Two (Commission) – Ch 6 – lostandwhatever
Continued from Chapter 5.
Greyson didn’t want to talk, didn’t want to move, didn’t want to be here at all. He wanted to check out of reality altogether. Waking up had been a mistake, clearly. He yearned for some kind of unconsciousness.
“Come on, Greyson. Let’s get you cleaned up.” It was his mother. She was not about to let him sleep in. He could lie in bed doing nothing, but she would probably just carry him to the bathroom. He would rather not be carried, so he gathered up his courage and sat up to face the day.
He looked down to give his two-year-old body a quick examination. What he saw was disorienting. Where had his body gone? If he were still an adult, he would expect his hips to be where his feet were now. It felt as if someone had replaced his body with a half-sized version of it. He reasoned that his head must be proportionately bigger than it had been when he was an adult. Yesterday, he had experienced something like this, but it had been nowhere near as intense as it was now.
He scooted to the edge of his little crib bed and hung his feet out. Then, he slid off the bed to the floor and tried to stand up. His balance was nothing like he had expected it to be, and he immediately tipped forward and fell onto his face.
“Greyson!” his mother cried.
After a stunned moment, he pushed himself up onto his knees and sat on his heels.
“Are you all right?” she asked him, crouching down beside him.
He looked up at her and nodded. Then, he rose to his feet and tried to steady himself enough just to stand. With that managed, he attempted to take a few cautious steps. It was challenging, every part of him felt as though it were someplace he did not expect it to be. Nothing was the right size or the right length. On top of all that, his muscles were worryingly weak. Even if he had a good sense of what his body was doing, he would have had a hard time directing it around with such feeble strength.
When he stood still a moment and shut his eyes, he pictured his body as it was before his birthday: athletic, agile, and impressive. With his eyes open, facing reality, he was weak, clumsy, and embarrassing. It seemed an unbelievable injustice to find himself in this situation. He felt himself vacillating between rage and despair as he struggled simply to walk a straight line to the bathroom.
He made it in and was met by another indignity that made him pause at the door. In front of him, next to the real toilet, was a plastic potty training toilet.
“Let’s take care of the potty first,” his mother said. “Then, it’s time to clean up.”
For a moment, he hoped that she would leave him alone to take care of business, but that would have allowed him a little dignity. The universe, it seemed, was doing all it could to remove whatever dignity he had left.
She lifted the lid for him.
He stepped up to it and pulled down his pajama bottoms, giving himself his first view of the pull-ups he was wearing. They had cute cartoon duckies on them. He thought it might help to remember that at least the pull-ups were a step above diapers. It was not much consolation, though, when he pulled them down and got a good look at his crotch.
He had not been expecting much, and he was still disappointed by what he found there. It seemed impossible that there would ever be hair on his body anywhere besides his head. The little bit of flesh that marked him as a man seemed so very lonely down there in that flat bare expanse of soft skin. He took a seat on the cold plastic and prepared to make a BM for his mommy.
As he sat there on the potty waiting to relieve himself, he spoke his first words of the day, “Why didn’t it work?” The voice was what he had expected, a baby voice, tiny and feeble… and sad.
“Just be patient,” his mother said. “It will come.”
Maybe she was right. Maybe the answer would come eventually, but he seemed to be out of time. If his theory was right and blowing out the number two candle had made him two years old, then this was the end for him. He had reached his destined age. Maybe there had never been a chance to fight it. It is possible that it would have happened no matter what he had done. Still, he could not help but believe that there must have been some way to avoid this fate. Maybe the cake they had made was not good enough. Maybe it needed to be a real birthday cake for a real birthday party.
What did it matter now? It was over. He was a toddler, barely more than a baby. It would be another year before he had a chance to blow out a birthday candle, and when he did, it would be a number three, not a two and a one. His heart sank, losing what hope remained.
“Good boy,” his mother said.
He looked up at her confused for a moment, then he smelled it. He looked down between his legs to check. Yes, he had used the potty. “I didn’t feel it happen,” he said. He had just relaxed, and it had come out all on its own. He had so little control now. Even his own bodily functions had become more than he could handle.
“Now,” she said. “Let’s get you cleaned up.”
It would be a team effort, he realized and sighed.
Greyson had needed someone to wipe his own ass.
He had tried, really tried, to do it himself. His mother had even given him a chance to get it right. She had waited patiently as he attempted to maneuver the toilet paper to take care of it on his own.
He had failed.
He had failed so badly that he ended up with as much of a mess on his hand as on the toilet paper. Then, she had taken over. Mommy had grabbed a wet wipe and cleaned his hand and wiped his little behind. The swift efficiency of it all had been impressive despite the embarrassment. Clearly, she had done this many times before. Most likey, she had been wishing she would not need to do it for much longer, though.
Greyson was no stranger to failure. He had lost many games, missed important passes, fumbled the ball at the worst times. When it came down to it, he knew that losing was a part of life. You just needed to try to win more than you lost. He had gotten good at winning. Crowds of people had cheered for him and his victories.
Now, he sat on the living room carpet, dressed in cute green coveralls, which covered fresh pull-ups and a blue T-shirt. A box and some plastic blocks rested in front of him between his splayed legs. He was trying to put the cylindrical block through the round hole. It wasn’t going very smoothly. His pudgy little hands felt as though they had nerve damage. The fingers were stubby and clumsy. Nothing moved quite how he expected it to. It was difficult to gauge how hard he was grasping the block and how much he needed to turn his wrist to move the block into place. It kept getting stuck at an oblique angle as it went into the hole. He managed to get it in, maybe three tries out of ten.
The worst part of it all was that he knew that most other two-year-olds would have no problem with this particular task. The difference was that they had spent the past couple of years of their lives learning how to control their baby bodies. Greyson had long ago forgotten how to do that. It felt like when he had first learned to ride a bike, wobbly wheels and so much tipping and swaying. He was starting from square one again.
However, he was determined. He had chosen the blocks and holes as a means of training himself. This was not play time. It was practice. How many countless hours had he put in tossing a ball into a net, trying to get a perfect spiral, building up muscle memory? Now, he was putting blocks into holes. It was slow work and progress was hard to detect. Still, he kept at it, confident that he would improve eventually.
What else was he going to do? Sit there and sulk? Mope about his lost life? He was no quitter. There might not be a clear way out now, but he knew if he was ready for it, an opportunity might present itself.
Then, Gresyson heard footsteps on the stairs and saw opportunity descend towards him rubbing his eye and yawning.
“Mom?” Ethan said as he reached the ground floor. “What’s for breakfast?”
“Cereal,” she replied. “I’m doing a lot of cooking for your party tomorrow, so it’s easy meals all day today.”
“Okay,” he said, sounding too tired to be properly upset. Ethan glanced down at Gresyon on the floor. “Hey, G. Mornin’.”
“Mornin’,” Greyson said as Ethan shuffled past him to the kitchen.
Greyson would have followed him in if it were not for the rainbow-colored wooden fencing that surrounded him in his play area, like a little baby prison, keeping him safely inside.
Greyson ate Cheerios with his fingers between bites of blueberries. It was more good training, fine motor skill practice. The fact that he was hungry was all the more incentive to get the food from the tray in front of him into his mouth.
He missed, and a bit of cereal fell from his lip, bounced off his arm, and plummeted down onto the floor below. That one was gone. He was strapped into his booster seat, which was itself strapped onto a chair. Anything that was out of his reach there was effectively removed from his world unless someone brought it back to him.
He kept trying to feed himself while ignoring the growing pile of food on the floor beneath him.
“Hey,” Ethan said. “I was going to go to the park today with the guys.”
Their mother swallowed a mouthful of cereal and replied, “It’s supposed to be a sunny day today, isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” he said, “same as tomorrow.”
“I think I’ll join you there,” she said. “Some time outdoors would be good for Greyson. He’s been a bit quiet today. Not sure what’s bothering him.”
They both looked at Greyson as he tried to wipe some blueberry juice off of his chin. Realizing that he had an audience, he said, “I’m fine.”
Ethan finished his cereal and announced, “I’m done. I’m going to get cleaned up.”
“Hold up,” their mother said. “You’re either cleaning up the dishes or your brother, take your pick.”
He glanced at Greyson and back at the dirty bowls of cereal. Then, he stood up and sidled over to Greyson. “Come on, G,” he said. “Let’s get you cleaned up.”
Ethan reached for him, and for the first time that day, Greyson felt a hint of terror as his 12-year-old brother released him from the booster seat and lifted him into the air. His mother had been the one to lift him and place him in the seat, initially. Somehow, that had felt acceptable. Maybe it was because there had been a time in Greyson’s distant memories when she had been larger than him and had to physically help him out. However, never before had Greyson been so at the mercy of Ethan—his kid brother, the baby of the family, now a decade older than him and absolutely enormous in comparison.
Ethan’s hands nearly encircled Greyson’s whole torso. The strength in his careful fingers… to hold Greyson up and carry him as if he were a doll, it took some effort, as Greyson saw from the strained look on Ethan’s face. He set Greyson down on the floor and motioned for Gresyon to follow him. Greyson’s little legs had to hurry to keep up with the long strides of Ethan’s legs, each one almost as tall as Greyson was. Ethan set up a stool in the bathroom and Greyson climbed up on it. Then, Ethan wet a hand towel and proceeded to clean up the mess Greyson had made of his face.
Everything felt upside down. Memories of Ethan as a little toddler returned to him. The two of them had been in this exact situation a decade ago in Greyson’s old life. He had washed 2-year-old Ethan’s face in exactly the same way. There was a sense that something either deeply unjust or perfectly just was happening. Some imbalance or balance in the universe was being demonstrated to Greyson. He stood there, confused, feeling both comforted and disturbed by Ethan’s care for him.
When his face was clean, Greyson, along with Ethan, took a moment to look at each other in the mirror. Even standing on the stool, Greyson was dwarfed by his brother, looming behind him. For a fleeting moment, Greyson wondered if Ethan had recognized the strangeness of this reality. Then, the moment passed.
“Right,” Ethan said. “Let’s get ready for the park.”
They arrived at the park a short while later.
“Want me to help you with Greyson?” Ethan asked, glancing sideways at his brother.
“I’ll take care of him,” their mother said. “You go find your friends.”
“Thanks!” Ethan said. He reached for the door handle, but hesitated before he left. “Hey?” he said. “Can I ride in the front seat on the way home?”
“You need to be 12 before you can ride in the front seat.”
“I will be… tomorrow.”
“Then, you’ll get to do it tomorrow.”
Ethan sighed. “All right,” he said.
“Have fun,” their mother said. “Love you.”
“Love you, too,” Ethan replied and got out of the car, leaving Greyson alone in the backseat.
Greyson would have gotten out then as well if it were not for the baby car seat he was strapped into. Instead he had to wait for his mother to get out of her seat and walk around the car, open the door next to Greyson and unbuckle him from his restraints.
It was all for his safety—the seat, the restraints, the parental monitoring—all meant to keep him alive until he was old enough to do it himself. As it was, the world was too big for him, or he was too small for it. Everything was designed for adult bodies. For him to fit at all required special equipment, seats sized for his little butt, chairs and stools to give him elevation enough to reach things. Even a special toilet was needed, one low enough to the ground to accommodate his little legs and narrow behind.
He felt like an inconvenience. He felt like a burden. He felt like his existence was just extra work for other people. They loved him. They would do anything for him. He knew this. However, he was constantly reminded how dependent he was on other people now. His life was in the care of his family so often now that it was a rare moment when he was allowed to breathe on his own and think by himself. Those moments occurred only in safe spaces, like his play area prison back home.
A real toddler would not care about this lack of freedom, Greyson realized, as he was lifted from his seat and set down into a similar seat on the stroller. They have no experience of freedom. They have no memories of adulthood to compare with their current circumstances. Unfortunately, Greyson had those memories, making every moment of his new toddler life into one disappointment and frustration after another.
Once he was strapped down safely into his stroller. His mother checked that she had her bag of supplies, locked up the car, and wheeled him into the park.
The weather had the refreshing coolness of early autumn, which came as such a relief after months of sweltering summer air. Greyson had a desire to pick up a football and play, but he did what he could to put those thoughts aside. Thinking about that would only cause himself more pain. For now, he was content to dig holes in the sand.
Sitting in the sandbox with other little kids nearby, Greyson was playing with a plastic pail and tiny shovel, which he used to scoop sand into the pail. Again, he had decided to concentrate on training his mind to operate his new body. A simple mechanical task like this should be good practice. In fact, he was feeling encouraged by how he was getting more sand into the bucket and allowing less to be spilled beside it as time went on.
It was all about setting the goal posts in the right place, he realized. If he tried to measure his current toddler life compared to his adult life, he would always feel awful. He just needed to improve on how he had been earlier today or even only minutes ago. From that perspective, progress was easy enough to find.
Then, someone kicked sand into his face. He spit and brushed his eyelashes clear and then looked around for who had done it. He noticed a pair of enormous four-year-olds chasing each other around next to him. One of them must have made a quick turn and kicked up some sand without realizing it. He was so small and insignificant to them now that they simply failed to notice at all how their play had affected him.
He put that depressing realization out of his mind and dumped out his pail of sand to start over again. Briefly he looked over at his mother, sitting on a park bench, chatting with some other mother she knew. His mother glanced back at him, checking up on him. She was always vigilant, always keeping one eye in his direction. It was comforting, in a way, but so intrusive all the same. Nothing he did escaped her notice. She was probably trying to make sense of his digging right now, figuring out if it was something to worry about or not.
Greyson tried to focus back on his task, not really caring if she worried about his behavior. Suddenly, the sand exploded in front of him. He fell backwards in shock and wiped his face clean of sand again. When he looked back at the source of the explosion, he found a football resting on the sand in a small crater. He got to his feet and stumbled over to it. Then, with both hands, he lifted it up to hold it in his arms, as if it were a precious gift bestowed upon him by the gods. It was huge, much too big for him to comfortably hold with one hand. That was depressing enough until he realized that it was a junior-sized ball. A real football might be too big for him to even wrap his arms around now.
“Hey, G!” Ethan called to him.
Greyson looked over to see his brother run up to the sandbox, followed by the other middle school boys. He recognized a few of them. Stephen and Blake were there looking enormous, even the ones he had considered to be little kids before were towering giants compared to him now. Seeing them there, Greyson realized where the ball had come from.
Feeling a compulsion to play with them again, to demonstrate that he had some talent left, Greyson hefted the football up to his throwing hand prepared to toss it back to Ethan. Of course, the throw went wrong. The ball slipped out of his clumsy weak fingers and tumbled away from his hand as it swung forward. The ball came to rest only a few feet in front of him on the sand.
Ethan ran up and effortlessly grabbed the ball with one hand. “Nice throw, big guy,” Ethan said ruffling Greyson’s hair affectionately. “You’re going to be the star quarterback one day. I can see it.”
Then, Ethan ran off to rejoin his friends, big kids playing a big kid game.
Greyson sat down on the sand next to his plastic pail and shovel and tried really hard to not cry.
Snack time came and went.
Then, Greyson was ordered to lie down for a nap on a blanket beside his mother. He was about to argue when a yawn cut him off. It seemed that he could do with a bit of rest. So, he complied and settled down for a little shut-eye.
Some hazy dream occurred. He had a feeling that he was a toddler floating on an inflatable raft in a pool. Other older kids splashed around him, having fun while he just tried to stay afloat in the chaos. For some reason, he was the only one not wearing a bathing suit, only his regular toddler clothes. It seemed as though a sudden bump would soon upend his raft, sending him tumbling into the water where he would likely drown.
He held on for dear life and found himself getting more and more soaked, no matter what he did to stay safe and dry on the raft.
Greyson woke up and opened his eyes. The sensations of the dream all faded away except for one: his body still felt wet, only not all over. In fact, it was wet in only one place.
“Oh no!” he said, realizing what he had done.
“Do you need a change?” his mother asked.
He nodded, sadly.
She gave him a quick sniff test. Then, she undid the straps to his overalls and checked the backside of his pull-ups to assess the severity of the mess. “Let’s get you to the restroom to let you finish up.”
He let out a sigh of relief. There was nothing solid down there yet, it seemed.
He was placed in the stroller, and they swiftly wheeled their way over to the restrooms, a small building on the edge of the park. However, when she tried to open the door to the women’s room, it did not budge. She tried the men’s room door as well and found it locked. A sign between the doors explained that they were “Out of Order.” In fact, a plumber was just around the side of the little building, gathering up his tools to start working inside. He confirmed that the toilets had no water at that moment.
Greyson waited in his stroller, feeling increasingly aware of the growing pressure in his bowels. If only he had a toilet to use, he could relieve himself without making a mess, but it seemed as though that possibility was out of reach here. He thought that maybe he might beg his mother to take him home quickly. But, just as he started to get her attention, it happened.
“Oh no!” he said again and felt a warm squishy mess fill the area around his seat. Soon after, he could smell it as well. “Noooo,” he moaned, feeling the stink of failure wafting off of him, strong enough for anyone to notice.
Realizing what had happened, his mother changed tactics and wheeled him to their car. “Don’t worry,” she said, soothingly. “We’ll get you cleaned up right away.”
At first, Greyson thought she was taking him home, but instead of opening the back seat door, she opened the hatchback door at the rear of the car. His confusion was quickly replaced by the horrified realization that she was about to change him right there in the back of their car, in public.
“Wait,” he begged. “Not here.”
“It’s all right,” she assured him. “We’ll be done in just a minute.”
She laid out her blanket and supplies in the rear of the car and then set him on his back on the blanket where she proceeded to undress him, removing his velcro shoes and little socks and then his overalls.
Just as she was about to reach the mess itself, some woman nearby in the parking lot said, “What do you think you are doing?”
His mother turned to confront her and said, “I’m changing my baby’s diaper.”
“You can’t do that out in public,” the other woman stated.
Greyson just lay there feeling the mess in his pull-ups getting colder as the two women argued over the appropriateness and legality of the situation.
Then, James drove up in his truck.
Greyson blushed and wondered if he would be able to run away and hide somewhere, but he doubted he could even climb out of the car without injuring himself.
“Hi,” James said to Greyson’s mother. “What’s the problem?”
“I’m simply trying to change Greyson, but this woman has decided that she has the right to get in the way of me doing it,” Greyson’s mother explained.
“Excuse me!” the other woman said, outraged. “That’s it. I’ve had enough. I’m going to call the police.” She walked away as she pulled out a cell phone.
“Can I help, somehow?” James asked.
Greyson’s mother looked back at Greyson and then at James and said, “I know it’s a big ask, but could you maybe change Greyson while I keep her distracted?”
“Uh,” James said. “Sure. Wouldn’t be the first diaper I’ve changed.”
“I owe you big time!” Greyson’s mother said. Then, she hurried after the nosy woman to stop her from calling the police.
“Wait!” Greyson cried. “Mom?”
James parked and got out of his truck. Then, he ambled over to Greyson.
“Please,” Greyson said. “Can’t it wait for my Mom?”
“Sorry,” James said. “I said I would help her out while she was away.”
“Mom!” Greyson cried for her again.
“Shh, shh,” James said trying to calm him down, then he found something in the bag that would do the job. “Here,” he said as he poked a pacifier into Greyson’s mouth.
Greyson was too shocked by having been literally pacified to even think of spitting it out. Besides, he knew that James would probably just put it back in again if he did. Greyson gave the pacifier an experimental suck or two but stopped when he found it unnervingly comforting.
He had run out of ways to avoid what was about to happen. Instead, he just lay there, having accepted that he was helpless to do anything to stop it.
Then, it all started to unfold like a slow-motion nightmare.
“Let’s get you cleaned up,” James said. “I hope you remember me. I’ve changed you before. I’ve even changed your brother before, a long time ago. He’s a friend of my little brother. Lucky for you I was coming to pick him up.”
Greyson made no sound, he just looked away, too embarrassed to even look his giant old friend in the eyes.
He felt James’s giant hand gently lift his legs up as the big man removed his spoiled pull-ups. The smell got worse with the mess exposed to the air.
James exclaimed a brief, “Oof!” as he caught a whiff of it.
Greyson looked up at him and came to the shocked realization that he was naked beneath James. In another reality, this might be a dream come true, to be exposed to James and feel James’s hands on him. But, everything was wrong. Greyson was essentially a baby, showing off no more than a tiny nub, not even as thick as James’s little finger. Then, there was the mess. Greyson was literally covered in shit, the damning proof of his lack of bowel control. He could not even imagine a more humiliating situation to find himself in with a man he wanted.
James was businesslike in his motions, expertly and efficiently wiping away the mess. Greyson turned his head away, but there was no escaping the feeling of James’s strong hands maneuvering his baby body around as if it were a doll. Greyson wanted to disappear, wanted for everything to just be over, wanted an exit, an escape from this reality. But, there was no escape. He would have to suffer through the whole changing process.
Once the cleaning was over, James searched around for a new pair of pull-ups. “Hmm,” he said after digging through the changing gear. “All I can find is a spare diaper in here. I suppose that ought to fit you still.”
Greyson felt too despondent to protest being given a diaper instead of pull-ups. What did it matter anyway what he was wearing? What dignity did he have left?
Again, Greyson felt his legs lifted into the air as a fresh diaper was slid into place beneath him. When his ass was rested down on it, he felt its much more noticeable padding. There was no denying or hiding what he would be wearing now. This much thick material could only be a diaper.
Then, James folded the front of the diaper over onto Greyson’s belly, spreading Greyson’s legs wide in the process to accommodate its size. After that, it took only a moment to fasten it in place, and the job was done. Greyson tried to put his legs together again, but the crinkling diaper prevented it. He realized he would probably be waddling around now when he tried to walk with this thing on.
With that all done, Greyson felt too shocked to do anything but lie there as he grappled with the enormity of what had just occurred. James had just put a diaper on him. He was wearing a diaper now in front of James.
“There you go,” James said, smiling down at him. “Cleaned up and ready to go.”
Greyson’s mother returned and thanked James for helping out. They made some small talk about Stephen and Ethan, and about the birthday party tomorrow.
Greyson was barely listening, though, as his mother dressed him, even as she struggled to fit his overalls over the thickness of his diaper. He had checked out. The whole experience had been too traumatizing for him to handle. His mind was drifting a million miles away from this reality. At some point, he realized that he had started instinctively sucking on the pacifier again, but he did not bother to make himself stop. At least it gave him some comfort as he lay there, waiting for this cursed trip to the park to be over.
For the rest of their time at the park, Greyson was operating on autopilot. He played along with what his mother wanted him to do, but there was little enthusiasm from him. Whatever defiance there was that had remained in him to fight against this new reality had left him during that diaper change. Why fight the inevitable? This was his life now. He was a toddler. No escaping that fact. He was powerless, little more than a diapered baby. What hope was there of using the candles to grow up again? Could he even face James again if he returned to his old reality after having suffered through that changing with him? There was no going back to how things had been before. Everything was tainted now.
This hopeless surrendering hung with him all the way home and up until dinner, when he was sitting again in his booster seat to eat his cut-up little meal.
He took a moment after losing his appetite to look down at his pathetic body and poke at the padding of his pull-ups. The diaper had been replaced after a trip to the potty earlier that afternoon. Still, there was little difference. Both were just wearable toilets strapped onto him by the adults. He knew now that, as much as he wanted to be free of them, he needed to keep wearing them. His body was not ready to do without that protection.
His mind drifted back to his old life. It was hard to believe that only a week ago he had been celebrating his 21st birthday. The distance he had fallen was almost too much to bear. He thought it all over and struggled to believe what had happened to him. He had gone from having everything to being left with next to nothing.
“Hey, Mom?” Ethan asked, pulling Greyson back to the present moment.
“What is it?”
“What kind of cake am I getting tomorrow?”
“I’m making you a chocolate cake tonight,” she said. “Want to help me?”
“Do I get to lick the batter?”
“You can taste the icing for me,” she said.
Their father chimed in to ask, “Do I get some icing as well?”
“No,” their mother replied. “You’re watching your sugar intake, remember?”
He grumbled a reply and worked on finishing what food was left on his plate.
Greyson had only eaten a little of what was given to him, just enough to satisfy his hunger. Now, he was simply waiting to be put to bed.
“You doing all right, G?” Ethan asked him.
Greyson was surprised to be addressed as an actual person again. For much of the day he had been treated like an object to be carried around and cared for, more often spoken about rather than to. To be asked for his thoughts was a jarring change.
“I’m… fine,” Greyson replied. “I’m just a little tired.”
“You looking forward to my party? Should be fun.”
Greyson looked over at their mother taking out a box of cake mix from the cupboard. Next to it on the shelf was the bag with the magic candles in it. Once more, a dim light of hope appeared in his mind.
“Yeah,” Greyson said with tempered optimism. “I’m looking forward to it.”
Lying in his bed a short while later, Greyson wondered what would happen tomorrow. If he was right about the number two candle making him into a two-year-old, then he should just wake up the same way he was now. However, there was the possibility that he would just disappear into nothing after he de-aged backwards out of existence. It was hard to be scared by that prospect, though, as he was not enjoying his current existence very much anyway. He would welcome an escape from it, even if it meant oblivion. Still, he was holding out hope of continuing to exist tomorrow. With Ethan’s cake, there was a chance that he might even grow up again sooner rather than later. As he drifted off to sleep for what might be the last time, that hope was his final thought.
The dream that night had him drifting above his parents and Ethan as they watched TV together. His mother mentioned how she wanted to have a second child, still. His father said he would consider it. Ethan added that he would love to be a big brother. Greyson felt missed, which was a small comfort. Then, he woke up.
Greyson’s eyes opened, and he looked around in the dawn light to find himself still in the same crib-like bed he had woken up in the day before. He glanced down at his body and was relieved to see that he was still two years old. As far from ideal as the situation was, he was happy to have not gotten younger overnight as had been happening to him all week. That little bit of stability was a welcome change.
This new toddler reality was his last stop, it seemed. The magic had finished up yesterday to leave him at this age. Now, Greyson hoped that he might coax the magic back into action to reverse the changes it had made to his life. It was a slim hope, but he clung to it tightly. Whatever was needed, he would do it in order to get a chance to blow out those candles again. This promise he made to himself as his mother entered his room to start his morning routine.
Later, the party came to life. Decorations were taped up, balloons inflated, food prepared, gifts set out, and then the guests began to arrive. Uncles and aunts drove up and entered toting along their own kids and wrapped packages and said their hellos to everyone before settling in to chat and watch a football game on TV. Meanwhile, the children found ways to entertain themselves. Mostly, the kids headed out to the backyard where games and other treats awaited them.
Ethan’s friends started showing up as well, some being dropped off by parents, others riding up on their bikes alone. James drove up with Stephen in his truck, and they both got out together. Both were invited into the party. James was happy to hang out for long enough to have a meal as his little brother went off to play in the yard with Ethan.
Greyson watched this all happen from the confines of his play area in the living room. All the while, he tried to formulate a way to get Ethan’s attention so that he might ask to blow out the birthday candles with his brother.
Eventually, he found something that might work. Among the pile of toys he had with him was a single little football, just the right size for his toddler hand. At one end of his play area was a small plastic basketball hoop on a pole. Greyson stood himself at the other end of the play area nearby the fence and took aim at the hoop. Then, he threw the toy football at it, hoping to get it through the hoop.
The first throw flew wide off from where he had aimed it and bounced off the fence behind. Greyson ran over, collected the ball and walked back to try again. The second throw was just as wild as the first. He grabbed the ball and tried again, and again, and again.
“Hey,” James said to Greyson’s father. “Looks like you have a quarterback in the making here.”
His father pulled his attention away from the game on TV to watch Greyson try and fail to get the football through the hoop. “Yeah,” his father said. “That’s my boy. You keep at it.”
Most of his throws were misses still an hour later, but he was hitting his mark more and more often as time went on. As dinner drew near and the sun got low in the sky. Greyson was scoring hits about half of the time. His little arm was sore from all the exertion, but his determination was keeping him going.
A small crowd of younger kids had formed to watch the toddler quarterback practice his passes. When he managed to get the ball in the basket, they would cheer for him.
Eventually, he drew Ethan’s notice.
Ethan walked up with his shirt off, apparently just having finished a skins and shirts game of touch football. “Hey, buddy,” he said to Greyson. “Word is that you’ve gotten to be quite a quarterback. Care to show me your skills?”
This was the moment, Greyson had been waiting for. He said, “I will, but I want to ask you something first.”
“Okay,” Ethan said. “What’s your question?”
“Can I blow out the candles with you today?”
Ethan smiled and said, “You’ll get to blow out your own candles on your next birthday.”
Greyson said, “I know, but I wanna do something with you. How about we make a bet?”
Ethan smiled again and asked, “What kind of bet?”
“I bet,” Greyson said, “I can make three baskets in a row. If I do that, then you let me blow out the candles with you.”
“All right,” Ethan said, nodding. “But, let’s make it five baskets. If you can do five in a row, then I’ll let you blow out the candles with me.”
Greyson nodded and said, “Deal.”
The room quieted down as everyone turned their attention to watch Greyson attempt to win the bet.
Greyson stood there and held the little toy football in his toddler hands, and once more he found himself center stage for a big game. In his mind, he was a quarterback again, ready to make one final drive to victory. He would need to be perfect in order to do it, but he knew he was ready. Nothing was going to stop him now.
He focused up, found the laces on his ball, and threw it.
“Score!” someone yelled and everyone cheered.
Greyson collected the ball and returned to his position to throw again. He let it fly.
“That’s two!” More cheers.
Then, he did it a third time.
Then, a fourth.
Each time the crowd cheered even louder.
When it came time for the final throw, the room was dead silent as everyone watched intently. No one dared make a sound that might distract him. Greyson was sweating. He needed to wipe his hand on his pants to dry it before taking hold of the ball again. With everything he had left, he threw it and watched it spiral through the air in slow motion. It fell a little short and bounced off the rim, then it ricocheted up to the backboard and bounced forward again and fell through the rim.
The room exploded with cheers.
“That’s my boy!” his father cried out and lifted him up into the air triumphantly.
“Way to go, kid!” James said.
Greyson turned to look at Ethan, who gave him a thumbs up.
Greyson had won. Now, he just had to wait for the candles to be lit.
“Come sit on my lap,” Ethan said as the cake was readied in the kitchen later that evening after dinner. Greyson walked up to where Ethan was sitting at the dining room table and let his brother lift him up and set him down on the older boy’s left thigh.
The lights were turned off and in walked their mother carrying in the birthday cake with its two lit candles providing the only light in the room. Everyone started singing “Happy Birthday.” As she set the cake down in front of Greyson and Ethan, Greyson realized a flaw in his plan. The number one and two candles were on it, all right, but they were in the wrong order to make him 21 again. At best, blowing out the candles would only make him 12, the same age as Ethan.
“Ready?” Ethan asked as the song finished.
It was now or never, Greyson realized. No time left to demand a change to their deal. Anyway, twelve would be a much better age than two.
“Ready,” Greyson replied.
Ethan counted them down. “One, two, three,” he said, and then they both took a deep breath and blew the candles out together.
Everyone cheered, but Greyson felt a momentary panic as he watched the twin fires extinguish in front of him. He had blown with all his might, but it seemed as though he had only managed to hit the number one candle with his breath. He might have affected the second one a little, but it was impossible to tell with Ethan blowing along with him.
As pictures were taken and the cake was cut, Greyson kept on wondering if he had succeeded after all. Maybe it was good enough that he had blown in the direction of both candles even if he had only hit one of them. Maybe he had hit both of them without realizing it. Unfortunately, he had no way of knowing just then, so he contented himself to eat a little cake and enjoy the rest of the party. Whatever the magic had in store for him, he would not know for sure until the morning.
So, that night, with that last bit of uncertainty on his mind, he went to bed, ready to face the life that was waiting for him when he woke up.