Andrew was getting tired. His whole body was aching, but it was a good kind of ache, the kind of ache you could only get from a day’s hard work. He hadn’t worked this hard in a long time – maybe never! But it was going to be worth it. Mrs. Barnett was noticing him.
Mrs. Barnett had moved in next door just a few days earlier. That is, she had started to move into that house. She still had a lot of boxes to unload, a lot of furniture to move, and cleaning to get done. Andrew had gone next door with his mother to welcome Mrs. Barnett to the neighborhood.
And his mother had volunteered Andrew’s help.
He wasn’t happy about that at first. He knew his mother was making him think about some kind of work, some kind of job. Andrew was 18 now, and he’d soon be graduating from high school. He had to think about college. Or he had to get a job. Or he had to join the military. He had to think about the next step in his life, and he didn’t want to think about it. Part of him wished that he wasn’t 18, but younger. How much younger, he didn’t know. Young enough not to have to worry about these decisions.
As Andrew began to help Mrs. Barnett, he found it easier to not think about those decisions. The work was taking his mind off of them. It was easy to just focus on picking stuff up, carrying it, setting it down. Nothing to think of at all.
Until he entered the room and saw Mrs. Barnett bending over to dust something. She was bent over facing him.
Mrs. Barnett was wearing a sleeveless blouse with a red bra underneath it. Andrew knew it was a red bra because one of the straps was peeking out over Mrs. Barnett’s shoulder. And the blouse was light enough that Andrew could see the red underneath it.
Mrs. Barnett was – not old. She was older than Andrew, maybe a little older than his mother. But she wasn’t old. Her skin was a little tanned, and she had some freckles on her arms, mostly her shoulders. Her face was young, but it looked – Andrew searched his mind for the right word. Mature? No. Experienced! That was it.
Above all, Andrew couldn’t help but notice, when Mrs. Barnett was bent over toward him, how the front of her blouse hung open, giving him a nice view of those breasts, not huge, but big enough to seem to just barely be restrained by that little red bra.
Mrs. Barnett stood up, and looked at Andrew. He flushed for a moment. Did she know he had been peeking down her blouse?
“Look at you!” she smiled. “You’re all red and sweaty! Here, let me wipe you off.” Mrs. Barnett took a clean towel from a nearby closet and began to go over Andrew’s face with it. “You’ve been working really hard for me, Andrew! Andy?”
“Andrew, please,” he said. Andy was a kid’s name, and he did not want to look like a kid in front of her!
“Well, Andrew, let’s take a break! What do you want to drink?”
“Cola’s fine,” he said. “I need the energy.”
“Cola it is! I put some in the fridge this morning!” She took a bottle out of the refrigerator, twisted the cap off and gave it to him.
He took a big swallow and gulped it down. Suddenly, he thought of the perfect question to ask her.
“So, where’s Mr. Barnett? How come he’s not here helping you unload?”
Mrs. Barnett smiled, a little sadly, a little ruefully. “Mr. Barnett – found someone else. We divorced over a year ago.”
Yes! thought Andrew. She isn’t married! He quickly followed up with what seemed the right thing to say. “Divorced! He’s crazy, leaving someone as pretty as you!”
“Aren’t you sweet!”
“I’m serious! Hey! There’s a dance next Friday! Why don’t you go with me? I’ll show you off, I mean, around, to everyone!”
“Andrew! Are you asking me on a date?!”
“No. I mean, yes! I mean – “ Andrew’s voice trailed off, and he could feel his face flushing again.
“Andrew,” said Mrs. Barnett softly. “I’m flattered. But I’m also old enough to be your mother. And, living right next door to your mother, I think it would be hard for me to look her in the eye if we went out together.”
“Just think about it. PLEEAASSEEE?”
“Andrew. I’d be the luckiest woman in the world if you were my boyfriend. But it just wouldn’t be right. You think about it, okay?”
Hours later, Andrew couldn’t do anything BUT think about it. When he got home, he immediately went upstairs and took a shower. Originally, it was a regular shower, but, after he was clean, he turned the water COLD. It didn’t help.
He was sitting in his room in the dark, listening to music on his iPod, and looking out the window, something he often did when he had a problem.
Suddenly, a light came on in a window in Mrs. Barnett’s house. And she walked by the window.
Andrew had never been a peeping tom, never even considered it. Until now. Until he looked across to yard, to the window, where Mrs. Barnett was standing by her window stark naked! Andrew had seen nude women in magazines, sometimes on DVDs or CDs friends in school had gotten their hands on and passed around. But this was the first time he’d ever seen an actual, live, naked woman, breathing at the same time he was breathing, walking, thinking, existing. And she was the most exciting thing Andrew had ever seen!
If she was in her 40s, she took good care of her body. Her hair fell to her shoulders in luxuriant, red brown curls. She also had a patch of hair the same shade between her legs. The girls in the magazines Andrew had seen didn’t have hair there. He’d heard they shaved. Andrew thought the hair Mrs. Barnett had there looked good. Hot! He liked her even more because of the hair she had there.
She turned around and gave Andrew a good look at her ass. He immediately remembered a word he’d stumbled on when looking something else up in the dictionary: callipygous. It meant having “beautiful, well-rounded buttocks.” Mrs. Barnett’s butt was exactly what “callipygous” was created to describe.
Why was she naked, Andrew wondered. Had she just showered, too? He couldn’t tell if she was wet. Was she getting dressed for something? Maybe she always walked around her house naked when she was alone. What was that called? Jay something. The idea of that body, just moving casually, doing whatever Mrs. Barnett wanted it to do, and doing it so close as next door, was too much for Andrew. He felt the heat, the rigidity, building in his crotch.
Then, she looked in his direction.
Andrew was startled. Did she see him? His room was completely dark. But what about the light from Mrs. Barnett’s window? Was that enough for her to see him?
As Andrew considered he might be busted, the music on his iPod suddenly changed. Just like that, the song that had been playing was replaced by – what?! Andrew knew the song. It was sung on one of his mother’s favorite DVDs, Mamma Mia! But none of the music in that movie was anything Andrew listened to, much less saved on his iPod.
You’re so hot, teasing me
So you’re blue
But I can’t take a chance on a kid like you
It’s something I wouldn’t do.
There’s that look in your eyes
I can read in your face
That your feelings are driving you wild
But, boy, you’re only a child.
The song continued playing. Suddenly, Andrew was tired. VERY tired. He went over and laid on top of his bed, not bothering to get under the covers. He still had his ear buds on, was still listening to the song.
Take it easy, take it easy
Better slow down boy
That’s no way to go
Does your mother know?
Before the song was finished, he was asleep.
When Andrew got up the next morning, he immediately knew something was wrong. It was hard, though, to say what he noticed first, as the main clues happened simultaneously. The ear buds of the iPod were now too loose and fell onto Andrew’s pillow when he sat up on his bed. Standing up, his pants dropped to his feet. And, when he looked down at them, he noticed he wasn’t looking as far down as he had before he fell asleep.
He looked at himself in the mirror behind his dresser. His head didn’t come as far up as it had, again, before he had fallen asleep. His hair was unkempt. He suddenly had freckles on his face. He had stepped out of his trousers when they dropped. Now he let his shorts fall, too. He felt his private parts. For a moment, it seemed as if the Earth lurched in its orbit. He just couldn’t deal with the sensation. He’d never really paid much attention to it after they had begun to appear. But now, there was no denying it: His pubes were gone!
He then did the only thing he could think of doing.
“Mom!” he yelled, running down the stairs. “Mom!”
His mother came out of the kitchen, saying “What’s wrong? Why does your voice sound – ” Her words caught in her throat.
“Mom?” squeaked Andrew. “What’s happened to me?”
“No,” said his mother. “This is some trick. Who are you? Where’s Andrew?”
“Mom, it’s me! Andrew! Somehow I’ve turned into a little kid!”
Andrew’s mother began to feel sick. She had devoted nearly 18 years of her life to raising Andrew. Now, somehow, the “raising” didn’t sound right. She had tried to be a mom and a dad after Andrew’s father had died in that car accident. Like any parent, there were things she was proud of doing, and things of which she wasn’t so proud. But to see it all erased overnight, not by something happening to Andrew, something fatal, as any parent worried might happen, but by Andrew returning to childhood.
But it couldn’t be Andrew! How could it? She had to make sure of it.
A few minutes later, Andrew and his mother were in her car, on their way to the pediatrician’s office.
“It’s a good thing I still had some of your clothes from when you were a kid – the first time.” As she said it, it sounded strange.
“So you believe it’s me?” asked Andrew, nervously.
“I’m starting to. It’s a little easier now because those clothes fit you just as well as they did when you were younger. The first time.” She shook her head.
When Andrew and his mother entered the office, the receptionist looked up at them quizzically.
“Mrs. Meyer?” she asked. “Did you have an appointment?”
“It’s an emergency,” said Andrew’s mother. “Something very strange has happened.”
“Let me see if Dr. Sarah can see you.”
“Dr. Sarah? What happened to Dr. Robbins?”
“He’s still here, but Dr. Sarah has joined him to lighten the workload a little bit. Anyway, please fill out these forms.”
While Mrs. Meyer began the paperwork, Andrew sat in a chair and looked around. Nearby was a woman with a little boy, a few years younger than Andrew was. Now. The little boy came up to Andrew.
“Hi. My name is Pete. I’ve got to get a shot.”
“Aren’t you scared?” asked Andrew.
“I’m going to get ice cream after the shot, so I don’t mind. Do you have to get a shot?”
“No. I don’t think so, anyway.”
“Are you sick?” asked Pete.
“Are you scared?”
Andrew had to think about this. Right now, he was more in shock than anything else. Nothing he’d gone through so far in his life had prepared him for having to go through some of it again. And what if this wasn’t the end? What if he became younger – and younger? Suddenly, he was very scared.
“Yes,” he finally said.
“I’m sorry. Would you like to play with my Etch-A-Sketch? It helps me when I’m scared. I try to draw things that are even scarier.”
Pete handed Andrew the Etch-A-Sketch. Andrew looked at it in wonder. He’d had an Etch-A-Sketch when he was Pete’s age. He wasn’t sure what had happened to it. His mother may have given it away when Andrew grew up. Andrew looked at the familiar silver screen inside the red frame. Cautiously, almost afraid he’d break it if he turned it too hard, Andrew turned a dial to make a vertical line. Then, he turned the other dial for horizontal. Then, he turned both dials at once. With a little effort, he made a flying bat. A clumsy looking bat, but a bat, unmistakably.
“That’s good!” said. Pete. “Want to see me draw a spider?”
“Sure!” said Andrew. He’d forgotten how much fun he could have with this toy.
Mrs. Meyer was surprised Andrew was having so much fun. His gloom over his sudden change was gone completely.
“Mrs. Meyer?” came a voice from the door. Both Andrew and his mother looked up in surprise. There, in a white lab coat with a stethoscope around her neck was --
“Mrs. Bennett?” said Mrs. Meyer.
“Actually, it’s Dr. Bennett, but you can call me Dr. Sarah,” she said, directing the comment at Andrew. “And who is this? I didn’t know Andrew had a little brother! They look so much alike!”
“Actually,” whispered Andrew’s mother to Dr. Sarah. “I think this is Andrew!”
Dr. Sarah/Mrs. Bennett’s eyebrows shot up a little, but, otherwise, she didn’t seem too surprised. She looked at the other woman and Pete. “Mrs. Thompson?” she said. “My associate, Dr. Robbins will examine Pete, then I’ll be in in a few minutes. Mrs. Meyer has an emergency.”
“That’s fine,” said Mrs. Thompson. “No offense, but I know Dr. Robbins, not you.”
Mrs. Meyer called Andrew, and they followed Dr. Sarah back to her examination room.
“So, Andrew,” said Dr. Sarah. He found it hard to remember her name was Mrs. Bennett. “When did this happen?”
“Last night. This morning,” said Andrew. “I’m not sure. I was in my room, listening to music, when I got real sleepy. I laid down, and, when I woke up, I was little.”
“Were you doing anything else when you were in your room?”
“Yeah, I was – ” Andrew stopped talking. He couldn’t tell Dr. Sarah that he was looking at her when she was naked! She’d get mad! And he felt ashamed of himself. He wasn’t sure why. After all, Dr. Sarah was, was, what? No, he knew! She was just a girl!
“ – doing nothing,” he finally finished. “Just listening to music.”
She looked at him carefully – too carefully. Then, she smiled, a smile that Andrew found – scary.
“I’ve heard about this,” she said. “It’s very rare. It’s a disease, a syndrome, that causes the patient to age backwards.”
“Age backwards?” said Mrs. Meyer. “Will it stop?”
“I don’t know. It’s so rare.”
“Will he ever return to his real age?”
“Again, I don’t know. He might have to grow up all over again.”
Mrs. Meyer sagged. Andrew was afraid she was going to faint. She looked as if she was about to cry.
“I can’t do this,” said his mother. “I can’t go through raising him again. It was so hard the first time! And if he needs medicine, treatment, whatever to stop this – I can’t afford it!”
“Don’t panic,” said Dr. Sarah. “Take things as they come. Buy a lottery ticket. You may get lucky.”
Andrew watched his mother as Dr. Sarah talked to her. Mrs. Meyer suddenly relaxed and smiled. “Yes. A lottery ticket. I feel very lucky suddenly.”
Andrew looked at Dr. Sarah. Somehow, she was doing something to his mother.
And he realized. She had somehow done this to him!
Andrew and his mother drove home. She stopped on the way to get a ticket for the multi-state lottery with the $100 million lump-sum jackpot. Before they left, Dr. Sarah had given Andrew a shot. When they arrived home, there was a white and blue car parked outside their house. Andrew recognized it immediately. It belonged to his girlfriend, Beth.
“Hi, Mrs. Meyer,” said Beth as she got out of the car. “Is Andrew home?”
Mrs. Meyer didn’t answer right away. The little boy got out of the back seat (it was so weird to him, having to ride in back – his mother was worried about an air bag hitting him too hard if there were an accident), closed the car door, and faced Beth. Her jaw fell open.
“Andrew?” she said. It surprised Andrew that she recognized him, but then he thought about it. He and Beth had known each other since they were little kids. Of course, she’d know him no matter what age he was.
“I’m not Andrew!” he cried. “I’m Andy!”
“What? But you said Andy was a little kid’s, er, oh, okay.”
Beth was acting funny. Of course he was Andy! He was only “Andrew” when his Mom was mad at him! No, wait. He wasn’t Andy, he was Andrew, a grown-up! But he was now Andy, a little boy.
“Come on in, Beth,” said Mrs. Meyer. “You might as well have lunch with us and we’ll try to explain what we can.”
As they ate sandwiches and drank pop (though Andy insisted on chocolate milk – luckily there was chocolate syrup in the cupboard), Mrs. Meyer and Andy explained the day so far. Beth looked at them trying not to laugh – it seemed so ridiculous! – but she had no doubt that it was Andrew in front of her. After lunch was over, Beth offered to wash the dishes, an offer Mrs. Meyer accepted. She was very tired and wanted to take a nap.
Beth began running water and Andy stood on a stool by the sink, ready with a dish towel.
“Andrew – Andy,” said Beth, as she began to scrub the dishes. “Do you have any idea how this happened to you? Was there anything you might’ve done?”
After rinsing the dish in the sink and then wiping it dry, Andy looked at her. She knew the look. He was feeling guilty about something, Beth knew.
“Beth,” he said sheepishly. “I think Dr. Sarah did this to me.”
“Our new neighbor, Mrs. Bennett.”
“Oh. She’s a doctor? But how could she turn you into a little kid? And why would she do it?”
“I think she’s a witch or something. And she did it because I saw her naked.”
“I was in my room last night, listening to music, with my lights out. You know, like I do. And Dr. Sarah – Mrs. Bennett walked into a room facing mine with the lights on. And she was naked.”
“And you couldn’t pull the blinds in your room so you wouldn’t see her?”
“I didn’t want to! I liked seeing her that way! But – I don’t know why!”
“What,” said Beth, much quieter this time. She’d been mad before. Now she looked – funny. Worried?
“Yeah, I mean – I liked looking at her naked. I think she’s pretty. But – it’s like there was something I would’ve liked to do before I turned little. But I can’t remember what it was now! I mean – she’s just a girl!”
“Andrew,” said Beth. “I mean, Andy. We’ve been talking a lot about what we’d do after school. After college. We’ve always liked each other. But what do you think about that now.”
“What, you mean playing ‘house?’”
“No. I mean getting married, having a family!”
“Don’t be silly! You’re way too big for me!”
Beth stopped doing the dishes. Andy thought she might cry. He didn’t want her to cry. She was his friend. But – what was he thinking now? She was a girl, she was his friend, but she wasn’t his girl friend! Still, he didn’t want her to be sad.
“Let’s hurry up and finish the dishes!” said Andy. “And then we can watch TV!” He knew just what to watch to make her stop crying.
Beth started washing the dishes, though she seemed like she didn’t know it. Andy wiped them dry and put them away. When they were done, Andy ran to the living room and turned on the television. Beth came in and sat down beside him while Andy changed channels and then stopped.
“What are you doing?” Beth asked. “This is the Cartoon Network!”
“No it isn’t! It’s Boomerang!”
“Boomerang? Where they show old cartoons?”
“Yeah! I don’t know what’s on, it’ll just be starting! But it’ll be fun and ... ”
There had been a station identification segment playing, then it was over, and music began, with singing:
Where are you?
“Yay!” cried Andy, jumping up and down and clapping his hands! “Our favorite!”
“Not mine,” said Beth quietly. “Not since I was ... ” her voice caught in her throat as she looked at Andrew. Andy. She leaned back on the sofa, numb, as Andy laughed at the cartoon.
The next day, Andy was eating breakfast while his mother began to read the newspaper. His mother had gone out the night before and bought Lucky Charms, something she hadn’t done in a long time. Andy had forgotten how much he liked them.
“Mom? Do I have to go to school today? What school do I go to now?”
Just as Andy finished the questions, his mother’s eyes went wide. She jumped out of the chair and whooped with joy, something Andy had never seen her do before.
“No, Andy, you don’t have to go to school today! Hurry up, finish eating, and get dressed! We’ve got a BIG day today!”
Less than half-an-hour later, Andy and his mom were in the state lottery offices. Mrs. Meyer handed the ticket she’d bought the day before and then wrote on some papers the lottery clerk gave her. Then, Mrs. Meyer posed holding a big check (does she take that to the bank? Andy wondered) while they took her picture. She had a big smile on her face.
Suddenly, Andy was thinking about Dr. Sarah again. He didn’t know how, but did she do this? Make his Mom win all this money?
After being herded through a special hallway in the building and escorted to her car by armed guards, Mrs. Meyer and Andy drove to her credit union. After showing the teller the check and depositing it, mother and son were taken to speak to the credit union president. He was talking about things Andy didn’t understand, financial advisors and things. Mrs. Meyer was listening, and it looked like she understood what the credit union president was saying. But, then, the union president stopped talking. He was staring at Andy. Andy’s mother turned around to look at Andy, too, and her mouth dropped open. Then, she winced.
Andy looked down at himself. All of a sudden, his clothes were too big. Again.