Now that Cal was talking, things got noisier at the house. A lot noisier.
“Pen-Pen food,” he said one morning, as way of explaining he was hungry. He used Pendragon to express himself. If he was hungry, he’d say Pendragon was hungry. If he was tired, he’d say Pendragon was tired. If he wanted me to read to him, he’d tell me that Pendragon wanted it–and so on.
Getting him to walk was becoming a lot easier and the day he took his real steps, I was so happy. I called Elouia and Aiden, bragging to them. Then I took Cal out to the diner for some dessert which he happily ate.
I grinned across the table at him, rather wishing he didn’t have to grow older. Okay so sometimes I did wish that, like when he’d throw his food around or when he started getting into things.
One day I found him toddling off towards the bathroom with a look on his face. I didn’t think much about it until I heard a flushing sound and him saying, “Goo-bye!”
I dropped the book I was reading and went running. There was a toy boat stuck down in the commode. Cal was peering down, blowing raspberries. “Boat sink,” he told me, pointing into the water.
“Why did you do that?” I demanded, kneeling down and reaching in to try to pry it free.
“Pen-Pen sink da boat,” he said, giving me an angelic look.
“Uh-huh,” I said, pulling the boat out. “And where is Pen-Pen? I thought he was in the other room.”
Calcifer pursed his lips in thought. “Cal wuves Daddy,” he stated, holding his arms out towards me, knowing perfectly well what that did to me.
I washed my hands and then scooped him up. “Silly boy,” I said, tickling him. He squealed and giggled, knowing perfectly well he was out of trouble.
As Cal’s third year went by, I started having a lot more aches and pains. Some mornings it was hard to get out of bed and after playing with Cal I was always in pain. Sometimes I could pinpoint the pain to my midriff which had me really worried.
Lab C had done things to the inside of my body, in that area. I knew I had a womb and all that weird stuff. Could it possibly be affecting me even now? I knew I needed to go see a doctor… but if it was because of what had happened then they couldn’t help me. The only people that could help me were gone.
“Dada, up,” Cal said, noticing me standing over him. I was thankful he didn’t notice the look on my face, and I quickly scooped him up, ignoring the pain as best I could.
He giggled in my hands, beaming down at me. I smiled up at him. A doctor would cost a lot of money. Wasn’t that what had gotten me into all this in the first place–when I was having… what was it? Headaches, I think. And I was first looked over by Lab C. Because I couldn’t afford a doctor.
I could afford one now but I needed to save that money. For Cal’s future.
I flinched back at the look on Elouia’s face. I had told her my physical problems and it turned out she was rather angry.
“No!” she said, holding up one hand. “No excuses, don’t you dare. You go to the hospital, and you go now. Go to the emergancy room.”
“Look!” Elouia poked my chest and glowered at me in a way that frankly frightened me. I realized how she was able to handle being in charge of a popular daycare center. She could be really scary! “You claim you want to save that money for Cal’s future, but if something happens to him then what kind of future does he have? Without his dad?”
“Jacob, please listen to me,” she begged. “Calcifer needs you and if you’re having these pains it could mean something pretty bad. If you need money…”
“No!” I said quickly. “No, please. I can pay but I just…”
“Then go,” she said. “For his sake. He needs his father. You have to find out what’s going on.” She looked up at me with her brow knit, a look of pure concern on her face. “Stop being stubborn about this. Stop claiming it’s to save money for him. Money isn’t as important as you.”
I bit my bottom lip and then sighed, my shoulder slumping. “You’re right,” I finally whispered, looking over at my son who was trying to stick his binkie into Pendragon’s mouth. “You’re right,” I repeated, trying to sound a bit braver about it.
“I know I am. Now, go to the emergency room. I’ll take care of Cal.”
“Auntie Ellie,” Cal said brightly when she scooped him up into her arms. She gave me a look over his shoulder, indicating she wasn’t going anywhere until I obeyed her.
Sighing, I grabbed my jacket and left the house.
It had taken a long time at the hospital and I was worried about being gone for so long, but she promised it was fine. She just wanted to know what I found out.
“They wanted me to stay and be studied,” I said, kicking the ground slightly. “When they saw what was inside of me…”
“What was it?” she asked, eyes a bit wide.
“The–you know–womb and junk,” I said with a shrug. “When they realized who I was they begged me to stay and be studied. They even offered me money but I said no.”
Elouia made a tsking sound and then asked, “Did they find anything bad or dangerous or f-fatal?”
“I don’t know,” I said honestly, reaching out for her. “They had no idea what to make of me. They said it looked like I had the organs and insides of both men and women. They weren’t a hundred percent sure what was supposed to be there and what wasn’t.” I clutched her arms tightly and bent down, burying my face against her shoulder. “Without Lab C, I have no idea if there is anything wrong with me!”
Her arms went around me and she hugged tightly. “Oh Jake! Can’t you get in contact with them?”
“No! I have no idea where the twins are and last year I tried asking Landgraab Facilities but they said the twins never even worked there in the first place and as far as they were concerned, Lab C was just a–a-a myth!”
I tried to pull away because I was starting to cry and I didn’t want to wake Cal up, but Elouia wouldn’t let go.
“I’m so sorry,” she said, rubbing my back. “But thank you for going. And if you need anything–and I mean anything–please let me know. I’ll always be here for you, Jake.”
I closed my eyes, my tears leaving spots on the shoulder of her jacket. “Thank you Elle,” I choked out. “Thank you so much.”
I clung to her, like I had so many times before. I felt a little better with her arms around me but inside I was completely terrified. If my aches and pains were from anything abnormal then I’d probably never be able to find out.
A little over a year to my visit to my hospital and I was clinging to Calcifer. He whined and tried to get away but I didn’t want to let him go.
“Now, Daddy!” he protested. “Want to now!”
“I know,” I whispered. “Just a minute.”
It was Calcifer’s fifth birthday and I was going to lose my little baby. He was growing up so fast… was he really going to be old enough to be going to school soon? It felt like just yesterday I held him as a little cocoon in my arms. Now he was growing up–too fast. It wasn’t fair.
“Want cake now, Daddy!” Cal screeched, trying to get free from my tight grasp.
“Okay, okay,” I said, carrying him over to his cake.
He was so excited when he saw his cake. He flailed in my arms and squealed, bouncing up and down. “Cake! Cake!” he shouted through his binkie. “Chocolate cake!”
I laughed and tickled him. “Yep, I got your favorite.”
“Whoo! Cal!” Aiden cheered, the only person able to make it to the party. I had invited his family as well as the Bees. But Hannah had taken the twins to go see her parents, while Elouia was… well, she wasn’t doing well and I told her to stay home and get rest.
“Imma big boy now,” Cal said, reaching for the cake.
“Yes, you’re my big boy,” I said. “Let’s blow out the candles.”
“No, binkie,” he complained.
I rolled my eyes and bent down. He was getting too old for his pacifier but decided not to argue with him. “Want me to blow them out for you?”
“Uh-huh, and for Pen-Pen.”
I bent down and blew his candles out for him. I wasn’t sure what he wanted so I just wished that he have a wonderful childhood.
Cal giggled and clapped, wanting down. I carefully set him on the floor and gave him one last kiss before he changed.
“Love you, Calcifer,” I said, rubbing his head.
He beamed up at me. “Love you daddy!” he said and then his eyes widened as the sparkles came.
I watched him, my heart dropping a bit. I wasn’t ready to give up my baby but he had to grow up sometime. I tucked my hands under my chin and watched, waiting to see him.
Slowly–too slowly–the sparkles started fading.
He stared a bit blankly up at me, obviously waiting for me to react. I grinned and gave him a thumbs-up. “Looking good,” I told him. “Maybe this weekend we can get you a hair cut and some new clothes. How does that sound?”
He shrugged and reached for the cake. I frowned as he trotted over to the armchair and sat down, eating his cake and watching the TV.
I thought this was really unusual. “Cal, you want any pizza?” I called over but he ignored me.
“Don’t let it get to you,” Aiden said, nudging me. “It’s a big change in a kid’s life.”
I grabbed two pieces of cake and offered one of them to Aiden. “You’re right,” I said, flopping onto the stool by my table. “I’m sure once he gets used to things he’ll feel better.”
That weekend we went shopping for new clothes and so he could get a haircut. He wouldn’t show me what he bought but he seemed to like his new haircut. He was still pretty quiet and hardly spoke. But at least he was talking some.
When we got home and he changed into his new clothes, however, I couldn’t help it when my jaw dropped.
“C-Cal!” I stammered nervously. “Why did you choose that shirt?”
He looked up at me. “Aliens are cool, Daddy,” he said.
I gulped and tried not to say anything but I couldn’t help it. “Wh-why do you say that? I mean, I never realized you had any interests in aliens.”
“I saw ’em on TV,” he replied, grinning. “Doncha like it?”
“It’s, ah, interesting. Wouldn’t you, um, prefer something else though?”
Calcifer put his hands on his hips. “Daaaddy! I’m five now! I can pick my own clothes.” He stuck his lower lip out. “You said I could.”
“Yes,” I agreed, turning slightly. He’s getting older and can wear it if he wants, I told myself. It doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t mean anything at all. He’s just… picking clothes… it doesn’t mean he’s going to be obsessed with aliens!
It didn’t take long before Calcifer started asking for a new room. He was sleeping in my bed every night while I had taken out my old sleeping bag. It was uncomfortable and caused me more pains than usual, so after only a couple more nights I agreed that we needed to add some more walls and give us each our own bedrooms.
“They won’t be very big,” I reminded him. “But you can pick out your wall colors and stuff.”
He grinned at me. “Can I have a commuter?”
“A–er, what?” I scratched my head, trying to figure out what he meant.
“Commuter!” he said, jumping up and down. “Like-like-like Uncle Aidy uses!”
“Ohh! A computer?”
“Yeah!” Calcifer said, clasping his hands together and making his eyes go really big. “Pwease, Daddy? Pwease? Pwease?”
I reached down and messed his hair up. “If we can afford it, then yes. I’ll get you a computer. But it won’t be fancy or anything.”
He wrapped his arms around me. “Yay! Thank you, Daddy!”
My room was tiny. I just barely had enough room to shove my bed in there, but I didn’t mind. The only material possession I cared about was my school award which fit nicely over my bed. Calcifer just rolled his eyes when he saw the color I picked out for myself.
Calcifer said that blue was the best color and chose everything to be blue. His room was slightly bigger than mine, with just barely enough room to jam a desk and chair in there for his computer. I decided if he wanted more room then we might be able to make a few more changes to the inside of the house. We couldn’t expand on the outside since we were already at the edge of our property; but we could always build upward.
Except now I pretty much had no money left. Renovation bills, new furniture, and the computer ate up quite a bit of money. Plus staying at a hotel while our rooms were built.
“I don’t care iz small,” Cal promised me the day we moved back in. He bounced on his bed, grinning at me. “I love it!”
One night when I got home from work, I discovered Calcifer by himself. As soon as I went inside, he rushed into my arms, crying. “Daddy!”
“What happened?” I demanded, not letting go. “Where’s the babysitter?”
“I dunno!” he cried, wiping his face against my shirt. “She was talkin’ on her phown an’ I heard her say my name and then she got all mad at me an’ told me she wasn’t gonna watch a monsser like me. Then she left!” He pulled away and stared up at me with a tear-stained face. “Why did she say imma monsser?”
I gritted my teeth and put my arms back around him, rubbing his back. “I don’t know,” I whispered. “But you’re not. It’s okay, sweetie, just forget what she said. She must have been crazy. What did you do all evening?” I asked, trying to get him to calm down.
He clutched at my shirt with one hand and stuck his other thumb into his mouth.
“Firss I cried cuz I was so scarwed but then Penny told me not to be scared and we should hava tea party.”
“So I got some juice out an’ Penny an’ I has a tea party but I hadda change cuz tea parties are, um, forwmal ‘cashuns.”
I blinked and stroked his back gently. “Hun, who’s Penny?”
Calcifer peered up at me and sniffled. “You know, Daddy. Penny.” He pointed over towards Pendragon, his doll.
“So den we had a tea party an’ then I was still scarwed so Penny an’ I hugged for ‘while. An’ she said I wasn’t a monsser.”
I had never heard him call Pendragon ‘Penny’ before but I supposed it was a little more grown up than Pen-Pen. “Go on,” I said, feeling him calming down as I rubbed his back.
“I was feeling liddle better so then I was feeling sleepy so I fell ‘sleep in your bed cuz it smelled like you.” He looked up at me again. “I’m sorry I fell ‘sleep in your bed.”
“It’s okay,” I promised, hugging him again. “You were a brave boy, I’m so proud of you. And don’t worry, this won’t happen again.” I kissed the top of his head, trying to control my anger. “Do you want to sleep in my bed tonight?” He stuck his thumb back in his mouth and nodded. “Okay, let’s get you changed and I’ll read you a story.”
I hadn’t bought anything since he was a toddler, but he didn’t mind me reading a ‘little kid’ book to him. He just smiled up at me the whole time until his eyelids got heavier and heavier and he fell asleep.
After I gave him a little kiss and turned off the lights, I went into the other room and made a phone call to the ex-babysitter. I tried not to yell because I didn’t want waking him up but it was difficult keeping my temper at a minimum.
I clenched the phone, trying not to break it. “How dare you call a five-year-old child a monster. What kind of sick person does that?”
“My dad told me who he is and who you are!” she shrieked back at me. “I’m not working for you or that–that alien thing!”
“He is not an alien!” I hissed out. “He’s a normal kid, and more normal than someone who abandons a five-year-old at night!”
She hung up on me but that was fine. I knew if I stayed on the line any longer I would be saying things I really shouldn’t be saying to a teenager.
It’s gonna be hard to keep this from him, I realized as I stared out the window. School would be starting soon. I hoped that they treated him okay. And if they didn’t, then there would be hell to pay.
Partway through summer we got a new addition for our house. One that I was less than pleased with. A big box came in the mail. ‘For Calcifer’ it said, ‘Happy Birthday’. It was from the same people who sent Pendragon–so I knew it was the twins. Especially after I put it together and saw what they had deemed to be a good gift for my child.
“AWESOME!” Calcifer shrieked. “SYNCE STATION!”
I bit my bottom lip as he hopped up and down, trying to see all the odds and ends on the top. “Ahh–be careful!” I begged, taking hold of his arm and pulled him back.
“I love synce,” he said, hugging my arm. “Thank you, Daddy!”
“It’s from–” I stopped, trying to figure out if I should explain to him. He grinned up at me and I decided that no. Now was not a good time. Besides, he was only five. I’d wait until he was older. There were too many questions and he wouldn’t understand them.
“Who, Daddy?” Cal asked, tugging at my sleeve. “Uncle Aidy? Auntie Ellie?”
“No,” I said, patting his head. “Someone else. Why don’t you get to bed, it’s getting late.”
“Can I try synce tomorrow?” he begged.
“No,” I said firmly. “Not for a while. You’re too young.”
He rolled his eyes and stomped his foot. “Fiiine.” He stomped off towards his room to show that he wasn’t happy.
But frankly, I wasn’t too happy either. The twins (or one of them) had sent Pendragon, that was fine–Pendragon was just a normal doll. But this? This was too much.
I can’t just take it away though…
I brushed my fingertips against the surface and closed my eyes. I could just get rid of it but I probably shouldn’t. It was the last link to the twins. And to, I suspected, Calcifer’s other biological parent. It’s not something I could confirm and I was possibly even wrong about it. But even if it wasn’t Jay I couldn’t just toss this silly station out.
Just because Calcifer had an interest in aliens and science, it never meant anything. Besides… watching alien movies was probably a passing fad. And his ‘Uncle’ Aiden liked science so it was okay. Everything would be fine. Calcifer wouldn’t turn out as crazy as the twins. He was probably not even related to them.
But still… I wasn’t going to let him mess with this thing until he was older.