Just a small story, apropos of nothing; but Lucy's point of view finally shows up...

Too Little

1

Kansas; McConnell AFB officer's housing-

Lucinda Tracy was on a treadmill. Not like her former work grind. A real one, in the sunny family room of the big house on base. She wore Reebok cross-trainers, grey sweat-pants and a Los Angeles Rams football jersey, rather than tight-fitting workout clothes. Her long, golden hair (something was still in shape, thank God!) was sleeked back in a no-nonsense ponytail, over which a pair of earphones whispered accompaniment to the plasma-screen TV.

(The Travel Network; just now she was exploring the canals of Venice, recently raised, and relatively negotiable.)

After an extremely busy morning of breakfast preparation, potty detail, chasing down and dressing a petulant toddler, then wrapping said two-year-old and his new baby brother up warm, they'd been jammed into the van to go shopping.

Vaguely, Lucy remembered the days before diaper bags and runny noses..., but the memories were fading fast. Life had changed. Priorities had shifted.

Now, instead of business lunches, there were plastic bowls filled with bright orange "Spaghetti-Ohs". Instead of power-point presentations, Sesame Street. And her 'colleagues' no longer sported Prada and horn-rims, but terry cloth and finger paint.

...And she wouldn't have traded back. Not for anything the 'real world' had to offer. Jeff was away a great deal, true; he was an Air Force pilot and astronaut candidate, who was more often busy than not. But the life they were building was a good one. She loved him, and in the meantime, she still had the boys... And about thirty extra pounds, after Johnny's birth.

Lucy might not have wanted her old existence back, but her figure was another matter, quite. She was determined to squeeze into her 'pre-baby' clothes by the time Jeff returned.

As this was mid-January, and he was scheduled to arrive on February 4th, she had serious work to do. Thus, the treadmill and rowing machines, whenever the boys could be persuaded to go down for a nap.

According to the treadmill's digital pedometer, she'd walked nearly two-and-a-half miles when Scotty ran in, short legs pumping, blue eyes wide. He was shouting something, which Lucinda had to remove her earphones to hear.

"What is it, Sweetie?" She asked worriedly, turning off the machine, and stepping down.

"Mamma, Johnny! Mamma hurry, Johnny!"

"Oh, no...!"

Lucy scooped up her little son, and ran from the wood-paneled family room, pounding along a narrow, carpeted hall. She could hear the dog making a weird sound; not so much a bark, as a concerned whine.

A mother's fear for her little one completely by-passes reason. Lucy couldn't think anything at all but,

'Please, please, please...!'

... as she raced for the baby's room. Got to the door and inside, where Rusty was standing beside the crib, using her head to support the baby's body.

Johnny... It took his mother a second or so to realize that the infant's body was dangling outside the crib, his head trapped between two of the ornately-carved wooden slats. Somehow, the padded bumper had been pushed up and out of the way. The tall Irish Setter whined again, but wagged her plume-y red tail.

"Good dog, Rusty. Good girl."

Her voice a good deal calmer than she felt, Lucinda instructed Scott to hold his baby brother.

"...I'm going to pull the bars apart, Sweetie. You catch Johnny. Don't let him fall, Baby."

"Okay, Mamma."

He, too, was calm, certain that there was no problem too difficult for his tall, beautiful mother. The baby was terribly pale, shaking like a new kitten, but quiet.

Lucy got into position, took hold of the two prisoning bars, and pulled them apart. He slipped free, dropping into Scotty's waiting arms. The two-year-old rocked backward, but held onto his brother, pushed upright again by Rusty, who then attempted to lick everyone, at once.

Lucy took the baby, examining him frantically, and only now beginning to panic. There were two long, red welts on either side of his soft little blond head, which lolled listlessly, rather than turning alertly about.

In an anguish of worry, she called 911, threw coats on both boys, and drove to the base hospital. She was met at the emergency room doors, and the baby taken away on a barred gurney, whisked off for examination and treatment. Then, there was nothing to do but sit in the crowded waiting room, and worry.

At one point, while Scott played with blocks and watched TV, Lucy considered calling Jeff, but decided against it. Her husband needed to concentrate, if he was to have any chance at all of making it into the second Apollo Program. He needed a partner, not a terrified liability. Only if something was seriously wrong... But it wouldn't be. 'Please, God, don't let anything bad happen.'

Some four hours later, her name was called, and Lucinda Tracy went to the Pediatric Emergency Ward's nurse station. There she was met again, this time by a smiling young woman; a uniformed intern. The girl looked like a cheerful, caring sort, with dark red hair, brown eyes, and glasses. But most of all..., best of all, she was holding the baby.

"There you go," the intern murmured softly, handing the little one over. "Didn't I say? Didn't I tell you Mamma 'd be right along?"

Lucy took the infant boy with shaking hands, while Scott tip-toed up, then jumped, attempting to see his brother.

"Is he...?" Mrs. Tracy began, after kissing and nuzzling the wide-eyed baby, then stooping down to lift Scotty.

"He'll be fine, Ma'am," the intern told her, soothingly. Lucy might not have any rank, herself, but the fact that her husband was a full-bird colonel was in the files, and rated immediate, respectful service.

"We administered some baby Tylenol, and held him for observation, but the worst he's sustained seems to be some exterior bruising. I'd think about switching out that crib, though."

Lucy nodded, saying miserably,

"It's a family heirloom. My husband's great-grandfather carved it by hand."

The intern pursed her thin lips, the rims of her wire-framed glasses flashing back the ward's harsh, fluorescent light.

"Maybe you could hold toys in it, or something, Ma'am, but..."

"Don't worry. I'm headed right to the PX to buy something safer."

Lucy returned to kissing the baby's face. He seemed to smile momentarily, surprising her, but at such a young age, it was probably just gas. The intern hesitated, then ventured,

"Ma'am..., Have you considered having his intelligence tested?"

Immediately, Lucinda became defensive.

"I realize that Johnny's a bit unresponsive," she said, "but my brother got off to a slow start, too, and he's now..."

"No, Ma'am," the girl interrupted, hands raised in a placating manner. "Maybe I gave the wrong impression. I didn't mean to suggest that he seems behind, or anything. I just... When we were examining him, he didn't cry, but he kept... Mrs. Tracy, it almost sounded like he was calling for 'Mamma'. So, I started talking to him, explaining what we were doing, and darned if he didn't calm right down. Like he could understand what I was saying. Sounds far-fetched, I know."

She reached out to ruffle Scott's black hair, and tapped at the infant's tiny button of a nose, adding,

"I just thought, when you get a chance, you might want to take him to a child psychologist. He seems... Unusually alert, for a four-month-old."

But Lucy (herself a card-carrying member of Mensa, and an early piano prodigy) had seen a great many child psychologists in her day. Too many.

"Thank you, Doctor," she replied stiffly. "I will certainly give your suggestion due consideration."

The girl smiled a little, and shrugged. One simply didn't argue with 'Mrs. Senior Officer'.

"Just a thought, Ma'am."

To the baby, she cooed,

"Bye-bye, Little Fella! I hope to not see you in the emergency ward again, anytime soon! Take care of Mamma and Big Brother!"

He made a little sound like a sneeze, and another of those 'gas smiles'. Lucinda bade the young doctor farewell, and made her way to a small chamber set aside for nursing mothers. It was pleasantly furnished, with a rocking chair, flowered wall paper, magazines and toys. Soft music was piped in, the clatter, bustle and din of the hospital filtered out. In a word, peace.

While Lucy fed the baby, Scott sat down upon the carpeted floor and drew a crayon picture, humming to himself. She smiled fondly upon her oldest son, who was certainly bright and chatty, and very good with his baby brother.

Then, still smiling, relieved to her very soul, she looked into the baby's small face. All blue eyes he was, solemn and silent. Lucy stroked the blond hair away from his bandaged forehead, and whispered,

"Why do you always look so worried, Sweetpea?"

" 'Cause he can' get up," Scott informed her, matter-of-factly. "Is scary... if nobody comes."

Lucinda pursed her lips, staring at the dark-haired little boy, all dimples and innocence.

"Oh? And you know this, do you, Scotty?"

"Uh-huh. Johnny tol' me. But is okay. I stay there... or Rus'y. So he coul' be happy."

Scott had gotten up by this time, bringing his mother the wildly crayoned paper.

"Look, Mamma. Look at my picher."

Automatically, Lucinda bent to examine the drawing.

"That's very nice, Sweetie," she said, pulling him up onto her lap, and shifting the sleepy infant. Naturally, she couldn't make out a thing beyond some slanting dark lines. "Tell me about it, Baby-Boy."

Scott started pointing things out (at random, she'd have sworn, though he seemed to know what everything was).

"See, Mamma... There's me... an' tha's Rus'y... An' there's Johnny... He's stuck by his head."

She saw no such things, but soldiered on regardless, like a good mother.

"And, is he crying?"

"No... he don' cry. He..."

"Doesn't," Lucinda corrected, firmly. "He doesn't cry. Not 'don't'. That's poor grammar, Sweetie. We don't speak that way."

"Okay... Johnny dosn' cry. He talks 'a me. An' Rus'y."

"Rusty talks to you, too?" She enquired, suppressing a soft chuckle.

"No, Mamma!" Scott looked deeply exasperated, as though he couldn't believe how thick she was being. "Rus'y don'... Doesn' talk. Tha's only on TV! Johnny talks 'a Rus'y, an' me. Okay?"

She ruffled his black hair, kissing both Scott, and his milky calm, silent brother.

"Babies make noises, Sweetie. That's the way they learn to actually speak."

Scott gave up.

"Okay, Mamma."

It would be another six months before the issue came up, again.

2

Lucinda had been vacuuming the living room, struggling with the first stages of morning sickness. Another visit, another baby. She and Jeff, their friends joked, were like an assembly line... and the living room was an absolute ruin, strewn with toys, videos, and fabric baby books.

Under the influence of hormones, she had lately become terribly emotional, as well as feeling deeply bloated and queasy. And then, all at once, everything became completely overwhelming; the Spanish-style living room seemed like a bombed-out demilitarized zone, the vacuum noise was an ear-splitting howl, Jeff would be off work in less than three hours, and the McCords were coming to dinner...

Lucinda jerked the vacuum cleaner's cord out of the wall, and ran for the kitchen sink, sobbing and retching into the sudden silence. Didn't produce much, though. She hadn't eaten that morning, too sick from feeding Scott and the baby to even look at breakfast.

Lucy berated herself fiercely, rubbed water on face and eyes, then began crying, again, over some of the names she'd called herself. She'd suddenly visualized one of those huge, bloated, egg-laying queen ants, with the rippling white abdomens and never-ending streams of larvae. While Lydia McCord was still as slim and elegant as a girl!

Between bouts of self-pity, Lucy became aware of a sound. She listened, barely interested, at first, then gradually drawing to attention. Voices. One was definitely Scotty's... high-pitched and wheedling. The other... she didn't recognize. Worried lest a neighbor's child had somehow gotten in through pool deck and screen porch, Lucinda Tracy adjusted the set of her plastic hair-band, scrubbed at her blotchy face with cold tap water, and hurried down the hall to check on her boys.

They shared the same bedroom, now; Scotty often climbing into the crib to sleep with the baby. She'd tried to stop him, at first, but as it kept Johnny in bed and relaxed, she'd soon quit objecting.

He was a restless baby. Still very quiet, of course, but into everything. He'd even taught himself to walk by clinging to the dog's long red hair, and letting her pull him along.

Lucy paused at the boys' threshold, then ducked out of sight to watch them from hiding. There was no neighbor child, only three-year-old Scott, and his ten-month-old brother. They were seated on the floor, surrounded by toys. Rusty lay stretched out nearby, half asleep. Looking toward the doorway, her tail wagged. Fortunately, the boys failed to notice.

As their baffled mother looked on, Scott held out a slim yellow book, a hopeful, beseeching look on his face.

"Please?" He asked. "C 'mon, Johnny, please read it?"

"Not... 'Big Trucks' again..." His words were sloppily formed, and painfully spaced, but understandable. And he sounded just as vexed as she probably did, when asked to read the same story aloud for the tenth time in one day. Lucy's hand went over her mouth, and she pressed herself closer to the door jamb. The baby said, gazing up at his older brother,

"Is a... stupid book..., Scotty."

"Please? Just one more time?"

"No."

If ever a baby had looked like he wanted to bang his head against a wall, John did now. But Scott had a strategy. Evidently, they'd had this argument, before.

"I'll get you some juice," he sing-songed, proudly tossing down the winning hand. Johnny weakened.

"Juice?"

"Uh-huh. Apple. An' a cookie, too."

That did it. The baby succumbed.

"Okay... but jus' one more time... only."

Scott vaulted to his sneakered feet and hurried for the door, chanting something tuneless and satisfied. Lucinda ducked further into the shadows, but she needn't have bothered. Scotty was too intent on his errand to notice her presence. So she went on into the cowboy-themed bedroom, shaking her head and smiling.

"Sell out."

The baby looked up, clearly startled. Lucy went over and crouched before him, sickness and misery forgotten.

"You've sold your intellectual integrity... for a box of juice," she chuckled, reaching out to stroke his wispy-pale hair.

"But, Mamma... is' apple!" He protested.

"Would... would you say that again, please, Sweetie?"

"Apple," he repeated promptly.

"No... I meant, 'Mamma'. You've never called me that, before. Or spoken with me. Just Scotty, I guess. And Rusty."

They both looked over at the setter, who lifted her slim head at the sound of her name, thumped her tail a few times upon the floor, then yawned.

"Rus'y, good dog," the baby said to his hairy nursemaid.

"Yes, she is a good dog," Lucinda admitted, laughing a little. "So... you can read, as well?"

"Uh-huh, Mamma... But I don' like it... anymore." And he gestured around the room at piles of colorful, large-print, clown, truck and animal stories. "All the books are stupid. 'Specially 'Big Trucks'..., and 'Farm Babies'."

"Well," She had to fight very hard to control the urge to laugh. "I think you just haven't been reading the right books, Sweetie. These are for... Well, they are meant to teach younger children their letters. I'll get you something higher-level, straightaway."

And then, she reached out and scooped him up, delighting in her new, talking, reading baby son. Scott re-entered, then, two juice boxes and a bag of graham crackers in hand.

"Hi, Mamma!" He greeted her, happily. "Johnny's gonna read to me, again!"

She must have heard him say that fifty times, and let it pass as childish imagination every darn one of them.

"Yes, Baby. He told me so," she replied, drawing in the thrilled, squealing toddler for his share of kisses. "In return for juice."

"Well, it is apple," Scotty explained earnestly, putting the straw through the boxes' little opening. He next handed one to his waiting brother, and they both snuggled into Lucy's lap for the story. Johnny drank about half, then turned his attention to the book that their mother held open before them. In a dreary, bored voice, the baby began to read.

"Big Trucks...," he sighed, expressively. "See the truck. It is big... It is yellow... It can go fast. Go, Truck. Go fast..."

3

McConnell AFB, Kansas-

On a dim morning, some nine months later, Lucinda Tracy stood in the steam-dewed master bath, watching Jeff as he shaved. Her husband was quite tall and strikingly handsome, with military-short dark hair and a muscular body.

He stood plying his razor in boxers and his Air Force dogtags, smelling of shaving cream and bath water. She, by this time, was as big as a house. So pregnant, she felt about to burst, and had to lean far back to balance the weight of her great, swollen belly. The new baby, their third son, was due very soon.

"... Reporting in two more weeks," Jeff was saying, his deep voice seeming to sink clear through her. "Then it's back to the Cape. I'm in the running to pilot Apollo 19, with Pete in the command slot. That's scuttlebutt, though; don't repeat it, yet." A short pause ensued, whilst he shaved the area beneath his nose. Then,

"Anyway, the moon won't wait, no matter what's going on back home. Better get busy and produce the kid, Hon."

She rubbed absently at her belly, feeling the little one stir languidly within. Scott had moved a great deal, John in sporadic bursts. Virgil seemed to spend most of his time resting, unless massaged.

(It had been Jeff's idea, naming his sons after Mercury and Gemini astronauts- sort of a good luck gimmick. But Lucy got to pick the middle names; each and every one, a former beau's.)

"Sir, yes Sir, Colonel!" She quipped. "I'm on it."

Jeff flashed a bright, confident smile.

"That's what I like to hear, woman. Discipline, and obedience."

Lucy reached for a wet towel, spun it into a tight rat-tail, and made ready to sting her tall, arrogant, love of a husband. And she would have, too... But then Johnny wandered in, looking bored. Vengeance would have to be delayed.

The toddler hugged his mother's puffy legs, then pulled out a row of drawers to serve as stairs, and climbed onto the chipped green counter.

"Hey there, Tiger," his father greeted him. "Need a shave?"

The boy nodded, so Jeff picked him up, smeared shaving cream over the bottom half of his little face (and the tip of his nose), and proceeded very carefully to 'shave' his son. As always, he pretended to forget the underside of John's rounded chin, until the boy pointed it out.

"Uh-oh. Missed a spot, did I?"

"Yes, Daddy. Again."

Scotty always giggled, but Johnny simply took the playful 'error' with patient good humor, like a tired joke told at each and every family gathering by an elderly uncle with hairy ears.

"Well, there's no sloppiness among the Tracy men, while I'm around. Let me just take care of that... Careful, now. I might slip, and cut off your nose."

Then, as the blond toddler admired his 'newly shorn' face in the foggy mirror,

"That'll be five bucks, Mister. Pay up, or you'll be scrubbing the bathroom floor with your toothbrush!" (He always said that, too.)

"I'm afraid I'll have to owe you, Daddy," Johnny told him, plucking at the blue terry-cloth pajama he was wearing. "This suit has no pockets."

Jeff smiled at his son's reflection.

"Nice bunny, though," the tall pilot remarked, pointing out the insipid baby animal printed beside John's zipper. "Very manly."

He set the boy down, then, and left to finish getting ready for work. Johnny pattered back to his mother across the long counter.

"What's your brother doing, Sweetie?" She asked, stroking his damp hair. The toddler glanced down at her belly.

"Sleeping, I'd say."

"The other one, Johnny. What is Scott doing?"

The little blond appeared to deflate like a burst tire. In a voice heavy with boredom and incredulity, he said,

"Banging his trucks together, Mamma. I tried telling him that it's highly unlikely that there would be that many accidents in ten minutes on a three-foot stretch of carpet, but he wasn't inclined to listen, so I came to see what you and Daddy were doing."

Lucinda sighed gustily, then blew a 'raspberry' against the tiny boy's neck. He giggled and squirmed, but didn't try very hard to break free.

"As you can see, nothing much here. Your father is preparing for work, as I attempt to motivate a sleepy baby."

"We could play Risk," her middle son suggested hopefully.

"After lunch, Johnny. Your father needs attention, too. Why not watch a video? Grandma sent that nice one she recorded off of the Discovery Channel. It's all about the Oort Cloud. Beats trying to explain the laws of probability to Scotty, anyway."

The small boy wasn't amused, however.

"Why does everyone laugh, or ignore me, when I try to have a serious discussion?"

Then, pointing dejectedly at the frisking little animal on his pajama,

"It's the bunny, isn't it? Noone takes you seriously in terry cloth and Pooh characters."

Lucy bit her lip, and gathered him close, again. He was a moody little fellow, her beautiful, brilliant son, but always she'd been able to jolly him back round again.

"I'm not laughing, Johnny. And it isn't your outfit, precisely. It's just that the things you want to discuss, the way you think, don't seem to match your appearance, and sometimes people are, well... 'tickled', for want of a better word. But that's why we play the 'baby act' game in public, and why I'm here; to smooth things over for you."

She cuddled him close, swinging slowly from side to side in the gradually cooling bathroom.

"I was considered a major intellect in my time... But you are truly extraordinary, Sweetpea, and I can't wait to see what you someday accomplish."

Another spate of silliness followed, then, wherein she lifted him higher, and pretended to bite his stomach. He batted at her head, insisting that,

"You can't win every argument by kissing me, Mamma!"

"Yes, I can, because I'm your mother, and mothers always win!"

A few moments later, laughing breathlessly, she added,

"Why don't you get a book, Sweetie? There must be something in the den you haven't read, yet."

He considered, briefly, then brightened, climbed down from the counter top, and gave his mother's legs another swift, tight hug.

"The medical encyclopedia!" he decided, happily. "I have a question to research, after watching Dumbo, yesterday."

And then he was gone, in a flash of blue cloth and blond hair. Lucinda shouted,

"Stay away from volume 'S' ! I mean it!"

Then she went out to the bedroom to help Jeff with his tie and uniform. When all was properly fastened and knotted, she stood back to examine her handiwork, shaking her head at his lifted eyebrow and cocksure expression. Jeff looked good, and knew it.

"When you get back from the Cape, I'll be a size 8 again," she promised, after turning sideways for a hug.

Jeff dropped a kiss on her forehead.

"What happened to all that 'inner beauty' and 'platonic ideal' stuff you used to spout at me, on our walks?" He protested, jokingly. "All this time, I thought you loved me for my mind."

Lucy chuckled.

"Nope. Sorry," she teased back. "I'm only keeping you around for the sex, big fella."

...which, naturally, was the exact moment that John returned, dragging an encyclopedia and looking truly outraged.

Jeff Tracy broke away from his wife, and ruffled the toddler's blond head on his way to the bureau. Humming the 'Air Force Hymn', he stared at himself in the mirror, and began pinning on ribbons and rank insignia.

Johnny, meanwhile, had opened the book to a particular diagram, turned it to face his mother, and jabbed a finger at the page. Lucy blushed.

"Sweetie...," she began.

"I knew that stork business was a tissue of lies! It's aerodynamically impossible, and... and...," deeply upset, he finished, "How could you? That's ... disgusting!"

Never a dull moment.

"Angel-Baby... you'll understand when you're older. There are things that adults do, that can't be explained to you, just yet. Your brain is far ahead of your emotions, right now, Sweetie. Just, trust me, and for heaven's sake, don't tell Scotty!"

"Why not?" The small boy demanded, dropping the book. "He has a right to know about the degrading squishiness of our origins! Gross! I'm never, ever going to do that, no matter what!"

Then, of course, Jeff returned, meaning to fetch his mirror-polished dress shoes. He was still humming to himself, but not for long.

Johnny took one look at his smug father, and bolted from the room. Jeff watched the boy go, then turned to his wife.

"Did that little monster just look at me and shudder?" he asked.

"No, Dear!" Lucy responded, a bit over-brightly. "He's just coming down with something, and he's going to his room to lie down!" She shouted the last part, to be certain the fleeing toddler heard.

"That's right!" Johnny called back, bitterly, "pull out the old 'Divine Right of Parents' argument!"

"John Matthew Tracy!"

Fainter, through a loudly slammed bedroom door,

"Imprisoning the opposition doesn't make you right!"

Jeff's jaw dropped.

"What the hell is he...?"

Lucinda rubbed at her temples, then reached out to pat her husband's broad shoulders, and straighten his blue jacket.

"Nothing, Jeff. I'll handle it. Just concentrate on going to the moon, all right?"

He shook his head, mouth thinning.

"You're the expert, Lucy; but, if you ask me, that kid gets away with far too much back-talk. One of these days, he and I are going to go a few rounds, and I'll teach him how to respect his..."

"No." She was terribly serious, her blue eyes drilling diamond-sharp into his brown ones. "Jeff, there is nothing wrong with that boy that maturity and patience wont cure. Leave him to me."

Her husband's jaw muscles tightened.

"Lucy, I'm not going to argue about this... but, when he's fifteen, and you're bailing him out of prison, don't blame me."

It was a cold, quiet departure.

Later, the bedroom door cracked open, and Scotty peered within, violet-blue eyes wide and questioning. Rusty eased herself off the bed, and came to the door, her tags jingling musically. She tried to lick the older boy's face, but he pushed her away.

"Johnny... you're in timeout, again?" He asked, hesitantly.

The two-year-old, lying face down on his bunk, with a pillow over his head, nodded.

"How come, this time?" Scott prodded, coming closer.

The checkered pillow whipped aside, revealing an angry, tear-streaked little face.

"Because this is a brutal, repressive dictatorship!" He shouted.

Something crashed loudly from their mother's room. Four-year-old Scotty shifted uncertainly, saying,

"I don't know what all that means, Johnny."

"Of course, you don't," his younger brother tossed off, fiercely. "Why don't you go bang your stupid trucks together, and leave me alone!"

The dark-haired little boy's lower lip began trembling, and he turned to go. Then Johnny exploded off of the bed, ran up and embraced him.

"Scotty, I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I didn't mean to say that! Please don't be mad?"

Aware that something was wrong, the big Irish setter began whining, nuzzling first one boy, then the other.

"It's okay, Rusty," Scott soother her, hugging his little brother. "Johnny didn't mean it."

And then, as a fortuitous thought occurred,

"Wanna run away, again? We could make peanut butter sandwiches, take Rusty, and hide in the shed."

Of course, their mother had already figured out this ploy, but, just like the business with sex, it seemed wiser to keep it to himself.

"Why not? Sounds like a plan. I'll get the gear."

"Great!" The four-year-old began bouncing enthusiastically. "Only this time, I'm the leader."

Johnny cocked a pale eyebrow.

"Oh? And just when did this astonishing paradigm shift take place?"

"Huh?" Scotty puzzled over his brother's words for a minute, then declared stoutly, hands at his hips,

"I'm in charge, 'cause I'm bigger, that's why."

The blond toddler started to argue, then sighed, and changed his mind.

"It always comes down to power, doesn't it?" He asked, of no one in particular. Then, looking up,

"Okay, Scotty. You're in charge; we do it your way. And... thanks. For coming, I mean."

He got a big hug for that, and a promise that his brother kept, every time but one.

"You're welcome, Johnny. I'll always come if you need me. I promise."