Max is sitting down on the carpeted floor, playing with his marvel action figures. Mia had been silently observing him with her curious green eyes for a while. He appears to concentrate on his Hulk action figure, while the rest of his toys were scattered everywhere amongst the white carpet. His mother kneels besides him.
"Hey Maxy, what are you doing?" She asks in a chirpy tone, as she pokes the green, muscular toy in his hand. "Who's this? Is he the good guy or the bad guy?"
Max typically remains silent, his attention remaining focused onto his toys.
Mia picks up the Spider-Man figurine, and she makes the toy prance around the floor in a childish manner. "Oh, look at me, I'm Spider boy and I do... spider stuff? Where are some flies? I'm hungry!" She glides the toy across the air with her hand. "Whoosh! Come fly with me, Mr. Hulk!"
Her fingers accidentally slip, causing her to press a button on Spider-Man's back. The spider logo begins to glow like a red flashlight. "Oh, look! I have light powers too! Now we can explore the darkness, Mr. Hulk," she giggles.
Without even looking at her, Max drops his Hulk action figure onto the ground and crawls away. He appears to have lost complete interest in his play.
Instantly, Mia's giggling dies like a record being stopped. She feels a chill passing through her. Momentarily, she catches a glimpse of a looming translucent figure in the corner.
"Come and find me," the figure whispers. Then it disappears.
"I must be going crazy," Mia murmurs to herself.
"Nothing is working, Josh!" The woman cries out, as she runs her fingers through her caramel-brown hair anxiously. "I've tried to play with him, but he moves away. It feels like I'm disturbing his play - I really don't want to do that. It breaks my heart when he's just sitting there in that one spot, doing nothing. I feel somewhat at peace when I see him playing with his toys like a normal little boy. So, why should I ruin his fun?"
"I don't think-"
"Then I read a new bedtime story to him, hoping to get a reaction out of him or something. I really thought it would work this time. It took me forever to find it, but here-" Mia thrusts a large storybook into her boyfriend's hands. He looks at the simplistic cover, which shows a ginger boy in stripy pajamas covered in splashes of paint.
"The Adventures of Silly Billy?"
"Yes, that's the one," Mia huffs out. "I used to read this story to Rylo when he was a baby. He hated all the other stories, but this was his favorite. As he grew older, he would still be happy when I read him this silly tale - he won't dare admit this though! By the time he turned ten, he outgrew it. I lost the original book, and there aren't many copies of this out there," she sighs, as she strokes the cover tenderly, her finger tracing the colorful title.
"Eventually, after some intensive searching, I found this on eBay. My heart practically skipped a beat when I saw a user was bidding this away! I thought it was a sign from God. I knew I had to get my hands on it. It wasn't so easy though! I got into a bidding war with someone called 'Missmamabear'. It was going back and forth for a while, but I wasn't prepared to give up that easily. I decided to bid fifty on it - and won."
"Fifty!?" Josh whistles out. "Damn, that's..."
"It was delivered the next day. I was so excited when I ripped it out of its packaging. It looked brand new. I just couldn't wait for bedtime," Mia says, gazing at the storybook in her hands with an empty expression. "I really thought I could capture Max's attention, but like always, I didn't know if he was even listening or ignoring me. He stared blankly at the ceiling throughout the entire time I read to him. I would move the book to his sight, but I learned from my previous attempts that it's just a bad idea. It'll only make him turn his back on me."
Mia chucks the storybook away carelessly, as it lands on the white carpet below her feet.
"Careful, that's worth fi-!"
"I've tried to make our story times fun," Mia interrupts, as she crosses her arms sulkily. "I used props like those goofy hand puppets to make the story come alive for him. I made those puppets sing and dance and interact with him, but he blanked it all. I got the feeling these things irritated him, so I stopped. Then, I purchased CDs containing animations of the stories I read to him, and I played it on the TV for him. Once again, he just did his own thing and paid no attention to the telly - as usual."
"Can't blame him," Josh murmurs.
"Not only that, but- what?" Mia stops her rambling. She raises her eyebrow at her boyfriend. "What did you say?"
"You can't blame the little guy. Those shows are a big yawn."
"Hey! They aren't meant to entertain a grown ass man like you," Mia glares, as she pokes her boyfriend's chest. "I specifically chose kids shows that have characters speaking clearly, so it makes it easier for him to learn language. Even if he doesn't watch them, it's still a good idea to play it in the background, so he picks up certain words and phrases quickly. I'm only doing what's best for him."
Josh wraps his arms around Mia and kisses her forehead lovingly.
"I know. You're amazing for dealing with all this," he says gently.
Mia is talking on the phone with her friend, Christa, while painting her toenails.
"It's crazy! Literally we were talking about him ignoring everything, including the telly. Then, on the very same day, Josh puts on this dumb show about zombies. The Walking Dead, it's called. I was about to tell him off, when I noticed Max staring at the screen! He was sitting so close to the telly, something I've never seen him do before, and he seemed so interested. It was the most adorable sight in the world! I had to take pictures of this moment, of course."
"Yeah, those pictures were cute," Christa agrees. "But you didn't have to send so many! My phone was buzzing like crazy."
Mia giggles. "Sorry, I was just so excited."
"I'm surprised that you let him watch a show like that. Aren't zombies too gory for a four-year-old?"
"Yeah, I thought the same thing. It makes me feel sick just watching it and I'm a grown ass woman," Mia admits. "Now he's completely hooked into the show. Every time it comes on, he runs to watch it. It's so cute watching him race with his little legs for something that he's passionate about. Sometimes he'll even grab the remote and switch on the show himself! He's so intelligent, bless."
Mia blows on her toenails, attempting to dry the sparkling gold polish.
"I actually had a go at Josh," she continues. "I mean, I was happy that my baby had a passion, but I blamed Josh for introducing him to gore and violence. We argued a lot over this. What kind of mother lets her child watch such gruesome things? I was afraid that Max would have nightmares in the long run. No matter how many times I changed the show, Max would always switch it back. Even if I removed the remote from his reach, he'd change it using the TV box."
"He's a smart little fella, isn't he?" Christa praises.
"He really is. I'm able to understand him better. I think I'm more in tune with his body language or feelings or something like that. Every time I switched the channel, I noticed something about him... I can't explain it... just something off about his demeanor. It's a subtle change, but I know that it's... negative. Like a dark energy."
"Um... what are you saying, girl?" Christa asks, puzzled.
"Nothing," Mia replies quickly. She puts her nail polish back into her makeup bag. "I'm just spouting nonsense, don't mind me. Anyway, I decided to support his newfound love for zombies."
"What!?" Christa exclaims, surprised. "Wow... didn't see that one coming."
"I know... it's pretty crazy of me... but I had to do it. It's bad enough that he's so distant from me already. I couldn't risk turning him against me if I kept shunning his passion for any longer. If we're ever going to bond, I need to embrace his interests, right? So, using my face paint kit from last Halloween, I turned myself into a zombie. I think I did a pretty good job!"
"Really? Do you have a picture?" Christa asks.
"Yeah, hang on. I'll send it to you now," Mia says. She goes on her laptop, opens her e-mails and sends an attached file to her friend. "Okay, check your e-mails."
Mia can hear typing on the other end. Christa views the image. It was a ghastly version of Mia with dark, sunken eyes. Her skin was discolored and flaky, giving an illusion that it was falling apart from her muscle and bones. Her hair looked like it was torn apart and her clothes were ripped to shreds. A small yelp escapes from Christa.
"Oh my god, Mia! You look so... scary."
"Yeah... I got a bit too carried away with the whole thing. I was just having fun with the transformation. But when I finished, I was absolutely terrified of looking in the mirror. There's no way I could interact with my baby like this! God, what was I thinking? So, I raced downstairs to wash it all off. In that moment, however, Josh brought Max home from school. They were standing near the doorway while I was in plain sight by the staircase and..."
Mia takes a deep breath, her heart accelerating.
"And...?" Christa presses on.
"And that's the first time Max noticed me," Mia croaks out.
"Oh my god..."
"I can't believe it took four years for him to properly look at me, but he did. And it wasn't for a fleeting second. No. It was for a good minute. And the craziest part? He wasn't even looking at my zombie disguise. He was looking right into my eyes, holding my stare."
"Wow... Mia, I don't know what to say..."
"He has his father's eyes... God, I hate that son of a bitch so much. If he was here right now, I'd punch his stupid eyes," Mia spits out, as she grits her teeth. Then she relaxes her face muscles. "But on Max... those eyes look so breath-taking. I can't even describe how it felt to have such beautiful eyes on me. I felt so much happiness. It was overwhelming that I broke down, crying there and then. I never knew I could love something so much that it hurts."
"Mia... just who exactly is the father?"
"I know it's not something you want to talk about," Christa carries on cautiously. "But it's something that you need to address, sooner or later. Your brothers want to know too. All six of them! Your parents want to know. Heck, even Zack wanted to know! And you're keeping us all in the dark for so long. Don't you think it's about time you told us?"
"I have to go," Mia says, as she abruptly ends the call.