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“Are you waiting for your mommy, sweetie?” The old woman smiled, and while I felt safe in her presence, internally- it was like great swathes of barbed wire had nested in my brain. Each word and gesture from the woman, from her kindly expression to the way she sat, it echoed what I already knew- the world would see Kaylee, and they would treat her accordingly.
There was no surprise in this. Ryan Sullivan wasn’t sitting at the bus stop, his legs dangling from the bench, unable to touch the ground. He wasn’t wearing a t-shirt with a glittery butterfly on it, or a pair of pink running shoes that lit up in the dark.
I answered snidely, “No, I’m waiting for a bus.”
The old woman wasn’t the only person giving me strange looks. A young mother with a little girl about Kaylee’s age kept slowly shaking her head and looking in my direction. Her head moved on a swivel, switching from me to searching for a parent who would never come.
She said, “I’d never let my Juliette ride the bus alone. What kind of parent would allow that?”
A teenage girl who had been waiting in the bus shelter said, “Maybe she ran away or something.”
I growled, “I’m just waiting for the fucking bus. Leave me alone.” There were shocked gasps from the small assembled crowd.
The teenage girl said, “Shit, kid’s got a mouth.”
The young mother frowned and said, “Please don’t use such language in front of children.” The old woman, who was likely someone’s grandmother said gently, “Did you miss your school bus? Do you know how to get home by yourself, sweetie?” When I left the studio, it was just past four, so it wasn’t surprising she would ask me that question.
I sighed deeply, having already had my fill of being treated like a child. The old woman persisted, “When you get on the bus, you make sure to tell the driver where you live. Do you know your address, sweetie? You just tell him the street even. He’ll be able to help.”
I said, “I know where I’m going. It’s not a big deal. My mom knows where I am. I’m very responsible. I’m taking the 67 bus and then the 78 for twenty minutes. I’m going to my friend’s house.” I missed the days when I could just wait for the bus without a full investigation. I’d check out the teenage girl’s ass in those short shorts and the mom’s tits. Neither of them had a nice enough face to consider hooking up with, but I could still enjoy certain parts.
I blinked slowly, my mind flashing back to the studio, to the perfect specimens, which now included me. My wandering eye was one of the reasons I was even in this body. Still, if I looked and enjoyed what I saw, I could confirm that Dr. Travers’ serum had to this point been unsuccessful.
The teenage girl, who was probably seventeen or eighteen, just smiled at me, completely unaware that I had been staring at her ass. The young mother, on the other hand, frowned disapprovingly as I stared at her chest. Again, I didn’t feel a thing physically, except for a tingling in my head.
The mother turned to the teenage girl and said, “I think you’re right. She’s probably a runaway. Juliette, why don’t you talk to her? Ask her if she ran away from home.”
The grandmother shook her head, “I wouldn’t pester her any more. She’s in a grumpy mood.”
I glared at the assembled crowd and started playing on my phone, immersing myself in a game of ROBOT NAZI ZOMBIES. Mostly, it was an excuse to blow up the heads of hundreds of zombies, who were robots and also somehow Nazis. It would drain my battery quickly, especially with the 3D blood and guts, but I really needed to avoid any contact with someone Kaylee’s age. I hoped she got the hint quickly that I wanted nothing to do with her.
A bright-eyed little girl with strawberry blonde hair stepped into my line of sight. She said softly, lisping slightly “Um. Hi. I-I like your thues. They’re pwetty.”
I looked up for a moment and then back down at my game. The little girl said, “Mommy, how come she has such a cool phone? I want one like fhat! Please can I have one like fhat?”
The young mother replied, “No, Juliette. Absolutely not. Now I do as you are told, ask her if she ran away.”
The teenage girl whined, “Shit, she’s got a nicer phone than me. Her parents must be loaded.”
I said angrily, “I can hear all of you talking about me like I can’t hear you. I’m not a runaway. I finished school and now I’m taking the bus to a friend’s house. That’s it.”
I figured my outburst would cause everyone to leave me be, but Juliette returned to my side. She said, “My mommy and daddy do fhat. I hate it! It makes me tho mad. I’m not a baby. I know what fhey mean.”
I shrugged my shoulders, unsure of how to speak to her, “Yeah, it’s a piss off. Look, I’m kinda busy here.” I expected the young mother to chide me again for my language, but she was engaged in a discussion with the grandmother about…well I wasn’t really listening. I was too busy blowing up zombies dressed in military uniforms with cybernetic enhancements.
The girl didn’t leave, instead, she peeked over my shoulder, and said, “Can I have a turn?” I shook my head, and while I tried to look like the grumpiest most belligerent six year old in the world, I was secretly happy. I had no desire whatsoever to play or talk with this girl. Maybe only Ashley had that effect on me?
I felt cowardly for leaving Ashley behind, but I assumed that with Tracy arrested, Ashley was taken to the police station where she would probably meet her thirteen year old mommy. I expected the story to be on the news by now, and I was thankful I wouldn’t be part of it. I knew that I could only be around Ashley in a highly controlled environment, so our reunion would have to wait.
Still, there was a chance that my picture would be plastered all over the news, so I would have to limit the amount of time I spent in public. My only option really was Greg. A previous check of my phone revealed the buses I had to take, and while my bus pass was useless, thankfully, I had pair of old bus tickets. They weren’t my emergency tickets or anything- I just never cleaned out my wallet. I could have played the role of Kaylee, frightened six-year old girl who had lost her bus fare, but I refused. I rejected that role because it wasn’t me. It was the same reason why I didn’t immediately text Greg after I fled the studio.
I needed to do this myself, the same way I had as Ryan. I had taken the bus to Greg’s hundreds of times. I could do it again, even looking like this.
I hadn’t expected the near constant commentary concerning my apparently lax parents, but considering how young I was, maybe the reactions were warranted. Speaking of parents, while I realized I sort of/kind of missed my mom, I wasn’t about to call her and tell her, “Hey, remember that daughter you always wanted? Well guess what…” No, that was not happening. I’d hide out at Greg’s until Tracy was released from custody.
Juliette heaved a gentle sigh of frustration. I could tell she was irritated that I was ignoring her. She saw me as her equal more than likely, so the fact I was snubbing her was probably doing all sorts of wild things to her brain. She asked me, “How come?”
I continued ending the lives of robotic zombies, pleased that my hand-eye coordination had seemingly improved. Or was it just easier to manipulate a touch screen rather than a controller? I answered, “Because.”
Juliette said, “What’s in your bag? I like Hello Kitty too. Do you have a kitty at home? Mine is funny. His name is Mowwis, and he wuns around all cwazy thometimes.”
I smiled to myself. Again, I had no interest in Juliette’s inane conversation or really her very presence. I had no desire to play with her. I started to believe that Dr. Travers’ formula was a complete failure. Or the dose I received wasn’t as potent. The little girl was smiling at me expectantly, desperately wanting me to react to her- to say something. I could see that her two front teeth were missing, which caused her to pronounce all her S sounds as TH sounds. I expected she was probably teased for it.
I replied, “Cool story bro.” It was the ultimate sarcastic response, complete dismissal. I quickly turned back to my game.
Unfortunately, Juliette didn’t get it. She giggled and replied, “You’re funny. I like you.” She slipped her school bag off and said, “Do you like Fwothen? It’s my fravorite!”
Juliette’s mother interjected, “Juliette, how many times have I told you, it’s favourite! You shouldn’t be making that mistake at your age. The other kids will think you are stupid. Listen to how clearly this girl speaks.”
The little girl sighed, and her shoulders drooped, “OK, Mommy. I’m thorry.”
I felt a slight pang of sympathy toward Juliette. It was obvious the girl was nervous, and her mom’s ‘encouragement’ wasn’t exactly helping the situation. I was glad I didn’t have really pushy parents. This returned me again to my mother, and the insane thought of calling her. I flicked to my text messages, seeing that I actually received one from her a few weeks ago.
Mom: havent heard from u in a while plz call i miss u luv mom
I flicked back to an earlier message from a few months ago.
Mom: I was thinking about ur dad today and how alike u r both so stubborn still ur my boys i luv u plz call me I want to know how ur doing
And to two years ago:
Mom: im not mad at u for leaving ryan i know u have to do this ur dad did the same thing when he was ur age i know u r mad but plz remember youll always have a home here i luv u
Juliette got right in my face, gently tilting her head and asked, “Whatsa matter? You look thad. Are you thad?” The little girl grinned her semi-toothless grin and quickly unzipped her school bag, “I know what’ll make you happy!”
I flicked the text messages away. Why didn’t I just delete them? What was the point in actually keeping them? I hadn’t spoken to my mom in two years. Yes, there were times when I would bring up her contact information, waffling back and forth between calling her and deleting her, but I did neither. On my birthday, she would always e-mail me a stupid e-card. It was the type of thing a grandmother would get from her grandkids. My mom was awful with technology, and she texted like a teenage girl. She still had the same sad flip phone that apparently didn’t have punctuation. Not that I was any better, but it was texting, it was supposed to be fast.
Juliette held a plastic doll in her hands, like it was a seven-hundred dollar phone. She grinned widely, “You can play with her. If you want.”
I stared at the doll, wide eyed. It was the same one that Ashley owned, the Elsa figure skating doll. Why were little girls so obsessed with that movie? Memories of my play time with Ashley flooded back. Memories of laughter, of easiness and the purity of childlike imagination filled my mind like a wonderful drug. The second she put the doll in my hands, I felt a smile creep upward. My hands shook gently as I held the doll.
Juliette grinned, “I have Anna too. We can play ice thkating pwincesses!” She pulled another doll from her bag, and by this point, a powerful energy was passing through my body. I felt like I had just eaten half a bag of sugar. I wanted nothing else but to play with Juliette to a point where time no longer mattered. Where hours, minutes and seconds were no longer the way I told time- no, I would pass the time in intervals, moving from game to game until it was time for lunch or dinner or bedtime. Clocks would hold no meaning.
I dropped the doll and ran, Juliette yelled after me, but I sprinted away. I peered back to see if anyone was following me. Thankfully, no one had given chase.
It all made sense now. When Ashley first arrived at the ‘camp’, she told me she wasn’t having much fun, but that changed the longer she stayed there. It wasn’t the presence of the children that caused the change, it was the play. It was acting like a kid. The same had happened to Devon and Mark, but without the ‘camp’ experience.
I was coming up to the next bus stop, but as I ran, I also noticed a sign that read SCHOOL ZONE. Despite the potential danger, I knew that it was past four PM, so school would be out. Thankfully, the bus stop was deserted.
Cars pulled in and out of the school’s parking lot. Some parents stood near the front entrance of the school, milling about and chatting, until shrieks of joy from the nearby school yard brought some running toward their children. It was a bizarre occurrence. The kids had seen their parents just that morning. Why were they so happy to see them? If they were anything like me, who often saw school as a prison, they were happy to see an end to their confinement, but I was never that excited to see my mom. My dad yes, especially after he had been on a long trip, but rarely my mom.
I guessed that the kids in the yard were part of an after school program. I always wanted to join the program, but my mom was waiting at home for me, so I never got the opportunity.
Turning away from the bus stop, I watched the children at play. Most of them were Kaylee’s age, although a few were younger or older but not by more than one or two years. The jungle gym now had the same attraction to me as a brand new video game, or a night with Monique. I stared, mesmerized as the kids went down slides, climbed along rickety rope bridges, slid down poles and tried to swing to reach the sky.
It looked like incredible fun.
A young woman with a nice chest and a decent face turned toward me. She asked me through the fence, “Hi there, do you know if you are supposed to be part of this group? What’s your name, cutie?”
I shook my head repeatedly, “No. No! I’m not. I’m just waiting for the bus.”
The young woman furrowed her brow. She turned to another woman, this one a little older and definitely less attractive. Think dumpy. The younger one pointed at me with clear concern on her features. The older one nodded and handed her a clipboard, and then the younger returned to the fence. She said, “What’s your name?”
I replied with a sigh, “Kaylee Sullivan.” The woman looked down at the clipboard and slowly shook her head.
The woman asked, “OK, well you aren’t part of the after school program here. But I’m sorry sweetie, you missed the bus. Do you know your telephone number? I’ll call your mommy or daddy, and hopefully they can come get you. In the meantime, you can come and play with us.”
I shook my head, “I don’t go to this school. And my mom said it’s OK for me to take the bus.” Even as I said this, the word ‘play’ echoed in my head, and I felt an almost magnetic pull toward the fence. The school yard lay before me, a mere ten feet away.
Again the young woman’s brow furrowed, she said, “You look a little young to be taking a city bus home by yourself. How about we call your mom, and just make sure you know what bus you are taking? I just don’t want you to get lost, sweetie.”
She took out her cell phone and said, “Can you tell me your telephone number, Kaylee?”
I replied, “I don’t know it.”
The young woman frowned, “A smart girl like you has to know her telephone number. I know I’m a stranger, Kaylee. And maybe your parents taught you not to talk to us, but I’m just trying to make sure you get home safely. My name is Dana.”
Luckily, the bus pulled around the corner and approached the stop. However, Dana moved quickly to intercept it.
I shouted, “Hey! I don’t need your help. I know that I’m supposed to take the 67 bus and then the 78 for 20 minutes.” Dana ignored me completely and stepped onto the bus. She said, “This is Kaylee Sullivan. She says she’s supposed to be taking the bus.”
The bus driver, who reminded me of Santa Claus, with his large round belly and thick white whiskers said, “Oh? You don’t see her mom anywhere?” Dana shook her head and replied, “No, she said her mom gave her permission to take the bus alone. She won’t give me her phone number so I can check with her mom.” There was concern in her voice.
By this point, I was furious. Apparently, I couldn’t even take a city bus without a formal investigation. I jammed my bus tickets into the receptacle and snapped, “Look, can I just take the bus in peace here? Yes, my mom said I can take it alone. I’m very responsible. I know exactly where I’m going!” I gave the address to Greg’s apartment building.
The driver raised a big bushy white eyebrow, “Now, I can’t take you all the way there. You’ll need to take another bus.”
I stomped, “I know! The 78 for 20 minutes. Seriously, I’m not a kid!”
I regretted the words the moment they left my lips. The bus driver let loose a deep belly laugh, and Dana laughed softly, although she was trying to stifle it. The two adults looked down at me with amusement, but worse than that, they looked at me like a child who was trying to act like a grown-up, half patronizing and half gushing. It was the same way Hannah used to look at her cat when it did something cute but silly, like attacking my shirt and getting its claw stuck. Goddamn cats.
The driver looked to Dana with a smile, “Don’t worry missy, I’ll look after this little one. And I’ll phone ahead and make sure she gets on that other bus. It’s real rare, but we do have kids riding the bus as young as her, but usually they are lost.”
Dana beamed, “Thanks so much! Bye, Kaylee! Have fun on the bus!” The energetic after school worker exited the bus quickly. All the seats on the bus were full, so I started walking toward the back. Normally, I would been overjoyed to have so many female eyes on me. As Ryan, I was a good looking guy, and despite my weak chin, my tall muscular frame and rugged, yet handsome face, provided much eye candy for the opposite sex (at least, I thought so). Now, however, as I slowly made my way to the back of the bus, I was faced with a very different sort of attention.
I wasn’t receiving the usual wanton, alluring gazes from women- the kind that made me want to slip beside them, knowing that their eyes would dart back and forth, taking in my impressive musculature, the total package. No, as I confidently strode to the back, I saw in women (and some men) not admiration, but the kind of look that accompanied the words, “What a cutie!” and “Oh she’s trying to be such a big girl, how darling!”
As I walked through the humiliating gauntlet of stares and smiles, I heard the bus driver behind me, “Oh, Kaylee! Look, this nice lady gave you her seat at the front of the bus.” He motioned to the seat directly behind the driver’s seat. It was usually reserved for pregnant women and people with injuries, and now, it was my mine. My cheeks burned with embarrassment.
The middle-aged woman, who had given up her seat, smiled down at me, “Go on, honey. It’s the best seat on the bus. And it’s all yours.” My cheeks continued to burn. It was clear that people were going to treat me like a six-year old girl, no matter how grown-up I acted. So, rather than face additional embarrassment I clambered up into the seat. My legs dangled, not even coming close to reaching the floor. The feeling of dangling legs was still relatively new to me as all of the furniture in the studio was kid-sized. It made me feel my physical age. The bus got started again with only minor grumbling from the passengers about the delay.
My eyes widened with fear as the bus approached the stop immediately after the school. Waiting at the stop still were Juliette and her mother. The little girl was still clutching her Elsa doll, looking saddened. My heart hammered in my chest as my hands gripped the side of the seat. My whole body shook with the realization that I was going to be trapped on the bus with Juliette for forty minutes. She would put the doll back into my shaking hands, and there would be no escape.
The bus suddenly slowed, inching along similar to an old person shuffling in a grocery aisle. OK, some older people were spry, but I was thinking of the type with bad knees who always blocked the aisle with their carts filled with practically nothing and who moved so slowly, they might as well have been moving backwards.
The driver asked, “Are you OK, Kaylee? You’re looking as white as a ghost, little one.”
I knew exactly why the driver wanted me to sit directly behind him. He could see me in his mirror more clearly that way. Again, I grasped the reality of my situation. The longer I remained in public the more I recognized the world was going to see me as Kaylee. I had to find Greg. I nodded slowly, “Yes.”
The driver said with a smile, “If you need to give it the ol’ heave ho, you just let me know. I’ll try and avoid the pot holes.”
My heart continued to hammer in my chest, like a precision nail gun spitting hundreds of nails a minute. The bus driver opened the door and the old woman and teenaged girl from before both got on. I watched in tremendous relief as the doors closed, and Juliette remained with her mother.
Slowly, my heart stopped its frantic pace. I spent the bus ride on my phone, ignoring all the looks I was receiving. Thankfully, I switched buses without any problems, even though the driver of the new bus treated me in a similar manner to the first driver. The passengers were equally annoying, with one middle-aged continually giving me dirty looks. She wasn’t angry as much as she was disappointed. Again, I got the feeling that being unaccompanied on a city bus wasn’t something most six-year olds did. I did my best to ignore her and the others as I continued checking the news for a story on the studio and what happened there. I was both relieved and disappointed to see that there was still nothing.
If the last forty minutes were any indication, I wouldn’t be treated like an adult for another twelve or thirteen years, and even then I wouldn’t be old enough to drink, although it had never really stopped me before. After all, I had my first beer at fourteen.
If the story broke, and everything came to light, beyond just the imprisonment of minors, beyond the work hours- if everyone knew who I actually was- they would have no choice but to treat me like Ryan Sullivan, right? I was the victim in this, and I was still willing to be Tracy’s guinea pig. However, if she was sent to jail for any length of time, I risked becoming a living science experiment, simply a pin cushion for needles.
I wasn’t particularly trusting of people, although part of it was because I never forged lasting relationships, but I was also wary of naked greed - I had seen it in Ms. Daniels and Dr. Travers. The complete lack of compassion for fellow human beings was evident in both of them. So, while revealing my transformation to the world might yield a cure for my condition, it might also turn me into a scientific curiosity where I would be poked and prodded as researchers tried to pry the secret of the fountain of youth from my body.
The neighbourhood was not the best. It wasn’t plagued with violence, and it’s not like there was gang warfare going on 24/7, but I realized the moment I stepped off the bus that six year olds probably didn’t walk these streets alone. There was once an issue with a sexual assault, to the point where police actually told women to stay indoors if possible, but it only lasted a few days. And there were stabbings, usually one every week. And, while it was an improvement over my place, I still longed for the 9mm that I kept strapped underneath my couch bed.
My dad had taught me how to shoot, mostly rifles, but I got the handgun when I moved to the city. I lived in a neighbourhood where if you didn’t have a gun, you felt vulnerable. That’s just how it was. While the sight of a six year old in a glittery butterfly shirt carrying a handgun would have been laughable, I still would have preferred the safety that it brought.
I was surprised to see that the bus hadn’t left. Someone was shouting at the driver. I looked up at a street light as it blinked, blinked again, and then instant darkness, Suddenly, I heard steps behind me, the surprise nearly causing me to drop my phone.
“Sorry if I scared you, Kaylee. I’m just worried about you being out here alone. Maybe I could walk you to the front door?” It was the bus driver, and it was clear what happened. The bitch who was glaring at me, likely internally cursing my non-existent mother for her lapse in parenting, had convinced the bus driver- or likely nagged the driver until he agreed.
I replied, “It’s OK. My mom’s waiting for me just inside the door. I pointed to the front of Greg’s apartment building.” However, the driver didn’t budge.
He nodded, “OK. I understand you being a little uneasy about a stranger helping you, Kaylee. I’ll just stay here and make sure you get inside the door okay.”
I sighed, realizing that I wasn’t going to win, but still, it was better than him holding my hand. I set off, using my phone to guide me to the front entrance of the apartment building. As I cut a swath through the darkness, a part of me desperately wanted the safety and comfort of the bus driver’s hand. The dark seemed almost alive, creeping toward the light produced by my phone, seeking to rapidly extinguish it.
I took a deep breath, told myself to stop being a pussy and strode toward the door. As I opened the door, I heard the bus pull away.
With a sigh of relief, I keyed in Greg’s apartment number in the directory and the phone in the lobby rang loudly.
“Hallo? Yes. Hallo?” I was greeted with a Middle-Eastern accent. I checked the directory again and keyed in the number. “Yes? Is anyone there? Why won’t you speak?” The voice was gruff, sounding middle-aged or at least like it belonged to a heavy smoker. I heard crying in the background and many voices. Either Greg had finally rented out his extra room, or he had moved out.
My voice caught in my throat. I heard a female voice with a similar accent, “Put it on the TV, Ahmed. I’ve told you many times to do it this way. It’s not a guessing game!”
I sighed heavily and double checked the number. It was the right one. “Um, I-I’m looking for Greg.”
Ahmed said, “I’m sorry little girl, but we don’t know a Greg.” I heard rustling in the background and then the female voice spoke with concern, “Are you sure you have the right number and building?” I nodded my head sadly.
The female voice asked, “It’s late for a girl your age to be out alone. Do you want me to call your parents?”
I shook my head, “No…that’s OK. My mom’s waiting in the car for me.”
The problem was that she wasn’t, and I was out of bus tickets.
The female voice said, “Oh, actually I remember now. We met a nice young man and woman here. They said they were moving across the city.”
That asshole, the second that I leave, he actually grows a pair and moves in with Eve. Here I was thinking it would take him ten years before they finally lived together. I had only two options: I could call or text Greg and ask him to pick me up, or I could play the role of the scared six year old girl and try to get on the bus for free.
The latter was not exactly the favourable option, and there were tremendous risks involved. The bus driver could report me missing, and that would involve the police, which would raise all sorts of questions like “Where do you live?” and “Where are your parents?” Unfortunately, I didn’t have answers to either question.
I left the apartment building and quickly texted Greg.
Me: hey man im back look i really need your help can you pick me up im at your old place
A few minutes later, I got a text.
Greg: hey! Good to hear from you I thought you were shooting that movie in Canada and I told you that Eve and I moved in together it was a month after you’d gone
Me: what the hell are you talking about I didn’t say any of that stuff to you
Greg: I’m looking at an email you sent me less than a week ago you said the shoot was going great I thought you weren’t coming back till the summer
Me: I haven’t had any access to my phone for like two months or something I couldn’t have sent those emails what the fuck man
Greg: are you high man I can’t come get you if you are Eve doesn’t like it when you smoke you get all weird
Me: fuck me just come get me I’m at your old place and hurry
Greg: lol whats the rush don’t tell me you are scared of my old place it makes your neighbourhood look like the hills
Me: just fucking hurry
Greg: hey man I’m going to bring Eve we can go out to dinner celebrate your success in Canada
Me: yeah man whatever
Great, now I’d have to explain my condition to Eve too. It started to rain, so I slipped back into the lobby of the building. Early spring in Los Angeles was characterized by plenty of rain, which tapered off into what were usually dry and very hot summers. I sighed lightly, the memory of my road trip to Malibu barrelling back into my mind. So much tanned flesh, so many skimpy-barely there bikinis. If I was trapped as Kaylee, this summer would be much different.
I had missed nearly the entire winter, or at least the months with the most rainfall. I hated the rain. It might have been a pussy thing to say, but the rain ruined camping trips, it caused shitty cars with no 4X4 to get stuck, and generally, it put people into foul moods, especially customers. They were there for comfort food at the Palace, but they treated the serving staff like doormats they wiped their shit-covered shoes on.
I sighed. How the hell was I going to do this?
Half an hour later, I got a text from Greg:
Greg: shit its really coming down there u inside the lobby me and eve are outside
Me: im coming
I didn’t move a muscle. I stared down at my phone, with the dwindling battery, and at my pink shoes with glow-in-the-dark sparkles, and I simply couldn’t move. I felt another panic attack coming on. I had never had them before, but it was obvious what they were. My mom suffered from them each time the news talked about soldiers being killed, and the next of kin, not yet being notified. I growled, fighting against the sudden wave of dizziness that struck me, the rapid heart palpitations and the tightness in my chest. She went on some stupid pussy medication, but she still cried. She just wasn’t shaking like a mental patient.
How was I going to tell them? I looked down at my shirt, and I had my answer.
As Greg had described, the rain was coming down heavily, which was unusual for this time of year, but then, I was actually a man, so perhaps perspective was important. I put my phone in the Hello Kitty backpack and then used it like a makeshift umbrella as I dashed to the car. The dead streetlight and the rain provided the perfect cover for me to slip toward the car without being seen. I threw open the door and before either Greg or Eve could say a word, I jumped into the backseat.
The smile of welcome fell off Greg’s face, becoming a confused frown, “Hey, kid. Uh, sorry you got the wrong car.” He was growing his hair back, but he still looked like his next of kin was Humpty Dumpty.
Eve turned to Greg and shook her head, “She looks scared. Maybe she’s lost. We can’t just push her out in the rain. We have to at least get her name, you know make sure she’s not missing.”
Greg replied, “I didn’t mean it that way. Of course we’ll help her.”
Eve looked at me the same way the bus driver, Dana, the old woman at the bus stop, the middle-aged woman who had given me her seat, and the new bus driver had. She had a softness to her eyes that I had rarely seen. Had I annoyed her that much as Ryan? Combined with the softness, however, was a soothing tone and gentle touch. Just a quick pat on the hand, which is likely how she dealt with patients Kaylee’s age. I wasn’t, however, a real kid, and I was at my boiling point.
My breaking point consisted of a stream of profanity. “Fuck! I’m so sick of being treated this way. All fucking day long it’s been like this. OK, I look like this, but I’m not actually like this. I’m Ryan. And I don’t know what kind of bullshit you are talking about with me going to Canada. I’ve never been there.”
Greg burst out laughing and said, “Fucking, Sullivan. He pays a kid to act like him in a storm. I’ve gotta give him credit, he hasn’t lost his touch!”
Completely opposite to this, Eve looked like she might breathe fire, searing the flesh from my bones and then picking them clean. She turned away from me, “This isn’t funny at all. He makes us come get him in really bad weather. And he pulls this. And he’s got this poor little girl involved in it. Well I’d like to talk to her mother. Who allows their young daughter to just jump into the car of a total stranger in this neighbourhood?”
Greg was still snickering, but his laughter was subdued in the face of Eve’s anger, “He probably sweet talked the mom. You know how he is. He’s a great performer.”
Eve clucked, “He’s a great liar.”
Greg cleared his throat gently, “You don’t think it’s a bit funny? Come on, Eve- have a sense of humour.”
Eve huffed, “I have a sense of humour. But it progressed past the fifth grade. I don’t know about you but I’ve lost my appetite. Let’s just go home.”
I said, “Really? Lost your appetite? I’d say it keeps finding you.”
Greg smirked, but, seeing Eve’s face, he quickly assumed a more neutral expression. Despite this, I could see he was still fighting back against the waves of laughter that threatened to surge and turn Eve from angry girlfriend to monstrous man-eating she beast.
Greg said, “Eve, even you’ve got to admit, this is impressive. He taught this kid his worst joke. But yeah I’d say joke’s over now. Let’s get you back to your mom, OK?”
Eve replied, “I really hope Ryan doesn’t think he can stay with us. He didn’t even call ahead. He’s so inconsiderate. Just like with Jessica- ...”
Greg turned away from me, “Woah, we’ve been over this. He was in the hospital for a few days. You know how he is. He doesn’t like people seeing any weakness in him, so he wasn’t going to want any visitors. You just need ...”
It was Eve’s turn to interrupt now. She said, “I need to what? Relax? Because this sexist and inconsiderate jerk is ruining the only night we actually have together this week? Sure, Greg- I’ll relax. Fine, whatever about the visitors, but he had plenty of opportunity to text Jessica. And aren’t you mad that he just took off without even saying goodbye? I can’t believe someone like you puts up with him. You are so much better than him. I’m serious, Greg- let’s go.”
Greg said gently, “Eve, hey cut it out, you’re upsetting the kid.”
Eve replied, “I just never liked him. Even less so when he started trying to date my friends. He’s a loser, Greg. You said it yourself.”
I was upset. The anger long since drained from me. My former stone-like façade, the wall of brick and mortar that I built to stave off emotions had crumbled, and underneath a deep and widening chasm had formed. Within that chasm, filled with the broken pieces of stone, was a torrent of emotions that escaped whenever they saw fit. Powerful and unwieldy, they pierced my mind and caused unusual and dramatically effeminate behaviour. Yeah, I know some guys cried- guys like Greg, but previous to my transformation, I could have counted the number of times I really remember crying on one hand.
Eve looked back at me and said, “Aww, it’s OK, you don’t need to cry. We’ll take you back to your mommy, OK?”
I felt a gentle tear dribble down my cheek, my chest quickly constricting and my breathing coming out in rapid bursts. As was common in this body, my emotions fluctuated, the sadness giving way to fury. I yelled at Eve, “I-I never liked you ei-ther!”
The bizarre emphasis I put on the word ‘either’ should have been a concern, but I was furious, and allowed my emotions to get the better of me. Normally I solved such things with sex, violence (as I had done with Greg when he questioned me about Monique), video games and/or weed. The anger I had toward Eve, as well as myself, in knowing that there was some truth to her words found an easy vessel in my youthful form.
I looked to Greg, while fiercely wiping the tears away with my sleeve, “You’re a fucking asshole, you know that? Letting your fucking girlfriend say all this shit about me. Oh and I’m the loser?! You’d still be fantasizing about your hand and Taylor Swift without me. In fact, without me, you wouldn’t even have Eve. I was the one who approached her and her stupid friends. You were too much of a pussy.”
Eve and Greg stared at me, looking different shades of flabbergasted. Eve’s mouth hung open, and her eyebrows raised skyward. Greg looked even more stunned, however, as his head tilted to the side, his lip curled in an almost Elvis-like fashion and his eyes half closed.
Greg took his phone out and a second later, I felt my backpack vibrate. I removed my phone, which still felt like a tablet computer in my hands, and placed it on the seat next to me as it continued to vibrate Greg said, “OK, so he gave this kid his phone and told her all these stories.”
Neither of them took their eyes off me. Eve said, while her eyes slowly blinked in disbelief, “She doesn’t sound like any little girl I know. I’ve met Jessica’s niece. She certainly wouldn’t know what masturbation is.”
Greg said, “My cousin was like that. She said fuck all the time. Her parents let her watch these violent movies. It’s possible. I-I wait…is that?” He peered closer, seemingly staring at my shirt. I slowly shook my head, anger and sadness still boiling at the surface of my mind.
Greg turned to Eve, “This is going to sound crazy. Like really, really crazy- but I think that actually might be Ryan. I mean beyond the stories and everything and OK the masturbation thing- that’s his dad’s pin, and he never joked around with it. He wouldn’t lend it to someone for a prank.”
Eve cleared her throat gently, “I-I know. And the way he told the story about how his dad got it and what it meant to him. I just remember hanging on his every word. I just- I don’t know how it’s possible.”
I said quietly, “Travers. You remember all those messed up things that happened to me after I got that shot? The muscles, my voice- uh, my Adam’s apple. I remember being in the ambulance and then blacking out. They did something to me in a laboratory, and it eventually turned me into this. Then, they made us act in the Hermie show. I’m the only one left now. Everyone’s had their memory wiped, and the person who helped me escape, she was arrested.”
Greg said, “Oh shit, the ambulance. We actually followed it, man.”
Eve sighed heavily, “It’s my fault actually. Greg wanted to follow it. He didn’t trust what was going on. But he figured it was some organ stealing operation or something. Well we followed it a bit, but it started driving erratically, so I asked Greg to turn around.”
Eve continued, “When we didn’t hear from you after a day, we got worried. We called all the hospitals in the area and none of them had a record of you.”
I blinked in surprise, “You were actually worried about me?”
Eve replied evenly, “Yeah. I was. We were. I-I didn’t mean all those things I said about you. I guess it is true that without you, I never would have met Greg.”
I asked, “But you meant some of them.”
Eve nodded and supplied a curt, “Yes.”
She continued, “Anyway, so we didn’t hear from you, but I know it’s possible to request that a stay at a hospital remain private. Hospitals don’t have to divulge that kind of information. You actually have to sign a form indicating that visitors are OK and that info about your stay can be released. Well we figured you wanted to get better first, because you really looked bad, so we gave you some space.”
Greg said, “When we got an e-mail a week later from you saying that you’d moved to Vancouver, well it was pretty much exactly what I expected. I thought you took my advice about the Hermie show and found something that would actually help you get experience on the kind of shows you wanted to work on.”
I shook my head, “I never sent any e-mails to you. I didn’t even have access to my phone until about two weeks ago. And I didn’t have any service. What show was I supposed to be filming?”
Greg replied, “A prohibition era documentary. You were playing the role of a gangster. Look at the e-mails you sent. I could have sworn it was you who sent them. It’s exactly the way you write and everything. You sounded really excited about it. You were supposed to come back during the summer at some point.”
Now it made perfect sense why they kept our phones. They were sending texts and e-mails to family and friends, telling them we were fine. I expected they did the same with Ashley and the boys too.
Neither Greg nor Eve had taken their eyes off me since their realization.
Eve asked, “You said there were others in there with you?”
I nodded, “Yeah, three. Two boys and a girl. I don’t know what happened to them after I escaped, but they were too far gone. They were basically kids in mind and body. Something about the serum, it actually shrinks the brain. Basically, if you act like a kid a lot or you are surrounded by them and play with them a lot, you become exactly like them. Tracy, she’s the one who helped me, she said it’s almost like a virus. It’s more fucked up than just the Hermie show, but honestly, I don’t really want to talk about it.”
The memory of almost becoming the daughter of a madwoman, forced to live a life filled with obsessive and frankly scary love, was still very much at the surface of my thoughts. Not to mention, seeing Dr. Travers get the needle treatment, over and over and over and over again.
Eve regarded me curiously, “So they were recruiting actors to be child actors. I get that part. But why make you a little girl? I mean mentally, it’d make sense to use an adult woman if you want a believable little girl. Are you-…like physically? Completely…? You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to.”
I said, “They planned to use the serum to basically create this high-end adoption agency. They were even using convicts and bums. Well the way I get it, there’s a lot more male convicts and bums, so they had to know if it worked on men. Plus, as Dr. Travers said, I’m a bastion of masculinity. They wanted to see if the serum worked on me, if it could turn me into a real little girl.”
Eve rolled her eyes, “Sure, OK Ryan.” She turned to Greg, “I’m convinced that’s Ryan. You?”
Greg couldn’t hide his smirk. “Yeah.” He quickly grew serious, “So as far as I understand it, there is a potion thing that makes people younger. And you said Tracy, she was helping you, and she was arrested? How come none of this is on the news?”
I shrugged my shoulders, “I don’t know. I mean there was so much stuff there. The lab equipment- everything. It’s all legit. And Dr. Travers- he had a lot of notes. Computers with info on them too I’m sure. I took pictures of some of them with my phone. It’s probably a huge scientific discovery.”
Eve nodded rapidly, “I should think so. What you’ve described is like the fountain of youth. It’s just about the greatest discovery in this century and probably last century. Still, it makes sense that it wouldn’t get out. There’s probably other interests involved too. If something like that did get out, well it might completely unbalance society. Create a world where there’s no aging, but I guess that would cause population issues. Wow, I mean if I wasn’t staring at the effects of the serum, I’d never believe it.”
I found myself glaring at Eve as she unravelled the puzzle without all the information. I said begrudgingly, “Yeah, the government apparently knows about it. Pharmacy companies. The government apparently gave the green light for the experiments on the convicts and the homeless.”
Greg, ever the optimist said, “How is it possible that the government could care so little about its own people?
I replied, “Well it’s not the government exactly, but some kind of group inside the government maybe.”
Eve asked, “What happened to the people who did this to you, were they arrested too?”
I lowered my head, the memory of the needles puncturing flesh repeatedly, sending my heart racing, “I-I don’t want to talk about it.”
Greg and Eve shared worried looks, and then Greg broke what was an awkward silence. “OK, let’s go out to dinner. Ryan, it’s your choice.”
Greg had a certain talent in diffusing situations, even explosive ones between Eve and myself. He brought a calm and serious presence to most conversations, and while I didn’t like to admit it, he had at times talked me out of what would have likely been chargeable crimes. They weren’t serious, but definitely enough to give me a record.
I shook my head, “I don’t really want to be out in public right now. The moment I left the studio, people just saw me as this little kid, and they treated me that way. I don’t want that reminder. You know how some of the servers are with kids? Especially the girls. Fucking Samantha, I don’t need someone like her calling me honey or sweetie and handing me a kids menu and being all oh my god what a little cutie. You know?”
Greg said, “Well we could go to a restaurant where the serving staff are really rude. We both know the one.” He grinned.
Out of habit, my hand formed a rapid fist, which connected solidly with Greg’s arm. “Fuck you, man. I’m not going to the Palace looking like this.”
He reached up and gingerly rubbed his arm. He smirked, “Fuck you, too.”
Eve said, “I’m still really hungry, and I don’t care if we get drive-thru or pizza. We can just go back to the apartment and watch movies. Sound good?”
I grinned and emitted a high-pitched cry, “Sounds perfect!”
I could feel my face light up at the prospect of a movie marathon, and the energy that pushed me toward the school yard before and tingled in my fingertips when I held Juliette’s doll caused me to bounce up and then down on my seat. There was no second bounce. The look of confusion and partial worry on Greg and even Eve’s face halted any further bouncing. My behaviour was highly uncharacteristic of Ryan Sullivan.
As Ryan, I was aloof. I had an I-don’t-really-give-a-shit attitude that permeated my relationships and even just simple interactions, especially with women. It was usually what worked to attract vulnerable girls. They worked to gain my attention, and they were the type that really wanted to please. In essence, I was a laid back and relaxed type, but my transformation had infused my body with a youthful energy that played havoc with my previous personality. I had been quick to anger as Ryan, but the anger rarely lasted more than a few hours. I didn’t keep grudges because I would end a relationship or leave a job before a lasting hatred could develop. The joy I felt since my transformation, especially when I played with Ashley, the pure unadulterated fun filled me with an unbelievable sense of happiness, and of belonging. However, that same joy was also what threatened to destroy me, to reduce my mind to Kaylee’s physical age.
I quickly said, “It’s cool. I mean…the movies.” I tried to act as smoothly as possible, as if I was trying to impress Greg and Eve for the first time.
Greg pulled out and headed toward the freeway, while Eve asked, “So, do we tell anyone else? Go to the media?”
I shook my head rapidly, “I don’t want anyone else to know what happened to me. And the news? I don’t know. It’s just really embarrassing. I feel like a freak.”
Greg said, “But going to the media could help you. Getting the story out there means that there might be others who could look for a cure.”
Eve, who was still looking back at me, frowned gently, “Or exploit him. I think we need to wait and see what happened to this Tracy person you mentioned. She’s really in the know about it.”
I knew that Tracy wanted me to spill everything to the media if something happened to her, but I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready to face the world as Kaylee. There would be hundreds of questions that followed and then my life, my ability to choose might be taken away. What if the doctors who examined me determined it would be better if I stayed a kid? Then, I’d have to go to school, and at that point, Ryan Sullivan would slowly cease to exist.
Even worse, what if they poked and prodded me incessantly? What if I lived my second childhood in a medical lab? I shivered at the memory of Dr. Travers, the guttural scream that forever severed my image of his robot-like self as the pained sounds revealed his humanity.
At least if I was staying with Greg and Eve, I could choose what I wanted to do. They would never make me go to school or force me on play dates with kids my apparent age-no, through them, Ryan Sullivan would live.
If, that is, I could get along with Eve.
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