by Andy Hollis
©2004 Andy Hollis -- all rights reserved
I flipped through the rack of truck-stop T-shirts, while keeping an eye on the ladies room door. What a waste -- mostly Indian themes or Harley Davidson logos, and nothing that would fit me, I thought with a sigh. Over the years, I had packed on a spare tire or three.
The insulin did it. I could always use that as an excuse and even my doctors agreed it was hard to lose weight with insulin, but...
The scent of something new filled the air. I looked around taking in several deep breaths. Whatever it was smelled delightful, and I felt suddenly tingly inside, and warm all over as a result. I knew the scent, but couldn't place it.
Looking around, I followed the scent to an old man, with steel gray hair, and a wrinkled face that looked ancient enough to be my grandfather. He wore an expensive gray suit, designer shoes, and he held an open green bottle. He looked over at me with a question on his face.
"What is that?" I asked.
He shrugged his shoulders. "A new aftershave, I think... 'Summer Memories'," he read from the label. "I don't smell much of anything these days. You like it?" He held out the bottle.
I took in a longer sniff, and smiled. "That's it. I know what that is now. It smells just like the fishing hole my dad used to take me to when I was a kid. Man, I hadn't thought of that for a while..." I closed my eyes and could see the place, a bend in the Little Moose River in the Adirondacks. My dad took me there every summer, at least three times, just to fish and talk. I could smell the water, the grasses, and even a hint of my dad's aftershave. I was -- seven, eight at the time. I let the thought drop, and opened my eyes.
The label on the bottle said:
Guaranteed to Take You Back to Happier Times
I smiled, then frowned as I noticed there was no other information at all on the label. No manufacturer, ingredients, nothing. I took another sniff, and gave the bottle back to the old timer. "Nice, and it did take me back. Where did you find it?"
The man spun around to the shelf so fast that the bottle spilled over half of its contents all over me. Drenched, and dripping with the lotion, I sputtered and spat out the alcohol taste, and tried to wipe the liquid from my eyes.
"Sorry, I am so sorry, sir. Wait just a moment, and I will get something to clean that up with." The man headed off in the direction of the men's room.
"Are you okay?" a girl wearing an employee's uniform asked.
"Yes, the guy said he would get something, but I'm dripping wet. "Do you have any more of this?" I looked around for the bottle, but realized the man must have taken it with him. "It's an aftershave, I think, called 'Summer Memories'?"
"Never heard of it, but I can check the stock."
"Thanks," I said and headed to the men's room myself. I saw no trace of the old man there, and I dried off the best I could with the towels that were supplied. I washed off my face and hands, then walked back outside to see my wife of twenty-five years, Claire, waiting for me.
"Took you long enough," she said. "What is that awful smell?"
"New aftershave. Some old guy was trying it on, and I asked him about it."
"When we get to the motel tonight, you had better shower -- twice -- if you have to get rid of that smell." She stepped back a few paces.
"I like it, it reminds me of the summer I was eight, and my dad took me fishing, you know, before he turned into a drunken bastard that beat me every chance he could get."
"I don't care. That has to go. You didn't buy any, did you?" she asked with that you-had-better-not-even-think-about-it stare.
"No, I was going to, but the old guy spilled that bottle all over me. I need a snack. You want to get dinner here, or wait?"
"I'm waiting, and I suggest you do the same."
"I really need something to eat. I won't be long, but I'm not driving now. I feel kind of jittery."
"Okay, but I don't want to hear about it if you are up all night with heartburn, again, Jason."
The clerk at the motel desk looked up as we walked through the door. He frowned and sniffed the air as I walked up.
"You have a room for Todd? Mr. and Mrs. Jason Todd?"
"Yes, sir. What is that you are wearing?" the clerk asked, bluntly.
"I haven't a clue, really. New aftershave that some guy spilled all over me. You like it?"
"Reminds me of summer camp," the man said with a faraway look in his eyes.
I signed in, took the key, and drove the car around to the room. Claire waited until I had all the suitcases moved into the room before making her entrance.
"Shower. Now!" she insisted.
"Yes, dear," I said in my best henpecked voice. "There's an Outback down the street a bit for dinner... Okay, okay, I'll shower first."
Claire packed my smelly clothes in a plastic bag while I scrubbed and scrubbed until I could no longer smell the fishing hole. I toweled off in the shower, and took one step out when I felt my stomach heave.
"Jase? Jason, are you all right in there?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. Nothing wrong," I managed to say before I threw up my hamburger and orange juice from the truck stop. I stopped heaving, felt better, and walked out into the main room as if nothing happened. "Ready for dinner? I know I am."
"Okay, but I don't think Outback is such a good idea for you. You are looking rather pale," Claire said quietly. "I did hear you throwing up in there, didn't I?"
"Yes, but no heartburn, and you said you didn't want to hear about it," I said, on the defensive side. "I am hungry, very hungry, but you chose, okay?"
I woke in the middle of the night, groaning as my stomach heaved. I rolled out of bed, and grabbed the trash can, just in time. I heaved and hurled for what seemed liked hours. I felt a sledgehammer pounding on my guts, and I heaved with every bump.
Before I had the chance to even try to crawl to the bathroom, my bladder gave out, and I soaked myself and kept on going.
"Oh, dear God, Jase, I'm calling an ambulance -- now."
I nodded my head, and groaned again as another wave of nausea rolled up from my toes to my lips.
The second I stopped hurling, my body started to shake, all over. God, I was having a seizure on top of everything else. I barely noticed the medics arrive.
I woke sometime later, groggy and disoriented. I looked around the darkened room, and groaned as my stomach heaved again. Someone was right there with a basin. "Claire?"
"I'm here, darling. How are you feeling."
I finished throwing up before I answered. "Like I've been run over by a truck. What time is it?"
"It's after noon, you've been out for two days."
"Two days? I sat up, then felt my bladder give out. I pulled off the sheets to see that I was wearing an adult diaper.
"I'll get a change. Jason, take a good look at yourself. You've been losing weight, a lot, and..."
"God, look at me," I said holding up my arms, and staring at the thin appendages that were attached to my shoulders. I looked down at my chest, and all too flat stomach.
"You've been getting smaller in a lot of ways, sweetheart. They didn't want to put in a catheter, and you've been having diarrhea so bad..."
"How much weight have I lost?"
"About fifty pounds, and counting," Claire said with a shake of her head. "You look about twenty, twenty-five at the most."
"With my bald spots?" I asked, and ran my hand through what felt like a full head of hair.
Claire fumbled in her bag for a moment, then held up a mirror. I stared for a while at the young man's face I saw staring back at me.
"That's impossible. That's not me. I never looked like that when I was twenty-five either."
"I know. I remember. Our wedding pictures? You were twenty-five and I was twenty-three. I can't call you an 'old man' after this, but..."
"This is crazy. People don't age backwards. It's impossible. I'm fifty years old, for Pete's sake. I -- I don't mind looking like a kid again, but what do I tell them at the office?"
"I've already called, and they have you out on disability. I put in for Family Medical Leave, and the kids are fine. Debbie's home from pre-med, and Kevin is insisting that he's old enough to stay home alone, but I want a house to come to home to."
I let myself collapse on the bed, not believing this. Claire pulled off my wet underwear, and changed me like a baby. "Remember that time I had salmonella poisoning? I lost twenty pounds in three days and my kidneys shut down. This has got to be something like that. Okay, I swear no matter how low my blood sugar is, or how hungry I am I will never eat at another truck stop again."
Claire shook her head, she wiped her eyes. "Jason, I don't think this is something that simple. No matter what the bug it wouldn't make your hair grow back, or make you look so much younger. Look at you, you're gorgeous now, and young. How can I compete with all the twenty-something girls that will be falling all over you?"
"You can't be serious? Claire?" I asked. "It's me, here, Jason, you know, we did that whole for better or worse thing? I've loved you for the last twenty-five years and that isn't going to change. I may look different, thanks to this bug, but that doesn't change the way I feel, ever."
"You say that now, but..."
I felt myself start to shake. As Claire called for a nurse, I passed out.
The pounding in my head and my ears woke me up the next time. I found myself in a small space, all metal, with unbearable noise all around me. I started screaming my lungs out, and trying to move my arms. My voice sounded scratchy, and higher than I was expecting. The noise stopped.
"Mr. Todd?" a voice spoke in my ear. "Mr. Todd, my name is Dr. Kline, and we are in the middle of an MRI, we're scanning your body trying to find an answer about all this. I know that must have been a harsh way to wake up, but you have been out for days and this couldn't wait."
"Sorry, I've had..." I cleared my throat. "Sore throat," I said. "I've had MRI's before, just not like this. I'll be still."
"Would you like a pair of ear plugs?"
"Yes, thanks," I said, but I fell asleep again before the tech had the chance to put them in for me.
I woke again, in bed. I glanced around the room and spotted someone with her back to me. "Claire?" I asked, groggily.
"No, Dad, it's me," Debbie said, and turned around. "Mom and I have been taking turns."
I stared at my twenty-one year old daughter, with the blonde hair exactly the shade of her mothers, and shook my head. "What are..." My voice squeaked. I tried again. "What are you doing here?" I held up a hand to rub my throat, then froze at the sight of the now matchstick-thin arm I saw.
"It's okay, Dad. You look thirteen now, maybe fourteen." She held up a mirror.
I fell back on the bed, shuddering. That couldn't be me. I looked painfully skinny, and my face, God, my face looked cute now, if not downright adorable.
"This isn't happening. Where's Kevin?"
"With Mom. Look, Dad, no matter what happens we are here for you."
I took the mirror, and groaned.
"You know," Debbie said. "The term you want for this is 'hottie'. If you were a couple of years older..."
"I think that will be enough of that, young lady. I am still your father even if I look like your little brother. I... Are the doctors saying anything about this? How I can grow back to me?"
"They don't know..." She trailed off, and for the first time I saw how red her eyes looked.
"Deb? What's the matter?"
"This, this is what's the matter. Daddy, what happens if you don't stop shrinking. Kevin and I got in yesterday morning and you looked maybe seventeen or eighteen, still older than Kevin at least, but now, now you're just a kid. What happens tomorrow when you turn seven then five and down to newborn and beyond?"
"I hadn't thought about that," I had to admit. "Uh, when did your mother say she would be back?"
"She's trying to help Kevin sort through this. I don't know. Why? Do you need a change?"
"I told you I was taking turns with Mom, and I've been changing you since I've been here. Kind of cute, but you are way too young for me."
"Deborah Ann," I sputtered. "I can do it myself, too."
I woke feeling great for a change. No more nausea, and my system felt really cleaned out. Enough light filtered through the blinds to let me know that it was during the day, but how many days had it been? I held up and arm and wanted to scream. I pulled off the covers and found myself in little boy's pajamas with cute little animals all over them -- even the diapers had cartoon characters on them.
"Mr. Todd?" a man said from the doorway. "Good, you're awake. May I call you Jason? I'm Dr. Kline."
"Ah, the mystery voice has a face now, sure, I know I don't look like a mister anything anymore. About how old am I now?"
"Seven -- maybe eight, at least physically. The good news is that you have stayed this way for the last three days."
"I know this will sound strange, but how long have I been here?" I asked, dreading the answer.
"Going on three weeks now. You have lost four fifths of your body weight, and about two thirds of your size. Your body is healthy, and normal for an eight-year old, well, an eight-year old with type 1 diabetes."
"I was afraid of that. I've had it since I was seventeen. I guess it was too much to hope for to get a new pancreas out of this deal. Okay, now what? I'm fifty years old, and look like I'm eight. You have a magic shot you can give me that will turn me back into me, don't you?"
"I wish I did. Look, Jason, what happened to you is beyond anything we ever expected. This regression of yours violates every medical and scientific principle I ever learned including conservation of matter. I can only imagine what you might be going through over this, but then again, you've been sleeping while your family has watched you change."
I nodded. "This has got to be hard on them, too. But what can I do? I have a great career, but I can't go to my office looking like this, and I have a great marriage, but something tells me that Claire and I will not be acting like man and wife for many years."
"Do you have any idea what happened?" he asked me.
"If you don't, I know I don't. We were driving home from our trip to Florida. We go down to visit her folks every other year or so, and we were on the way back when I pulled into a truck stop. I had to make a pit stop, and get a snack, and I did. I felt sick in the shower... Oh, my God. 'Guaranteed to take you back to happier times'. I was happy when I was eight, not happier than I was before this happened, but happy. I didn't know any better."
"What are you talking about?"
"An old man, in a gray suit spilled a weird bottle of aftershave all over me. I liked the smell since it reminded me of the summer I was eight, and my father and I were still friends. The stuff said 'Summer Memories', and it was guaranteed to take you back to happier times. The people at the truck stop had never heard of it before, and didn't have any more, but Claire hated the stuff."
"Look, I don't believe that an old man in a truck stop would have a magic potion that would turn people back into kids."
"Neither do I, for that matter. I really think I was cursed by the wicked witch, you know, the one with the flying monkeys?" I said. "You're the one who wanted an explanation, and that's the only one I have, except for the hamburger I had the truck stop."
Dr. Kline paced for a moment. "Do you still have the clothes?"
"As far as I know. I don't think Claire would have taken them to a laundry mat, since I don't fit into them any more, but I can ask her. She stuffed them in a plastic bag, and my bet is that they are still there."
"What?" my son, Kevin asked as he entered the room. Kevin, at sixteen was a tall boy, still skinny as a rail, but starting to show the adult he would become. He held out a large, gift bag to me.
"What's this for?" I asked as I took the bag, and looked inside. I couldn't help crack a smile as I saw the teddy bear inside. "Thanks, thanks a lot, this is great," I said and looked up at my son. He bent over the bed, gave me a long hug, and backed off shaking his head.
"Mom and Debbie bought you clothes, but I thought you might need that."
I hugged the bear for a second, then shuddered. I looked up at the doctor. "I'm fifty, and I can't believe I just got that excited about a teddy bear. Kev, where is your mother?"
"Right here, sweetheart," Claire said before she entered the room with Debbie right behind her. "Thank God you're awake. You haven't gotten any younger in days and we thought to get you some clothes, and better looking pj's."
"Thanks," I said, until Debbie held up the pajamas. "What are those?"
"Spiderman, Dad. You will look great in this, trust me, and you are so cute..."
"She's right, Jase," Claire said quietly. "Adorable is the word, and I can barely stand it. Now I don't have to worry about those hot twenty-year-old girls, just the cute nine year olds in the pediatric ward."
"Claire," I said shocked. "I am not now, and I never will be interested in little girls, except in a fatherly way, of course, but... Spiderman jammies?"
"Dad, there isn't much out there in your size that wasn't designed for a little kid," Debbie explained. I saw the grin she gave her mother, and knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that someone was enjoying this.
"Mrs. Todd," Dr. Kline cut in. "We were talking about possible causes for this change in your husband's age, and do you still have the clothes he wore that night with the aftershave on them?"
"In the car, somewhere, yes, I do. I wasn't sure what I was going to do with them, or any of his clothes, but I can get them for you in a few minutes. You think that awful aftershave could have something to do with this?"
"I don't know," Dr. Kline said. "It's the only thing we have to go on, now."
"How are you feeling?" Dr. Kline asked as he walked into the room.
"Like a lab rat chained to a wheel," I said. "I have so much energy now I don't know what to do with it, but with all this hardware attached to me I can barely move."
He smiled, and nodded. "Well, you've been here a week, awake and stable. No more changes, no more seizures and no more shrinking. This is good news. I will have them take off the hardware, except for the IV line, but no more fluids, for now."
"Can I go home now?"
"Not yet. I'd hate to send you out only to have you back in again within a day, and I do want to wait until we get all the results back from that aftershave. So far, they have found some unidentified biologicals in the mix, but if that means anything, I couldn't say.
"I want you out of bed, too. You need to get used to your new size, and energy level, and I want you out of ICU. I don't think you need the constant monitoring, just occasional, but we have a problem."
"I don't like the sound of that," I said. "What's wrong?"
"The Medical ward doesn't want you, because of your size. They don't have supplies for pediatric patients, and the Pediatric ward doesn't want you because of your chronological age. You aren't a child, although you look like one now, and they say they will give the Medical ward the supplies you need, but the Medical ward... Well, it goes on and on."
"Nice to know I'm so popular. I've grown used to the clothes," I said and pulled at the latest fashion Debbie had picked out for me. "And the size of my bladder. I'm hungry all the time, and I hope that's because I am a growing boy. I will grow up again, won't I?"
Dr. Kline shook his head. "I don't know how to answer that. The scans show that you are a normal eight-year-old kid with normal growth plates, so I would say yes, but then again there is no telling. This is new for all of us. If you grew purple scales and dragon wings tomorrow I wouldn't be surprised."
I started giggling. "That's a real pleasant image, Dr. Kline. I can..." I trailed off as my family entered the room.
"And how's my big boy today?" Claire asked me.
"Cute, darling, real cute. Just what I needed to hear. Hey, kids."
"Hey, little bro'," Kevin answered with a grin.
I sputtered and glared at my son, with absolutely no effect whatsoever. This was not good. At least he was joking around; I could imagine what it would be like for me to discipline him from now on.
"What's the word, Dr. Kline?" Claire said, changing the subject.
"I want to keep Jason here, at least until we get the final results of the tests back, but the question is finding him a bed in a regular ward."
"Shouldn't he be in Pediatrics?" Debbie cut in.
"I think so," Dr. Kline answered, without missing a beat. "But the staff of the Pediatric ward doesn't. So, until the Hospital Administration makes the decision, Jason will be staying here, but I will have the nurses remove the monitor, and the IV bag for now so that he can get up."
"Thanks," I said, then frowned. "Oh, great, I need to see a dentist, too."
"What's the matter?" Claire asked.
"I have a loose tooth. This is all I need, especially after all the money we've spent on my bridgework over the years. I don't want to lose this one."
Dr. Kline gave me a wide grin. "Jason, you don't need a dentist, guaranteed, but I'd say a visit from the tooth fairy will be in short order."
I groaned, and shook my head. "Baby teeth, I had forgotten about that, then braces, I know how that goes."
An orderly walked into my room early the next morning. He checked the chart, and gave me a crooked grin. "Okay, squirt. We're moving you down to a regular room on the kids floor."
No point correcting the man's mistake, I thought, as he pulled the bed from the wall and prepared to move me.
After a short ride to the elevator, he took me down to the third floor, and wheeled me into the east wing. A nurse, and a couple of kids, wearing pajamas with bathrobes met me about halfway down.
"Who is this?" the nurse demanded.
"Jason Todd," the orderly responded. "For room 319."
"No, there's been a mistake. This one belongs on the medical ward, not here."
"What's wrong with him?" a little girl asked.
"There's not enough room here," the nurse said, "now go back to your rooms."
"He can share mine," a boy about my size volunteered.
"No," the nurse half shrieked. "You don't understand. He's not a real little boy."
"He's a girl?" the boy asked and gave me a puzzled stare.
"Nurse Goldstein, it's okay," I said. "I don't bite, really I don't. This isn't my choice, either, but Dr. Kline said you had an empty room here, and there isn't one on the medical ward. Room three nineteen and step on it, Jeeves," I said with a backhanded wave.
"Well, yes sir," the man said with laugh.
"Don't you dare," the nurse said. "We will not have this -- this person on this ward."
"What's going on here?" Claire asked from behind me.
"And you are?" the nurse snapped.
"Claire Todd," she said without elaboration.
"She doesn't want me here cause I'm not a real boy. I guess that means I'm a robot, or maybe a puppet. Anyone seen the Blue Fairy?" Most of the kids laughed at that.
"You stop that, Mr. Todd. We know who you are."
"I think someone had better call the hospital administration and get this worked out."
"Can Jason come down to my room and play cards until he gets a room?"
"What about room 319?" the orderly asked.
"No, that's being used for ward business," the nurse insisted.
"Jason is ward business now," Claire said quietly. She walked down the hall, looked into a room, and walked back. "There is nothing and no one in that room. What is going on, here?"
"Good question," an older nurse said from a doorway to what looked like offices. "What is going on here?"
"Mrs. Blackwell, they brought Jason Todd here, after all."
The lady stared at me, and shook her head. "We told them that we do not accept patients like this."
"I'm the only patient in the entire world like this," I snapped. "What's wrong with you people?"
"There will be none of that, young man," she snapped right back. "This is a bad situation for all of us, so please try to understand. We can't have you on this ward with the real children."
"You mean he really is a puppet?" my would-be roommate asked.
"No, I'm fifty years old," I explained.
The kid looked at me. "That's nothing. I'm seventy-five."
"I'm a hundred," someone else chimed in. "I'm a thousand." "And I'm a million."
"I'm a million billion gazillion years old," said a girl."
"You don't look a day over a thousand billion gazillion," I added. "See, since I'm the youngest kid here, why can't I stay?"
"This isn't a joking matter," the nurse said. "Okay, everyone get back to your rooms -- this instant."
After a general chorus of 'boo's and 'awwww's from the kids, some of them did clear out of the hallway.
"I said everyone," the nurse insisted.
"What's going on here?" a man asked from the doorway to an office.
"Dr. Richardson, we didn't mean to disturb you, but the ICU unit sent Jason Todd down here."
"Yes, I've been expecting him. You're Jason? Hi, I'm Eric Richardson. Take him down to room 319. I will need a weight and full set of vitals, Mrs. Blackwell. I'll be in to see you in a few minutes... Well?"
"But Dr. Robertson, the nursing staff has already informed the administration that we will not accept -- this patient on this ward. It isn't right. He's not a real child."
"Since he is doing such a realistic impersonation, then, let's keep him here for the time being until I can work something out with admin, okay? Take him down to room 319, thanks."
"Okay, do it then, but I want you kids to stay away from that room. Understood? Mrs. Wright is not going to like this."
"Why? I don't bite," I said as the orderly started the bed rolling.
"Hold it right there," a lady's voice said from behind us. I turned and stretched my neck to see her, and could almost hear the music playing as she marched down the hall.
"Uh oh," I commented.
"You got that right, kiddo," the orderly answered.
"What's going on here?" the lady demanded, staring from one nurse to another and back to Dr. Richardson. I saw the herd of kids that had followed her down the hall, but apparently she didn't, or didn't care.
"Hi, I'm Jason Todd, and I'm fifty going on eight. The only reason that I am here, now, on this ward is that Dr. Kline wants to keep me here until he gets all the lab work back. Apparently, the only available bed in this entire building is right here, in room 319. If you have a problem with me being here, as these fine young nurses did, then I will be more than happy to have my family get me dressed, and take me out of here, and you can fight it out with Dr. Kline."
"Who let this thing on the ward?"
"Thing?" I demanded.
"Yeah, are you Thing One or Two?" one of the boys asked me.
"Betty, that's uncalled for," Dr. Richardson said. "I let this patient on the ward, and he is here for valid medical reasons. No matter what he was before this, Jason is now a little boy and he belongs here, in room 319. Do I make myself clear?"
"Get these people, and that creature off my ward now, or there will be trouble," she told the orderly.
"Does that go for my little dog, too?" I asked her. Several of the kids laughed, but she shrugged it off.
"Jason," Claire said, shocked.
"She started it," I answered her back.
"Mrs. Blackwell, take the Todds into Jason's room. I still need vitals and his weight for insulin dosage and calorie count."
"For now," the lady added. "I have a call into Mrs. Grant, and I will let her decide. No one, and I mean no one else is allowed in that room, except staff, is that understood?" she asked the kids.
The orderly finally guided my bed into the room. He helped me slide over to the bed, and pulled up the side rails. He showed me the controls and handed over the remote for the TV before he left.
Actually, I thought as I settled into room 319, I didn't really want the kids in here with me. It had been a long time since I was that age, or even since I had kids that age.
After Claire and the kids left, a nurse came into the room with an IV bag, and hung it on a pole next to my bed. I glanced up at the bag as the lady started running a line.
"Wait a second, Miss. You've got the wrong IV. That's Normal Saline with five percent dextrose, and I'm diabetic."
"That's what the doctor ordered for you. Take it up with him," she said and connected the line to my IV tubing.
"There was a mistake," I insisted as I grabbed the girl by her arm. "No one has taken my blood sugar since I've been here, and no one has given me insulin. I'm a type one diabetic, and I'm telling you I can't have sugar in my IV fluid. Stop it now, please, and get the doctor in here."
The lady said nothing as she wrapped the IV tube up with so much tape it would take a blow torch to remove it from my hand. The tubing itself seemed to be caught in the bed rails making it difficult, at best, to move my arm. The lady turned and left ignoring anything I had to say.
I pressed the call button, and settled back to wait. After fifteen minutes none of the staff had so much as poked a head in the doorway to see what I wanted. I pressed the button again, and again a few more time, with the same result. I knew they didn't want me on the ward, but to deliberately ignore me... With a good lawyer, I thought, I could own the hospital over this.
After an hour or so, a nurse did pop her head in the doorway. "Will you stop playing with the call button?"
"I'm getting the wrong IV here, and I really need to go to the bathroom. I can barely move this arm, so I can't get out of bed, and I need to go, please. If you could untangle the wires?"
"Sorry, I don't have time for this right now. I will be back later."
"But I can't hold it. I need a jug, you know, a urinal, anything. How long would that take?"
The lady turned around and walked out of the room without an answer.
I rang again, and kept on ringing until my bladder gave out, and with my face burning I wet the bed for the first time in decades. This was unacceptable. I wasn't in any position to do anything about my situation, but my family was. I managed to grab the telephone off the bedside table, and dialed Claire's cell phone number.
"Claire?" I half screamed into the phone when she answered. "It's me, Jason, please, I don't care what you have to do, but get me out of here. The nurses are trying to kill me."
"After the way they acted when you went down there, I am not surprised, but you know, I've been banned from the ward."
"Not only am I a trouble maker, but since you are now a pediatric patient I need to be blood relative before they will let me in there," she explained.
"That's..." I looked up as a nurse entered the room.
"Who are you talking to?" she demanded
"My wife, if you don't mind. Look, Ms. West," I said reading her name tag, "I need dry sheets, fresh pajamas and a urinal, and blood sugar test, like now. Please. I need to go again, and I don't want to wet the bed any more."
"I don't have time for that now, but you are not allowed to make phone calls."
"Jason," Claire said loud enough for me to hear her. "I'll send Debbie in with supplies..."
The nurse yanked the phone from my hand, then from the wall before she walked out of the room, again.
"If you had time to do that, you had time to give me a little help, then I wouldn't need to make a phone call." No response. This was just great.
By the time my bladder gave out again, I was convinced that the entire staff of the pediatric ward was trying to kill me. Not one nurse would answer my call button, and I had no choice but to lie in increasingly wet sheets. I spent my time watching TV and working on getting the IV line untangled from the side rails so that I could move my left arm, without much success.
The first night a nurse walked into my room with a tray. "You're gonna feed me? Great."
"What's going on here," she said sniffing, with a look of concern on her face.
I blushed. "I've got no way to go to the bathroom. Can't move my arm," I said and showed her. "They're too busy to give me a jug or anything, and I'm really wet."
"I can -- see that. I'll see what I can do, but here's your dinner."
"Thanks," I said looking at the tray. "Don't I get a diabetic diet?"
She frowned, and picked up a ticket. "Jason Todd, regular diet. That's you, right?"
I nodded. "I can eat the meats, but not all that fruit. Thanks."
A few minutes later, I heard the cafeteria lady outside my room. "What do you mean you don't have time? This kid is sopping wet. He needs help."
"It's not your concern, and we will get to it when we have the time," I heard another lady say. "That will be all."
"You can be sure the hospital will hear about this. This is child abuse, pure and simple. What did that little boy ever do to you?"
The nurse walked away without an answer I could hear.
The next day was more of the same. The ladies didn't even speak to me as they changed my IV bag. The lady who brought lunch promised to get help, and the lady who brought dinner, the same one from the night before, left to get a doctor. Nothing else happened.
"Hi, there, young man," a girl I took to be a nurse said from the doorway. She walked into the room, carrying a binder with my name on it, and I sighed as I saw that it was Debbie in a nurse's uniform. "I'm Debbie, a volunteer from the head office, and how are we doing today?" She looked around, and closed the door behind her.
"Hi, Debbie, I need help with lots of stuff," I said, wondering if the staff was listening in.
"Looks like you need fresh sheets and clothes, maybe even a bath. I have your blood testing kit as well."
I stuck out a finger. "Let's do that first. I haven't had insulin since I've been here, for three whole days."
"That isn't good," she said clucking her tongue. "And they have dextrose in the IV. I will report this to your doctor right away, but..." She pricked my finger and collected the drop of blood. "Three hundred fifty. You need insulin right away, Jason, even before your bath." She put a vial of insulin on the bed, with a syringe. "I'll check with your doctor, but let's get you out of those wet things."
I took the hint, and measured out a shot as Debbie gathered sheets and dry pajamas for me. Just as I was ready to inject, my door opened, and a nurse walked in. She screamed at she saw what I was about to do.
"What are you doing? Who are you?" she demanded turning on Debbie for the moment.
I gave myself the shot, before the lady had the chance to take it away. "My blood sugar was over three hundred," I said. "This nice lady brought in stuff for me, including my medicine since no one else will do it. Do you mind? I'm about to get a bath and change my clothes."
"We don't have any orders for that!" the nurse shrieked out.
"What do you mean?" Debbie asked sweetly. She opened the binder. "I have a page of orders from Dr. Richardson, and another from Dr. Kline. You don't read your patient's charts? That IV was to be discontinued three days ago, and I can't see where anyone signed off on Jason's insulin."
"Give me that," the lady said and snatched the chart out of Debbie's hands. "This is no concern of yours. He isn't a real, little boy."
"I'm an authorized volunteer assigned to this patient by the Chief Nurse of this hospital, Mrs. Grant. You know her?" Debbie said and snatched the chart right back. "Whether or not this person is seven or fifty he is still in desperate need of medical care that he isn't getting here. He can't get up to go to the bathroom, for pity's sake! His skin is soaked through with urine, he needs a bath, clean sheets, a dry bed, a urinal, a diabetic diet, insulin, and the list goes on and on. He's getting dextrose in his IV against doctor's orders, and when all this reported to the administration there could be criminal charges filed as well as civil."
"What's going on here?" asked the old witch, herself, pushing her way into the room. "I am Mrs. Wright, the chief nurse of this ward. Is there a problem?"
"Since none of the nurses on this ward can follow doctor's orders," Debbie said, cutting off the nurse, "I have been assigned to this patient. I do have the time to take care of him, give him his medicines and keep him in reasonable comfort. The condition that I found him in, in fact that he is still in, is deplorable, and it will be reported."
Mrs. Wright frowned. "You have made your report, young lady, that will be all. This patient is the concern of this ward now, not yours. Good day."
"She gave him insulin," the first nurse said.
"What?" the chief nurse shouted. "You had no right! There aren't any orders for that."
"What do you call these?" Debbie said and displayed the chart without letting either nurse get close to it. "Dr. Richardson wrote these days ago, and not one has been carried out."
"Dr. Richardson is no longer the attending physician."
"Who is the doctor?" Debbie demanded.
"There isn't one assigned to this patient, now..." Mrs. Wright started.
"In that case, these orders are still in effect until there is. Now, if I can't get this patient's blood sugar down to normal, with or without your help, I intend to take him to the emergency room if I have to carry him there. If you will excuse me, I have work to do."
"But he isn't a real, little boy," Mrs. Wright pleaded.
"So?" I answered. "I am a real human being, and a real patient on this ward, in your care, and you aren't giving it to me. I didn't ask to be in some sort of experiment for new biological agents. I didn't ask to be turned into this scrawny little kid, either, thus becoming the medical marvel of the century.
"I don't know what that stuff is that did this, but I can see the practical uses for it. Sure, spray it at an enemy army, turn them all into little kids that can't fight, and the war is over without any bloodshed. It's a weapon of mass baby-fication!"
Debbie groaned, and shook her head. "Did you have to do that?"
"No one told us anything about a biological agent," the young nurse said.
"It's in the notes," Debbie sighed.
"It still doesn't change anything. This is not a real child," Nurse Wright added.
"You don't know him very well," Debbie blurted out. "Now I am going to get this patient out of this wet bed. He needs a bath, dry clothes, and a new bed, in that order. Will you help me, or do I have to go to Mrs. Grant right now?" She bumped the bed, and I felt her hand slip something under my pillow.
"Fine, then go to Mrs. Grant, by all means," Mrs. Wright said. "I will show you the way."
After Debbie left, things got blurry for me. She had slipped my cell phone under my pillow, but I decided not to use it except for a real emergency. Days slipped by, and nothing changed. They hung new IV bags, even after the damn thing infiltrated since they didn't have time to flush the tubing. My left hand swelled up to twice it's size, it hurt like anything, but nothing was done about it. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't get the tape off my hand to remove the IV.
After four, maybe five days, I felt a buzzing under my pillow. Five minutes later, it dawned on me that the cell phone was vibrating and I answered it.
"Jason?" Claire's voice screamed into the phone.
"Yeah," I managed to croak out, and I licked my lips. "Help me, please. I'm dying here."
"I was afraid you already had. Darling, please, hang on for another hour or so. We will be right there."
"Thank God," I said as I heard her disconnect on the other end.
I heard the commotion in the ward long before it reached my room. With so many voices arguing, I couldn't hear what was said until they were right outside.
"You can't do this," Mrs. Wright's voice rose over all the others.
"The patient in that room is my husband, no matter what he looks like, and I have every right to get him to proper medical care."
"But he's no longer in that room. We had to move him two days ago."
"Then you won't mind if we just take a look, do you?" Claire said, in her best not-to-be-denied voice. The door opened.
Claire, two uniformed policeman, several men and ladies in business suits all poured into the room. Debbie and Kevin brought up the rear.
I could see the look of disgust cross almost everyone's face as the stench from my bed reached them.
"What's wrong with him?" one of the cops asked.
Both Claire and Debbie hurried over to my bedside. Tears poured down my cheeks as I looked at Claire's face, then I glanced down to my hand. "It hurts," I whispered.
"He's in DKA, big time," Debbie said. "Mom, smell his breath."
"I suppose you are a doctor, now, and can make that diagnosis?" Mrs. Wright said from behind the cops.
"No, but Jason is my father. You can't live with a type one diabetic for twenty-one years and not know the signs and symptoms," she said and pulled out my blood testing kit. A second later, she looked up and glared at the nurse. "It's over six hundred. His sheets and pajamas haven't been changed for well over a week. He's been unable to get out of bed because of the IV, which is grossly infiltrated. He hasn't had insulin for five days. If we didn't make it here, today, there is a good chance he would have died before tomorrow morning."
Claire nodded her head. "This is nothing more nor less than attempted murder."
"Who is the doctor assigned to this patient?" one of the suits asked.
"He doesn't have one," Mrs. Wright said.
"You said that five days ago," Debbie cut in. "Why doesn't he?"
"Because we don't have the time or the staff to do everything. There isn't an available doctor, and we had no orders about his insulin or anything else."
The other suit shook his head. "How long has it been since this child was given any sort of care?"
"I was in here as an authorized volunteer five days ago," Debbie said. "I gave him insulin then, but they had me kicked out of the hospital before I could do so much as give him a bath."
"When was the last time he had anything to eat or drink?"
I shook my head. "Thirsty now!" I croaked out.
The other man checked his notes. "It seems that three of the cafeteria staff complained to their supervisor about the condition of this patient. When she checked with Mrs. Wright, she was told to mind her own business, and apparently no further trays were ordered. That was six days ago."
"We can hash this all out, later. Jason needs medical attention immediately. If there aren't any doctors here on this ward, I will carry him down to the ER myself and demand that he be seen."
I looked up at Debbie. "My hand."
She nodded, and started peeling back the tape on the IV site. "Mom, would you get me a towel with hot water?"
"I will," Kevin volunteered.
"Stop it, stop it right now," Mrs. Wright shrieked. "You don't have the authority to do that. Stop it." She started to move forward, but one of the policemen stopped her.
"You are facing some serious charges, Mrs. Wright. Don't make it worse for yourself."
"What in the name of all that is Holy is going on, here?" I recognized the man as Dr. Richardson.
"What are you doing here?" Mrs. Wright demanded, turning pale.
"I was paged by the ward clerk for the emergency here, and... Who is this, and when did he get admitted?"
"Jason Todd," I managed to say.
"He was admitted to this ward eight days ago," one of the suits added.
Dr. Richardson hurried over to bed, and flashed a light in my eyes. "When did he get back from the medical ward?"
"He's never left this room," Claire explained, and filled the doctor in.
"Betty?" he asked, turning on the nurse. "You told me that he had been transferred to the medical ward. In fact, that was about an hour after he was brought in here. This kid is severly dehydrated, acidotic, and I don't want to think what condition his skin is in. He needs insulin, now, and an insulin drip... Why does he have D5 hanging here?"
"Because that's the only order we had for him," Mrs. Wright said.
"I wrote orders when he came in, I know I did. Where is his chart, and why aren't you getting anything done?"
"We took you off this case, Dr. Richardson. Your caseload was way to high for this, and -- and his chart is at the auditors."
"I have a copy of it right here," Debbie said. "I have insulin, too, but I'm a pre-med student. I can't put in IV's, but I can take this one out."
Dr. Richardson pushed the call button, but had no response. He tried again with the same result.
"None of my nurses will lift a finger to help that -- that thing," Mrs. Wright said. "It's an abomination is the sight of the Lord, and I am going to make sure it dies and goes back to the hell in which it belongs."
One of the suits looked at the other. "The Hospital will not contest this suit. We will need to close this ward down until we can replace the staff. Looks like all of the nurses here will be indicted on malpractice at the very least. I'll have my attorneys call your office to arrange a settlement."
Kevin wrapped the warm towel around my hand and flashed me a thumbs up.
Claire reached down, grabbed me by the armpits and picked me up, like a child. For the first time since I had changed, I had a good idea exactly how small I was. Claire kissed my cheek, and held me, even though I had no clothes on, and felt sopping wet from the sheets.
"You can't do this," Mrs. Wright screamed over and over again. "He's a demon that doesn't deserve to live. I can prove it!" She pulled a small vial out of her pocket and opened it.
"This will send you back to the lowest rung of Hell, demon," she growled at me. "This is Holy Water, blessed by seven times seven priests and ministers."
"Water?" I asked, and reached for the vial myself.
One of the cops took the vial from Mrs. Wright's hand, sniffed it, and shook a couple of drops out on his palm. "It seems okay." He handed the vial over to me.
"No, he will just dump it on the floor."
I let a couple of drops fall on my hand, "Not burning," I said, then took a swig to wash out my mouth. I gulped down the entire vial. "There, I can talk again. Please tell all those priests and ministers thanks a lot from me. I really needed that."
Mrs. Wright pulled a crucifix from her pocket. "This cross was blessed by Rev. Billy Rae Smith, himself. Be gone, spawn of Satan!"
Shaking my head, I could only stare at the cross. "That's for vampires, lady, get a life."
She glared at me, and then at the cross. "You are Satan himself. Of course, only he would have the power to do this..."
I laughed at her. "Very good, Mrs. Wright. You guessed the truth at last. I am Satan, the Fallen One."
"Arrest him, do something," she shouted at the policemen.
"Ah, but it's not against the law to be the Prince of Darkness, is it? What have I done but suffered your abuse? Now that you know, however, ask yourself one question -- whose soul was I after, and whose soul did I win? The poor sap that had this body before me, or yours?"
"What? I am safe in the protection of the Lord."
"Are you?" I laughed again. Claire held me tighter, and sighed, but let me go on. "Think about it, Mrs. Wright. I am an immortal, condemned to rule in Hell for all eternity. If this body dies, I simply go home for a day or so, but Jason Todd dies as well, and you -- yes you, Mrs. Wright -- will be responsible for that death. Murder is a mortal sin. I have done nothing to Mr. Todd, except make his body younger, and better than before. But you and your staff have neglected his body and brought it to the point of death, have you not? All of you will find yourself on the Hell-Bound Train sooner or later, now."
"No, you're lying. You are the father of lies."
"But why would I lie about this, when the truth is so much more fun?"
"No," she said slowly. "I am not going to Hell. Take this." She pulled a silver knife from her pocket.
"That's for werewolves," I said as the cops lead her away. I tightened my hold on Claire. "I don't feel too good" I added just before I passed out.
I woke with a huge yawn. After a long stretch, I glanced around recognizing the Intensive Care unit. I found a new IV attached to the other hand, but I was dry. Somewhere along the line someone had bathed me, dressed me and put to bed someplace clean.
"Dr. Kline? Your patient is awake."
"Thanks, Mrs. Bowers," I heard the man's voice say. Soon enough, he approached my bed on the left side. "Hey, Buddy, how are you feeling?"
I looked way up at him and made a face. "You called me Buddy?"
"Sure, I called my son that, when he was your age. I still call him that, from time to time. It's something that you had better get used to, Tiger."
After a long sigh, I commented. "I was feeling really good, until you started all of that. What's my blood sugar?"
"One sixty as of an hour ago. We will take it again in an hour. I can't tell you how sorry I am for everything that happened downstairs. I still don't believe it. I knew Betty Wright fairly well, or so I thought."
"Not your fault," I cut him off. "Sorry, I am not in the best of moods right now. I mean I survived the pediatric ward, but what do I do with the rest of my life? I had a good life, you know, great wife, good career, a family, now what? I suppose we can live on Claire's income, but it will be tight, and..."
"You haven't been brought up to speed yet, kiddo. You all but own this hospital, you know. The scuttlebutt says that the hospital agreed to a three hundred million dollar settlement."
"Okay, I could live with that. In fact, I could really live well with that, but -- but what about me? I'm not a real, little boy."
"Yes, but who outside of this hospital would ever believe that? Think about it, Tiger. You lost fifteen pounds while you were downstairs. You have the size and appearance of an average seven-year-old boy, not eight. Everyone you meet from here on out, well this year, of course, will relate to you as if you were an average seven-year-old. Think about it."
I hit my fist on the mattress a few times. "That's the problem. I don't want to think about it. Since I own this place, I think I'll stay right here. We have the money to move my family down here, Claire won't have to work another day in her life, and the kids, well the kids won't get a penny of this money until they turn forty, at least."
"I heard that," Debbie said as she followed Claire into the room. Claire leaned over and kissed my forehead.
"I know you did," I answered Debbie.
"Jason and I were just discussing the future," Dr. Kline told them. "He wants to stay here, and not deal with the outside world, but at the current rates his settlement would be gone like that." He snapped his fingers.
"Well, we have other plans, don't we, Debbie?"
"Mom's right, we do but what we really need you to do is pick a name. It's a boy's name, and we have it down to three: Trevor, Bradley and Derek. Which one do you like?"
I frowned for a moment. "Trevor, but... Sweetheart, is there something you want to tell me?"
Dr. Kline left the room as Debbie sputtered for a moment. "It's not that, Daddy, nothing like that. The name's for you. I sent your picture to a couple of talent agencies in New York, and they want to meet you. Jason isn't that up-to-date a name anymore, and those three were about the best we could find for your stage name."
"We are going to be filthy rich, so why would I want a stage name? I mean, Jason was good enough for your grandmother and it's damn well good enough for you."
"No, it isn't, Trev. You are going to be the most adorable kid in the world, and you will be making a mint with all the commercials, modeling and TV shows you will be doing."
"And, if you think you are going to stay home, sitting on your butt playing video games and watching cartoons twenty-four seven, forget it." Claire gave me that you-don't-have-a-choice-in-this stare.
Kevin walked into the room wearing a huge smile. "Hey, li'l bro', you look better. So, is it Trevor?"
"Uh, Kevin," I said. "I am still your father, and I trust you will remember that."
His grin grew wider. "You think you can make me, huh? Want to go a few rounds? See if you can take me without an army?"
"No, but if you make me I will hold my breath until I turn blue and you will be sorry."
"Good one, sweetheart," Claire said. "Now I will go find Dr. Kline while the kids fill you in on what every second grader should know."
"What for?" I asked.
"You'll need to understand what the other kids are talking about," Kevin pointed out. "There are so many new things out, new cartoons, new music, it would help if you watched them. That way, when all your friends are talking about Spongebob, Dexter, Courage and Timmy, you will know what they mean."
"What for?" I asked again. "I'm going to be the star of commercials and TV and everything else your sister has planned out for me. I won't have time to worry about kids, other than the two of you."
"Daddy," Debbie cut in. "Once the word gets out that there's a new kid in our house, and it will, the other little boys will be at the doorstep trying to get to know you."
"So? I'm a grownup and they are little kids."
"Not any more, sweetheart," Claire said. "When a little boy knocks on our door and asks if Trevor can come out to play, what are you going to do? Stand there like some sort of stuck up snob, or go out and spend all that energy you have with boys your own age? You want them to think you're cool, don't you?"
I sighed and looked at each of my family members. "And the opinion of the neighborhood rug-rats is important to me, why?"
"Because these are the kids you will be going to school with."
"Whoa, hold on there, babe. I've been through school, remember? I worked my butt off to get through college."
"Jason did, but not Trevor. Sweetheart," she said and put a hand on my shoulder. "What with one thing and another, you haven't had much of a chance to think about the future, but we have. The one thing that I think will be painfully obvious is that no one we meet, or deal with in any capacity, is ever going to believe that you are anything more than a little boy. That is how they are going to relate to you, and that is how they will expect you to act. Kids will be anxious to play with you, and adults will ignore you.
"The choice will be yours: You can ignore the kids and spend the next ten years irritating all the adults in the world if you try to make them treat you like an adult, or you can be a kid again, play with the other boys, go to school and relax about your life. You had a horrible childhood the last time; now that you have the chance, you can really enjoy this one. It's not many people that go into their second childhoods looking like a kid."
I sighed, and slumped down on the bed. "This is way too much for me to comprehend right now. I'm really that adorable?"
"Yes, you are," Claire answered trying not to laugh. "Wait until you see your new wardrobe. You will be the coolest kid, ever. I still need to hear from your doctor when you can go home, so I will find him. Kevin, Debbie, you get your little brother started, but you don't need to make him watch all the cartoons today. Just a few until he gets used to it."
Claire held out a pair of red and yellow sweat pants, with a yellow T-shirt. I stared at the clothes. "You think I could fit into something that small?"
"These are going to be loose on you, sweetie."
"But sweats? I needs pants, with pockets, you know, for my wallet and keys and things?"
"You're seven, Trevor. You don't need to carry a wallet or keys or -- things. This is what kids your age wear. I would think that you would want to get out of this hospital."
I sighed, "I do, but dressed like that? Okay, but it's going to take time for me to get used to the idea of being a kid. I am not going to play with the neighborhood kids, you know. I just couldn't."
"But you're hanging onto that Teddy that Kevin gave you. You are, and you will adapt to this, slowly. At least school won't start for another month. Dr. Kline was kind enough to draw up the papers that you will need for your new identity, and we have an appointment in two days in New York. Will you get dressed, or do I have to do that for you, too?"
As quickly as I could, I dressed in the little boy's clothes, slipped tiny shoes and socks on my feet, then turned to look at myself in the mirror. No one would ever believe that I was anything but a small child, I thought feeling depressed. This was going to be hard.
Claire led the way out into the hallway, "I'll get your discharge papers, just sit there," she said and pointed to a chair.
As she walked away, another kid, a boy a little smaller than me sat down in the chair next to me. It felt odd, sitting there, eye to eye with a real rug-rat.
"Hi, I'm Bobby. You want to play cards?" he asked and pulled a deck of animal cards out of his hospital bathrobe.
What could it hurt, I thought, noting the anxious look on the boy's face.
We played one hand before Bobby brought out a silver box. I stared at the box for a moment, while he opened it. "What's that?"
"Where do you live? The Moon? It's a Game Boy."
"No, I live in Antarctica. Nothing down there but penguins and seals, you know. We don't have things like that."
He stared at me, with his eyes wide. "For real?"
I nodded my head a couple of times. "No."
With a bark, Bobby broke out laughing. "Here, it works like this."
I played the game for a minute. "I gotta get one of these."
"Maybe," Claire said walking up to me. "Are you two having fun?"
I blushed, and nodded. "So I was wrong about playing with kids," I said. "Thanks, Bobby, now I gotta get her to buy me one. Bye."
"Bye," he said and went on with the game.
On the elevator, I tried to slip my hand into Claire's but she refused. "What's the matter? I know what I look now, but I'm still your husband."
"No, you are officially my son. Look, Trevor -- Jason. We need to accept this, and get on with our lives. You need to be a little kid, and grow up again. I don't like what this has done to us, but what can we do?"
"If there was a biological agent that could do this to me, there has to be one that can reverse it."
"But would you take it? Just think, you can do everything over again. You can finally realize all of your dreams and ambitions now."
I shook my head. "The only dream I ever had was growing old with you, and playing with our grandchildren."
She laughed at that. "You will play with them -- like an older brother now, instead of a grandfather."
Claire slammed the driver's seat closed, and deliberately reached over the seat to buckle me in, as if I couldn't do it myself. "Why did you do that?"
"Because they were so rude to me! I don't believe these people. They call themselves Real Estate agents, but did you see how that lady treated me? I know, I know they think I'm only seven, but they don't have to treat me as if I'm not there."
"Next time, Trevor Alexander Todd, you will take the lollipop and suck on it like a good boy, is that clear? We have tried five agencies so far, and I am not going to go beyond six. Children should be seen, and not heard, remember that one? Do it."
"But I'm the one buying the house, shouldn't they want my opinion?"
Claire glared at me. "Your opinion will always be important to me, Trevor, sweetheart, but if you start acting up again I swear I will take you home, pay Kevin to baby-sit you, and leave you out of the loop on every major decision we make concerning that money."
"Okay, okay. I get your point, Mommy. I'll be good, really. Want to go out for a beer after this?" I said with my widest grin.
We stopped at the next Real Estate office on the list. Claire waited until I crawled out of the car before walking up to the door.
A middle aged woman met us in the office. She gave Claire a warm smile, then glanced at me. "Oh, and who is this handsome, young man?"
"I'm Trevor. Is this the house store? Mom wants to buy one."
"Well, yes, it is," the lady said, delighted. "Isn't he precious?" she told Claire.
"Very," Claire said. "Oh, look. There's a coloring book over on that table. Why don't you show the nice lady how well you can color. Go on, Trev. We'll be right here. Sometimes I swear that child is seven going on fifty," she told the nice lady.
Claire followed the lady down the hall, but still within sight of my table. A moment later, another mom with two kids walked through the door with the chimes of bells. A different lady emerged from the offices to take care of the newcomer. She carried a toddler with her, but her son, about my size, immediately joined me at the table and helped himself to crayons.
"Hi, I'm Justin," he said and started coloring, well adding color to the page of a coloring book, in no particular order. Abstract painting at its best, I thought.
"I'm Trevor," I answered as I worked on my own project.
"I got Hot Wheels," he added, and pulled a couple mini cars from his shorts' pocket.
"Cool," I said, and broke into a grin in spite of myself as I took one of the cars. In seconds, Justin and I were on hands and knees playing with toys.
"I used to have a lot of these -- uh -- before we had to move," I said.
"Yeah, Mom wants to move, but I hate it."
I looked up Claire, and felt my whole body blush. "I was just playing."
"I can see that," she said with a half smile, "we need to go look at houses."
"Okay. Here," I handed back the car to Justin. "Thanks."
"Did you have a good time playing with that little boy?" Claire asked me as we walked out to the car, behind the Real Estate lady.
"I don't believe I did that."
She patted me on the shoulder. "It's okay. You're accepting this, and starting to adapt. I understand, really. But, to change the subject, you have a commercial. They want you to do that 'Is this the house store' bit for the Agency."
"On TV? Yeah!" I said, then cleared my throat. "Okay, fine with me."
Without any help from me, Claire found a gorgeous house, in an exclusive neighborhood, but not that exclusive. We saw lots of toys scattered on some of the yards as we drove through the first time.
We moved in, two months after I was released from the hospital and two weeks after I was signed for my second TV commercial. Pamela, the lady from the Real Estate office met us at the house as the moving truck pulled into the driveway.
I stood on the front lawn, staring at the house, a white, sprawling, faked Victorian with pale green accents, but it had more than enough room. I still didn't believe the way everything was going, especially since I now had my own room, rather than sharing one with Claire. I hated the thought, but I had to agree; if she had turned into a little girl, I wouldn't want her in my bed, either.
"Trevor?" Claire called out. "Trev, will you come here for a second?"
With my reverie firmly broken, I walked over to meet another family, complete with a boy about my age.
"Trev, this is Mrs. Clark from next door, and Danny."
"Hi," he said, with a wistful glance at the house.
"Hey," I answered then looked back at the house myself. "Who lived here before?"
"Ryan, he was my best friend."
"Yeah, I left my best friend at home, too. We moved here 'cause I'm gonna be on TV."
"Oh, yeah? In a show?"
"No, some commercial. I get to get dirty so my TV mom can wash my clothes in this new stuff -- 'Kerplowie'."
"There isn't any stuff called 'Kerplowie'," he said, with all the authority he could manage.
"Is, too," I said. "It's new."
"Okay, cool. You wanna come over to my house? It's gonna be years before they get all of your stuff off the truck and I've got a computer and a Play Station."
"Okay. I've got Hot Wheels," I said and pulled a couple cars out of my pocket. I glanced up at Claire. "Mom, can I go over to Danny's house. He's gotta Play Station."
I saw the look she gave me, sad and resigned, yet happy at the same time. I realized I had just said hello to my new best friend. I had no choice. I was a little kid, and the best thing I could do was just relax, be a little kid, and enjoy it. At least, this time, I wouldn't have a drunk for a dad that beat me as I grew up. But, still, it hurt to say goodbye to Claire, my wife and the love of my life, and trade that in for "Hi, Mom," and a life full of love.
I chased Danny across the yard to his side door, and refused to look back.