Two (Commission) – Ch 5 – lostandwhatever
Continued from Chapter 4.
Greyson woke up gently the next day. For the first time this week, he felt as though he had gotten a good night’s sleep—no nightmares, no waking up suddenly, just a night of rest.
He lay there in his bed, enjoying its warmth and softness, feeling almost content. For the moment, his worries had not yet caught up with him, and he was in no hurry to allow them back into his life. He consciously avoided looking around or trying to examine his body. He did notice that his ankle was no longer sore. He wondered how long he could lie there. How long until he had to face this new reality?
He took a deep breath and said, “I’m ready.”
It was such a tiny little voice. How could that be his voice?
He closed his eyes, unwilling to look, still. His hands were curious, though, and started exploring his body beneath the sheets. Smooth skin waited under snug-fitting cotton pajamas. Soft flesh like the insoles of new sneakers, never worn before.
“Huh?” he said, not really sure how to feel about it all. He was past the point of being shocked to find himself getting younger. If anything, he just felt a bit sad and wondered what he would find when he looked around. There was no point putting it off anymore. “Let’s do it.”
He pulled aside his sheets and sat up on his bed.
The first thing that came to mind was how big everything seemed. The whole room seemed to have grown overnight. He had been getting shorter all week and had started to become accustomed to looking up at things that had been beneath him before. Now, it seemed that the world had started to expand around him. He knew well the dimensions of this room from having slept here for most of his life, but he had no memory of it ever seeming to be this spacious.
“I shrank,” he said, his voice sounding even smaller.
It was a little boy’s room, a place to keep toys, a place to play. Imagination was in the air. Pretend worlds were papered on the walls. Make believe friends were scattered on the floor and shelves and even on the clothes he wore. It felt like a child’s board game, and he was just a small piece on a square, waiting for his move.
“Oh, man,” he said, realizing that this was not even the end. He was five years old and tomorrow he would be even younger. “There’ll be nothing left of me then.”
He had to pee.
“Better use the toilet… while I still can.” He was trying to get used to his voice. It was not getting easier to hear, though.
He turned and let his legs hang from the edge of his bed, his toes barely brushed against the carpet below. He hopped down, and weaved his way through his toys to the door. He had to reach up to grab the knob. The door was heavy. It required effort to drag it open.
The walk to the bathroom was longer this morning, and he took it slowly, not wanting to draw the attention of the big people this house was scaled to fit. He feared he might end up emptying his bladder prematurely if he did.
He made it inside and locked the door behind him. Feeling safe again behind the protection of a locked door, he let out a sigh of relief and approached the toilet. Like everything else, it seemed huge, almost too high for him to pee into it while standing. He used it and tried not to think about where the pee came from. There had been a proud piece of flesh there before. What remained was so pathetic it was almost nonexistent. He flushed and went to wash his hands. However, he ran into a problem. The sink was too high now for him to reach the faucet. After a quick search, he found a small white plastic 2-step stool. He positioned it in front of the sink and climbed up on it.
Then, he saw his face in the mirror.
“Holy shit,” he said and stared in stunned silence at his reflection.
His face was all cheeks. The mouth, the nose, and even the eyes looked so little and delicate, dwarfed between his wide cheeks. He wanted to touch his face, to verify that it was real, but he remembered to stop and wash his hands first. He toweled off his little fingers and let them slide over his childish little features. They were real, but he still struggled to believe he could look like that. This face was just on the edge of his memories. His earliest recollections from growing up were from within this body, but those few hazy memories had all but been forgotten by now. He was on the border of toddler life now, the land of no memories. What would it be like to be there with an adult mind?
A knock at the door, shocked him back to the present moment.
“You okay in there, Grey?” Ethan asked from behind the door.
“I-I’m fine,” Greyson replied. He hated how high and squeaky his voice sounded compared to Ethan’s.
“Just need a few more seconds.”
“Okay,” Ethan said.
Greyson listened to Ethan’s weighty steps as his brother walked back into his own room. It seemed that, for once, it was Greyson who was holding Ethan up from his morning pee.
He turned back to his reflection and saw a worried little boy looking back at him. He felt an impulse to console that child.
“It’s going to be alright,” he said, trying to sound reassuring. “There’s still time to figure out how to stop this.” He thought of the candles downstairs in the high kitchen cabinet and wondered how he could reach them now if just using a sink required a stool. He had an idea. “Ethan,” he told himself. “Maybe he could help.” He nodded and his reflection nodded back. Maybe he could convince Ethan, make his brother believe what was happening to him. It would be a challenge. Right now, he doubted anyone would believe the story he had to tell, especially if a 5-year-old was the one telling it. It was hard enough to believe when he was an adult. Still, he had to try. This was the last day he had before he became an actual toddler. After that, his chances seemed almost nonexistent. “You can do it,” he told the kid in the mirror. “Ethan will listen. You can do it.”
He stepped down and returned the stool to where he had found it. He opened the bathroom door and cautiously stepped into the hallway. Ethan’s door was shut.
“I’m done,” Greyson said. “Ethan, can I-?”
The door swung open, and Ethan rushed out saying a quick “Thanks!” as he flew by. Greyson barely had time enough to register how relatively huge the boy was speeding past him before the bathroom door had shut behind Ethan, hiding him from sight. Then, there was the sound of water streaming into the toilet bowl.
“You’re… welcome?” Greyson said, realizing that getting Ethan to listen might be a bigger challenge than he had expected.
Greyson stood just outside of the kitchen in the hallway, too nervous to go in. He could hear his mother inside, making breakfast. She was alone. It seemed that his father had already left for work. Seeing her now, when he was under four feet tall, was intimidating. Just having his brother pass him in the hall had worried him. Now, he was gathering up his courage to start interacting with his relatively huge family.
After a little hesitation, he realized he was being silly. He looked back at the stairs and reminded himself that he had managed that descent successfully, taking each high step carefully while holding onto the railing. The house was too big for him, and the people in it were just as big. Still, he was safe here. This was his mother, after all. She was here to take care of him. He could handle this.
He walked into the kitchen to find her laying bacon in a pan. From his perspective, she seemed huge, the tallest person he had ever seen. He figured that he was not even chest high to her now.
“G-good morning,” he said, feeling faintly embarrassed by his little voice.
She glanced back at him over her shoulder and smiled. “‘Morning, big guy,” she said. “Have a seat. I’ll have your breakfast ready in no time.”
Greyson was happy to put off getting too close to her. He pulled back one of the heavy wooden chairs at the breakfast table and climbed up on it. His toes dangled above the floor as his legs swung slightly. The table before him was chest high to him now. He rested his elbows and arms on it as if he were leaning on a fence.
“How’d you sleep?” his mother asked.
“Great,” Greyson said. “Best night of sleep I’ve had all week.”
“Aw,” she cooed. “You been having nightmares?”
He thought about it. “You could say that. Things have been kinda strange lately.”
“Well,” she said. “At least you slept well last night. I’m proud of you for staying in your own bed by yourself, by the way. You used to beg to sleep in our room when you had a bad dream. You’re getting to be so grown up.”
“I wish,” he said.
Ethan entered the room then. “‘Morning!” he called to them. Then, as he walked by, he affectionately mussed up Greyson’s hair. “‘Sup, bro?”
Greyson was stunned. Just that brief bit of contact with Ethan was enough to prove Ethan’s relative strength to him. Ethan, that little boy he had known since birth, seemed bigger than anyone Greyson had ever met. If Greyson was his old size, Ethan would be at least a foot taller than the defensive linemen on Greyson’s football team.
Their mother said, “Morning, Ethan. Food is almost ready. How are you?”
“Feeling good,” he said, taking a seat across the table from Greyson. “Hey, did you get my present yet?”
“I might have,” she said, sounding deliberately cagey.
“Oh,” he said, sounding a little disappointed.
“I might still need to do some shopping today,” she said. “Did you have a last minute request?”
“Yeah,” Ethan said. “A new football.”
“What happened to the old one?” She sounded suspicious.
“Uh,” Ethan said, rubbing his hand on the back of his neck nervously. “It might have gotten a little bit lost… on a roof.”
Their mother sighed. “I’ll see if I can find one while I’m out, but don’t plan on me getting a new one for you. Just ask whoever owns the house if they can get it down for you.”
“Okay,” Ethan said. “Thanks.”
Their mother turned around to give him a smile. Then, she looked over at Greyson, and her smile became a frown. “Greyson,” she said. “Why are you still in your PJs?”
“Oh?” he said, looking down at his pajamas. “I didn’t realize I needed to get dressed for breakfast.”
She sighed again. “You know the routine, mister,” she told him. “Toilet, then handwashing, then toothbrushing, then getting dressed. After all that, it’s time for breakfast.”
“You did wash your hands, didn’t you?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.
Ethan gave Greyson a worried look, as though he was wondering if the bathroom had been contaminated by little brother germs.
“Of course,” Greyson said. “I always wash my hands.”
“Well,” she said. “Just checking. You forgot about just about everything else. How about you run upstairs and take care of your teeth and your clothes?”
“Okay,” Gryson said, and slipped down off his chair.
“Do you want me to help you pick out something to wear?” she asked him.
“No,” he said. “I can manage it myself.”
“Great,” she said and turned back to making breakfast. “Don’t be long. Food’s almost ready.”
Greyson hurried back to the stairs and made the slow climb up to the top. All the while, he felt a little annoyed by the whole situation. He knew how to take care of himself. He had been doing it fine for years now. In fact, he had been living on his own most of the time now. To be back home with his mother checking up on him this much was more than a little suffocating. Still, he knew better than to start a confrontation with her over something so trivial as brushing his teeth. He was going to do it in his own time anyway. There was no reason to buck her routine over it. And yet, it was her routine for him, not his own routine. He was keenly aware now of how much control over his life had gone away overnight.
“At least she’s not wiping my ass for me,” he joked as he put the stool back in front of the sink. Then, he thought about what tomorrow might bring, and it seemed like less of a joke. He found a toothbrush that was not Ethan’s and got to work on finishing up his morning routine.
Minutes later, Greyson walked back into the kitchen, his little teeth now properly brushed and his body dressed for the day.
“I’m all ready now,” he said.
“All dressed?” she asked and looked over at him.
He looked down at what he was wearing. It was the least embarrassing collection of clothes he could select from the piles of cartoon T-shirts and other child-branded apparel. He had on a T-shirt with the logo of the local football team on front and a pair of ordinary blue jeans, which were covering up his superhero branded briefs. On his feet were regular white socks and a pair of small red sneakers.
“Hey!” she said. “Look at you. You tied your shoes all on your own.”
“Um, yeah,” he said, realizing that just tying a knot was considered advanced for him now. “No problem.”
“You’re growing up so fast,” she said.
“I really wish I would,” he said.
“Then, let’s get you a nice big breakfast to help you grow up big and strong.”
He took a seat at the table, and she carried over a plate of pancakes and fruit and set it in front of him. Then, before he could pick up his utensils, she took them and began cutting up his food into little bites for him. When she had finished, he gave her a weak, “Thanks.”
“Okay,” Ethan said, putting down his fork on his mostly empty plate. “I need to get ready. Stephen’s coming by soon.”
He stood up to leave, but their mother said, “Ethan, excuse yourself properly and put your plate and utensils in the sink, please.”
He sat down again, and said, “Excuse me.” Then, he stood up, collected his utensils on his plate and carried it to the sink.
“How’s that?” he asked.
“Good work,” she said. “You’re on your way to being a fine gentleman.”
Ethan gave her an exaggerated bow and left the room.
Greyson watched him go, hoping to have a word to two with Ethan about his situation.
“Eat up,” his mother said. “We’re heading out shopping soon, and I want you well fed before our big day out.”
He looked back at her and realized that he was not going to have the option of staying home.
“Sure,” he said and started eating his breakfast, one kid-sized piece at a time.
Greyson’s mother parked the car at the mall a short while later. “Right,” she said, shutting down the engine and getting out of her door, leaving Greyson a brief minute of solitude as she walked around the car and opened the backseat door next to him. Then, she unbuckled him from the harness on his booster seat.
He was too small for the car. He needed a special seat. At least she let him get out of the seat on his own.
“Good,” she said, once he had gotten out of the car and let her shut the door. She held out her hand to him. “Hold my hand, and let’s head inside.”
His little hand grabbed her enormous one, and she gave him what was intended as a reassuring squeeze. Instead, her strength worried him. Then, they started walking, and he found himself having to race on his little legs to keep up with her effortless long strides beside him. It was all too clear how outmatched he was now by any adult. Even his sweet mother was like an unstoppable giant to him now. They passed a man going the other way, and Greyson realized he was leaning away from the man as he went by. In his vulnerable state of mind, Greyson clung to his mother’s hand for security, trusting that she would keep him safe, his own guardian giant in this land of giants.
They went shopping, or more accurately, his mom went shopping while Greyson was dragged along. They picked up some clothes at one store for Ethan as well as a few shirts and shorts for Greyson. They were large on him, but she assured him that he would “grow into them.”
Then, they swung by a sporting goods store. As expected, it was depressing to walk through the aisles past the kinds of gear Greyson had been wearing only a week ago to find that it was like looking at armor for ogres. His mother picked out a new football for Ethan and offered it to Greyson. “Here,” she said. “You want to carry your big brother’s ball for him?”
He held the ball, knowing that it was a small ball made for children, realizing that it felt huge in his little hands. He had to carry it with both hands all the way to the register.
As they waited in line, Greyson thought he might try talking to his mom about his situation. What would it hurt now? So long as he did not mention lighting candles, he might be able to get her to listen.
“Mom,” he said. “Can I talk to you about something?”
“What is it?” she asked.
Just as Greyson was about to start telling his story, a woman behind them said, “June! Hello!”
“Oh,” Greyson’s mother said. “Linda! How have you been?”
The woman gave each other a friendly hug and started chatting about parenting and their kids. Greyson noticed that Linda had a young boy with her, who looked to be older than Greyson by about a year. Listening to their conversation, he heard that the boy’s name was Chris.
The cashier checked out their purchases as their mothers decided that they would have lunch together. Meanwhile, Greyson and Chris cast weary looks at each other as it became clear that their relative ages meant they would be expected to be “friends” while their mothers caught up with each other.
Another quick car ride in his booster seat, and Greyson was walking into the fast food restaurant with this mother. It was one of the clown-themed burger places with an indoor kids play area in the back. He could see and hear kids having fun back there, and he dreaded the inevitability of being sent there before they left.
Greyson’s mom met up with Chris’s mom, and they continued their conversation as they waited in line to order food. It was an adult conversation, so naturally, Greyson and Chris were left out of it altogether. Even when they were the topic of conversation, they were spoken about in the third person as if they were not even there. In many ways, it felt as though they were not there. They were not old enough yet to be included in much, not even ordering decisions. Greyson’s mother got him a kids’ meal without consulting him at all.
Then, the boys were hustled over to the men’s room to wash their hands. Greyson was just barely tall enough to manage, but he did. Meanwhile, Chris watched and waited behind him. When they were cleaned and ready to eat, their mothers led them over to a table and handed them their food. The kids’ meal came with a little cheap plastic toy. Chris played with his. Greyson just ate his fries and chicken pieces.
“How’s your food?” Greyson’s mom asked him just after Chris’s mom stepped away for a minute to use the bathroom.
Her sudden attention caught him off guard, leaving him speechless for a moment. He swallowed what he had been chewing and said, “Good.”
“You doing all right?” she asked him.
“No,” he admitted.
“What’s the matter?”
He sighed. “I’m 5 years old, and I feel like I’m disappearing. It’s like I’m becoming invisible to adults.”
“I can see you,” she said. “You’re the one with the cute widdle nose,” she added as she gave it a playful poke.
“Thanks,” Greyson said and filled his mouth with fries to signify that he was done with the conversation.
Chris’s mom returned just as her son and Greyson ran out of food.
“All right,” she said. “How about the two of you run off to the play area while your mommies have a chat?”
It seemed like a weird excuse. After all, they had been having a chat since they met up earlier that day, but Greyson figured that they were probably planning on “getting real” about their kids for a while, which might not be the best thing to do while their kids are around to hear it.
Chris got off his chair and Greyson followed the boy over to the play area. They stopped in the entryway and looked around. There were towering plastic tunnels and bridges and rope climbs and slides, piled up in a rainbow of colors and already echoing with the sound of playing kids.
“I’m Chris,” Chris said.
“I know,” Greyson said. “You can call me ‘Grey.’”
“That’s a funny name,” Chris said.
“Thanks,” Greyson said.
“You wanna play hide-and-seek?”
“You go hide first,” Chris demanded.
Chris was bigger. Greyson understood that meant Chris assumed he was in charge. As much as Greyson resented being bossed around by a kindergartener, he saw no benefit in trying to resist what was happening. What was he going to do? Wander off somewhere to be alone, instead of playing with Chris? That would be a good way to get himself in trouble, and he was going to need to keep on his mother’s good side if he wanted a chance at talking to Ethan later. He was just going to have to play along for now.
Greyson headed for a tunnel and stooped to walk inside. Another larger kid crawled past him, but Greyson just stepped aside as he was small enough to still stand inside the tunnel. He turned a corner and headed up a covered staircase, after turning another corner he realized he had become lost, which he hoped would mean that he was well hidden.
He waited. Children’s voices echoed down the cavernous tunnels in an eerie way, leaving him feeling increasingly disturbed by the whole situation. He went to sit down but found something sticky where he put his hand down. Instead, he leaned against the wall, and closed his eyes, feeling as though he might like a nap. Just as he felt himself nodding off while standing there, he jerked back awake. Panic hit him as he realized that a nap might trigger the magic somehow. Not that the rules he had figured out allowed for that, but he was too scared to take chances.
“Gotcha!” Chris cried as he tagged Greyson.
The sudden shock of Chris appearing out of nowhere put Greyson over the edge. He lost it. He started screaming and shrieking, as he scrambled away down the tunnels, getting lost again, bumping into larger kids as tears filled his eyes. He started wailing and flailing around, desperate for light and open air. He needed to get out now. He found light, a slide, and dove down it face first. Tumbling out at the bottom, he took off running away from the play area, snot dripping from his nose, eyes too blurred with tears to see anything clearly.
Naturally, he collided with something, a person’s leg. Suddenly, a splash of ice cold liquid shocked him out of his panic. He stood there feeling it drip down his head to his back and felt himself shivver. He looked down to see an empty soda cup and ice on the ground at his feet. Brown liquid dripped down off of him forming a puddle, leaving him feeling sticky and cold.
“Greyson!” his mother cried.
“I’m sorry,” a man said, apparently the one who had dropped the soda on him. “The kid ran out of nowhere.”
His mother started wiping his face dry with a napkin, asking, “Are you okay?”
“I wanna go home,” Greyson said and started crying again.
Greyson rode home in his booster seat, feeling tired enough to sleep but too scared of sleep to dare close his eyes for more than a second. His hair and skin was still sticky, but some time in the bathroom and a lot of paper towels had managed to clean him up enough to keep him from making a mess of the car. Thankfully, they even had a fresh shirt to put on him. That it was covered in brightly colored cartoon characters was no matter to him now, it was dry.
“Don’t worry,” his mother said. “We’ll get you home and give you a nice bath. You’ll be feeling much better soon.”
“Thanks,” Greyson said, feeling truly grateful.
“Oh!” his mother exclaimed. “Look to the right.”
Greyson peeked out the window. There was a building there with a playground behind it. The sign said “Newton Kindergarten.”
“That’s where you’ll be going to school in a few weeks,” his mother explained. “Isn’t that exciting? You’ll get to go to school every week day just like Ethan.”
They drove away from the kindergarten, and he realized that he was back at the beginning again. Last week he had nearly been at the end.
“You’re getting to be so grown up,” she said, again, for what felt like the fifth time that day.
Greyson did not even bother to make a quip this time. He just sighed.
“Okay,” his mother said, shutting off the tap. “Get in.”
“Can’t I do this on my own?” Greyson asked, already feeling a bit awkward being naked in front of her.
“Oh?” she said. “You don’t want me to help you with your bath?”
He shook his head.
“Fine,” she said. “I’ll just grab a book and read while you take care of it, then. Would you like a hand getting into the tub at least?”
He nodded and held out his right hand. She held it as he climbed into the tub on his own and took a seat in the warm water. It was much higher than he had expected, almost like a small Jacuzzi. He realized he could lay down flat in the tub lengthwise and fully submerge himself. For once that day, something big felt luxurious instead of intimidating.
She stepped out for a minute and returned holding a paperback book, the kind you pick up in supermarkets next to the magazines. She took a seat on the toilet lid and opened it up to a dog-eared page. She glanced over at him and said, “Make sure you soap up all over, even behind the ears. Okay?”
“Okay,” he said.
He took the shampoo and started to wash his hair.
The doorbell rang. His mother sighed and set down her book next to the sink. “Stay right there,” she told him. “I’ll just be a few seconds.”
She hurried out of the room, and he listened to her run down the stairs and open the front door. “Come in,” she said to whoever was waiting there. “My little boy’s in the tub, and I need to get back to him right away.” He heard her rush up the stairs and, moments later, she was walking back into the room, only slightly out of breath.
“You sure it’s okay if I come in?” a man asked.
Greyson recognized the voice. He felt himself blush.
“Of course it is, James,” she said. “I mean, you used to babysit for him and Ethan when he was little.”
James stepped into the bathroom, and Greyson felt his stomach drop. James had always been big. Now, though, seeing him through the eyes of a 5-year-old, Greyson felt as though he was in the presence of someone too big to be possible. Greyson felt as though he were in a zoo or on a farm, in the presence of a large mammal, a horse maybe. James’s footsteps, shook the room slightly, causing the floorboards to creak under his weight. He smelled like earth, and there were traces of dirt on his jeans. It seemed as though he had been excavating earlier that day. Beneath the earthy smell was a slightly musky sweaty odor, not offensive but rich and manly. The whole effect was enough to overwhelm Greyson with horniness.
“Hi, Greyson,” he said, looking down on him.
In a panic, Greyson dunked his head under the water and started to rise off the shampoo. He came up gasping for air seconds later.
“He’s a bit shy today,” his mother explained. “I’m not sure why, really.”
Greyson became very interested in making the water as soapy as possible. He started scrubbing away at his skin, vigorously.
“Well,” James said. “I won’t stay for long, I was just bringing something back that Ethan left behind at our place.”
He held up a football he had been carrying in his left hand.
“Yeah,” he said. “I saw it was up on our neighbor’s roof and decided to ask about getting a ladder up there to get it down. They were actually glad to have me do it.”
“Thank you!” she said, taking the ball from him. “Only, now I need to do some more shopping. I just got Ethan a new football for his birthday.”
“Oh,” he said. “I see. Sorry, I guess.”
“It’s fine,” she said. “I can head out again after my husband gets home from work or maybe I can pick something up after work tomorrow.”
Everyone paused when they heard a phone ring in the next room.
Greyson’s mother stood up and said, “I should go answer that. Keep an eye on him for me, would you?”
“Sure,” he said.
“Thanks.” She walked out of the bathroom, leaving Greyson alone with James. The man leaned back with his butt against the sink and crossed his arms, all the while avoiding looking directly at Greyson.
Greyson appreciated the consideration, but it did little to help him calm down. He just sat there quietly trying to think of something else besides what James would look like in the bath with him.
“You done?” James asked, still keeping his eyes averted.
“Uh,” Greyson said. “No.” He winced, hearing his little boy voice echoing in the bathroom. Then, he returned to cleaning himself.
“What?!” they heard Greyson’s mother say from the next room, her voice having taken on the tone she used when scolding her children. “That’s not what we agreed on.”
Greyson and James could not help but eavesdrop. There was a moment of silence as she listened to someone talk.
“No,” she said. “I have my son’s birthday party on Sunday, and I’m already scheduled for a shift tomorrow.” She paused for a second and added, “Hold on a moment. I think I have an idea, but I need to run it by someone here first.”
She walked back into the bathroom with the phone held against her chest and asked James, “Are you free for a few hours?”
“Uh,” he said. “I suppose so. I was just about to head home, actually.”
“Could you do me a massive favor? There was some screw up with the shifts at my work, and they need me to come in tonight to fill in some hours this week. Could you possibly babysit the boys until my husband comes home from work? It would mean a lot to me. I only ask because you used to sit for them with your brother years ago.”
He looked like he wanted to refuse, but he seemed to have no good excuse. “All right,” he said. “I can hang around for a bit.”
“Thank you!” she said and gave him a hug. “You are a lifesaver. I’ll pay you, and I’ll owe you a big favor as well.”
“Right,” he said. “No problem.”
She lifted the phone back up to her ear and said, “Okay. I have someone who can watch my kids for the afternoon. I’ll be in soon.” She walked out of the room, most likely to get dressed for work in her bedroom.
For the first time since he had walked in, James and Greyson exchanged a look. There was an awkward moment of silence, broken by James saying, “Well, looks like I’ll be hanging around for a little while. You’ve got your old babysitter back again for an evening.”
Greyson was speechless. How was he going to survive this?
“Do you remember when I used to babysit you guys. You were pretty young at the time.”
Greyson shook his head.
“Yeah,” he said. “I figured you didn’t. I mean, you were still wearing diapers. I know. I had to change a few for you.” He blushed. “Uh, actually, maybe you should just forget that I mentioned that. Didn’t mean to embarrass you.”
Once more, Greyson dunked his head under the water, fantasizing about pulling the plug and escaping down the drain.
Somehow, Greyson finished his bath without dying of embarrassment. James caught on that he was making Greyson uncomfortable and waited in the hallway, with the door open, for Greyson to finish up and get toweled off.
Then, Greyson wrapped himself in a huge towel and rushed off to his room to put on some clothes. Again, he went for the least childish options out of what was available in his drawers. Still, under his khaki shorts, his underwear were full of cartoon characters. His T-shirt was superhero themed this time, but it was just a comic book logo, not too embarrassing.
“Okay,” James said, when Greyson met back with him in the hallway. “Let’s head downstairs and find something to do.”
Greyson followed him down, in silent awe at how the big man shook the whole staircase with every heavy step. When they made it to the foot of the stairs, the front door opened and Ethan entered the house.
“James!” Ethan said. “How’s it going? What are you doing here?”
“Hey, Ethan,” James said. “Originally, I came over to return your football. Turns out, your mom needed an emergency babysitter. Don’t worry, she just needed to work a shift tonight. Hope you don’t mind me hanging around for a few hours.”
“That’s awesome!” Ethan said, smiling. “You are the best babysitter.”
James replied with a modest shrug. “I just let you do whatever you want really, so long as you’re not going to hurt yourselves or burn down the house.”
“That’s why you’re the best. We can get away with so much.” Ethan said and laughed.
“Ethan,” Greyson said, seeing his opportunity at last. “I need to talk to you.”
Ethan stopped smiling, having heard the serious tone of Greyson’s voice. “Okay,” Ethan said, glancing over at James. “Do you want to talk alone in my room?”
“Let’s go,” Ethan said, and led his little brother upstairs.
Greyson told Ethan everything.
The birthday party. Getting younger everyday. The candles.
Ethan listened quietly, and Greyson kept going at full speed, maybe out of fear that if he slowed down and let Ethan speak, then he would be cut off and unable to finish. When he had caught up to the present moment, Greyson stopped, waiting breathlessly for Ethan’s response.
After a long minute of silent thought, Ethan replied, “So… you’re getting younger every day, and tomorrow you’re going to be 2 years old if we don’t stop it somehow?”
“Yeah,” Greyson said. “I know it sounds silly coming from a 5-year-old, but it’s the truth. Nobody realizes it’s happening but me.”
Again, Ethan was quiet for a long minute. “What do you need me to do?” he asked, his voice not showing any condescension, only genuine concern.
Before Greyson could respond, there was a knock on Ethan’s door. “Can I come in?” James asked.
“Yeah,” Ethan said.
James walked in with a serious expression on his face.
“Were you listening?” Greyson asked him.
“I didn’t mean to eavesdrop,” James said. “But, I caught the end of the story when I came up to check on you two.”
“I’m not crazy, and I’m not making it up,” Greyson said.
James held up his hands defensively. “I didn’t say anything about it. Not doubting you at all. I do think that Ethan had a good question.”
“What do I need you to do about it?” Greyson said.
James and Ethan nodded.
Greyson half smiled, feeling how ridiculous his request was about to sound, but what did it matter anymore. He had come this far. He might as well go all the way. “I need a birthday cake,” he said.
James found a box of cake mix in a cabinet. Although they figured it was probably intended to be used for Ethan’s birthday, they decided to use it anyway.
“We’ll just tell your mom we were desperate for cake,” James suggested.
No one thought it was a good excuse, but who was going to stop them now?
They started to work their way through the recipe, even pulling a chair over to the counters for Greyson to stand on so he could help with mixing. Ethan stood next to him, officially to hold the bowl, but Greyson understood that his brother was there to keep him from falling or making a mess.
“So,” Ethan said as Greyson mixed the batter. “If this works like you think it will. Then, you’ll wake up as an adult again tomorrow.”
“That’s what I hope,” Greyson said.
“What happens to us then?” Ethan said.
“You’ll just be how you are, I guess. Probably, the world will go back to how it was before I started getting younger. At least, you won’t remember today at all tomorrow. Even if I get younger instead of older, today will be forgotten like it never happened.”
“That’s kind of… freaky.”
“I’m scared to admit that I’m starting to get used to it.”
James walked over with a cake pan. “Mind if I ask a question?”
“Go ahead,” Greyson said.
“What were you like before all of this? I mean, what was your life like?”
“I was quarterback for a college football team. Also, I was your friend.”
“We went to school together. I slept on your couch the morning of my 21st birthday.”
“Huh?” James said.
A thought occurred to Greyson. “You know what?” he said, turning to face James to find him looming above him. “Since none of you are going to remember this at all tomorrow. I want to say a thing or two to you.”
“Why am I worried?” James said with a nervous chuckle.
“I…” Greyson said and paused. “I… wanted to tell you how I feel.”
James waited for Greyson to work up his courage.
“I… love you.”
“Oh?” James said. “You mean…?”
“Oh!” James said, raising his eyebrows.
Ethan asked, “What are you guys talking about?”
“It’s…” James tried to explain, “complicated grown-up friend stuff, I guess.”
Greyson asked, “Could you feel the same way about me?”
“Well,” James said. “I don’t remember anything about you being an adult, so… Hard to say what I would feel. I can say that I wouldn’t reject the idea altogether.”
Greyson felt both a sense of relief and a weight of sadness. “I wish I’d said something sooner, before… all of this.”
“Well,” James said. “If this works, then you can tell me again when we’re the same age again.”
Ethan said, “I really wish you would just explain what you’re talking about.”
“When you’re older,” James said and gave Greyson a wink.
Greyson felt himself blushing again and turned his attention back to the cake batter. “Okay, let’s get this cake cooking.”
Ethan helped Greyson pour the mixture into the pan and then James put it in the oven.
Soon enough they had a cake sitting on the kitchen table. Just a little icing and some time to cool off, and it was time to grab the candles.
Greyson knelt on a chair in front of his cake, while they waited for Ethan to fetch the 2 and the 1 from the bag in the cabinet. “Do you really believe this is going to work?” Greyson asked James.
“You’re just humoring me, aren’t you?”
“I’m not going to lie. I don’t totally believe your story, but I believe that you believe it. I can see that you feel bad about it. And, anyway, I don’t see any harm in making you a cake if that makes you feel better.”
“Thanks,” Greyson said.
“Here they are,” Ethan said, holding out the candles for everyone to see.
“Let me have them,” Greyson said. Ethan handed them over. Greyson looked down at them in his two hands. They seemed so large now. “Thank you. Thank you both.” Greyson positioned the candles in the middle of the cake, the 2 to the left of the 1. Then, he carefully lifted his hands away from them as if they were explosives primed to blow.
“What now?” James asked.
“We light them up,” Greyson said.
“Hold on,” Ethan said. He ran over to flip the lights off in the kitchen. “Now, light them.”
James pulled out a lighter from his pocket and lit the two wicks.
Greyson was about to blow them out when Ethan interrupted again, “Wait! We have to sing first.”
“Oh,” Greyson said.
“Let’s do it,” James said and led Ethan through a hearty rendition of “Happy Birthday.”
“And many more!” Ethan cried out at the end.
Greyson shut his eyes and said, “Please work. I wish I was 21 years old again.” Then, he took a deep breath and blew out both candles in a single breath.
James and Ethan applauded.
“Way to go!” James said.
“Yeah! That’s my bro!” Ethan said and put an arm around Greyson’s shoulders and hugged him to him sideways. “I love you!”
Greyson felt some comfort in the solidity of his brother’s embrace.
“Let’s eat!” James said.
They all had a slice and spent the evening chatting and laughing together. They watched TV, played games, and finished off the cake. It felt good. For the first time this week, Greyson felt relaxed. He was having fun just spending time with his best friend and his brother. Then, he yawned.
“Well,” James said. “Looks like someone is ready for bed.”
“I’m not. I just…” Greyson started to say, but another yawn cut him off.
“I think you are,” Ethan said. “But, hey, when you wake up, things should be back to normal, right?”
“Yeah,” Greyson said, his eyes drooping shut.
“Come on,” James said. “Let’s get you ready for bed.”
Half-asleep already, Greyson slipped on his pajamas and got into his bed. The sun had only gone down a short while ago, but he was feeling like following its lead. Once he was dressed, James stepped into the room to check on Greyson as he got into bed.
“Want me to tuck you in?” James asked.
Greyson smiled as his drowsy head hit the pillow. “I can think of a few other things I would like you to do.”
“Maybe tomorrow,” James said. “For now, you have a good sleep. I’m sure things will be different tomorrow.”
“Me too,” Greyson said and frowned. “I wish I knew how.”
“You’ll be a big man,” James assured him. “Quarterback. College hero. My friend. Everything you wished for.”
Greyson smiled again. “Thank you,” he said and wiped away a tear.
James stepped away, turned out the lights, and shut the door.
Moments later, Greyson was asleep.
Greyson opened his eyes and squinted at the morning light. He looked to the side to see tall vertical wooden bars, which wrapped around the side of his bed to the foot, leaving an opening by the side of his legs to his right. It seemed designed to keep him from falling out while leaving him an exit if he needed to get out.
It was a crib. That much was obvious.
It’s another nightmare, he thought. Close your eyes again and will yourself awake. He shut his eyes tightly and focused on waking up. Wake up!
“Good morning, Greyson!” his mother said.
Greyson opened his eyes again to see her approaching. She was enormous, even bigger than yesterday, an absolute giant, impossibly huge, terrifying.
She smiled down at him and said, “Time to wake up, baby.”
Greyson whimpered. He was awake.