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"Daddy, why did you take me to the hospital?" Abel asked.
He was sitting in the back of the car and was still feeling very funny in the head. Every time he looked out the window it made him all dizzy, so he didn't do that. Instead, he watched his Mommy and Daddy who had really unhappy looks on their faces, though they tried to smile a lot.
"Well, you got really sick last night, Abel. We had to take you to the hospital so they could make you better. You're all better now, so were going home. All your things are right where you left them too. You can play with your Legos©, watch Sesame Street, whatever you'd like to do."
Daddy didn't sound happy either, Abel thought, but he liked the idea of playing with his Legos© or watching Sesame Street. He'd gotten a really nifty Lego© spaceship for his birthday yesterday. It had already crashed once, but he could have fun blowing some of those Lego© pirates up. Still, the unhappiness in his Daddy's voice made him feel really small.
"Can Ricky Long come over and play?"
Mommy sucked in her breath like the way she did when Daddy had told her Great Aunt Lois was passing something. Ricky had told him that she was passing gas, but Abel didn't know what that meant either. Whatever it was, it must have been bad.
Now Mommy was making that same face. Was Ricky passing gas too?
"No, sweetie," Mommy replied, smiling widely. "You have to take it easy so you can recover. No friends over today."
"Okay, Mommy," Abel said, a bit disappointed. Mommy turned back around and looked out the front window, and Daddy kept on driving. There was nothing to do but sit and wait. Abel looked out the window a few more times, and the feeling of ickiness that was in his head and belly was beginning to go away. But he didn't recognize any of the streets they were on.
"Daddy, where are we?"
"We're heading home, Abel. We just had to take a different route, that's all."
"What's a route?"
His Daddy chuckled then, but it was a tired sound. "It's a way of going from one place to another. We had to go this way to get to the hospital. Don't worry, we'll be home soon."
"Daddy, I don't remember being sick."
"It happened while you were asleep, sweetie," Mommy consoled him. She turned and smiled back to him, cupping his chin in her hand. He really liked her smile when it was warm with her eyes all lit up. She was smiling that smile now. "But you are all better now, sweetie. All better."
Abel felt much better then and smiled right back to his Mommy. She blew him a kiss, and he blew her one back. All the funny feelings inside of him were beginning to disappear, and so Abel sat in his seat and looked out the window again. It was starting to look familiar, and he recognized some of the houses that he saw on the street, but it looked like the barn was gone. That big red barn that nobody had ever used was just gone! He wondered when that had happened.
And then, he saw a bunch of people on one side of the street. They looked really mean too. They were yelling and carrying signs and they looked like they wanted to throw rocks at them or something. "Mommy, Daddy, who are those people?" Abel asked in excitement. He'd never seen anything like this!
"Dear?" Mommy said, not to Abel but to Daddy, sounding really worried.
"I know. I know. They can't come any closer, don't worry." Abel wasn't sure what Daddy was talking about, but if he meant those people, then he was really glad that they couldn't come any closer. There must be like some force field or something holding them back. He giggled at the thought of big beams pushing them around, and rocks bouncing off the air as they tried to get close.
And then suddenly, they turned into their driveway and the car had stopped. "Home at last!" Daddy crooned, but he didn't take any time at all to jump out and come to Abel's side. Abel wondered why Daddy insisted on undoing the child seat, but had no time to ask before he was swept up into Daddy's arms and hurried into the house.
Dr. Villagrosa regarded the parents standing before him with nervous and fearful expressions on their faces. He could hardly blame them for being afraid. What they had just done to their son was not normal, even if they had been given no choice in the matter.
"How will he be when he wakes up?" Dennis asked, rubbing his hands together feverishly.
"Confused," Villagrosa replied. They were in a small conference room off the observation ward where the child was being examined for any signs of stress. "He may also be groggy and dizzy at first. He'll definitely want to see his parents and will wonder why he is in the hospital. He certainly won't remember coming here. You'll have to comfort him and assure him that everything is all right and that you are here to take him home. You are planning on moving, aren't you?"
"Yes," Lisa sighed in resignation. "Yes, we're going to be moving out of state. It's all prepared, and we'll be able to start out in a few days. Dennis already has a new job lined up."
"My company has an office out in Colorado. They were kind enough to arrange a transfer."
"Good," Villagrosa nodded in approval. "The move will be a big shock to him, but it would be worse if you stayed."
"Even if the neighbours weren't out to kill him," Dennis muttered.
"Yes. You will need to minimize the shock of a move. Make sure he feels as if nothing has changed today. You should have already redone your home the way it was back then, yes?"
"As best we can remember," Lisa supplied. "It's not perfect."
"At his age, most of the oddities will be forgotten, but not all. And you should be careful how you behave around him. He'll be very sensitive to your emotions."
"What should we do?" Lisa asked.
Villagrosa narrowed his eyes. "Be loving parents, of course."
"Do you notice anything different?" Mommy asked as she led him into his bedroom.
Abel looked around, still feeling very confused. Ever since they had come home his Mommy and Daddy had led him around the house asking about where everything was and if anything looked out of place. And what had really been a shock, half his Legos© seemed to be missing! He still had his space ship, but all his pirate Legos© were gone! Daddy promised that they'd get him some new ones, but he'd really liked the ones he'd had!
His room looked right though. But his Snoopy bedspread was gone, a Star Wars one in its place. "Mommy, where's my Snoopy?"
"Your Snoopy?" Mommy sounded really worried all of a sudden. Abel was sure he'd done something wrong to make her so upset. But she had asked and this was different and so he had to tell her.
He patted the bed and saw that he had Tie-fighters on the sheets now. "Yeah, my Snoopy sheets!"
"Oh!" Mommy said, her face really funny looking. "Oh you were sick all over those sweetie. I had to throw them away. We put your Star Wars™ sheets on instead. Is that okay?"
"I guess." He didn't ever remember having Star Wars™ sheets, but they looked pretty cool. He loved Star Wars™. "Mommy, can I get some more Star Wars™ stuff?"
"You just had your birthday, sweetie. Why don't you wait a little bit first, okay?" Mommy looked over to Daddy who was standing in the doorway looking all grim. He had this really unhappy face.
"Is everything else where its supposed to be, Abel?"
Abel nodded and felt really bad. He was feeling really tired and he didn't like the way that Mommy and Daddy were talking and looking at each other. Being sick last night must have been really bad. He wished he could remember what it was he'd done.
Looking on his bed, he saw that Froggy was lying there on the pillow, but he looked different, really beat up. He picked up the stuffed frog and clutched him tight in his arms. "What happened to Froggy, Mommy? He's all torn!"
Mommy bent down and inspected the animal real close and nodded. "I know, sweetie. You hurt him pretty bad last night when you were sick. But he'll be fine. I can stitch him up some more, and get some more stuffing for him. Would you like that?"
Abel nodded and held Froggy tight. They were best of friends, and he hated seeing Froggy look so hurt.
"Well, that's the whole house," Daddy said, and he sounded real tired too.
"Sweetie?" Mommy said to him, smiling. There was something in her eyes though that made Abel feel all funny inside again. Something really bad was going to happen. "What would you like to do, sweetie?"
Abel thought about it a minute. He was really tired still, especially after going over the whole house! He really just wanted to sit down and rest. "Can Froggy and me watch Sesame Street, Mommy?"
"Of course you can sweetie!" Mommy grabbed him under the arms and picked him up. He hugged Froggy and his Mommy tight as she carried him back downstairs.
"So he should remember nothing then?" Dennis asked, his face turned into a sour moue.
"That's correct. Nothing past his fifth birthday," Dr. Villagrosa replied. "The brain is in a constant state of development as we grow. Especially at a young age. You are familiar with the phrase you cannot teach an old dog new tricks?"
"Yes," Lisa said. "What does that have to do with our boy?"
"Simply put, when we are younger, our brains are less developed. Pathways to learn and think are being developed. Thus, the brain of a younger child can be moulded more easily than that of an adult. So by taking him back ten years, we have eliminated all of the pathways that were constructed. So, new ones can now be more easily built, and the chances of you changing the course of his life are increased. At five years of age, some pathways are already started, some modes of thought that may be destructive are in the process of being built. But, those can always be diverted if caught early enough."
"So he'll remember nothing from the last ten years?" Dennis asked again as if he were irritated at having heard the longer explanation.
"That is correct. For him, it will be as if it never happened at all. When he wakes up, yesterday will have been his fifth birthday."
Sesame Street was fun to watch as always. Abel kept Froggy in his lap while he sat on the couch watching as Big Bird and Oscar and the rest talked about the letter G. But he had trouble concentrating on them. He kept hearing Mommy's and Daddy's voices from the kitchen behind him. They sounded really frightened, and that made Abel get all worried again.
When Big Bird started singing about all the words one could spell with the letter G, Abel climbed up off the couch and tiptoed real quiet-like to the door. He knew he shouldn't be listening, that it was one of those no-nos that his Mommy had told him he should never do. But he just had to know what they were saying.
Abel held Froggy tight to his chest and leaned his head against the door. Mommy and Daddy were both whispering, and he couldn't understand everything that they were saying, but he knew that it was really bad because they both were so frightened and upset!
"He didn't get the Star Wars™ sheets until he was six. I told you they were a mistake," Daddy said, his voice angry.
"I know, I'm sorry. But at least he likes them, right?"
"God, how much else have we messed up today? I swear, it's just bizarre seeing him this young again. I hope he likes Colorado. Damned if I ever wanted to move out west."
"Dennis please, not so loud. He might hear us."
"Right, sorry." Daddy began to speak real quite then. "Well, how do we tell him that he can never see any of his friends again? I almost threw up when he asked about Rick."
"You saw his Dad on the street didn't you?"
"Yeah. I did."
Mommy made a long sigh that sounded like she wanted to cry. "I still can't believe he did that... we can't let it happen again."
"We won't. He won't do that again, Lisa. Stop worrying. So because of him we have to start our lives over again, right? So what, right?"
Daddy's voice was so hard that Abel felt a cold hand grip him right around his belly. Before he knew it, he was sobbing in horror, tears getting poor Froggy all wet.
"You are going to have to be very careful with him in the first few days. He may now be five years old, but a move can still be rough on a child of even that age. He will still remember a few things about his youth, things that will conflict with the reality he'll be forced to face."
Dennis nodded his head, growing impatient with the doctor. "And that's why we're asking you for advice on how to make sure he doesn't go digging into his past."
"We don't want him to know anything about what happened," Lisa put in, her eyes dry and incapable of shedding any more tears.
Doctor Villagrosa grimaced, his own patience wearing thin. "And that is why I suggested you regress him even younger. Yes, five years is the oldest the courts would allow, but it's still too old. He'll remember far too many things, his real last name, even his real birthday. You are going to have a very confused child on your hands. And he could very well, while trying to figure out the contradictions of his life, discover just what happened. You should really consider regressing him further."
"If we'd made him any younger, then he might grow up into a completely different person. We'd have killed our son," Dennis snapped, his hands trembling from rage and fatigue.
"Wasn't that the point?" Villagrosa replied acidly. Lisa gasped in horror.
The doctor sucked in his breath and lowered his eyes, cooling the heat he felt. He had done his duty. "At five years of age, some of the damage that ultimately led to him deciding to kill his classmates may have already been done. It may not have, but there is really no way to know for sure. The court order required you to regress your child, thus expunging all of his memories and development back to a certain age. You chose to make him as old as legally possible. The responsibility is yours, as always."
"And don't you ever forget that," Dennis said, biting his words off in his anger.
"Take good care of him, and pray that he grows well."
Lisa looked to her husband, fear in her eyes. Dennis held her hand tightly. "I will. Now tell us more that we need to know to help him adjust."
His heart heavy, Villagrosa continued to do just that.
It didn't take long for Mommy and Daddy to come out of the kitchen when they heard his crying. Both of them had on that scary unhappy look that made Abel feel even tighter in his tummy. He couldn't stop the tears as they came out of his eyes, but his Mommy and Daddy just kept looking at him all funny.
"What's wrong sweetie?" his Mommy said, bending over and holding out her arms.
That made Abel feel a bit better, and he climbed into her arms. They were so strong around him and he just cried into them. She shushed him for several moments while Daddy just stood back and watched. He kept looking at Abel funny, and that made his tummy feel awful again.
"Did you hear us talking?" Mommy asked, and Abel nodded his head. He knew it was wrong to listen in when Mommy and Daddy talked grown-up stuff, but it was all so scary, he had to listen! But Mommy's voice was still so sharp that he was afraid that she would yell at him or send him to his room.
"It's okay, sweetie, don't cry. Mommy isn't mad at you." She cradled his head against her chest, and Abel felt a little bit better. He sniffled and tried to dry his eyes again on her arm. She brushed his hair back, and continued to shush him softly while rocking him back and forth. Slowly, bit by bit, Abel felt calmer and not as afraid. Mommy was here and she was holding him. And he was holding his best friend Froggy. It couldn't be all that bad could it?
But he still felt frightened and he didn't understand why. His Mommy and Daddy had been acting all funny, and it was making him very confused. And some of his birthday presents were gone too, and all his Mommy and Daddy wanted to do was ask him what they were. The last time some of his stuff had been taken away was when he'd been very bad, and with the secret way they whispered all the grown-up stuff, he felt certain that he'd done something really awful.
"Mommy?" Abel asked, wishing the she would smile and make everything go away. Smile the way that she used to.
His Mommy did smile, but it wasn't the bright loving smile that he hoped for. It was the smile that told him she was busy and he should just go away and play with his toys alone.
"What is it sweetie?"
"Did I... did I do something bad, Mommy? Is that why you and Daddy are upset at me?"
Daddy made a really funny noise in his throat then, and Mommy started to cry, and her whole body started shaking. Abel felt very confused and frightened by this, and felt his own tears returning. But Mommy brushed his hair back and kissed his forehead several times before wiping the tears out of her eyes. She hugged him close then and said, "No sweetie, you haven't done anything wrong. You are my sweet little Abel and you're always going to be a good boy. I love you, Abel. I love you so very much."
Comforted, Abel hugged his Mommy back. "I love you too, Mommy." He felt better then, and though he didn't think he should smile just yet, he knew that somehow his Mommy and Daddy would make things all right again. He had their love. It was a feeling that warmed him from the tips of his toes all the way to his ears. And he wanted his Mommy and Daddy's love.
He just could not imagine what he would do without it.