers sent reports home at the end of the week to give them time to avoid the hot wrath of a potentially angry parent completely incredulous that their perfect angel might be something other than the epitome of academic excellence.

As a student, I now had two days in isolation with a Mommy who would be reading about all of the naughty, bratty things I’d been up to behind her back. Bend my life over and fuck it sideways.

“Let’s see, let’s see,” Janet said, pulling the envelope open. My jaw all but unhinged looking at the massive stack. I held my breath. How much could these vindictive assholes possibly write about me?

She peeled a stack of brightly colored construction paper and worksheets off the bottom of the stack. Evidently, Beouf and company sent home school work and other classroom artifacts with the report. “For the fridge.”

I exhaled. The tremendous stack of papers was whittled down to a scant five. Stupidly, I expected there to be something resembling a grid like a normal progress report: Subject; Percentile; Letter Grade; Behavior comments coded by a numbered list; that sort of thing. Of course there wasn’t that. That format started in Kindergarten. I was considered beneath that;. beneath even my old classroom.

Instead of hard and fast grades and assignment listing I got qualitative diagnoses from almost every Amazon that had interacted with me since I got put back in diapers.

Janet pulled up the first page. “Let’s read this together.”

She cleared her throat. “Speech and Language. Based on observations in the classroom and therapy settings Clark is having difficulty marking the distinction between speaking to adults and speaking with children. He has difficulty maintaining impulse control and taking turns talking with teachers and classmates, often interrupting before a speaker is finished.”

I cringed. Skinner was using my tendency to backsass as justification.

“While he is capable of advocating for himself by expressing displeasure for non-preferred activities,” Janet continued reading, “he remains unable to vocalize or express needs or desires for preferred activities.” That was because I didn’t have preferred activities. The less babyish of two options was still babyish.

“Clark has demonstrated the ability to communicate effectively at times when given heavy prompting and structure, especially with a preferred peer or a stuffed animal, but shows gaps in vocabulary such as labeling animals and animal sounds.”

“WHAT?!” I shrieked. That bitch! That vindictive bitch! I overturned one measly lesson on animal sounds, and she was playing it off like I did so out of ignorance instead of disgust! How dare she? “WHAT?!”

“That’s what it says here,” Janet tapped the paper before putting it aside. She gave me a kiss on the top of my head. “It’s okay. It’s not saying you’re bad, just that you need work on some things. You didn’t tell me about the animal sounds. Do you want to practice that some this weekend?”

“Janet! No!”

“Okay…” That hesitance was how I knew I’d be spending tomorrow proving that I could imitate barnyard noises.

She picked up the second piece from the group and examined it. Sosa’s analysis was so brief that even with it held at an odd angle above my head, I’d read the whole thing before Janet started talking.

“Occupational Therapy. Clark is currently progressing on using scissors to cut lines with a quarter inch accuracy. He is easily frustrated and is working on building up endurance, using both hands for tasks which require them, and asking for adult assistance when needed.” Janet nodded. “That’s not so bad! Good job!”

It wasn’t so bad, and in a way that made it worse. I wasn’t surprised that Sosa mentioned my difficulty with the rigged scissors. With how brief it was, I just knew that she was holding back. Ever the ‘professional’, she couldn’t find a way that would address how much I’d pissed her off and still directly address the bullshit propaganda that was my I.E.P. goals. It was Sosa’s way to let other people talk themselves into a trap, anyways.

“Physical Therapy,” Janet read. “Oooooh!”

“What?” I said. “What?”

Janet lowered the paper down to my eye level. “Read it yourself.”

I did and the blood froze in my veins. “Clark is such a sweet boy and a pleasure to have in physical therapy,” I read aloud. “He is very talkative and eager to please, but it does not detract from his sessions where he is an active participant.” Oh no. “He has shown great comfort and natural skill in lowering to all fours…” I paused and gulped. “And using reciprocal crawling to reach desired locations and modifying it to carry preferred items with him as he continues to crawl around the room.”

Janet bounced me in her lap and clapped. “Yaaaay! You’re doing super good for Miss Winters. Need to ask her what she’s doing right.” This was the downside to trying to manipulate an Amazon by buttering them up. Any positive interaction could be viewed through the lens of acceptance. I wanted to slide off her lap and onto the floor so I could properly die right then and there. Janet’s python-like embrace kept me in place. “You missed the last part, though.”

“He also enjoys sitting on the level swing and jumping on the trampoline as a reward for completed tasks? I! Do! Not!”

Another squeeze at my chest. Another peck on the top of my head. Another batch of cooing nonsense. “It’s okay baby boy. No need to be embarrassed.” Embarrassed didn’t even cover it. Frustrated was more like it. Outraged! It didn’t stop my cheeks from flushing crimson.

“Independent Functioning,” Janet said. “Oh. Mrs. Beouf must have written this one.”

I shut my eyes and sighed. “Probably.”

“Clark has shown a tendency to self-soothe,” Janet read, “often sucking a pacifier or his fingers as well as cuddling with a stuffed animal as a means of calming himself when he is feeling anxious. He shows a high level of engagement during these periods.”

My face fell a little more.

“He can successfully use a visual schedule and check it independently to move to his next center in class.” Of course I could. I was thirty-two, not two! “He benefits greatly from routine and even slight changes to it can cause him to become distressed when forced to adapt to new situations.”

I started trying to rub my temples. This was bad. This was really bad.

“He has difficulty working independently during centers and often requires extensive redirection and prompting to remain on task; but has learned to work with peers to successfully complete tasks.”

I wanted to vomit. My stomach must have already digested the slop we’d had for lunch. Otherwise I would have puked everything out.

“Regarding toileting, Clark will often sit in a wet or messy diaper unless checked and changed by a caregiver. He shows no interest in the toilet or the state of his diaper except as an escape behavior to avoid a non-preferred activity or if he is feeling anxious about his Maturosis; sometimes claiming that he is potty trained when he is wet or that he is messy when he is clean.”

My spirits sank even deeper as Janet moved onto the last bit of the report.

“Socio/Emotional. Clark demonstrates a resistance to accepting assistance, but is forming friendships with classmates closer to his current developmental level. He has disrupted some classes by distracting classmates or behaving inappropriately. He often exhibits infantile attention seeking behavior, especially when given the freedom to do so.”

“No,” I said. Janet kept reading.

“Communication is a notable area of concern, with all teachers, aides, and therapists in agreement that Clark sees it as a tool to pull attention to himself at the expense of others, rather than socializing. He understands his own strength and does not engage in physical confrontation with classmates, which is a positive.”

“No, no.” I wanted to scream, but my protests were barely coming out above a whisper.

“Clark shows a great deal of anxiety regarding his Maturosis diagnosis, yet still demonstrates developmentally appropriate behaviors such as pretend play, self-soothing with a pacifier or sucking on his thumb, wearing and using diapers, and playing children’s games with peers. However when this is pointed out to him he shows embarrassment, causing him to withdraw or lash out.”

I was wiggling in her lap trying to rip the paper from her grip. She kept my arms pinned. “No, no, no!”

“If overwhelmed, Clark is most likely to verbally lash out and attempt to hurt others feelings. When he does this, he is removed from whatever activity he is engaged in and given time and space to reflect upon his words and actions as well as allow his emotions to calm down.”

“Please…” I begged.

“ Depending on the intensity, Clark will begin crying and withdraw into himself for prolonged periods of time, wherein it becomes necessary to remove him further and allow him to rest away from the class in the nap room.”

“Please stop…”

“Almost done, honey,” Janet told me. She continued reading, “It should be noted and emphasized that he is not a danger to himself or others during this time. Given his background and the events directly surrounding his diagnosis, his behavior is not entirely unexpected. Based on the above observations, given enough time and accommodations it is likely that Clark will become a happy, well-adjusted, model member of the class.

We are lucky to have him as part of our classroom family.” Janet’s sigh sounded relief. “Sounds like they know you, kiddo.”

If I lashed out and acted a terror, it got written off as a childish lack of impulse control or not knowing social norms. If I called them on their bullshit, it didn’t get mentioned at all. If I manipulated them and sweet talked, I was a happy baby. And literally every single thing that I’d done in Beouf’s classroom had been twisted around in some way or another to fit their preconceived narrative. Compliance was acceptance; non-compliance was just being fussy; malicious compliance was misunderstanding.

My ex-coworkers had been harassed, hassled, and in some cases outright overwhelmed and outwitted by me for a month. They’d seen any number of examples that I was fundamentally still their equal, but they only chose to remember and interpret the events that fit into their narrative.

Typical.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. I wasn’t, really. Calling it typical didn’t dull what I was feeling, however.

Wet drops started dotting my cheeks. When? When did I start crying again? I was supposed to be out of tears. Quietly, I heard myself say, “It’s not fair. It’s just not…fair.”

Janet pivoted me around and put me over her shoulder. “You don’t have to be upset, Clark.” She started rubbing my back. “You’re not in trouble. I expected this for your first progress report. I think you did a pretty good job! And it’s obvious that they know you and adore you. I know I do!”

“I…I…I…”

“Yes?”

“I…hate…”

Janet kept gently massaging me. “I know. That’s okay. You can be in your feelings.”

Just when I thought I was at my lowest, I found a new depth. “I’d like to go to bed now.”

“Okay,” Janet said. The hallway started passing by on the way to my nursery. “You do look tired. Are you having trouble getting to sleep at night?”

“No…”

“Mmmhmmm.”

The mattress rushed up to greet my back. Janet’s fingers probed to see that I was still dry. “I’ll check up on you in an hour or two and see about dinner.”

She left me there, laying in the crib and closed the door. I looked up at a mobile and scolded myself for my own foolishness. I always talked a big game but constantly lacked the follow through. On some level, I kept treating my ex-coworkers like they were associates, when they didn’t give me the same courtesy. For one reason or another, I was using past relationships instead of abusing them; as though they were giving me the same consideration.

That was my problem.

Too scared.

Too concerned about other people’s feelings.

Too…nice.

Something about that would have to change.

I’m not proud of the times that followed…

(End of Part 6)

1 Like

I want to say that this chapter left me in a better emotional space than did the last one, At the end of the last one I was just filled with fear and overwhelming dread for our hero with that scene with Mark appearing to be lusting badly for Janet and maybe to get his hands on Clark too.
Now as to how the teachers and staff at school lived down to my expiations of Amazons well yeh just about what we would think would happen. The line about using his stuffed animal for communication was a nice little jab at him as was the question about him not sleeping well.
still great work and eagerly awaiting the next chapter
Thanks for taking the time to share your talent with us too
have a good day and a better tomorrow too

PART 7: Problem Child

Chapter 75: Flick

I was in line right behind Tommy, already belted into the line leash. Clutching Lion in my arms, I stared at the back of his head. Tommy had just been given a haircut that weekend and I could still see hints of pale flesh irritated pink by the morning’s chill wind.

Everyone was relatively covered up that day and no one’s great padded shame was uncovered. It was the first time since getting shoved into a bug zapper that I had something covering up my socks. Even Ivy had been dressed in leggings.

Granted, no passerby would mistake us for anything other than ‘baby’ Littles: The cut, style, and palette of everyone’s clothes still screamed of infancy and toddlerhood. All the pants had elastic waistbands and even a dry Monkeez still gave that signature puff around the target area. Everyone still crinkled when they walked and had pacifiers clipped to their collars.

Monday wasn’t quite cold enough to see our breath. Fall was weird in Oakshire. Instead of gradually decreasing temperatures, it would be cold for a couple days, but then the front would pass, and the temperature would crank back up and things would fluctuate back and forth and it wouldn’t really get cold until late November. Sometimes the leaves wouldn’t change colors until a week before winter proper. As it stood, I’d have bet even money that Chaz would just be back to a t-shirt or onesie by the end of the week.

Staring at the back of Tommy’s head I felt the slightest pang of jealousy. As a boy I didn’t have to worry about pigtails and ribbons in my hair and all of the bullshit that my lady classmates had to go through. If I’d been allowed to dress myself, my bush of curly red hair would have made me look unkempt more than childish. Paired with the bright red one-piece sweat suit, I looked too immature to even go to my old classroom, which was very likely the point. I would have yanked the hoodie up over my head if it didn’t have stupid teddybear ears on top.

Tommy, by contrast, seemed ages above me. Heavy denim and a long sleeved navy blue t-shirt. It didn’t matter that the t-shirt had fire engines all over it, or that his light up sneakers were identical to mine. From a glimpse from far away, and disassociated from the rest of us, Tommy might pass as a Little who hadn’t yet had his life ruined.

Maybe that’s why I started what I started.

I waited till Zoge plopped down Annie and Billy. Like good Little children they took their places, practically buckling themselves into our tethered chain gang. Zoge went back into the bus to get the next two, and Beouf took a knee to make sure everything was secure and to hand them their stuffies. Ivy was chatting Mandy and Shauna up.

All eyes were off me. Casually, almost lazily, I leaned forward and-

FLICK!
“Ow!” Tommy rubbed his earlobe like a mosquito bit it. He looked to his outside for the attack and then glanced over his shoulder at me. “What was that?”

I blinked and jostled my head as if lost in thought, and Tommy’s voice just barely roused me from my waking slumber. “Hm?”

“Something just bit my ear.” He rubbed it again. “Did you see a bug or something?”

“A bug?”

The poor man wrinkled his nose in irritation. “Or something.” He looked up to the cloudy morning sky as though that might provide answers. Nothing.

My heart didn’t race. My pulse didn’t quicken. I didn’t even feel the sadistic urge to flick his ear the moment he turned his head back around. I was going to get through this day with a nice slow burn, I’d decided.

Breakfast went uneventfully: Grilled cheese sandwiches cut into tiny Little sized portions. The cafeteria tended to favor finger foods, especially for breakfast; enough so that it counted grilled cheese as breakfast food.

My stomach gave a warning rumble. Nothing urgent, but it was like having a rock in my gut. Quietly, I contemplated on whether or not I should poop here and inconvenience the Amazons to change me at breakfast or wait until just after Circle Time when everyone had just been changed.

“How was your weekend?” I called over to Billy on the other side of the table.

Billy shrugged. “It was okay,” he said back. “You know.” Our tiff on the playground was all but forgotten. I yelled at them. He gave me a polite ‘fuck you’ and the matter was settled. That was all the way back last week.

“How’d you do on your progress report?”

My friend/henchman cocked an eyebrow. “Progress report?”

“The paper in the folder,” I said. “With all our work underneath”

Billy gave another shrug. “I dunno.” He punctuated by popping another square of cheese and bread into his maw. “I don’t read it.”

I pursed my lips in thought. Not all Amazon parents gushed and shared the perceived progress of their Little’s mind fucking with them. Interesting. Interesting “Oh. Okay.” I left it at that.

When we were all herded back into Beouf’s classroom after breakfast, Tommy took a seat in the semi circle before I’d been unbuckled. There wasn’t assigned seating per se, but routines and habits tend to take hold quickly. I knew where Tommy would sit before he even sat down.

Casually, I walked to my spot on the far end, passed Tommy at the top of the arc and-

FLICK!

-kept on walking.

“Ow!” Tommy squealed. It had been the same ear and in damn near the same spot as I had earlier that hour. “Clark!” Like a good Little baby I sat down and ignored him. “Clark!”

I feigned ignorance. “What’s up?”

“Why did you do that?”

My face twisted into a confused mass of cheeks, lips and eyebrows.“Do what?”

“Flick my ear.”

My face melted and unscrunched itself. “I didn’t flick your ear.”

My target was still clutching the side of his head like he was holding back a torrent of blood. “Yes you did.”

“Hey Billy, Annie,” I said. “Who flicked Tommy’s ear?”

The prison couple disengaged from each other and looked at Tommy. “I don’t know,” Annie said. “Why?”

Tommy put his hand down and muttered to himself. “Whatever.”

I left him alone for a few hours. Correction: I didn’t flick him. I didn’t even touch him. But everytime he was close enough, like when we checked our visual schedules or during snack time, I’d start flicking my index fingers as hard as I could. Hard enough to make a sound and get his attention.

Then I’d stop. Until the next time.

The first few times, I’d stop as soon as I was sure Tommy had reacted to the sounds. Tommy would flinch or turn his head and look at me, and I’d stop. He’d look at me and open his mouth to say something, but then would stop himself.

A few rotations in I became a bit more brazen. I wouldn’t make eye contact but I’d keep flicking even after he started staring at me, as if I didn’t know it was bothering him and I’d just developed a very specific nervous tic.

When we went back into our whole group so that we could get yet another rendition of Amazon mind pablum in the form of story time, my index finger whizzed right past Tommy’s ear drum.

He tensed up like it had been a bullet whizzing past instead of my index finger.“Quit it!” He hissed.

I played innocent. “Quit what?”

“You know!”

I made sure to be behind him in the leash order while everyone was getting ready for lunch. “Mrs. B. Can I get another spot in line?”

Beouf was busy buckling Littles into the group walking leash. Combined with pre-lunch checks and changes, they’d already managed to shave the transition routine down to about ten minutes give or take. If we’d been actual toddlers it would have been genuinely impressive. Buckling us all in was still more time consuming than having us hold hands. For all the hassle that Beouf and Zoge had been saved from keeping us from tipping ourselves over in used highchairs, they’d made extra work for themselves all over again by tying and untying us in colorful rope.
She finished snapping Ivy in before so much as looking at Tommy. “We’ve got to get going to Lunch, baby. Not everybody can be right where they want to be every time.”

“Clark flicked me in the ear.” His face paled as the accusation tumbled out. Even as he said it, Tommy looked mildly ashamed. Littles did not tell on other Littles. Not unless they’d gone full native. Not unless they’d all but forgotten that they were adults against their will or were trying to be a good Little Helper.

“I did not” I gasped as though I’d been accused of murder. Everyone save Zoge froze and stared at us, now acutely aware of the building drama. “Why would I flick you? How immature is that?”

“I was right here,” Beouf said gently. “Clark hasn’t touched you.”

“I meant this morning,” Tommy said. “I don’t want him to do it again.”

I stamped my foot in defiance. “Tommy! No!” I started huffing and puffing, making my face almost match my hair with how much blood was rushing. “I! Did! Not!” Beneath the hurricane of emotions I was projecting, I felt nothing other than a light, scornful amusement. I was just cranky and sleep deprived enough that I was able to force a hint of tears to threaten to burst forth. Not my best performance but it was working.

Beouf ignored my faux tantrum. “When did he flick you?” she asked Tommy.

“This morning. In the bus loop.” Every word was sounding like he was trying to whisper but was afraid to lower his voice. Tommy knew how this was looking.

“Why didn’t you tell me then?” Beouf asked. The statute of limitations was unsurprisingly short for things like schoolyard ear flicking.

Annie butted in. “You told me he’d done it during Circle Time!”

“Yeah,” Shauna said. I buried my face in Lion’s mane and bit into my tongue so I didn’t accidentally grin. Annie was already a known accomplice of mine. Shauna was just a patsy and a bystander that circumstance was providing me. I hadn’t even known she’d been listening in on the exchange. “That’s when I saw you grabbing your ear.”

“He did it both times!”

I looked up from my stuffie. “Did not!”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Beouf repeated herself, asking Tommy.

Sadly for Tommy, ‘snitches get stitches’ was not a viable excuse in Beouf’s world. “We were busy!” Tommy said, sounding indignant. “And I didn’t want to bother you.”

“Such a good Little boy,” Chaz spat. “Such a Helper.”

“Then why are you telling her now?” Annie asked. Then she piled on with, “I’m hungry. Can we go to lunch?” This got more than a bit of support from the surrounding peanut gallery.

If Beouf had not invested in the mass toddler leashes, I wouldn’t have gotten away with it. Getting me away from Tommy would have been as easy as moving him to the back of the line and plopping me in front with Ivy and her iron grasp.

“Mrs. B,” I whined. “I didn’t do it! I swear! Tommy’s my friend!” Straight faced and pleading I looked Tommy right in the eye. “My first day you were one of the first people to be nice to me. We climbed up on the tunnel together, remember? You’re my best friend!”

I saw the doubt take root in Tommy’s mind. I saw him second guessing himself and questioning his own memory. “I…I…I…I…” he stuttered.

Real bullies aren’t the nasty thugs you grew up watching on T.V. who pound you up against your locker and demand your lunch money. Those idiots get weeded out quickly. Real bullies are abusive in different ways. They aren’t outright mean all the time. They’ll buy your forgiveness again and again and again even as they continue to find ways to hurt you. They use societal norms and implied threats against you to give themselves plausible deniability. They pretend they’re offering you chocolates or are just following the letter of the law.

“I thought you said a bug bit you,” I said.

“I did,” Tommy got defensive. “But then you flicked me again. And you’ve been flicking all day.

In my most reasonable tone I flicked the air in front of my face. “You mean this?”

“YES!”

“It makes me feel good. How am I hurting you by snapping my fingers to myself? I don’t complain about the crinkle when you rock in your seat.”

Pressed for time and with nine people staring him down- eleven if you counted the teachers- Tommy started shaking. “I…I…I…” he stuttered.

“Clark…” If the Little causing this drama had been anyone but me they wouldn’t have gotten away with it. No chance. Beouf would have picked them up and carried them to lunch on her hip. Problem solved. Littles in a squabble separated.

“Can we go now?” Chaz called from his cheap umbrella stroller. “I’m hungry!”

I ignored them as though this insignificant spat was the center of my universe. “Mrs. B. I swear! I didn’t do it! Keep your hands to yourself is a big super important rule! And Tommy is my friend?”

With all that I could read behind Beouf’s glasses, I felt like I had super powers. I saw her reliving ten years of friendships and wrestling with her own training. Ten years of being each other’s confidants wrestling against a lifetime of cultural propaganda. The giantess broke eye contact and looked up at the clock. We weren’t late…yet. She still had time to wrestle with herself.

“It’s okay,” I said straight to Tommy’s unblinking eyes. “I forgive you for the misunderstanding. You’re still my friend.”

I held out my hand offering it out as some sort of symbolic gesture of peace. Meekly, Tommy took it and shook. He turned around away from me and cuddled his stuffie. Grasping Lion to my chest I gave two quick little thumping snaps as I flicked the air again. The way Tommy tensed up was completely and utterly gratifying.

“Clark…”

“Yes ma’am!” I said. “Sorry! Just nervous!”

On the way over to the cafeteria, Beouf kept glancing back over her shoulder, not quite trusting herself. I kept my head on a swivel, like I always did, but made sure my hands were in plain sight every time. My eyes never left Tommy’s feet. Looking around was just more plausibility for what came next.

With all the precision of a mosquito threading a needle, I stepped on the back heel of Tommy’s right sneaker. He stutter stumbled forward and away from me, almost bumping into Jesse in front of him.

He didn’t even get a chance to protest before I blurted out, “Sorry Tommy! Sorry! Sorry!”

“It’s okay…” he grumbled, not even believing himself from the sound of it.

“Clark!” Beouf let out a warning bellow. Beginning of the week and I was already getting so many more warnings than I legitimately deserved.

Bullies are more than master manipulators of their peers and subordinates, but their superiors too. This early in the week and Beouf was picking her battles. Janet would hear about this for sure. I could live with that.

“I said I was sorry!” I insisted. “It was an accident!” My own bullshit pleas were cut off by the overhead blow fan and the wails of the cafeteria. Obviously, Tommy and I were seated at different tables, much to his visible relief. We got buckled into opposite ends of the leash on the way back, too.

“What’s with you and Tommy today?” Billy asked behind the tree at recess. “You’ve been bugging him all day.”

I sat with my friends, Lion between my legs. “A few bumps in line doesn’t count as all day,” I said.

“Yeah,” Chaz said. “But you’re doing it on purpose. I can tell.”

“Oh?”

Chaz rolled from the seated position to all fours. “Yeah. I saw you do it in Circle Time. You just walked up and flicked him and kept going.”

Absentmindedly, I petted Lion’s hair. “I’ve got my reasons.” I stood up; something Chaz could no longer do without help.

“Like what?” Chaz asked.

“You’ll see,” I said. “Just trust me.” I didn’t wait for Chaz to reply. “I just thought of a new game. Wanna come play it with me?” I spoke directly to Annie and Billy, barely looking at Chaz. The pair cast doubtful glances at one another and back to their crawling third wheel. “It’ll bug Beouf,” I promised.

That was enough. “Okay,” they said.

“How do you play?” Chaz asked.

“See how we’re all covered up?” I asked. “Perfect for battle tag.” I took their silence as consent to go on. “It’s like regular tag but instead of tagging it’s okay to give somebody a little push.” The shove I gave Annie’s shoulder was gentle. “Or a smack!” The muted thud against Billy’s back would have stung like anything if he’d had a sunburn.

“Okay…” Billy was getting on board.

Annie wasn’t. “But why?”

“So that it’s more convincing when we fall down,” I said as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. “In regular tag, you tag somebody and they stop and then start chasing you right back. It sucks.”

“Tag backs are the worst,” Annie nodded.

“In battle tag, when you get tagged you die and then you’re it.” I got no reaction. I was trying to teach algebra to sharks. “Billy, tag me. Clothes only. No fa-”

As hard as I’d thudded Billy, the son of a bitch thudded me back harder. It was no Amazon spanking but I felt it. “OOOOOOH!” I called out. “YOU GOT ME!” I threw myself straight to the ground and started flopping like a fish. “OH AGONY! AGONY! GAAAAAH!” I took a deep breath and went limp. “Dead.”

“Clark?” In my exuberance, I’d flopped out and made a hell of a lot more noise than I usually did this time of the day. Beouf was standing up from the bench. “Are you okay, buddy?”

I jumped up like an acrobat and spread my arms out in a kind of ‘ta-da’ pose like I was a birthday party magician who’d just done some sort of lame trick. “I’m fine, ma’am!” I hollered back; my voice loud but calm. “We’re just playing a game!”

Beouf adjusted her glasses and sat back down. “Okay…”

I turned to face my posse. “And now I’m it. Any questions?”

“I get it,” Billy said. “Make it look more dangerous and give the grown-…” he stopped himself and corrected. “We make Beouf worry about us.”

“Sure,” I said. “It’s all about toeing the line of horseplay. That and it’s a good excuse to get clothes dirty.” I received some appreciative nods. “And the more people we get in on it, the harder it’ll be to stop.” I was completely ignoring the data of my first Why Day and using peer pressure as a selling point.

“Even Ivy?” Annie asked.

“Especially Ivy. She’s our plausible deniability.” I told them. I took a few tentative steps and motioned for them to follow. “Come on, let’s play!”

“How is this more mature or adult or whatever?” Chaz broke in. “Or are we not doing that anymore?”

My nostrils flared. “You’ll see.”

“What am I supposed to do?” Chaz said. “I can’t run.”

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath as if I was summoning monumental patience. “You can watch the stuffies. I pointed to our cotton boned menagerie. “Make sure they don’t get stepped on while we’re playing.”

“That doesn’t sound very fun,” a hint of a pout was starting to form on his mug.

I scowled and scoffed. “Fun? This isn’t for fun. This is for agitating Amazons. Do you really think I want to play a dumb baby game if it didn’t mess with Beouf and Zoge?”

“Yeah,” Billy chuckled. “Clark just being Clark.” I preferred ‘Gibson’, but I’d take it.

“But what am I supposed to do?” Chaz repeated himself. “How can I help? I wanna help, too!”

“Get other people to play,” Annie offered. “Call them over and talk to them. They’ll listen to you.”

“Yeah,” I rubbed salt in the wound. “You’re the youngest. No way will they think you’re tricking them into fucking with the rules.”

The little shit turned his nose up and sniffed. “Fine. I’m in.”

“Who’s it?” Annie asked.

I grinned maniacally. “Five…four…three…” They took off across our tiny playground. “Two…one…” Sparing one last glance at Chaz I told him, “watch Beouf and Zoge like a hawk. They won’t suspect you either.”

That made Chaz perk up a bit. I couldn’t burn that bridge completely. Chaz just needed to know his place. “Okay. Deal! Go go go!”

I darted out from behind the tree and started chasing Annie and Billy. Billy was taller than me and more naturally athletic, the Monkeez wasn’t doing wonders for my stride either. Annie was the safer choice. “I’m gonna get you!” I called.

“Nuh-uh!” she called back.

We were being loud on purpose. Loudness attracted attention and potential players. “Get ready to die!”

“You wish!”

I huffed and puffed until I finally, just barely nudged into Annie. “Gotcha!”

She’d only been barely poked, but Annie went down like a bribed prize fighter. “OOOH! YOU GOT ME! AGONY! PAIN! SO MUCH PAAAAAAIN!”

“Annie…?” Zoge called out.

My cohort raised her head. “I’m fine! It’s just pretend!”

“Okay…” It was the sound of a caregiver’s doubt that had yet to fully manifest. “Just be careful.”

“I will!” She took a deep breath and continued. “AGONY! PAIN! MY SPLEEN! MY THORAX! OOOOH MY THORAX! Dead.” I was close enough to see her tongue flop out of her mouth.

Mandy trotted out from the concrete crawling tunnel. “Annie, are you okay?”

“Yeah. I’m dead,” she said.

“Oh cool. Can I be dead too?”

“Only if you get tagged,” I said. “Go to Chaz, he’ll explain the rules.”

“Kay-kay!”

Approximately ninety seconds later, Mandy was in the game and was the next to get tagged. .“OH NO!” She found a spot of especially worn grass and was all but making dirt angels. “DEEEEEEAD DEATH DEATH DEATH DEATH! Grah.”

The death rattle was accompanied by delighted morbid giggles. “Hey, Tommy!” I called out. “Wanna play battle tag?”

I must have given something away in my posture. Tommy stayed firmly where he was on teeter totter. Too bad for him Jesse wanted to play, too, leaving him stranded.

The game went on.

“Ivy’s playing!” Chaz called through cup hands. “Look out!”

I made sure to get hit. It didn’t hurt, but that was because I made sure to roll with it. The poor mindfucked doll literally didn’t know her own strength.

“Ivy! Too hard!” Beouf scolded. “Do you need to sit down?”

“No ma’am.” Ivy said, extremely contrite. “I’m sorry, Clark.”

I did Ivy a favor by going over the top with my ‘death’. I started convulsing on the ground, just flapping my cheeks and rolling around in a lop sided circle. I looked like I was having a seizure. I stopped, lifted my head, and said. “You’re fine, Ivy.” I flopped back down. “Dead.”

“Clark’s it again!”

I climbed to my feet and brushed myself off. I was tired, winded, and honestly too into the game to have it fulfill its original purpose. Speaking of original purpose, I saw Tommy playing on the balance beam, one foot in front of the other, away from the action pretending he was dancing on a high wire or something.

“Time out!” I yelled, making a T with my hands. “Time out!” I jerked my head and Billy jogged up to me.

“What’s up?”

“Let me tag you,” I whispered.

He snorted. “No way.”

“Come on. You’re the only one who can tag Ivy back for me. I’m tired.”

Billy smirked. “She’ll kill me. I’ll bounce right off of her.”

“And if she does she’ll get in trouble. Just don’t whack her and you’ll be fine.”

My crony held out his hand. “Fine. But only because you decided to be cool today.” I tagged him. He convulsed and did a somersault.

“Billy’s it!” I screamed. “Scatter!” I pulled my hoodie up, making me look like a cherry red teddy bear. It also cut off my peripheral vision. More plausible deniability for me.

As was tradition, everyone scattered the moment Billy hopped back up to his feet. Half a dozen Littles all scurrying around the same tiny playground. It’s a lot to keep track of. And I wasn’t it…

I charged straight for the balance beam. Boundaries hadn’t been established, but it was safe to say that the actual playground equipment was decidedly out of bounds. “Billy’s it!” I yelled. “Billy’s it!” I pretended to look over my shoulder. “Billy’s it! Billy’s it!” I course corrected. “Billy’s it! BILLY’S IT!” One…two… “BILL-”

I plowed directly into Tommy knocking him to the ground with me pretending to trip as an excuse to land right on top of him. I felt the meaty thump and heard the pained gasp as Tommy got the wind knocked out of him.

I lifted myself into a pushup position. “Tommy!” I whispered, sounding surprised. “Dude are you okay?”

“Clark! Tommy!” Both Beouf and Zoge had managed to see the spill. Damn. Not surprising, but damn. Hopefully.

“I am so sorry!” I said, rolling off of him and stepping away like he was made of brittle porcelain.

“What the fu-?” Tommy cut himself off. Either that or he didn’t have enough wind in him to finish the swear.

The loose ground practically shook at the teachers’ approach. A pair of giant arms lifted us off the ground and turned us over, checking for scratches and bruises. “Are you okay? What happened? Does anything hurt?”

A river of false apologies shot out from me. “TommyI’msosorryIdidn’tmeantoIwasrunningawayfromBillycausehewasitandIwasn’tlookingwhereIwasgoingareyouokayIhopeIdidn’thurtyou.”

“Tommy are you okay?” Beouf asked.

My target was a few pants away from crying, I could tell, but he held it in like a champ. “Yeah,” he choked out. “Just…surprised.”

I repeated my entire apology again. Much slower but with just as many lies.

“I think that’s enough tag for now,” Zoge said.

“Battle Tag,” I corrected. “It’s called battle tag.”

“That’s enough Battle Tag.”

I sat down on the balance beam and looked Tommy dead in the eyes. “I’m sorry,” I fake apologized.

“It’s okay.”

I don’t know that either of us meant it. He probably did.

“I swear it was an accident.”

“Okay.”

“We’re going to get ready to go back inside and get ready to go home in just a couple minutes,” Beouf said.

“Yes ma’am,” Tommy and I said in unison.

You might be wondering why I decided to pick on Tommy that day and the days that followed. Did I have a grand master plan? Some way to reunite and empower the A.L.L. and strike back at the Amazons through reverse psychology? Was I helping Tommy in some way? Toughening him up to keep him from regressing? Getting vengeance for some unseen slight perhaps?

Yes. Exactly. Those were precisely the kind of excuses I gave to Chaz, Billy, and Annie the next day. They bought it too; even supplied answers I didn’t have on accident. Of course I was showing them how they could run interference for each other and act as distractions. Of course Tommy, who was so close to us yet so far away was in danger of losing himself unless he remembered what it was like to be a grown-ass man instead of a toddler boy. Of course I planned on giving Zoge and Beouf a thousand tiny heart attacks with plain reckless behavior.

Of course.

Really though? The unabashed truth was that I needed another win, and I was all out of wins against Amazons. So I took a day off. Played the game on easy mode. I picked Tommy because he was nice and considerate and empathetic and patient but didn’t have the support system to back him up like some of the others did.

I needed a win.

Tommy sat down and panted next to me, seeming exhausted. Poor, innocent, trusting Tommy. In some ways more naive than even Ivy. I waited till the teachers were more than halfway across the playground and back to their bench. I steadied myself, counted their steps. Annie ran up and tugged on Beouf’s pantleg, leaving less chance that she’d turn around. Billy did the same for Zoge.

Then with practiced ease I reached out and-

FLICK!

“Ow! Clark! What the fuck?!” Same ear. Same spot. I was three for three.

I blinked away pretend confusion. “Hm?”

Chapter 76: Playpen Kingpin

Tommy had a very difficult next couple of days in Mrs. Beouf’s Maturosis and Developmental Plateau Class. As near as I could tell, Tommy spent the next couple of days completely red faced, trembling, growling under his breath, and fighting back tears.

“Awwww, look at the baby! Did the baby go pee-pee in his widdle pants? I bet he did! I bet he did!”

‘How adorable! He’s sucking his thumb!”

“I could just pinch those cheeks!’

“Is he gonna cwyy? Does the baby need an extra nap?”

All of these damn near Amazonian remarks were coming out of much smaller mouths and said with a subtle underlying venom born not out of ignorance or societal brainwashing but with frustration and hate. It hurt me almost as much as it did him.

On top of that came the pinches, the flicks, the pokes, and the back claps that were more than a little too hard. For some unfathomable reason, Tommy was attracting an inordinate amount of mosquitos, gnats, flies, and the like that just needed to be swatted and picked and slapped. Maybe it was because his breath smelled like sour breast milk, or because he kept spilling sweet sugary mush on himself at breakfast and lunch, or because he couldn’t keep his diaper clean for even an hour. It was for his own good, really.

“Just missed it.”

“You should have seen it!”

“Spider!”

Pile on how much help Tommy ‘needed’ and he had even more cause to be miserable.

“Here, Tommy, let me help you color!”

“Tommy! Pick this one! This is the matching picture!”

“Let me break your cracker up for you so that you don’t choke. Just in case!”

“Hey Tommy! Do you know what color this is? I can help you with the answer!”

He was getting so much wonderful help that he barely got a chance to talk or do anything by himself without some kind of comment or intervention.

The best part? I wasn’t even doing most of it. My treatment of Tommy had spread like a cancer. Rebelling and twisting Amazon rules so that they were exposed to their own pathetic hypocrisy was asking a lot of my so-called peers. Only Chaz, Billy and Annie had been trustworthy and foolhardy enough to make the attempt with me. Picking on someone as friendly and genuine and well meaning and weak as Tommy? Too easy. He must’ve been the runt of this particular litter before I got tossed in, or something.

Beouf and Zoge hadn’t quite noticed yet; Tommy still hadn’t tried to tattle. But unlike with therapy sessions and centers, isolating me or putting me by my lonesome wouldn’t solve this for Beouf. Chaz and Billy were friends with Jesse and Annie still had a form of solidarity with the other girls. Little see. Little do. Razzing, teasing, tormenting, and otherwise reminding Tommy what a baby he was compared to everyone else was just another game.

Was he objectively any more infantile, regressed, or generally mindfucked than the rest of us? Absolutely not. It was just part of the game.

Speaking of games:

“Alright guys!” I announced to the playground that afternoon. “Let’s play circus!” I used my best teacher voice with the same kind of cheery confidence that Zoge and Beouf used when they were presenting some asinine activity. No one opted out or ignored or objected. They’d been conditioned too well.

The entire class waddled and toddled up around me. “Yay!” Ivy clapped her hands like an idiot. “I love the circus!”

I bit my tongue. I had other people to lash out at. “Everybody gets a role to play,” I proclaimed. “I’ll be the ringmaster, and announce the acts. Our stuffies can be most of the audience so we don’t have to carry them.” I took a second and set Lion down leaning against the low balance beam. “Mandy and Shauna can be acrobats.”

They high fived each other and copied me, plopping their cotton homunculi down next to Lion. Little see, Little do. I did a quick double take watching Mandy walk. ‘Walk’ was using the term generously. Her Mommy had switched her to a thicker brand of diaper and Winters had mentioned that Mandy was doing ‘very well’ in Physical Therapy. “Um…no offense, Mandy, but are you sure you can do cartwheels…as is…?”

Mandy’s cheeks turned a shade rosier and she looked down at the padded bulge beneath her leggings. Annie salvaged the moment. “Let them be trained elephants,” she suggested. “It’s impressive when Elephants stand on their hind legs or piggy pack on each other.”

“That’ll do.” The relief I saw on Mandy was a symphony. I took note of that in case I got bored with Tommy. “Billy’s the strongman.”

“What’ll I lift?” Billy asked. “Everything that’s cool to lift is bolted down.

I jerked my head over to the seesaw. “See how many people you can boost up.”

“Deal.”

I kept passing out roles as if someone had died and left me in charge. “Jesse? Lion tamer, yeah? Annie? Clown. Slapstick or stand up. Billy can double as your volunteer.”

“Maybe some of the dirt is still wet from when it rained late this morning,” Sandra Lynn piped up. “Maybe she could make a mud pie to throw in somebody’s face.”

“Never mind,” I said. “Billy, focus on being strong. Annie and Sandra Lynn, clowns. Plural. I think you’ve got a routine in the works.”

“That would ruin my pretty new dress,” Annie whispered. “Do it.”

I spun around in a quick circle, pretending to be whimsical. Beouf and Zoge were still on their perch, looking at us tentatively. Clumped up like we were, their attention wasn’t split. They were tired however, and still naively wanting to give us a chance at something resembling free play. By my estimation we were at the very limit of their hearing so that they couldn’t quite make out what was being said as long as no one screamed or yelled.

“You two are on last,” I told them. “Go pretend to play while you gather the ingredients. We’re only gonna get one chance at this.”

“What about Mommy and Mrs. B.?” Ivy asked, innocently enough.

I stepped in front of her. “They’re on the board of circus oversight. Have to make sure that everything is ethical. Ensure that we’re staying within guidelines for the boundaries and staying complicit and not breaking any cruelty laws or ADA regulations and that safety regulations are observed and certification is up to date to prevent any risk of disease. And that’s just Mrs. Zoge. Beouf is with the Circus Performer’s Union. Don’t get me started on Beouf and Union stop. They’re busy, guys.”

“I know he’s bullshitting,” Chaz snickered underfoot, “but I’m loving it.”

Tommy finally reached the point of curiosity and wanting to belong enough to speak up. “What about me?”

“You’re a stooge”

There was a collective inhalation as if I’d just cursed at him. “What?”

“A stooge,” I said. “A shill. A plant. Your job is to sit among the audience and cheer for us. That way all the people in the audience know when to clap and cheer, too. But you can’t tell the audience members that you work for us.”

Tommy’s face fell. “That just sounds like I have to watch and be part of the audience while you guys get to make jokes and do tricks.”

“What?” I gasped. “Noooooo. No-no-no-no-no-no-no-noooo!” Yes. “Being a stooge is a super important job. Keeps the rubes entertained. Get it? You’re like a secret agent or…or…or…”

“A Helper?” Ivy offered. Several pairs of lips sucked in in an attempt to stifle raucous laughter.

“Yeah! That!” Tommy’s eyes were starting to water. Ivy might not have known what she’d said, but just about everyone else did. “Oh, I know, Ivy. How about you show Tommy how it’s done? You can be the audience plant, and to make your part more convincing, Tommy can be your baby!”

Tommy’s disbelieving “What?!” came out as a hoarse whisper instead of a shout. Lucky me. “Why do I have to be the baby?”

“It makes sense if you think about it.” Everyone nodded in agreement.

“Chaz is the crawler. Why can’t he be the baby?”

“Okay, first off, that’s pretty ableist. Not very mature of you. Second of all, I need Chaz to be the lion for the tamer. Duh.”

Tommy started looking around nervously, clawing for a way out. “Why not have your lion be the lion?”

“Are you asking because you think Lion is real and can actually roar, or are you just dead set on breaking the pre-agreed rules.” I got nothing but a stammering, stuttering, confused response. It’s all I’d wanted. “Stuffies are audience members. Ivy’s the circus secret agent, and you’re the baby providing her cover.”

Tommy took a step out to walk around me. I closed my eyes and massaged my temples. “Ivy, take your baby to his seat.” Ivy’s hand struck out like a snake. Tommy froze and whimpered, but didn’t bother to struggle. Resignedly, he went with her and sat on the balance beam amongst all the other toys.

With years of practice watching her Mommy, Ivy reached down and helped pop Tommy’s pacifier in for him. “There there, baby. You’ll love the circus along with all these other people.”

My smile was grim that Tuesday afternoon. Playgrounds were a peculiar sort of torture chamber to me, though I couldn’t phrase why. But at least this playground was becoming my torture chamber.

I inhaled and held my breath for moment. “Laaaaaaaaadies and gentlemen! Welcome to the Greatest Show in the World!”


The Amazons had started to wise up by late morning Wednesday. That explained why Circle Time had an extra song about Friendship. Whole group after centers was a book about how we should be nice to our friends.

Neat. Cool story. Good thing Tommy wasn’t my friend.

“I’m sorry, Tommy,” I said. “I didn’t realize how sensitive you were.” I stood up and cut across the sitting circle over to him. “I’ll be more careful from now on.” I wrapped my arms around him and whispered, “Poor baby is getting picked on by all the grown-up Littles.” His arms went rigid.

The rest of the class followed suit with equally backhanded apologies and hugs. Zoge looked half-way convinced. Beouf eyed me. It was a familiar look; the same I’d gotten from Brollish on multiple occasions.

On the way to lunch, I spotted Jeremy Merriwether. He was full and tired and talking with his classmates. I’d blended back into the environment for him and most of the actual students. “Hey!” I shouted out. “Hey Jeremy!” His head snapped down and he looked me in the eye. I held up my plushie and proudly declared. “Lion says you can go fuck yourself!”

“Clark!” Beouf barked at me. “We don’t use that kind of language.”

“It’s not me,” I said, pointing to Lion. “Lion told me to say it.”

“And if Lion told you to jump off a bridge, would you?”

“Yes.”

“Then maybe Lion shouldn’t be allowed in our classroom much longer if he’s going to give you bad ideas.”

“So I can’t cuss anymore?” The threat meant nothing to me, but I wanted the others to hear it.

Beouf didn’t answer right away. Maybe it was the overhead blast fan in the cafeteria, instead, but I could have sworn I heard her teeth grinding against each other.

While we waited to be unclipped and seated at the communal highchairs, I turned around to my favorite bully boy, Billy. “Keep an eye on Tommy. Let him know if he does anything particularly babyish.”

Billy nodded without thinking. “Deal.” A beat. “Wait. Why?”

“Why not?” That was more than enough for Billy.

Predictably I ended up at the exact opposite table as far away from Tommy as I could. Beouf and Zoge weren’t complete fools. Fortunately I didn’t need to be by him. I had the others. The friendship lesson before Lunch had only succeeded in adding a few new words to the rounds of passive aggressive teasing.

For example, “Mrs. Zoge! Can you cut up my friend Tommy’s vegetables more? I’m worried that he’ll choke! Maybe he needs formula instead?”

Or “Ew, Tommy! That’s so immature!” with just enough of a pause so that the follow up “Sorry! I didn’t mean to!” sounded sincere instead of pre-loaded.

Our lunch period was halfway done and the bottles of milk were being passed out. Being last to lunch meant that the room was at a fever pitch when we entered and slowly got more quiet as classes of fourth and fifth graders shuffled out with no one coming to take their place.

So it was perfect, just crowded enough, when Billy whispered something to Jesse and he shouted “Ew! Tommy pooped his pants again! Change him! Change him now! Hurry!” Billy pooped his pants sitting down enough times to where he knew exactly what to look for. I was so mesmerized by the ensuing fallout that Beouf had to swerve the plastic spork around so that the mashed potatoes would make it into my mouth.

A wave of giggles rippled through the cafeteria. Very rarely did such outbursts happen. Littles in Beouf’s were usually too embarrassed to tell on themselves and the quiet camaraderie of being trapped together kept us from ratting each other out. That and until a short while ago, no one was getting changed until we got back to the classroom. It was more practical to suffer in silence.

“There,” Billy ‘helped’ pointing to the bottom of the cafeteria cart. “There’s a fresh diaper there! Change him before I throw up!”

Older kids giggled behind their hands. Tracy told the preschoolers at her table to hush and eat their food and to stop parroting us. Oddly enough she looked at me quizzically, even though I only opened my mouth for gobs of shepherd’s pie. Did she really know me that well?

“I got him,” Zoge said. Tommy was redder than a firetruck and was close to blubbering. His shoulders started heaving and he let out a low mournful groan when Zoge picked him up, pulled back his jeans and gave his lumpy bottom a pat. “Oh yeah,” she said. “Definitely.”

The laughter from my old class redoubled and Tracy walked around and blocked their view of us. She was crossing her arms and widening her stance. She was just a Tweener but was more than big enough to sneer them into submission. I couldn’t hear whatever ultimatum she’d whispered to them, but it did the job.

A few of my students reached behind them and adjusted their pants uncomfortably; kind of like how some people unconsciously scratch their heads the moment someone mentions lice. I couldn’t help but wonder…

Zoge bent over and picked up the fresh diaper from the bottom of the cart. She started cooing at Tommy in Yamatoan. Tommy started huffing and puffing like he was fighting back tears, poor guy.

We were almost done eating by the time Zoge came back with Tommy. Most of the other classes had shuffled out and Beouf was pulling double duty. He was almost in a ball like a cat that was scared to go to the vet, digging his finger into Zoge’s collarbone, and shivering like a hairless rat.

Playfully, mockingly, I waved. “Hi Tommy! How was it breaking in the bathroom changing table?” Zoge stopped long enough to look right at me. Something lingered behind her eyes. It wasn’t anger. Zoge didn’t really do overt anger. Just disappointment.

It took me just a second to realize that the change had gone longer than usual and it wasn’t because it had been particularly messy or that the strap on the changing station got stuck or something. Tommy had had a good long talk with Zoge in the privacy of the girl’s room.

I had to sit between Beouf and Zoge instead of playing. Fine by me.

Tommy got ignored on the playground.

“What am I gonna do with you, Clark?” Janet asked after Beouf shared what she’d pieced together.

Good question.


“Leave me alone, Clark.” Tommy begged me Thursday. “Please.”

“Okay.” I said. I kept following him around the playground. “I am.” He led me around the slide. Over the balance beam. Weaving in and out of the spring ponies. Through the tunnel. All at the leisurely pace of a horse that was made to sprint across the desert. “I just happen to be going to the exact same place you’re going to at the exact same time. What a coincidence, huh?”

The others had given him a hell of a silent treatment all day. He didn’t want to be treated the way that Amazons treated Littles? Fine. He’d get treated the way I treated the giants. No talking unless absolutely necessary. Cold stares. The absolute scorn reserved for the enemy. Who would want to talk to a snitch?

All it took was “Don’t talk to snitches” whispered in the bus loop that morning.

By naptime, he was begging for someone, anyone to talk to him. I started humming Hush Little Baby and the others joined in. We clammed up when Beouf poked her head through the door, but the message had been well sent.

He wasn’t ready to break, but not for me. “Hi Tommy, I heard you want to talk. Do you want to talk buddy? Come on! It’s me! It’s your pal! You wanted someone to talk to, well let’s talk.” Four days of gaslighting and social shunning is a lot longer off of paper. Memories are short when you’re happy. Even shorter when you’re miserable.

“Clark…do you need to have a seat?” Beouf warned me. Tommy wasn’t complaining, but his body language said enough.

“It’s fine,” Tommy yelled. “I’m fine!” He was a poor liar.

“Come and keep me company, Clark.”

I shrugged. “Fine by m-”

“No! Wait!” Tommy called out. “I want to talk to Clark. Alone! Please!”

Beouf looked dubious. There wasn’t much to be done if my plaything didn’t advocate for himself. “Alright…but you can come and keep me and Mrs. Zoge company too if you want, Tommy. We’re safe.”

“No thanks.”

I slung my arm over Tommy’s shoulders and flashed my biggest toothiest goofiest grin Beouf’s way. She knew what I was doing. I knew what I was doing. But what was she gonna do about it? That’s the problem with having beliefs and rules to follow, I guessed. You had to follow them. “Step into my office,” I told Tommy.

The A.L.L. gave us the back of the tree. Annie, Billie, and Chaz coincidentally spit onto the ground right by Tommy’s feet on their way back into view.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“Why?” Tommy begged me. “Why are you doing this? Why me? Why now? Why are you hurting me?”

A smirk played at the corner of my mouth. “Why not? What did you do to deserve this. Must’ve been something.”

“Please stop. I just want to mind my own business and go to school and try and figure out a way to live my life and-”

“Be a baby?” I offered.

“Ye…No!”

I was a tiger playing with his mouse. “You sure? Seems like it.”

Tommy buried his hands in his face. I stood taller. “I just…I…I’m sorry, okay. I don’t know what I did to deserve it, but please stop picking on me.” He was close to tears. ‘I’m not like Ivy or…or…or even Sandra Lynn. I know I’m an adult.”

“But you want to be like them?”

He was doing everything he could not to explode. “No!” My pose was almost identical to Tracy’s in the cafeteria the day before. “Yes? I don’t know! I just want you sto…” He choked on his words lest he start weeping uncontrollably.

I sat down and leaned against the tree. I was in control here. “Okay. So who should I pick on instead?” He could barely talk, but his expression showed the disbelief. “Who? Should I? Pick on? Instead? Who deserves it more?”

He was prey looking for predators lurking in the tall grass. Unable to see anything, yet fearing a trap. “Sandra Lynn?”

“Say it like you mean it.”

“Sandra Lynn.”

“Why?”

“She’s been here the longest besides Ivy. She acts the most like a baby. Giggles when Beouf makes her voice go high and cutesy. Likes to show off.” If not for the Monkeez his knees would have been knocking. “This is definitely gonna be her last year at this rate.”

I mimed thoughtfulness. “Hmmm…maybe. Maybe.” I looked him in the eyes and waited for him to look away. He did. I stood up and smiled. “Okay. Sure.”

“Thank you!” He wrapped his arms around my waist. “Thank you!”

“Sir.”

“Thank you, sir! Thank you!”

I called my crew back and told them the news. Tommy was okay. Maybe more adult than he seemed. Even said that Tommy might have potential, never mind that I had no idea what that meant. I didn’t tell them about Sandra Lynn. That could wait till next week.

I finished that Thursday walking over to Beouf and Zoge on the playground’s bench and nestled myself confidently between them. Melony spared me a glance, wondering what I was up to. I smiled back, folded my hands behind my head and rested my eyes.

1 Like

I can understand how Clark is feeling frustrated and powerless, but he’s really becoming quite a bully. That’s not a very mature way to deal with his feelings. :grin:

Chapter 77: Tired
I woke up because I needed to pee. Resting my eyes on the playground’s bench had been a precursor to me completely passing out in the playpen in Janet’s classroom not half an hour later. Too many late nights cursing into the baby monitor.

One by one, my senses started to come back online like an old computer slowly booting up. Holy cow, did I feel old in that moment. Joints ached. Eyes fought to stay closed. Lips felt dry and cracked like I’d been snoring. And people were calling me “sir”. Damn it felt good to feel old again.

The cold blooded and efficient part of my brain considered shifting my weight a bit, peeing and then going back to sleep. Thursday was Little Voices night, big night ahead of me. My eyes wouldn’t roll themselves, after all.

I stretched and let out a yawn. Some tiny, paranoid part of me wanted to reach between my legs and make sure I hadn’t already wet in my sleep. Me, an actual bedwetter? That would have been low-key humiliating.

I heard Janet’s soft, whispering “Aw” as I stretched and let out my quietest yawn. My stirring on the playpen’s cushions must have alerted her. I wiggled my toes and felt nothing but soft fleece press against them. No shoes. The cushions shifted underneath me and my brain roused itself from its dreamless void. The pen in Janet’s classroom didn’t have any cushions.

That meant…

I opened my eyes to Janet peering down at me, a soft contented smile. I must’ve looked like a cherub to her Mommy maddened mind. The traffic outside the car door whizzed and hummed by making almost pleasant white noise. Easy to drift off too and not too. “Hey there sleepy bear.”

Half-sitting up, half-rolling over I looked around to figure out where we were. The world went spinning and white the tiled floor of the Community Center rushed up to greet my face. “Fu-!” I yelped out in terror milliseconds before giant ropes of arms grabbed onto me.

“Ooops! Sorry! Sorry!” Janet caught me just in time to stop me from face planting.

The fall chased the grogginess right out of me. It also chased something else out. The front of my pants was quickly warming up. My bladder was still emptying when Janet sat me back up in her lap, and I was too shocked to try and stop it.

“Is he okay?” Another Amazon asked.

Janet answered for me. “Yeah. He just woke up all at once. Surprised both of us.”

“He didn’t hit, did he?”

“No, no. Just had a scare.” Just in case, she started looking me over. I chewed on my tongue, annoyed. It was the closest I’d gotten to getting out of an Amazon’s grasp and it was an accident, (pun not intended). At least I didn’t need to pee anymore.

The last bits of my mind caught up to the present with that jolt of adrenaline. I was in pumpkin patch print jammies, and everything but my head and hands was bundled up in soft fleecy cotton. I’d more or less sleepwalked without the walking throughout the afternoon and into the evening.

I’d been scooped up, put in a car seat, taken to Janet’s house, laid down in the crib, stripped and redressed, and then transported to Little Voices. Success had made it so that adrenaline and spite waned enough for me to pass out. I remembered it all happening through a haze, like tiny snippets from sleep. On some level I probably thought it was part of the dream.

No flash memories of any changes either, which explained why I’d been full to bursting. I wasn’t incontinent, just being subjected to unpotty training. Right on cue, Janet prodded between my legs and sighed contentedly upon finding me wet. She probably was worried that I was dehydrated or something. At least she didn’t say anything about it. No declarations of ‘wet’ or ‘good baby’. The quick squeeze around my shoulders was still irksome.

As per usual, Amazons chatted with one another as if they were actual parents and their perfectly mindfucked Littles crawled underfoot and talked about things that should have only mattered to simpletons and children. This mixture of self-satisfied smugness and toddlerized small talk was what my brain had warped, mixed together, and written off as the whitenoise of cars passing by on the freeway.

A middle aged Amazon let out an exhausted sigh. “She went to sleep after she calmed down, but you would not believe the amount of screaming one Little body can hold.” The pink haired woman I’d reduced to tears a few weeks prior sat in her lap. Looks like her Big-younger sister was off vacation duty.

The other Amazon let out a small bark of laughter but gave a serious nod, “Oh I’d believe it. I’ve had my fair share of tantrums.” She brushed aside a strand of sandy hair and pointed to the Little girl waddling around in the common area. “So much effort over the silliest things, and all because she said the kitty cheated while they were playing a game. An hour of crying, and she had completely forgotten after the nap of course.”

“Oh they always do,” a Daddy joined in. “My little one once got upset because his sister was looking out of his window while we were on a car trip. Thankfully I was able to distract them with a movie, but it was a long trip.”

“Movies in the car,” the first sighed. “Wished I’d had that growing up. Would have made road trips with My Little brother and sister a lot easier.” The three Grown-Ups laughed and nodded sagely.

So this was generational… Amazons growing up with Littles forced to be siblings, and thought they should get some of their own. That was low key terrifying. Despite how much they patted themselves on the back, I was betting even money they wrote off ‘hypnotic trance’ as ‘distracted by cartoon’.

Speaking of cartoons: “So Daddy said we couldn’t see the Gubble Buppies movie cause they wouldn’t let him come in, and he wanted to see it super bad too.” It was the same girl who’d had no problem with being turned upside down to the point that her dress fell off. “I don’t get it. The poster said ‘All Ages’.”

Other Littles nodded while moving around under the chairs, no more noticed than ticks on a dog. They just couldn’t stay still. “Mommy said I couldn’t see it either cause they wanted her to wear special glasses and they were uncomfy, but we got to go to see Princess Party instead and it was really funny! There’s a part where Eliza is playing a silly game with her Daddy, and it’s really funny…”

I wanted to slap my forehead as hard as I could. Were they that dense? Were they really that oblivious? That willfully ignorant to the way the world worked and continued to work before their abduction?

A third let out an excited gasp. “Oh! I wanna watch that! Maybe Mommy or Daddy will take me, or maybe if Grandma or Grandpa come to visit!”

Must be. Blissful mindfucked ignorance.

My ears pricked up to another conversation. “…And she’s been so lonely lately, asking for more play dates, wanting to just go out more. She needs somebody else in her life that can be around more often. Someone besides Nick and I, especially since we’re both working so much now.” I honed in on an Amazon sitting next to her friend, both had to be in their mid twenties. “So……” At this she paused and looked around surreptitiously, even checking under her chair, before confirming no munchkins were around, her own being across the room playing ball with a group of other Littles. “Nick and I have decided to start trying for a baby!” She said it quickly and in a whisper hard to catch. If they hadn’t been right next to Janet I wouldn’t have heard any of it.

That poor Little was in for a world of awkward being next to a real kid and them being allowed to grow up. How messed up was that? I remembered. Mary’s blue haired sister. This kind of thing was normalized. The whole thing put lie to the idea that Amazons were overcompensating from an infertility epidemic or something.

My eyes panned over and across the room, scanning for Mark. Horsey McDoucheface was pleasantly absent, so I had that going for me. Several reasons why he might be absent caused my upper lip to automatically curl in disgust. If he adopted a Little so he could fit in better, that was bad. If he came back at all, that was bad. I snuck a glance above me and saw Janet’s chin pointed in the same direction. Was she looking for him too?

In his usual spot was another woman idly going through her phone. At her feet a Little was rummaging through a seaweed green diaper bag. Wearing just a T-shirt and Monkeez, he was rummaging around like a booze hound looking for a nip. It might have been the sound of the zipper or the crinkling of stacks of diapers being discarded, but he made enough of a noise to make her look down from her phone.

She didn’t talk loud enough for me to hear, but she pulled back and looked down inside his crinkling underwear. Homeboy didn’t even flinch. The idea that he might be trying to help by getting himself a fresh diaper made me lose any imagined respect I was having.

Turns out that wasn’t his plan. He kept digging, and his Mommy did a double take. She stood up over him and bent over. “Sweetie, no no no. No playing in your diaper bag,” I managed to hear, mostly through lip reading and context clues; kind of like when you’ve seen a movie so many times you can tell what’s being said even if the volume is down too low and there’s a million things going on behind you.

His own fingers firmly planted in the mouth, he kept trying to push and rummage through, trying and grabbing at things. “Mmmfmfmgurfft!” A pacifier clattered to the floor, along with a teething ring, an empty bottle glazed on the inside with droplets of apple juice, a packet of baby wipes, plastic keys, and an orange terry cloth bib. Wow. This guy was good.

Strong hands began to impede the much smaller limbs in their mission of mayhem. “Give me a second and I’ll get you them, sweetie.” Her voice kindly soothed, trying to prevent a tantrum.

“Mmmfmfmgurfft!” Evidently, it wasn’t working. Now tucked under his captor’s arm, he kicked and reached towards the diaper bag like he’d seen his old wedding ring while munching on his fingers.

The larger being easily moved the remaining items aside, quickly finding a yellow plastic pouch of some desired goodie. The Little grabbed at it with the hand not plunged between his lips. Picking up the Little and placing him in her lap, the pouch was not given over. Instead a small amount of teardrop shaped objects was measured out and given. “Here are your yogurt bites, sweetie.” The man-baby happily began to munch, tension leaving his body, as they looked around the room, the frenzy over. Other Mommy’s and their Little Helpers picked up the discarded distractions and placed them back in the diaper bag. She mouthed “thank you” and contented themself with petting her now oblivious ‘child’s’ hair.

I felt Janet’s massive form lean sideways. A rubber nipple brushed lightly against my cheek. “You hungry? Thirsty?” Janet asked. Seeing that Little get snacks gave her her own ideas. I tried to snarl up at her, but my face still sagged. My mind was awake enough but my body was still feeling tired and old. “You slept through dinner time. I didn’t want to wake you.”

My breath felt hot and dry. My skin kind of did too. Knocking Tommy in line this week had made me thirsty. “What’s in it?” I asked.

“Goat’s Milk, remember?” She held the bottle up to her mouth and took a sip to prove it. A few errant giggles from fellow Littles made their way up to me. Evidently a giantess sucking on a baby bottle was amusing; they were Grown-Ups after all.

I reached up and accepted the bottle, tasting the milk. It wasn’t cow milk, but it was definitely milk. The differences were subtle and hard to describe. It was the difference between a name brand soda and the store brand. The flavor was similar but not quite identical. Some key ingredient had been withheld or something had been thrown in, but it wasn’t inherently bad or inferior, just not what I was used to. It was thicker and creamier, but not garishly so. It wasn’t like a milkshake and flowed through the nipple and dribbled down my tongue easily enough. It was more like whole milk with some extra cream stirred in- extra whole milk- or buttermilk that leaned more towards milk than butter but still had that hint when I swallowed.

“Trust issues?” The middle aged woman to Janet’s right asked. She mimed sucking on the bottle.

“Yeah,” Janet said. “He’s had bad experiences with people trying to give him candy.” The woman nodded, sympathetically, but said nothing more on the subject. I kept sipping on the milk, leaning back into Janet while pacing myself. She took the opportunity to adjust and cradle me in her lap.

Still kind of achey, I let her and slowly sipped at the bottle. Something had awakened in me once I began swallowing. I wanted to guzzle the whole thing down at once like it was a pint, hiccups and burping be damned. I didn’t realize how thirsty I was.

I paced myself, however. Gently nursed instead of gulped. The goat’s milk was good enough, but it was novel at best. I wasn’t savoring the flavor as much as I was stalling. No one expected me to sing the stupid “We’re All Together Again” song. Janet didn’t bob me on her knee. I managed to make it through two whole baby lap games before Janet tilted the plastic cylinder up and forced me to finish it. “I’m glad you liked it,” she whispered.

I’d gotten out of “kissing booth” which was really just an excuse to violate a Little’s personal space by announcing which body part was next to be kissed, or nibbled, or nuzzled ad infinitum. The way Janet was staring I could tell she was taking notes. I’d be put through this later, that much was certain, but she seemed sad she couldn’t do it right then and there in front of everyone. So much of Amazon Mommydom was, in fact, performative reminders of everyone’s status.

I finished up my stalling just as another lap game was taught and reviewed.

“This is the way the baby goes,
Snappity snap, clappity clap.
This is the way the baby goes.
Peekaboo! I See You!”

Everyone under seven foot got turned into a living marionette with the bigger people puppeting their hands to make them snap and clap and cover their face.

I wasn’t going to escape the bouncing games. Janet joined the others on the floor and turned me around to face her.

“I went to town

To get some butter
And when I got there
I fell in the gutter!”

She bounced me and then opened her lap, plopping me on the floor with a squish only I could feel. This was not how I was accustomed to getting between a pretty girl’s legs.

Sooner than the Amazons wanted yet much too long for my tastes, the games ended and the Littles were being herded off into the empty nursery. “Do you want to be changed?” Janet whispered to me. “I can take you to the restroom for some privacy.”

Just imagining myself laying back down caused a pulsing headache to well up in the back of my skull. I’d done enough lying down for a bit. “No thank you,” I said. It didn’t stop her from carrying me down the hallway instead of letting me get in line with all the padded sheep.

I didn’t stop her either, and just allowed myself to enjoy being carted around. It’s not like I was going to be able to nap again. Experience had taught me that I’d get approximately three to five minutes alone to sulk or nap or just zone out before Amy would meander up and startle me with…wait.

I looked around. No crawling, brown haired, gap toothed nuisance in sight. “Where’s Amy?”

“Ms. Helena and Amy didn’t come this week,” Janet said. “I’m surprised it took you so long to notice.” She booped me on the nose.

“Is she okay?” I found myself asking.

“I’m not sure. I haven’t seen anything online about Amy or her being sick.” For a split-second I was actually kind of appreciative that Janet mentioned the Little first. “But I’ll be happy to text and tell Amy’s Mommy you missed her…” And there the appreciation went; right down the toilet. “Maybe Amy was just tired or they didn’t feel like coming this week. Maybe Ms. Helena had an emergency at work, like Mark.” Before I could ask the question, she added, “He texted.”

So he wasn’t out looking to fill up a crib just yet. Good. One less giant getting a smug dose that adopting Littles was the one true way. Bonus.

Maybe he’d end up adopting a Shetland pony. Horses wore diapers, too and Amazons liked it when their fake babies bore a passing resemblance to themselves. It let them pretend they were related to their dolls. Mark might be happier with a pony.

“Oh Clark,” Janet sighed. She set me down on the nursery floor. “What am I gonna do with you?” I hadn’t even said anything, but it felt like she was half-reading my mind. She gave me a pat on the head and walked back to go swap brainwashing stories with her new friends. Just before she crossed the threshold she paused and looked back at me, frowning slightly.

“What?”

She twisted her lips and then walked out of sight.

“Your Mommy’s pretty cool,” someone said behind me. “I wonder what it was like before her Maturosis expressed itself.”

I looked to my left and saw the white haired Little boy I’d met my first time in this particular madhouse. He was wearing a black onesie and had on his hips for lack of pockets. I let out a quiet groan. “What the heck are you talking about? Maturosis is complete bullshit.”

“No it’s not,” White Hair said. “It’s very real. That’s why they’re meeting. This is a support group.”

I sat down on the carpet and grabbed a toy pull string giraffe just to have something to fiddle with. Never let them know you’re interested. Never let them know you care. “This is a cult.”

“Same difference.”

“Look,” I said, “I’m just gonna call you Danny”.

He pointed to his onesie. “That’s my name, actually.”

I cursed under my breath and kept going. “Okay, Danny, whatever. Maturosis is complete bullshit. Littles aren’t babies. We don’t spontaneously need to wear diapers or sleep in cribs or drink from bottles, and even if we did that doesn’t justify taking away our legal personhood and strip us of our agency.”

“I agree.”

The giraffe stopped moving, his long neck no longer bobbing up and down in a lever motion. “Then what are you trying to tell me?”

“Maturosis is a legit medical condition. It’s just misdiagnosed. We don’t have it,” he pointed to tonight’s lone caretaker. “They do.”

“Amazons have Maturosis?” I resumed pulling the toy along the floor. “Yeah…right. Let me try telling all my ex-coworkers that.”

“They won’t listen because they have Maturosis,” Danny retorted. “Most of them anyways.”

The wooden zoo animal fell sideways with my swipe. “Then why aren’t they pooping themselves in a parent teacher meeting?”

The know-it-all’s eyes lit up slightly. I’d given away something. “Maturosis is what made them force you to poop,” Danny said. “Maturosis isn’t what makes Littles act like babies. It’s what compels them to treat us like babies.”

I rolled back and laughed so hard my bladder loosened slightly. My new idiot looked slightly offended. First Amy wanted to make a conscious non-ironic distinction between Adult and Grown-Up, now this bleached mother fucker was trying to sell me on ‘reclaiming’ a bullshit term used to justify my enslavement. Did wonders never cease?

“What else would you call their madness?” he asked me. “Lots of Amazons are perfectly nice, reasonable people except for this one thing. They’re absolutely normal and respectful and decent until something in them snaps and then they dress us up like this.”

The laughter in me started to die down and my breath felt hot in the back of my throat again. “That sounds totally…totally…” It sounded familiar. It was exactly the same line of thinking that let me go to work for ten years. “What’s your point?”

Danny laid down next to me and placed his hand behind his head. “That’s what this Little Voices program is all about. It’s not to help us, it’s to help them.”

My head felt heavy. I had been right. I didn’t want to get up again, even though the nursery floor was harder and more uncomfortable than Beouf’s rough and tumble carpet. My eyes felt itchy and in no way wanted to close, but there was almost nothing that was going to make me sit up again. “Help them feel better about themselves,” I grumbled.

“You’re not wrong. But it’s also helping them control themselves.”

I lifted my foot and wiggled my toes inside the pumpkin patch jammies. “Yeah. A whole lot of self-control going on here,” I said. “Did you know she didn’t even wake me up to dress me in this?”

“How many times has she spanked you since coming here? How many of those mind fucky cartoons has she made you watch? How many punishment enemas? How many high grade laxatives? Does she not change you enough? Does she gag you with those inflatable pacifiers? Little Voices teaches Amazons to restrain themselves. It teaches them to see as people, even if it’s just baby people.”

“Okay,” I admitted. “Point taken. The lesser of two evils is still evil, though.”

“But it’s still lesser.”

Silence was my only concession. A shiver ran through me. “Besides. I kind of like it. It’s really not that bad.” That was enough for me to muscle up back into a sitting position. Fuck this guy. Little Voices had gotten to him too. I stood up and went to walk away. Empty cribs here I come. “Hey, do you know Amy?”

I froze and turned. “We’ve met.”

“She’s not here tonight, but you should talk to her. She has some really good ideas.”

“Like Maturosis being for Amazons?”

“Naw, that’s me and a couple of the other guys. Amy’s pretty cool though. She can teach you a lot if you pay attention. When I first got adopted, I-”

“I literally don’t care, Darby. Could. Not. Care. Less.”

“My name’s Da-.”

“Don’t care.” Now that I knew this sub-Amy nutbag’s name was Danny I would never get it correct again. I huffed over to an empty crib and lightly rammed my face against the bars. The cool untouched wood felt good against my skin.

I was going to call the Daddy on duty to put me in so that I’d have a level of separation from this cult within the cult. I’d be safe there. Safe and alone. Safe, and alone, and away from the door. Safe, alone, and away from a poorly guarded exit that had only one trusting guard and with no allies or pawns to act as distractions.

And every day it was getting easier to pee myself. Or wear wet. Or drink from a bottle. Or be carried around. Or half sleep through getting my clothes ripped off of me.
Well, fuck.

I was throwing away perfectly good opportunities here. How to use them, though? I was in a room full of people who had been broken in with the same methods that Beouf used. I hadn’t asked around, but chances are more than a couple of them had literally ‘graduated’ from Oakshire Elementary on their way to a full scale daycare. What could be done with a room full of people who were essentially like Amy?

Not quite, Amy, actually. Not even close in some aspects. I’d been able to make some of them cry. I was getting good at controlling Littles through tears. My smile didn’t reach my soul, though. Once a week for about half an hour? Bullying wouldn’t work.

“Ooooooookay!” I shouted in the same teacher voice I’d used earlier on the playground “Gather round one and all!” I mixed in a bit of an old fashioned carnival barker flare. “Hurry! Hurry! Hurry! Step right up! Step right up!” Just like before the mice gathered around me like I was the Pied Piper. “Friends, do you like playing tag but are constantly flustered by tag backs? Do you deserve to be in your school’s Winter Pageant but keep getting cast as Tree Number Four and yearn to flex your acting chops? Then do I have a game for you?!”

Among the mini-crowd Danny looked at my one-eighty attitude adjustment through confused and jaded lenses. I threw him a wink. Some might think I was being theatrical. I sincerely hoped he knew I was mentally flipping him the bird.

From there I taught the group Battle Tag. It was an instant hit.

“Oh Agony! Agony!”

“I’m melting! Melllllting!”

“Must! Stay Away! From! The Light!”

“But I’m too young!”

It was tamer than the playground version from earlier in the week. No hard hits or tackles. No mud to roll in. For all intents and purposes it was just a silly game of tag with a little extra sugary melodrama sprinkled on top. Nothing to be suspicious of at all, just the same silliness as the game of keeping the balloon in the air or the feathers that made things light and heavy.

Speaking of which. “Gotcha!” I ran up to a pot bellied mammoth of an Amazon man. I was panting but not even working up a sweat, even though I was cocooned and fuzzier than a caterpillar.

“No thank you, Clark.” The Amazon man on nursery duty said. “I’m not playing.”

Damn. “Okay.” I filed away his appearance. This one didn’t play with us. I’d need a player at some point.

I went and just barely caught up Danny. “Gotcha!”

While he contorted on the ground screaming about his spine, I rested my hands on my knees. Goat’s milk was a bad choice. I was only able to keep up with some of these guys because Littles’ playroom had less space to run in than Beouf’s fenced in playground.

“Alright everybody,” the Amazon called. “Line up. Time for checks and changes.”

Panting and giggling, everyone else made a single file at the changing table. I looked around for explanation. “Kylie’s Papa likes to check and change everybody before the meeting ends.” They sounded annoyed but not put out.

The attendant heard that evidently. “I never give anybody back wet.” He patted a couple packs of different diapers he’d brought in himself. “Don’t worry. I’ve got something for everybody.”

“Sometimes I like to hold it and go just after I get checked,” somebody whispered. “Just cuz.” Nodding and giggles was the reply.

I imagined myself in front of everyone stripped down and wanted to heave. It wasn’t just the heat and the goat’s milk this time. My hand shot up. “Uh…sir.” I called, feeling my throat tighten. “My Mommy and teacher are the ones who change me, normally. And our changing table is kinda…private.”

This was the wrong move, evidently. The ground trembled beneath my feet as he strode. “Then you can go first, buddy”

“What?!” My shriek came out as a cracking squeak.

“Everybody is single file and I’m a pretty big guy.” He grabbed his belly for emphasis. He could have played Santa at the Mall. “Don’t need a curtain when you’ve got me.”

“Um…I can wait.”

I was expecting taunting. Something like “Awww, poor baby is afraid to get his diapie changed.” Or “Widdle Clark wants to keep playing in his soggy pants! What a precious baby!” It’s what I would have done if I’d had the backup and thought I could have gotten away with it. What I got was the so-called kids of Little Voices politely looking away and pretending not to notice me pleading like a public change was some kind of execution.

“Seriously, Clark. It’s okay.” Danny said. “We’ve all been there.”

“No thanks, Darren.”

“Dan-”

“Whatev-”

I was in the grip of the behemoth before I’d finished my insult. “This won’t be so bad,” the big man confided in me. “I’ll make it quick. In and out; up and down.”

“No!” I croaked. “Stop! Not yet!” I had the barest inkling of what that Little girl in the barbecue restaurant had felt like. I wasn’t ready. I was never going to be ready.

“Come on, kiddo. Let’s get this over with. Make your Mommy proud.” Like lightning I was trapped on the mat, my breath heavier than normal. It was nothing for him to unsnap the inseam of my jammies. I started quivering as ice cold air poured over my lower half. “Monkeez, huh? Good. That’s what I brought.”

He lifted my legs up so he could get the lower half out of the way; make it easier to slide the old diaper out and the new one in, but when he grabbed me the ankles he paused and let go of me. “Wow, you’re kind of red.”

Of course I was red. A strange man was about to drag an ice cold rag across my privates in front of everyone. Why wouldn’t I be red? “But not sweating…”

“Clark?” Janet’s voice got my attention. She walked into the playroom, leaving the lower door wide open. “Hey Don. What’s wrong?”

The big guy put his icy cold hands on my forehead and cheeks. “I’m not a doctor, Janet, but I think your baby’s sick.”

Chapter 78: Fever
Teachers don’t get sick that often. It’s not something we do. Part of it is just building up natural stamina and resistance. As a general rule, kids are germ factories, walking petri dishes of viruses and bacteria all spreading it around with one another. Not counting hospitals, schools are probably the biggest hotbed for any number of diseases. So teachers, as a side effect, often develop very robust immune systems.

If only that were the only reason why teachers were hardly ever sick. That’s barely a third of the reason why. The rest of it is more of a cultural thing. ‘Sick’ for a teacher, and ‘sick’ for someone else in almost any other profession are two different metrics. Somebody else might get a case of the sniffles or a mild fever or toss their cookies first thing in the morning, and decide to call out of work. It sucks, of course, and their boss will totally give them grief about it if it happens too often, but it’s not like the entire accounting division is going to be thrown into chaos for the day because Steve woke up with an ear infection.

As a teacher, though? No such luck. Me being sick meant that I had to call into school as well as put in the appropriate digital paperwork advertising that I needed a substitute teacher for the day. Then I’d have to have plans that amounted to a script so thorough and detailed that a complete novice who didn’t know my classroom norms and procedures and likely didn’t have a teaching degree could run my daily routines as if I wasn’t really gone. This includes being able to tell them in perfect detail where everything is from worksheets to learning toys to art supplies and pencils.

Yes, I could have ‘Emergency Sub Plans’ filled with busy work but busy work in of itself is a misnomer. Even with three and four year olds, what was appropriate and challenging at the beginning of the year was nothing by the middle, and six hours worth of material come August might not last half an hour come April.

Every time a teacher feels under the weather, they’re faced with a choice: Stay home, rest, and heal, or pop a pill, suck it up, run on fumes and drone through the day like a zombie. When it takes at least a day worth of preparation to be absent for an entire day, most teachers will take their chances and hope that their students are either empathetic enough or oblivious enough not to take advantage of the situation. For me it was doubly so. All it would take was one slip up and…

And…

Well, you know…

Another fun fact, when teachers do get sick, it’s more likely to be on vacation. Three day weekends and other prolonged scheduled breaks are the most likely time for a teacher to finally stay in bed so that they can barf up a lung or something. I’m not sure how accurate that is statistically, but that’s how it always felt to me.

Perhaps it was more psychological than physiological, but if I was going to get sick it tended to be on the days when I knew I’d have the time to recover. Like my body would ignore symptoms or my brain would block out pain and exhaustion just long enough until my mind knew that I could afford to be sick and then suddenly everything would hit me all at once.

That was another thing about me in particular. I’m a total wimp when I get sick. All confidence and self-reliance goes out of me and I become a whimpering quivering mess who by turns wants to either be left alone in a dark room or to be held and cuddled and told that it was all going to be alright.


There I was that morning, laying out in the middle of the living room on my ‘sick bed’. I was wrapped up in a thick wool blanket with a smooth comforter on top and I was still making the couch cushions vibrate with how much I was shivering. I never stayed in our giant king bed in our bedroom when I was sick: Cassie needed the computer to do her work still, and the guest bathroom with the Little sized toilet was closer to the couch.

My joints ached too harshly and my bladder ached too frequently to want to climb the old Amazon sized toilet in the master bathroom. My eyes focused on the T.V. The DVD that had been playing had gone on so long it had looped back to the menu screen.

Damn. I’d missed it too.

“Cassie!” I whimpered, not realizing just how quiet I was being. “Cas?!” I called out, feeling like I was shouting at the top of my lungs, but it was probably just a more pitiful moan.

Quiet, almost gliding footsteps came. “Hey hon,” Cassie said. Even at a whisper her voice sounded booming to me. “What’s up?” She stopped and felt my forehead, her palm feeling icy cold on my face. She looked down at the small wooden table she’d set up. “Do you want more juice?”

The plastic sports bottle, something that only got broken out when I was sick, suddenly existed again in my mind. My lips were chapped and my throat was dry, but it wasn’t why I had called out for her. Meekly I shook my head. “Uh-uh.”

“I’m gonna get you some anyways.”

“But…”

My wife picked it up and quickly walked over to the fridge. “Apple or orange?”

“Apple, I guess.”

“What?”

I spoke louder. “Orange!”

“Okay. Sit up so you can drink it.”

Reluctantly, I did and regretted it. Sitting up brought me that much closer to the waking world and I realized that I had to pee. When I’m sick the combination of dulled senses combined with constant hydration makes it so that my bladder either feels completely empty or is to the point of bursting with no warning or in between. Most of my coworkers would likely snicker something asking how that was different from when a Little was healthy.

Typical.

Feeling like the dead rising from his grave, I struggled out of my cocoon and shambled to the guest bathroom, my clothing nothing more than a baggy t-shirt and a pair of equally baggy shorts. Peeing felt like it took forever and any stamina I’d saved up felt nearly spent by the time I’d flushed and gone back to the couch.

Waiting for me on the table she’d arranged by the couch was a thermometer, a filled up bottle with watered down orange juice and a couple of pills. “Come on,” my wonderful wife said. “Let’s get you back and wrapped up.”

“C-c-c-cold.” I felt like my lips were turning blue. I collapsed back into the couch. Something about Cassie’s touch made me shiver even more while she started tucking my legs under the blankets.

She started rubbing my legs up and down, trying to build friction heat. “Does that help.”

I shivered again. “Not really. But thanks for trying.”

She stopped rubbing my legs and put the thermometer in my mouth. The metallic taste and the slight weight from it dangling from my lps made me want to spit it out like it was poison. My eyes looked down at the tiny electronic readout. Ninety-nine point nine. One hundred. One-hundred point five.

Cassie’s slender hand twisted the thermometer so that the screen was pointed down. “Don’t look,” she said. “It only makes you more stressed out.” I grumbled but knew she was right. After what felt like much too long the thermometer beeped and she read it. “Hundred and one point nine,” she said. “Take your medicine.” She slid the pills over to me and I reluctantly picked them up and took a swig from my bottle.

The orange juice tasted like battery acid to me but it covered up the taste of the pills. I put the bottle down and wiped my mouth. “Why do I even have to take my temperature?” I asked. “I know I feel sick.”

With extreme patience, Cassie finished tucking me in, practically swaddling me. “Because if the fever gets too high, that’s bad.”

“It’s not like we’re gonna go to the hospital.” That was a sure way to get plopped in a cot.
Cassie dodged my whining. “Would you rather I stick the thermometer somewhere else?” She grinned with her eyes, but kept the rest of her face calm and patient.

I felt too weak to so much as say, “Pass.” Instead I just feebly shook my head right before another cold flash ripped through my body.

She leaned over and gave me a kiss on the cheek. I moaned in relief at the very touch of her. I hadn’t even realized that I’d closed my eyes again. “Thank you,” I whispered.

“Welcome, hon,” she said.

I didn’t even realize she’d walked away. I might not have realized I’d almost gone back to sleep save for that I startled myself awake snoring. “Cassie?” I heard only silence and some light clacking. “Cassie?!”

Her footsteps were heavier coming back. “What’s wrong?” I couldn’t tell if she was annoyed, worried, a little bit of both. “It’s only been five minutes.” Her focus honed in on the bottle. “Just sip, hon. Don’t tank up too quickly or it’s bad for your stomach.” She reached over and picked up the bottle; frowning when she felt the weight of it. I hadn’t had a drop. “Oh. WHat’s wrong?”

What was wrong? I wasn’t sure. I wanted to ask her not to leave. I wanted her to be in the room with me, even if we weren’t directly interacting with each other. I wanted to ask her to help me climb into our bed so that I could at least be bundled up and unconscious within thirty feet of her. I just wanted her there.

A sliver of memory pierced through the mind fog I was feeling. “Can you start my DVD again?”

Cassie looked at the screen. “Yeah. Sure.” She went over and pressed play. “Sure, hon.”

“It helps me sleep.”

“I know.”

My eyes closed again and the rest of the day passed me by, interrupted only by the desperate need to not pee on the couch.


I opened my eyes, needing to pee yet again. I actually held my breath releasing my bladder, irrationally afraid that the diaper would leak. When the leak subtle seeps out the leakguard and soaks your clothes it almost feels like a betrayal. It had one job and it couldn’t even do that.

When the diaper leaks right as you’re peeing, hot fresh urine actively dripping down your thighs and legs; it somehow feels worse. It feels even more pathetic than usual. Like I was having my first accident all over again. That was unlikely to happen again. After the first leak that morning, Janet changed me back into a nighttime diaper. I wasn’t feeling in any shape to walk anyways.

Janet had whisked me home immediately, changed me, and put me to bed. It was the first time in a while that I hadn’t stayed up trying to curse her name, but sleep had not come for me. I spent the whole night closing my eyes, waiting for sleep, but never feeling rested. Instead, the cold feeling just got worse, and anything that wasn’t cold was somehow on fire.

Night had bled into morning and Janet had seemed disappointed but not surprised that I’d yet to make a full recovery. “Don’t worry,” she told me. “I already sent emails saying I’d be out today. Stayed up all night making sub-plans.”

Several quiet, hazy hours had passed since then, with only a leaky diaper and Janet opting to lightly swaddle me to mark the time.

“Hey,” Janet whispered to me, once she knew I was awake. “How are you feeling?”

Everything aching I flopped my head to the side. We were still on Janet’s couch. She was reclining in it, holding me gently against her with her outside arm while working a cell phone with the other. The T.V. was onto some empty talk show where middle aged B-list lady celebrities talked in a circle to the hoots and hollers of their equally middle aged mostly lady audience.

“What time?”

“Not quite lunch,” she said softly. “I already called Dr. Milton and told him your symptoms. He thinks it’s just a bug but if you don’t get better by Sunday we’ll be going to see him on Monday.”

“Mark’s last name isn’t Milton, is it?”

“No.” She brushed some hair off my forehead. She didn’t laugh or roll her eyes. Just spoke to me softly like my paranoia was the most normal thing in the world. I suddenly felt silly. I’d forgotten that I already had a pediatrician. Mark probably wasn’t even a doctor.

I chuckled at my own stupidity, but the laughter came out as a weak panting.

Suddenly my body shook and spasmed, and she just gripped me so I didn’t fall. For either ten seconds or a year, every part of my body that was touching her felt like it was being nuked and the tiniest of slivers of skin that peaked out from the blanket was being flash frozen. I squirmed and wriggled to be closer to the giant source of warmth that only wanted to cuddle me. I was actually glad to have her there.

“You can go back to sleep if you want to,” Janet whispered gently to me. “I don’t mind.”

My eyes closed, but they felt itchy and burning instead of nice and heavy. I tried to count sheep in my head, hoping that I’d lose count and drift off but only one of those things happened. “No.” I said. “Can’t.”

Janet switched arms and picked up a bottle. She sat up a little straighter so that I was resting in her lap instead of curled up against her torso. “Here.” she said holding up the bottle with red liquid. “Take a drink.”

I opened my mouth and accepted the nipple, taking more gentle sips of some kind of watered down artificial drink with a flavor that matched the color. It wasn’t cherry, or strawberry, or watermelon. Just red.

Anxiety trickled down my brainstem, hissing to me about what the contents of that bottle were. There could have been poison or an addictive drug that caused me to become completely incontinent or killed my brain cells until I’d forgotten my shapes and colors. At that point in time I was so completely and utterly wiped out that I would have welcomed the death of self. Also, the stuff tasted pretty good. Once my cracked throat had some wash down it, it wanted more.

“Careful now,” Janet said. “Don’t drink too fast. You might upset your stomach.” She took the bottle away from me, letting me have sips every once in a while over the course of several minutes.I didn’t mind. I was just glad to not be alone.


“How do you think you got it?” Cassie asked.

I was sitting up, spooning broth into my mouth. “I don’t know. Probably just the summer campus crud.”

Cassie nodded. She’d heard this song and dance from me a billion times. “Somebody coughed on you last month or didn’t wash their hands or whatever and your body has just been putting getting sick on hold.”

I shrugged. “Yup.” I couldn’t tell if she’d heard me so I repeated myself.

“You are such a wimp when you get sick.” Cassie smiled at me. I felt like crap, but seeing the smile on her face made me feel a tiny bit better. My stomach wasn’t hurting, but anything more substantial than chicken soup wasn’t the least bit appetizing. The soup wasn’t exactly mouth watering, but I could picture myself eating it without feeling my throat tighten in rejection.

The way she was eating the spaghetti signaled that she was having no such problems. “I’ll take care of you if you get sick,” I offered.

“I’m not a wimp when I get sick,” Cassie said.

I took a drag from my sports bottle. The orange juice tasted like I’d just brushed my teeth despite all evidence to the contrary. It might be just because my taste buds were shot. “I’d still take care of you. Get you things.”

She favored me with a weak grin and slurped more noodles. “That’s fair.” She finished off her plate in a few more mouthfuls. “Though you know you don’t have to wait for me to be sick and dying to give me stuff.”

I coughed a bit and silently hoped that wasn’t a new symptom. “That’s fair.”

“I should stop picking on you,” her voice was both taunting and enervating. She was both flirting with me and making fun of me at the same time. If only I had the energy to do more than just whimper and imagine myself nuzzling against her in bed. “Okay. Back to work,” she groaned. I kept sipping broth and listening to dishes clink and clank in the sink. “Need anything?” She called out.

I swung my feet over the side of the couch and dropped the blankets to the floor. I tromped after her, doing my best not to shake. “How many clean towels do we have?”

The love of my life slowed and let me catch up with her. “At least two.”

“Can I get one wet?”

She looked at me quizzically. Her eyes glanced down to my shorts before zipping back up to my shoulders. “Sauna treatment?”

“Sauna treatment.”


I rubbed my eyes, knowing sleep would not claim me now that I was awake; not when I wanted it. Sleep never came when I wanted to when I was sick.

Deep down, I knew exactly how I’d gotten to feeling so absolutely dreadful. For weeks on end I’d pushed and deprived myself so that others could know my pain. Even when I shouldn’t have. Especially when I shouldn’t have. On some level I’d been constantly on guard, constantly coiled, ready to strike.

That sweet taste of victory on the playground with Tommy had lulled my mind into enough security that my body finally let down its defenses and whatever gunk inside me had finally kicked into high gear. I’d stepped into the ring, swung against anything and everything within arms reach, and only heard the bell when Tommy hit the floor.

Back in my corner, I was out of breath and the adrenaline was taking me so far and I was now officially feeling every hit that life had dealt me.

I had this coming. I really had this coming; strategically if not karmically.

“I’m sorry,” Janet said. “I’m really really sorry.”

Laying in her arms, gazing past Janet and up at the bathroom ceiling, I croaked out. “Why?”

“I shouldn’t have taken you to the meeting last night,” she said. “I should have seen that you weren’t feeling like yourself with how sleepy you were and kept you home.” She reached up to a medicine cabinet. For the first time that morning, her voice lilted slightly into her cooing Mommy talk. “Poor guy. You burned yourself out playing when you should have been sleeping.

I moaned in half-agreement. “I’m pretty sure I’d still be sick.”

“But maybe not as sick,” Janet replied. “Let’s check your temperature.”

Every muscle that I could muster tensed up involuntarily. “Please don’t stick it up my butt!” I opened my mouth like a snake ready for a mouse.

The Amazon clearly wanted to laugh at me, but everything south of her eyes stayed calm and professional. “It’s a forehead scanner, Clark.” She dragged the top over my forehead and stared at the readout. “Hundred and two.” Her lips retreated inward. “Not the worst, but not great.”

The world tilted and the blankets drooped off me as Janet sat me on the bathroom counter by the sink. Blizzard air hit me right in the chest and I had to yank the blankets back across myself. Panting,I shifted and felt the wet squelch beneath me. Had I peed that much already?

Janet was busy pouring a viscous liquid into a cup that was tiny even for me. Every joint in my body ached, and despite the chill, the cool bathroom tile was starting to feel very good beneath my naked thighs. She turned back around and held it out to me. “Here you go,” she said just above a whisper. “It’s children’s strength.” She quickly corrected herself. “Amazon children…so…Little sized.”

“Will that put me to sleep?”

“Uh-uh.” she said. “It’s just acetaminophen. You can go to sleep if you want, but it’s just to help keep you comfortable.” Her eyelids flickered and she glanced back down at the cup. “Not enough for a bottle. Do you want me to put it in a syringe so you can suck it up?” My mouth hung slightly agape. It sounded like a genuine question instead of a veiled ultimatum.

I held out my hands and took the plastic cup gingerly from her. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome. Both hands.”

I threw it back like it was a shot. The stuff was overly sugared, even for me, and went down like a milkshake. I set it down next to the sink and smacked my lips. “Can I have more to drink?”

“Sure. Let’s go get your bottle.” She stepped forward to envelop me again.

“Wait.” I held my hands out. “Stop!” Janet froze. My eyes gazed out past her to the bathtub. I was cold. I was trembling. I was wet. “Can I have…” I stopped and swallowed, tasting the last bits of the medicine again. “A shower?”

“A shower?” She looked over her shoulder to the tub’s showerhead as if it were a mysterious alien artifact. “You want to take a shower?”

Over a month and it had been all baths with the only variables being with or without bubbles. “Yeah…”

“Yeah, hon. Sure. You can have a shower.”

She transported me over to the tub and stood me up. It felt like a ball ‘n chain was coming off of me when she undid the tapes and my diaper fell down between my legs. I sat down with my knees pulled up to my chest as soon as she balled it up and cleared it away. The coolness of the tub’s basin was exaggerated by my addled senses. I was alone for the first time that day and uncannily awake. I dared not move.

Janet came back with a fluffy white towel and left it on the sink where I’d been sitting. “Close the door?” I asked.

She closed the door and turned on the water. “Let’s give this a try,” she said. The water came out of the tub faucet and lapped up to my toes, chilly at first. Janet ran her hand under the water until it was warm enough. She stood up to her full height and took the shower head attachment off from his perch and snaked it all the way to the floor. She aimed it down. “Ready?”

“Ready.”

She pulled a knob on the faucet and it sputtered, stopping for a half a second as water was rerouted through different pipes and tubes. The showerhead surged to light spraying water down by my toes. I flinched when tiny droplets bounced off the floor and onto the tops of my feet. Janet held it steady and I gingerly- very gingerly- slid my feet into the stream.

Relief. Sweet relief as my feet felt the warmest they had in forever. I was in a hot spring in the middle of a blizzard tundra. My body untensed and my legs slowly withdrew away from my chest, hungry for more warmth.

The water came out hot and fast, stinging like thousands of bees; pulsing like a tattoo gun. My upper body still shook. Janet wisely took that as a cue. The wonderful torrential downpour maneuvered around me and started spraying on my back. My arms fell slack against the side.

“Feel good?” Janet asked.

“Yeah,” I said. Looking up at Janet. “How could you tell?”

My friend smiled lightly, not showing her teeth. “I’ve never heard you make that sound before.”

“I made a sound?”

In reply, she gave me only pleasant silence, with nothing but the sound of running water hitting my back and the basein to do it. My shoulders wouldn’t quite release the tension, flinching and jerking every few seconds. I heard a click above me and the water pressure changed. Still as hot, but not nearly as intense. That did the trick and my body must have telegraphed it.

“Better?” Janet asked.

“Yeah.” I threw back my head into the stream and rubbed my hands through my hair, quietly exhilarating in the wet curls flopping down my head and becoming malleable again. Steam quickly filled the bathroom, fogging the mirror and clouding my vision.

I inhaled through my nose and relished in the ability to do so. A stuffy nose wasn’t the worst symptom I’d had. I hadn’t consciously noticed it. But damn did it feel good. The medicine must have been kicking in.

I spent the next five minutes asking Janet to adjust the positioning of the portable showerhead. First my upper body was too cold, then my legs. Then back to my back. Anything that wasn’t being doused with near scalding water felt unusually cold. It wasn’t as bad as before, but it was closer to an itch that wouldn’t quite go away. I kept my eyes pointed downward, stuck in my own world.

“Do you wanna hold it?” Janet said. I looked up at her through the steam. I’d almost forgotten she was there. I sat up leaning back on my hands for balance and my legs spread open wide, not even attempting to conceal myself. Janet had seen me naked so many times that I’d lost count. She knelt over me, holding the wand-like apparatus. She was dressed in light blue sweatpants and a pink t-shirt; and the steam was starting to do things to her hair. My head was finally clear enough to look at her and notice her shifting her body weight and wiggling her shoulder. No way could that position be comfortable for long. “Do you want to hold the showerhead?” she repeated.

I reached up and out. “Sure.”

She passed it off to me and rolled her shoulder. “Thanks,” she said.

Even with aching joints and limbs that wanted to fall off me; even though the portable nozzle was like a hairbrush in Janet’s hands and a club in mine, I wanted it. A big dumb smile plastered itself on my mug right as I aimed the water right on my face. Funny: It took me being sick for Janet to let me do things myself.

Using both hands I moved the shower head to my spine. Janet stood back up and was lightly stretching, but she hadn’t taken her eyes off me. Through the artificial mist I couldn’t tell if her eyes contained that trademark Amazon Mommy madness or if she was showing shades of one friend worried and caring about another. Maybe both?

“Can I have that towel?” I asked.

Janet looked confused. “You want to get out?”

“Nuh-uh”. Whether because I was feeling a tad better or because the acoustics in the bathroom carried my voice more efficiently, but it came out loud and clear. “I want to get it wet. Heat blanket. Opposite of a cold wash cloth?”

Understanding came to her. “Got it.” She took the fluffy white towel and draped it over my head. “Here. Let me help.” I didn’t put up any kind of fight when she took the shower wand back from me. “I’ll give it back. Promise.”

I got hosed down with the towel cloaked over me. My eyes started rolling because of how good it felt. The weight of the sopping towel pressed down on my shoulders, absorbing and transferring the heat of the water all around me while making it last longer. “Oh yeah,” I groaned. “That’s the stuff.”

Janet’s laughter joined my voice. It was light, almost humming. Satisfied. She placed the showerhead down by my feet and I just let it spray on me. “Better?”

“Much. Thank you.” I looked at Janet and saw her turning away, rubbing her eyes. I’d made a mistake and was too tired to care. Hefting the showerhead one more time I gave the towel a fresh blast of heat.


“Clark?” Cassie’s voice bounced off our master bathroom. “You okay in there?”

I roused myself up from the tile. My hot water towel had cooled around me and I’d nodded off, the steam and my own exhaustion compensating. I let out a shiver and stood back up, feeling life return to me with more hot water. In truth, we were about out of hot water. It was more tepid than anything, just like with swimming my skin had gotten overly used to it, and my skin swore the air was made of sleet. “Yeah. I’m fine.”

“It’s been close to an hour,” Cassie said. There was a pause. “Did you fall asleep?” She didn’t need to say ‘again’. She technically didn’t need to ask. She knew.

“I’m getting out,” I called back.

“Okay,” she chirped. “I laid out some fresh clothes for you when you get out.”

My sick heart melted a bit. “Awww. Thanks, Cass!”

“Sure thing, babe!”


The toilet roared and I jolted out of my half-memory half-daydream. I almost gave myself whiplash. Janet was in the midst of pulling her pants back up over her hips.

“What?” Janet said. Her eyes widened. “Oh no! Did the water get too hot with the flush? I’m sorry!”

Without realizing it I’d let go of the shower head. The darn thing was snaking by the drain, spraying impotently by nothing.

“No. It’s not that, it’s just…” I started to mumble. Something close to a blush started to spread.

Janet allowed herself a smirk. “Big people need to go pee too, you know.”

“Yeah,” I said. “It’s just…you’ve never…around me.”

Her eyebrows knitted, trying to recollect while she washed her hands. “I haven’t? “ she said. “Huh. That’s weird. I’m sorry.”

“For what?”

She dried her hands on a bathroom towel. “Nothing. But if I made you uncomfortable I promise it wasn’t on purpose.”

I stopped myself from saying it was alright. As refreshed as I was starting to feel I was still exhausted. Only the sound of the shower filled the brief silence. “Thanks,” I mumbled.

The self-appointed nurse inched closer to the tub. “You’re all coiled up again. Feeling tense? Achey?” I barely nodded, but that was enough. Reaching over she picked up the showerhead and gently sprayed me down again, coating me with more warmth. I hadn’t even realized how close my shoulders were to my ears until they’d already lowered back down.

“Let me try something,” she said. She hoisted the showerhead back to its holster so far above me that I likely couldn’t reach it without being at full strength and being allowed to jump from the rim of the bath. She took a few moments to angle it, playing it. “Do you want it coming down on your head or by your feet?”

“Feet, please.”

She angled it so that the stream came just south of my lap, then removed the towel from off my back and then held it close to the head until it was dripping. Gently, she placed the heated piece of cloth back over my shoulders and my upper body melted.

Janet didn’t stop there. She started pressing and squeezing at my back, shoulders, and neck. Kneading and massaging my aching muscles. I’d never been to a professional masseuse and I highly doubted Janet was anywhere near that skill level, but the level of care she applied more than made up for it.

I could feel her strength with every squeeze, but knew she was being careful. She probed and poked and prodded, but only until my body gave some sort of unconscious signal to move on or continue. I’d been touched and carried and picked up and toted and wiped and scrubbed and manhandled so far, but not like this.

“How’s this?” she asked.

“Uh-huh.” I let out a yawn. “Yeah.” Clearly I wasn’t at my most coherent.

“Can I wash your hair? It might feel good.”

Another yawn. “Yeah. Okay.”

I shivered a bit as flower scented goop was poured onto my hair. Even the shampoo felt cold to my short circuiting senses. The rest felt decadent, however. Every movement of her fingers gently digging into my scalp, massaging my hair was pure paradise.

And there was no singing. No cooing. No remarks on how cute she thought I looked. Just some tuneless humming as she took turns massaging my scalp and the rest of my body. For just a few minutes I let myself forget that there was a fresh diaper with my name on it after this.

As if she were reading my mind she took down the shower head and gently rinsed the suds from my hair and body. “I think it’s time for you to get out. You’re yawning an awful lot.”

“No I’m not,” I said right as the yawn bellowed out of me.

“Okay. No you’re not.” She turned off the water. “Stay right there and try not to fall asleep. I’m going to get a fresh towel.”

“Okay,” I said.

There in the quiet, with only light drips, I sighed to myself and ripped the massive wet towel off my back. It was losing heat quickly now. Good things never lasted it seemed.

Janet came in and scooped me up with the old towel’s dryer fluffier twin. She wrapped me up and swaddled me, paying attention. A few strides and we were across the hallway and I was back on my back with an especially thick Monkeez making its way under me.

Two giant fingers dipped themselves in a tub of cream. “You’re peeing a lot today.” She hastily added, “Which is normal. I’m going to put some of this on you just so you don’t get a rash.” I let out a tired breathy sigh which she must have taken for resignation if not consent. She started smearing the stuff down below, carefully rubbing it into all the folds and crevices of my skin.

Her nose wrinkled. Mine too. The stuff had a funny chemical smell to it. Memories of zit cream and off-brand sunscreen bubbled up into my brain. It was the kind of stuff that you could feel on you for a moment after it was applied. “How about some powder for the smell?”

I didn’t complain. She made it snow on my crotch before closing it off and taping the diaper up.

She sat me up. The padding of the Monkeez still stuck to me like I’d had a training chocolate level diarrhea. Unconsciously, my eyes started to drift over to the crib. For once it looked extremely comfortable.

“I know you’re sleepy,” Janet said in a soft quiet voice; even so it thundered slightly between my ears. “But first, I want to get some more liquid in you. Let’s go finish that bottle you started. Maybe we can try and get something to eat. Then you can go back for a nap like you normally do.” It was true. I was becoming accustomed to afternoon naps. “Something simple. Oatmeal, maybe.”

“Do we have any chicken soup?” I heard myself ask. “Broth?”

She tapped her chin, thinking. “Yeah. I think I’ve got some. How about I put it in a coffee mug and you can sip it with a straw? All by yourself?”

The idea of being able to use a straw sounded heavenly. “Okay. Sure.”

She cradled me back up in her arms and carried me to the kitchen.


I was still wet when I toweled off, but wasn’t dripping. My skin was back to vibrating the moment my feet were out of the shower. I threw on the loose shirt and shorts as fast as I could, praying that they’d somehow magically make me feel warm in a way that three layers of blankets and four stacks of pillows had so far failed. My strength almost spent I hoisted myself into bed and re-wrapped myself in

Cassie was at the computer, click-clacking away. The glow of the screen felt like an unreadable beacon to my tired eyes, and all I could see was the back of her head, and only if I sat up to watch her work. “Feel better?”

“Yeah,” I said. Then I corrected myself. “Better. But not good.” She kept typing, but I caught the faint outline of her turning around and smiling at me. “Thanks for taking care of me.”

“Of course,” she said. “It’s what we do.” She turned back around.

I nestled back and closed my eyes yet again. My yawn came out like a contented cat’s. “I love you, Cassie,” I said. She didn’t react. I must have been whispering when I thought I was talking normally again. “I love you,” I repeated myself. Nothing.

My eyes popped back open. She was ten feet away but it might as well have been a mile as far as sound went.

“I love you.”


Something was wrong. My eyes opened, for real this time and not in the fever induced half delirious dream. I was no longer in the past and still being cradled in Janet’s arms. She beamed down at me, softly smiling like I’d somehow granted her deepest wish.

Oh no!

The giantess had the refilled bottle of juice in her hands and placed it between my lips, waiting for me to suckle down the sugary sweet stuff before telling me, “I love you, too, baby boy.”

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Poor Clark, thousands of "I hate you"s wiped out by one fever induced “I love you”. I hope this doesn’t break his spirit and make him give up.

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Chapter 79: Sabotage
“I love you…”

“I love you, too, baby boy.”

Wake. Wide awake. Burning up with fever and shivering cold at the same time. Dehydrated but almost too tired to drink.

And in the moment, none of that mattered.

No.

No, no, no!

Fuck no!

I did not just say that!

She did not just hear that!

I was delirious.

I was still feverish.

This was a fever dream.

A fucking nightmare; the same that I always had when things were either too good to last or too awful to handle all at once. Any second now I’d sit up in my crib, covered in sweat, panting and blinking away the nightmare I’d just trapped myself into. It felt real, but so did all dreams while you were in them. I’d thought I was awake and about to nod off when I was talking to Cassie in our old bedroom but then I woke up back in

FUUUUUUUUCK!

“I’m sorry,” I said to Janet, my breath feeling hot in my throat. Shit! Why did I say I was sorry?! “I was having a dream! I wasn’t talking to you! I thought I was somewhere else!”

Still cradling me, Janet took a seat in the kitchen and repositioned me so that I was seated sideways in her lap, reclining in the crook of her left arm. The bottle came up to my lips. “Okay,” she said. “Drink up. I just want you to feel better. That’s all.” To my horror and shame I’d taken the nipple and a few sips of red flavored juice as she was soothing me.

I let the bottle from my lips… Water mixed with sugary red powder dribbled out over my neck and chest for my trouble. “No!” I said. “No! That’s not what I-”

“I understand what you’re saying, sweetie,” Janet interrupted. “But that’s not important right now. You’re sick. You need to stay hydrated. Drink up.” She was being patient with me. Too patient. Infuriatingly patient.

“No! I didn’t! I didn’t say anything!”

“Just a few more sips for me.” She managed to get the bottle back between my lips…

I took a few sips. My bladder suddenly felt full, as it had been feeling all day, and I started to feel amazingly anxious. “What’s in this stuff?!”

“Water and flavor powder.” Janet set the bottle down and felt my forehead again. It was still cold but not icy.

“What’s in the powder?” I demanded. I fidgeted and shivered. Hard to focus. Cold. Hot. Had to pee. Again. All day.

Janet shrugged noncommittally. “Electrolytes. Sugar. That kind of stuff. I can read you the ingredients off the back of the can.”

“No!” I squealed, my voice cracking. “I want water!” I wouldn’t have understood the ingredient list anyways. Who could?

She sighed in annoyance. but there was a glint of worry in her eyes. “Sure. Let me get you a different bottle.”

“No!” I barked. My throat felt raw and scratchy. “Dump it out, rinse it and refill it!” I didn’t want her slipping in anything else, maybe coating the new nipple in something tasteless and odorless that would have me pissing and shitting in my pants or chemically altering my brain so that I’d be in some kind of bizarre brain damaged haze.

No! Not that! Never!

“Okay, honey,” the worry was spreading to Janet’s voice. “I can do that for you.”

“No! I want to do it! I’ll fill it up!”

“Clark, you’re-!

“I’m not a baby!”

“I wasn’t going to say-”

“Baby boy! You called me baby boy just a second ago!” I was angry. I was scared. I was embarrassed and humiliated. I was panicking. My bladder was full to bursting again and the only thing that distracted me from it was the adrenaline and guilty terror I was experiencing. “Don’t call me that!”

“Okay,” Janet said.”That’s fine. I’m sorry. I just meant it as a term of affection.”

Bullshit! “I h-!” I stopped. She wasn’t looking at me. I needed her to look me in the eyes when I said it. She carried me over to the sink. It wasn’t modified to accommodate Littles at all. I could sit in it and the water would make it up to my belly button. And as weak as I was feeling I probably couldn’t fill up the bottle myself unless I planned on glugging it down right on the kitchen counter. “I hhhhhh!” I just panted. She still wasn’t looking at me. I needed her to know in no uncertain terms how much I hated her.

“I HHhhhh!”

The bottle came back to my mouth. My throat felt dry. I was thirsty. So thirsty. I’d drink the water, make sure my throat was good and wet. Then I’d tell her. Look her in the eye and make her burst into tears with three simple words.

“You’re doing great,” she said kindly to me. “You don’t have to drink so fast. Just take sips. That’s it. This isn’t a race.”

“Hhhhhayhhhh.” No. Had to finish the bottle. I’d finish the bottle of tap water. Then I’d chew her out.

We stayed in the kitchen the entire time. Outside of occasional hums and mumblings to herself that I couldn’t pick up and had absolutely no interest in knowing about, she didn’t talk. I reached up and grasped the bottle, even though she was holding onto it. Grabbing onto the vessel felt better than leaving my hands idle and my fists close up in potent rage.

When the bottle was about three-fourths of the way drained she took it away from me. There was no chance at me being able to successfully resist. “I hayyyyyy!”

“You can finish the rest with your broth,” she said and put me into the highchair. No straps or harnesses this time, just the tray and the drop to keep me there. Honestly it was closer to how I had lunch at school.

My mouth opened to tell her off. “I…”

Janet turned around. “Still want your broth in a mug and a straw?”

“I…” She was looking right at me, waiting for an answer. “Yes please…”

I slumped forward, my forehead casting a shadow on the feeding tray. Why couldn’t I tell her how I felt? The fuck was going on? I relaxed my bladder yet again and closed my eyes pretending that the dampness was just a warm compress on my junk instead of…you know.

The microwave beeped and my soup came out of the oven. A bright green bendy straw was inserted in. “You don’t have to drink the whole thing,” she said. “But it’ll be good for you if you drink as much as you can.”

I muttered out another thank you. Janet grabbed a tremendous banana from the top of the refrigerator and peeled it. Without saying a word she broke off a piece and offered it to me with a hopeful “Mmm?” I shook my head and quietly sipped my broth. I’d tell her how awful she was and how much I hated after I’d had enough to eat and drink.

If I made her too mad she’d just put some mush in a bag and gag me with it or something until I had to swallow it or risk choking. That’s what Amazons did. Even her. Even Janet.

Just thinking about that hurt what miniscule appetite I’d had. If my body wasn’t doing everything it could to try and retain water and fight dehydration I might have cried into the broth. Only babies who didn’t know how to use their tear ducts couldn’t cry. That didn’t make me feel any better.

“I…” I stopped while she slowly chewed her banana. I should wait for her to swallow. Out of politeness…

Oh fuck. Who was I kidding? I couldn’t even think of her as ‘Grange’. She was Janet. Always had been.

The fuck was happening to me? Maybe this wasn’t a virus or me working myself into exhaustion. What if this was more programming? More mindfuckery? Get me to let down my guard again and then WHAM…I’d be Ivy or Amy but without the pink and frills (and many more teeth).

“All done?” Janet held her hand on the mug readying to carry it off to the sink and toss it down the drain.

“No.” I said. She took her hand off. “Yes.” She put it back on. “NO!” The mug that almost doubled for a soup bowl went away. “I said I wasn’t done!” I whined.

“I think you’re more than a little punchy,” Janet told me.

My eyes widened. “I’M NOT FUSSY!”

My old friend drew back like a caged lion had just taken a swipe at her. “I didn’t say you were fussy. I said you were punchy. You need more sleep, Clark.”

“DON’T CALL ME-!” I stopped. My name? I didn’t want her to call me by name? I’d been so sure she’d bust out a ‘honey’ or a ‘baby’ or a ‘bubba’ or some other toddlerish pet name.

Janet removed the tray and started carrying me back to my room. “You definitely need sleep.” She said, quickly adding. “And that’s okay. Your body needs to rest and heal. Do you want me to change you before I put you down or do you think you’re not that wet?”

Fuck. Back to no-win questions. “Change me, please.” Cry. I was going to cry. I’d barely moved all day and I still felt dizzy. I tried to start myself into raging, desperate tears, but the most I could get was not-even hyperventilating on the table.

Bars sprung up around my periphery. “Do you want me to stay with you? I don’t mind sitting in the rocker and keeping you company while you go to sleep.”

I was not going to sleep. “No.”

She seemed to read my mind. “Okie dokie. You can rest here. I’ll give you some privacy. You don’t have to go to sleep.” Fuck her. I was totally going to go to sleep. She pointed to the baby monitor. “You can call if you need me.”

Her actually listening to that heap of scrap; that’d be something. Out of all the ‘presents’ I’d gotten out of that awful shower it was the thing I’d seen the most, day in and day out, and gotten the least utility out of it. Depending on outlook, that was supposed to let her spy on me or allow me easier access to her. Beyond suspicious paranoia, all data indicated that it did neither.

Skinner had said that it would be ‘educational’. The only thing it was teaching me was that Amazons were the absolute worst, and I didn’t need any help or remediation on that lesson.

I tried one last time before Janet left. “I…hhhhhhhhhhhhh.” She walked out before I could tell her and closed the door. “I hate you.” The curse came out a full thirty seconds later as a growled whisper. The monitor certainly picked it up at least.

I rolled over, sneered at the baby monitor, and tried to come up with a plan.


One afternoon, a few days later, I sat in my stroller while Janet pushed me around in it. I was leaned back, but sitting up, and drinking from my ba-ba. Red! My favorite flavor! I was just wearing a nice sky blue t-shirt and a diaper, but Janet had given me a knit blankie to keep my legs warm.

Maybe it wasn’t just a few days? Maybe it was weeks or months? Years? Time meant less to me, recently. (There was an ironic statement).

I leaned back and looked at Lion. “Lion?” I asked. “Do you want some juice?”

He didn’t respond. “More for me.” I kept sucking on it, enjoying the sweet red flavor of it. Delicious!

The Grown-ups walked by. Some waved. Some didn’t. That was okay though. Grown-ups are always super busy. Always worried about all their responsibilities and bills and stuff that they had to do. I used to be just like them.

Then Janet found me and became my Mommy.

I knew she wasn’t really my mother. ‘Mommy’ was a job title; like teacher or artist or ax murderer. And as Janet liked to remind me, being my Mommy was a full time job with no pay but benefits she wouldn’t trade in for the world. I didn’t have a job title anymore. Didn’t need one. Littles with Maturosis were special.

Deep down I knew I didn’t have Maturosis. I knew I was really an adult and not a baby that would never grow up? But why fight it? At least everybody was friendly towards me now. I didn’t have to worry about somebody snatching me up or putting me in diapers; because it had already happened.

Speaking of which, I took a moment go pee-pee, sighing even while I continued to nurse my ba-ba. Drinking and going to the bathroom at the same time: There was something I wasn’t allowed to do before!

Other strollers with Littles passed by. We waved casually at each other; smiling; content that we were both in on the secret. A few grumpy or sad Littles pouted. Screaming. Shouting about how they weren’t really babies. Just like I had. They’d come around eventually. We all did. The big people knew the true secret to happiness, and not able to have it for themselves, they shared it with us.

“Hi Janet!”

It was Amy’s Mommy. Amy waved from me over in her stroller. “Hi Clark!” Finally! Finally I saw her coming before she said it. “Did you know that platypusses are the only semi-aquatic egg laying mammals that start with the letter ‘p’?

“Yeah!” I said. “I did! Did you know that the Muffets creator got his start by making coffee commercials?” That used to bother me considering how often coffee was used to mask stronger stuff. Not anymore!

“No! I didn’t! Did you-?”

“Say bye bye to Clark, Amy.”

Bye Clark! See you at daycare!”

Oh yeah. I never went back to Beouf’s room. I’d been so good and been making such progress that it was decided I should just go straight into daycare. How had I forgotten that? Probably because I didn’t need to remember it. Whether I remembered it or not, Janet was taking me there. So why fight? Why worry?

“Hi Clark!”

This time I had to look up. Mrs. Beouf was leaning over and waving at me. “Hi Mrs. B.” I suddenly felt very, very, shy. I always did when I saw her outside of school. It was like she was somewhere she wasn’t supposed to be, but I wasn’t brave enough to point that out to her. She’d gone a whole long time without telling me where I belonged. It was only polite. I raised Lion up over my face, using him as a feline shield. Sorry bud.

Mrs. Beouf took it in stride like she always did. “Awww, Hi Lion! Good to see you, too. How’s he doing?” That last question was directed towards Janet.

I kept drinking my ba-ba, while the Grown-Ups talked. I didn’t think it was weird that there was so much red juice in it. It was a really big ba-ba. Big enough for me!

Honestly, I kind of tuned them out, listening less to their words and more skimming the cadence that their voices made. Nothing was out of the ordinary. Two old friends catching up. Small talk.

I looked around at my surroundings. Where were we? Were we inside or outside? It was hard to tell. Nothing was obstructing my view, but unless I really concentrated, I couldn’t tell. On one side of my stroller, it was grass and sunny, like a park. To the other side of me were tiled walkways and storefronts.

Where in town had something like that? Had we moved and I’d forgotten? Directly in front of me, it was just the Grown-Ups talking. Janet had stepped in front somehow and was now talking with Mrs. Beouf, yet I still could only make out the cadence in their voices. Did Grown-Ups have a secret language that I was only now just aware of? Was that how they did it?

“Thanks for catching up with us,” Janet said. “But I gotta get this baby boy home.” She poked my diaper through the blankie. “Hmmm…maybe a change, first. I don’t want you leaking in your car seat.”

Oh wow! She was right! I really did need a change! What’s more, I had to pee again.

“Say bye bye to Mrs. B.”

I took my ba-ba out of my mouth. “Bye bye Mrs. B!”

“Bye-bye Clark! I love you!”
“I love you too.”

Janet pulled a lever and my stroller reclined back. She grabbed the diaper bag and started fishing out the appropriate supplies. She didn’t have to go potty, so no need to go to the bathroom. She could change me out here in the open. In front of everybody.

Okie dokie.

Janet reached down to the tapes of my Monkeez. “Let’s get you nice and dry again. Then we’ll go home and you can take a nap.”


“Yes, Mommy.”

The sound of those two words rocketing out of my throat woke me up like a loud snore. I sat up in the crib, dripping wet from head to toe hyperventilating. “No!” The only thing that wasn’t wet was my diaper, ironically.

The nursery was dark, but tiny motes of sunlight shone through the curtains. It was late afternoon more than likely. The computer of my brain updated itself and made sense of what I’d just seen and experienced.

A dream. Just a dream.

Random garbled nonsense from my brain. No wonder Amy had been the most coherent in it. My bladder was still screaming too. That’s why I couldn’t stop peeing in my dream. That’s why the bottle never got empty no matter how much I sucked stuff down.

The door to the nursery opened. In walked Janet. “Clark? Are you okay? I heard you over the monitor.”

Was I okay? No. I wasn’t okay. Not even a tiny bit.

“You’ve been asleep for almost four hours. Let’s get you up so you’re not up all night. Get you a snack.”

My stomach growled at hearing the word ‘snack’. I finally felt hungry and invisible hands were reaching out of me, desperate to bring food down into my belly.

I responded by sitting up in a ball and huffing my way back to my normal breathing pattern. Janet walked up and pressed her hand against my forehead. “It looks like your fever has broken.” She sighed with relief, even as she wiped her hand on her pants. “Good. Now we have the whole weekend to get you better.”

Better? Clearly, I was getting worse. I looked away as Janet checked my diaper. “Uh oh. Dry. Let’s get some more fluids in you.” A light on the baby monitor was blinking. Had it always been blinking?

No. No fucking way.

“I hhhh….” Only hot air came out of me. That and something else.

“Ooops. Never mind! I felt that!” Janet chuckled. “How about I change you after snacks? Just in case?”

“Hhhhh…Yeah.” I said. “Sure.”

I couldn’t tell Janet that I hated her. I was having batshit dreams. I couldn’t even think of her as anything other than Janet and…and… and now the ‘educational’ baby monitor was blinking.

I was being mindfucked. Totally and completely mindfucked. There was some kind of sensor in that monitor that scanned and recorded my vitals and waited until I was in REM sleep to start pumping out subliminal messages to turn me into a drooling stupid doll. Me staying up so late was protecting me.

“Mommy,” I squeaked. Even my voice sounded better. “Can I please sleep with you tonight? In your bed?”

“I don’t know how comfortable I am with co-sleeping, Clark. I don’t want to accidentally roll over and hurt you in the middle of the night.”

Stoked by resentment and desperation, I wasn’t at my best yet, but I could still feel my mojo coming back to me. “Pweeeeease!”

“I don’t have a cot in my room,” Janet said. Then she got a look in her eyes. That classic, typical Amazon baby crazy look. “Yet. I don’t have one yet. I wonder if Babhub delivers this late.” She dug around her pants pocket for her phone. “It’s just a cot.” A cot wasn’t ideal, but better than the monitor. “We’ll see.”

I nuzzled into her. “Thank you…Mommy.”


I didn’t spend the night sleeping in a cot by Janet’s bed. Four o’clock on a Friday was just too late for whatever Amazon delivery company specialized in delivering baby furniture for spur of the moment Little abductions.

I did, however, sleep in Janet’s room. She went to the trouble of moving a playpen into her room and then decking it out with every spare pillow she could find.

I slept like the dead. Nice and dreamless, only waking up every one to three hours to make sure that some other bit of blasphemy hadn’t escaped from me or if I had to pee. Janet slept in the bed, wearing silk pajamas that I was positive she didn’t normally wear. She snored, too, but the rhythmic sawing actually helped me sleep. Since my poisoning and downfall this was the first night that I hadn’t slept alone.

It was…nice.

I wasn’t here to be nice, however.

Saturday was one big nothing. Janet insisted that I take it easy and we just spend the day resting in doors. In truth, I needed it. Just because the source of the spasms had gone away didn’t mean my muscles weren’t still tired from all the shaking. At least she dressed me up in something besides my crinkling plastic padding.

Sunday though…

Sunday was my opportunity and I took it.

“Whelp,” Janet clicked her tongue. “We’re here.” She didn’t have the same sing-song voice she did first thing in the morning. Not that I could blame her. No teacher wants to be at school on a Sunday morning. Papers still needed to be graded.

“In and out,” she said. “We’ll grab the papers and then go right back home.”

“Or,” I said. “I don’t mind if we do them here.”

Janet nibbled on her lip and looked at me from the rear view mirror. “I didn’t bring your diaper bag.”

“That’s okay. I’m dry.” I suppressed the blush that was coming. I was a grown-ass man. I shouldn’t have to be talking about the state of my so-called underwear. “It’ll be quicker if we do it here. Less for you to carry back and forth. Less chance you’ll forget something at home.”

“I’ll need to enter them into the gradebook too,” Janet said, sounding unsure.

“If I get too w…” I stopped and corrected myself. “Worst case scenario, I start to feel bad and we go home?”

Honestly, it didn’t matter where we graded the papers. This was more on the principle of getting Janet to do what I wanted. Get the giantess to listen more. To obey me.

“Come on, Janet.” I said. “Let me play teacher. It’s not like anybody is around to see.”

The sparkle in her eyes died a little bit. I probably should have called her ‘Mommy’ but that would have been laying it on too thick. If I used the M-word it’d become the default and expectation.

No. Janet wasn’t getting that unless she was good or I really wanted something.

I might not be able to say it out loud, but fuck that bitch.

I knew I’d won when Janet walked around, got me out of the car seat and took me by the hand instead of carrying me.

No one was around and her classroom was empty. The air conditioning didn’t run on the weekends, so it was more than stuffy inside. Good. I’d use that discomfort to mask any of the residual guilt I was feeling.

I stood in a chair, leaning over a student’s desk, two piles of papers presented in front of me. “It looks like the substitute still did the spelling quiz and the math test. Which do you want?”

“Both.”

My former friend didn’t flinch. “Okay,” she said. “You can start on one. I’ll grade the Science and Social Studies work and come back to help when they’re in the gradebook.” She caught herself. “If you still need help.”

A weak smile managed to show itself on my face. “I don’t think so,” I said. “If it’s spelled wrong, I mark it wrong. Same with math. I don’t need to know history or states of matter or whatever.” That seemed to make her feel better, an admission of ignorance.

Then, unholiest of unholy, she made the mistake of trusting me with a red sharpie. “Get to work,” she said. “Or play. Whichever.”

I took it, cordially, and did a tiny bow. “Thank you very much Ms. Grange.”

She reciprocated. “You’re very welcome Mr. Grange.” Then went over to her teacher’s desk so that she could grade and enter things into the school computer while I marked things down.

Mr. Grange…

If I wasn’t already about to do something awful before…

My dirty deed took only slightly longer than an hour, all told. I breezed through the spelling tests, first. No calculations to do. No work to show. Used my best handwriting.

I was random too. Fair. As far as I could be. Every third paper I marked, I left alone and graded fairly. If they got all the spelling words right, they were given a hundred. If they made a mistake, I took my bright red marker and scratched out their misspelled words and then in my neatest, smallest, most precise handwriting I’d write the correct spelling of the word. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Technically, scratching out the wrong answer and writing the correct answer wasn’t the best method from a pedagogical standpoint. Yeah, the kids would see the correct spelling, but I was also robbing her massive third graders the opportunity to see what their mistakes were.

That was intentional.

By marking and correcting the real errors like that, it made it more plausible when I inked out a correctly written word and copied it next to its remains. The same happened with the Math tests, though only one out of five got ‘Gibsoned’ since I was intent on showing all my work and many of her students did their math in such chaotic margins that finding the answer- correct or otherwise- turned into a scavenger hunt.

The grade point average on these tests and all tests in the foreseeable future were going to slowly but surely go straight down the toilet. The real errors helped me with the forgeries. If not-so-little Kelly made a mistake like forgetting a silent e or thinking that the shorthand for pi was three point five instead of three point one four, then not-so-little Connor would make the same sloppy mistake. It was easier for teachers to believe that groups of their students were all struggling with the same concepts than to believe in complete randomness.

I shouldn’t be doing this, a tiny voice that almost sounded like me buzzed in my ear. These were just kids. Some of them had been my students. My babies all grown up. Even the ones that hadn’t been in my class were names I’d learned and belonged to faces that I’d seen around campus. They weren’t Janet. They weren’t Beouf or Brollish or Forrest or Madra or Skinner or Winters or Sosa or any of the other giant condescending authoritarian hypocrites in my life.

They were just kids.

Except they weren’t. They were Amazons. Living in an Amazon world with Amazon parents. Even the kids I’d helped and taught if they hadn’t directly turned on me had immediately accepted the ruination of my life as normal and natural. Three-hundred and sixty nonconsecutive days spread out over the course of two years wasn’t going to undo a lifetime of further indoctrination.

I couldn’t change the world for the better. I couldn’t even change my tiny corner of it. I could only make the Amazons in closest proximity to me have a more difficult life before the programming and mindfucking and gaslighting finally broke me down.

Fuck these kids. They’d get over it. Undeserved failure would only breed character in the long run.

“Finished?” Janet said, coming over from the computer. “Already?”

I grinned. “Yes, ma’am!”

“You really are such a fantastic helper!” I was dead inside so I didn’t flinch when she kissed me.

I sat down, pretending not to stare as Janet went over and entered the grades. “Russel?” she scoffed. “Really?” She shook her head and entered the grade the kid had ‘earned’. She turned over to another paper and kept typing. “Guess we gotta cover this again.”

Everything was going to plan. Janet was going to have a ‘rough batch’ this year of kids who just didn’t quite get what she was teaching. Especially if I was allowed to grade. More time in remediation meant less time covering new topics, and unneeded remediation and lowering grades would lead to frustration for the students. Frustration led to angry parents and kids acting out. None of it would come back to me. I’d even stopped from putting my initials down at the bottom corner. No proof would link this to me.

“Mommy,” I called out, distracting her. “Can I sleep in your room again?”

Janet yawned and dabbed her forehead with her sleeve. The stillness of the air was finally starting to get to her. “I don’t think so, honey. We’ve both got school tomorrow and need our rest.”

“Pleeeease!” There was no way I was going to sleep with that baby monitor again. Not if I could help it.

“We’ve been up late the last two nights and I don’t want you super tired in the morning.

I blinked. That’s right. Both Friday and Saturday night, Janet and I had gone to bed at the same time. She’d laid me down, then gone to the bathroom, changed into her pajamas and crawled underneath her comforter. I’d never considered that.

“What if the cot is delivered by tonight?”

“I still don’t want to wake you up when I come to bed.” Then she tacked on “Website says that the model I ordered is on backorder.”

“Pweeeeease!”

“Maybe we can sleepover together next weekend.”

“Pweeeeeeeease!”

“No.” She wasn’t angry, but it was final.

‘Final’ was for quitters. “Pw-”

“Clark…”

My blood froze with the stare she sent my way. Looks like I was out of luck.

I opened my mouth to tell her what I really thought of her, and stopped. No. I’d let her listen over the baby monitor like always. Stay up as late as I could until I passed out. Disrupt my own sleep and dreams and keep towing the line towards exhaustion and sickness.

Why stop a good thing that up until now had obviously been shielding me? If I played my cards right, I could trick her into getting actual sleep on Friday and Saturdays at the very least.

I brooded on it, staring and glaring at her while she played into my trap. Twenty minutes later the work was done and she was standing up and stretching. “Grading done. Now all I gotta do is plan for this coming week. We can do that at home.”

“We can stay here and do it.” I was just being obstinate. The warm stagnant air being heated by the sun wasn’t any more comfortable for me considering that I had a layer of plastic coating my nethers.

Janet was in no mood to deal with my nonsense. She picked me up and carried me. Like a baby. The game was now over for her. “Come on,” she said. “Let’s go home and eat some ice cream or something.”

“Okay.” I ceded. “Do we have any more of that goat’s milk?”

She smiled weakly. “No. I threw that carton out. I was afraid it was expired or something. We can get some more at the store if you like.”

“No thanks,” I said. “Just curious.”

“Come on,” she said. “It’s time to go.” As if I had any say in when or where we went.

She was right about one thing: It was go time, alright. She just hadn’t figured it out yet.

1 Like

Wow! there were some very worrying parts in this chapter, had Janet really been trying to alter Clark with the “Red Drink” was it just coincidence was she just being carless in her worried try to help Clark. was it just the “baby monitor”, a combination of the two or something else even more sinister. The dream scene really gave my heart rate a jolt. Filled me with fear, and loathing for the loss of Clark the person, a dread that this wonderfully written story was coming to a twisted and unpleasing end. I fully understand and except that the end of the story will most likely come with tears a whimper a wet messy diaper, and life in the nursery for Clark, not a daring rescue lead by either Cassy or her dad.
I will now need to reread this story in a try to better get an idea of time passage, how long has Clark been Janet’s unhappy baby.
have a good day and a better tomorrow too.