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Title: Ariel Crawford - Chapters 31 -40
Chapter Thirty One
"Are you done with your dinner, Ariel?"
Ariel looked up from the food she'd barely touched and nodded briefly before looking down again. She refused to meet her mother's eyes.
"Fine," Jessica said, clearly annoyed. "Dammit, Ariel, will you please just talk to me? It's been four days since I told about Ryan and me. You're acting like a..." She started to say "spoiled brat" but stopped. If Ariel was a spoiled brat, it was Jessica's fault. "How am I supposed to know how you feel if you won't talk to me?"
Ariel stood up and walked into her room, closing the door behind her.
"Hey!" Jessica yelled. She opened the door and walked into Ariel's room. "Don't just walk away when I'm talking to you, young lady! There is no excuse for this behavior! You're being very selfish."
Ariel looked up but still wouldn't say anything. Her eyes filled with tears.
Jessica realized she was yelling and felt bad. She hated yelling at Ariel. "Your teacher called me today. She said you hadn't turned in any homework this week, you failed a math test on material you knew perfectly well, and you weren't doing much work in class either. Why?" She waited a moment and when Ariel failed to respond, Jessica pulled her close into a hug. "Honey..."
Ariel pulled away from the hug and lied down on her bed. She buried her face into her pillow.
Jessica sighed. "Okay. That went well. I'll be in the living room if and when you decide you want to talk. And I want to see your homework before you go to bed."
Ariel heard the door click shut and turned her head to the side. She stuck her thumb in her mouth. She wanted to tell her mom that she still loved her, that she hadn't really meant it when she said she hated her, and she wished she could just take back all the mean things she'd said on Sunday, and everything would be just like it was before. Except it would never be just like it was before, because her mom was marrying Ryan. And now that she'd thought about it, that really wouldn't be so bad either. Ryan had always been nice to her, and had even changed her diaper once, when Jessica had been on the phone with Aunt Elizabeth. He was pretty good for someone who'd never had kids, almost as good as her mom.
But she'd probably ruined everything. She was sure her mom had told Ryan what she'd said, and now he hated her too. They would probably still get married, and send her off to a boarding school, or maybe even off to live with her dad and Britney. Ariel shuddered. After she'd had her outburst on Sunday, she'd run off to Caitlin's room and Caitlin had tried to reassure her, told her that not all daddies were bad, hers wasn't, he bought her everything she wanted, and that her mom would still love her the same. Then her mom had come upstairs and coolly told her it was time to go. It looked like her mom had been crying too, there were tearstains on her face, but she wasn't crying anymore. Neither of them had said a word on the drive home, and when they'd gotten home, Ariel had sat at the kitchen table coloring like any other Sunday, and her mom had gone into her room and gotten on the phone. Ariel tried to listen and only heard snatches of phrases "just a phase...didn't mean what she said...likes you...give her time...she'll get over it." Ariel at this time had yelled "I will NOT get over it!" and her mom had gotten up and closed the door so Ariel couldn't hear anything more at all.
Jessica turned on her favorite CD and picked up the horror novel she was reading. It was good but she wasn't in the mood for a horror novel tonight. She wandered over to the bookshelf and scanned the titles before choosing Dibs in Search of Self. She'd read that in tenth grade, for psychology, and had been so impressed she'd bought her own copy. She'd always wanted to be a child psychologist, she still did, but didn't have the time or money to go back to school.
Now she flipped through the book, thinking that Ariel now reminded her a lot of Dibs at the beginning of the book - silent and withdrawn. And Dibs, she recalled, in therapy, had often sucked on a baby's bottle, just like Ariel enjoyed doing. Except since Sunday, Ariel had drunk from a regular glass at meals, and hadn't spilt anything. She was still in diapers, but didn't seem to enjoy them much anymore, of course, Ariel wasn't enjoying much of anything these days. Jessica'd actually called Ariel's doctor that morning and gotten the number of a good therapist, but hadn't called him yet. She wanted to give Ariel just a couple of more days, to see if she could get through to her.
Ariel came into the room then and switched on the TV. "Ariel, no TV until you've finished your homework."
"Let me see it."
Ariel brought the work to her mother, and Jessica looked it over. "They must have changed the curriculum since I went to school. I never knew Bill Clinton was the first president of the United States. He must be pretty old by now." She frowned and picked up Ariel's math assignment. "If George has five oranges, and Anna has three, and they both eat two, how many oranges are left altogether? You wrote seventeen. Ariel, how long did you spend on your homework? Five minutes?"
Ariel scowled, refusing take her eyes away from the TV. Jessica handed her back the work. "I think you need to go back and look at this stuff again."
"No." Ariel stubbornly folded her arms across her chest. "I hate that stupid school stuff. I'm not doing any more."
"Fine. Then why don't you go get your bath and go ahead and get in bed. If you won't do your homework, then you can't watch TV," Jessica replied, just as stubbornly.
Ariel started to pout, then stood up. "Fine. But I'm doing it because I want to, not because you tell me to. I didn't want to watch TV anyway." She headed for her bedroom, and Jessica caught the door just before it was slammed in her face. She took Ariel's wet, messy diaper off her without a word.
"Let me know when you're done with your bath so I can put another diaper on you," she said, starting to lift Ariel down. Ariel wriggled free.
"I can get down myself. You don't have to carry me. I'm not a baby!" Ariel shrieked angrily. She ran for the bathroom.
Jessica took a deep breath and remembered all those parent- child interactions she'd seen in the grocery store over the years, where the kid was throwing a huge tantrum over something trivial, and the parent was screaming back at them. She'd always sworn she would never be like those parents, that her kid would be sweet and obedient, and if they weren't, she'd talk to them in a nice tone of voice instead of yelling, and suddenly she understood where the grocery-store parents were coming from.
Ariel spent all of five minutes in the bathtub and didn't say a word as she was being diapered. Then Jessica handed her her pajamas, saying "Here, big girl. Good night."
Ariel climbed into bed. She was exhausted, though she hadn't really done anything that day. She sucked her thumb for a few minutes, then reached under her bed and found her secret object, the pacifier she still had from Halloween. A couple of months earlier, her mom had caught her using it and told her it was okay if she wanted to play with it sometimes, and then she'd been more open about playing with it in front of her mom. But not anymore, she sulked. Her mom had to spoil everything by getting married. She cried herself to sleep.
Jessica thought she hadn't heard any sounds from Ariel's room in awhile. She opened the door a crack. Ariel was sleeping facing the door, with her pacifier in her mouth. Jessica smiled, she knew Ariel hadn't really wanted to give up her babyish ways. She walked to Ariel's bed and stood over it, watching her child sleep. Then she bent down and kissed Ariel's cheek gently and whispered "Night, honey. I love you" before leaving. The phone rang. Jessica dove for it, hoping for Ryan. Instead, she heard Stephanie's strong southern accent saying "Jessica?"
Jessica rolled her eyes. "Hi, Stephanie."
"Well, you don't sound too thrilled to hear from me. Who were you expecting? Ryan? I heard the good news from Jennifer. Congratulations," Stephanie added, not sounding like she meant it.
"Thanks. We're really happy."
"I'm sure. You know, it would be nice to hear things like this directly from you, instead of Jenny."
"I'm sorry I haven't called earlier. I've been pretty busy."
"Yes, I expect so. How's Ariel taking this?"
"She's had some adjustment problems, but I'm sure she'll be fine."
"I hope so. She still in diapers?"
"Well, yes," Jessica admitted.
"Hmmph." There was a pause, then Stephanie said "Well, I guess it's hard for her, getting a new daddy. I hope you and Ryan aren't rushing into this. I hadn't heard anything about him until Thanksgiving. You're not pregnant, are you?"
"Of course not! Do you think that's the reason we're getting married? Do you think I'd only marry a guy because I was pregnant with his baby?"
"I didn't say that. Don't take it so personally," Stephanie sniffed.
"Sorry," Jessica muttered. "How are Greg and Danielle?"
Stephanie bitched for the next ten minutes about Greg, how all he did anymore was sit in front of the TV and drink, he was spending so much money on alcohol that Stephanie was probably going to have to get a job, which didn't surprise Jessica at all. Then she added something about how difficult it was going to be to work, raise a child, and keep the house looking decent, as if Jessica didn't already know.
Danielle, Stephanie complained, was getting on her nerves, she spent most of her time away from the house with her friends, and when she was home she stayed in her room with the door closed and locked. Stephanie suspected she was doing drugs, and she was considering searching her room. Jessica recalled what Danielle had done over Thanksgiving and thought that it probably wasn't drugs Danielle was doing, just diapers.
"Don't search her room," she protested. "At least not without talking to her first."
Jessica could almost see Stephanie raising her eyebrows. "Are you suggesting you know more about how to raise a twelve- year old than I do?"
"No. It's just I can tell you from my own experience that she'll trust you a lot more if you talk to her and try to find out what's going on, instead of searching her room."
Then Stephanie started talking about income taxes, which bored Jessica almost to tears. Suddenly she saw Ariel run out of her room and into the bathroom, and then Jessica heard her throwing up. "Oh, shit."
"What's the matter?"
"I'd better let you go. I think Ariel's sick."
"Hope it's not the flu."
"Me too," Jessica said grimly. "Bye."
She went into the bathroom, where she found Ariel crying, crumpled on the floor beside the toilet. Well, at least she'd thrown up in the toilet. "Oh, honey."
"I don't feel good," Ariel whimpered.
"I guess not. Here, drink this." Jessica handed Ariel a glass of water, which she pushed away.
"I don't want it. My tummy feels funny."
Jessica put her hand on Ariel's forehead; it felt like it was on fire. She fumbled around in the medicine cabinet for the thermometer. "Has anyone you know been sick?"
"Yeah. Monica had the flu last week."
"Wonderful. Here, stick this under your tongue." They waited until the thermometer beeped.
"101.3," Ariel read.
"Oh God. You're definitely sick, honey. Do you still feel like you're going to throw up?" Ariel shook her head. "Feel like going back to bed?"
"Can I get in your bed?"
Jessica sighed, then smiled. Ariel, in her illness, seemed to have forgotten how upset she was with her mom. It was almost worth her getting sick for that. "I suppose so. But if you feel like you're going to be sick again, please, please tell me, okay sweetie?" Ariel nodded. Jessica got Ariel's pillow and put it in her own bed, then carried Ariel into her room. She knew she needed to try to get Ariel's fever down, but how? Aside from a few minor colds and chicken pox, Ariel hadn't been sick since she was three.
Jessica gave Ariel a children's Motrin and read out loud to her for a half hour. Then she took her temperature again. It was down to 99. "Well, it's after ten o'clock. I'm going to bed now, sweetie. Do you need anything else? Do you need to be changed?"
"Yeah," Ariel replied quietly. When Jessica took off her diaper, she saw that Ariel's stomach was indeed upset and the diaper was close to leaking. "Oh shoot...honey, remember those plastic pants I got you last summer to wear over your diaper?"
"Would you mind wearing them tonight? I don't want your diaper to leak all over my bed."
Ariel smiled. "Yeah! I want to wear them, Mommy. I liked them. Jenny said when I wore them, I looked like a real little toddler."
"Yes, you do. You look very cute. You make an adorable baby, Ariel. Maybe I shouldn't say this, but I'm glad you enjoy acting like a baby sometimes. I didn't get to spend a whole lot of time with you when you were really a baby, and I feel like I'm making up for it now. Just don't forget that sometimes it's better to act like a big girl, okay? Like when you're in school."
"I know," Ariel said, and looked serious. "Mommy, when you and Ryan get married, is he going to make stop wearing my diapers?"
So that's what Ariel was upset over. "Of course not, honey. What made you think that?"
"I don't know. Daddy didn't like them very much."
"Look. After all the hell I went through with your father, do you think I'd be marrying a guy anything like him?"
"I guess not. But do you really think Ryan likes me?"
"He told me he thought of you as his own daughter," Jessica replied. She found Ariel's plastic pants in her dresser, and helped her into them. They were pink with kittens and puppies printed on them.
"Really?" Ariel said, reassured. Then she thought of something else. "Are you guys going to have another baby? Caitlin said you might."
"How would Caitlin know? She needs to learn to mind her own business. I don't know. We might. I'd like to have another child. But it won't be for awhile if we do. And it's not going to change how I feel about you. You'll always be my baby girl."
Ariel smiled. She was starting to get drowsy. "Mommy, I'm tired."
"Let's go to bed now, honey." Jessica led Ariel back to her bedroom and tucked her in. "Night, Ariel. Wake me up if you need anything."
"Night, Mama," Ariel murmured, already half asleep. Jessica soon fell asleep too.
The alarm clock buzzed bright and early at six the next morning. Jessica started to stumble out of bed for the shower, like she did every morning, but heard whimpering beside her and remembered Ariel was in her bed.
"How are you feeling this morning?"
"I hurt," Ariel complained.
"Where do you hurt, baby?"
"Everywhere. And I feel like I'm going to throw up." Ariel crawled out of bed and into the bathroom, where she was promptly sick in the toilet. She started to cry. Jessica gave her a hug and took her temperature again. It was 100.7.
"I'll call the doctor's office as soon as it opens, although if it's flu, he can't do much" she told Ariel. "For right now, let's get your diaper changed and maybe you can try some breakfast."
"I'm not hungry," Ariel protested.
"Some juice, then. You have to have something. You didn't eat much last night either."
Ariel's face twisted into a pout. "I'm cold, Mama."
Jessica found Ariel's old blanket in the linen closet and wrapped her in it. The blanket was printed with teddy bears and hearts, and Ariel immediately recognized it. There was a picture of her in the living room at age two, gripping the blanket in one hand and sucking the thumb of the other.
Jessica changed Ariel and got her a clean pair of plastic pants. Then she made her a breakfast of some dry toast and a glass of grape juice. "Can I have a bottle?" Ariel asked shyly.
"Oh, of course. I forgot." Jessica poured the juice into a bottle and handed it back to Ariel. Ariel picked at her toast and ate out the inside part, leaving the crust on the plate. Then she went and lay down on the couch, turning on the TV to Nick. Except for the throwing up part, this really isn't so bad, she thought as she stretched her legs out. She got to stay home from school, watch whatever she wanted on TV, spend the whole day with her mom and no one else (a rare occurrence) and of course she had an excuse to wear her plastic pants. She often wanted to wear them but didn't dare do more than try them on in front of her mirror. After all, she'd been caught wearing diapers and ended up wearing them to school, so if she was caught wearing plastic pants, would she have to wear them to school too?
Ariel drifted off back to sleep in front of the TV and was dimly aware, on some subconscious level, of her mom moving her into her bed. As soon as the clock hit eight, Jessica called Ariel's doctor.
"She's got a fever, she says she hurts everywhere, she's throwing up and has diarrhea. Plus, her best friend had flu last week," Jessica reported.
"Sounds like she definitely has it," Dr. Carter replied. "Make sure she drinks plenty of fluids, and if she hasn't been able to even keep down juice by tomorrow, call me back. There's no point in bringing her in now, since flu's a viral infection and there's nothing I can prescribe to cure it. But her records show that she's due for a physical in about two months. Would you like to schedule that now?"
"Oh. Okay, go ahead. Something in the early morning or late afternoon would be best," Jessica said, her heart pounding. What would happen when the doctor discovered Ariel was still in diapers?
An appointment was scheduled for early May, and Jessica hung up and called her office to say she wouldn't be coming in that day. Now what? For once, she actually had time to herself, at least until Ariel woke up.
She turned on MTV, hoping to catch the music videos she missed while she was usually at work. Of course, MTV wasn't playing anything in the form of music videos. Loveline was on, the MTV equivalent to Jerry Springer, where people called in with sex-related questions and some guy who actually claimed to be a doctor answered them on the spot. It could be pretty entertaining, so Jessica decided to watch while she flipped through the TV guide, looking for something better.
The next caller was a 26 year old from Oregon named Jeff. "Jeff, what is your question?" the doctor asked.
"Um, hi. For some reason, I get turned on by wearing disposable diapers during foreplay. Sometimes I actually pee in them and other times I just wear them. I also enjoy sucking my girlfriend's breasts, not in a sexual way, but like a baby breast- feeding."
Jessica covered her mouth with her hand in an attempt to keep from laughing out loud. The people on this show were just too weird. Who could actually go on national TV and admit to this stuff?
The doctor didn't bat an eye. "Uh-huh. And how does your girlfriend feel about this?"
"Well, she thinks it's really sexy and enjoys treating me like a baby. She gets into playing Mommy almost as much as I get into playing Baby. But I'm worried, man. Does this mean there's something wrong with me?"
"Jeff, this probably means that as a baby, you missed out on bonding with your parents, and now you're trying to make up for it with your girlfriend. It also might be your way of relieving stress. There's really nothing wrong with it, as long as it doesn't become an obsession."
Jessica frowned. She wondered if the same thing was true with Ariel. But how could it be? She and Ariel had bonded when Ariel was a baby. Maybe not as much as they should have. Ariel probably hadn't had enough parental attention in her childhood, she'd spent more of her waking hours during the week with a babysitter or in daycare than with Jessica. And her dad had split before she was two. But what was so unusual about that? Plenty of kids grew up with only one parent, and it certainly wasn't unusual for kids to be in daycare these days.
There was a thump in Ariel's room, and then Ariel started to sob. Jessica rushed in to check on her. Ariel was lying on the floor beside her bed, tangled in her blanket. "What happened, sweetie? Did you fall out of bed?"
Ariel nodded, looking dazed. "I had this dream that there was something coming after me. I don't know what it was, but it was huge, I could hear it thumping around. I was outside in this field and I was running from it and suddenly I ran over the side of this mountain and fell down to the bottom and that was when I woke up. And now my head hurts. And so does my throat."
"Poor baby," Jessica said sympathetically, taking Ariel in her arms. "That sounds more like a nightmare. You've never fallen out of bed before. And you don't usually have nightmares."
"It was chasing me, Mommy! It was big and awful and it wanted to kill me!" Ariel's eyes filled with tears again.
"You know dreams aren't real. There's nothing out there trying to hurt you. It's just something your mind made up." Jessica tried to reassure Ariel, who was holding on to her tightly and trembling. "Come on and watch some TV with me, okay? It's okay. It was just a nightmare." Ariel stuck her thumb into her mouth and followed her mother into the living room, still clutching the blanket tightly.
"Let's pick out a movie to watch, shall we?" Jessica said in a singsong voice, not aware that she was talking like she would to a toddler. "You haven't watched Rugrats in awhile. Want to watch Chuckie and Tommy?" Ariel nodded.
There was a time when Ariel watched the Rugrats movie every other day, and Jessica had the corny songs memorized. She tried to cheer Ariel up by singing along until Ariel smiled and even sung a little herself.
"I'm hungwy." Ariel didn't even notice how she was talking, and Jessica thought it was so cute, she didn't correct her. "Can I have something besides toast?"
"I don't know. You don't want anything that's going to make your stomach upset again, and you said your throat hurt. Maybe we can find something that won't make your throat hurt worse." Jessica dug through the cabinets. "Hey! Look what I found." She held up a jar of Gerber baby food, applesauce.
"Ooooh! I want that," Ariel said eagerly. She was starting to feel better.
Jessica did airplane with the spoon and landed it in Ariel's mouth, which made Ariel laugh and some of the food dripped out of her mouth, down her chin and onto her clothes. "Oops."
"Silly girl!" Jessica smiled as she wiped the food off Ariel's chin with a napkin. "Aren't you a little old to be spilling food on your clothes like a baby?"
"No! Me only two," Ariel replied, giggling like a toddler.
"Only two, huh? Well, I think this two-year-old needs a bib."
"I want my Elmo one!"
"Your Elmo bib? You actually remember that?"
"Yeah. What happened to it? You hid it someplace and now I can't find it! I miss it."
"I'm sorry. I didn't know you even remembered it. I think I know where it is." Jessica retreated to her bedroom and returned a few minutes later carrying Ariel's Elmo bib. She tied it around Ariel's neck, saying "Now my messy little baby won't get any food on herself."
"Me likes my Elmo bib," Ariel babbled. "Me wants something to drink."
Jessica got Ariel a bottle of juice. Ariel looked at it, wrinkled her nose and threw it down. "Ariel!" Jessica scolded, picking it up. "Bad baby."
"Me want soda!"
"Little babies don't drink soda."
Suddenly Ariel was seven years old again. "Please, Mom? I never get soda!"
"Well, I guess it might help settle your stomach..." Jessica reluctantly got Ariel a bottle of Coke.
"Thanks, Mom!" Ariel beamed. "Will you airplane feed me the rest of the baby food? Please?"
"Oh, I suppose so." Jessica fed Ariel the rest of the baby food and then wiped off her face, again, and took her bib off her. Ariel finished watching Rugrats, then watched cartoons for a while.
"Mommy? Will you read me a story?"
"Of course." Jessica picked out a story and began to read but Ariel fell asleep halfway into it. Jessica put the book down. Apparently all Ariel really needed was some rest.
She did some housework while Ariel slept and then read some. She was startled suddenly by the doorbell ringing. Ariel stirred but didn't wake up.
Jessica opened the door and recognized Nicole and Miranda. "Hi," she said pleasantly. "Do you need something?"
"I'm in Ariel's class at school," Nicole said, "and Ms. Felton asked me to give her this stuff, since she was absent today." She handed Jessica a few worksheets. "It's the stuff we did in class today, and tonight's homework."
"Oh, okay. That's very nice of you to drop this stuff off. Thank you. Ariel's got the flu and she'll probably be home tomorrow, too, but she'll definitely be back on Monday."
Nicole nodded. "Tell her I hope she feels better soon," she said, almost shyly. She looked up at her sister hesitantly.
"Ask her!" Miranda hissed.
"You ask her!" Nicole replied.
"Did you want something?" Jessica asked. She remembered Ariel complaining about how mean Nicole was and thought that Nicole certainly didn't seem mean now. She seemed like an awkward, nervous little girl.
"Could we use your phone?" Miranda asked.
"Sure. Come on in." Jessica handed Miranda the phone. The disturbance woke Ariel up.
"What's going on?" she mumbled.
"Ariel, Nicole brought your schoolwork over for you. Wasn't that nice of her?" Jessica prompted.
"Thanks, Nicole," Ariel said, puzzled. She wasn't used to waking up and finding her worst enemy and her worst enemy's sister in the same room with her.
"But Mom!" Miranda whined into the phone. "We don't have anywhere to go. It's raining!"
"Are you guys okay?" Jessica asked Nicole.
"Miranda lost her keys," Nicole replied unhappily. "So we can't get into our house."
Miranda turned off the phone and handed it back to Nicole. "Mom won't come. And she said not to bother Dad at work. You know he wouldn't come anyway."
"You know, you guys can stay here for the afternoon until your parents get home," Jessica offered.
"Oh, that's okay. We'll be fine," Miranda said quickly.
"Are you sure? It's no trouble."
"Really, it's okay. We'll get into trouble. We're not even supposed to be over here now."
"Okay," Jessica said doubtfully. "You're going to get soaked waiting outside."
"That's all right." Miranda suddenly seemed anxious to leave. She grabbed her sister's wrist and almost pulled her out the door.
Ariel suddenly thought of something. "Hey. Nicole, was Daniel in school today?"
Nicole shrugged, unconcerned about Daniel's whereabouts. "I dunno. I didn't see him, but I wasn't looking for him." She and her sister left.
"He hasn't been in school all this week or last week either," Ariel told her mother. "Nobody knows where he is."
"I'm sure he's just sick, honey. He probably has the flu, just like you."
"Maybe," Ariel said. Daniel had been frequently absent since the beginning of the year, but he'd never missed two weeks at a time before. She couldn't shake the feeling that something was horribly wrong with Daniel, and that he might not be coming back to school at all.
Chapter Thirty Two
It was a bright, sunny spring day, the last Saturday in March. Some years, Virginia Beach seemed to go straight from fall to spring, skipping winter altogether, but this year had brought one snowfall after another, which were all heavy enough to be categorized as "blizzards." In Virginia Beach, a blizzard generally meant anytime that they got two inches of snow or more, and it stuck to the roads, causing school to be canceled.
But now the weather was in the eighties, and everyone was out enjoying it, including the two little girls sitting on the curb of the parking lot of a group of apartments.
"It was nice of your mom to buy us ice cream," Monica said, catching the last drop of melted chocolate with her tongue and burying the stick in the dirt. She wiped her hands off on her shorts.
"Yeah," Ariel agreed. "Hey, want to go get our bikes and ride around some?"
Before Monica could answer, Jessica came rushing out of the house. "You have a phone call, Ariel. Oh, and Monica, your mom called about five minutes ago and said you need to be home for lunch in about twenty minutes. Don't tell her I bought you ice cream, okay?"
"Okay," Monica agreed.
"Oh, Ariel," Jessica lamented. "You got ice cream all over yourself. Wash your face and hands before you pick up the phone."
Ariel rinsed her hands and face off at the kitchen sink. She hadn't even noticed when she was eating that she was getting ice cream everywhere.
"Hello?" she said, picking up the phone.
"Hi, Ariel. This is Daniel."
"Daniel!?" Ariel hadn't seen Daniel in over a month. Mrs. Jennings, the nurse at school, had told her that Daniel had been transferred to another school, but she didn't know which one or why, and when Ariel had called his house, she had received a message that the phone had been disconnected. But she'd refused to accept that she'd lost a friend forever. "Where are you?"
Daniel sounded like he might be crying. "My sister got sick, and she couldn't take care of me anymore. She just had a cold, but then one morning she felt so awful she couldn't take care of me. I tried to take care of her for a couple of days, really I did, but the school kept calling there to see why I wasn't in school, and when I didn't answer the phone, they sent a social worker over to check on me. She said my sister was too sick to take care of me, so I had to go live with someone else. She's in the hospital. They won't let me see her. They put me in a foster home, and I don't know the people I'm living with. They don't talk to me. And I don't go to Ocean Lakes Elementary anymore. I go to Lynnhaven Elementary and the kids there are all really mean. Last week, they held me down on the playground and one kid took my poopy diaper off in front of everyone. They beat me up every day. I told my teacher about it, but they all denied it and she believed them. They're a lot meaner than the kids at Ocean Lakes. I hate it here. I want to go home, but nobody will let me until my sister's out of the hospital. They won't let me talk to her. I think...I think she's dead and they didn't tell me."
Ariel felt like she'd been punched in the stomach. All she could think of to say was "I think if she's dead, they would've told you."
"I don't know. Nobody tells me anything."
"I miss you," Ariel said. "Recess isn't any fun without you around. Do you think maybe I could come visit you some weekend? Or you could come over here?"
"I don't think so, unless your mommy could come pick me up. I'm not supposed to make any trouble for the people I'm living with."
"It sounds awful. Those foster parents sound mean. So do the kids at your school." Jessica was in the same room, doing taxes, and looked up curiously when Ariel mentioned foster parents.
In the background, Ariel heard someone yell "Daniel! Get the hell off that phone and get in here!"
"I have to go," Daniel whispered. "I'm not even supposed to be on the phone. But they're usually not home right after school. If I give you the number, will you call Monday?"
Ariel agreed to and he whispered out the number for her. She copied it down onto a sheet of paper. "Bye."
"Bye, Ariel. Talk to you on Monday." Daniel sounded just a little bit happier, but Ariel wasn't. She hung up the phone and stared off into space.
"What's going on?" Jessica asked.
"It's Daniel." Ariel proceeded to tell her mom everything Daniel had told her. Jessica listened, her eyes wide in horror and her hand over her mouth.
"That's awful! Poor Daniel. I hope his sister gets better soon."
"Mommy, can't we help him?" Ariel pleaded.
"Can't he stay here with us?"
Jessica shook her head. "No, that just wouldn't work. It's not that simple. We don't have room for another person here, I can't afford to take care of Daniel for an extended period of time. And I'd have to talk to Jenny before I did anything, because he'd be at her house after school."
"But what if it was just for a couple of weeks? What if his sister gets better soon? We don't even know what's wrong with her. Maybe she'll be able to take him back soon."
"And I can't just take a child. I have to be licensed to be a foster parent, and the process could take months..." Jessica continued. Seeing the look on Ariel's face, she sighed and said "Although if his sister gave written permission, he could probably stay here until she's out of the hospital. I suppose I could just call Daniel's foster parents and talk to them and see if I could get the number of his social worker."
"YEAHHHH!" Ariel cheered.
"Hold on! I didn't promise anything yet. All I'm saying is that I'll call his foster parents and talk about it. I doubt if anything will come of it."
Ariel was barely listening. "Thank you, thank you, thank you!" she cried, throwing her arms around her mother's neck. Jessica sighed and accepted the hug.
"Why don't you go back outside and play with Monica while I make some phone calls?" she suggested.
"Okay! Take all the time you need! I'll be home later." Ariel bounced back outside. "Guess what, Monica!"
"Umm...let me think. You're going to Disney World?" Monica replied.
"Your mom won the lottery?"
"No! Monica, it isn't anything like that. You know how Daniel hasn't been in school lately? Well, he just called and he's been living with a foster family because his sister's sick and he might get to come stay with me for a little while!" Ariel was so excited that she talked very fast.
"Oh." Monica said flatly. "Well, that's cool, I guess. For you."
"What do you mean? Don't you like Daniel?"
"He's okay, I guess. It's just, well he's such a baby! It's not just the diapers. He whines about everything! Like remember that time when we were playing four-square at recess and the ball bounced twice in his square, so he was out, and he started crying and told us we were lying about the rules?"
Ariel did remember, a little too well. "Yeah. But so he's a bad loser. Nobody's perfect."
"He sucks his thumb at school, too. Come on, Ariel, he's too old to be sucking his thumb. Only babies do that."
Ariel was starting to get defensive. "Oh yeah? Well, usually only babies pee while they're sleeping, but you do that, too, so what does that make you?"
Monica put her hands on her hips and glared at Ariel. "I don't anymore, Ariel, so you don't know it all, so there. I haven't done that in a month. And I couldn't help it when I did that. Daniel can't help it that he had accidents and had to wear diapers, and neither could you, but he can help sucking his thumb! And what about his room? He has a crib! I've never seen a six-year-old with a crib before. He says he enjoys it. You have to admit, Ariel, there is something wrong with him."
"There is not! It's not like he's hurting anything."
"Well, maybe if he knew that not everyone wants to play with a baby who still throws tantrums and sucks his thumb, he'd have more friends. Who wants to play with a baby who smells like poopy diapers all the time? He really gets on my nerves!"
Ariel was suddenly reminded of Nicole's taunts towards Daniel and thought that right now, Monica was acting a lot like Nicole. Without knowing it, Monica had insulted her as much as Daniel, since Ariel sucked her thumb, longed to sleep in a crib and loved being babied. Without thinking, Ariel reached out and shoved Monica as hard as she could.
Monica flew backwards and landed hard on the pavement. She stared up at Ariel in shock, and Ariel stared back, unable to believe what she'd done, but not really sorry. Then Monica started to cry. Big, wailing sobs that Ariel thought sounded worse than Daniel during one of his tantrums.
Jessica had the window open and heard Monica's sobs. She quickly told the person she was talking to she'd call back, then hung up and rushed outside. "Are you okay, Monica? What happened?" she asked, helping the little girl up.
"She pushed me!" Monica sobbed, pointing at Ariel.
Jessica glared at Ariel, who was close to tears herself. "Mom, you didn't hear what she said! She said..."
"Ariel Michelle Crawford, I don't care what she said! You know better than to push anyone! You're acting like a two- year-old! I want you to apologize to Monica, and then come on inside. I think you've played outside enough for today."
"Sorry, Monica," Ariel mumbled, not sorry at all. Monica gave her a nasty look.
"She really IS sorry," Jessica said grimly. "Or she's going to be. Come on, Ariel."
"You didn't even let me tell my side of it!" Ariel protested as they walked through the front door.
"I really don't think that's going to change my mind, but okay. What did Monica say that got you so upset?"
"She said that Daniel was too old to suck his thumb and cry all the time, and that he was nothing more than a big baby. She said he got on her nerves! So I had to push her, because I had to stand up for Daniel."
"Hmm." Jessica frowned. "Do you think maybe Monica hit a little too close to home?"
"Maybe when she was insulting Daniel, she was also insulting you without realizing it, because you also like to do some of the baby things Daniel does. But Monica didn't know that. She wasn't trying to hurt your feelings."
"But she shouldn't have said any of that stuff at all! Why does everybody have to be mean to Daniel?"
"Ariel, she wasn't being mean, she was just stating her opinion. She has a right to do that, you know. Isn't it better that she say that stuff to you instead of telling Daniel to his face? Besides, it doesn't matter. You had no excuse to shove her."
"I wouldn't have done it if I'd known you had the window open," Ariel muttered.
"Well, if I ever find out you've shoved, hit, kicked or otherwise physically hurt someone, you're not going to be leaving your bedroom for a long time. I'm not going to tolerate you acting like a bully. Do you understand?"
"Yes, ma'am," Ariel muttered.
"You're just going to have to learn to get along with people. And while we're on the subject...so far, I have to make a few more phone calls, but it looks like Daniel's going to be staying here for a little while. Hold on," Jessica cautioned, seeing Ariel's growing excitement. "While we're on the subject of getting along...there's a few things you should know about Daniel. He's had kind of a rough life, to say the least."
"Why? What happened to him?"
Daniel's parents had divorced when he was just a baby, barely six months old, because his father was an alcoholic and could get very abusive towards his mother. His mother raised him through the age of three and then she got breast cancer very suddenly. She died only six months after she was diagnosed. His sister Erin, who was sixteen then and still living at home, watched him while their mother was in the hospital. Before his mother got sick, Daniel was an average three-year-old, meaning he was potty-trained and went to preschool and had lots of friends, just like Ariel at three. While she was sick, he slowly started regressing. He started having accidents again, and sucked his thumb almost all the time and cried whenever he was separated from her. Only Erin could console him.
While their mother was sick, their father had gone to AA and swore he was clean and ready to become a different man, and be a good father to his children. However, Erin still refused to live with him. So their mother had arranged things so that Daniel would live with his father after her death, and Erin would move in with friends.
Daniel's father had lied. After Daniel came to live with him, he started drinking again pretty soon after, and was very violent towards Daniel. His alcoholism made it impossible for him to hold down a job, so they both lived in poverty. Daniel became malnourished and underweight. Because of the abuse and neglect Daniel went through, he was very independent in some ways, and very dependent in others. He often was responsible for getting his own meals, and when he had an accident, which was very frequent, he washed his own clothes. But Erin used to take him to her house on weekends, despite their dad's protests, and Daniel would often spend virtually the whole weekend clinging to her leg, sucking his thumb. She also put him in diapers for these weekends, and he never complained.
Erin tried to get custody of Daniel, but the judge was blind to their father's abuse and was convinced that Daniel was better off with his father than someone under eighteen. When Erin turned eighteen, she went to court again and finally managed to get custody of Daniel. He was five then, and started kindergarten shortly afterwards, and Erin hoped that being around other kids all day would slowly make him "normal" again. But the other kids teased Daniel because he now had to wear diapers all the time, and he became even more withdrawn, causing him to regress more and more until at times he wasn't anything more than an infant.
"Daniel has some pretty serious emotional problems, Ariel," Jessica finished. Ariel was staring at the floor, tracing the carpet with her finger. She seemed unable to think of anything to say. "Erin's in the hospital because she has diabetes...do you know what that is?" Ariel shook her head. "It's a condition where her body doesn't digest sugar properly. She was taking medicine for it, but sometimes things can still go wrong, and she got sick last month and had to go into the hospital. They've been trying to figure out what went wrong and how they can prevent it from happening again, but it is taking awhile. She's supposed to be released next Tuesday. And she said she would be thrilled, and she's sure Daniel would too, if we could keep him until then."
Ariel smiled. "I knew she'd want him to live with us instead of those mean foster parents! Now Daniel can keep going to our school and we're going to have so much fun after school with Caitlin!"
Jessica shook her head. "I'm sure you guys will have some fun. But remember, Daniel's a very unhappy kid. Monica was right. There are some things wrong with him, and we can't do much about in the week he'll be staying with us. We're just going to have to be very nice to him. Ryan's going to spend some guys- only quality time with Daniel. And honey, I think it would be best, to set a good example for Daniel, if you acted like a big girl while he's here."
"You mean I can't wear diapers?"
"You can wear diapers. You've been in them for a year, and I really don't like to think about what would happen if you couldn't wear them. But drink out of a glass and no baby food, or baby talk."
Ariel thought about it, and decided those would be small sacrifices to have Daniel with them for a whole week. Besides, the diapers were the best part. "Okay," she agreed.
Jessica hesitated. "I have more bad news. Well, bad news for you. Good news for Daniel."
"He and his sister have some relatives who live in New York and they are going to help them out financially, and also help Erin find a therapist for Daniel to talk to, so maybe he can work out his issues. They're going to move up there after she gets out of the hospital."
Ariel's eyes filled with tears. "Move? But I don't want Daniel to move! He's my best friend!"
Jessica pulled her into a hug. "Don't cry, honey. I know you and him are close. But he and his sister need some help and they can get it in New York, not here. And you two can keep in touch. You're getting pretty good at writing. Write him letters and e-mail. And you can call him occasionally, and maybe even visit someday."
"But it won't be the same!" Ariel sobbed.
Jessica tried to make her smile. "You want to hear a story? When I was about nine, I had to move to another foster home and leave behind my best friend. He lived next door, and we were a lot like you and Daniel. Well, except we didn't wear diapers. Anyway, the day I was leaving, he hung around watching my stuff get loaded into the car. We were both pretty depressed. When it was time for me to go, he said bye and kissed me on the lips. It was so sweet. And that was the last I remembered of him. Every time for the next few days when I got lonely, I thought about him kissing me good-bye and I wasn't lonely anymore. Memories last forever."
Ariel smiled a little. "Daniel kissed me at my birthday party. But it was a dare."
"See? You'll always remember that, and look back on how much fun you had with Daniel. And who knows? Maybe you guys will end up at the same college or something. You could end up marrying him."
"EWWWW!" Ariel screamed. "I don't want to marry him! I'm never getting married at all!"
Jessica laughed. "You'll feel differently someday. Come on. We have a lot to do to get ready for Daniel. He's coming tomorrow."
They borrowed a cot from Jenny and set it up in Ariel's bedroom, across the room from her bed. Jessica stocked up on Huggies, baby wipes and baby powder. Ariel cleaned up her room, a rare occasion that proved how much she wanted Daniel's visit with them to go smoothly.
Daniel arrived the next day, somewhat skinnier and paler than Ariel had remembered him. He was also even more withdrawn than before. At first he spoke only when spoken to and usually gave one-word answers, but as the week progressed, he became more open and even laughed out loud a few times, something Ariel had never seen him do before.
Nighttime was a different story. Daniel became quite lonely for his sister, and cried at night. Jessica spent an hour to two hours every night getting him to fall asleep. She rocked him, read to him, sung to him, and made him hot chocolate, but he still sobbed and clung to her. She had to stay in the room until he fell asleep from exhaustion, while Ariel watched from her bed, feeling a bit jealous. She hadn't realized quite how much attention Daniel was going to require.
On Saturday, Ryan took Daniel to a baseball game, the first of the season, and Jessica took Ariel to the movies. Daniel told Ariel later that she was getting a great daddy and he wished he was going to be around to spend more time with her, but that he was glad he still had two days left before he moved away.
Then Aunt Elizabeth broke her hip and everything fell apart.
Chapter Thirty Three
Aunt Elizabeth was old, sixty-one, and since the death of her husband ten years earlier, had taken to lying around the house and spending her husband's hefty life insurance that had been left to her on hand-held electronic card games, video rentals at Blockbuster, and potato chips. Occasionally, when she was feeling active, she would knit sweaters for her grandchildren or drive down to the church for their weekly Bingo sessions. She had never been a slim woman, but had put on weight in recent years and now weighed over two hundred pounds, despite constant nagging from her two daughters to join a fitness club and lose weight.
Although she spent little time in it, Elizabeth loved her yard. She hired a professional gardener to come every two weeks and cut the grass, rake leaves and trim her rosebushes and crepe myrtle trees. The first Saturday in April, which was ironically April Fool's Day, her gardener called to tell her he couldn't come that day. Disgusted with the ragged condition of the trees, Aunt Elizabeth dragged an old ladder and a pair of hedgeclippers from her garage. It was such effort for her that after she'd gotten the ladder out on Saturday, she was exhausted and had to leave it out there overnight so she could rest. Then, early Sunday morning, she headed out into her yard and climbed up onto the ladder to trim a crepe myrtle tree. She was sweating by the time she got to the top of the ladder, and when she reached her arms out holding the hedgeclippers, she lost her balance and fell eight feet to the ground, twisting her right leg in the rungs as she did so.
She couldn't walk, and was in too much pain to try to crawl, so she might have laid there on the ground forever if Danielle hadn't been grounded for the weekend, and was forced by Stephanie to come over and help with the gardening. She found Aunt Elizabeth and called 911. An hour later, her X-rays proved that her right leg was indeed fractured and would probably take at least five months to completely heal, not good news for someone who was in poor physical condition anyway and lived on her own. Stephanie realized her mother would be relying on her heavily, and decided to see what she could do about making it so that Aunt Elizabeth could do as much for herself as possible. One of the first things she did was call Jenny.
Jenny felt somewhat guilty for being so far away, even though there was nothing she could've done to prevent the accident. She agreed to come down for awhile to visit her ailing mother and help Stephanie look into at-home care. Because she owned her own business and worked at home, she could be gone for as long as two months if needed, although it would most likely be only one month, but there was the question of what to do with the kids. Cody, who had just turned five the last week in March, would just get in the way in Georgia. Caitlin was old enough to help out, but couldn't miss school. Jessica bravely agreed to watch them for however long Jenny might be gone. This meant that until Tuesday night, when Erin would pick Daniel up, she would be preparing dinner and putting four kids to bed instead of the usual one.
"But I don't know what I'm going to do with them after school," she said on Sunday afternoon, as she helped Jenny pack. The kids were downstairs, watching Tarzan. "It's going to be hard to find a sitter for every afternoon on such short notice."
"There's no reason why they can't be left by themselves until you get home. They get home around three and you get home around five-thirty. It'll just be Caitlin and Ariel, since Cody's at preschool until you pick him up. Caitlin's almost nine, Ariel's seven, and they're both responsible, obedient kids when they have to be. They'll be fine."
"But what about Daniel?" Jessica asked quietly. "Do you think he can handle being without an adult even for a couple of hours? You know how he gets when he's upset."
Jenny was about to answer when Caitlin appeared in the doorway. "Mom? I need to be changed."
"Okay, sweetheart," Jenny replied. She led Caitlin to her bedroom and Caitlin got up onto her changing table. Jenny pulled her pants off and untaped her diaper. She began wiping her off.
Caitlin giggled. "That tickles, Mom."
Jenny began tickling her on the stomach. Caitlin laughed and squirmed. "Stop! Stop it, Mom."
"Sorry, hon." Jenny rubbed powder onto Caitlin's rear so she wouldn't get a rash. "I hope you'll be good while I'm gone and not give Jessica any trouble. You know she's taking on a lot, she's used to one kid, and Ariel's a lot quieter than you and Cody are. And Daniel too, he needs a lot of attention. But he's leaving Tuesday. You be nice to him, understand? I don't want to come home to find out you gave him a hard time."
"I know, Mom. I'm always nice to Daniel. I like him."
"Good. And don't boss Ariel and Daniel around after school just because you're older. You're not their babysitter."
"I KNOW, Mom," Caitlin said, rolling her eyes. "So when are you leaving, already?"
"Are you that anxious to get rid of me?"
"It's not that...we'll miss you, I guess. But Jessica lets us do whatever we want. Not Ariel, she's strict with Ariel, but me and Cody can get away with murder." Caitlin grinned.
"She doesn't let you get away with everything. She just likes to spoil you two, especially Cody because she doesn't have a son. And she figures when you two start to get on her nerves, she can send you home. I'm the same way with Ariel. But she's not going to be so lenient while I'm gone, and she's going to depend on you to help out...there you go." Jenny pulled the tabs on Caitlin's fresh diaper tight and helped her down. "I need to go finish packing."
Ten minutes later, Jenny was ready to leave and everyone helped her load her suitcases into her car. Cody was openly crying and Caitlin looked close to tears, although she tried to hide it. Jessica thought of a month with three kids, and felt like crying herself. Ariel was excited about living with her cousins for a month, and Daniel was a bit worried about not having any adults around after school.
"Will you call us every day, Mom?" Caitlin asked, wiping her eyes.
"I'll try," Jenny promised. "And I'll send you e-mail, too."
"I don't want you to leave," Cody sobbed, clinging to his mother's leg. "Can't I come with you?" Jenny patted Cody's head and looked at Jessica hopelessly.
Jessica tried to peel Cody off his mother's leg. "You don't want to go to Georgia, Cody. It's just going to be a bunch of adults running around and talking about grown-up stuff, you know how boring that can get. You'll have a lot more fun staying here with your sister and Ariel and me. You can keep going to preschool and now that it's getting dark later, we can go to the park after I pick you up from preschool."
"Really?" Cody sniffed.
"Really. And you'll have Ariel to play with all the time, as well as Caitlin." Ariel and Caitlin made faces at each other at the idea of playing with Cody all the time, and Jessica glared at them.
Jenny kissed her kids good-bye and drove off. Caitlin and Cody seemed to forget about missing her, and everything went smoothly until bedtime came. Everyone got a bath without too much fuss, although it seemed like more water got on the floor than in the bathtub. Ariel and Daniel went to bed easily enough. They were sharing the bed in the guest room, and Jessica plugged Caitlin's old night-light in so they wouldn't get scared. They seemed to see the whole situation as being an exciting adventure and had a hard time getting calmed down, but much to Jessica's surprise, there were no tears from Daniel. Caitlin and Cody were more difficult.
"Good night, honey," Jessica said, kissing Cody on the forehead. She started to leave.
"When's Mommy coming back?"
Jessica sat down on the edge of Cody's bed and smoothed his hair back. "Probably in a month or so. She told you that." Seeing Cody's confused look, she tried to explain. "That means you'll go to school twenty times, and have four weekends, before Mommy comes back."
"That's a long time," Cody said sadly. "Do you think maybe she won't come back?"
"Of course she'll come back, honey. She's your mommy, and she loves you very much. She wouldn't leave you." Cody thought this over for a minute. "Are you ready to go to sleep now?" Cody nodded, still looking a little bit sad.
"Okay. Night-night. I'll see you in the morning." Jessica flicked the light off and headed out, leaving Cody's door open. Then she went to Caitlin's room. Caitlin was already in bed, wearing her pajamas and a clean diaper, and reading a book.
"Ready for bed, kiddo? Whatcha reading?"
Caitlin sat up and held out her book so Jessica could see the title. It was Where the Red Fern Grows. "Oh, I love that book. It's one of my favorites. Very sad, though."
Caitlin smiled. "I wish I had two coon hounds like Billy. I always wanted a dog." She paused for a moment, and added wistfully "If I had a dog to sleep with, I'd never get lonely."
"Do you miss your mom?" Jessica asked softly.
"I didn't say that!" Caitlin exclaimed, her voice cracking. There were tears in her eyes. "I'm not a baby like Cody!"
"Caitlin, you know, it's only normal if you do. It doesn't make you a wimp or a baby."
"Well, I don't miss her! She's always working when she's here anyway, so what difference does it make?" Caitlin lay back down and buried her face in her pillow.
"Then why are you crying?"
"I'm not crying. It's allergies. I want to go to sleep now."
"Okay," Jessica sighed. She turned out the light. "'Night. But if you do decide you want to talk, I'm here."
Jessica stayed up awhile longer, cleaning up the kitchen and watching the eleven o'clock news. Then she went to bed. She was having some trouble getting to sleep herself. It was strange to be sleeping in someone else's bed. Not that the arrangement wasn't for the best; she and Jenny had agreed that there was not enough sleeping space for herself and four kids in her apartment. The kids would go to the apartment after school, though. But Jenny's bed was bigger than hers, the mattress was firmer, Jenny's bedroom was larger than hers, and the bed was in a different place. But strangest of all was the noises. How could a house be creaking so much when everyone in it was asleep? And how could wind make so much noise? Every little creak seemed magnified a hundred times.
starting to get nervous and felt stupid, being scared of wind.
She picked up a book sitting on Jenny's nightstand and tried to
relax herself with that. It was horribly boring, and she had
almost fallen asleep when suddenly the door creaked open and
someone said "Jessica?" rather loudly, startling her. She gasped
"Oh, sorry. Did we scare you?" Caitlin asked. She was standing in the doorway with Cody, holding his hand.
"Oh no, not at all," Jessica replied, taking a deep breath and trying to calm her pounding heart. "What are you two doing up? It's almost midnight. You're going to be tired tomorrow."
"Well, Cody got scared, so he came into my room and got in bed with me. He doesn't like to sleep by himself when Mom's not around. And there's no room for him in my bed, and there's tons of room in this bed. So I thought we'd just come in here and maybe he could sleep with you instead of me."
"Thanks, Caitlin. What's the matter, big guy?" Jessica held her arms out to Cody. He climbed up on the bed and got in her arms.
"I miss my mommy," he mumbled, sticking his thumb in his mouth.
"Do you want to sleep in here tonight?" Cody nodded and crawled over beside her. "Okay. Just for tonight." Caitlin continued to stand in the doorway. "You can go back to bed now, Caitlin."
"Do you think I could sleep with you, too?" Caitlin asked shyly.
Jessica smiled. "Climb on in. There's plenty of room. Your mother has a huge bed." Caitlin climbed in beside Cody, and they were both soon asleep. Jessica was almost asleep when she heard muffled sobbing.
"Oh, no," she mumbled, going over to Ariel and Daniel's room. Daniel was crying quietly while Ariel had a hand on his shoulder, trying to comfort him. "What's the matter, Daniel? Did you have a bad dream?"
He looked up and continued to cry. "He...he kept hitting Erin with a pan and he hit her in the head and she started bleeding and I tried to get him to stop and he hit me too."
"My daddy," Daniel whispered.
How bitterly ironic, Jessica thought, that a man could do such awful things and still have a child refer to him as "Daddy." "You know that's all in the past. Your father's in prison. He's not going to do that anymore."
Daniel started crying harder. "I don't want to go back to sleep," he sobbed. "He only hurts us while I'm asleep. Don't let him hurt me." Then he said "Where's my sister? What did he do with her?"
It suddenly occurred to Jessica that Daniel seemed to really have no concept of the difference between reality and his dreams. He didn't seem to realize that what happened while he was asleep wasn't really happening at all. It scared her. "Daniel, you were dreaming, honey. Your father did not really hit you just now, or your sister. You're never going to see him again, I promise."
"He did hit us!" Daniel sobbed. "He hit me just now, right before I woke up and you came in."
"Daniel, your imagination made that up, maybe based on a memory you have from when you were younger, but not something that happened just now. Nightmares can seem very real, but they're not." Daniel still looked unconvinced. "Show me where he hit you."
Daniel held out his arm. Ariel watched, feeling a bit angry and jealous. Her mom hadn't even noticed how she had been trying to comfort Daniel. In fact, her mom had barely even looked at her.
"Does your arm hurt now?"
"No," Daniel whispered.
"And see, there's no cut or bruise on it. Nobody hit you," Jessica said. She did notice an old, faded, scar on his forearm. It was circular. Like the edge of a frying pan had struck it very hard. She shuddered.
"Do you want to sleep in my bed tonight? Cody and Caitlin are already in there, but there's plenty of room." Daniel nodded. He'd stopped crying.
"So I'm the only one who's not sleeping with you? But I'm your baby!" Ariel spoke up.
"You are, Ariel. You can sleep with me too, if you want. Before you guys go to bed, though, do either of you need to be changed?" Daniel was notorious for leaks, which was only partly his fault. His sister bought him generic diapers.
"No!" they both said.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes!" Ariel and Daniel ran into Jenny's bedroom and climbed in bed beside Cody and Caitlin, and quickly fell asleep. Jessica fell asleep shortly after.
"Are you sure you have the key?" Daniel asked worriedly as they climbed off the school bus the next afternoon.
"Yes, Daniel, for the millionth time, I have it!" Ariel replied, holding up the key her mom had given her.
"I don't get why your mom gave it to you to hold. I'm older. She should trust me more," Caitlin complained as Ariel unlocked the door.
"She said she thought you'd trade it for the new N Sync CD, the way you tried to sell Cody to get money for the new Backstreet Boys CD," Ariel retorted.
"That was last year," Caitlin said, turning red. "And I wouldn't have really let anyone buy him, anyway. I was just joking around."
"Didn't your mom say to call her first thing when we got home today?" Daniel asked as they set their stuff down in Ariel's room.
"Oh, yeah. Thanks for reminding me," Ariel said, picking up the phone and carefully dialing the number her mother had given her. She politely asked for Jessica Crawford when someone picked up the phone and a second later, her mom answered.
"Hi, honey. How was your day?"
"It was okay. Ms. Felton yelled at us and said we were behaving like preschoolers instead of rising second graders. She said once we got to second grade, the teachers weren't going to tolerate it, so we'd better shape up."
"What were you doing?"
"Nothing! She was teaching math, and it was really boring, so we started talking about other stuff. Eric drew a picture of this witch with wrinkles and warts, holding a math book, and wrote 'Ms. Felton' on top and passed it around, and she found it and didn't know who drew it, so she yelled at everyone. But I didn't do anything," Ariel said innocently.
"I'm sure. Well, I need to get back to work. Did you guys get changed before you left school?"
"Yes. But what if we get really wet? Or poop?"
"Then you can change yourself, I guess. But don't do it unless you have to, and make sure you pull the tabs tightly! Be good, and do your homework before you watch TV. You can play outside, but don't let any other kids in the house. I'll see you around six. Oh, and I'm going to be in meetings all afternoon, so don't call unless there's an emergency, k?"
"Okay. Bye, Mommy." Ariel hung up the phone and said to Caitlin and Daniel "Want to play outside?"
"Yeah!" Caitlin said eagerly. "Let's ride bikes. I've been wanting to do that all day. I can ride your new bike, Ariel, the blue one you got for Christmas, you can ride your old one, and maybe Eric will loan his to Daniel."
"Okay!" Ariel replied. The weather had been rather rainy lately and it was the first sunny afternoon in a week. She was looking forward to playing outside.
"Not okay," Daniel said. "I don't know how to ride a bike. I've never ridden one before."
"You can't ride a bike?" Caitlin repeated, horrified. "I thought everyone knew how to ride bikes. Don't worry. I'll teach you. Come on."
They went outside and got both of Ariel's bikes from the shed. She generously gave her bigger new one to Caitlin, and resigned herself to riding her old one for the afternoon. They had no trouble getting Eric to loan them his bike for Daniel to ride on, although he couldn't come outside to play because he had a sore throat. Then Caitlin helped Daniel onto the seat of the bike. He planted his feet firmly on the ground.
"I don't know about this," Daniel said nervously. "What if I fall?"
"Of course you're going to fall. Everyone falls. But it doesn't hurt that much," Caitlin said impatiently. "Come on, put your feet on the petals. I'll push you at first and then I'll let go and see if you can go on your own."
"What?! I don't like this. I don't like getting hurt. Can we do this on the grass?"
Caitlin groaned in disgust. "Look, do you want to learn or not? You can't ride a bike on grass. You're acting like a baby."
"I'm not a baby!" Daniel whined. He started to cry.
"Daniel, don't cry!" Ariel said, running over and hugging him. "I'll teach you how to ride. I won't make you do anything you don't want to do, okay? I'll hold onto the bike as long as you want me to."
"Okay," Daniel sniffed. "Go ahead and push me. Promise you won't let go?"
"I promise." Ariel leaned over Daniel and held onto the handlebars and pushed the bike while walking around. He began pedaling. Pushing him turned out to be harder work than she expected, and she was having a hard time keeping up.
"Are you ready for me to let go?"
"No! Not yet!"
Ariel sighed and pushed him around a few more minutes while Caitlin rode further up ahead.. "Daniel, I'm getting really tired. I think you should try this on your own. I think you're ready."
"Really? You don't think I'll fall?"
"Nope," Ariel replied. She knew secretly that it would probably take Daniel weeks to master bike-riding, that he would be better off starting with training wheels, and that if she let go now he would almost surely lose his balance. But he probably won't even get hurt, she thought. I fall off my bike all the time, and I never get hurt badly. He's just being a wimp.
"Okay," Daniel said bravely. "You can let go."
Ariel let go and watched Daniel pedal in a wobbly line down the street. He actually seemed to be doing quite well. As he gained confidence, he sped up.
"Good job, Daniel!" Ariel yelled. He turned to grin at her. Then she noticed he was heading straight for a parked car.
"Daniel!" she yelled. "You need to go to the left! Quick!"
Daniel turned back around and saw the car parked twenty feet directly in front of him. In his terror, he couldn't do anything except keep heading straight towards it. He hit it going full speed. He screamed, there was a crashing noise, then Ariel screamed, and then Daniel's sobs pierced the air.
Chapter Thirty Four
"Daniel!" Ariel yelled, running towards him. Caitlin had seen what happened and reached him before Ariel. Daniel was sitting up stiffly. He had scraped up the whole side of his right leg up to his knee, and his elbow was dripping blood onto the pavement, but there were no broken bones. Ariel helped Daniel up.
"Are you okay?" she asked. Daniel didn't answer, he was crying too hard.
"Oh, no," Ariel said, looking closely at the car. "Do you know whose car this is?"
"Who?" Caitlin asked.
"Mrs. Johnson. Monica's mom. If she saw Daniel crash into her car, we're all in really big trouble."
Caitlin looked at the car. "I don't think the car's damaged. Well...wait. Uh-oh." She and Ariel exchanged horrified looks. There was a small, dull grayish spot against the dark blue paint.
"Daniel, you chipped the paint!" Ariel screamed. In her terror, she was hardly aware of the hot, salty tears beginning to run down her face. "You chipped the paint on Mrs. Johnson's car! Do you know what she's gonna do to us if she finds out? Do you know what my mom's gonna do to me? We are in so much trouble! Why didn't you turn?"
"I'm sorry," Daniel whispered, looking down in shame.
"Let's forget about that for right now," Caitlin said. "If we get out of here fast, Mrs. Johnson might not ever know and then we won't have to tell your mom, either. Come on, let's hurry."
"I can't walk. My leg hurts."
"Daniel, it's not like you broke it. It's just a scrape," Caitlin said soothingly. "Ariel and I will clean it up when we get home."
"Besides," Ariel added. "It's your fault we're in this mess. Now you have to help us get out of it." She picked up Eric's bike, relieved to see there was no damage to it. "Come on."
They walked home slowly, Daniel whimpering "It hurts" with every step. Ariel and Caitlin led him to the bathroom and made him sit down on the toilet.
"You mad at me, Ariel?" Daniel asked, looking up at Ariel. His face was pale and blotchy. He'd stopped crying for the most part, but his eyes were still shiny with tears.
"I guess not," Ariel said grudgingly. She tried to remember what her mom usually did when she got hurt. First she usually washed the wound out, then she put some smelly stuff on it, and then a band-aid. Except in Daniel's case, they'd probably need more than one band-aid. "Here's a washcloth for you, Caitlin. You do the elbows, I'll get the leg."
"Ow!" Daniel screamed as Ariel washed off the scrape on his leg. "That really stings!"
"Well, what do you want me to do? There's dirt and all kinds of gross stuff in this thing," Ariel replied. She put down the washcloth and rubbed some Neosporin on the scrape. "There. It should be clean now. What kind of band-aids do you want? We have neon colors and Pokeman."
"Neon colors. I don't like Pokeman that much."
"Actually, don't you think gauze would be better for his leg?" Caitlin suggested. "Whenever I get a scrape that big, my mom usually wraps it in gauze."
"We don't have any," Ariel replied.
"We could call your mom and ask her to buy some on the way home."
Ariel shook her head. "She said not to call unless there was an emergency. Plus, we'll have to tell her why we need it, and how Daniel got hurt, and I'm not ready to tell her that yet. She'll be mad we let Daniel ride in the street, she'll be mad we didn't wear our helmets, she'll be mad I let go of Daniel, and she'll be totally furious that we messed up Monica's mom's car. I'm not telling her until I have to." She placed five neon band-aids on Daniel's leg.
"Can I go lie down?" he asked.
"Yeah, go ahead. You can even lie on my bed if you want to," Ariel volunteered. She was starting to feel guilty for letting Daniel fall in the first place.
Daniel fell asleep on Ariel's bed, and Caitlin and Ariel started their homework at the kitchen table. They worked quietly for about forty-five minutes until they heard Daniel start to cry.
Caitlin sighed. "I hate to say it, but you know what? I'll be glad when that kid goes home. I used to help my mom with my brother when he was an baby, and he never cried like that!"
"Do you think we should go see what's wrong?" Ariel asked. "Sometimes he falls out of bed. Maybe he's hurt."
Caitlin sighed and stood up. "I'll go, I'm sick of this stupid math anyway." She entered Ariel's bedroom. Daniel was sitting up in bed, sobbing his eyes out for no apparent reason. "What's wrong?" Caitlin asked.
Daniel peered up at her. "Mama?" he whimpered, holding up his arms like he wanted to be picked up.
"Ha ha, very funny. I'm not your mom. You can walk."
"Mama?" Daniel repeated.
"Quit fooling around. Are you ready to get up? You'd better do your homework before Jessica gets home."
Daniel got out of bed and collapsed on the ground. Caitlin sniffed. "Eww, you pooped your diaper! While you were sleeping! I've never done that before. That's gross!"
Daniel gave her a blank look, like he had no idea what she said. He began crawling, actually crawling on all fours, like a toddler. Something about the way he was acting frightened Caitlin. She backed away.
"Daniel...stop that. Stop acting like a baby. It's creeping me out." Daniel acted like he hadn't even heard her. He crawled out the door, through the living room, and into the kitchen. Caitlin followed.
"Ariel, look at Daniel. He's acting weird."
Ariel smiled. "He's just crawling. He likes acting like a baby."
"I know, but...I don't think he's acting."
"What do you mean?"
"Just watch him for a minute."
Daniel had gone back into the living room and crawled over to the coffee table. He stared intently at a framed picture of Ariel and her mom, smiling at the faces. Then he picked up a cinnamon-scented candle and sniffed it. Grinning happily, he bit off the end.
"Hey!" Ariel yelled. "What are you doing?" Daniel turned toward the harsh voice. The candle didn't taste as good as it smelled, and he spit it out and began to cry, partly because of the bitter taste in his mouth and partly because someone was frowning and yelling, and the loud noise scared him.
"What are you doing?" Ariel repeated.
"See what I mean?" Caitlin said. She had to almost yell to be heard over Daniel's sobs. "He doesn't seem to have any idea what he's doing. Why would Daniel eat a candle, even if he was pretending to be a baby? When Cody was a baby, we had to baby-proof the whole house and - augghh! Daniel!" Daniel had grabbed the cord of a lamp and was about to pull it off the table. Caitlin ran forward and pried his fingers lose from the cord.
"No, Daniel! We don't touch electrical cords! That's bad! Bad!" She shook her finger in front of his face. Daniel's face crumpled. He turned and crawled away.
"I'm sorry, Daniel," Caitlin said, wrapping her arms around him. "I didn't mean to yell. But if you grab the cord, you might get hurt, or you might break the lamp." She turned to Ariel. "He wouldn't have grabbed that cord if he was just acting like a baby. He's thinking like a one-year-old."
Ariel was terrified. She'd never heard of anyone doing this before. "What's wrong with him?"
Caitlin shook her head. "I dunno. I've never seen anyone like that before. But he sure is acting like he doesn't know what he's doing. He's acting just like Cody did when he was a baby."
"So what do we do with him?" Ariel asked helplessly. "I think we should call my mom at work and get her to come home. I don't care if we get into trouble anymore."
"No!" Caitlin said. "She said not to call unless there was an emergency. My mom says an emergency is if someone's hurt so badly they might die, or if there's a fire. We don't have either of those problems. We can handle Daniel for a couple of hours. And it'll impress your mom when she gets home. Make us seem more responsible. Maybe we can even get him back to normal."
"Well, how do we get him to stop crying?"
Caitlin wrinkled her nose. "Change his diaper. He stinks. I'd cry too if I smelled like that."
They tried to guide Daniel towards Ariel's bedroom and Caitlin lifted him onto the changing table. "Don't drop him!" Ariel cried.
"He's heavy!" Caitlin groaned. "He's a lot heavier than Cody was!"
"Of course he is! He's six years old!" Ariel unzipped Daniel's jeans and pulled them off, no easy task because he was kicking his legs. She was glad he'd taken his shoes off earlier. "Miss Know-It-All, since you helped with Cody so much, you want to clean him off?"
Caitlin glared at her. "Okay. But you're doing the next one!" She peeled the tabs back and the messy diaper lay in front of them.
"YUCK!" Ariel and Caitlin both started gagging and grabbed their noses. "How does my mom stand this?" Ariel groaned.
"Our diapers don't stink nearly as much!" Caitlin replied. She picked the messy diaper up by the tips of her forefingers and quickly dropped it into the diaper pale. Still holding her nose, she began to wipe Daniel off.
"Ariel, I don't know about this. I feel weird wiping him off. He's a boy. He's got different stuff than us, you know?"
"So? I thought you used to help change Cody. He's a boy too."
"Yes, but Cody's a lot younger than me." Caitlin continued to wipe Daniel off, not doing a very good job.
"Oh, let me do that!" Ariel shoved Caitlin out of the way and grabbed a clean baby wipe. She wiped Daniel off thoroughly, using several wipes. "See? It's no big deal. It's not even like he really knows what you're doing." That was true. Daniel was cooing and staring off at something else - Ariel's pacifier, over by her bed.
"Ariel, is that your pacifier that Daniel's looking at? I think he wants to borrow it." Caitlin began giggling. "Don't tell me you actually still suck a pacifier!"
Ariel blushed. "He's got one too. It's by his cot." Caitlin popped it in Daniel's mouth and he sucked it contently. Ariel got another Huggies on him, pulling it tight as best she could.
Caitlin lifted him off the changing table, and he crawled away. "Now what do we do with him? We have to keep him out of trouble. If only you guys had a playpen."
"Set him down in front of the TV and give him a book to look at," Ariel suggested. "Do you know what time Teletubbies comes on?"
"How would I know? I don't watch it," Caitlin retorted. "Pop in the Rugrats movie. He'll like that."
"Okay." Ariel put the movie in and led Daniel to the living room. "Watch the movie for awhile and be good, okay? Here." She handed him a paperback picture book. Daniel took it, examined it, grinned, and tore out several pages.
"No, Daniel!" Ariel yelled, grabbing the book. Daniel started to cry again. His wails filled the walls of the small apartment. Ariel felt like crying herself. She glanced over at Caitlin. Just then, the phone rang.
"I'll get it!" Ariel yelled. She grabbed the phone. "Hello?" she said, putting her finger in her other ear to try to block out Daniel's sobs.
"Hi, Ariel. This is Mrs. Johnson, from next door. Is everything all right there? Goodness, Monica and I have heard crying off and on for the last hour. It sounds like a baby. Your mother didn't go off and leave you guys alone with a baby, did she?" That was typical Mrs. Johnson, looking for any way to report Jessica to Social Services.
"No," Ariel lied. "We're watching TV."
"Well, for heaven's sake, turn the volume down!" Mrs. Johnson slammed down the phone.
"That was Mrs. Johnson. You know, the lady whose car we messed up. She told us to turn down our TV," Ariel said miserably.
"If only we could," Caitlin replied. "We have to shut him up, or else she might come over here to see what's really happening. Maybe we should try feeding him. Babies are always hungry."
"I think we have some baby food in the cabinet."
Caitlin gave Ariel a strange look. "Why do you guys have baby food?"
"Never mind." Ariel got the last jar down from the cabinet and found one of her bottles. Caitlin already knew about the bottles, and didn't comment. Ariel tried to fill the bottle with milk, and ended up spilling it all over the counter. "Oops."
"Don't worry about it." Caitlin grabbed the milk and filled the bottle up perfectly. "You can clean it up later. For now, we just have to keep Daniel happy. Now let's give him some food."
They found the baby spoon that Ariel also still used, and Caitlin somehow managed to get the first spoonful of peas and rice baby food into his mouth. Daniel rewarded her with a big smile, and most of it dripped out of his mouth, down his chin and onto his shirt.
"Don't give him that food on the carpet!" Ariel cried. "Take him into the kitchen and let him eat there."
Caitlin sighed but led Daniel into the kitchen and sat him down on the floor. "Don't ask me to get him to sit at the table." She tried to give Daniel another spoonful of food. This time he reached out and grabbed the spoon as she was guiding it to his mouth, and peas flew everywhere.
"Yuck! Daniel!" Caitlin tried one more spoonful. Daniel let her put it in his mouth, but as soon as the spoon was out, Daniel spat the green goo out too. It went into Caitlin's face and hair.
"Eww! Ariel, I don't think he likes this stuff. What else do you guys have?"
"I think there's ice cream in the freezer."
"Get that! Who doesn't like ice cream? Maybe we can have some too. All this nanny stuff is making me hungry. But don't you think we're doing a good job? He's not dead yet, at least."
"Yet?" Ariel repeated. She jerked open the freezer. The cold air was refreshing. She found a pint of Ben and Jerry's Cherry Garcia under some frozen vegetables, where her mother had unsuccessfully tried to hide it. "Here we go. You want some, Daniel?" Daniel might have lost most of his language, but he hadn't forgotten what an ice-cream carton looked like. He was bouncing up and down and cooing.
Caitlin set the carton down on the floor and fed Daniel a spoonful. He smiled and swallowed it. "He likes it, Ariel! As long as we keep giving him ice cream, maybe he'll be quiet." She fed Daniel five or six spoonfuls, and turned to smile at Ariel, who was watching quietly. While she had her back turned, Daniel, deciding that anything that tasted that good must feel good too, reached his hands into the container and grabbed a handful of ice cream. Caitlin turned back around in time to see him rubbing it between his hands.
"Oh, no! Daniel, look what you've done! It's all over your hands and legs. You're a mess! Ariel, think we ought to give him a bath?"
"You can give him a bath!" Ariel replied.
"No, I need your help. We make a good team, don't you think?" Caitlin smiled at her younger cousin, and Ariel felt an unexpected closeness to her she had never felt before.
"Okay, I'll help. I don't want him to get that all over the carpet." They filled the tub with lukewarm water and lifted Daniel in. It turned out that he loved baths, and was content to splash happily forever. Ariel and Caitlin were relaxing for a minute when Caitlin looked at her watch.
"Oh my gosh, Ariel, it's ten to six. Didn't your mom say she'd be home around six? And the kitchen is a mess!"
"Oh no, you're right!"
"Help me get Daniel out of the tub, and I'll get him dressed while you start cleaning up." Daniel was hard to get out of the tub, because he was slippery and waterlogged. Caitlin lifted him as high as she could over the edge, and handed him to Ariel, who set him down on the floor. She grabbed a towel, and turned towards him in time to see him crawl happily out the door, moving as fast as a person running.
His naked butt, dripping water on the carpet, was the site that greeted Jessica and Cody as they walked in the door, along with the broken candle, the torn book, the milk all over the counter, the forgotten bottle, the melting quart of Ben and Jerry's, the opened jar of Gerber's peas and rice, the kitchen floor with the melted ice cream and peas smeared all over, and Ariel and Caitlin, also dripping wet from Daniel's splashing (and Caitlin still had bits of peas in her hair), following sheepishly after Daniel. Jessica and Cody halted in their steps. For a moment, nobody said a word.
Jessica brushed her hair out of her face, as if hoping that might be messing up her vision, and rubbed her forehead. It had been a long day, and she was tired. "Cody, honey, why don't you go into my room and watch TV? This isn't going to be pretty."
"Okay," Cody grinned. "I'm glad I wasn't around to get blamed for this!" He ran into Jessica's room.
Jessica glanced down at Daniel. "Sweetie, if I want to look at a guy naked, I've got a fiance who works out three times a week, and he's my age, too, so let's get a diaper on you, k?"
Daniel just grinned up at her and said "Hi" in a babyish voice.
Jessica grabbed a diaper from Ariel's room and put it on Daniel, too distracted to notice that he was earnestly communicating on a one-year-old level. "Now, girls," she began. "I'm just going to finish this quart of Cherry Garcia and prop my feet up on the couch while I watch you two clean up my kitchen and see what kind of excuses you can give me for why my house looks like a train ran through it. That puddle of water on the carpet tells me the bathroom can't look much better." Ariel and Caitlin exchanged looks. Daniel started to crawl off. "Daniel, why are you crawling? Stick around. I'm sure you're responsible for at least part of this."
"Oh, you have no idea," Caitlin muttered.
"What was that, Caitlin?"
"You have no idea what Daniel did."
"I'm sure I could take a few guesses. Hey!" Daniel had rediscovered the lamp cord. He turned and grinned at Jessica. She ran forward and grabbed him. "What's gotten into you? I'm not in the mood for this. And what happened to your leg and elbow? You guys have a lot of explaining to do. I leave you alone for three hours..."
"He's not going to answer you," Caitlin interrupted. "He has no idea what you're saying. He's a baby."
"Caitlin! That's not nice."
"No, Mom, she's serious," Ariel said. "Daniel isn't thinking like a six-year-old now. He's been like this for two hours. It was like taking care of a real toddler. Look at him." Daniel, tired from his bath, was lying on the floor, sucking his thumb and staring off into space, oblivious to the conversation around him.
"Daniel?" Jessica asked, her heart pounding. She walked over to the little boy and picked him up. He fussed a bit, but found comfort in the familiar shoulder and stuck his fingers in his mouth. "Daniel? Talk to me, honey." Daniel played with her hair a bit, but didn't answer. "Oh, no. Oh my god...oh, no. Oh, fuck."
Ariel and Caitlin looked at each other, shocked. "Wow, Mom!"
"You said the f word!" Caitlin cried, her worries forgotten for the moment. "I said that once and my mom washed my mouth out with soap!"
"Sorry," Jessica murmured. She took a deep breath and began to rock Daniel, hoping to get him to fall asleep. "I have no idea what happened this afternoon, but my guess is that it's been pretty rough. The house is still standing and Daniel seems happy, so I guess you guys did pretty well. Please tell me what happened."
"Well, we got home and we wanted to ride our bikes, and Daniel said he didn't know how to ride a bike, and Caitlin said she'd teach him. So we went outside and got my bike, and I let Caitlin ride my new one, and we borrowed Eric's for Daniel to ride."
"Did you remember your helmets, by any chance?"
Jessica sighed. "Something tells me I should take notes so I can remember later what to lecture you about. Go ahead."
"So I tried to teach Daniel how to ride, and I walked around pushing him, like you did when I first learned how to ride. And he was getting pretty good at it, so I let go. And he started riding on his own, and..."
"Well, you know how Mrs. Johnson usually parks her car in the street?'
"Oh, no. Please don't tell me Daniel hit her car."
"Well, he did, but it wasn't that big of a deal, because only a little bit of the paint chipped."
"Only a little bit of the paint?!" Jessica stared at Ariel incredulously. "If you had to wreck someone else's car, why did it have to be the neighbor who already hates me? I thought I didn't have to worry about you wrecking any cars until you got your learner's permit."
"I didn't wreck it, Mom! Daniel did."
"Well, I'm responsible for him until his sister picks him up tomorrow morning, god only knows what I'm going to tell her, and you were involved in this incident. What did Mrs. Johnson say?"
"She didn't see it. We got out of there before she could see us around her car."
"Well, I hate to say it, but that was probably for the best. I'll have to call her later, though. It would be dishonest not to. I hope her insurance covers stuff like this, because I wasn't planning to add you onto mine for another eight or nine years, and I sure as hell don't have any money for a paint job." Caitlin and Ariel looked shocked again. "Sorry. So what you are saying is that you rode your bikes in the street, without helmets?"
Ariel looked down at the floor. "Yes," she whispered.
"How many times have I told you to wear your helmet even if you're just riding down the sidewalk? And how many times have I told you to keep out of the street? Do you know how dangerous that was? Suppose instead of Daniel hitting the parked car, a moving car had hit him? Or, god forbid, a van, or a garbage truck, or a tractor trailer? He'd have had a lot worse than a few scrapes. All of you could've been killed. How can I go off and trust you guys to stay here alone for a few hours when I have to worry you're going to get killed? I thought you were more responsible than that." Ariel's eyes filled with tears. "Well, let's go on. What happened next?"
"We got home, and Daniel was crying pretty hard, and, well, I guess we got a little impatient with him."
"You got impatient with him," Caitlin corrected. "I didn't say anything mean at all."
"Whatever. I mean, he was crying like he'd gotten hit by one of those tractor trailers you were talking about, instead of just scraped up. So I called him a baby." Ariel paused to wipe off the tears streaming down her face. "I guess that's why he's acting like this now. It was all my fault."
Jessica put an arm around Ariel. "No, not at all, honey. You shouldn't have called him a baby, but that didn't make him do this. I told you before, he's got a lot of problems, but none of them are your fault. After we get done talking, I'm going to have a long talk with his sister."
Ariel and Caitlin alternated telling about the rest of the afternoon, which didn't seem as serious, and even seemed kind of funny looking back on it. Then they cleaned up the kitchen while Jessica called Erin. Daniel had long since fallen asleep, and they put him to sleep in his cot.
"Well, I'm beat," Jessica announced. "What a day. Want to order pizza for dinner?"
"Yeah!" Ariel and Caitlin said. They were almost asleep by the time the pizza came, but woke up to eat.
"What'd Erin say?" Caitlin asked.
Jessica sighed. "She wasn't too surprised. She'd been expecting it. She thinks it'll get better when he sees her, but the poor kid really just needs a stable home environment. I'm glad he's moving to New York. I'll miss him and I know you will too, Ariel, but it's for the best."
"I hope so," Ariel said sadly. She had a hard time believing that. Jessica took the next day off to send Daniel home, and he was gone by the time Ariel and Caitlin got home from school. Ariel looked sadly at the empty space in her room where his stuff used to be, held onto her mom, and cried.
Chapter Thirty Five
Ariel heard the front door opening and handed Caitlin her Gameboy Color. "Here you go. Thanks for letting me borrow it." She shoved her math and spelling workbooks into her bookbag.
"No prob, Ariel. See you tomorrow."
"Bye." Ariel ran down the stairs and into the front room, where her mom was talking seriously with Jenny. "Hi, Mom!"
"Hey, kiddo! How was your day?"
"It was pretty good. I got an A on my math test."
"That's great! I'm very proud of you! That's my girl, a chip off the old block."
"Old block?" Ariel asked, thoroughly confused. "What does that mean?"
"It just means you take after me. Are you ready to go?"
"Yeah, I'm hungry. Can we have spaghetti for dinner?"
"Anything for my smart daughter. See you later, Jenny."
"Bye. Good luck at the doctor's tomorrow, Ariel."
"Doctor?" Ariel asked as they got in the car. "Why do I have to go see a doctor?"
"I told you last week, remember? You're having a physical. Actually, I've got some bad news. I wasn't able to get tomorrow morning off, so Ryan's going to take you. He has the day off."
"But I want you to take me!" Ariel whined.
"I'm sorry, honey, but I have to work. Besides, I thought you liked Ryan."
"I do, Mom. But I want you to be there. Especially if...last time I went the doctor made me take off all my clothes except for my underwear. Is he gonna say anything about my diapers?
"I don't know, honey. I hope not, but I told Ryan if he wanted to talk about it, to have him call me. Don't worry. I'm sure everything's going to be fine." Jessica tried to keep her tone reassuring, but she was nervous about the doctor's visit. She knew allowing Ariel to wear diapers could be seen as child abuse to some people. "Good news...your appointment is for nine fifteen so you'll get to miss a couple of hours of school."
Ariel grinned. "Goody! I'll get to miss math and social studies!" She relaxed. Maybe going to the doctor's wouldn't be that bad.
Ariel woke up the next morning to voices. She opened her bedroom door and started to go out into the living room, but stopped short. "Gross! Why do you guys always have to kiss?"
Jessica and Ryan pulled apart, embarrassed. "Because," Ryan replied. "Your mother is a beautiful woman and it's hard to resist her." Ariel rolled her eyes. Jessica blushed.
"Monica said one time when her daddy was on a business trip, she saw her mommy kissing a guy who wasn't her daddy. On the lips with their mouths open."
Jessica and Ryan exchanged looks. "Do you want cereal or eggs for breakfast, Ariel?" Jessica asked.
"Captain Crunch and toast, please. And Eric told me once that he woke up in the middle of the night and heard a lot of noise from his parents' room and he walked in and..."
"I think we're out of Captain Crunch. You'll have to eat Corn Flakes instead. Do you want butter on your toast?" Jessica interrupted.
"Mo-om, you know I hate butter. So anyway, Eric walked in and his mom and his dad were naked and his mom was kissing his dad but not on the lips or on the face or anywhere even near the face. Isn't that nasty? Why would anyone want to do that?"
"Grown-ups do strange things, honey. You'll find out when you get older. Why don't you go get dressed? I'll change you after breakfast."
"All right," Ariel replied, skipping back into her room. Jessica and Ryan looked at each other and burst out laughing.
"You know, when I was seven years old I don't even think I knew what sex was!" Ryan said.
"Me neither! That's pretty funny about Mrs. Johnson, though. I always thought there was something dysfunctional about her relationship with her husband. They barely ever speak to each other."
Ryan laughed. "You could always use that as blackmail. Did you ever speak to her about what Daniel did to her car?"
"Yes. She bitched in my ear for an hour, basically saying that Ariel, Caitlin and Daniel were all spoiled brats who would be holding up convenience stores and shooting their classmates in another ten years and that what Ariel really needed was a good, sound spanking. Then she finally called her insurance company, and they said they'd pay for the touch-up, so she called back, said Ariel was a sweet girl, and asked if she'd like to come to Monica's birthday sleepover. Which happens to be tonight, I almost forgot. Want to come over?"
"Sure, I'd love to. I have to be at work at seven tomorrow, though, so I can't stay too late. Dave Matthews tickets go on sale."
"That's right, I forgot. I guess that's the bad part about working at the Amphitheater. At least you can take a morning off when you need to. Thanks again for taking Ariel to the doctor. I owe you."
"You can pay me back tonight," Ryan replied, smiling. "By the way, did you call the church and reception hall?"
"Yep, yesterday. We're set for October 7th." Jessica grinned. "I'm already starting to get nervous. Not that I have any doubts, it's just...you know. My stomach already feels funny just thinking about it."
"Yeah, I know, I feel the same way. That's okay, though, less food we have to order. I think I've pretty much got my guest list together. How about you?"
"I think so. I'll have to send invitations out to my relatives in Georgia, I suppose. The only one who I really want at the wedding is Danielle, but it's not like I can just invite her. I mean, I love my relatives, really, it's just they're so much easier to love when they're five hundred miles away."
"I know what you mean. I know my four-year-old nephews are going to run up and down the aisles during the ceremony, and yell things about cooties when we kiss because they're identical twins and my brother can't even control one of them, and he's way too cheap to hire a babysitter."
"Who's way too cheap?" Ariel asked, wandering back into the living room. Her jeans were on but unzipped and she was naked from waist up and clutching her t-shirt in one hand.
"Just some grown-ups, honey. You're certainly nosy this morning. Did you forget how to dress yourself or were you just planning to go to school naked? Because I don't really have a problem with that but your teacher might and you know how those first-grade boys can be." Jessica reached over and started to zip up Ariel's jeans but she pulled away.
"I don't feel like wearing clothes today. It's too hot."
"My daughter, the nudist. You know you have to get dressed before your doctor's appointment. But you can hold off until then, I suppose. Wear shorts instead of jeans, it's supposed to get up to ninety-five today. Eat your breakfast. I have to finish getting ready for work."
Jessica went into her bedroom, and Ariel was left alone in the room with Ryan. She bit holes out of the center of her toast and held it up to her face like a mask, with her eyes in the holes. He laughed. "Are you finished with your toast?"
"Yes," Ariel replied, setting it back down on her plate. "I do that every morning. Sometimes Mom says money doesn't grow on trees but I know some food does so I don't understand that. Mom also likes to say I should think about the starving children in India, and I think that's stupid, because I can't mail my toast there, but I'd be happy to send them some of the other food we have around here. Like vegetables. We have too much green stuff in this house. Mom thinks if I don't eat at least one green vegetable every day, I'll die or something."
Ryan nodded. "Mothers are funny like that. You know what's weird? I hated green vegetables when I was a kid. Actually, I hated all vegetables. My mother made me eat them too. I couldn't have my dessert until I'd eaten them. But now I kind of like them."
"Really?" Ariel ran her spoon through the Corn Flakes. They were starting to get soggy. Yuck. "Maybe when you live with us you could eat mine for me? I could pass them to you under the table. Mom would never know."
Ryan laughed. "I think that's a good way to get your mom mad at both of us. But I tell you what, when she's not around we can eat all the ice cream and cookies and Captain Crunch you want, and she'll never know." Ariel giggled.
Jessica came back into the room and glanced at Ariel's full bowl of soggy cereal and mutilated toast. "Are you done with your breakfast?"
Jessica gave her a stern look. "Ariel, you know money doesn't grow on trees. Think about the starving children in India." Ariel and Ryan smiled at each other. "I need to get going so let's get you changed."
Ariel ran into her room and let her mom lift her onto the changing table. "Be a good girl for me at the doctor's, and don't give Ryan a hard time about anything, okay? It was very nice of him to offer to take you to the doctor's on his day off," Jessica said. "Don't try to talk him into letting you stay home from school for the rest of the day."
"Who, me?" Ariel asked innocently.
"Yeah, you. I know you better than you think I do. I know you don't want to admit it but in some ways, you're a lot like I was when I was your age and that's the same kind of thing I would've done. I know how much you love school. And while you're at the doctor's, just try to be as calm and truthful about your diapers as you can be. If he asks you any questions that you don't feel comfortable answering, then you don't have to. Ryan will be in there with you, and he knows almost as much about your diapers as I do."
"He does? What did you tell him? Did you tell him I like to act like a baby?"
"Not exactly, sweetie, but I told him about how you got into diapers, and I think he can tell just by looking around here that you like being a baby. I mean, you drank your juice out of a bottle this morning right in front of him." Ariel looked peeved. "Ryan doesn't mind, sweetie. He loves you."
"But what about Daddy? Does he love me?" Ariel asked.
Jessica was done changing Ariel's diaper by then and needed to leave for work but she lifted her down and sat down on the bed with her in her lap. "We've talked about this before, sweetie. Your daddy loves you very much." She realized she was trying to convince herself as much as Ariel. "But neither of us think it's a good idea if he sees you for awhile. We can't get along when we're together, and I don't want you around Brittany. I told him if he wants to see you he'll have to come here and leave Brittany in California. So it's up to him whether he sees you."
"Then why doesn't he?" Ariel asked. "Mommy..." She wrapped her arms around her mother and clung to her tightly. "Sometimes I think Ryan's more my daddy than Daddy is. I mean, he actually does stuff with me and Daddy never does and Daddy hasn't called me since my birthday."
"Well, I agree with you. But there's a lot of stuff you don't understand. You'll understand more when you get older."
"I want to know now!" Ariel replied. "How come you won't tell me?"
Jessica sighed. "Your dad just does not have it in him to think about anyone besides himself and what he wants, when it's convenient for him. That's why he doesn't have it in him to be a good father, because he can't think about your needs and never could. He's never bothered to get to know you well enough to realize how special you are. And I don't want him to see you until he can put you first, above himself."
"Oh," Ariel responded, looking sad. "I wish Ryan was my real daddy instead of him."
Jessica gave her a hug. "So do I, Ariel, more than anything in the world."
Ryan knocked on the door. "Hey, Jess? It's twenty to nine."
"Oh, shoot," Jessica said, standing up. "I gotta get going. Ariel, I'll see you after school, okay? I love you."
"Bye, Mommy. I love you too."
"And I will see you tonight." Jessica smiled at Ryan and kissed him quickly, despite Ariel's groans.
After she left, Ryan said "I guess we should get going in about ten minutes, so go ahead and get dressed."
Ariel pulled on her shorts and t-shirt and plopped in front of the TV. She and her mom had watched Grease the night before, and Ariel's favorite song was "Summer Nights." She rewound it so she could watch it again. Even though she didn't really understand what some of the lyrics meant, she knew every word and liked to sing and dance along. She got so into it she didn't even notice Ryan was watching her for a minute, and then spotted him out of the corner of her eye. Embarrassed, she stopped.
"You're a good dancer, Ariel," Ryan said, smiling. "Have you ever taken dance lessons?"
"No," Ariel replied. "Some of my friends do, and they showed me how to do some stuff."
Ryan nodded. "Well, you're very talented. But after the song is over, it'll be time to go."
Ariel finished the song, rewound the video, and they left. It was a fifteen-minute ride to the doctor's office, but to Ariel it felt like forever. She'd never been by herself with Ryan before. He seemed to feel almost as awkward as she did.
"Where do you work?" she asked, more to break the silence than because she was really curious.
"I work at the Virginia Beach Amphitheater," Ryan replied. "I sell the tickets, help set up before the shows, and work on advertising. It's a pretty cool job because I get to meet a lot of bands. Like her," he said, turning up the radio. The new Britney Spears song was on. "Well, sometimes you have to meet some pretty annoying people too."
Ariel giggled. "My cousin likes her, but I think she sings like she has a stuffy nose. But want to know a secret?"
"Promise you won't tell Mom?"
"I cross my heart and hope to die."
"At my birthday party, my friend Daniel and I got dared to kiss each other during a Britney Spears song. It was Caitlin's idea."
"Wow. I never got to kiss any girls when I was seven. Do you like Daniel?"
"Yeah, he was one of my best friends, before he moved away," Ariel said quietly.
"No, I mean, did you have a crush on him?"
"Ew!" Ariel shook her head vigorously. "No!" But she was blushing bright red.
"Are you sure?" Ryan teased.
Ariel crossed her arms. "Daniel was too much of a baby for me."
Ryan nodded thoughtfully. "Oh, okay. I understand. You want a real man."
Ariel frowned. "I thought Eric liked me, but he asked Monica to be his girlfriend, and then he kissed her last Saturday right in front of me! I was so mad at both of them cause two weeks ago he told me he wanted to go out with me, and then he asked her out the next day! So me and Caitlin beat him up, and I didn't speak to Monica for two days. Then she broke up with him because he was flirting with Nicole, this really snobby girl in our neighborhood and she's in my class too. So now he and Nicole are going out, and he always said he hated her!"
"Maybe he's just trying to make you jealous."
"You think so?" Ariel asked eagerly. "Not that I care or anything."
Ryan smiled. "Us guys are too immature to come right out and tell a girl we like her. All we do is drop little hints and hope the girl gets the message. At least that's what your mom tells me." He pulled into the parking lot of the doctor's office.
"I don't like this," Ariel said nervously. "Can't we just drive home and tell Mom my physical went fine?"
Ryan parked and gave her a hug. "Come on now, physicals aren't that bad. All he's going to do is weigh you, record your height, and make sure your heart and blood pressure are fine."
"Am I going to have to get a shot?"
"Your mom said you didn't. You're up-to-date on all those for at least another year or two."
Ariel breathed a sigh of relief. She hated shots. The last time she'd had to get one, her mom and her doctor both said it wouldn't hurt that badly. The needle itself hadn't been too painful, but the next day she had hardly been able to move her arm.
They entered the office, and Ryan signed her in. Ariel sat down in a plastic, cracked vinyl chair and looked over the available newspapers, magazines and children's books. She barely even looked at The Wall Street Journal and Washington Post, decided the Ladies' Home Journal, Parenting Weekly and Newsweek looked boring, and turned up her nose at Clifford Goes to the Doctor. Didn't doctors realize that they needed to entertain people besides the parents and the really little kids?
Finally she was called back into an examination room. Ryan came with her. The nurse weighed her and measured her. "Wow, you've grown two and a half inches since we saw you seventeen months ago!" she said, smiling.
"I know," Ariel replied solemnly. "I got to get a bunch of new clothes for summer."
The nurse chuckled and said "Dr. Carter will be back in a minute. Go ahead and take off your shirt and shorts, please. For the examination, you'll need to be in just your underwear."
"Okay," Ariel said nervously. She didn't tell the nurse she didn't have underwear. She pulled off her clothes and sat nervously on the table. The doctor took forever. She and Ryan were chatting some more when suddenly the door swung open and Dr. Carter walked in. Ryan had to give him credit, if he was surprised to see Ariel in diapers, he didn't show it. He smiled and said "Hi, Ariel! How are you doing today?"
"Pretty good," Ariel replied shyly.
"Great! Goodness, you're certainly growing up fast. Seven and a half years old! Wow! What grade are you in?"
"First." Ariel relaxed a bit.
"I bet you're happy to get to miss school to come here, aren't you?" Ariel nodded. "Nobody minds missing school. Now I need you to take a deep breath..."
The rest of the exam went fine. Afterwards, Dr. Carter said "Well, Ariel, you're a very healthy young lady. I'd just like to talk to you very quickly. Would you mind stepping out into the waiting room?" he asked Ryan.
"No problem," Ryan replied. He left, and Dr. Carter sat down on a stool across from Ariel.
"I'm just a little concerned about a couple of things. Why are you wearing diapers? I have on my record that the last time you came here, you were having problems with bedwetting but were otherwise toilet-trained. And I believe I told your mom that if your bedwetting didn't improve by the time you were seven, or if she wanted to try some things to help improve it, to call, and she never called. What's up?" Ariel shrugged awkwardly. "Do you wet your pants if you don't wear diapers?"
"No," Ariel whispered. "Not usually."
"Not usually? Then why are you wearing diapers?"
"Mommy put me in pull-ups so I wouldn't wet my bed anymore. Then I started having accidents during the day, and she let me wear pull-ups to school. Then I didn't wet my pants anymore, but my cousin wore diapers cause she wet her bed like me, and she said diapers were a lot more comfortable than pull-ups. I thought they felt good too. Then my mommy caught me wearing diapers with her one day and asked if I wanted to wear them too, and I said yes."
"How long ago was this?"
"Last year. Over spring break last year, when I was in kindergarten."
"I see. That's fine, thank you, Ariel. Would you go get your daddy please? I'd like to talk to him now."
Ariel got up from the table, feeling like she'd done something wrong. At the door, she turned to Dr. Carter and said "He's not my REAL daddy" before leaving the room.
Ryan was in Dr. Carter's office for a few minutes. When he came out he was carrying a slip of paper folded in half. Ariel could tell there was writing on it, but she couldn't tell what it said. "What's that?"
"Nothing," Ryan said, quickly stuffing it into his pocket. "Just something for your mommy."
"Is it about me? Do I have to take medicine?"
"No, nothing like that. Just a number she has to call. Come on, you need to get to school."
They drove to school in silence. When they got there, Ariel suddenly gave Ryan a hug and said "Thanks for taking me to the doctor's, Ryan."
He grinned. "No problem, kiddo. I love spending time with you. But next time let's do something more fun than going to the doctor's, okay? Maybe Sunday we can go to the movies or the playground."
Ariel's eyes lit up. "Okay!" she said happily. "Bye, Ryan."
Ryan drove home, whistling happily to himself. Ariel really was a cool little kid. He hoped he'd make a good dad. Ariel seemed to like him, though. She didn't act as awkward around him as she used to. He loved spending time with her and her mom. But he had to call Jessica as soon as he got home, and for once he wasn't looking forward to it.
He didn't have to call her. His phone was ringing as soon as he got home, and glancing at his answering machine, he could tell it wasn't the first time she'd tried to call. "How'd it go?" were the first words out of Jessica's mouth.
"Well, I have good news and bad news. Which do you want first?"
"Damn, I knew today was going to be a bad day. The bad, I guess."
"Dr. Carter wants Ariel to be evaluated by a psychologist. He gave me the number of some lady who's supposed to be excellent with kids. He says the diaper thing might be a sign of an emotional disorder."
"It gets worse. He says if you don't take her to a psychologist, he can report you to Social Services for child abuse."
"Child abuse! Doesn't Social Services have enough kids whose mommies and daddies starve them and rape them and lock them in closets without worrying about things like this? Shouldn't they be worrying more about the kids who bring guns to school and shoot their classmates? How the hell is putting my daughter back in diapers when she asked for it, and she enjoyed it, and is otherwise a perfectly healthy, normal first- grader child abuse? How totally screwed up is this world, anyway?"
"I don't know. I'm sorry. But just take Ariel to this psychologist and let her talk to her for an hour...by the way, since Dr. Carter recommended it, your insurance will probably pay for it...and everything will be fine."
"I hope so. I'm so tired of this. I'm so tired of the whole world looking down on a seven-year-old wearing diapers. What is so awful about it? I mean, if she keeps this up, she'll never have to bother with Tampax." Ryan laughed. "Did you tell Ariel about this?"
"No, sorry, I thought maybe you should be the one to tell her what's going on. You know her better than I do."
"I guess I'll just tell her she's going to miss another couple of hours of school to talk to a nice lady and play. She'll love that. Anyway, what's the good news?"
"Other than the nonexistent psychological problems, she's healthy."
"Great. I'm sorry, but I need to get back to work. I'll see you tonight."
"I'll be over around six, is that fine?"
"Six is great. I can't wait. I love you."
"I love you, too. Bye."
Later than evening, Jessica and Ryan helped Ariel pack her bag for Monica's. "Don't forget these," Jessica said, holding up four pull-ups. "I'll put them in one of the side pockets so nobody will see them."
"Why is Ariel wearing pull-ups to Monica's party?" Ryan asked.
"You don't know Mrs. Johnson," Jessica replied. "She doesn't know about Ariel's diapers, and I don't like to think about what she'd do if she did. Ariel can't change herself, and she can't wear underwear. So whenever she goes to sleepovers, she has to wear pull-ups, and bring a plastic bag to put them in so she can wait until she gets home to throw them away."
"It works really well," Ariel added. "Except one time Mom forgot to pack me a pull-up, so I had to stay up all night so I wouldn't have an accident."
"That was your fault, Ariel. You're old enough to keep track of your own pull-ups." Jessica stuck some baby wipes in Ariel's bag beside the pull-ups and went over to her dresser.
Ariel waited until her mother's back was turned to stick her tongue out at her. "Ariel," Ryan chided. Ariel frowned at him, and Jessica turned back around.
"What did she do?"
"Nothing," Ariel replied quickly.
Jessica sat down beside Ariel and tilted her chin up so Ariel looked into her eyes. "You gonna be good for me at Monica's party?"
Ariel shrugged. "I guess so."
"You guess so? I was hoping for a better answer than that."
"Okay, I'll be good."
"That's my girl. Try not to get into any more fights over boys, either." Jessica kissed Ariel on the forehead. "Your stuff's all packed. I'll walk you over to Monica's now."
"Mom," Ariel groaned. "It's right next door, and it's still light outside."
"But you have to carry your sleeping bag, and your pillow, and your bag, and Monica's gift."
"I can carry it. I'm not a baby anymore."
"All right," Jessica agreed reluctantly. "Have a good time." She gave Ariel a big hug.
Ariel kissed her mom and then gave Ryan a hug. "Bye, Mom! Bye, Ryan." She grabbed all her stuff and waddled out the door without a look back. Jessica watched her out the window until she reached Monica's apartment.
"You shouldn't worry about her so much," Ryan said. He came up behind Jessica and put his arm around her.
"I can't help it," Jessica replied. "She's my baby. What am I supposed to do? If anything happened to her, I don't know what I'd do. You know, for the past few years, until I met you, she was the only person I had to live for. If anything happens to her, I think I'll kill myself."
Ryan pulled her closer to him. "No, you wouldn't, and don't you dare say that. You're stronger than that. You can let Ariel be more independent but still protect her. She's got to grow up sometime, even if you don't want her to. Even if she doesn't want to."
"I know," Jessica replied, her voice breaking.
"Hey." Ryan pulled her around so he could look into her eyes. They were shimmering with tears. "What's the matter, baby? Why are you crying? Ariel's gonna be okay."
"I don't know, Ryan. I screwed up. Much as I hate to admit it, that doctor had a point. Normal seven-year-olds should not still be in diapers unless they have some kind of bladder problem. Which she doesn't, other than the fact that she has very little control after over a year in diapers. That's going to cause her problems when she gets older. God, the girls in the locker room tease you badly enough if you're not a 34 B by seventh grade. Can you imagine how they'll laugh at someone wearing diapers?"
"She can be re-trained with a little patience. That's years away. And you said yourself that other than the diapers, Ariel is a perfectly normal seven-year-old."
"I lied. She has her good days and her bad days. You know she likes to be babied in other ways besides the diapers. Some days she doesn't want to do anything except curl up in my arms with a bottle, and don't tell me that's normal. She's very clingy sometimes. She left the house last week in tears because she didn't want to leave my side."
"That's not your fault," Ryan said darkly. "You're a great mother. I can tell you whose fault it is, and I swear to God if I ever get my hands on that bastard, I'll hit him twice, once for hurting you, once for hurting Ariel, and then I'll kick him in the balls so hard that he'll never be able to hurt another kid the way he's hurt Ariel."
Jessica smiled wryly. "You can't blame it totally on him because we were both stupid kids who didn't bother to think ahead and realize that one plus one equals three, and neither of us knew anything about being a good parent, especially me. Babies need stability, and that's one thing Ariel didn't have when she was a baby." She sniffed and wiped her eyes. "I'm scared, Ryan. What if the psychologist says there's something really wrong with Ariel?"
Ryan kissed the top of her head and played with her hair a bit. "If there was something really wrong with Ariel, she'd be acting like Daniel, so engrossed into acting like a baby she couldn't function as a normal kid even when she had to. I really think all she needs is a lot of love and a stable home, and you're doing a great job of giving her both."
"You're not a psychologist."
"No, but I know you and Ariel pretty well. Whatever it is, we'll all pull through it together as a family. Ariel's going to be fine."
Chapter Thirty Six
Ariel followed her mother and Ryan down the boardwalk, taking in the sights and sounds of the beach. She spotted the Sno-Cone stand nearby. "Mommy, can I get an Sno-Cone?" she pleaded. Her mother didn't seem to hear her. In fact, she and Ryan started walking faster, and Ariel struggled to keep up with them. "Mommy? Ryan? Slow down! I can't keep up!" Her mother laughed at something Ryan said, and offered him a sip of the Coke she was drinking. Neither seemed to hear her. Soon they were walking so fast that Ariel had to run to keep up with them.
She bumped into a lady on the sidewalk. "Excuse me," Ariel said breathlessly. She looked up at the lady's face. It was Britney, her stepmother! And her dad was standing right beside her. "What are you doing here?" Ariel cried.
Britney's mouth spread into a cruel smile. She reached out and grabbed the collar of Ariel's shirt. "Hey!" Ariel yelled. "Let go of me!" She glanced around for her mother and Ryan, but they had disappeared into the crowd without even noticing her.
Britney snickered. "They're not going to help you, Ariel. Your mommy and new stepdaddy are too busy now to bother with babies who still wear diapers. Nobody likes a seven-year-old who acts like a baby. That's why your daddy doesn't love you anymore." She yanked Ariel's shorts down, exposing her diaper. Around them, everyone started to laugh. Ariel glanced at her dad for help but he looked away, pretending not to know her.
"Nooooo!" Ariel sobbed.
She woke up with a start, sweat-soaked with tears streaming down her cheeks. She glanced around at her surroundings. There was a comforting familiarity to her changing table and dresser with the clothes still piled on it that her mother had asked her to put away before bed. Outside, there was a crack of thunder. She began counting one, two, three...lightening illuminated her room. The storm was three miles away. Ariel wondered if it was going ten miles over the speed limit like her mom usually did, and caught herself giggling. Where was her mother, anyway? She'd woken up screaming and usually when she made the slightest bit of noise, her mom was in there like a rocket, asking what was wrong, was she okay, did she need to be changed, did she want some water before going back to sleep.
Ariel pulled herself out of bed and headed down the short hall to her mom's room. She pushed the door open. Her mom's bed was empty! Ariel glanced over towards the bathroom but the door was open and the light was out. The living room was also empty. Her mom was gone! Maybe she really had abandoned her like in the dream. Another crack of thunder, louder this time, made Ariel jump and begin screaming. It suddenly began to pour outside. She was all alone, and in the middle of a thunderstorm. She screamed louder and louder, and suddenly the door was opening and her mother, soaking wet, was running inside and towards her.
"Ariel! What's wrong?" Jessica knelt down and took Ariel in her arms, which got Ariel soaked also but neither seemed to notice.
"I had a bad dream and woke up and you were gone!" Ariel sobbed.
"I'm sorry, honey. The thunder woke me up, and I thought I'd better go outside to make sure my car windows were rolled up before it started raining. Everything's okay now."
Ariel suddenly felt angry. "No, it's not! Don't ever leave me again! Especially not during a storm! I thought you'd left me forever!" She buried her face in her mother's chest.
Jessica rubbed her back. "I could never do that, and you know it. What made you think that?" Ariel shrugged. "Do you want to tell me about your dream?"
Ariel's anger melted away and she just felt stupid. "No, it was silly. I'm cold, Mommy. You got me all wet."
"C'mon, let's get changed, and I'll make us some hot chocolate while we watch the storm. The first thunderstorm of the summer is worth staying up late watching."
Ariel wasn't sure about that, but she was always eager to stay up late so she sipped her hot chocolate as she listened to the thunder. "I hate thunder," she complained. "It's too loud. It scares me."
"It's just sound, honey."
"But why's it gotta make that noise? Caitlin said that when it was thundering, it meant God was angry, and I don't want God to be mad because he can make people die."
Jessica smiled. "That's not true. Technically, thunder's made by air waves, I think. I used to think it was God bowling. But rain comes with a thunderstorm, and rain helps everything grow, right? Without rain, nothing could live, including us. So I think rain is God's way of protecting us, not hurting us."
"But why does it have to thunder when it rains?" Ariel persisted.
"So many questions, Ariel. It's late, you're making my brain work too hard. Maybe God's just reminding us he's up there. Anyway, summer thunderstorms can be very romantic."
Ariel made a face. "They're the one thing I don't like about summer." She didn't feel like talking about thunderstorms anymore. Something else was on her mind. "Don't I have that doctor's appointment today?"
Jessica's smile faded. "Yes, I'll pick you up after school. Don't worry about it. Everything's going to be fine. You'll be in a big room with all kinds of toys, probably a lot more than you have at home, and you can do whatever you feel like. You don't even have to talk to this person if you don't want to."
"Monica said when she used to wet her bed her parents made her go to a - what's this person called again?"
"Yeah, she had to go to one of those, and he kept asking her all these questions about her life that she didn't want to answer, like did she like school, was she happy, and did she love her parents. She said she sat there and didn't answer him, because she thought the questions were stupid, and afterwards her mom yelled at her for not talking. And she said that sometimes you could be put in a hospital if you gave the wrong answers."
Jessica spoke firmly. "Ariel, nobody is going to take you away from me and put you in any hospital. I'd fight them with every inch of my life if they tried to do that. The kind of psychologist you're going to see isn't going to ask you any questions at all. They won't talk to you unless you talk to them first. You'll see. They'll ask me questions before they evaluate you, but you won't have to do anything you won't want to. I wish you wouldn't worry, because everything's going to be fine. But there is a slight, very slight possibility that they might try to say I'm not raising you right and put you in another family." Ariel looked terrified, and Jessica gave her a reassuring hug. "I'm only telling you this because I don't want to lie to you about what could happen, not because I think it will happen. But if something did happen, you'd stay with your cousin Jenny for a little while. It'd only be for a few months at the most."
"Months?" Ariel repeated, horrified. To her, even a few weeks away from her mom seemed like an eternity. She went back to bed a few minutes later, but couldn't sleep. She tossed and turned all night, thinking that it might be her last night in this house. Towards morning, she realized that if she did get sent to live with Jenny's family, it wouldn't be that bad. Jenny had never been anything but nice to her. And her mom had sworn it probably wouldn't happen, and her mom was smart and seemed to know practically everything, even where thunder came from. Ariel finally fell asleep, but only an hour passed before she was awakened by the sun peeking through her blinds.
Ariel was groggy over breakfast, and she could tell from the dark circles under her mom's eyes that she hadn't gotten much sleep either. Jessica was usually cranky in the mornings but not today; she made Ariel pancakes for breakfast and held her for a little while in her arms while Ariel sucked on a bottle.
School seemed to drag on even longer than usual. There wasn't much longer to go until summer vacation, just two weeks, and most of the other teachers were starting to wind down on the work. Not Ms. Felton. She was still going strong, and kept her class busy that day with worksheets. She hadn't given Ariel any problems since the day months earlier when Ariel had been given permission to wear her diapers to school. However, Ariel was more than ready for summer and second grade.
About five minutes before the final bell rang, Ariel happened to glance up from her reading comprehension worksheet and out the window. Her eyes widened. She poked Eric. "Look at that rain!"
Eric stared at it. The rain almost seemed to be coming down sideways, although that may have just been the effect created by the wind that almost snapped the small trees planted outside the window in half. The gusts of wind were actually visible. He jumped out of his seat and ran to the window; Ariel followed.
"This day is not over! You guys need to sit down!" Ms. Felton snapped.
Eric ignored her. "Do you think the buses are going to be able to get us home?" he asked worriedly.
Ms. Felton walked over and stared out the window, worry lines forming on her forehead. She frowned. "Of course, Eric. There's no flooding."
Eric pointed across the schoolyard to the parking lot. The gutters were filled up and overflowing. The buses were out there, but were standing in three inches of water. Normally the main road was visible from the windows of the classroom, but today torrents of rain and wind blurred their vision so that the only signs of the road were small blurs of color that were passing cars. "Maybe there isn't any flooding now but don't you think there will be by tomorrow? And then we won't have to come to school."
"The rain's supposed to stop tonight," Ms. Felton replied. "But you guys are going to get soaked running for the buses. I hope you don't blow away!"
Ariel and Eric exchanged terrified glances. "I'm not riding the bus home," Ariel said. "My mom's picking me up. She better not make me wait in the rain."
"All right, children," Ms. Felton interrupted. "Go ahead and pack up. If you haven't finished your worksheet, it's homework."
Ariel shoved her things into her backpack, not even bothering to check to see if she was taking home the right books. She was happy school was over, as always, but at the same time she was wishing school would go on forever because then she wouldn't have to go to the psychologist. She threw on her jacket and ran out the door as soon as the bell rang. The wind almost blew her back in the school. There was her mother, parked at the curb, right on time, thank god.
"Get in quickly. This wind blew my car all over the street while I was driving here. I hate driving in this kind of weather. How was your day?" Jessica pulled away from the curb and turned onto the main road.
"It was okay, kinda boring." Ariel made a face at the song on the radio and changed the station to an R&B/pop station that she loved and her mom hated.
"Ariel, whose radio is that?"
"Exactly. I've had a hard day at work and much as I love Slim Shady when he isn't insulting his mom, I'd like to listen to music where every other word isn't edited out and the artist doesn't feel the need to repeat his name excessively." Jessica stopped for a red light and fooled around with the radio. A classic rock station was just starting "Bohemian Rhapsody" "Ooh, good song," Jessica said, turning the volume up and started singing along. "Your dad used to sing this to me all the time. Brings back memories."
Ariel sighed. She hated it when her mom sang. It wasn't that Jessica didn't have a good voice, but Ariel always had the vague, subconscious sense that her mom was talking to her indirectly, and she didn't understand the message she was trying to send. Ariel sometimes had the strange sense that she was living with a stranger.
The doctor's office was a short drive from Ariel's school and they arrived shortly. They didn't have to wait for very long before Ariel was called back into a large room that reminded her of the room at daycare, except it wasn't messy at all. All the toys were put away neatly on shelves, and there were more toys Ariel had ever seen in her life. Every possible toy she could ever think of was in that room - a huge set of blocks, dolls, a dollhouse, drawing paper, crayons, paints, books, legos, clay - lots of clay, and tons more. It was impossible to take it all in in one glance. Ariel didn't know it, but there were also video cameras and tape recorders monitoring her every action and word.
The doctor was a fairly young woman sitting in a beanbag chair on the floor. There was another one near her. Ariel had been told by her mother that her name was Dr. Pearce. She smiled up at Ariel and said "Hey" casually.
"Hi, Dr. Pearce," Ariel said nervously.
"You may call me by my first name, Michelle. What do you prefer to be called?"
"Ariel. I like your name. It's my middle name."
"Your middle name is Michelle?"
Ariel nodded. "When my mom gets mad at me she calls me by my full name, Ariel Michelle Crawford."
Dr. Pearce nodded. "Well, here I will not call you by your full name unless you want me to. You may decide what you want to do. You may do whatever you want in this room, play with whatever you wish. You don't have to do anything you don't want to."
Ariel went over to the easel first. She loved to paint, loved the smooth feeling of the brush against the paper. She dipped her brush into each color and created a dripping rainbow on the page. Red was her favorite color; the part of the paper that wasn't covered by her rainbow, she painted red. That was boring, she decided. They were working on drawing people in art class. She tore off that page and started on the next one. She drew herself first, the curly blond hair, hazel eyes, and she even considered drawing a bulge around her pants to represent her diaper but decided that'd look stupid. Then she drew her mother. "This is me and my mom," she told Dr. Pearce.
"You've drawn a picture of your family," Dr. Pearce replied.
"Yeah. Well...I don't know. Mom says Ryan, he's her boyfriend, is part of the family now too so I guess I should've drawn him. She says he's my new daddy. She said my real daddy isn't a good father, and she doesn't want me to see him anymore."
"Do you want to see him?"
"I don't know. Not right now. He's married to a really mean lady. She's my stepmother, but she's mean." Ariel went to the next page, drew a stick figure of a lady with blond hair and painted it red. "I'd like to step all over her! Daddy was nice before he met her. Well, I don't really remember him but I've seen pictures of me with him and he looked so nice. Mom said not to believe everything I see. He was always mean to her. He hit her once, and it's wrong to hit people." Ariel left the easel and took out some clay. She began pounding it with her fingers. "I think if someone hits you, you should hit them back."
"Your father was mean to your mother, but nice to you."
"Yes. Ryan's nice to both my mom and me. We went rollerblading last weekend and I fell and scraped my knee, but I didn't cry. He said I was very brave not to cry." Ariel frowned down at her lump of clay and suddenly turned around and looked at Dr. Pearce. "Do you have any kids?"
"Yes, one boy, Thomas. He's two."
"Does he wear diapers?"
"Pull-ups right now. He's being potty-trained."
"I was potty-trained once," Ariel said, sighing. "Sometimes I wish I still was. Like two weeks ago I went to my friend's house for her birthday party, and I had to wear pull-ups. It was embarrassing. And Mom bought me a two-piece bathing suit this year but I either have to wear a t-shirt over it or else have everyone tease me about my diaper, cause we have some really mean kids at our pool."
Dr. Pearce shrugged. "You could always ask your mom to potty-train you again."
Ariel shook her head. "No! Stuff like that's worth it to wear diapers. I just wish I could wear underwear sometimes. I don't like getting changed at school, either. The nurse is real nice but I hate having to leave class. Everyone else knows why I'm leaving and they all stare." Ariel noticed that Dr. Pearce was writing stuff down in a notebook. "What are you writing?"
"About me? Can I read them?"
"I'll read them out loud to you. All I have is 'Ariel painted a picture of her family and played with the clay."
"Oh." Ariel built a block tower in silence for a few minutes, until Dr. Pearce told her it was time to leave.
"Really? I've been in here an hour? Wow, that went fast."
"You can take your paintings and drawing with you, if you'd like." Ariel grabbed them and Dr. Pearce walked with her back to the waiting room. "Goodbye, Ariel."
"Bye, Dr...Michelle." Ariel plopped into the chair beside her mother, who was reading a magazine and pretending not to be nervous.
"Miss Crawford?" Dr. Pearce smiled down at Jessica. "Could you come back here for a few minutes? I'd like to speak to you."
"Sure." Jessica put her magazine aside and stood up. "I'll be back soon, Ariel." She followed Dr. Pearce back into a small room, different from the one Ariel had been in. This one only had a couch and a couple of chairs. They both sat down. Jessica cracked her knuckles nervously. Dr. Pearce smiled at her.
"Relax! This isn't a quiz. I just want to ask you some questions. May I call you Jessica?"
"What?" Jessica was a bit surprised, but pleased, by the doctor's warm attitude and lack of formality. "Sure, go ahead."
"Okay. Call me Michelle."
"That's my daughter's middle name. Her daddy gave it to her." Jessica sighed a bit. "He wanted it to be her first name, but Ariel was my mom's name. She died when I was two and a half. I kind of wanted a bit of her to carry on."
Dr. Pearce nodded sympathetically. "Where's Ariel's dad now?"
"California, supposedly. I don't really care; he's out of my life. I used to hope he'd come back, but now I'm glad he didn't. He didn't really care about me or Ariel. He never did anything for her when she was a baby, but somehow she doesn't remember the guy who left her in her playpen in front of the TV while he had all his buddies over for beer. She just remembers the fun- loving daddy who tossed her up in the air and caught her safe in his arms every time. I was always scared he'd drop her." Jessica laughed, a bit bitterly. "I guess she trusted him more than I did."
"So Ariel misses her dad?"
"Not as much now as she did when she was little. I've told her some stuff about him recently, about how he used to treat both of us, and I don't think she holds him up on a pedestal so much anymore. I'm getting married in October, and she's very fond of her soon-to-be stepfather, though I think she's worried I don't care about her as much anymore. I've tried to show her that's not true. I think that might be one of the reasons she's regressing."
Dr. Pearce nodded. "I agree with you. It's not uncommon for children to try to compete for their parent's time and affection in situations like yours. She knows her life's going to change drastically once you're married. Regression's really not as uncommon as you might think, especially among kids whose toddler years were somewhat unstable. How old was Ariel when she was potty-trained?"
"Almost three. I think I introduced the concept to her when she was about thirty months. I bought her one of those little potties and told her all that potty-training propaganda stuff about how big girls wear pull-ups or underwear and use the potty, and babies wear diapers, and then I suggested that she try using the potty sometime. I knew she could tell when she was about to wet or mess her diaper, but she'd never said anything to me. I'll never forget her response that day. She shook her head, and she said "NO! No potty! No big girl!" and ran off. I figured, okay, give her time to get used to the idea. About three months later, her teacher at daycare reminded me of their policy that all children had to be potty-trained by the age of thirty-six months, unless they were 'developmentally retarded.' I hated that phrase. It sounded like she was calling Ariel stupid. So I bought her some pull-ups and told her I wanted her to let me know when she needed to use the potty. She seemed okay with that, but for the first few days she didn't use the potty a single time. I reminded her she was a big girl and told her about all the stuff big girls got to do versus babies, like big girls got to be in the three-year-old class at school, and they got to sleep in beds. She was still in a crib then. I was planning to get her a bed when she potty-trained. That still didn't seem to make any difference, and I was starting to get desperate. Her pediatrician told me to give her time, wait until she was ready, and I wanted to but the daycare was against me, and to be honest, that was the only place I could afford. So I bribed her." Jessica laughed and shook her head. "I told her she could have a cookie every time she used the potty, and I bought her some underwear with Nala from The Lion King - she used to love that movie - on it. I said if she went three days without having any accidents in her pull- ups, she could wear the underwear. So then she started using it, and after a week or two, she got the underwear. After all that fuss, she was very proud of her 'big kid' title. She went around showing everyone her underwear for the first few days. It was really cute."
"Did she have any accidents after that?"
"Oh, occasionally. Mostly just situations where she couldn't get to a bathroom quick enough and she'd wet herself. She never made a big fuss over it, and neither did I. She also wet her bed a couple of times a month until she was about four, and then it just kind of dwindled away. It didn't seem to really faze her, although she asked me once after an accident if she was still a big girl, and I said yes, even big girls had accidents sometimes."
Dr. Pearce nodded. "You handled it well, I'd say. So when she started wetting again at six, it was the first time in two years she'd wet her bed?" Jessica nodded. "What happened then?"
"Oh, gosh. I remember it so clearly, because I don't think I'd ever seen her that upset before. It was a weekday morning, and I woke up and went to go check on her, like always. She was still sleeping, and the blankets were pulled up over her body so I couldn't tell the bed was wet. I took a shower, and I was just getting out when I heard her screaming like she was in pain or something. It scared me so bad. I came running into her room, wearing underwear and not much else, and everything looked okay; she was sitting up in bed and crying, but otherwise nothing was wrong. I figured she'd had a nightmare, and asked her what was wrong. She said 'I think I wet my bed,' in the most ashamed voice, like she'd committed some awful crime or something. I don't understand where she got the idea that wetting the bed was such a sin. I gave her a hug, told her not to worry about it, and changed the sheets. That night, I reminded her, not in a mean way, to use the bathroom before she went to bed, but I let her have whatever she wanted to drink, except soda. It always seemed kind of mean to me not to let a thirsty kid have anything to drink. She kept wetting her bed over the next week. I figured it was just a phase, brought on by stress. She was having a lot of trouble in school then. I felt guilty, like it was my fault."
"Because I didn't spend as much time with her as I should've. I tried, I really did, but I had to wait on tables until five or five- thirty every day just to pay the bills, and it was usually almost six by the time we got home, and she went to bed at nine. I hardly spent any time with her when she was a baby. I wish I had, but..."
"Then there's your answer. She missed bonding with you as an infant, but apparently she bonded with you as a toddler. Some part of her wants to make up for her first year, and also relive her toddler years. It seemed simpler then to her. She didn't have to go to school and worry about grades, she lived under the belief that her father still loved her, and she didn't have to share her mother with anyone. It seems to me like she's establishing a good relationship with your fiance, but it takes time. It's only natural that she's a little wary of him."
"So what should I do?"
"Humor her baby moods. Make sure she knows you're always there for her, but encourage her to be independent, too. Try to give her as much of a stable environment as possible. Which means absolutely no contact with her father. He's a source of bitterness and confusion for her right now." Jessica nodded. "Most likely, she'll outgrow this, but there are some people who enjoy wearing diapers and being babied as fun and therapy, and there's nothing wrong with that. The only time when I'd be concerned is if her desire to be babied becomes obsessive- compulsive, in other words she can't function as a normal seven-year-old."
Jessica breathed a small sigh of relief. "Okay. Thank you very much. You've really helped me feel better about this."
Dr. Pearce smiled. "You'd be surprised how many kids there are like Ariel. I see more kids who wear diapers out of enjoyment, like her, then I see kids who wear because of a medical problem. And most kids who are incontinent admit that they sometimes enjoy diapers, too."
Jessica stood up. "How do I get out of here?"
"Go down the hall and make a left, and the waiting room's right there. The receptionist already has your insurance info, so you can go. Have a nice day."
"You too." Jessica found the waiting room. Ariel had her face buried in a book. Jessica touched her shoulder. "Hey, you. It's time to go home."
"Really?" Ariel jumped up and put on her jacket. "You sure took a long time in there, Mom. What'd she say?"
They walked out to the car. "The same thing Ryan and Jenny have been telling me the past six months. I just had to hear it from a professional. You're normal," Jessica said as she unlocked the doors. They got in and buckled their seatbelts.
"Really?" Ariel asked happily. "So they're not going to take you away from me?"
Jessica grinned and shook her head. "Nope. You're stuck with me forever."
"I'm not stuck!" Ariel protested. "I wouldn't want to live with anyone else in the whole world."
"Aw." Jessica gave her a hug. "You don't know how happy I am to hear that." She stuck the key in the ignition, and the car was filled with music. "You can change the radio station if you want."
"Really?" Ariel dove for the radio. "Thanks, Mom!"
"Enjoy it while it lasts. I don't get in these generous moods very often."
Ariel leaned back and sighed. She was so tired all of a sudden. It'd been a long day, but a happy one. She leaned against the car window and dozed with her thumb in her mouth, feeling for the moment like she was the luckiest kid in the world.
Chapter Thirty Seven
After the appointment with Dr. Pearce, Jessica felt like a hundred pounds had been lifted from her shoulders. She no longer felt a slight twinge of guilt when she changed Ariel's diaper, reminding her that maybe there was something wrong with Ariel, and she was a bad parent for not getting it checked out. Plus, summer was coming and the warm weather had everyone in good spirits. Jessica felt like nothing could get to her, not even talking to Aunt Elizabeth.
"Yes, I understand. We'll miss you, though...don't worry about it. I hope you feel better soon...bye." Jessica hung up the phone and flopped down on her bed beside Ryan.
"They can't come," she announced, grinning. "Something about it being bad timing. They'd have to leave on Friday morning, and Danielle would have to miss school. Plus, Aunt Elizabeth's leg is still bothering her. The wedding's four months away; I'm sure it'll be better by then, but I'm not complaining."
"You're supposed to be disappointed," Ryan replied.
Jessica shrugged. "Maybe it's better that just our closest family and friends. It's going to be kind of embarrassing, anyway."
"Why do you say that? As long as you don't trip on your way up to the altar, you'll be fine. I thought you liked being the center of attention."
"I do, but when you're, oh, say, five months pregnant, you feel self-conscious enough without everyone staring at you in a bridal gown." Jessica lazily rolled over onto her back and smiled up at Ryan, who was staring at her openmouthed.
"I didn't say that."
"Then why did you..."
Jessica yawned and stretched, enjoying her mouse. "Oh, I don't know. I skipped a period, I've been eating like a horse, and remember that nausea I had off and on last week? It was gone by eleven every morning."
Ryan threw his arms around her. "You're pregnant!" he yelled. He gave her a long kiss, then let her go and stared at her. "I'm going to be a daddy!"
Jessica laughed and pressed a finger against his lips. "Shh! You're going to wake up Ariel. Besides, I'm not sure yet. I have a doctor's appointment for tomorrow morning. I'm taking the day off. It's Ariel's last day of school, and I promised her we'd do something."
"Shit! I have to work all day tomorrow, until midnight. There's a big concert. Call me the second you get back from the doctor. Saturday I'll take you out and celebrate."
"Well...that's really sweet of you, but Saturday's Caitlin's birthday party at the skating rink, and I promised Jenny I'd help out. You're invited too, but I don't know if you want to go to a nine-year-old's birthday party."
"I'll go. You'll be there, so it'll be worth it. Afterwards, I'll take you out to dinner, since you're so hungry all the time, and I suppose your rugrat can come too."
Jessica gave him a hug. "I can't believe I was worried you'd be upset."
"Why would I be upset? We've talked about having kids before, and we agreed we wanted at least one more. If you were having quadruplets, it'd be different."
"I don't know. It's sooner than we planned, and not exactly in the order they told us about in sex education. I mean, I'm thrilled too, but it's so soon."
Ryan stroked her hair. "That's okay. We'll just look for one more room when we're house-shopping. Things are gonna be tight, but we'll manage. It's worth it."
"Well, we don't know for sure yet, so don't get your hopes up."
"Come on, you're showing all the symptoms. It's not uncommon for you to eat a like a horse, especially around that time of the month..." Jessica whacked him with a pillow and he ducked away, laughing "but why else would you skip a period? And the nausea? Come on, you're pregnant. At least I hope you are. You'd better call me the second you get back from the doctor's."
"I will, Ryan! I swear," Jessica laughed, thinking this sure was a change from the last time she thought she was pregnant. What a relief it was, to be able to hope that the test was positive, instead of praying that it was negative.
Jessica stayed true to her word. She didn't even wait until she got home the next morning, instead she called Ryan from a pay phone outside the doctor's office. "January 28, 2001!" she yelled as soon as he picked up the phone.
He let out an ear-splitting shriek that made her drop the phone. She picked it up. "What was that all about? My ear is ringing!"
"We're gonna have a kid! Is that the day it's due?"
"Yep. Well, approximately. I made another appointment for the end of this month. They'll do an ultrasound then."
"When are you going to tell Ariel?"
Jessica sighed. "I guess this afternoon. The sooner she knows, the better. I don't know how she'll react. She's never said anything about wanting a brother or sister. She never even had any imaginary ones." They chatted for a few more minutes before Ryan had to get back to work.
Jessica went home. She'd almost forgotten Ariel's last day of school was only a half day. Ariel was quite surprised when she got home to find her mother sprawled out in front of the TV, watching a movie and eating Jelly Bellies. "I want some!"
Jessica quickly turned the movie off. "Here you go," she offered, holding the bag out to Ariel. "Just a few, it's lunchtime. How was your last day? Let me see your report card."
"I don't need lunch. We had a pizza party at school," Ariel replied, peering into her bookbag. "Um...it's in here somewhere." She emptied it onto the carpet, creating a huge pile of broken crayons, old workbooks, stubby pencils, the leaky gel pen Teri had brought to school one day, and dozens of worksheets and quizzes. "I know I had it earlier."
"Good grief, where'd all this come from?"
"We cleaned out our desks," Ariel explained. "Here it is!" She held up a crumpled envelope. "I haven't looked at it yet. Ms. Felton told us not to look at them until we were with our parents. But remember that time you said it didn't matter what grades I got, it was whether or not I tried my hardest, and you'd love me no matter what?"
"That doesn't sound too promising," Jessica replied, opening the report card. "Ariel! You went down in language arts and math! You had A's in both, and they went down to B's."
"But Mom, B's are good."
"Yes, they are, and I'm very proud of how you did this year. But I think you could've had A's this grading period too, and you know that. Mrs. Felton wrote in the comments section that your grades went down because you hadn't been putting any effort into your classwork, and missed several homework assignments. Is that true?"
Ariel shrugged. "I guess so. But I had better things to do."
Jessica frowned. "That's no excuse. Next year I'm going to limit your TV time on school nights. I guess it'll be easier for me to make you do schoolwork, anyway, since I'll be home more often."
"You will? Why?"
Jessica kicked herself mentally. She hadn't meant to tell Ariel about the baby so soon. "I'm going to be taking some time off from work next year." Suddenly she noticed Ariel squirming, and the odor in the room. "Let me get you changed, and we'll talk about it."
A few minutes later, Ariel was in a fresh diaper and sucking a bottle as she watched her mother stir her Kool-Aid around nervously. "How come you're drinking Kool-Aid? I thought you said it had so much sugar it made you shake." "I've been feeling a little strange lately, sweetie. Actually, that was what I wanted to talk to you about." She decided to stop procrastinating and just blurt it out. "I'm pregnant."
Ariel gasped. She looked down at the table, around the room, and back at her mom. "You ARE?"
"Yes, about seven weeks pregnant."
Ariel seemed to be at a loss for words. Finally she said "Is it a boy or a girl?"
"We don't know yet. We might not know until it's born."
Ariel stared off into space for a few minutes before looking up at Jessica again. "Can we go to the beach?"
Jessica was stunned. "Well, sure, but...is there anything you want to talk to me about, honey? About the baby?"
"No." Ariel's voice was hollow. "I'm happy I'm going to be a big sister."
"Are you sure everything's okay?"
"Everything's fine!" But Ariel remained listless as they drove to the beach, and once they got there, she didn't seem to want to do much except sit on the towel and stare off into space. Finally Jessica convinced her to go for a walk along the shoreline.
"Isn't the water pretty today? Look how clear it is, Ariel."
Ariel glanced at the water briefly and then looked back down at the sand. "I guess so," she said with a sigh.
"It's not too chilly, either. And look at those waves! Want to go body-surfing?" Ariel shook her head. "Are you sure there's nothing bothering you?"
"Nothing's bothering me!"Ariel snapped.
"Okay, I'm sorry, you don't need to bite my head off," Jessica replied. "I'm here if you need to talk."
Ariel was quiet for a few minutes and then said "Are you still gonna let me wear diapers after the baby's born?"
"If you want to."
"Really?" Ariel looked relieved.
"Of course. What made you think I wouldn't?"
"I heard you talking to Christine on the phone once, and she was saying that Trent was having so many accidents she was thinking about putting him back in diapers but didn't want to have two kids in diapers, and you said that you hoped if you ever had another kid, I would be out of diapers by then because you wouldn't want to have to have two kids in diapers."
Jessica frowned, trying to recall the conversation. "I don't remember that. Why were you listening in on my phone call, anyway?"
"I didn't know you were on the phone," Ariel said defensively. Actually, she'd just been wondering what her mom and Christine talked about all the time. "I picked it up to call Monica."
"Oh. Well, don't tell Ryan I said this, but he can have the baby's diapers, and I'll just change you. Newborns' diapers are scary."
"Are you going to make me change it?"
"I don't know. Maybe sometimes, if we're both busy. It won't kill you."
"I had to change Daniel's diaper that time he was acting like a baby, and it was nasty. I'll change wet diapers but no messy ones."
Jessica was amused. "We'll see. C'mon, let's go swimming. I'm hot."
Ariel lagged behind as her mom dived into a wave. She hadn't gotten a chance to ask the question she'd really wanted to ask her mom, which was if she was still going to love her when there was another baby, a real baby, for her to love.
They swam for about a half hour or so before Ariel began to get tired, so they decided to go in. Jessica body-surfed to the shore on a rather rough wave and crashed into the sand. She looked rolled over to look for Ariel. She was nowhere to be found.
"Ariel?" Jessica stood up, her heart pounding, and looked around, expecting for Ariel to already be at the towel, laughing at her mother's clumsiness. She wasn't, nor was she further out in the deep water, or anywhere on the shoreline that Jessica could see.
Of course, there were so many people standing in her way that it was impossible to see very far. Damn tourists, a bunch of crazy people gawking over a strip of sand and a pier, probably a few sickos who would take some random little girl playing in the water. "Ariel!" Oh God, the ocean was so huge, and so deep, it could sweep a child up easily, without a trace, never to be seen again. How could she have turned her back? If only she could go back two minutes and take her hand...wait, there was a motionless figure lying on the sand twenty feet ahead. The green-and-blue two-piece bathing suit was all too familiar, as were the blond curls. Jessica ran.
Ariel's whole body was stinging from sand burn. Her whole body shook as she coughed to get the water out of her chest. She didn't know what'd happened. She'd been walking to the shore when suddenly a wave had knocked her down and she hadn't been able to get her head above water as she was flipped around and dragged against the sand. She sat up stiffly and rubbed the sand out of her eyes. Her mom was at her side.
"Are you okay?" Jessica hit Ariel on the back to help get the water out of her. Ariel nodded, and her mom whacked her just a bit harder. "Ariel Michelle Crawford! Don't you ever do that to me again!"
"Scare me like that! I couldn't find you after I'd gotten out of the water, and I thought you'd drowned."
"I'm sorry," Ariel sniffed. "I couldn't get my head above the water, Mommy. I was scared."
"Are you sure you're okay?" Jessica took Ariel in her arms and looked her over. "Poor baby, you're covered in sand."
"It got in my diaper, too. It itches," Ariel complained, embarrassed.
"Oh, I understand. Let's go home, and I'll give you a bath. We can have some ice cream afterwards."
"Okay!" Ariel cheered up at that thought. They packed up and went home. Jessica ran a bath and helped Ariel out of her bathing suit, plastic pants and diaper. She lifted her into the bathtub and bathed her just like she would a baby. Ariel almost fell asleep from the warm water and her mother's soothing voice, telling her she would always be her baby girl.
Afterwards, Jessica wrapped Ariel in a towel and rocked her for a few minutes. Ariel's eyes closed and she stuck her thumb in her mouth. Jessica thought she'd fallen asleep until she said "Mommy?"
"Are you gonna love the new baby more than me?"
Jessica pulled her closer. "What did I just tell you when you were taking your bath? You're always going to be my baby girl. I'm going to love you and the new baby equally."
"Caitlin told me when Cody was born, her parents were so busy with him that they hardly looked at her."
"Sometimes when babies are born, things are kind of busy at first, and we might need your help things move smoothly. But it doesn't mean we don't love you. Ryan and I are going to try to spend some time with just you, without the baby. Speaking of which, we gotta come up with some names for this kid, so I don't keep calling it 'the baby' and 'it.'" What do you think?"
Ariel nodded. "Definitely. What'd you call me before I was born?"
"We knew you were a girl, so we had six million different names we considered. It was practically a new one every day. I think the ones we seriously thought about were Aleia, Valerie, and Amber."
"Those are pretty."
Jessica nodded. "I wanted Ariel all the way through because that was my mother's name, and your dad really liked Michelle. There's a Beatles song called Michelle and he really likes the Beatles. Ariel Michelle sounded better than Michelle Ariel."
"What was your dad's name?"
"Nothing I'd ever name my son, at least not for a first name. Marshall. You know, like Marshall Mathers."
"Ewww!" Ariel giggled. "It sounds like a vegetable or something. I think you should name it Daniel if it's a boy."
Jessica raised her eyebrows. "Daniel, huh? After your boyfriend?"
Ariel turned red. "He is not my boyfriend!" she protested. "I just like that name."
"Hmm. I like Adam and Andrew, but we've already got one A kid, and that would be too damn cute. Ariel and Andrew visit their cousins Caitlin and Cody. And I'm never going to hear Adam again without thinking of that Blink 182 song. Speaking of Blink 182, what do you think about Travis? I always liked that name."
"Travis is okay." Ariel frowned. "How about Mary for a girl? That name's pretty, and nobody's named Mary anymore."
"Mary's too biblical. All the kids at school would call her Virgin Mary. Maybe we shouldn't continue this discussion until Ryan's here. He'll want some say in the name."
"Yeah, I guess so. When are we gonna see him?"
"Not till Caitlin's birthday party. He's working today and tomorrow. You'll be at Jenny's house tomorrow, but please don't say anything about the baby, either to her or Caitlin. I'd rather tell her myself."
Ariel somehow managed to keep the secret, although Jessica thought later it would've been better if she hadn't. Jenny wasn't exactly a nun, but she was religious, and didn't believe in sex before marriage. Jessica didn't expect her to really be upset about her early pregnancy, but she knew Jenny'd disapprove. Ryan blew it on Saturday, with the worst possible timing.
"Are you sure you can go skating?" he asked her in a concerned tone as she was lacing up her rollerblades at the skating rink. "I don't want you to hurt the baby."
"Baby?!" Jenny was stuffing her things into one of the small lockers near them, and she whirled around. "Jessica! Are you pregnant?"
Caitlin was helping Cody with his skates a few feet over, and turned to peer at them. "Wow, you're having another baby? Poor Ariel!"
"Huh?" Ariel glanced up from her rollerblades. She hadn't been paying attention. "What? Why?"
"Really, Jess, do you know what my mother's going to say?" Jenny groaned. "I thought you were on birth control."
"Do we have to discuss this now?" Jessica asked, embarrassed. "We're surrounded by fourth-graders. Let's just skate."
"Are you sure you can?" Ryan asked again. "Did your doctor say it was okay?"
"Ryan, you're supposed to avoid things like bungee-jumping during pregnancy, not ordinary physical activity."
"But what if you fall?"
"Then I'll land on my wrists or my ass, not my uterus. Pregnant women are supposed to exercise. It'd be a different story if I was eight months."
"I guess so." Ryan let her skate for about twenty minutes before he made her sit down and drink some Gatorade. Jessica was annoyed, but reassured, at his care.
"I'm not Ariel. Stop babying me."
"I'm just trying to take care of you," Ryan said, taking her hand. "You're my baby. I don't want anything to happen to you, or our child."
"I know, but I've been pregnant before. I don't think any baby's ever had worse prenatal care than Ariel, and she came out okay."
"What do you mean by that? What happened?"
Jessica shook her head. "Let's just leave it at that I did some stupid shit I regret now. I'll take better care of myself this time around."
"I know you will. I trust you." Ryan wasn't trying to smother Jessica, but he had a bad feeling that something was going to go wrong. He shook it out of his head and tried not to be so paranoid. Everything was going to be fine. Why shouldn't it?
Chapter Thirty Eight
"Yesterday I changed your diaper, wiped you, and powdered you. How did you get so big, I can't believe it, now you're two. Baby, you're so precious, Daddy's so proud of you. SIT DOWN BITCH, YOU MOVE AGAIN AND I'LL BEAT THE SHIT OUT OF YOU! DON'T MAKE ME WAKE THIS BABY, SHE DON'T NEED TO SEE WHAT I'M ABOUT TO DO! QUIT CRYING BITCH, WHY YOU ALWAYS MAKE ME SHOUT AT YOU?" -
Eminem, The Marshall Mathers LP, "Kim"
Jessica woke up screaming.
How strange. She hadn't had a nightmare in years and this was the second one that week. Josh had been in both of them, and Ariel in this one. Not a good way to start off the day, but mornings hadn't been very pleasant anyway for the past couple of weeks.
Ryan stirred beside her. She normally didn't let him sleep over when Ariel was home, after all, as Jenny had pointed out, they had to set an example. But she hadn't been feeling well the night before, and he'd stayed to take care of her. She settled back into bed and put an arm around him. No point in getting up, after all, it was Saturday, they might as well sleep late and enjoy the weekend. But a few minutes later, Ariel burst into the room.
"Mom, I'm hungry. Can I have pancakes for breakfast?" Ariel bounced up and down on the bed beside her mom.
"Oh, God." Jessica put her hand over her mouth. "Ariel, PLEASE don't mention food. And stop that bouncing."
Ryan opened his eyes. "I'll make you breakfast, Ariel. Your mom isn't feeling well. Come on, I'll get you changed, too."
"Thank you, Ryan," Jessica said, smiling weakly.
"No prob. You go back to sleep, okay? You need your rest." Ryan kissed her gently and left the room, closing the door quietly behind him.
"I think Mom's mad at me," Ariel worried as Ryan changed her.
"No, she's not mad at you at all. She just hasn't been feeling well, and she's been moody...don't tell her I said that. Pregnancy does that to some people. Hopefully she'll feel better soon."
The ultrasound had revealed that Jessica was carrying not one, but two babies. She was having fraternal twins. They were all thrilled at the news, but it didn't make the symptoms any better. The morning sickness was terrible. Jessica was supposed to be gaining weight, not losing it. The doctor assured them that everything was fine, the babies were healthy, and the second trimester was supposed to go much easier.
"She has to pee all the time, too," Ariel commented. "I think she needs diapers."
Ryan laughed. "You tell her that, and see what she says. I don't think she'll go for it. Here, you're all finished. I'll go start on your breakfast."
"Are we still going to Jenny's house for the barbecue?" Ariel asked hopefully. They'd been invited to a barbecue at Jenny's house, and afterwards they were all going to the neighborhood pool.
"I don't think so, kiddo. Look outside."
Ariel stared out at the pouring rain. "Oh," she said miserably.
Ryan ruffled her hair. "Don't look so down. We'll have fun here."
Ariel sighed. She wasn't having a very good summer. Caitlin and Cody were visiting their dad through July, so she didn't spend the days at Jenny's house. Her mom had borrowed a laptop and was working at home a lot, since she wasn't feeling well, so Ariel spent the days with her. But when her mom wasn't working, she was throwing up. Monica was on vacation with her parents, so Ariel didn't have anyone to play with except Eric. But half the time they ended up playing with Nicole, too, because Eric's mother was friends with Nicole's, and she made them. Nicole didn't like to ride bikes, because she usually wore sundresses instead of shorts and it was "unladylike" to ride a bike in a dress. She didn't like to rollerblade, because if she fell, she might scrape her knees, and it would leave ugly scabs and scars. She didn't like to go to the neighborhood pool, because the chlorine was bad for her hair, and she also said "You never know how many babies might have peed in that water," with a vehement glance at Ariel. So usually they ended up in Eric's room playing video games and Pokeman, which Nicole tolerated, although she complained both Ariel and Eric cheated. Ariel could hardly believe it, but she was looking forward to school starting again.
"Here you go," Ryan said, placing a plateful of pancakes in front of Ariel. "I tried to make them into animal shapes but it didn't turn out too well." The pancakes looked like blobs of dough to Ariel, but on a closer look, she thought she could distinguish between the head and four stumps that must be legs.
"Thanks, Ryan," she said, smiling. At least he was trying to cheer her up. She ate her breakfast and went into her room to play with her Barbies. What a way to spend a Saturday.
Ryan peeked into on Jessica. She was sleeping on her stomach with her head turned towards Ryan, looking innocent and peaceful. The word "beautiful" stuck in his mind. He stroked her hair gently. "I'm sorry you feel so bad," he whispered. "It's my fault. I'm happy you're having twins, but I wish you didn't have to feel miserable all summer for it. I'd give anything to make you feel better."
Jessica opened her eyes and looked at Ryan drowsily. "Hey," she mumbled.
"I'm sorry I woke you," he replied. "I'll get out of here and let you get back to sleep. You need your rest."
"No, it's okay. I'll feel better once I get up and get a shower." Jessica pulled herself out of bed, groaning.
"I'll make you some breakfast."
"Please don't. I don't think I could even look at food right now."
"You have to eat something. You're supposed to be gaining weight, not losing it. Just try some dry toast and fruit." She frowned at him. "Honey, please, try to eat."
"Okay, okay. I'll try, but no promises. Just let me get a shower." Jessica stumbled into the bathroom and tried not to think about how awful her stomach felt as she got undressed and turned on the water. She'd only been sixteen when she was pregnant with Ariel, and it hadn't been nearly this bad. The other symptoms were tolerable, but this nausea and vomiting was something else. She tried to tell herself that it would all be worth it once she held those twins in her arms, but she was having a hard time focusing on anything except how long she was in labor with Ariel.
By the time she was done with her shower, she felt somewhat better, and ate all of the breakfast Ryan had made for her. Good. She owed it to herself, and to Ariel, to have a good day. She felt bad for not spending more time with Ariel lately, but what could she do? Morning sickness didn't exactly put her in a mood to take her child to the park.
Ariel glanced outside and realized that the rain had stopped. Well, not stopped, paused would be a better word. The clouds outside still looked threatening, but at least for the moment the air was dry. She threw her dolls down.
"Ryan! Mom! Can I go outside? It stopped raining!" Ariel ran into the living room. Her mom and Ryan were sitting on the floor, playing Monopoly. Ariel recoiled at the sight. How could anyone spend hours playing that stupid game?
"Sure, go ahead. Stay in the neighborhood, and let us know if you go over to anyone's house. Come home if it starts raining again," Jessica replied. "Are you sure you don't want to play Monopoly with us?"
Ariel rolled her eyes. "I hate that game. It's boring."
Jessica smiled. "Okay, honey. Have fun."
Ariel skipped outside. Everything had a humid, damp smell, like rotting leaves. She peered down the sidewalk. They'd been looking at a house down the street, and her parents had made an offer on it. Ariel felt a pang of sadness about leaving the only home she'd ever known, but her mom pointed out she'd be closer to Caitlin, and the old neighborhood was only a short bike ride away. No more running back and forth from her house to Monica's.
A car turned into the neighborhood, followed by a couple of moving vans. That's the kind of van we'll need to get, Ariel thought. New neighbors were always interesting. Maybe they had a kid her age. She followed the van down the street until it pulled in front of one of the apartments, and then she found a place behind a bush where she could watch the new people moving in, but they wouldn't notice her.
Ariel watched as the family got out of the car. Darn, it was just a lady and a girl who looked at least several years older than Ariel. They sat down on the curb and watched the movers. "Mom," the girl said, "when will Dad and Felicity get here?"
"I don't know," the woman replied. "Probably in a few minutes, if they can remember how to get here. I can't believe we lost your father at that traffic light."
"It was because of that jerk who cut us off," the girl replied. Ariel perked up. Felicity? It sounded like the girl's sister. Maybe she was closer to Ariel's age.
Ariel watched the movers unloading. The first thing to come out was a crib and a changing table. Her heart sank. Obviously Felicity was just a baby. She stood up to go. These people weren't worth watching anymore. She was about to walk away when the woman noticed her.
"Hi, there!" she said cheerfully.
"Hi," Ariel replied awkwardly. She was shy around strangers.
"Do you live around here?"
Ariel was tempted to say no, she lived across town. "Yes, I do."
"How old are you? You look about my daughter's age."
"I don't think so," Ariel replied politely. "I'm seven and a half."
"So is Felicity," the woman replied. "She'll be eight in October." Only a month older than Ariel. "Would you like to stick around and meet her? She'll be here shortly."
"Okay," Ariel said. "Thanks." Maybe she'd get a new friend from this after all. But it still didn't explain the crib and changing table.
"No problem. I'm Dawn Perry, and this is my older daughter, Chasity. She's twelve." Ariel privately thought that these people had some of the strangest names she'd ever heard.
"I'm Ariel Crawford."
"Where do you live?"
Ariel pointed down the sidewalk. "Over there."
"Do you have any brothers or sisters?"
"Not yet. My mom's pregnant with twins."
"Wow, aren't you lucky! I always hoped I would have twins, but I just have my two girls here. Of course, I love them to death," Mrs. Perry added, putting her arm around Chasity's shoulders for a quick hug.
"Mom," she complained. "We're in public, you know."
"Sorry, honey," Mrs. Perry replied. "You'll have to forgive her," she said to Ariel. "You know how moody these adolescent girls are." Ariel had no idea how moody adolescent girls were. She didn't even know what an adolescent was. "Chasity just started
"Mom!" Chasity interrupted. "You don't have to tell the whole world, you know!"
"Sorry, honey. Oh, look, here's your father and sister." Another car pulled up and a man and a little girl got out.
"Sorry we're late," the man said.
"Daddy got lost!" the girl said, giggling.
"Of course he did," Mrs. Perry said, picking her up. "I bet Daddy didn't want to stop for directions either, did he? Ariel, this is my husband, Richard, and my other daughter Felicity. Guys, this is Ariel. She lives down the street. Ariel's your age, Felicity."
"Hi," Felicity said, smiling at Ariel. She was missing her two front teeth. Ariel ran her tongue over her newly grown adult teeth and thought Felicity didn't look almost eight. She was smaller than Ariel, who was already on the small side, and had long blond hair, lighter and straighter than Ariel's, pulled up in pigtails. Ariel almost never wore pigtails.
"Well, let's go inside before it starts raining again and make sure the movers aren't putting the beds in the family room and the couch in one of the bedrooms," Mrs. Perry declared. "Ariel, would you like to come inside? I'm afraid it's a mess but if we find the boxes with Felicity's toys, you two can unpack some and play in her room."
"Yes, thank you," Ariel replied, her shyness returning. "I'm supposed to call my mom if I go to anyone's house, though."
"Oh, no problem. You can use my cell phone."
"Thanks." They went inside, climbing over a bunch of boxes in the living room. Ariel called her mom and asked if she could stay at Felicity's.
"Well, I suppose so, if they invited you. Just don't get in her parents' way. I'll come and get you when lunch is ready."
"Okay. Bye, Mom." Ariel hung up and gave Mrs. Perry back her cell phone. "What grade are you in, Felicity?"
"Second," Felicity replied. "But I don't go to public school. My mommy teaches me at home."
Ariel'd never heard of anyone who didn't go to school. "Why?" she asked.
Mrs. Perry heard her. "Because Felicity's too young to be away from home all day long. There's no need for it. Besides, nothing's more important than the basic math and English you learn in elementary school, and she'll get a better education at home, where she's away from distractions and can get more individual attention."
"Actually, honey," Mr. Perry replied. "The schools here are supposed to be much better than the ones in Maryland. Don't you think Felicity is old enough to go to school now?"
"Yeah, Mommy, please, why can't I go to school this year? Everyone else gets to go."
"You're too young, honey," Mrs. Perry replied. Felicity sighed. "Richard, please," she said softly, out of the kids' earshot. "Just let her stay home one more year. I can't stand to lose her yet."
He sighed. "Fine. We'll discuss this later. But you've got to stop babying her so much."
"Felicity, why don't you and Ariel go play in your room?" Mrs. Perry suggested. "But first, do you need..."
"No!" Felicity replied quickly. "Can we please play in here? Please?"
"There's nothing to do in here," Ariel complained. "Besides, I want to see your toys."
"Ariel's right, dear. Your father and I are going to be unpacking anyway, and you'll just be in the way."
"We can help you unpack," Felicity volunteered. Ariel gave her a strange look and wondered why Felicity didn't want her to see her room.
"No, you don't need to help. Just run along and have fun."
"Come on, Felicity," Ariel said, grabbing her new friend's arm. "You don't want to help your parents unpack. That's boring, and they get crabby if you get in their way."
"All right," Felicity agreed reluctantly. She led Ariel up the stairs and down the hall. "Before you see it, will you just...promise me you won't laugh? Or tell anyone what's in there?"
"I promise," Ariel replied, anxious to find out exactly what was in Felicity's room.
"Sure. I won't tell anyone." The two girls linked pinkies, and then Felicity pushed open her door. Ariel peered in. At first glance, Felicity's room just looked like an ordinary bedroom that hadn't been unpacked yet; there were boxes everywhere labeled "Felicity's toys", "Felicity's clothes", "Felicity's stuffed animals." But Ariel also saw something else, against the walls were the crib and the changing table she'd seen outside. She was starting to figure things out, but didn't want to admit it.
"Why is there a crib in your room?" she asked.
Felicity turned red and looked away. "Remember, you swore you wouldn't tell anyone."
"I won't, I already promised you that."
"It's my stuff. I sleep in the crib."
"What's the table for? It looks like a changing table," Ariel said, still playing dumb.
"It is. I..." Felicity's eyes filled with tears. "My mommy makes me wear diapers and sleep in the crib."
"Really?" Ariel replied casually. "Want to know something?"
Felicity sniffed and looked up hopefully, glad her new friend wasn't laughing at her. "What?"
"I wear them too."
"You DO?" Felicity's eyes widened. "How come? Does your mommy make you, too?"
"No, I wanted to wear them."
Felicity gave her a strange look. "Why would you want to wear diapers?"
"Why wouldn't you?" Ariel countered. "Why are you wearing them if you didn't want to wear them? Did you wet your bed? My mom made me wear pull-ups after I started wetting my bed."
"No, my parents never potty-trained me."
"They didn't?" Ariel had never heard of such a thing. "Why not?"
"I don't know. They just didn't. My mom likes me to wear diapers and sleep in a crib like a baby. She and my dad found out right after they had me that she couldn't have any more kids, so she says I'll always be her baby."
Ariel was starting to feel a little jealous. "My mom's having twins. Sometimes she says I'm still her baby and other times, usually when she's kind of annoyed at me, she says I'm seven, not two, and too old to be doing whatever I'm doing."
Felicity smiled. "I thought when you found out I wore diapers you'd laugh at me. I used to play with some of the kids who lived in my old neighborhood but when they found out I wore diapers they called me a baby and threw things at me until I went home. I never had any friends after that." She shrugged. "My mom said I didn't need any friends because I had my family, but sometimes I wanted to play with someone my age. That's why I want to go to school."
Ariel rolled her eyes. "You won't meet anyone to play with there. Most of my friends live in this neighborhood. They know about my diapers, and they don't care either. All the kids in this neighborhood are nice, except for three people you want to stay away from."
"Well, two are these girls named Nicole and Miranda. They're sisters. Nicole's my age, and Miranda's a couple of years older. They've both always been mean to me about my diapers, and they're not any fun to play with either. They don't want to do anything because they're afraid they'll get dirty." Ariel made a face, and Felicity laughed.
"Who's the other person?"
"Monica Johnson. She's real nice until you mention diapers. She used to wear them at my house when she wet her bed but now that she's stopped, she thinks she's too good for them, and she doesn't like it if you talk about them or anything related to diapers. Her mom is really mean, too. Just don't tell her anything about your diapers, and she's real nice about everything else. She used to be real nice about them, too, but..." Ariel shrugged. "I don't play with her much anymore."
"So who can I tell about my diapers?"
"Well, Eric's my best friend, and he's pretty cute too..." Ariel told Felicity about all the kids in the neighborhood, and then they heard the doorbell ring and a few seconds later Mrs. Perry yelled "Ariel! Your dad's here."
Ariel came running down the stairs, with Felicity at her heels. "Hi, Ryan."
"Hey, kiddo. Your mom sent me over to collect you for lunch. Felicity can come too, if it's okay with her parents."
Ariel looked hopefully at Felicity, who looked at her parents. "Please, can I go?"
"Well, I don't know..." Mrs. Perry began.
"Of course she can," her husband interrupted. "Thank you for inviting her. We're just moving in, as you can tell, and I was just going to run the girls up to McDonald's for lunch, but I'm sure Felicity would rather go to your house."
"Yes, thank you, Daddy!" Felicity replied, so excited she was jumping up and down.
Ryan laughed. "I don't think you'll be so excited when you see what we're having."
"It doesn't matter," Felicity said. Actually, it was the first time she'd ever been invited to anyone else's house, but she was embarrassed to say that.
"It matters to me. What are we having?" Ariel asked.
"Sandwiches. I got all the cheese and cold cuts out of the refrigerator, so you can make your own, and I don't have to hear any more complaints."
"Ryan ruined tuna fish sandwiches last week," Ariel explained to Felicity. "He mixed like a whole jar of mayonnaise in with one can of tuna. It was disgusting. Mom says she's going to start claiming morning sickness even when she doesn't have it just so she won't have to eat that."
Mrs. Perry smiled weakly. "That sounds like my husband. Felicity, dear, have fun at Ariel's house. Don't stay too long, and come home if you get tired or you don't feel well, okay?"
"Yes Mommy," Felicity said obediently, opening the door. Her mother pulled her back and gave her a hug and a kiss. "Mommy! I'm only going down the street."
"I know, dear. Just have fun. Bye." Mrs. Perry stood and watched them as they walked down the street.
When they entered Ariel's house, Ryan yelled "Hey Jess, I found another rugrat on the street, and Ariel convinced me to bring it home." Ariel and Felicity giggled.
"Ryan!" Jessica scolded, emerging from her bedroom. "Don't pay any attention to him, he thinks he's funny. Hi, I'm Jessica, Ariel's mom," she added.
"Hi," Felicity said shyly. "I'm Felicity. I just moved down the street."
"So I hear. It's nice to meet you. Girls, all the sandwich stuff is on the counter, so help yourselves. Let me know if you need anything."
"Aren't you going to eat anything, Mom?" Ariel asked worriedly.
"Not right now, honey. Maybe in a little bit. I'm going to my room to lie down for a few minutes."
Ryan followed Jessica to her bedroom. "Are you feeling okay?"
She smiled weakly. "I'm just a little tired."
"No, you look like you're in pain."
"My head hurts a little."
"I'm sorry." Ryan leaned down and kissed her forehead. "Anything I can do?"
"A shot of vodka might help."
"Not funny, Jessica."
"I'm sorry. I'm just trying to make you stop worrying. No, I don't need anything."
"Okay. Let me know if you do." Ryan paused. "What do you think of Ariel's new friend?"
"I only saw her for about thirty seconds but she seems like a nice kid. Why?"
"Her family seems kind of strange. Her mom was really reluctant to let her come over here."
"Well, that's only natural. She just met you, and she doesn't know me at all."
"It wasn't that. I got the impression Felicity doesn't go to other kids houses much, and her mom likes it that way. I guess she's one of those 'my baby is growing up' kind of people."
"Oh, all moms are like that. I am, you've said so yourself."
"Yeah, but this seemed different. Oh well. Her dad was nice. She also has an older sister named Chasity."
"Chasity?" Jessica smirked. "I knew a girl named Chasity in high school and everyone called her Chastity Belt. She told us her mom had a really difficult pregnancy and didn't want to go through it again. She was an only child." Ryan laughed and forgot about Felicity's family for the moment.
Meanwhile, Ariel and Felicity were finishing up their sandwiches when Felicity started squirming around. "You need to be changed, don't you?" Ariel asked. Felicity blushed and nodded. "I'll get my mom."
"No!" Felicity cried. "Your parents don't know, and I don't want them to find out. Besides, my mom told me I should never let anyone change my diaper except her or my daddy. I'd better get home." She stood up. "I'll try to come back but I don't know if my mommy will let me."
"All right," Ariel agreed. "I hope you can come back."
"Me too," Felicity replied. "Anyway, if I can't maybe you can come over tomorrow. See you later."
"Bye." Ariel watched Felicity walk away and shrugged. She thought she was strange, but nice. She was kind of jealous of her crib, and then realized that her parents would be buying cribs soon for the twins. "Maybe I could sneak in them sometimes," Ariel thought. She shrugged, and began clearing the table.
Chapter Thirty Nine
"Well, what do you think, Ariel? Think you could call this place home?"
Ariel nodded and looked around. "I want this room to be mine."
"I don't know, sweetie," Jessica replied, brushing her hair away from her sweaty face. She was only a little over three months pregnant, but already showing a bit, and walking around their new home for what seemed like the millionth time that day, not to mention all the times they'd seen it in the past month, was exhausting her. "Ryan and I want to be close to the twins when they start crying in the middle of the night. We'll be able to hear them better in this bedroom; it's closer to ours. You can have the room down the hall and then you won't be awakened by crying babies every night."
"But this one's bigger!" Ariel complained. She was in a cranky mood. Her mom and Ryan had just spent an hour discussing contracts with the real estate agent, and she'd been bored to tears.
"Well, there's two of them, and one of you, doesn't it make sense they get the bigger room?" Jessica reasoned. "That other one is still a little bit bigger than your bedroom in the apartment."
"Besides," Ryan added, "If the twins end up being a boy and a girl, we'll have to give them separate rooms in a few years, and then that alcove above the garage becomes yours."
Ariel perked up. "Oh, okay. Then I hope it's a boy and a girl. Tell your doctor you want a boy and a girl, Mommy."
Jessica smiled. "He can't make the babies be a boy and a girl, sweetie. Besides, the babies' gender has already been determined."
"Who decided what they were gonna be?"
"Well, technically Ryan did, but he didn't really have much choice over what he decided," Jessica replied. She and Ryan exchanged amused smiles.
"If you decided, Ryan, can't you tell us?" Ariel asked.
"Sorry kiddo, I forgot. I was really busy when I decided, and had my mind on other things."
"Didn't you tell Mommy?"
"Even if I had, she wouldn't remember either. I'm pretty sure she was drunk."
"Ryan! That isn't true." Jessica shook her head and sighed. She saw Ariel's confused look. "Never mind, honey. Ryan doesn't know what the babies are going to be. I'll explain when we get home."
"Hey, look at this backyard!" Ryan said, peering out the window. "It's huge, and fenced-in. We could get a dog."
"Yeah!" Ariel agreed. "Can we get a golden retriever? Please, Mom? I've always wanted a dog!"
"That's the last thing we need," Jessica replied. "Twin babies spitting up and a dog chewing up everything in sight."
"I wouldn't let it do that. I'd take perfect care of it," Ariel promised.
"Sure you would, for three days, maybe, and after that it would be like pulling teeth to get you to do anything besides play with it."
"My brother and I had a dog when we were kids," Ryan recalled. "A lab. His name was Scruffy. I don't think any dog was ever loved more than him."
"Who took care of him?" Jessica asked.
"My mother," Ryan admitted.
"But I'd take care of it! I swear I would!" Ariel argued.
"Not now, honey. There's too much else going on. Maybe next year we can get a dog."
"That's not fair!" Ariel cried. "If I can't have a dog, you shouldn't be able to have your babies!"
Jessica looked upset. "Ariel!" Ryan said firmly. "No means no. You're not going to get anywhere by arguing. Now apologize to your mother, and let's get going."
"I'm sorry," Ariel muttered, although she really wasn't. She sulked during the short car ride home, and when they got there her mom told her go inside so she could talk to Ryan in private. Ariel scowled but did as she was told.
"Boy, she was difficult today," Ryan remarked.
"I know," Jessica said softly. "She's been like this off and on all summer. She's had a lot to adjust to lately...first we became engaged, then I got pregnant, with twins nonetheless, and now a new house. It's a lot to deal with in six months."
"I know," Ryan sighed. "It's been a crazy year...good, but crazy...and it's only August. Well, things should calm down after we get moved in. I guess we should get started on packing as soon as possible, before you get any further along. I'm glad you're not so sick anymore."
"Oh, not half as glad as I am. We can start packing tomorrow, if you want. Caitlin's home from her dad's, and Ariel hasn't had a chance to see her yet, so Jenny said she could come over tomorrow. We'll have her out of the way. We can get some chips and soda, pop in a CD and turn the volume up, and it'll be fun."
Ryan laughed. "You sound like you're trying to convince yourself."
Jessica smiled wryly. "I think I am. At least Ariel's old enough to help pack up her room. I was looking in there last night, and I couldn't believe all the crap in there. She's such a pack rat."
"Are you sure she's not just spoiled?" Ryan teased.
"That too. But she could clear out a lot of stuff in there. I tried to give some of her old toys to Salvation Army, and she wouldn't let me. She said she wants to keep them. I can't imagine why she wants the Fisher Price toys she played with when she was two. I mean, some of that stuff has teeth marks from when she used to chew on it. She can't possibly still play with it."
"Maybe she does. I mean, she still wears diapers, wouldn't it make sense that she plays with toddler toys too?" Ryan laughed when he said it, but he was serious.
"I don't think so. The diaper thing I can understand, but she's not retarded. What fun would she have stacking plastic rings on a post?"
"Yeah, I know. I was just kidding anyway. I guess I should get going. I have to work tonight. What time do you want to come over tomorrow?"
"I'll be over around one, if that's okay. I'll see you then. I love you."
"I love you too. Go to bed early tonight, okay? You look tired."
Jessica shrugged. "Not really, but if you insist. See you tomorrow." She gave Ryan a kiss and then waved as he drove off. She hated watching him leave. She was anxious to get moved into the new house, so they could sleep side by side every night.
Ariel seemed to be in a better mood the next morning. She chattered happily at breakfast about what she and Caitlin were going to do that day. "Jenny said we could go to the beach and maybe get ice cream at Ben and Jerry's afterwards! And we're gonna have pizza for lunch! Too bad you can't come, Mom. Are you sure you gotta pack?"
"Sorry, sweetie. I promised Ryan, besides I don't think I'm really up for a beach trip today."
Ariel put her empty milk bottle down on the table and started to clear off the table, anxious to get going. "Are you feeling okay?"
"I'm fine, honey." Jessica's back hurt, but she didn't want Ariel to worry, besides it would probably go away soon anyway. "Just a little tired. Thank you for clearing the table; I'll take care of the rest. Go get your bathing suit on, and don't forget to put those plastic pants on over your diaper."
Ariel ran to do as she was told, still talking. "Sometimes these plastic pants don't work that well at the beach, Mom. A little bit of water still gets into my diaper."
"Well, they're better than nothing. I guess just get Jenny to change you if your diaper gets too wet." Ariel emerged from her bedroom, wearing her bathing suit. Her plastic pants were sticking out of the bottom of her suit. Jessica tried to hide her smile. "Uh, sweetie, maybe you should put on a t-shirt over that."
"Why?" Ariel asked obliviously.
"Look down. Your plastic pants are sticking out of your bathing suit."
Ariel glanced down and shrugged. "So? I don't know anybody there."
"Put on a t-shirt, Ariel. You don't need to run around flashing your diaper to the whole world. Grab another shirt and a pair of shorts while you're in there, so you can change when you guys get back to Jenny's." Ariel found her clothes but dawdled over putting her shirt on, smoothing it out, reading the tag, staring at the design on the front, until finally Jessica sighed "Oh, for heaven's sake" and grabbed the shirt from Ariel, pulled it over her head and stuffed her arms into it. Not exactly the loving care a baby would get, but Ariel still loved having her mom dress her.
"Okay, honey. Do you have all your stuff?" Ariel nodded. "Let's go, then. We're running late." They drove to Jenny's, and Jessica came in for a minute to say hi to Jenny and give her Ryan's phone number.
"Here, let me give you my cell number in case you need to call," Jenny replied, jotting the number down on a piece of paper and handing it to Jessica. "If I don't answer, just keep trying. You guys are gonna be at Ryan's all day?"
"Yep. We're going to get started on packing."
"All day long? When there's no one else around? You're growing up."
Jessica smiled. "We might go to the movies this evening. We both want to see Bless the Child. Do you mind?"
"No problem. Ariel can hang out here. She can even spend the night if necessary."
"Okay. We'll see. Ariel, come give me a hug." Ariel obediently got up from her spot on the couch in front of the TV and gave her mom a hug. After Jessica left, they loaded up the car with towels, a beach chair, a beach umbrella, and toys, and left for the beach. Caitlin said happily. "I can't wait to get there. I want to try out my new boogie board. Maybe you can try it too, Ariel."
"What about me?" Cody asked eagerly. "Can I try?"
"You're too little. You don't know how to swim yet." Cody's face crumpled up like he was going to cry. Caitlin and Ariel glanced at each other and sighed. Cody was such a baby.
"Mommy! Caitlin's not sharing!"
"Kids, please don't start," Jenny said wearily. "Caitlin, whatever it is, let Cody have some."
"He wants to use my boogie board. Tell him he's too little! He can't even swim."
"He doesn't need to swim to use the boogie board."
"But Mom! He's gonna mess it up and probably won't want to give it back! How come I always have to share my stuff with Cody?"
"Caitlin, if you don't stop this, I'm going to turn this car around and go straight home."
"No you won't," Caitlin replied smugly. She whispered to Ariel "Don't worry. She always says that."
A few minutes passed in silence. Suddenly Cody yelled "Mommy!"
Jenny jumped and the car swerved a little. "What?" she asked sharply.
"McDonald's! We just passed it! They're giving away Pokemon toys! Can we go? I want a happy meal!"
"No way!" Caitlin replied. "Mom said we could have pizza, didn't you Mom?"
"You kids just had breakfast!"
"I'm hungry again!" Cody complained.
"Then you can have some of the fruit I packed until lunch. It's in the blue cooler under Ariel's feet. Can you get it out, please, Ariel?"
Ariel pulled out an apple and handed it to Cody, who shoved it back at her. "I don't want an apple! I want McDonald's!"
"No! I already promised your sister we'd have pizza for lunch, and that's not going to be for another couple of hours." Cody started to sob.
"Girls...find something to keep him occupied, please," Jenny begged.
"Let's play Kill the Tourist," Caitlin suggested.
"How do you play that?" Ariel asked.
"Whenever Mom stops at an intersection, we throw stuff at the tourists walking by. You can tell if they're tourists because they'll be sunburned and wearing a Virginia Beach t-shirt. Whoever hits the most wins."
"Never mind, Caitlin," Jenny said. "You're sadistic. Let's just play the quiet game until we get to the beach. Winner gets out of helping to carry stuff."
"I hate that game!" Caitlin protested. "I always lose."
"You're right, you just did," Ariel smirked.
"That doesn't count!"
"Starting now," Jenny said.
Ariel stared out the window. Caitlin reached over and began tickling her. Ariel covered her mouth to keep from laughing. She started shaking with pent-in laughter and felt herself wetting her diaper. She shoved Caitlin's hands off, reached over, and began tickling Caitlin behind the knees. Caitlin covered her mouth, but she couldn't muffle her giggles.
"Caitlin lost!" Cody exclaimed.
"No fair, Ariel made me laugh!"
"You tried to make me laugh too!"
"Well, Cody said something too, so we both lose."
"I win," Ariel said smugly. "Ha ha, I don't have to carry anything!"
"Hey, did you wet your diaper while you were being tickled?" Ariel nodded and giggled. "Me too! That was why I started laughing!"
"Do you guys need to be changed already?" Jenny asked as she struggled to parallel park next to a meter.
"No, I only wet a little bit," Ariel replied.
"Me too," Caitlin agreed. Jenny turned off the engine, and they all got out of the car and started unloading stuff. "Mom, you must've parked about two miles from the beach. Can't we get any closer?"
"This was the closest meter I could find. If you would like to pay the seven bucks for us to park in a parking lot, be my guest. Look, some nice tourist left forty-five minutes on this meter for us."
"I don't mind walking," Ariel said loyally.
"Suckup. That's because you don't have to carry anything."
"And we are not two miles from the beach, either," Jenny added. "It's a quarter mile, at the most. It'll be good for you."
It was a warm day, but cloudy, so the beach wasn't too crowded. After Jenny generously lathered sunscreen on everyone, they ran out to the water. "It's cold!" Ariel shrieked. "I came here last week with my mom and it was a lot warmer!"
"Wimp!" Caitlin yelled. She had ran fearlessly into a huge wave and was already wet all over, while Ariel stood in water up to her knees, backing away nervously every time a wave came. She splashed some water on Ariel.
"Stop! I like to get used to the water on my own."
Caitlin actually stopped. "Sorry," she said. "I'm sorry. Here, walk in slowly, and you'll get used to it. Or at least you'll go numb and you won't feel it anymore. Here, I'll go in with you. I'll even hold your hand." She reached her hand out to Ariel.
Ariel looked at her reluctantly. "Promise?"
"I promise," Caitlin replied. Ariel took her hand and they began walking in together. Suddenly Ariel felt something solid around her feet, tripping her. She went down into the freezing water, her arms flailing out for balance. She swam out a little bit and stood up, cheeks glowing with embarrassment. Caitlin was laughing.
"That was MEAN!" Ariel yelled, running towards Caitlin and pushing her so she fell over. Ariel began laughing too. Caitlin stood up, still smiling.
"Okay, we're even."
"Hey, isn't your mom coming out?"
Caitlin rolled her eyes. "No. She's scared of the water. She said your mom loaned her the new V.C Andrews novel, and she'd rather read that than do anything else anyway. Grown-ups are so boring."
"Yeah, I know. Where's Cody?"
Caitlin pointed to the shore. Cody was perched there with a plastic bucket and shovel, digging in the sand. "I'll bet you five bucks he doesn't go out past his knees. He's a wimp, too."
"Hey." Ariel had just noticed something. "This water isn't so bad anymore."
"Yeah, I think I'm getting used to it. Want to borrow a bucket from Cody and pour water on my mom?"
"That would be so mean. She'd kill us."
"I know," Caitlin replied gleefully. "Let's do it." Ariel looked skeptical. "Come on, Ariel. Don't you think she looks just a little too dry? We wear diapers. Our motto is supposed to be 'wetter is better', right?"
"I don't think your mom would think that."
"We won't actually pour it on her. Just scare her a little. Come on." Caitlin ran to the shore and grabbed one of Cody's buckets. She filled it with water, and they trekked up the beach to where Jenny was lying facedown on a beach towel, under the umbrella, a small battery-operated fan set up so that the breeze went directly to her face. She was engrossed in a fat novel. Caitlin snuck behind her mother and lifted the bucket up.
"Don't even think about it, young lady," Jenny said without looking up.
"It was Ariel's idea," Caitlin replied, shoving the bucket into Ariel's hands. She muttered under her breath to Ariel "How does she do that?"
"I have eyes in the back of my head."
Ariel laughed. Caitlin stomped her foot. "You weren't supposed to hear that!"
"Mmm." Jenny finished the page she was reading, then put the book down and rolled over to face Caitlin. "Didn't they teach you in family living class? When a girl reaches adolescent age and her body begins preparing to have a child, another sign of oncoming puberty is an additional set of eyes that grow in the back of the head, under the hair. However, the hearing abilities don't actually begin to magnify until the woman becomes impregnated. That's why I'm always yelling at you to turn down your music. It sounds twenty times louder to me than it does to you."
"That's not true," Caitlin replied.
"Of course it is. I'm your mother. Do you think I'd lie to you?" Jenny replied, keeping a straight face.
Caitlin thought for a moment. "Even if you do have eyes in the back of your head, you wouldn't be able to see out of them because your hair would cover them."
Jenny sighed. "Well...I'm not supposed to be telling you two this, because it's top-secret mom stuff, but the eyes don't actually work until you get pregnant. Then your body releases extra amounts of hormones that go to the second set of eyes and make them work and see through the hair."
"I still don't believe you."
"Oh yeah? You think that your mother would steer you wrong? Well, young lady, for that you deserve to be...tickled." Jenny began tickling Caitlin all over.
Caitlin squirmed and giggled hysterically. "No fair! I already got tickled once today! I just wet my diaper again!"
"Really? Well then I guess I'll just have to tickle Ariel too, so I can change both of you at the same time." Jenny let Caitlin go and grabbed Ariel.
"Nooo! Stop!" Ariel was even more ticklish than Caitlin, and she was soaked within seconds. "Okay, I'm wet too! Let me go!"
"I'd better get you girls changed," Jenny said. "Let me find that brother of yours and we can track down a bathroom."
They left the stuff on the beach and went to a bathroom a couple of blocks down. Cody put up a big fuss when Jenny started to take him into the girl's room. "I don't want to go in the girl's bathroom! I'm a boy! Besides, I don't hafta go potty!"
Jenny sighed. "Will you go into the boy's room and at least try for me? And not talk to any strangers and when you get done, wait outside for us and yell into the girl's room and let me know you're all right?" Cody nodded obediently. "Okay, go ahead."
"Isn't it strange how he's the youngest of us three but also the only one potty trained?" Caitlin remarked.
"That reminds me," Jenny said. "You've got a check-up on Monday. Dr. Brown wants to see how your bladder's doing."
Caitlin groaned. "Why do I have to go to a stupid check-up? He's just gonna say the same thing he has before. It's not getting any better."
"Because you never know. Maybe it is." Jenny pulled the changing table down from the wall. "Yuck!"
"Ewwww," Caitlin groaned, staring at it. "That's dirt, right?"
"I hope so!" Jenny pushed the changing table back up. "We're not using that. I know what we'll do. Are you girls hungry yet?"
"Yes," Ariel replied. "Being in the water always makes me hungry."
"Me too," Caitlin agreed.
"Then let's just go ahead and get lunch, and we'll come back to the beach later. I can change your diapers in the restroom at the pizza place. Come on."
They loaded the stuff back into the car. Ariel was forced to help this time. Caitlin complained that she didn't see why they had to lug it all back to the car when they were coming back to the beach. Couldn't they just leave it there? Jenny told her that when everything got stolen, she could replace it with her $3 a week allowance, and Caitlin quieted down.
The restaurant was somewhat crowded, as they were arriving in the peak of lunch hour, but Jenny was able to change Ariel and Caitlin's diapers fairly quickly and find a place to sit down while they waited for their pizza.
"How long do you guys think you want to stay at the beach this afternoon?" Jenny asked.
"I don't know," Ariel replied, sinking back into her chair with a contented sigh. "I could stay there forever."
"Not forever, you'd drown," Caitlin said. "Let's leave when it gets dark and just leave Cody there."
"Caitlin..." Jenny warned. "We'll stay another couple of hours. I don't want you guys to get exhausted. We're putting on more sunblock before we leave here, though. You guys are already starting to get burned." She glanced up at the counter. "It looks like our pizza's ready. Ariel, Caitlin, you guys get the trays, and Cody, why don't you pick up napkins?"
"Okay!" Ariel and Caitlin leaped up, eager to get their pizza. They heard Jenny's cell phone ringing as they walked away, but didn't pay it any attention. The pizza smelled and looked delicious. Ariel breathed it in. The beach and pizza. What a perfect day.
They headed back to the table, but stopped when they saw the look on Jenny's face. "Is she okay?" she asked into the phone. "Omigod...of course. We'll get there as soon as possible."
Jenny hung up the phone and looked at the girls, but couldn't meet Ariel's eye. She couldn't speak for a moment, but when she did, her tone was very carefully controlled. "Ariel, Ryan called an ambulance to take your mom to the hospital. He's on his way now. There's something wrong with the babies. She's losing a lot of blood."
"Goddamn tourists!" Jenny swerved past a red minivan, honking her horn as she did so. "Why do they all have to go ten miles under the speed limit?"
"Mom," Caitlin said calmly. "It's not gonna make any difference how soon we get there. You're not a doctor."
"Have you ever heard of moral support, young lady? Has it ever occurred to you that Jessica needs her family right now almost as much as she needs a doctor? She'll want to see Ariel, at least, and I'd like to think she would be happy to know I care." Jenny blared the horn again, this time at a pickup truck. "Remind me never to go to..." she squinted, trying to read the license plate "...Pennsylvania, because they don't know how to drive."
"Do you think she'll die?" Caitlin was half-awed and half- saddened by this idea. Nobody she'd ever really known had died before. She remembered going to a wake for some distant cousin who was about a hundred years old a couple years earlier, and listening to all the relatives talk was boring, but the food was really good. She might be a celebrity at school, after all, everyone knew that she and Ariel were cousins. But on the other hand, Jessica was pretty nice, and it would suck for Ariel if she died.
"Caitlin Amber Sullivan!" Jenny glanced in the backseat to make sure Ariel had not heard. Ariel was staring out the window, deep in thought, oblivious to the world. Jenny lowered her voice. "Don't talk like that in front of Ariel! I really doubt it. I think it's the babies we have to worry about more. Why don't you say some prayers for them?"
"Well, if they're already dead, what good is praying going to do?"
Jenny glared at her daughter, wondering how this person could possibly be her kid. They must've switched the babies in the hospital or something. "I have taken you to church every Sunday morning for the last nine years. Haven't you picked up anything from it?"
Caitlin shrugged. "I guess. But I don't think praying makes any difference. If God wants the babies to die, then he's not gonna listen to anyone praying, especially not a nine-year-old, Mom. He doesn't care what we think. If I was God I wouldn't listen to anyone."
"I guess that's why you're not God. Don't even talk like that. Here we are." Jenny turned into the hospital parking lot so fast her tires screeched, and found the nearest parking space. "Everyone out," she said, reaching into the backseat and yanking Cody's seatbelt off him. "Come on, Ariel."
Ariel climbed out slowly and looked up at Jenny, her lower lip trembling. "Is Mommy going to be okay?"
Jenny pulled her close. "Of course she will, honey," she said, although she wasn't sure. "I'm sure it looks worse than it is. Remember that day Cody fell on the porch steps and cut his chin and it bled everywhere? Remember how scary it looked, and he didn't even need stitches."
Ariel was comforted somewhat until they got to the emergency room waiting room and saw Ryan, pale and tired. He suddenly looked about ten years older, and Ariel wasn't sure, but it looked like there were tearstains on his face. She'd never seen a grown man cry before. Something was terribly wrong.
"Ryan..." she said, running up to him. He took her in his arms.
"Where's Mommy? Is she okay?"
"They just finished examining her. She'll be fine. But honey...I'm sorry I have to tell you like this, but she lost one of the babies."
Behind her, Ariel heard Jenny gasp. She frowned, confused. "How could she lose it? I thought they were inside her tummy."
Ryan smiled sadly, and Ariel remembered something her mom had said once: A smile through tears is a rainbow. "They were, and one of them still is, but something went wrong and made the other one come out too soon."
"You mean she had one of the babies NOW? Can I see it?"
"Ariel, don't you get it?" Caitlin replied, close to tears. "He means one of the babies is dead." She expected her mom to yell at her, but Jenny just placed a hand on her shoulder.
Ariel stared at Caitlin, eyes wide, and shook her head. "You're lying. You don't know what you're talking about." She looked back at Ryan. "She's lying, right Daddy?"
Ryan shook his head. "I wish she was, sweetie, but a baby that's born six months premature can't survive. She was just too little, and her lungs weren't developed enough."
"You had a little sister."
Ariel's eyes filled with tears. "That's it? She's gone now? I'm never going to see her again?" Ryan nodded. Ariel squirmed away from his secure arms and kicked at the wall. "It's not fair!"
"Oh, baby..." Jenny went over to give Ariel a hug.
Ariel didn't pull away, but she didn't return it either. "I want to see Mommy."
Jenny looked helplessly at Ryan. "Can she?"
"I guess so. I haven't seen her since the ambulance took her away, and she was unconscious by then. She's stable now, and in a room."
"Okay. Why don't you and Ariel go visit her. I'll stay in here with Caitlin and Cody for right now."
"Actually, unless you really want to stick around, you're free to go. The doctor said it would be best if she had as few visitors as possible until at least tomorrow." Jenny looked a little hurt. "You could call her tonight. I'm sure she'd love that."
"Oh. Okay." Jenny lowered her voice. "Is the other baby okay?"
Ryan sighed. "They're going to run some tests on it when she starts feeling better. It was just luck and timing that they were able to save this one. The fetus still suffered a lot of trauma, and there's a possibility of brain damage."
"God, I hope not. This is the last thing Jess needs...and you, too." Jenny paused. "Ariel can stay at my house tonight, if you want her to."
"No, thanks. She's spending the night at my house. I think that's what her mom will want."
"Oh. I was just thinking you might want to stay here late with Jessica or something."
"I would, but they don't let the patients have visitors after nine o'clock unless they're in intensive care and too sick to notice. Thanks for the offer, though."
"Alrighty then. I'll give Jess a call tonight. See you later. Bye, Ariel."
Ariel didn't reply, and buried her head into Ryan's chest. He pulled it away gently and said "Say good-bye to your cousins."
"Bye," Ariel mumbled, not looking at them. She just wanted to see her mother. Jenny gave her a pat on the shoulder and then they left.
Ryan wiped Ariel's eyes off with his shirttail. "Don't let your mom see that long face. You know how sad she must be already."
"But I'm sad too," Ariel protested. "And Mommy said when you're sad, it's okay to cry."
"You're right," Ryan replied. "Go ahead and cry, honey. It'll make you feel better."
Ariel buried her face in his shoulder and sobbed quietly for about five minutes before looking up. Her eyes were bloodshot but dry. "I'm ready to see Mommy now."
"Okay. She's in room 307. Let's go."
They took an elevator up to the third floor, and were stopped by a nurse at the desk. "Excuse me, sir? Who are you going to see?"
"Jessica Crawford," Ryan replied. "She's in room 307."
The nurse studied a file. "I'm sorry, sir, but I'm afraid your daughter can't go with you. Children under twelve aren't allowed to visit in this section. They can carry potentially dangerous bacteria and viruses."
"I don't have germs!" Ariel protested loudly.
"She's had her vaccinations," Ryan said dryly. "Look, she's Jessica's daughter. You have no idea how much they mean to each other. They need each other right now."
"I'm sorry." the nurse repeated mechanically. "It's hospital policy, sir."
Ariel had never noticed before how the muscle in Ryan's lower jaw twitched when he was angry. He looked down at her. "Come on, honey. You're going to see your mom. I don't care what the stupid policy says." He led her down the hall.
"Hey!" the nurse protested. "Sir, she can't go past this point...excuse me...sir?" Finally, she gave up and sighed loudly.
"But I don't want to make Mommy sick," Ariel told Ryan.
"Don't worry about it, honey. This place doesn't smell like Clorox for nothing, but if it'll make you feel better, stand on the other side of the room."
Jessica was sleeping when they entered. Ariel froze in the doorway. Her mom looked very pale, and there were tubes going into her right arm. She was wearing an unflattering hospital gown, although most of her body was covered by a starch-white sheet. Ariel thought that the medicine smell in the room was worse than the Clorox smell in the halls.
Ryan seemed unfazed, however. He marched boldly up to Jessica and kissed her lips gently. She opened her eyes. "Hi," he said softly. "How are you feeling?"
"Okay," Jessica replied groggily.
"Do you hurt anywhere?"
"Not really. I'm sure it'll come later." Jessica noticed Ariel standing in the doorway. "Hey, you, get in here."
Ariel took one small step closer to her mom's bed. "She's afraid of germs," Ryan explained.
"Never mind. Let's just say that you'd better hurry up and get well, because you're probably not going to see her again as long as you're in here. They'll probably arrest me if I bring her back."
Jessica sighed. "I'm sorry I asked. Ariel, forget about germs and get over here. Don't worry. I'm not going to break. Just try not to knock over any of these machines, especially that one with the green line. If you mess it up and that line goes flat, I'm dead, or the doctor will at least think I am."
"Really?" Ariel asked, interested. She walked over to examine the heart monitor. "Cool! What will it do if I pull the cord out of the wall?"
"Don't try it," Ryan said. "Do you know what happened?" he asked Jessica softly. She seemed in awfully good spirits for someone who'd just lost a child, but she was also a great actress.
Her eyes filled with tears. "The doctor told me. I'm sorry, Ryan."
He hugged her as best he could. "It wasn't your fault. I know how careful you were."
"Someone or something has to be at fault, Ryan. Babies don't just come out six months too early for no reason. I don't understand it. We wanted these babies so bad."
"At least one survived." Ryan had to fight his own tears. "I'm not overly religious, but I think things happen for a reason. Maybe we were never supposed to have twins in the first place."
"Then why'd I get pregnant?"
"I don't know. But what doesn't kill you eventually makes you stronger, and you don't realize how close you came to death today. I have a theory. I think for whatever reason, God needed our baby girl worse than we did, and she's under his care now."
Jessica sniffed. "It sounds good in theory, I guess, but where does that leave the rest of us? I don't really care what God wants at this point. I want my baby girl!"
"I thought I was your baby girl," Ariel whined.
"You are. I meant my other baby girl." Jessica smiled a little.
Danielle carefully measured out exactly one tablespoon of mayonnaise, glancing at her mother out of the corner of her eye. Stephanie was staring at her, her mouth quivering irritably. She spread the white stuff over her bread slowly, making sure every inch of bread contained the exact same amount, and then layered on her sliced tomato, lettuce and turkey before smiling and passing the mayonnaise across the table to her mother. Stephanie let out a long breath.
"Why do you have to be so precise about your sandwich? Do you do that just to annoy me?"
"Do what?" Danielle asked innocently.
"You know what I'm talking about. I think you enjoy being such a..."
"Such a what, Mom?"
"Such a bitch?"
Stephanie glanced up sharply and opened her mouth to reprimand her daughter, but was interrupted by the ringing of the phone. "I'll get it," she said.
"No, I'll get it," Danielle shot back. She was expecting a call from Brandon Henderson, the cutest guy in eighth grade, but didn't want her mother to know. They raced each other to the phone, and Danielle slapped her hand on the receiver first. Stephanie glared at her and sat back down.
"Hello?" Danielle said pleasantly.
"Hey, Danielle. How's it going?"
It was just Jenny. "Fine," Danielle replied, dejected. "How are you?"
"Not too good. May I speak with your mom, please?"
"Sure." Danielle handed the phone to Stephanie. "It's Aunt Jenny."
Stephanie took the phone and pasted a smile on her face. "Hi, Jenny. It's so good to hear from you." Her face paled. "You're kidding."
Danielle looked up. "What?" she asked.
Stephanie shook her head and motioned for Danielle to go upstairs. Danielle sighed as she stomped up the stairs. Her mother must think she was still five years old! She considered picking up the phone upstairs and listening in on the conversation, but her mom would hear her.
Stephanie came up about ten minutes later and found Danielle lying on her bed. "This place is a pigsty. How can you live like this?"
"What did Jenny want?"
"Oh, Jessica had a miscarriage. Or a partial one, I suppose. She lost one of the twins."
"She did?!" Danielle sat straight up. "Is she okay?"
"Yes, she'll be out of the hospital in a few days. But she'll probably have to stay off her feet for the rest of her pregnancy and take a leave of absence from her job."
"When are we going to visit them?"
"We're not. We'd just be in the way."
"But you said we could go to Virginia Beach this summer! You promised! And I wouldn't be in the way. Jessica likes me."
"I never promised anything, I said maybe, and that was months ago. You know how tight things have been since your father and I separated. I can't afford to take off work."
"Then just send me. Jenny said I was welcome to come up anytime. She even said she'd buy me a plane ticket if you wouldn't."
"That's ridiculous. If you really want to go to the beach, we can drive up to Savannah this weekend. It's much closer."
"I don't care about the beach, Mom. Haven't you ever heard of moral support?" Danielle was also anxious to talk to Ariel, and find out if she was still in diapers, and maybe also figure out how she convinced her mom to let her wear diapers in the first place. If she could just get Jessica and Jenny on her side, maybe she could end up like Ariel.
"If you think for one second that your cousin Jessica needs us, you're wrong. Certainly her mother didn't need us when she went to that college five hundred miles away. Said William and Mary was the best law school on the East Coast. What's wrong with the schools in Georgia?"
"What does that have to do with Jessica?" Danielle didn't dare say that she couldn't blame Jessica's mother for getting as far away from that stupid tiny town as she could. "She's not responsible for what her mother did."
"That isn't all. After all that big fuss about how she was just going to Virginia for college, her mother met some guy and what did she do? She moved to Virginia Beach to marry him and never went home again. She was already two months pregnant when she got married, although she tried to say Jessica was premature. Yeah, right. Babies born two months premature don't weigh eight pounds."
"So? I still don't understand why you don't like Jessica for that."
"I don't hate Jessica. She's a very intelligent girl who could've had a great future if she hadn't gotten herself pregnant when she was sixteen. And then just as she was starting to straighten herself out, she meets another guy and gets engaged to him when they've only been dating six months, probably as an excuse to sleep with him, and gets knocked up again six months before the wedding. She's a whore. Plus, she's a horrible mother."
"She is not a horrible mother! How can you say that?
"Ariel is going to be eight in November and is in diapers by choice, and Jessica sees nothing wrong with it! How can she just ignore that little girl's problem?"
"There isn't anything wrong with it! Infantilism is normal and totally harmless."
"That's what regressing to a baby stage is called," Danielle explained. "I looked it up on the internet."
Stephanie raised her eyebrows. "Why were you looking up that on the internet?"
Danielle turned red. She had to be more careful when they were talking about this stuff. "I was just curious. I'm thinking about being a psychologist."
Stephanie rolled her eyes. "A girl with your looks doesn't need to worry about going to college."
"Can I go over to Megan's?" Danielle asked, irritated. She had to get out of the house, before she screamed at her mother
"You haven't finished your dinner," Stephanie replied, as if they'd been discussing the weather.
"I'm not hungry anymore."
"I'll save your sandwich for you in case you want it when you get home. Be home by nine."
"Okay." Danielle didn't feel like arguing that every other thirteen-year-old was allowed to stay out until at least ten. "Bye." She stormed over to Megan's.
"Hey!" Megan smiled at her best friend as she answered the door. "What's up?"
Danielle stormed inside. "I cannot continue to live with her!" she seethed. "I know this is a redneck town, but not everyone is that ignorant! How can this woman actually be my mother?" She glanced up and realized Megan was giving her a strange look. "Hello to you, too."
"What'd you guys get into a fight over this time?"
"My cousin had a miscarriage."
"Oh, I'm sorry. How'd you get into a fight over that?"
Danielle plopped into a chair and stared up at the ceiling. "My mom basically said my cousin was a whore, and deserved whatever she got."
"That's really cold. Is that the same cousin who got you an Eminem CD for your birthday?"
"Yeah, that didn't exactly put her on the top of Mom's favorite people list, even though I asked for it. And here's what really ticked me off. I told her I was thinking about being a psychologist, and she said that a girl with my looks didn't need to get a Ph.D. I can just rely forever on a drunk, right? Of course, fifteen years down the line when I'm thirty pounds overweight and have to rely on a bottle to maintain my favorite shade of platinum blond, and he finally gets so sick of my bitching that he leaves me, I'll be in trouble. I might even have to move myself away from TV and get a job." Danielle laughed bitterly. "You know, I used to think my mom bitched because my dad drank so much, and now I realize that he drank so much because she bitched."
Megan laughed. "Your mom is so backwards. So is your grandma. Nobody thinks the way they do anymore."
"I'm so sick of her. I don't think I could take another five years of this." Danielle glanced around and noticed for the first time that the living room had a bunch of empty boxes. "What are all these for?"
"Eddie. He's starting his sophomore year in college next week, and he's getting an apartment, so he's taking some stuff with him. Mom gave him a bunch of towels and some pots, and I think he's bringing the TV in his room, too." Megan explained.
"That's right, I forgot. Where does he go again?"
"William and Mary."
The name sounded familiar. Wasn't that the school Jessica's mom had gone to? Danielle perked up. "That's in Virginia, right?"
Danielle was beginning to get an idea. "How far is Williamsburg from Virginia Beach?"
Megan shrugged. "Hey Eddie!" she yelled.
Eddie poked his head in the living room. "Yeah? Oh hey, Danny girl."
Danielle blushed at the pet name Eddie had for her. They'd always been friends, actually Eddie was almost like her brother as well as Megan's. He was pretty cute, too. "Hi, Eddie."
"How far is Williamsburg from Virginia Beach?" Megan asked.
"About fifty miles north. We drive down there to go to the beach sometimes on weekends. Why?"
"Just wondering," Danielle replied casually. "I have some relatives that live there. When are you leaving?"
"Oh," Danielle said, dejected. School started next Monday. So much for that idea. But there was another option... "Um, you're driving to Williamsburg, right?"
"Yeah, I have to take my car. Why? You want a ride?" Eddie laughed.
"Actually, yeah. I'll give you money for gas if you need it."
"Are you crazy?" Megan gasped. "What are you doing? Running away?"
"I don't know. I can't keep living with that woman. I might slit her throat while she's sleeping."
"Why are you running away?" Eddie asked.
Danielle repeated the whole story to him, leaving out the part about the diapers. He looked surprised. "Wow. Well, if you want a ride, I can drive you. But we're leaving early. Seven a.m. next Sunday. I'll pick you up at your house."
"That's perfect. Mom will still be sleeping. Thank you so much." Danielle looked at Megan. "You have to swear you won't breathe a word of this to anyone. When Mom finds out I'm gone, the first person she's going to call is you. You need to cover for me." Megan loved secrets, but she wasn't very good at keeping them.
"I promise," Megan swore. Now the hardest part would be actually going through with the plan.
It was late by the time Ariel and Ryan got back to Ryan's apartment. They were both exhausted. Ariel took a bath, and Ryan helped her wash her hair. She had worn her wet bathing suit all day without even noticing. It felt good to take a hot bath and get into clean pajamas and a fresh diaper.
"Where am I going to sleep?" she asked.
"I'll fold out the sofa bed for you," he replied. "It's pretty comfortable." Ariel's heart sank. She hated sleeping in unfamiliar places by herself. She would never admit it, but she was a little bit afraid of the dark. Ryan saw the look on her face.
"I don't want to sleep in there by myself," Ariel admitted.
"Do you want to sleep in my bed?" he offered reluctantly. Ariel nodded shyly. "Okay. I have to take a shower, and then I'll be in there."
Ariel dug into her overnight bag and pulled out her stuffed bunny and a beat-up stuffed bear. "Two stuffed animals?" Ryan asked. "All right, as long as they don't gang up and push me out of bed."
Ariel giggled. "The bear is my mom's." Her smile faded. "I brought him here because I thought he might get lonely."
"I didn't know your mom slept with a bear."
"That's because she puts him in my bed whenever you spend the night. I think she's kind of embarrassed about him. Her daddy gave it to her before he died."
Ryan smiled. "She doesn't need to be embarrassed. It's nice of you to bring him tonight. Go ahead and get in bed."
Ariel fell asleep before he was out of the shower. She woke up in the middle of the night, unsure of where she was. She glanced around and saw Ryan sleeping next to her. Everything was okay, she was just at Ryan's house. And her mom was in the hospital. Ariel clutched the bear as tears welled in her eyes. She wished the baby hadn't died. She wished she was at home in her own bedroom, with her mom sleeping a few rooms over.
Her diaper felt soggy and cold, unusually cold. Except the cold feeling seemed to be coming more from her pajamas. Ariel felt them. They were wet. Not soaked, but definitely wet. And there was also a small wet patch on the sheet underneath. Her diaper had leaked!
Ariel began crying softly. Her diaper leaked occasionally at night, but it rarely got on the sheet, and when it did, she was at least in her own bed, not someone else's. She'd have to wake Ryan up. He'd probably be angry at her, it was bad enough that he had to share his bed without her peeing all over it, but there was nothing she could do. If he didn't change her now, she'd just leak worse. Stupid Pampers with their stupid "cloth like" cover. She shook his shoulder. "Ryan?"
"Mmm?" he groaned, without opening his eyes.
"My diaper leaked."
Ryan blinked and opened his eyes. "It did?"
"Yes, I'm sorry." Ariel tried to stop crying.
Ryan pulled himself out of bed, rubbing his eyes. "Don't worry about it, it's not your fault. Did it get on the bed?"
Ariel nodded and showed him the spot on the sheet. "Oh, that's nothing. I'll just put a clean sheet on real quick. It won't take five seconds. Don't cry, honey." He pulled the blankets and the sheet off the bed. "See, it didn't even leak onto the mattress. It's okay. Let me get you changed first. That diaper has to be uncomfortable."
Ariel did feel better as she was being changed. Ryan remade the bed, and she got back in and crawled into his strong arms. She drifted off to sleep, feeling safe and secure.
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