Chapter 24 Designer Children by OneShot20XX ([email protected])
I stirred awake, prodded by the firm grip of a soft hand. At the command, the hand left, but it trailed off as if pulled by a string along my arm. A finger lingered on my elbow before all contact ceased.
“Kaylee, if you can hear me, I want you to take a short breath in and then a long breath out for five seconds. Keep your eyes closed and try and relax.”
I was groggy, but I understood the instructions. The memory of the betrayal still cut deeply, and the wound was corrupted, oozing blackened blood. Mrs. Feinstein, the only person who didn’t lie to me, go behind my back in this life, had acted as a reference for someone other than Greg and Eve.
Apparently, our friendship meant more to me than I initially believed because my heart ached, while my head buzzed with a million reasons for her disloyalty. Did she distrust Greg and Eve, question their parenting, have money at stake in it, simply hate me and want to hurt me? At least the whole thing with Sophia at the park was an accident caused by the overzealousness of a child, but here- there was no excusing her behaviour.
She had stuck a fucking dagger between my ribs. And it hurt more because I never expected it.
“Kaylee. In quick and then out slowly. Slowly. Yes, that’s it, good girl.”
I hadn’t realized it, but my breathing had quickened again. A soft hand lightly brushed against my elbow. Eventually, I managed to calm down. Coupled with my anger and deep sadness was humiliation. I had only gone unconscious because of a game of football and once after drinking some tequila Eve’s uncle sent. It was so fucking strong, Greg passed out from just a whiff. It was home brew shit that gave me psychedelic nightmares involving worms boring into my brain.
Now, I had passed out from hyperventilating after reading a piece of paper. I wasn’t exactly keeping score, but the serum had clearly won this day. However, the war remained.
“Good. Okay, breathing is normal. Vitals look good. Open your eyes and try to sit up, Kaylee.”
I did as I was told, finding it easy to assume the position. My heart rate and breathing quickened, however, as arms entangled my body, squeezing me tightly. Eve oozed anxiousness, near panic mode herself as she hugged me.
“Ms. Mendes, please. You need to control yourself. You are making her nervous.” There was a dismissiveness to the paramedic’s tone, who I now recognized as a fit African-American. The other, a young man with short spiky hair, simply gave me a reassuring smile.
Eve replied, “I’m just trying to calm her down. I know what I’m doing. I’m a nurse.”
The paramedic looked at Eve in near disbelief and then something flashed in her eyes. “I have children myself, Ms. Mendes, I know what it’s like. The best thing you can do is just let us do our job.”
Eve slowly relinquished the hug, and while I didn’t want my ribs and innards squeezed by her, a part of me wanted her to maintain the contact- at least in the form of a hand, a gentle touch to calm my nerves. Eventually the paramedics left, leaving Eve and I alone in Judge Boon’s chamber.
Eve asked, “Are you OK to walk?”
I replied, “Yeah, I don’t have a broken leg or anything. I got a bit excited and fainted, what’s the fucking deal?”
Eve nodded, “Yeah, you’re right. It’s nothing. Come on, let’s go home.”
As we exited the court house, Eve’s hand trailed next to her like some pathetic girl on her first date, hoping that the either clueless or uninterested boy would hold her hand.
I quickly realized, however, that my hand was miming Eve’s.
Seconds later, I reached out, and we walked hand in hand to the car.
“Ready? Come on, I’ve been dying to see this!”
Jessica placed a bowl of popcorn on the table and then sat down next to me with a smile, “It’s been out for a week!” She raised her eyebrows slightly as a wry grin formed, “Hold on, you were waiting for me, weren’t you? Aww. How romantic.”
I proceeded to launch a pillow at Jessica’s face, which she deftly avoided. Jessica laughed, “I think it’s cute that you wanted to wait for me. But you really didn’t.” The show in question ‘Stone’ was a Netflix original, a superhero drama with heavy detective elements. A new episode came out every week, but with our own drama at the court house, we hadn’t had a chance to watch it yet.
I replied, “Do you really think it’s romantic? Or are you just fucking with me?”
Jessica smirked. “Well it’s nice. It’s considerate. And it means you are thinking about me. So yeah, a girl likes to hear that, sure.”
I nodded, looking down at the remote with the bright red ‘Netflix’ button, but I hesitated. “If I had met you- you know before all this shit happened to me. I think things would have been different.”
Jessica’s eyes widened. She opened her mouth to speak, but I jumped in before, “It’s true. I don’t know- you just have this effect on me. You’d probably have been able to talk be out of the Hermie Show. Greg did a really shitty job as you can see.”
Jessica seemed genuinely taken by my words. She didn’t exactly swoon, but she fluttered her eyelashes in a way that should have driven me wild. Instead of lust, I simply felt happy with her reaction. A measure of concern entered Jessica’s face, “What’s this all about, Ryan? Are you OK?”
I shrugged my shoulders, “I can’t fucking say something nice and that’s it? What do you want to hear? I like hanging out with you because we can just watch stuff. Don’t turn into Eve on me.”
Jessica replied, “Sorry. I’m not going to try and pry anything out of you. Let’s just watch the show, OK?” Once again, my finger hovered over the ‘Netflix’ button, but I couldn’t bring myself to press it.
“I guess I’m just thinking about what could happen. You know if I get adopted by someone else. I know that Eve and Greg are probably going to be picked based on what I saw in Boon’s office, but what if that doesn’t happen? What the fuck is going to happen to me?”
Jessica said, “We’ll fight it. Get a lawyer. Anything we have to do to get you back. Ryan, there’s a reason why I waited at that restaurant for you- why I came back to the apartment when I thought you were in town. I saw something there. And this isn’t Eve thinking I’m going all stalker bitch or anything. And with how well we get along now, how easy it is- I know I was right.”
I shook my head in disbelief, “But look at me, how can we even have anything? What do you even see in me?”
Jessica nodded, “Your passion. The way you talk about your dad, movies and especially acting. You are following a dream, and you know- even if the Hermie Show didn’t turn out right, well at least you tried.”
I replied, “But I run away from everything. I wanted to quit acting. And I was never going to call you. Well initially at least. Not until I met Ashley.” I blinked, something suddenly dawning on me. “Wait, you didn’t like my body?”
Jessica said with a smirk, “OK, yeah- you were definitely an attractive man.” She quickly grew more serious, “I know you don’t look like that right now, but this time we’ve spent together has shown me that we can be really good friends too. All of that’s important to me in a relationship.”
I raised a brow, “I guess it makes sense. Once I stopped trying so hard to impress you and with the whole no sex thing, well it’s just been easier. There’s still something though, you know how you said I would have to make a choice soon, about Eve? I think you should talk to her. We’re getting too- comfortable.”
Jessica smiled knowingly, “So I’ve got permission to tell her to fuck off if she’s goes all mommy-mode?” I loved the way Jessica said ‘fuck’. There was a measure of hesitation, an instant where her lips shut and then she blurted it out like an unruly child experimenting with the word.
I grinned, “Yeah. Definitely.”
Jessica said, “OK, enough talk. Let’s watch this thing.”
I nodded and finally pressed the ‘Netflix’ button. The intro played, an ominous light bathed the street and from it sprouted living shadows. Music- a sharp collection of horns and angry percussive beats, sounding like metal on hollow bones filled my ears, and I smiled.
This was going to be fucking sick.
I woke to the sound of yelling. Jessica and I had settled into watch another movie after Stone, but I could barely stay awake. My eyes began drooping after fifteen minutes, and by this point, I was used to being the person who fell asleep during movies. This was simply part of being in the body of a child. Not that I was going to bed at 7:30 or 8 PM, but I was fighting to stay awake once the clock hit 9:30 and pretty much done by 10.
I left my bed and sprinted toward the door. The hand that turned the knob shook gently. I left it only slightly ajar, allowing me to hear everything as it unfolded.
Greg said, “Keep it down, Eve! Ryan could hear you. We need to figure out how to tell him.”
Eve yelled, “What’s the point? It’s all my fault anyway! I should have listened to you Greg!”
Eve admitting she was wrong was a very rare occurrence, and this fact caused my heart to jump. My pulse thrummed as I began breathing in and out rapidly.
Jessica said, “Guys! Guys! Calm down. I’m pretty sure I saw his door open a bit. He’s up. We need to do like we promised and just tell him. He’s not a kid.”
My cover blown, I exited my bedroom and moved to stand next to Jessica. I had actually gained control of my breathing after following the instructions given by the paramedic. As I listened in my room, I breathed in short and out long. It also helped that even with what seemed like terrible news, my friends weren’t going to hide it from me, fearful that I would fall apart, breathing myself into unconsciousness.
Eve said, “I’m sorry, Ryan. We weren’t chosen.” Her eyes glistened as a single tear dribbled down her cheek. Greg moved beside her and hugged her tightly. Once she entered his arms, she broke down completely, crumpling into his embrace.
I shook my head repeatedly, “Are you fucking kidding me? So I have to sit in the fucking DMV for like two days to get a goddamn licence renewed and that fucking judge makes her decision in less time? Government is all fucking bullshit. I’m not going. I’m not fucking going anywhere. I don’t care if one of those asshole families won Kaylee. They aren’t getting her.”
My emotions were completely different from Eve. Jessica looked on sadly, but she maintained her calm. I was taken with rage, a blind seething anger that caused my little body to shake. “You know whose fault this is, right? It’s that fucking bitch Feinstein. She probably gave you guys a bad reference because she wanted those Patterson fuckers. ”
Jessica said, “Ryan, please calm down. It’s not going to help things, and you’re probably going to start to feel faint again. Just breathe in and out.”
I was so fucking pissed off that I could barely see. My brain stewed while my eyeballs practically cooked in their sockets. I saw flashes of black and red, as my imagination, fuelled by my love of horror movies, woke, creating an infinite amount of painful ends for the doddering, cripple upstairs.
I would never do it, but I remembered after 9/11 thinking something similar about those who attacked the people in those towers. They weren’t the scenes of vicious cruelty my imagination enacted on Mrs. Feinstein, but they were as violent as an eleven year old could muster. All I could think of for days was how I wanted to hurt the people who did that, and now, all I wanted to do was hurt Mrs. Feinstein. Everything else, even Eve’s breakdown was ignored as I flew toward the door.
Jessica reached out to grab me, but I sidestepped her. She yelled, “Ryan, this isn’t going to help things! Feinstein didn’t do anything!”
I heard the words, but I chose to ignore them because they were lies. In my mind, Mrs. Feinstein was the cause of everything, my lone target for all that had happened. If I could have found a way to blame her for the studio, I probably would have, but I was too busy throwing open the apartment door and running out into the hall.
I was barefoot, still wearing my pajamas, which consisted of a pair of white shorts and a t-shirt. My fingers jabbed into the elevator down button the same way my mind envisioned stabbing Mrs. Feinstein with the same knife she used to cut up the disgusting toasted tomato sandwiches she made me eat.
As I jabbed my finger into the button over and over, I felt a sudden jerking motion. Jessica looked down at me with both soft, sad eyes yet a firm disappointed frown. She took my wrist, not my hand, wrenching me away from the elevator. It was the same way parents at the Palace sometimes dealt with out of control children. “This isn’t going to help anything, Ryan. I’m trying to tell you that Mrs. Feinstein had nothing to do with this. We know that she acted as a reference for Eve and Greg and this other couple. Nothing in the judge’s decision said anything about Mrs. Feinstein or neighbours. Or anything like that. It has everything to do with these attacks you are having.”
I shook my head, all the while still trying to pull away from Jessica, “No. I don’t believe it. She must have said something. She thinks Eve and Greg are awful parents. The bitch has said it to me so many times. She doesn’t agree with a lot of it.”
Jessica nodded, “Well, can you blame her? Would you leave a six year old at home alone? Would you do everything in your power not to socialize your child? And if you knew something was wrong with them would you just ignore it and hope it got better?”
I sneered at Jessica, “What the fuck are you talking about?”
Jessica said, “You have pretty severe panic attacks, Ryan. It’s probably a result of what happened to you at the studio. The main thing is that Eve refused to get you tested- to go to a doctor for a diagnosis. She’s a nurse. The judge thought that because Eve refused to do that- well she might put you in danger.”
I stopped trying to pull away from Jessica as the fight drained from my body. “No. Eve said it was nothing. She’s trained. It doesn’t make sense. Ashley got her allergy fixed.”
Jessica sighed and released her grip, sliding her hand down and holding mine tight. “Only you know what happened in the studio, Ryan. I don’t want to bring back painful memories or anything. Maybe it’s the serum that is doing this. We just don’t know right now.”
I replied, “So it’s all Eve’s fault then?” My black and white target had shifted to my would-be mother.
Jessica shook her head, “It’s not unheard of. My parents were the same way with my brother. They refused to believe that he could have autism, so they fought against the system that kept saying he did. A system that wanted to help him, get him tested and diagnosed so he could be properly supported. My mom especially refused to believe it. So my brother had a horrible time in his first few years of school. Parents sometimes don’t want to admit that there could be something wrong. They blame themselves. Eve did the same thing. And now she blames herself.”
She kneeled down, meeting me at eye level. I sniffed sadly, feeling the weight of the world on my tiny shoulders. Jessica said, “Don’t you remember what I told you yesterday? We’re going to fight this. First thing we are going to do is find a lawyer to look over Judge Boon’s decision. Hopefully we can buy some time that way. That should give us time to move into the townhouse. And when Ms. McDavid sees how well you are doing there, I’m sure she’ll tell the judge.”
We were supposed to move into the house by the end of the summer. We had already started storing the newly bought furniture in a locker in preparation for the move.
I asked, “What about that other stuff you were talking about?”
Jessica nodded, “Well Ms. McDavid and Judge Boon are going to want to see that you are properly socialized. So, we’ll have to figure that one out. I guess I could bring Brianna over. She’s pretty harmless, right? With your pin trick, do you think you could be around kids your age? Like if I brought you to a park or something? Could you force yourself to play, act like Kaylee without any repercussions?”
I replied, “Yeah, Brianna is no trouble. I don’t know about a park. I haven’t had a chance to test it out with anything except for Barbie dolls.”
Jessica said, “Well considering what the doll did to you before you figured it out- I’d say it is a huge improvement. Anyway, I don’t want you to think of this as the end. It’s just the beginning, Ryan. We’re going to fight for you. And while we do, a bunch of brilliant people will look for a cure to the serum.”
Jessica kept her promise, spending the rest of the day speaking to lawyers about Judge Boon’s decision. By 6 PM, we had a lawyer working on the case. We (and by ‘we’ I mean Eve, Greg and Jessica paid the retainer. They had enough to pay the lawyer to review the case and to provide advice on whether it had a chance of succeeding at court. For once, I was kept in the loop entirely. With that knowledge, I didn’t feel as anxious about the whole thing, which enabled me to stave off any other attacks.
Two days later, while the lawyer worked on the case, we celebrated Greg and Eve’s anniversary.
A can of pop, two wine glasses and a tall boy beer clinked together. I guzzled my cola and then tore into a slice of pizza.
Jessica said, “You may look alike, but you definitely don’t eat like Brianna. She takes these little bird bites of everything.” I grinned and washed the mouthful down with more cola.
Despite the judge’s decision hanging over our heads, the mood was happy. I looked at Greg and Eve with a smirk, “So, I think you guys have me to thank for getting you together.”
Eve quirked a brow but looked at me with amusement, “Oh really?”
I nodded, “Greg here practically needed written instructions on how to make contact with a girl. He would probably still be sitting in the corner of that bar with this fucking ‘duh-duh’ what do I do look on his face if I hadn’t introduced you two.”
Eve cleared her throat, “If I remember things right, you hit on me, and I turned you down, then you moved onto my friends. We actually almost left the bar.”
I shook my head, “One of your friends liked me. The tall one with the big ass.”
Eve ignored me and said, “But I noticed Greg looking at me from his table with this big dopey grin. I thought he was cute. I didn’t even realize he was with you, Ryan.”
It wasn’t exactly how I remembered it- a clear case of selective memory. Eve continued, “Then you went over to Greg and brought him over.”
Jessica asked, “How did you even manage to get Greg to come to the club? He doesn’t seem the type.”
I nodded, “I said I could get him laid.”
Eve asked, “Greg, what did he say to you when he went over?”
Greg looked down and then up, repeating the gesture a few times, “Well he said that he had warmed up a couple of easy girls for me.”
Jessica looked at me and slowly shook her head, “You know this story doesn’t do great things for your reputation.”
I retorted, “This isn’t really how I remember it.”
Eve said with a small smile, “Well I can tell you that the night didn’t end with you going home with my friends. So if that’s how you remember it, you are clearly more delusional than I thought.”
Greg said, “Well to be fair, Ryan looked so bad, when I actually managed to open my mouth, I probably looked like the best guy in the world.”
I pointed enthusiastically at Eve, “See? See? Because I was a colossal asshole, you two are together. So you do have me to thank.”
Greg reached over and took Eve’s hand, a look of amusement on his face, “I think he’s actually right.”
Eve looked thoughtful, and after a moment of hesitation, she nodded slowly, a big smile creeping onto her face, “OK. OK. Yeah, maybe it’s true.”
I grinned and then looked over to Jessica, “So, how come you didn’t come out with Eve?”
Jessica nodded, “Well I don’t really remember when it was exactly, but I was probably studying. I didn’t go out too much. I hit the gym a lot to get ready for my channel, started looking into editing and video stuff.”
I sighed lightly, realizing that things might have been different if Jessica had come out. Maybe I wouldn’t have felt so desperate when the Hermie role came along.
Jessica looked down at me thoughtfully, “What the matter, Ryan? Not thinking about what could have been again, are you?” I nodded my head slowly, feeling my mouth droop.
Jessica grinned, “I know exactly what would have happened. You wouldn’t have gone home with three girls instead of two.”
Laughter erupted at the table, and despite it being aimed squarely at me, I joined in, while falling deeper, and deeper for Jessica.
“Dad, I know it’s a lot of money. But she’s a really special little girl. No, there’s nothing wrong with me or Greg. Well we haven’t been tested yet. Why the hell would we be tested for that at twenty four? Yeah. Yeah. I know. Look, I’m sure you’ll be convinced that this is the best thing for us and her when you meet her. Soon. Yeah. OK. Dad. Bye. Love you too.”
Eve sunk onto the couch and sighed heavily, “I’m not sure if we’ll be able to get any money from my parents. My mom thinks the whole adoption thing is weird. She’s very old fashioned that way. She doesn’t even agree with my sister working. Did you have any luck with yours, Greg?”
Greg nodded, “Yeah, but they’ve never had a lot of money. I’m just worried we are going to run out of money before the whole thing is over. The lawyer said that a trial could cost about ten to twenty thousand dollars. My parents said they can give maybe 3 of that. Maybe. They’ve been following the whole thing on the news, so they are definitely on our side. It’s just- it’s not going to be enough.”
Jessica, who was sitting at the kitchen table with me, entered the conversation, “I can give you guys about five thousand. It’s what I’ve made on YouTube so far. And I’ll be doing a charity thing on my channel for the next two weeks trying to raise money for it.”
Greg, who acted as more of the realistic in the group, added, “The way the lawyer explained it, we will appeal the judge’s decision in front of a new judge. But we will have to hire an expert. And the references will likely be called to speak to our ability as parents. But even if we are successful, the family chosen by Judge Boon could appeal at the federal court, and that is where it gets really expensive. The lawyer said we would need at least a fifteen thousand dollar retainer alone for federal court.”
I snapped at Greg, “Okay, so fucking suggest something instead of shitting all over this. How can we raise the money?”
Greg frowned and nodded, “It’s what I was getting to. We’ve exhausted all the other financial options, so I think the only choice we might have is to- well it’s up to Ryan, but I think he should call his mom and ask her for the money. According to the lawyer, she’s gotta be sitting on a lucrative death benefit with not much in the way of expenses.”
“That is not fucking happening, man. No fucking way am I getting her involved. And plus, like I said, she probably spent it on bingo and lottery tickets.”
Jessica asked, “Wasn’t your dad pretty high there? I have a hard time believing she would spend all the money on that.”
I shook my head, “I don’t fucking know. What I do know is that I used my part of the settlement to get started in LA. My mom gets a certain amount every month, but she probably spends it. We were usually broke even when my dad was alive, so I can’t see her getting enough to help us out any.”
Eve turned toward me, “But it’s still possible. She might have something to contribute. It’s worth a shot, Ryan. I mean, maybe you wouldn’t even have to meet her. Just send her an e-mail, telling her you are in trouble and maybe she could wire you some money.”
I shook my head, “No. I’m not fucking doing that. I don’t want to owe her anything. That’ll be an excuse to get into my life. She doesn’t deserve it.”
Jessica said calmly, “I think you should consider it. Not because I think she should be in your life or anything- it’s just that what if Greg is right and we end up needing more money? And Eve’s idea is a good one about the e-mail. It can’t hurt anything.”
Jessica added, “There’s another thing we could try before this though. During school, I was working with these kids, mostly at-risk teenagers, trying to show them how exercise can help with their moods. Well the group I was working with had a lawyer working there preparing the kids for probation hearings, and I think she was working for free. I can’t remember what it’s called, but they apparently sometimes work for free if it’s for a really good cause.”
Eve nodded, “Yes. Yes! We could do a social media blitz like we did before, and I’m sure we could get someone.”
I grinned and leapt toward Jessica, throwing my arms around her. “Don’t ever let me complain about you being too smart again.” Jessica returned the hug with a smile. When I released the hug and turned back to Eve and Greg, the former looked like she had eaten something that didn’t agree with her, and that something was working its way back up into her throat and mouth.
“Ryan, hey- Ryan, wake up. I need to talk to you, man.”
“Uh—Um what do you want, Greg?”
Greg said, “We have a problem. I just finished having a conversation with Eve about Jessica. Eve doesn’t want her moving into the townhouse. But there’s something else too. And I’m wondering if you’ve seen it. I mean I thought I saw it before and Jessica could see it but-“
I groaned and rolled over, “Fuck, man, why didn’t you just write it out? Verbal diarrhea, coming out of your mouth. What did you notice?”
Greg sighed, “You know, I’m just trying to help. You don’t need to be such a dick about things.” Greg raised his voice slightly as he spoke, an authoritarian tinge rarely heard.
I cleared my throat, “Uh. Sorry. I know. So what’s the problem?”
Greg said, “How would you describe your relationship with Jessica?”
I shrugged, pushing my hair from my eyes, “Good. We get along really well. I mean I’m not sure what it is. We’re just really good friends I think.”
Greg stuttered, “I-I’m not sure Jessica sees it that way. S-She’s acting a lot more like Eve now, especially since you’ve started hanging out more together. Well how Eve acts when you don’t want her to act. Like-“
I shook my head, “You are saying Jessica is trying to be my mom. Seriously? And that’s why Eve doesn’t want Jessica in the townhouse? OK, so they are fighting- two girls mind you- one who is your girlfriend are fighting over who gets to be my mom.” I laughed, but the childlike timbre sounded more amused than obnoxious (as I’d intended).
I added, “How come you haven’t started calling me princess and patting my head while you smoke a pipe?”
Greg frowned, his sallow face looking more tired than usual- almost haggard. “This is serious, Ryan. Not only can we not afford the townhouse if Jessica isn’t living there, we’d have to put you in state-run childcare. As for why I’m not affected, well I don’t know. I mean I feel these surges sometimes, like especially when you piss me off, but it doesn’t seem as potent as what is affecting Eve and Jessica.”
I said, “Jessica has my back. She said that she is going to tell Eve if she starts acting all maternal. And I give you permission to tell both of them to cut any bullshit if it starts. But I can trust Jessica. Nothing’s going to happen.”
Greg said, “OK. So you are fine, but I’m stuck with a pissed off girlfriend who may or may not want my best friend as her daughter.”
I smirked, “Take her mind off of it. Go back in there and fuck her brains out, then maybe she’ll forget.”
Greg sighed, “I’m not good at that. It always seems like begging.”
I looked at Greg, the pathetic man-creature, who relied on puppy dog eyes to initiate sex and simply shook my head, “Just go in, throw an arm around her and seem really supportive, you know? This whole thing with Jessica is bothering her. And then when she starts to relax, start moving around on her body- her tits and ass. Oh and don’t do that thing where you kiss her neck. She doesn’t like the slobber, and you gave her a hickey before a twelve hour shift. Hopefully she’ll start giving it back once you warm her up.”
Greg raised a brow, “Well I’m already supportive. And does that actually work? Wait she told you that?”
I grinned, “I have overhead, many, many things in this apartment. And yeah, it works sometimes.” Well technically, it didn’t work with Hannah. Ever. But lonely, baggage-laden college girls- yes.
Greg nodded, “OK, and what about the problem with Jessica and Eve?”
I shrugged, “I don’t know. Tracy is probably the only person who can answer that, and she’s likely going to prison for at least ten years. For now, I’ll talk to Eve about Jessica.”
I said, “And one more thing, if Eve really isn’t in the mood. Just go into the bathroom, man. OK?”
Greg nodded, surprise raising his brows slightly, “Yeah. I- will.”
“Did you always suck so much at this, man? Because I swear you used to better. Like a lot better.”
Greg replied, “Some of us have to work. I can’t exactly stay home and practice all day. I’d say that gives you a slight advantage.”
I shook my head, watching as Greg’s avatar was flung into a nearby wall- the result of a concussion grenade. “This isn’t even fun. Let’s do a team death match before I fucking fall asleep.”
Greg shrugged his shoulders, “You’ll just get all the kills. How am I supposed to get better if I don’t play people higher ranked than me?”
I opened my mouth to respond, but I was interrupted by the door buzzer, which prompted me to pull my stool from the closet. On the other side of the door stood a smiling Ms. McDavid clipboard in hand. I looked to Greg frantically, my breathing racing to catch the rapid beating of my heart.
“What the fuck is she doing here? I thought you guys had a lawyer working on this?”
Greg replied, “I-I don’t know. The lawyer we talked to initially said we had 30 days to appeal the decision. Maybe she is here for a surprise home visit to see how you are doing? I’ll talk to her.” Greg walked toward the door unsteadily. He had been completely unprepared for Ms. McDavid’s visit, and it showed. This was likely going to be a disaster.
“Oh. Uh. Hi, Ms. McDavid. Are you here for another visit?”
Ms. McDavid shook her head, “No, actually I’m just here to speak to Kaylee.”
Greg pointed toward my bedroom, formerly the master bedroom, “Oh. OK. I don’t have a problem with that. If you want to be alone, you can just use her room. It’s across from the kitchen.”
The woman shook her head and lightly tapped her pen on the clipboard. “Actually, I’ll be taking Kaylee. I’ll bring her back shortly, but I need to speak to her outside of her regular environment.”
Greg and I exchanged confused glances, and then Greg, who had apparently found where his balls were hiding, said, “Kaylee, I want you to go with Ms. McDavid. You be nice to her and do what she asks.” He had again put an authoritarian tone to his words, and while they didn’t have the same power as Mrs. Feinstein’s cane, I still moved quicker than normal to the door.
With no resistance, Ms. McDavid reached out and took my hand, leading me down to the elevator. While I had a million questions to ask, I played Kaylee, diminutive, demure and anxious six year old. Kaylee wasn’t precocious and straying from the norm could likely lead to difficult questions from Ms. McDavid.
We walked quietly together to a nearby park where Ms. McDavid finally released my hand. The unbearable heat wave had stopped a week ago. I loved the sun, but when grey skies met my eyes, I was relieved, as I expected most Californians were, especially those dealing with wildfires.
Ms. McDavid sat cross legged at a picnic table, and I joined her. It was mid-morning, and while the park wasn’t full, there were plenty of people enjoying the reprieve from the extreme heat. People walked dogs, a couple rollerbladed together, and a group of children, likely from a nearby summer camp enjoyed the play structure, swing set and sandbox.
“You can play there after we talk if you want, Ryan.”
I hadn’t even realized it, but I had been staring at children with their bright green t-shirts. Their laughter stirred the child within, and my brain- it suddenly stopped functioning. I turned to face Ms. McDavid, feeling my jaw tumble downward.
I stared at the woman in disbelief, unable to close my mouth, to speak, to even move. Only my eyes seemed to budge, blinking in rapid nervous succession.
Ms. McDavid smiled, “It’s OK, sweetie. I know it’s surprising, and I hadn’t really wanted to get involved at all, but your friends forced our hand. It’s time for you to disappear.”
A scene from the original Godfather played in my mind. Sonny driving along the Long Island Causeway pays his toll at the booth, an innocuous place, travelled by thousands per day, and is assassinated, shot with enough bullets to keep even a death-dodging action hero down. The park, like the toll booth, was filled with individuals who could be working with McDavid. My imagination took flight, placing federal agents behind trees, a black van awaiting my capture to take me to my new home.
I managed to squawk out, “W-Why…are you with Daniels and Travers? Why won’t you just fucking leave us alone?”
The smile left Ms. McDavid’s face, replaced with an expressionless calm. “All you need to know, sweetie, is that soon, you’ll be like those children over there. Not a care in the world except avoiding boredom and bedtime. I don’t know how you managed to stave off the effects of the serum this long, but it’s over. In two days, your new parents will come and take you away to a new life. One that will erase Ryan Sullivan.”
I shook my head, “I don’t understand, you’re a social worker. Why are you doing this? Don’t you know what they did to me?”
The smile returned to Ms. McDavid’s face, “Yes. Of course. And on second thought, I don’t really have any concerns, considering you are six, and no one would believe you anyway. Plus, I really want to see the look on your face. I worked primarily with Dr. Travers and Dr. Tracy Pike on the Human Genome Project and helped create the serum now coursing through your veins. The government is cutting ties with the whole project, and you are last test subject still with their memories. We had wanted to only go through official channels- the investigation and the subsequent adoption, but it’s getting very- untidy now.”
The young woman tapped her pen on her clipboard with a smile, “But we’ll get it all fixed up. Won’t we? I’m sure you’ll come along like a good girl when the time is right.”
It seemed impossible that someone as young as Ms. McDavid could be a doctor and even more implausible that she could work on something that could alter the entire human race, but I was more concerned with her plan, but mostly, Kaylee’s new parents.
“Why the fuck do you think I would ever even consider going along with this? You said official channels, right? Well we still have time for the appeal application. We’ll stall this as long as we have to. We’re going public with the whole thing too, and that will probably get even more lawyers involved in it. I don’t know much about them, but I’m guessing a case this big will have plenty willing to work against an unfair system.”
Ms. McDavid nodded slowly, “Yes, but you are going to drop the appeal. It’s still all official, and the poor orphaned Kaylee gets brand new parents.”
I replied, “Yeah. No we aren’t. No fucking way. We are going to ride this out as long as possible.”
Ms. McDavid said, “I doubt very much your new parents will appreciate such language. Now as for your application, you are of course free to file it and have the matter heard before a new judge, but I would expect that it will fail too, especially if say Greg had a dropped domestic assault charge against him. No charges, but- judges still have access to those police reports. Do you really think it would be in Kaylee’s best interest to have her stay in a place where she might be hurt?”
I actually laughed directly in Ms. McDavid’s face, “Greg? Domestic assault? Maybe Eve, but there’s no fucking way anyone would believe Greg could do something like that.”
Ms. McDavid replied, “There only has to be a measure of doubt. None of the other applicants have anything resembling a criminal record. This is just a warning, sweetie. Have them drop the appeal. I suppose I could also introduce your friends to the serum too if you really push me. They’d face the same fate as Ashley. Then, I could leave you with three children who want nothing more than for you to be their playmate. I’m sure your language and behaviour would improve.”
Ms. McDavid stood, towering over me in the process, “You’re the last pawn on the board, Mr. Sullivan. It’s time to capitulate.”
“Why the hell did she take Ryan like that?” Eve looked angrily at Greg, actually shaking, “And why did you let her?”
Greg, who was clearly in Eve’s crosshairs, managed to maintain a semblance of his manhood. “W-Well he’s a ward of the state. Ms. McDavid is Ryan’s social worker. I was just trying to avoid making trouble. Anyway, Ryan’s back now.”
Greg and Eve turned toward me, their eyes screaming questions, and when I wasn’t immediately spilling my guts, Eve jumped in, her voice anxious, dripping with worry, like I had been lost for days. “Ryan, what happened? What did she say? I’ve got a lawyer interested in the case, a couple actually. Anything you can tell us would help.”
“Fuck, you guys are worse than my actual parents after my first day at a new school. Well mostly my mom. It was fine. We talked about the case. She just wanted to make sure I understood that I was probably going with another family soon.”
Greg put a hand on Eve’s shoulder, “See? It was nothing.” I wasn’t sure if Greg actually cared about me or whether he was just trying to push his sweaty body against Eve’s tonight. Probably a bit of both.
The lie came easily as I needed time to figure out what I was going to do. Could we run? Just leave and go somewhere else? Mexico would be the likely place because of Eve’s family there. Even if we escaped, would the government threats materialize, wiping away the existence of Eve and Greg, and possibly Jessica, leaving me with the knowledge that I was to blame? Even as I succumbed to the inevitability of it all, my adult self suffocated by my new playmates, I would know who I was and what I had done.
Eve said, “I’m really glad you’re safe, Ryan.” She picked up her purse and slung it over shoulder, “But I’ve gotta head back to work. Greg, I’ll e-mail the list of lawyers I’m considering. When I get home, we can all go over it. I don’t really know what we should be looking for, but a few of them said they’d be willing to even represent us at the federal court if it comes to it.”
Greg leaned in for a quick kiss and Eve reciprocated, “That’s great. See you tonight.”
Once Eve left, Greg looked at me seriously, “Did you get a chance to talk to her about Jessica and the townhouse yet? I’m kind of hesitant to bring it up with Jessica because I don’t know how far gone she is.”
I said, “You know maybe if Jessica and Eve find an object or a really powerful memory, like my dad’s pin, they can be reminded that they really don’t want to be my mom. I’ve noticed that both of them are way worse when you aren’t around. So you’ll just have to quit your job.”
Greg smiled, “Maybe. Have you had to try the pin again by the way?”
I replied sheepishly, “Well…kind of. That stupid fucking pink elephant commercial was on again.”
Greg raised a brow, “The one that turns the cereal pink? But I thought you didn’t watch TV?”
I frowned, feeling my shoulders sag, “I might have watched it on YouTube. A couple times. Anyway, yeah the pin worked.”
Greg asked, “How do you know?”
I replied, “Because I’m not sitting here eating any.”
Greg shook his head, “What makes you think you could convince us to buy you some?”
I smirked, “Well let’s see. You came to pick me up from your old apartment on the other side of town in a rain storm. On a night, where you were supposed to be going out with Eve. At this point, if I was really far gone like total Kaylee, I’d probably have a whole roomful of toys and you’d have trouble paying the rent.”
Greg grinned sheepishly, “Yeah, you’re probably right.”
A day and a half after meeting with Ms. McDavid, I had my answer.
The next morning, my phone vibrated. I leaned over, thinking it was Jessica, Eve or Greg with news about the lawyer, but I had programmed the phone so each of them had their own colour. Instead, the phone’s LED light had turned a solid white.
It was an unknown number.
My heart immediately began racing, feeling like a thousand beats per minute, and as I held the phone, my hands shook like I’d downed ten Red bulls.
Unknown Number: It’s time
I already knew that I was leaving, but the words on my screen added a sense of finality to my decision. Looking around my sparsely decorated room, I quickly put the most important things I owned into the Hello Kitty backpack and placed it at the foot of my bed.
I slung the backpack over my shoulder and left through the front door. After pulling another double shift, Eve was still out cold, laid out on the pull-out couch, which barely fit her and Greg. Meanwhile, Greg had left to manage the breakfast rush at the Palace, and Jessica- well Eve was home so there was no need for her. Not that Eve would want her around anyway.
I crept toward the door, climbing onto my stool to unlock the chain and deadbolt. With a gentle click, the bolt released, but as it did, Eve stirred. It wasn’t the noise that woke her, no- it was likely her snoring, where she was seemingly trying to forcefully suck her nose into her face.
“Uhhh…Ryan? Where are you going?”
I lied through my teeth, “Going to see Mrs. Feinstein so we can read more of that book I was telling you about.”
Eve looked at me through tiny eyes. A small smile appeared on her face as she groaned and turned over, “Oh…uhh. Um. Have fun…baby girl.”
She was still half asleep, but despite this fact, a knife stabbed at my heart, causing a dull ache that slowly seeped into my head. Should I hug her? Would that remove the pain? Or would it be impossible to leave once I entered her embrace?
I muttered, “Bye, Eve.”
Eve groaned again, and her snoring quickly resumed. I closed the door behind me with a gentle click. The dull ache in my heart and head hadn’t subsided, but I soldiered through, walking toward the elevator.
When I reached the lobby, Ms. McDavid was waiting for me. “Oh, Kaylee! You won’t need that. You’ll have a wonderful new room full of toys and dresses and games.” She pointed to my backpack.
The woman walked behind me and unzipped the pack, easily grabbing my hands as I tried to fend her off. “No. No. This won’t do. Kaylee wouldn’t have any of these things.” She pulled out my copy of the Godfather that I had bought from a used bookstore when I was thirteen years old, and then threw it in a large silver trash can.
Then, a picture taken a year and half ago at a house party in Greg and Eve’s old apartment joined the book. It revealed a confident and very drunk Ryan Sullivan with his arm around a less than impressed Eve and a nervous Greg, who looked terrified to be so close to Eve. I had talked Greg into making a move on Eve that night and things actually worked out. It was actually the start of their relationship, their real relationship. I originally found the picture in Greg’s dresser and decided to borrow it.
“What would your new parents think about you keeping this? Hmm? That’s not very nice, Kaylee.”
“OK, this you can keep. And what’s this a ring? I guess we’ll let your parents decide if you can wear it.”
My dad’s pin was safely stored in an unused ring box I again borrowed from Greg, and thankfully, Ms. McDavid hadn’t bothered opening it. The only other object left in the pack was the charger to my cell, which would be my lifeline to the people who mattered most to me.
Just outside the apartment, I saw a waiting taxi. Two figures stood next to the taxi, nothing more than feet and legs from my vantage point. With this realization, that two people who would take me away from my friends, the only real friends I had ever had other than Hannah, I grew nervous.
I whispered, “Look, you d-don’t need to do this. I won’t say anything. I’ll just live with Eve, Greg and Jessica. If the project is over, why does it matter if I know?”
Ms. McDavid whispered harshly, “Because the project was a failure. Daniels sullied it. It was never meant to be used to create child stars or to make money as an adoption agency to the elite. It was supposed to be the panacea. The cure-all for humanity, the ability to rejuvenate not only tissues but whole bodies, remove life-threatening illnesses. Anything. Daniels perverted the project, and I don’t want anything to do with it. The government is wiping everything to do with it, including you. I’m sorry, Ryan. My career is at stake. I’ve worked nearly twenty years on this. I realize that it was never supposed to see the light of day. Humanity simply cannot have such power without bringing greed and self-want into the equation. Dr. Travers saw this before Daniels came into the picture, but it’s all too late now.”
I lowered my head, feeling the enormity of Ms. McDavid’s words crush my little body. “But, I’ll still remember everything. I’ll know who I was. I could still tell someone.”
Ms. McDavid nodded, “You could, but you won’t. Not if you want to avoid your friends returning to elementary school or even daycare. And as for your memories, we’ve chosen the perfect family for you. You’ll make brand new wonderful memories, and eventually, your old ones won’t fit who you are becoming, and you’ll forget. But you’ll be happy, I promise you, Kaylee.”
Ms. McDavid reached out her hand, waiting for me to take it. She said softly, “Now, are you ready to meet your new mommy and daddy?”
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