The rest of summer went by far too quickly but I didn’t feel too bad since his first year of ‘school’ wouldn’t really be regular school. He wouldn’t be there every day. And actually, it went by all right; while he didn’t like not being around me, he rarely complained.
A whole year, I thought when another summer started to come to a close. Was it my imagination or was time going by quicker than usual? Still, now he was starting regular classes. It was hard to believe my baby was gonna be seven in a few months. And his first day of real school…. Another notch in his life, I thought the night before his first day.
Cal was excited and I told him I was too but I was nervous. This would be so different from what he was used to, and a lot of new people. What if they mistreated him?
Because of my hours, I usually slept in the morning but on his first day I woke up extra early to make him apple pancakes. I still wasn’t much of a cook but sometimes my food turned out okay.
“Don’t want any,” Calcifer said as he trudged past me to get a shower.
“They’re your favorite!” I called but the water was already on. Once the pancakes were done, I arranged most of them on a platter and put a couple of them on a plate, waiting for Cal to get out of the shower. It took him a while and as soon as he did, he took off running.
“Sorry Daddy, the bus is here!”
“But–” I whirled around as he slammed the door shut. I took off after him. “Calcifer–” I tried but he was already halfway to the bus. I knew if I tried going after him it would just cause one of those embarrassing scenes the other kids would tease him about. All I could do was stand and watch my baby head off.
Have a good day, sweetie, I thought, not daring to say it out loud. He climbed up onto the bus, not even looking back at me.
Please don’t let anything happen to him.
I turned around from where I was scrubbing out the sink in time to see Calcifer trying to get to his room. He was inside before I could say anything.
I tiptoed over and tapped at the door. “Cal, is everything okay?”
“YES!” he shouted, slightly muffled. “EVERYTHING FINE!”
“How was school?”
“PENNY HATED IT!”
I raised my eyebrows and glanced over at the couch, where he had left him sitting. “I didn’t know Penny went to school,” I said gently. “I’m sorry he had a bad time. Can I get him anything to make him feel better? Hot chocolate?”
Calcifer flung open the door and I was surprised to see the angry look on his face. “Stop it!” he said. “Penny’s not a ‘him’!”
“Oh.” I bit my bottom lip. “I’m sorry. Can I get her anything?”
Calcifer glared at me and I saw tears staining his cheeks. “Yes,” he finally said, sticking his lips out. “Penny wants some cookies and milk.”
I put my hand on his head and smiled. “I’ll get some for hi–her right away.”
Calcifer went over to the couch and wrapped his arms around Pendragon. I wished he’d tell me what had happened but I decided not to pry. It was his first day and I was sure things would get better.
After a week there was no getting around it. Calcifer was miserable and I had to talk to him. After his week was up, I had cookies and milk waiting for him and when he got home he seemed a bit surprised.
“Do you and Penny want some?” I offered.
“Ye-es,” he drew out, slowly reaching for two cookies.
“How was school?” I asked and his eyes glittered angrily.
“Stupid!” he exclaimed. “The other kids are call-flowers.”
I blinked a few times, trying to figure out what he meant. Finally I realized he meant cauliflowers–a food he despised and we had only had once, a long time ago. “I’m sorry,” I said, offering him a glass of milk. He didn’t say anything until after he put the dishes up and then he just sort of stood by the door, staring at the wood. “Are the other kids being mean?” I finally asked.
He turned around and looked so pitiful that it broke my heart. “Yes,” he said, sniffling loudly. “They’re all call-flowers. They don’t wanna play with Penny.”
“Penny doesn’t go to school,” I said. “She’s been on the couch all day.” Tears welled up in his eyes and he stared hard at the floor. I knelt down. “Cal, are they being mean to you?”
“Yes!” he cried, rushing into my arms. “They don’t wanna play with me!”
I hugged him gently, rubbing my fingers through his hair to try to soothe him. “I’m so sorry, Cal. I know kids can be mean. But school is still new. Everyone will settle down and you’ll make some new friends.”
He rubbed his eyes. “Promise?”
I gulped slightly. I couldn’t promise him this. It would be a lie. But surely he’d make some friends soon, it was just a matter of time. “Just show them how amazing you are and you’ll make friends in no time,” I told him, kissing his forehead.
“Daaaadddyyy!” he giggled, pulling away and wiping his forehead. “I’m not a baby anymore.”
“No,” I agreed. “You’re not a baby anymore.” As I turned to walk away, I heard him muttering to himself.
“Yes. Show’em how ‘mazing I am… yes…”
Things seemed to get better. Over the weekend Calcifer and I spent plenty of time at the park. He loved it there, he adored swinging and enjoyed watching me fish. He didn’t seem to have any interest in learning how to, though. That was fine with me.
When school started again I held my breath when the bus pulled up but Cal just walked in with a smile on his face.
“Hello Daddy!” he said cheerfully, giving me a big hug before picking Pendragon up.
“Did you have a good day?” I asked hopefully.
“It was ‘kay’,” he said with a shrug. “Penny and I are gonna go play.”
“Did you make any friends?” I asked as he headed into his room. He shut the door without answering and I frowned, rubbing my arm. I was a bit concerned by that but at least he wasn’t coming home in tears.
I always woke up in time to get Cal his breakfast but after he left, I usually fell asleep again. One day I was awoken by a call from his principal.
He promised me that Calcifer was fine but I really needed to come into the school and get him. I’d be informed when I got there. I hung up and quickly got changed, feeling a bit worried. Had he been beaten up badly? Was he really okay?
I ran to the school as fast as I could, my body pulsing with pain with each step but I didn’t slow my pace. I arrived at the school and headed to the principal’s office where I was informed Calcifer had stripped naked in front of his entire class. After he had been admonished, he had run off.
“My son is missing?!” I demanded angrily.
“He just ran off before you got here,” the principal said, looking a bit guilty.
I was going to call the police but then was struck with a thought. If he’s not there, I’ll call the police right away, I thought as I ran out of the school.
It was his favorite place to be. If he had gone anywhere other than home, this was where I would find him. I prayed that he was there–if not there, then at home.
Sure enough my instincts had been right. He was swinging away, looking as if he hadn’t a care in the world. I went over and the worry I had been feeling dissipated, leaving nothing but anger.
“Hi daddy,” he said, not meeting my gaze. He knew perfectly well he was in trouble. “I love you!” he added, giving me a slightly hopeful glance.
“How could you DO that?!” I yelled. He jumped back in surprise, obviously frightened. I couldn’t stop myself. “Do you have any idea how scared I was?!” I demanded. “When the principal told me you had run off–what if you had been hit by a car? What if someone had taken you? You can’t just DO something like that! What were you thinking?”
He bowed his head, sniffling loudly. “They hate me, Daddy. They ignore me an’ when they look at me they say Imma monster!” A couple tears fell onto the ground by his feet. “They hate me,” he muttered. “I wanted them to notice me.”
“N-notice you?” I put my head in my hands, trying to control the anger. “Cal! You do NOT take off all your clothes in public to get attention! That’s just wrong! And you certainly don’t run off and disappear!”
“I was scared of trouble,” he squeaked out, rubbing his eyes.
“Of course you were in trouble, you–you got NUDE! But Cal…” The anger washed away as he started crying even more. “Cal, sweetie… don’t ever run off like that again. Please. I was so scared I wouldn’t find you.”
He lifted his chin, blinking at me through the tears. “I’m sorry!” he cried. “I’m sorry, Daddy! I d-didn’t m-mean to make you scared!”
My arms went around him and I held him for a long time, soothing him as he cried all the tears he had. Once he was done I knelt down in front of him and wiped his face carefully off.
“You’re not a monster,” I told him, cupping his face in my hands. “You are a bright, amazing, perfect little boy. Anyone who says you’re a monster…” I looked into his eyes and realized if I told him the truth then he would probably think there really was something bad about him. The twins, the science lab, me being pregnant–it was all too much for a child. I decided not to tell him until he was a teenager. “Anyone who says you’re a monster is just wrong,” I whispered in his ear. “Kids like to be mean and will say mean things, but it doesn’t mean they really think that way. Remember when you called them cauliflowers to be mean to them?”
“I gueeeess,” he whined. “Guess maybe I should try talking to them.” He looked down and toed the ground. “I kinda don’t talk to anyone. Maybe I’ll try.”
I gave him another hug. “That’s my boy.”
The first thing I tried was talking to the principal but he didn’t seem like he was too interested. All he said was ‘kids will be kids’.
“This is more than just kids being kids,” I said. “My son–he’s just a little kid! And your students are calling him a monster. You can’t just sit back and do nothing!”
“Did you think he might be exaggerating?” the principal sighed.
I pressed my lips together, closing my eyes. “I don’t think he is. He’s… been called this before. I know you can’t just magically get rid of this problem but it’s happening at your school and I think–“
“Mr. Danevbie,” he interrupted, “I’ll do what I can. But there’s only so much bullying I can catch.”
The next thing I did was talk to Elouia. At first I didn’t want to burden this on her, since she was going through a lot of difficulties of her own. Katie, still in high school, was currently pregnant with twins. But I knew Elouia would give me the best advice.
“That rat,” she snarled when I told her what the principal said. “I bet if it was someone else he wouldn’t be saying that.”
“This is all my fault,” I mumbled. “He’s going through this because of–how he was brought into this world. I never thought what this would do to the child. I just thought of getting a baby.” I closed my eyes, not wanting to tell her how miserable I felt about this.
I knew what she was going to say before she said it. “You can’t blame yourself.”
I was so selfish, I thought sadly. “Maybe we should move,” I whispered. “Go far away from here.”
“Do you really want to leave?” she asked, giving me one of those looks.
“N-no!” I said. “But maybe it would be best for Cal.”
Elle put a hand on my shoulder. “Give it a little more time, okay?”
I wanted to protect Cal from everything but knew I couldn’t. All I could do was wait and hope that things started changing.
As winter passed and spring came, Cal stopped coming home in tears. He even started making friends. I’d find him talking on the phone sometimes and was even excited in the mornings. I just wished I could say the same.
The pains and aches in my body weren’t getting more painful but they were getting more constant. It really scared me and I decided one day to go to the hospital again. It just turned out the same way. They couldn’t pinpoint anything but how could they when my body was something so different?
It was getting hard to clean around the house but I couldn’t stop, because I couldn’t afford a maid. I also couldn’t let my house just go all disgusting. I needed to clean, and I needed to cook, and I really needed to work.
Finally one day I couldn’t take it anymore. There was something wrong with me, I knew there was, and since the hospital couldn’t help… I called Twinbrook. I got in contact with their City Hall and asked for any listings for the Reddings.
Turned out, there wasn’t any. “None at all?” I asked incredously. “J. Redding? K. Redding? Any-letter-of-the-alphabet Redding?”
“No, sir,” said the man on the other side of the phone. “I’m sorry.”
I didn’t give up so easily. I called their science lab and asked for any clues but they were drawing a blank. They hadn’t heard of any Reddings. I tried all the places I could think of and even ones I knew wouldn’t help at all.
Please, someone… anyone! I thought as I called someone who had started a chess club. But I got the same answer. No Reddings. No Jay, no Kay.
Now I turned my attention to Landgraab Facilities. I began calling them every day, demanding contact information but it finally got to the point where they threatened to sue me for harassment.
There’s nothing I can do, I realized one morning while in the shower. The hot water soothed my aching muscles and I just stood there, my salty tears mingling with the tap water. I let out a small sob and sank down to my knees.
It’s nothing bad, I told myself, squeezing my eyes shut, trying my best to ignore the pain. It’s just arthritis or something. It’s just part of getting older. It’s nothing bad. It’s nothing bad.
Maybe I was just being paranoid, but I really couldn’t convince myself of that no matter how many times I repeated it.