Celestine dashed across the iron footbridge, her backpack riding up her shoulders, her lacquered black hair escaping its ponytail. Ten storeys below in the gorge, the shimmering coil of Trout Creek sparkled like polished jade, a handful of sunbathers stretched out over car-sized boulders.
Thank God for this shortcut, she thought. If she had to go the regular way across the the Arts quad and around the Student Union building, she’ll almost certainly be late, something she could ill-afford – this house cleaning job paid well and she was way behind on her rent. Sprinting through the leafy neighborhood, with streets named after celebrated admirals – Decatur, Farragut, John Paul Bain – she arrived at last at a small peach-colored house, in a terrace, without a garden.
To her surprise, a small boy no older than a first-grader opened the door. He had large brooding eyes, creamy olive skin, and lovely wheat-colored hair, but what seized her attention was the oversized Manchester United T-shirt that draped down to his ankles, as if she had interrupted a game of dress-up.
“Are you Celestine?” he asked in a thin, piping voice.
“Yes. Where are your parents?”
“They’re… urm… away.” He looked nervous as he gestured for her to come inside. “Can you start cleaning now?”
The place was in cyclonic disarray, socks and pants littered like animal skins across the floor, mugs with caramelized residue on the kitchen counter. The kid flitted behind an open laptop – to get back to his banal cartoon, no doubt – leaving her to get on with her job.
Soon the sounds of housework filled the house: the rhythmic motions of the vacuum back and forth over the rugs, the opening and closing of closet doors, the laundry room rumbling with what would soon be clean shirts and sheets. Yet something felt amiss – she had cleaned for several grad students who had young kids, but there wasn’t a trace of childhood detritus in this place, no toys, no paintbrushes, no crayons, not even a gaming console.
CRASH! She knocked a cardboard carton off a shelf she was wiping, spilling its contents out onto the floor. Dropping to her knees, she hurriedly tried to clear up the mess, she couldn’t afford to get fired again, not now, with her bank balance in the red and an eviction notice hanging over her head. But the boy had already reappeared in front of her, a frown on his face.
“Hey, look!” Hoping to distract him, she pointed at a framed photo that had tumbled out of the box, a side-shot of a slope-shouldered young man posing with a soccer ball under his foot. “That’s Luke! I’ve seen him around campus. Are you his little brother?”
A wave of panic and uncertainty chased across the kid’s face. He began to mumble a reply, right as she noticed something unusual in his ears.
“What kind of earbuds are these?” She reached out and plucked them out.
“They look very high-tech.” she said, turning them around in her hands.
“Those are my hearing aids! Give them back!”
“I’ve never seen this brand of earbud before.”
“They’re not earbuds!”
“Quit playing with me now. Such an unusual design…”
“I’m NOT playing with you!”
“Oh yeah? You obviously can hear me just fine.” She grinned. “Besides, you look perfectly normal to me!”
His eyes widened, a stunned expression crossing his face. She watched him press the tips of his slender fingers together like a spider doing push-ups on a mirror, struggling to decide what to do next.
“The truth is,” he finally said, his voice softening to a mew, “I am Luke. I look a little different now, because I’m in the middle of my medical treatment.”
“Medical treatment? For what?”
“Back in high school, I had a severe fever, and after that I found the world a lot quieter than before. The doctor said I had hearing loss…”
“So you really are deaf?”
“I’m NOT DEAF!” His neck corded with rage, his face flushing fire-red.
“Sorry, sorry. But you just said…”
“I just can’t hear very clearly sometimes. My doctors did everything they could, but nothing worked. So I decided to try an experimental treatment to temporarily de-age my body to a point of time before I had the fever, when my hearing was normal, with the hope that after I reverted to my natural age, I’ll retain my normal hearing.”
“I gathering it didn’t work?” She dangled the pair of hearing aids, which he snatched back with a glare.
“No. My hearing didn’t improve at all after I got younger. But the worst part is that the de-aging treatment didn’t go as planned either. My doctors had warned me it was very risky, that I was taking things to unnecessary extremes, but anyway, I was supposed to be de-aged just for a weekend, but instead I was told I’ll be stuck like this until the end of the semester.”
“Now that’s a bummer. But at least your parents are here to help?”
He shook his head. “My mum lives far away and is super busy with the family business, I didn’t want to bother her, plus I already signed an annual lease for this place. I thought I’ll be able to wing it, all my lectures are streamed anyway and I can submit my assignments online, but the audio quality is terrible and I have trouble making out what the professors are saying, so I’ve been falling behind. And I thought I’ll be able to keep the house in order, but I’m too short, I can’t even reach the bottom of my own washing machine...” He blinked and paused for a moment. “I’m rambling. I don’t even know why I’m telling you all of this…”
“It’s because you’re lonely.”
He lurched backward, as if she had punched him in the gut.
“I’ve got an idea! Why don’t I go to your classes and take notes for you? Then you won’t miss anything.”
“I can’t possibly afford to pay you for that.”
“As it so happens, I really need a place to stay right now. If you’ll let me move in with you, I’ll take your notes for free. And I’ll do all your housework too!”
“But I only have one bedroom…”
“I can sleep on the couch.”
“But…” He stared up at her, flabbergasted, lips wobbling.
“It’s decided then!” She mushed his head. “I’ll go pack my things, and I’ll see you tomorrow!”
Chapter 3 (8 min read) - last chapter
Feedback and comments are always appreciated ^.^
A man makes the mistake of denying candy to a trick-or-treater on Halloween.
The New Boy (4 min read)
A teen turns the tables on his older brother.
Back in Diapers (4 min read)
A high schooler is reverted to babyhood.
The Sound of Your Voice 3
Last to First - Part 2
Last to First - Part 1
Last to First - Part 4 (END)
Amazing beginning. I really like this scenario and the ways it could develop!
The only thing I would critique is how quick Celestine accepts him to be Luke. Without him giving her any proof this feels like quite a leap.
Really appreciate your generous compliment and feedback!
Yes you're right, it does feel like too much of a leap of faith on Celestine's part. I could have done a better job say, by including dialog where the kid-Luke states some facts that could only the grown-up-Luke could have known.
Got to feel for Luke a bit, the treatment didn't help his medical problem/ hearing problem and he's stuck at that age for the semester. Though now he has a housemate and maybe even a girlfriend if he grows back up.
A really interesting and fresh plot. I'm looking forward the next part.
A character regressing themselve to cure a sickness make for a neat situation, with struggles and goals, without a vilain being behind the AR like in so many story. Feel novel.
Wow! Thanks much for the compliments! Given how long you've been in our community, it's a high honor to stumble upon a plot that you find fresh and novel :D
And you're correct, I'm not planning for a villain to feature in this story. At least, not a villain in the usual sense ;)