FOUR 

 

The snow has stopped falling, but there’s more than enough for a snowman.

Once Luke has put four pairs of boots on four pairs of little feet, he lines up the children against a snow-covered bush, the older children behind the younger ones, and crouches down to take the photo.

Teddy’s not cosy anymore. At first his skin feels stung by the cold, his cheeks reddening, his eyes ready to tear up. But there are advantages to losing the inside warmth. He feels clearer now. He feels more aware.

He looks at the teenager with the phone. Luke. They’re friends. They work together. And there’s something very wrong with what’s happening now.

“Say cheese!” Luke calls out.

“Frozen cheese!” adds Molly.

Teddy grins at both comments, but then the smile sticks, a rictus, when Teddy feels more scared than amused.

Luke’s finger is poised, ready for photographic greatness, when Ryan suddenly toddles towards the camera.

“Nope, stay there, stay…” Luke exhales, picks up the little boy and plants him back in the group.

“Keep hold of him,” Luke says to Molly.

Molly looks dubious. “Sven’s not my reindeer,” she points out.

Luke puts the camera between his legs long enough to rub his hands together. “Just hold him, yeah?”

“Okay,” says Molly, and she grabs the neck of Ryan’s reindeer costume, making the boy stare in surprise, before he struggles and waves clumsily at his assailant.

“Gently, Molly, you scared him,” Luke says to his sister. “Look, just…” He plants her hands on the toddler’s shoulders. “Like that, see?” He gives Ryan a reassuring smile. “It’s just Molly,” he tells the boy. “Just silly Molly.”

He puts a finger to his lips before Molly has a chance to protest, and then he hurries backwards to take the photo.

Teddy considers the situation with growing understanding. He’s dressed like a child because he’s sized like one, treated like one, and for the last few minutes, he’s been thinking and acting like one.

Truth is, when Teddy looks down at Lily, he knows that he’s taller than her, but he’s not that much taller. She’s just a baby, still in nappies, incapable of saying any more than a handful of words correctly. So what does that make Teddy, playing the same dress-up game, smaller than the little girl who wants so desperately to take a dress-up photo for her daddy?

“Eyes up,” Luke calls out. And then, “Look at me, Teddy. Thank you.”

“Frozen cheese,” says Luke. “Right, Queen Elsa?”

Molly nods and grins, evidently placated, while Teddy welcomes the cold wrapping itself around his face and hands, helping his mind lose its sugary, infantilised coating and see the truth.

“Okay,” says Luke, “Keep smiling everybody, three, two-”

Teddy pushes Ryan on ‘two’.

The toddler doesn’t go flying. He simply falls forward, like a toppling milk carton, and it’s his face that breaks his fall.

“What?” Luke rushes to the scene. “What was that?” He picks up Ryan, whose expression suggests a toddler trying to decide whether to laugh or cry.

Luke wipes at the snow on the boy’s face. “You just fell over, kid!” he says amiably, laughing. “Did your batteries run out?”

Teddy looks at Luke, and then glances at the garden path, at the pavement at the end of it. He doesn’t have time to run, he wouldn’t get half-way. And where does he think he’s going, anyway? He’s just a kid, except he isn’t. He has to do what Luke says, except he doesn’t.

“The babies are ruining it!”

It’s Molly who’s set to cry, stamping at the snow, her cheesy smile turned upside-down.

Luke shrugs. “We’ll get it. Just taking a little longer than planned. He looks over the children’s faces and then takes Lily’s hands in his own. “Ah, you’re freezing. I’m going to get mittens for you guys”

“No-oh!” complains Molly. “Queen Elsa doesn’t wear mittens,” Molly says, ready to produce some hot tears. “It’s gonna look stu-stupid!”

Luke gives her a firm look and says, “What’s going to look stupid is if you all turn blue with cold.”

Molly’s sniffs and looks ready to argue the point. “I won’t turn-”

Luke holds up a finger. “Wait ten seconds, gloves are in the kitchen, I’ll be right back.”

Ten seconds. Teddy watches Luke go. He knows that when an older person says ‘ten seconds’, it always takes longer. He knows because he’s an older person himself.

He knows because he was the same age as his friend Luke until he got to the house. Until he played with Molly.

No. Until he drank the coffee.

Ten seconds. And what’s Teddy in for if he stays to argue it out with Luke? What’s happened must have been sanctioned – No, ordered – from up high, it’s the only way the regression drug got past Teddy’s resistance.

If the association think he’s done something wrong, why not confront him? Because they know something. Because Ryan spilled the secret after all. Teddy feels a flash of resentment towards the fifteen month old on his knees in the snow, scooping with his bare hands. Teddy should have done more than just push the baby over.

But no, it’s not Ryan’s fault.

Ten seconds? That’s been and gone. What is he waiting for?

He looks at Molly who’s staring at the door. Lily’s taking a break, sitting or falling back into the snow and laughing at her soft landing. Ryan doesn’t react, as if he didn’t just do something similar a few seconds before.

Teddy runs.

No shouting behind him as he reaches the pavement.

Good thing he’s wearing boots. The snow is fresh and crisp, not dangerous slush, crunching satisfyingly beneath his feet. But really, in his three year old body, wearing a cumbersome costume that is mercifully bottom-heavy, how confident can he really be? The snow is deep enough, a couple of inches, to threaten a slip and slide if he doesn’t pay attention.

He walks as quickly as he can without breaking into panic-filled run.

At least the streets are empty. Everyone’s at home, staying warm, staying cosy. The word makes Teddy’s mind and body tingle, and he feels his face redden anew at the thought of being regressed to quickly, so effortlessly by a peer.

He remembers his training through a thick syrup of mocha-flavoured stupor. The cold may have woken him up to the severity of the situation, but it hasn’t fully sharpened his wits.

What does Parkdale have planned? A slap on the wrist or something more serious? Teddy’s stomach flips at the thought of Ngatea. But if that were the case, they wouldn’t have bothered physically regressing him.

All he needs, ironically, is safe passage back home and access to one of the devices that has gotten him into so much trouble in the first place. He’ll use it to clear his thoughts, and to bring his teenage body back.

That’s all Teddy needs. Easy-peasy.

But as he turns the corner, he understands how ill-equipped he is to make the journey. It had taken him fifteen minutes the first time, as a fifteen year old. And now, with the winter sun setting, the temperature falling further, a three year old in a cumbersome costume, and Luke hot on his trail at any time. The odds of success lengthen in Teddy’s mind.

He needs to cross the street, and he groans with the sensation that he shouldn’t do it by himself, looking around for a grown-up’s hand.

Get a grip.

He shakes off the childish feeling and looks left and right. He knows how to cross the dam road, even if he’s tiny, even if he’s looks idiotic.

At least his parents will be home. Because, let’s face it, without them, how will he even get into the house? No keys, he’s not even tall enough to reach the door handle.

And when he says there was a mistake, will they believe him? The thought that his parents have already been informed otherwise threatens to turn Teddy’s bladder loose.

If Parkdale say he is to be punished, whose side will his mum and dad be on?

God knows.

A car turns the corner and approaches from the right. Teddy jumps back from the edge of the pavement, scurrying behind a lamp post before recognising the move as moronic.

He’s just found the perfect light to show his three year old self off. Without the costume, he might actually be able to hide, but given his snowball-like figure, he doesn’t stand a chance.

Sure enough, the car slows, and Teddy groans as the vehicle stops parallel to the lamp post.

A blue SUV, indicators flashing.

The driver’s window lowers with a soft whine and a man’s curious face looks straight at Teddy.

There’s nowhere to hide.

“Huh,” the man says. “A runaway snowman.”

 

 

FIVE 

 

Maybe this is better. Maybe it’s a chance.

“Same thing happened to my brother,” Morgan says, a young man who didn’t fall to pieces when Teddy told him his story. He’s not an agent, Teddy knows all of them, and he doesn’t take him straight back to Luke’s.

“This town is the worst,” Teddy says, pushing at the belt on his car-seat.

It was a simple decision, to get into Morgan’s car. Or rather, to let Morgan lift him into the car. He was never going to make it home on his own. And when Teddy thought it over, easier to do out of the snow, his numb fingers coming back to life, he had to conclude that getting home to his parents wouldn’t solve his problems.  

They took Parkdale’s side in the beginning, didn’t they? That’s why they’re all here, that’s why Teddy keeps celebrating the same birthday.

“You’re better off out of it,” says Morgan as they pass the train station and head for the city limits.

Teddy nods at the back of the man’s head. Is this the luckiest break possible or Parkdale’s back-up plan?

Either way, what choice did Teddy have?

The new plan makes perfect sense, and it was Teddy who thought of it, even as they car’s heater threatened to send his mind back to his earlier stupor.

“Cool it,” he’d asked Morgan, and the man had complied instantly. “You must be pretty toasty in that costume,” he’d said, laughing, and Teddy watched with relief as the man turned the heating down.

“So you’ll just get your old body back when you leave town?” the man asks, and the question would be nonsensical if they weren’t currently in Parkdale.

Teddy nods. “More or less. It’ll take a few hours.”

“Well,” Morgan says, speeding up to over-take another driver, “Anything I can do to help mess with this place.” He snorts a laugh, and then presses on the brakes, Teddy feeling his seat-belt press against his chest through the padded costume.

He looks up and sees red traffic lights through the windscreen.

“What did you do wrong anyway?” asks Morgan when the light turns to green and they get moving again.

“Misunderstanding,” says Teddy.

“Huh,” the man says. “Must have been a big one. Sure you don’t wanna stick around and explain it to them?”

Teddy laughs, and he cringes at the high-pitched chortle he produces. “No thanks.”

The thought of it, of ending back in Luke’s hands, at Luke’s mercy. So much for sticking together. So much for having each other’s back.

One little mistake, one tiny slip-up, and everyone turns on him? Seriously? He went to London to fix it, he got Lily and Emma back! He would’ve had all three, but clearly Hannah was hell-bent on getting out of Parkdale, and Teddy isn’t to blame for that.

Teddy allows himself a deep breath as they enter the motorway. Away from Parkdale. Just find a hotel, hole up somewhere, let the changes reverse, collect his thoughts. He can worry about the rest in the morning, he can work out his future when he’s back to himself again.

“How long you been working for them?” Morgan asks.

“Too long,” says Teddy.

“The stuff they do,” says the man. “Mostly good or mostly bad?”

“Depends who you ask.”

“I’m asking you.”

Teddy shrugs, feeling put upon. It doesn’t help that the car is so warm. Did the man turn up the heating again, or is it just the stupid, chunky costume that makes Teddy feel so hot and claustrophobic.

He’s about to ask Morgan to fix the air-conditioning a second time when the car speeds up.

“Well?” the man asks,

“It’s an expensive…I mean, it’s more than just the people in the town. They’ve got plans…” Teddy looks out the window as the motorway lights flash by. “It’s not a charity…hey, are you going the-”

The man laughs. “Just want to get you to a hotel before you start getting bigger.” And then Morgan’s laughter is cut short. “Ah, crap.”

“What?” Teddy cranes his head, trying to see what’s going on as the car suddenly slows.

Morgan groans. “Reckon I’m getting my first every speeding ticket.”

Teddy hears the ticking as Morgan flicks the indicator switch.

“Don’t stop!” Teddy cries.

“Don’t be daft,” says Morgan. “I don’t have a choice.”

“It probably isn’t a real police car,” says Teddy hurriedly, cursing how unconvincing anything he says sounds in his little boy’s voice. “It’s probably them, just pretending.”

“Okay,” says Morgan, and the car comes to the stop. “Then I won’t mind getting a pretend fine.” He reaches into the glove box and Teddy waits to see him pull out his insurance and registration papers.

Instead, Morgan produces a blue plastic dummy and thrusts it behind him at Teddy. “Here, suck on this.”

Teddy stares at it in surprise. “What? Why?”

Morgan glares at him via the rearview mirror. “Unless you want to do the talking,” he says fiercely, “stick it in your gob.”

Blinking at the man’s change in tone, Teddy takes the dummy and puts it in his mouth.

“Okay, just pretend you’re a baby and we’ll be fine,” Morgan says urgently. “Here he comes.”

The anxiety is contagious and Teddy sucks on the dummy as he squints in the rearview mirror, trying to catch sight of the approaching policeman.

That’s when he notices two things. First, a complete absence of flashing blue lights behind them. Second, the strong taste of spiced pumpkin mocha on his tongue.

“Whooth dummy ith thith?” Teddy asks, his voice barely intelligible.

“Huh,” Morgan says, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel. And then he looks around and smiles blandly at Teddy. “No policeman after all.” He waggles his eyebrows. “I must have imagined it.”

The hotness is immediate, a sweat creating a sheen on Teddy’s face, and he can feel it coat his body, creating a feeling that is hot and chillingly cool at the same time.

He spits out the chemically-treated dummy, knowing the damage is done, horrified but past being shocked as his body starts to regress.

“I know,” says the man neutrally, “How weird is that when  you’re three years old already, feeling so small and powerless, and then you start getting even smaller, right?” Morgan takes off his seat-belt and turns around to face Teddy properly.

“You must be wondering when it’ll stop, Teddy. After all, what if I gave you too much.” The man flashes a violent smile. “What if you go past zero, what if I’m left with a damn fetus on the back seat of my new car?”

Teddy looks down at himself and claws at the seat-belt, as if he could escape, as if  he has any chances left.

“Doan….plee…hep!” Teddy cries, his diction falling to pieces as he regresses, and he’s a toddler now, probably the same age as Lily and Ryan, and he can’t tell, doesn’t care, whether the hot trickle of wetness and squishy mess produced is out of his regressed age or just pure fear.

Because there are worse things than being regressed. There is death, there is dying before getting a chance to truly live and Teddy cries out in anguish, the knowledge that he sounds just like a frustrated baby making his horror all the more keenly felt.

“Oh stop,” Morgan says sharply. He shakes his head at Teddy. “I’m not killing you, for God’s sake. You just shit and pissed your pants, that’s all.”

He wrinkles his nose and grins. “What a stink,” he says, his voice abruptly softening. And then as Teddy continues to cry, Moran coos, “Uh oh, someone’s cranky!”

He shakes his head at Teddy. “Don’t cry, little baby, no one’s gonna hurt you. You just did a big poopie in your pants, didn’t you! You better get used to that. Who’s a little stinker! Looks like you’ve stopped shrinking too.” 

Teddy gasps for breath, waving his arms and legs. Powerless, at the man’s mercy, but yes, he has stopped regressing.

“That’s right, smelly bum. You’re just a helpless little baby now. How does it feel? Go on, tell me what you think.”

“Buhhh…gaa,” Teddy begins, and then he shakes his head wildly. “Buubuh!” 

“Baby trying to talk? Clever boy.” Morgan jeers, reaching to tickle Teddy’s armpits; “Not that anyone will understand a word that comes out of that little mouth. Looks like you won’t be able to tell anymore fibs, will you?”

Morgan’s invasive fingers prodding against his skin cause Teddy to giggle, despite the terror consuming him, and his situation becomes all the more horrifying as the tickling causes him to wet himself again. He hates the feel of the mess squishing around his legs. But he can’t escape from Morgan’s fingers. The man’s eyes are flashing. He knows Teddy is wetting himself with every touch. He’s enjoying  this.

Finally he stops and Teddy grunts in frustration. He keeps his mouth shut. 

“You don’t know all the agents,” Morgan says. “You don’t know me.” He looks down at Teddy, still sweating in his snowman costume, slipping around in his own mess.

“But you know Simon.”

Teddy blinks up at Morgan.

“My little brother was just a job to you,” Morgan says, adjusting the seat-belt, tightening it around Teddy’s youthened frame. “Sure, maybe he wasn’t cut out for life as an agent, maybe he screwed up. But you could’ve tried to help him instead of just turning him into an idiot.”

Teddy can remember the job – another time when Ryan ended up back in the nursery –  and he feels fleetingly sentimental for when he and Luke were on the same page. It was messy, and he cringes not for how they treated Morgan’s brother but how he had tried to get the location of the regression device from Ryan as he’d mentally regressed.

Sometimes, despite senior management’s polished words and presentations, this was such a clumsy business. But they’d done the best they could with Simon, in all honesty. Maybe Morgan would learn something new, hearing Teddy’s side of the story; but that isn’t going to happen today.

Teddy squirms against the seat-belt, wishing he couldn’t smell his own mess, almost wishing he had fully mentally regressed. The look in the target’s eyes when their adult awareness finally fades; they normally have a smile on their face.

Morgan peers down at him. “You and your friends, you think you’re invincible, you think you run this town.”

The man shakes his head. “You don’t the half of what happens here.”

He looks Teddy up and down, hesitates, as if he’s waiting for Teddy to protest, to string a coherent sentence together.

All Teddy’s finished attempting to talk. Babbling will get him nowhere but fresh humiliation. It’s enough, more than enough, to be sitting in an over-sized snowman costume, to be sitting in his own filth, and know that he lacks the motor skills or strength to escape a baby’s car-seat. He lacks the vocabulary to say a word about it.

So Teddy stays silent, concentrating on keeping his lips closed, already sick of the drool rolling down his chin, and stares up at Morgan, furious and defeated.

Morgan nods. “You don’t know the half of it,” he says again. He smirks and adds, “You don’t even know what happens to you next.”

 

 

 

SIX

 

Teddy knows what happens next. Of course he does. It’s the same for any Parkdale victim who fails to escape his fate.

He sits on Luke’s living room rug with the other toddlers, sharing the play-cube. He has more sympathy now for Ryan’s clumsy attempts with the ducks game. It’s not easy with a baby’s manual dexterity, or lack of.

Yeah. Teddy knows what happens next. And it’s bitter-sweet. He’ll have to start again, but at least the embarrassment will stop.

He didn’t think there was anything worse than being reduced to infancy, but there is. Being reduced to infancy and knowing it.

Knowing it as Morgan walked up the garden path, passing the snowman, the really real snowman with a carrot for a nose, showing Teddy that Luke hadn’t spent any time looking for Teddy.

Knowing it as Morgan rang the door-bell and handed over the precious cargo to a Luke who looked positively relaxed.

“Thanks for helping out.”

“All part of the service.”

Knowing it as Luke undressed and bathed him. Looking up and feeling crystal clear in his mind as Luke washed him like a baby, before taping him into a nappy and dressing him in the most juvenile of onesies, bright red with a Christmas pudding on the front.

“Squeaky clean, aren’t you! No more icky poop, you’re fresh as a daisy, yes you are!”

Silly lil pud, read the letters on his front.

Teddy knows it, because he can still read. So he sits with the other babies and anticipates the popping sensation, the dwindling adult awareness, to when his expression clears, his eyes glaze over and he’s left just as stupid and helpless as the other two.

Yes, at least then he might enjoy Molly’s attention.

“You have to share,” Queen Elsa of Arendelle tells him bossily, grabbing back the xylophone hammer, which he’d only been half-heartedly using in any case.

Molly truly is the queen now, swooping in with her cape to take charge of all three toddlers, much to Luke’s evident amusement.

“You’re the best helper I could have, Molly! You’re definitely on Santa’s nice list.”

“I know what I’m getting, I had a dream about it.”

“Well, you just wait and see, you won’t know for sure until Christmas morning. And trust me, Daddy won’t want you getting up at 4 o’ clock opening presents.”

Teddy looks at Luke as he cuddles his little sister. The pair of them, such a happy, self-satisfied pair. You wouldn’t know Luke had just regressed one of his best friends, you wouldn’t have a clue.

Teddy waits for the pop, Teddy waits for mercy. After a while, he even encourages. Hence playing with the xylophone. Hence sucking on the dummy Morgan had left with him.

But it doesn’t matter how much he bangs and drools.

The pop doesn’t come.

Luke changes the toddlers’ nappies there in the living room with the help of a changing mat and a special helper who walks, doesn’t run, upstairs for the baby wipes and pack of nappies.

Teddy looks up at Luke as the teen checks his nappy. “A little damp, you’ll do.”

Molly bounces excitedly at the window, head poking past the curtain.

“Daddy’s home!”

Luke looks over. “You sure?”

. “Uh-huh, I can…oh.” Molly stops bouncing. “That’s not Daddy’s car.” She turns back with a peevish expression. “It’s yellow.”

Luke nods. “We must have visitors.” He drops the dirty nappies into a plastic bag and knots the top. “Take this to the kitchen, please.”

Molly grabs the bag and this time she runs and she’s still in the kitchen when the doorbell rings.

“Answer the door,” Luke calls to her, as if he’s not worried about who it might be. As if he has a pretty good idea.

You don’t even know what happens to you next.

He sits Teddy on his knee so they’re facing each other. “I know you’re still in there, mate.”

Teddy frowns and waves his hands clumsily.

“You should have just come clean when you messed up the first time,” says Luke. “You kept it all to yourself and look where that got you.”

He gives Teddy a regretful look and sighs. “Don’t blame Ryan; the higher-ups told him they were going to send Lily to Ngatea. He’s hardly going to protect you over his own sister.”

Luke looks into Teddy’s eyes, and what is he expecting? Understanding? Agreement? If so, he’ll be waiting a long time.

Luke shakes his head. “Damn it, Teddy, I know you’re feeling hard done-by but if you hadn’t given Ryan that gadget, Hannah would still be here!” 

Teddy screws up his face and lets out an indignant babble. What about his side?

He glances over at Ryan on the floor, struggling to keep his head up and clutching onto Lily’s sleeve. It’s a challenge for Teddy to balance the anger at his friend snitching along with any rational sympathy, as well as the added desire to play with the funny cube together as if nothing had happened.

Luke taps the baby’s nose. “It’s hard to stay angry with you, now that you’re baby. But hey, if you’re waiting for those big boy thoughts to finish leaking out of your ears, you might as well stop.”

What? Teddy opens his mouth and the dummy falls out, landing in Luke’s lap.

“You’re going to stay aware,” Luke says. “Mostly, anyway. So you’ll sound and look like a baby, and you’ll have the same toilet habits, but…” Luke taps the side of his head. “Well, you won’t have room for all your thoughts, but you won’t be mush in there.”

They both listen as a very excited Molly opens the door and launches an inquisition of her visitors.

Luke smiles at the sound of his little sister’s questions and shakes his head. “She’s why I’m still here,” he says to Teddy. His smile fades when he adds, “She’s why I do as I’m told.”

He sighs. “It’s not permanent. You’re going to have to just grin and bear it, okay? Think of it as gardening leave, and a chance to think things over.” Footsteps in the hallway prompt Luke to stand up and hold Teddy against his chest. “And whenever you think you’ve had more than you can take, consider the alternative. Think of Ngatea.”

Teddy does just that, and yes, there are worse consequences than what Parkdale have decided for him, but that doesn’t stop him his horror when his parents walk into the living room.

Luke grins at them. “I think this little guy belongs to you.”

Mum and Dad are younger, to match their regressed son. And they’ve had their own mocha or equivalent; they don’t show any surprise at Teddy’s new age.

Instinctively, Teddy attempts to tell his parents the truth. He can’t bear, he won’t be able to stand it, playing baby, or worse, being trapped in this tiny body, unable to say a word, helplessly submitting to every indignity.

But all his parents hear is a baby’s excited grunts, because that’s all Teddy produces.

“There’s my little Teddy Bear! Come to Daddy!” his father beams.

And the smallest of mercies; when his father takes him, Teddy finds a child’s comfort in Daddy’s strong arms, and Teddy reaches for his father’s neck, feeling genuine consolation for the first time in a long time. It feels like so long ago, and yet freshly recent, since he was able to make Daddy happy this easily. He wishes the pride could last forever before the humiliation returns with a vengeance as Daddy pats his nappied bottom.

“I hope he wasn’t any trouble,” his mother says to Luke, looking into her son’s face and stroking his cheek.

“Good as gold,” Luke says. He laughs. “And Molly was happy to have someone else to reign over.”

Molly looks up from Lily and Ryan and says, “We made our photo with a really real snowman and Daddy’s gonna love it.”

The bossy little show-off, Teddy thinks impulsively, and he feels a passing jealousy at not featuring in the photo.

A strange thought, because the contents of a little girl’s Christmas present for her father should be the least of Teddy’s concerns.

You won’t have room for all of your thoughts in there.

Teddy can’t help smiling back at his mother – what a pretty face she has, what a sweet, loving mummy, and Teddy doesn’t complain when she slips a dummy between his lips.

“Thanks, son,” Teddy’s father says to Luke. “Got all our Christmas shopping done in one trip.” He glances down at Lily and Ryan. “Got Teddy one of those cube things, actually. Think he’ll like it?”

Teddy cringes inside but then laughs along with Luke. Of course he’ll like it. What’s not to like about the bang-bang piano and swimmy ducks? 

Mummy mentions how she couldn’t resist buying the most adorable Christmas outfits and how excited she is to dress Teddy up like a fuzzy reindeer. She shows off the outfit and Molly points at the red nose and informs them, “That’s Rudolph, not Sven!” and everyone laughs again.

Teddy would protest at being dressed up like a stupid doll, a Christmas toy for his mother to show off on Facebook. But Luke’s words echo in his head.

Just grin and bear it.

So he does. Daddy is bouncing too, which helps to distract him. The bouncing is nice, soothing, even though it makes his bladder jiggle. Not that he can do anything about that. The baby who knows more than he can show relaxes in Daddy’s arms, resting his weary head, quieting his thoughts at least for a little while, perfectly safe and warm. The big boy is talking to Mummy and Daddy while Teddy yawns around his dummy, wets his nappy, and falls fast asleep.

                                                                               

 

                       THE END