After the biggest of sleeps, Jessie has a bowl of tomato soup.
She is ravenously hungry and Daddy tucks a napkin into the neck of her pyjamas so she doesn’t make a big mess. But the spoon is too big and Jessie is so hungry that she can’t help making a bit of a mess.
“Hard work,” says Daddy at the kitchen table, “Getting better. No wonder you’re hungry.”
Jessie gives her father a tomato-stained smile and looks into her cup. “More milk, Daddy.” She holds out the cup demandingly.
“More soup, honey bee,” Daddy replies, pointing at Jessie’s bowl. “Then we’ll see about the milk.”
“Can you make it all gone?” he asks, “All gone like Peppa? I bet she eats all her soup.”
Jessie pulls away her napkin, she can’t help it, she has to see the front of her pajamas. She woke up wearing them, a passing puzzle, until she saw how they covered her feet, how they were one piece and no more cold feet or tummies, and there’s a zip she can run her finger up and down which feels tickly on her finger.
Best of all, there’s a smiling Peppa Pig on the front.
Jessie knows all about Peppa, she’s watched the show and read the stories and played the matching game, she’s been doing that for years, and finally, finally, after watching all those other little girls dressed so beautifully, Jessie has her very own Peppa pyjamas.
She spoons soup into her mouth and swings her pink legs.
She’s sitting on a cushion so she can reach the table better. Everything’s too big but Daddy says that Jessie’s the perfect size, a perfect pink little piggy like Peppa, and Jessie basks in the glow of her father’s praise.
She watches him drink his coffee.
“Why you not got soup, Daddy?” She points an accusing spoon.
“Careful, kiddo, you’re all drippy.” He waits until Jessie’s spoon is back in neutral territory and then says, “Well, it’s not lunch time and it’s not dinner time, so I’m not really hungry, but you should eat so you can get better.”
“What time’s it?” Jessie asks.
“Four ‘o’ clock.”
Jessie nods. The idea of numbers are fluid in her mind. If she closes her eyes, numbers swim around like fish, they’re hard to catch. She drops her spoon long enough to count her flingers, lips moving as she makes the calculation.
“Here you go,” Dad says, putting the spoon back in Jessie’s hand.
Daddy’s phone buzzes on the table and Jessie’s eyes widen. “Who that?”
Her father smiles at her. “Nosey.” He answer the call and points at the soup bowl. “She’s fine, thanks…sure tomorrow morning, we’d love to see you.” He laughs. “No. Maybe not snakes and ladders, that’s a little county, and she’s just like she was first time around…sounds perfect. See you tomorrow.”
“Who that?” Jessie demands.
Her father makes a face. “Santa Claus.”
Jessie’s eyes widen and her father shakes his head quickly. “Sorry, kidding, kidding, it was Katie, she’s gonna come round tomorrow, play with you.”
Jessie grins. That sounds like fun.
Her father’s phone buzzes again, and this time there’s no laughing, and Daddy puts on his work voice, his boring voice and Jessie turns her attention back the remaining liquid in her bowl.
Jessie stirs the soup. It swirls invitingly, like paint. She would like to put her fingers in it, she’d love to make patterns with the red colour, but she won’t do that. As Daddy has already pointed out with some firmness, big girls use a spoon. Big girls don’t put their fingers in their soup.
“I wanna paint,” Jessie announces.
“Finish your soup,” her father replies.
“My tummy’s all big.” Jessie pats her stomach for emphasis.
Her father leans across the table to inspect. He glances at the mostly-empty bowl and then pokes at Jessie’s stomach. “Yes,” he says with a satisfied nod, “You seem pretty full to me.” And then he takes one of Jessie’s pigtails and peers at it. He gasps theatrically. “I thought you were my little honey bee, but look, the soup, it’s even turning your hair red!”
Jessie bursts out laughing. “Daddy!” He’s so silly, and at the same time he’s so clever – when Jessie woke up from her big nap Daddy said her hair was messy and he arranged it into two neat pigtails, and it felt like something he hadn’t helped her with in such a long time, but Daddy said it was like riding a bike, which made Jessie want to ride her bike right then and there, and she got quite annoyed when Daddy said it wasn’t a bike-riding day until he showed her the new Peppa pyjamas and Jessie reached out with her starfish hands and forgot all about riding bikes.
She doesn’t mind when he wipes her messy face and hands with her napkin and she’s delighted when he picks her up and cuddles her, patting her bottom.
Jessie puts her arms around her father’s neck and wants to extend the joke. “I’m not a tomato, Daddy.”
“I know,” her father replies, jiggling her in his arms as he carries her into the living room. “You’re a honey bee.”
“No-oh!” Jessie cries. Even though she is, and she’s grinning as Daddy sets her down on the couch.
“Hmmm,” Daddy says, crouching in front of her. He takes the time to wiggle her fuzzy feet and sniff around her stomach before stroking his chin and asking, “Are you….a little pink piggy?”
Jessie chortles through her fingers. “Uh-huh!”
Her father nods with approval. And then he makes a grunting noise, grins, and Jessie takes her hands from her mouth and points at him. “Daddy pig!”
“Must be,” says her father. “Hey, want your dressing gown?”
Jessie nods. It’s perfect, Jessie can wear the fuzzy green gown, decorated with stars, and she can stay cosy and warm, and if she gets too warm, she can take off the gown but she’s still got her jammies and so her feet don’t get cold.
Snuggled up in double-layers of softness, Jessie leans against her father’s side and accepts the Kindle and stylus.
“Let Daddy know if you get sleepy.”
Jessie nods, her attention grabbed by the game, her hands almost swallowed by her fuzzy sleeves, but not quite.
She can paint with Peppa, who appears on screen from time to time, grunting encouragement.
She can paint Peppa’s brother, she can paint Peppa’s mummy and daddy, and of course she can paint Peppa.
It’s hard to stay inside the lines but the game is forgiving, and Jessie’s more interested in making a splash of colour than winning awards for neatness.
She works on her paintings for a long time, several minutes at least, while her father types on his laptop.
The sound of the keys, rhythmic, restful, Jessie could almost fall asleep right there, even though she’s already done such a lot of sleeping today, except she’s inspired, stroking the screen with her stylus to coat Peppa’s dress in red.
Until everything’s red.
She giggles. “Peppa got her dress all red!” She waits for her father to look, and when he doesn’t, she nudges him with her head. “Watch, Daddy.”
Because he has to look. Because it’s like soup. Jessie is so clever for thinking of it, for making Peppa just like Jessie.
Jessie makes a grunt of her own. “Daddy, you’re not watching.”
Her father turns his head. “Sorry.” He smiles. “That’s a lot of red.”
And they can play together now, Daddy can put his boring laptop away and they can play a game.
Or maybe watch TV.
Jessie lets the Kindle close and fall in the opening between the couch cushions.
“Yes, Peppa Piggy?”
“Do you know the magic school bus?”
“No, honey.” He reaches over blindly and strokes her stomach. “What’s that?”
Jessie snuggles against her father’s side and yawns. “I like it,” she says softly. My fav’rite is the Halloween one.”
“Sounds scary,” replies her father, the sound of typing underneath.
“I’m not scared,” Jessie says. Not right now, not with Daddy on the couch. What could she possibly be scared of?
Can we watch it? Jessie prepares to ask.
A buzzing sound, and Daddy reaches for his phone.
“Daddy can we-”
Her father puts a finger to his lips. “Quiet, Jessie, let Daddy take this.”
And suddenly she is relegated, and she closes her eyes, Daddy stroking her hair absent-mindedly as he talks on the phone.
“Thanks for checking in! Yes, she’ll be at home the rest of the week.”
There’s such a difference, between all the attention and just a little bit. If Jessie patted her father’s arm, would he notice, would he pay attention? What would it take? A scream? That would be very naughty, and Jessie feels a delicious thrill just for considering it.
No, she won’t scream. She’s not a baby.
But she needs something. A sudden pressure on her bladder. She squirms on the couch and stage-whispers, “Daddy, I need the toilet.”
Her father sighs and says, “Can you hold it just a second?”
Jessie shakes her head. “I need a pee.”
“Wait a second,” says her father. He smiles at her. “And you got your Minnie’s on, it’s okay if you use them.”
Jessie frowns in confusion and she has to press between her legs before she understands her father’s meaning.
Training pants. Not a nappy, but close enough.
“There’s a good girl,” says her father blandly, and then he’s back to patting and stroking her back, as if he wants her to just wet herself and go to sleep like a stupid toddler, and a rush of humiliation reddens Jessie’s cheeks and clears her thoughts.
“Sorry,” her father says. Not to her, to the person on the phone.
“No, don’t bother with the homework, she won’t need it.”
Jessie curls up into a ball. Her father can stroke her back, can send her to sleep in wet underwear, and when she wakes up…?
She shuts her eyes and re-traces the day. Starting with a sore throat and fever, of heat behind her eyes, making it hard to concentrate, making it hard to resist Daddy…Dad taking her home and looking after her.
“Might as well,” her father says into the phone. “She’s already adapting…” He laughs. “Jessie always was good at that. No, I’m fine with it, I don’t think it’s extreme, not here.”
And then medicine. Special medicine, making it possible for her to curl up on the couch with ease, and making her forgetful and suggestible. Turning her into Daddy’s little girl, a fuzzy pink piggy giggling and playing like a three year old.
She won’t fall asleep. Even as her father strokes her back, even as he feels his warm presence beside her, protecting her, infantilising her, she won’t fall asleep.
But she won’t make a sound either.
When her father ends his phone call, she stays silent, breathing steadily, curled up.
“Looks like someone got tired out,” her father says softly, and Jessie can feel his face next to hers but she keeps her eyes shut.
“I’ll wash those dishes and then get you up to bed.”
The gentlest of fingers stroking her hair. “You look far too comfy to move right now.”
Jessie doesn’t move a muscle, she doesn’t open her eyes until she hears the sound of the dishes in the kitchen sink.
She eases to a sitting position. There’s the heat behind her eyes, making her want another try at the lollipop before she understand with a blush that she’s being mentally regressed with one of her own tools.
What about her illness? Is that even real, or something given to her intentionally, to make her vulnerable, to lower her defences?
She looks over to the kitchen bar. Her father is facing away from the sink and Jessie takes her chance to break the rules, to steal from her own father, and the object feels so forbidden that it might just burn a hole in the pocket of her dressing gown.
She stands up and walks out of the living room, not pausing to turn and see if she’s been noticed.
No calling back.
She hurries upstairs and into her bedroom, and she swallows with a wince, her sore throat is back. There’s the lollipop, standing ready, balanced in her Disney cup. All it would take is a lick or two, to soothe the discomfort and dissolve any doubt in her mind.
She gets into bed and recycles a question she’s asked herself before in the middle of the night, eyes staring at the ceiling, hands clasped in front of her chest as if in prayer.
What if the retiring teen agents, the ones who supposedly take their pot of gold and go off to university or travel or just buy a swanky flat in London – what if none of that happens? What if they go out one door and then come back in another, in the shape of regressed tots and infants?
That’s enough to give anyone pause as they carry out their Parkdale duties. If there’s a teen who knows the truth, it’s Katie, but Jessie doesn’t ask the question. She’s careful about what she says to Katie, ever since the promotion.
So she’s assumed the best. She put the conspiracy theory in the same skip she puts the others.
Like You’ll never be able to have children, your insides are all messed up, and There’s a chip inside of you, they can track you to the other side of the world, and Jackie didn’t do anything wrong, they just didn’t want to pay her anymore and that’s why she went from bombshell to baby, and the new one about Miss Bennett and her sister that Jessie doesn’t even bother thinking about.
She decided to work hard and have faith to have faith. And if she had ever needed to feel better about this, all she had to do was think of her father.
Dad would never throw his daughter under the bus.
Until now. Until six months before she could leave, when suddenly she’s ill, suddenly her father has put her back in training pants and, it seems, may take her back even further.
Sounds from downstairs.
Jessie scrambles under the duvet, covering her dressing gown, hiding the theft.
Feet on the stairs.
Jessie reaches for the Finding Dory cup, clutches the lollipop in her fist and assumes a sleepy, silly smile as her father walks in.
“There you are,” says Dad. He sits on the bed and looks at her. “I thought I’d lost you,” he says playfully.
“I got sore Daddy,” says Jessie, “and I wanted my lolly.”
“Good girl,” replies her father. “Feeling better now?”
Jessie blinks at him and puts a finger in her mouth. “Uh-huh,” she mumbles.
“Clever girl,” her father says. He gently takes the lollipop and puts it back in the cup. “Do you need the toilet before you go to sleep, honey?”
Jessie imagines her father helping her to the bathroom, taking off her dressing gown and discovering the theft. It adds to the steel band of pressure that’s already on her bladder.
“No, Daddy,” she whispers, hoping she looks innocent.
Her father nods and smiles. “Well, we’ll get you into fresh Minnie’s when you wake up, or maybe something else.” He bends to kiss her forehead. “Go to sleep, sweet girl.”
Jessie rolls onto her side and lets her eyes flutter closed.
A minute or so later, her father’s weight leaves the bed and she hears the creak of her bedroom door as he closes it over.
She doesn’t have long.
Probably not long enough. But this is the only chance she has.
Jessie sits up quickly and pulls her father’s phone out of the pocket of her dressing gown.
She stares at the blank screen. One tap brings it to life. Her father has a PIN lock, but it doesn’t activate at home. She’s in.
Now, who can she call? Not the police, obviously. She’s not an idiot.
Who can she call? Who can she trust?
Luke – they’ve talked before, they’ve more than talked. He arrived in Parkdale before her, he’s got two years more on his clock. What’s he waiting for, a fat pension, a shiny gold carriage clock? Or is he afraid too, of what happens if he tells management that he’s ready to leave?
Time for truth, time for a cry for help.
Jessie almost cries out in frustration as she realises she doesn’t know Luke’s number.
He won’t be on her dad’s phone. She would look him up on the directory app but her father doesn’t have that either. He’s not an agent, as Jessie has pointed out so many times before.
There are ways to solve this problem. WhatsApp, Google+ hangouts, but Jessie’s mind is hardly at its best. She sighs, phone sitting in her lap, reminding her of how inadequate she felt at the toyshop, surrounded by little girls’ toys.
Don’t those toys sound like fun now? Playing with toys instead of deceiving her father, instead of feeling a burning lump in her throat?
Does she wish it was her birthday? When is her birthday? Jessie starts thinking about months, about seasons and parties and does she want to go to the skating rink or the build-a-bear or what about the place where there are ladies in mermaid costumes behind the glass and they swim around and they must hold their breaths for such a long time unless they’re real…
Jessie blinks. Why is Daddy’s phone in her lap?
She sighs. Look how easy it is to fall into nonsense.
Stay in the now, keep your eyes on the prize.
What’s the prize? Her mind, her awareness. Being part of the team instead of an innocent bystander. To get her money, to make her free choice.
As her mind clears, Jessie understands that Luke isn’t the person to call, anyway. He seems quite happy here, now that he has his baby sister, Molly.
Luke fell in love with a target. The same could be said for Rachel and the little brother she stole for herself. Jessie doesn’t have that. She’s on her own. Well, she has Dad. But whose side is he on?
Who can she trust?
She scrolls quickly down her father’s contacts with fingers that, ironically, seem perfectly sized for such a thing.
Mostly business. And then, Jessie’s eyes widen when she sees the name. Of course there are perfectly acceptable reasons for her father to have this name in his contacts, but there are other, less honest, reasons as well.
Who can she trust?
She calls the number.
Do you want to do something amazing?
Jessie grips the phone. It feels like a bulky toy in her hands. There’s no way she’s old enough for this.
Do you want to live forever?
The phone rings out. Jessie thinks about voicemail, about a message that she may not have time to finish leaving before her father comes upstairs in search of his missing phone and daughter.
“Hi Miss Brown, it’s Jessie.”
“You okay, Jessie? You sound peculiar.”
Jessie blushes as if the nursery school manager can see her present condition, a little girl in fuzzy pajamas and dressing gown, the phone feeling like a toy in her hands.
“I got little,” Jessie says softly. Quiet as she can, perhaps she won’t be heard downstairs.
A gasp of surprise from Miss Brown. The sound of fingers on a keyboard. “You’re not on a job, sweetie, what on earth happened?”
“My dad,” says Jessie. “Dad did it.”
“Oh,” Miss Brown replies. And then, “On purpose?”
Jessie sighs. “Yeah. But I don’t know if it’s something he wants himself, or if someone got to him, or…” Jessie frowns. “Or if this was the plan all along.”
“Hang on, honey” Miss Brown says. There are voices in the background and Miss Brown, her voice softer, says, “Later, I’m talking to Jessie.” And then she brings the phone back to her mouth and says, “Sorry, I’m back.”
The woman gives a heavy sigh. “Jessie, are you worried about your contract?”
Jessie hesitates. Such a big phone, she holds it with both hands, keeping her eyes on the bedroom door. Sitting in bed with her phone, does she look like a little girl talking to her grandmother?
She blinks. “A bit,” she says finally.
Miss Brown doesn’t hesitate, her voice is clear and strong. “Jessie, if you want to leave when the time comes, Parkdale will let you.”
Jessie sniffs. “I just thought, maybe, because it’s a lot of money…”
“What you heard,” Miss Brown replies, “is like a ghost story told around a campfire. Agents trying to scare each other, it’s not true.”
“Okay,” whispers Jessie.
“Do you trust me?”
Jessie nods. “Yes.”
“Good,” says Miss Brown. Another sigh, softer this time. “You know what I hope? I hope you’ll stay with us. Because you’re wonderful at this, you’re such a sweet girl. But when the time comes, it’ll be your decision.”
“Okay,” Jessie says again.
“Do you trust me?”
Jessie nods. “Yes.” She smiles, close to tears.
“I’m more worried about right now than six months time, because I think you’ve been working so hard that you’re making yourself ill.”
Fingers on the keyboard. “You looked pale on Monday, and when I asked, you said you were fine.”
Jessie feels a twinge of guilt at the lie. “I had a bit of a sore throat,” she confesses.
Miss Brown makes a tutting noise. “And now you’re so ill that you can’t think straight, you’re seeing problems that aren’t there.”
Like on the Magic School Bus at Halloween, Jessie thinks fleetingly. Like seeing ghosts.
“You should take the time you need so that when you come back, you’re firing on all cylinders.”
The phrase sounds so old-fashioned to Jessie that she almost bursts out laughing. Is anyone their real age here?
“I’ll take a few days,” Jessie says.
“Good girl,” says Miss Brown. “I need my helper back but only when you’re good as new.”
Jessie screws up her face. “But I don’t want to be little. It’s embarrassing.” She thinks of being back in nursery school, on the other side this time. It makes the weight on her bladder feel heavier, as if she might just have an accident right here and now, if she’s not careful, if she doesn’t pay attention.
“I expect your father is just looking for a way to make you rest,” says Miss Brown. “But you’re an experienced agent, I doubt he can trick you into regressing if you don’t want to. What is he using, do you know?”
Jessie looks accusingly at the multi-colored object in the plastic cup. “A lollipop,” she replies.
“Oh no, Jessie, Parkdale lollipops won’t work on you, you’re an agent. It must be something else.”
Jessie shakes her head. “That’s what he’s doing.”
Miss Brown sounds doubtful. “What colour is it?”
“All kinds,” replies Jessie. She reaches and takes the lollipop from the cup. She peers at it. “It’s sort of swirly.”
“Doesn’t sound like one of ours,” says Miss Brown. “What flavour is it?”
Jessie tries to remember. “I’m not sure,” she says slowly.
“Well if it tastes like the nursery school ones, then it’s probably treated. Does it taste the same?”
Jessie shakes her head. “I never tasted the school one.” She feels a flash of annoyance. “Miss Brown, you told me not to.”
“Good point,” Miss Brown says. “So take a lick and tell me what it tastes like.”
Jessie bites her lip. “I don’t wanna get silly, Miss Brown.”
“It’s okay,” says Miss Brown brightly. “You won’t get silly, I’m right here.”
Jessie peers at the lollipop. Even looking at it makes her feel a little dizzy, the swirling colours threaten to catch her off-balance, and she imagines falling back onto her pillow, losing the phone, legs in the air, like a helpless infant, and that’s how her father will find her.
“It’s the only way to know what your dad’s using, honey,” says Miss Brown. “Go on, one teeny lick. I won’t let you get all silly. I want my best girl back at work!”
I dare you. And in that instant, Jessie understands even better than she did before why so many people do exactly what Miss Brown wants.
Her tongue darts out, taps the lollipop for a moment. It’s not enough, and so she does it again, tap-tap, and then her tongue retreats, her lips close, Jessie rubs her tongue against the roof of her mouth, and straightaway Jessie knows.
She’s okay. It’s not the lollipop. The lollipop’s fine. It’s just sweet, it’s just good medicine. She swallows, and there’s the soothing sensation from earlier, and this time it goes further, drifting down to her stomach and beyond, creating a floating sensation in her arms and legs.
“Well?” Miss Brown asks.
Oh yes. What does it taste like? Jessie jams the sweetie into her mouth and sucks down hard, her cheeks pumping. “Ith…” she mumbles around the lollipop, “Ith store-berries.”
“Yum,” Miss Brown says. “That does sound good. I wish I could have a lick.”
Jessie nods. She would share, but Miss Brown isn’t here, she’s only on the phone.
Jessie smiles as the drifting, foggy sensation rises up her chest and into her mind. Lollipop juice, a mix of sugar, chemicals and Jessie’s own saliva, dribble down her chin and onto the front of her dressing gown.
“Oopth,” Jessie says, and she pulls the lollipop from her mouth and frowns at the stain on her clothing before the idea ceases to be a concern, before she forgets all about it.
“Did you make a mess, Jessie?” Miss Brown asks gently.
Jessie nods silently.
Miss Brown says in a funny, sing-song voice, “Messy Jessie.”
Jessie giggles. She’s a messy girl.
“Do you need Daddy to clean you up?” asks Miss Brown.
Jessie frowns and shakes her head. “Daddy wants…Daddy making me baby,” she whispers, as if this is news. She drops the lollipop onto the duvet and climbs out of bed, remembering to keep the phone close as she walks across the bedroom carpet. She’ll lock the bedroom door – why didn’t she think of that earlier? She can lock Daddy out!
Miss Brown laughs gently. “Is your daddy being naughty?” she asks in a tone of voice she normally reserved for small children.
Jessie laughs too, she can’t help it, and then she looks anxiously at the bedroom door. Is she being too loud? She’d better lock the door. She looks at the handle – how does she make it locked? She blinks in building confusion, a mounting sense of bewilderment that is only added to when she looks down for inspiration and sees her fuzzy pink feet.
Why is she dressed like this? Why didn’t she tell Daddy to dress her like a big girl? Has he turned her into a stupid baby already?
But Jessie’s anxiety melts when Miss Brown asks, “Do you want me to come over there and smack Daddy’s bottom?”
Jessie gapes at the phone in shock and then she squeals with delight. “No-oh!”
“You sure?” asks Miss Brown. “Because that’s what I do with very naughty boys.”
“Daddy’s…my daddy’s not a noh-tee boy,” says Jessie, nice and loudly, forgetting about whispering, her mind solely focused on answering Miss Brown’s question.
“Fair enough,” Miss Brown says. “Well I hope you’re wrapped up warm,” she says conversationally. “Are you all cosy?”
Jessie blinks in confusion – why is Miss Brown talking about clothes? And then Jessie wonders why she’s standing at the door.
Is she leaving? She looks back to the bed. She’s supposed to be in bed, Daddy said so.
And then she considers the phone in her hands. Not her phone. Daddy’s phone. It’s not a toy. Is she being naughty? Will she get her bum smacked? She turns her head to look behind, worrying about a phantom pair of hands read to turn her bottom red.
“Are you?” Miss Brown asks softly. “Are you all cosy?”
Jessie nods without answering. She’s definitely cosy. She strokes the front of her dressing gown and forget all about smackings. It’s so fuzzy, just like her pyjamas. Double blankets, and she giggles.
“What’s so funny?” Miss Brown asks sweetly.
“I got…” Jessie begins, struggling to explain the idea. Her tongue is numb, just like her mind, because of the lollipop, because of the magic swirls. “I feel aw better,” she tells Miss Brown happily. And a thought rushes to the front of her mind.
“Can I be your spe-shul hepper now?”
Miss Brown laughs as well. “That sounds lovely! But what about Daddy? He’ll be jolly lonely without you.”
Jessie puts a finger to her mouth, crowding out the phone, something to suck on as she thinks about her Daddy. Doesn’t she have a dummy? She spins around and looks for it.
No sign, no luck, and in the end she’s dizzy, almost falling but not quite, and she’s left sucking on her fingers and looking down at her distracting pink piggy feet.
“Do you help Daddy?” Miss Brown asks.
“Uh-huh,” mumbles Jessie around her fingers. She helps Daddy a lot, and she smiles at the thought, and then the idea is pushed out by something warm and ticklish swirling around her crotch, soaking her underwear.
Jessie looks down dumbly as the urine breaks the banks of her training pants, trickling down her legs.
She pulls open her robe and presses between her legs experimentally. Yes, squishy and warm.
“I weh my-seff,” she says abruptly, without a shade of embarrassment.
“Silly Jessie,” Miss Brown says affectionately. “That’s okay. Daddy can clean you all up, good as new.”
“Uh-huh.” Jessie reaches up with her damp fingers and starts twirling her red hair.
All her aches and pains have gone, no trace of a headache or sore throat. And the pressure on her bladder is not even a memory. She’s just a little girl in wet pyjamas, and wet is okay, wet and warm.
She’s a bit sleepy now. The idea of climbing back into bed drifts away as too complicated, as too much to go through, and she sits clumsily down onto her wet bottom her legs splayed in front of her.
“Where is Daddy, sweetheart? Where’s Daddy?”
A voice in her head. No, a voice from the phone she’s holding. A lady’s voice.
“Dah-yee!” Jessie parrots, before the ability to say anything remotely intelligible fades away.
Jessie yawns in response. She babbles to herself as her mind simplifies further. She’s not worried as her hair gets shorter, eventually there is nothing left to play with, bye-bye piggy-tails, and the hair-bands fall onto the carpet behind her.
“Go see Daddy, Jessie,” says the voice. “Go find Daddy.”
Jessie’s hands are swallowed by the sleeves of her pyjamas and gown, and she drops the phone into her lap and plays with her hair as she looks blearily at her fuzzy pink feet. Her pyjamas are too big, and she kicks her legs clumsily and is rewarded by a flapping of excess material. Jessie giggles with delight.
She made that happen! She grins proudly, and then she gets her prize, grunting as a new warm mess pushes into her training pants. She wiggles on her bottom, thinking of nothing at all as she spreads the mess around her behind.
Some sound from the phone. A tinny voice, but the words are too far away, indistinct and not worth investigating.
Jessie rubs bundled cuffs of her dressing gown against her cheek before putting it in her curious mouth. Such a dribbly, drooly girl, a string of saliva makes its way down her chin and forms a puddle on the chest of her pyjamas.
And then she looks up in surprise, her lips curling into the sweetest smile as her father stands in the doorway.
Jessie sits on Daddy’s lap and drinks warm milk. She’s such a big girl, she can hold the bottle all by herself.
She’s nice and dry now, Daddy gave her a bath and made her squeaky clean. And then Daddy put her in a thick nappy and dressed her in fresh pyjamas.
So everything’s perfect. Jessie can sit and drink her milk as Daddy talks to her, telling her stories and stroking her silky hair.
“It’s for the best,” says Daddy, “taking this time out. You’re not the only one to get sick, there’s so much going on but you have to take a break.” He kisses her head. “This way, you have to take it easy.” He laughs. “Just sleeping, eating and pooping, right?”
Jessie listens to her father’s words without understanding them. She doesn’t need to understand, she picks up on his tone, on his strong arms cuddling her and keeping her safe. She can feel his chest rise as he breaths.
So much strength. He is a mountain, nothing will get past him.
“There’s no point having a choice later in the year if you’re too burnt out to think straight,” says her father. “This way, you can recover, get better and finish your contract in style.”
She doesn’t have to worry; her job is simple. Be a good girl for Daddy, and she’s doing that right now.
“I can’t say it’s not tempting to keep you this way,” says her father mildly, “you’re just as cute as you were the first time round.”
Tummy full, the teat slips from Jessie’s mouth and she is content to let her father take the bottle. She can feel his chin against her head, his hands around her waist.
“We could do it all again,” Daddy says. “No more agent stress, just Daddy taking care of his little honey bee until she’s all grown up again. And even after that, I’ll always take care of you, no matter how big and clever you get.”
Daddy pops a dummy between the baby’s lips. “But I wouldn’t break our deal,” he says, lying back on the couch and turning his daughter around, lying her back down on his chest. “Not after all your hard work.”
He looks her in the eye and says, “Whatever you decide, that’s what we’re going to do. In six months time, if you’ve had enough, then we’re good as gone, honey bee.” He kisses her milky lips.
“And if Parkdale has a problem with that…” He shakes his head. “It won’t make any difference. We’ll be good as gone, Jessie.”
Jessie looks at her father’s loving expression and gives him a sleepy smile. And then she produces a burp, making Daddy laugh, which makes Jessie laugh as well.
She doesn’t know about months, or even days. But she knows about now, and she knows about warm, and safe, and loved. And she knows absolutely that Daddy will look after her.