If I had any particular talent—like if I could, for instance, sing—and I can’t. I sound like someone’s strangling a cat—or if I could, maybe dance—I can bounce a little and sometimes it looks like I have the beat—or if I could play an instrument—a few disastrous violin lessons come to mind that are really best not spoken about, I probably could have turned myself into a little kid and made money on a street corner. That might have helped my current financial problems.
I know; I know; I just spent money on bath toys and bubble bath, but the thing is, I couldn’t not do something about my ability. If that meant enjoying something stupid like a bath when mostly I wanted to whine like a little kid about getting screwed by the genetic or superhero lottery and getting this power, I was going to do it.
I really was trying to stay positive about things, but it wasn’t easy. I wasn’t by nature an optimist. What? A guy who dreamed of being a hero not an optimist? Yeah, it’s true. You can think and dream about being something wonderful—and never think it will ever happen. I was the glass empty kind of guy—even if technically it’s always full because there’s air in there.
Never mind. I think I saw that on a t-shirt somewhere and couldn’t even claim that as my own. The only thing I really had was the power to be any age.
Yes, actually, I did try out being a thousand.
Not as interesting as being a little baby again—a newborn. Not kidding. I did try it. I don’t recommend it without someone to back me up. I could only lay there and stare at the clock. It was awesome. Really.
Actually, it made me understand why my parents had ditched me. It was just too much work to care for a baby.
“So… you’re looking to find your parents? How about the adoption records? Are they sealed?”
Clayton shook his head as he adjusted his seat in the private detective’s office. He didn’t know what he was doing, if he was perfectly honest about it. He couldn’t really afford to go looking for his parents, and he didn’t know where to start. Still, he didn’t have a lot of other ideas. If he was going to understand who he was and what he could do and why, he needed to know who they were.
“The records aren’t—I was never adopted,” Clay told the other man. The detective’s eyes widened, and it looked almost comical, with the tacky checkered suit that was more used car salesman than private detective. The bald hair, the big nose. Clayton had known it was a mistake the moment he walked into the office, but he thought he’d at least get an estimate of what this might end up costing him. He knew that he was going to have a hard time getting anywhere—why couldn’t he have been a rich orphan instead of another nobody from the system?
“You’re looking for parents that… dumped you on a relative?”
“That would be easier, I think,” Clay said, shaking his head. “No, Mr. Jones, I don’t have any relatives as far as I know. I don’t know anything about my past or my family. I was dumped in the system, moved from foster home to foster home until I graduated. Now I’m on my own.”
“I see,” the other man said, rising from behind his desk. He walked around and leaned against the front of it. “Kid, can I ask you something?”
“What are you really looking for? Family? It usually doesn’t work that way. The tears and happy reunions between parents that gave babies up for adoption and the kids they abandoned—that’s for Hallmark movies.”
Clayton nodded. “I know. I’m not saying it isn’t. I am not actually looking for a loving mother or father after all this time. I’m not that lucky, trust me. No, I just need to know who they are for… medical reasons.”
“You sick, kid?”
“You could say that,” Clayton agreed quietly. He wasn’t dying, didn’t need a transplant, and as far as he could tell, there were no ill-effects to using his ability unless he tried to use it too soon after the last time. He was fine other than that. Still, he needed to know what this thing was about, and maybe his parents might know.
Or they were dead. And would have had no idea what he was talking about even if they were alive.
“I can’t run my business like a charity,” Jones warned. “Even if you’re dying, kid, I can’t charge less than my expenses, and the kind of work you’re talking… It won’t be easy to track them down. It would be easier if I had adoption records, but it sounds like—”
“I think I’m a dumpster baby. Yeah, I know. I just need an estimate. I don’t think I’ll be able to afford your services any time soon,” Clayton told him. Not unless I rob a bank or something. But even with his ability, he didn’t think he could pull that off. Sure, the thought of going in as some other form of him—an older one, probably in the forties—and sticking the place up, then hiding as a child after he got the money went through his head, but he couldn’t do it. He’d have to wait twenty minutes from the time of shifting into the older form, and then he could rob the place, maybe, but it wasn’t like he wouldn’t be seen changing into a little kid. So then he’d get his ability exposed and get arrested for robbing a bank.
“Here,” Jones said, passing Clay a piece of paper. Clayton looked at it and sighed. “Sorry, kid. Best I can do.”
Clayton set aside the idea of finding his parents for now. He’d have to wait until he had the money. Granted, he could probably walk away from his job and start looking for them himself, but what would he do then? He could screw up any chance he had of a future on the off-chance that his parents might have answers for him, and then what? He’d never get a government job again, he wouldn’t finish college, and he’d be stuck with an ability that was kind of a curse, and no way to support himself.
He could try taking out another loan, but he’d had a hard time getting the one he’d used to support his last semester of school. He didn’t think another one was in the cards right now. He’d finish his internship and go back to…
Oh. Oh, no. How was he supposed to go to school if he had random age shifts? He couldn’t sit in class like that.
He groaned and banged his head against the back of the bench over and over again.
“You’re going to cause brain damage doing that, you know.”
“I am brain damaged,” Clayton muttered, and then he realized what he’d said and sighed. He looked up at the girl who’d spoken to him. He had seen her around the campus. He was pretty sure of that. It was the hat. Well, the hat and the matching scarf. Mostly the scarf. Seeing her now, he had to wonder if the thing was attached to that jacket of hers—though the jacket was brown leather and the scarf was a multicolored knit—because it wasn’t that cold out, but she was wearing it again.
She put her hands in her pockets and looked at him. “You think joking about mental defects is funny?”
Clay studied her for a moment. “You think it’s cold out here or what?”
She reached up to touch the hat and pulled it off, running her fingers through her now messy dark hair as she sat down next to him. “No. It’s not. Why are you banging your head against the bench like it’s going to solve anything?”
“I’m cursed with the ability to change myself into any age possible, and it would be bad enough if I just couldn’t find a use for doing that, but at least once a day, I do it randomly and have to hide in the bathroom or something for twenty minutes. I’m becoming more of a freak than I was in high school.”
“I don’t think you should quit your day job,” she said. “You’d never make it as a stand up comic.”
Clayton glared at her. He wasn’t joking. “Why are we having this conversation?”
“This is my bench. I come here every night to study,” she answered, and he saw the backpack now. She had it on the ground and was taking out her books.
“You study in the noisiest park in the city?” he asked, shaking his head. “You’re crazy.”
“No, I’m an early education major,” she corrected. “I need to be able to think around the noise of kids. I’m training myself. What’s your excuse?”
“I found a bench and started moaning about my life because I’m broke and some kind of… aberration of genetics,” he said, grimacing as he felt the first twinge in his fingers. He looked down. Now was so not the time, but there it was again. Another twitch. “I… have to go.”
“Oh, it is time to change into another age?” she scoffed. “Have fun.”
He glared at her before he stumbled off. Well, that settled another question for him, didn’t it? Even if he told people what he could do, they wouldn’t believe him. He supposed he could go back and prove it to her, but he didn’t even know her, and he had to figure that was for the best.
He tripped over his pant leg and groaned. He’d turned into a little kid. Great. He’d have to hide in the bushes for the next twenty minutes. This was absolutely perfect.