Sorry sweetie, I have to work late again. Can you handle dinner tonight?
Sarah hit send. After a brief loading period, the word “delivered” appeared under her message. Almost immediately, it changed to “read,” and a speech bubble with three dots appeared, indicating that a response was being typed.
Sure, no problem. I’ll save you a plate, read the new message on her screen. Sarah adopted a huge smile, before quickly typing out a response of her own.
Thank you baby!!! You’re the bestest son ever!!!!! she typed, along with ten heart emojis. Keeping her huge, triumphant smile, Sarah showed her phone to the concerned supervisor sitting next to her.
“See, Heather?” she asked smugly. “He says ‘no problem.’ He can survive without his mother for one evening.”
“Mm-hmm,” Heather mumbled, narrowing her wrinkled eyes at the phone screen.
“Sure went big on the hearts, didn’t you?” she asked, to which Sarah waved her hand dismissively.
“Oh please, that’s nothing,” she replied. “Anyway, you’ve got me for the evening. Don’t worry so much.”
Heather sighed, and closed her eyes in resignation.
“I’m just saying that you’ve spent a lot of time here lately, when you should be spending more time taking care of your son. We don’t need you here tonight, so why not go have dinner with your boy?” she replied exasperatedly.
“In other words, you don’t want to pay the overtime…” Sarah said teasingly, causing her supervisor to huff in annoyance.
“Sarah, I’m being serious,” she scolded.
“So am I,” Sarah replied firmly. “My Matty is more than capable of looking after himself. That kid is more mature and responsible than anyone else his age, and I am not just saying that as his mother. It is because of him that I feel comfortable spending so much time here, because I know he’ll be alright. I appreciate your concern, but we’re both fine. I promise.”
Heather looked at her concernedly for a moment, but finally relented with a small nod. Sarah smiled in response, before remembering another point.
“Besides, he’ll be off to college next year anyway, right? The fact that he’s so independent now just means that he’ll be better prepared for the future,” she said.
“Well, that’s exactly my point,” Heather replied, her concerns renewed. “I know this from experience - once your kids leave the nest, you’ll regret not having spent more time with them while you could. You’ll miss having someone to take care of.”
Sarah frowned, as she suddenly found herself a little less firm in her conviction. Heather’s warning tickled a certain part of her brain, and she felt a twinge of anxiety and doubt begin to creep up on her. However, she quickly pushed it down. Still, Heather continued.
“Look, I think it’s wonderful that Matt is so independent. You’re right - he’s approaching the part of his life where he’ll have to be. But, until then, my advice to him would be to stay a kid while he can be a kid,” she said, before turning to face her underling with a firm expression.
“And my advice to you is to stay his mom while you can be his mom. Don’t be so eager to sacrifice your moments with him, because you can’t ever get them back,” she warned. Sarah nodded in response, although she was secretly a little annoyed by the unsolicited advice.
“Okay, okay, I understand,” she replied dismissively. “Either way, though, I’m staying late today. I’ve already confirmed it with him, so might as well. We’re getting so close, and I want to be around to help.”
“Very well,” Heather sighed, knowing better than to keep pushing it. “Let’s get to it, then.”
Sarah smiled victoriously, before following her supervisor out of the break room and into the research lab.
“Home!” Sarah called out as she came bounding inside the house. She closed the door behind her, and leaned against it with a sigh. Up the stairs that were directly to her right, she heard an indistinct voice speak up in response to her declaration. At that, she tossed her things aside and dashed upstairs, seeking out the source. She made her way to a certain door, gave it a few quick knocks, and then threw it open before eagerly storming inside. Inside the room, and standing up from his desk to greet her, was her 18 year old son.
Matt Bridges, like his mother, had dark brown hair and even darker brown eyes. His sharp, well-defined features suggested an older age than he actually was, which was only accentuated by his calm, mature temperament. Sarah contrasted his personality with her energetic, slightly goofy demeanor, which was similarly accentuated by her attractive, youthful features. She was often mistaken for her son’s older sister, to his modest embarrassment and her overwhelming delight. Having had him at the young age of 20, Matt’s upbringing was always accompanied by his mother’s youthful spark, which she refused to give up even as she neared the dreaded age of 40. Her gorgeous face lit up at the sight of her beloved son, and a wave of comfort quickly washed away any stress she was carrying as a result of her day.
“Welcome ho-” he started, but he was quickly cut off as his mother sprinted towards him and tackled him to his bed. She was a little shorter than him, standing at 5’7” to his 5’8”, but size hardly matters when faced with the element of surprise.
“I’m so sorry for working late again,” she said guiltily, while holding him tight in a firm embrace. Once the shock of his surprise tackle wore off, Matt gently reciprocated the hug and began to softly rub his mother’s back.
“It’s fine, Mom, I’m used to it,” he assured, before quickly regretting his choice of words.
“Matthew!!” Sarah shouted angrily, burying her face in his chest as she bopped his back with her fists repeatedly.
“Not what I meant,” he sighed, before softly removing himself from her apologetic embrace.
“I just mean that I know you’re doing important work, and that you really enjoy it,” he elaborated, as Sarah finally relented and let him go. She then rolled over onto her back and watched him with a pout as he stood up from the bed and sat back down at his desk.
“You’re too forgiving, sweetie.” she chided. “You’re allowed to be selfish, you’re only 18.”
Matt chuckled as he reclined into his chair.
“Something tells me that you’re just fine with that,” he said with a grin. Sarah reciprocated, and moved over so her head was resting on his pillow as she laid on her side.
“Of course I am, you’re absolutely perfect just the way you are,” she replied firmly.
“Noted. Anyway, how was your day?” Matt asked, causing Sarah’s eyes to light up as she sat up on the bed.
“Busy, but exciting,” she answered. “We’re still in the testing phases, and we’re just waiting for the approval to test a human subject. It’ll happen any day now, and everything so far has been great.”
Matt nodded appreciatively.
“I see, I see. And you think the live test will go well?” he asked, to which his mother nodded vigorously.
“Oh, absolutely. It’s basically a guaranteed thing, the escalation of tests is just a formality at this point. Lots of recordings, lots of data sheets, lots of boring paperwork, lots of sampling - which is why I’ve been staying late to help out. But now we’re finally getting to the good stuff,” she continued, her eyes positively sparkling. Matt couldn’t help but smile at his mother’s enthusiasm for her work.
“That’s great, Mom,” he replied softly. “I know you’ve been working super hard. I’m really happy for you.”
Sarah’s eyes softened in loving adoration, and she quickly rose from the bed and made her way over to him. Knowing what was coming, Matt braced himself. His mother’s body crashed into him as she subjected him to another hug, her ample chest pressing right into his face as she rested her chin on the top of his head. Sarah was a very physically affectionate parent, and constantly subjected her son to a never-ending barrage of hugs and kisses. Having long grown used to this, Matt simply endured it in silence as she squeezed him with all her might.
“Thank you so much, baby, you’re the absolute sweetest,” she cooed.
“Mm-hmm…” he awkwardly replied, before thinking of a way to direct the conversation elsewhere.
“What about your coworkers, though? Or your boss? Are they giving you any less trouble?” he asked, knowing that his mother never passed up an opportunity to vent about her colleagues. Although he couldn’t see it, he knew that her face was likely souring in annoyance as he felt her body slightly stiffen. After a moment, she pulled away and sat back down on his bed with a huff.
“No,” she said angrily. “I swear, these are some of the smartest people, but they act like they never graduated from high school. And Heather seems to take any opportunity she can to lecture me about stuff that is not at all her business, like she’s some wise old sage or something.”
“I see,” Matt replied, ever the active listener. Although he didn’t exactly enjoy listening to the tales of annoyance and workplace-drama, he knew that he was the only person that his mother could tell, so he dutifully let her complain.
“Yeah, it sucks. And Steve, the H.R. guy, apparently is annoyed with her because she didn’t inform him about something that Paul, one of the engineers, said to her in confidence a week ago, but only just spoke to him about. But, like, it was a private conversation! And now he’s telling me, for some reason, that he wants to go over her head and talk to the C.T.O…”
And so it continued. For the next indeterminate amount of minutes, Matt said nothing but the occasional “Yeah…” or “I see…” while his mother ranted about her colleagues. Eventually, though, she came to a stopping point, and noticed that Matt had a collection of books and an open notebook on his desk. Immediately, she felt a pang of guilt.
“Oh, sweetie, are you studying? I didn’t mean to distract you with my nonsense…” she asked concernedly. Matt looked over at the pile of stuff on his desk, and turned back to his mother while shaking his head reassuringly.
“It’s fine, Mom, I needed a break anyway,” he replied. Sarah’s eyes softened a bit in relief, but quickly darkened as she came to another realization.
“I’m 90% sure I’m a terrible mother for not knowing this off the top of my head, but does this mean you have a test coming up…?” she sheepishly asked, to which Matt chuckled.
“Yeah, tomorrow. Calculus,” he replied, causing Sarah’s eyes to widen in shock.
“Tomorrow?!” she repeated incredulously. “Why didn’t I…?”
She sighed, and lowered her head.
“Matthew Bridges, I’ve failed you,” she said solemnly. “I know you’ve told me this before, and I forgot. I’m sorry, sweetie.”
“It’s fine, Mom,” he replied, reaching forward and patting her knee. “You’ve got a lot of stuff on your mind, and it isn’t a big deal.”
“Is it a big test, though?” she asked, looking back up at him.
“It isn’t the biggest, but… yeah, kinda…” he answered, while averting his eyes. Sarah’s expression softened, and she once again rose from the bed and moved towards him. Much more gently this time, she wrapped her arms around his seated body and held him close. She then leaned down to give him a gentle peck on his forehead, before speaking in a reassuring voice.
“Don’t stress, sweetheart,” she murmured. “I’m sure you’ll do great, like you always do. After all, you’re the smartest person in this house.”
Matt let out a small scoff, before closing his eyes and leaning into his mother’s warmth. In that moment, he felt perfectly comforted and safe.
“That’s a big fat lie, miss scientist,” he muttered, to which Sarah ruffled his hair affectionately. She then looked over at his desk, and what she saw caused her to adopt a small frown.
Despite his claim that he had been studying long enough to need a break, his notebook seemingly had nothing written in it. His textbooks seemed to be opened to the start of their respective chapters, and his graphing calculator wasn’t even turned on. Shrugging it off, Sarah figured that his notebook had just been turned to a fresh page, he had just finished the previous chapters, and his calculator must have automatically powered down while she was yapping. She then turned her attention back to the young man in her arms.
“You’re doing way better than I was at your age, honey,” she assured. “You’ve done so well, and I’m really proud of you. Just make sure you don’t stress yourself too hard.”
“I won’t, Mom,” Matt replied. “Anyway, you should go eat. Your portion is in the fridge, so just warm it up in the oven.”
Sarah’s eyes lit up a bit in excitement, and she released him from her embrace and looked at him with a huge smile.
“What did you make?” she asked eagerly. Matt lowered his eyes a bit in response.
“Just, um… just some mac and cheese,” he answered sheepishly. “The shortcut kind, with the sauce made from the soup can stuff. I’m sorry it’s kinda lazy, but I was a little tired, and-”
“Are you kidding? I love that stuff!” Sarah interrupted. “Sometimes lazy stuff tastes the best, honey. Don’t beat yourself up, the fact that you even have to cook for me at all is honestly a bit embarrassing.”
Matt looked back up at her and adopted a grateful smile, to which she reached out and tenderly rubbed his cheek.
“Thanks for dinner, sweetie. Alright, I’ll leave you to it. After I eat, I’m probably gonna go to bed, okay? I’ll most likely head into work early tomorrow, so I might not see you before I leave,’ she continued. Matt nodded in response, trying to hide the disappointment in his eyes. Not noticing this, his mother beamed at him before leaning in one last time. She gave him a big, fat smooch on his cheek, which he received with an annoyed groan. Pulling away with a large smack, she flashed him a final grin before bouncing out of the room. Once she was gone, Matt’s expression darkened immensely. Despite his earlier assurance, he was greatly saddened by the fact that his first and likely only interaction with his mother that day had just concluded, and lasted no more than twenty minutes.
“Love you! Sorry for being such a horrible mother!” Sarah called out chipperly as she descended the stairs. Matt slowly turned around in his chair, until he was facing his desk with dejected eyes.
“It’s fine…” he whispered.
The next day, Sarah received some big news at the lab. They had finally been approved for a test on a human subject, and it was about to commence. Nearly everybody in the building was crowded into the main research laboratory, eagerly awaiting the arrival of their subject. Nobody involved with the project was allowed to volunteer - a fact that a couple of women behind Sarah were quietly lamenting.
“I was kinda hoping that Steve would somehow end up as the subject…” one of them whispered to the other, to which she snickered.
“I know, right? At least that way, it wouldn’t be a big deal if they couldn’t return him to normal,” she replied, causing both of them to crack up with hushed giggles. Sarah turned around and shot them a firm glance, which promptly shut them up. With that being said, she couldn’t help but crack a small grin once she turned back around. Eventually, a commotion in the distance signalled that it was showtime, and everybody in the room stiffened in anxiety. A tall man in a strange, yellow jumpsuit was hurried into the room, accompanied by a couple of the lead scientists.
They guided him to a small platform in the middle of the room, and Sarah noticed that they were quickly followed by what looked like a medical team. A couple of serious-looking medical professionals were directing a stretcher into the room, surrounded by a couple of nondescript medical devices. This caused the seriousness of the situation to sink in, and she couldn’t help but get a little nervous, despite her overwhelming confidence in the safety of the experiment. In the blink of an eye, it was time to begin. A small, nervous scientist began to record the subject with a device, and the scientists on either side of him began to speak.
“Uh… okay, and… welcome to, uh, the first experiment with a human subject…” he began awkwardly.
Nobody ever accused us of having showmanship… Sarah thought with a smirk. The scientist continued, nervously and stiffly explaining the science behind the experiment, as well as what was about to occur. Eventually, it was time to truly start. An assistant approached the platform with a tray, on top of which was a small pill and a glass of water. The scientist received the tray with a nod, and held it out towards the subject. Stoically, and without any trace of fear, the man placed the pill in his mouth before washing it down with the water. Just like that, the experiment had begun. Taking a nervous breath, the scientist continued speaking for the camera.
“Our fast acting chemical agent within this pill will quickly circulate throughout the subject’s body, binding to his cells. It will, in effect, ‘tune’ his body to a unique frequency that we can then manipulate. We do this with, um, a remote…” he explained, before rustling around in his pockets for a moment.
“Which I am holding,” the other lead scientist cut in, holding out the remote towards the camera while shooting him a firm glance. He deflated a bit in embarrassment, before backing up to make room for her. She stepped forward, and took over the explanation for the camera.
“Now that a few minutes have passed, the subject’s body is ready to be manipulated. His cells can now ‘talk’ to us via this remote, through our artificial frequency. And, now that we can talk to them, we can tell them what to do,” she continued, before firmly nodding. With that, everybody except for the subject cleared off the platform. Everybody in the room was waiting with stifled breath, their hearts on edge. Sarah was no exception, and she was fighting the urge to stand on her tippy-toes to get a better view. Then, with a few verbal confirmations, the scientist punched a few commands into her remote.
She pressed a green button, and the subject disappeared. This was hardly a cause for concern, though, far from it. Indeed, rather than any cries or yelps in surprise, everybody in the room simply lowered their gaze. Sarah, the lead scientists, the medical team, the cameraman, the interns in the back who were practically clamoring over each other to get a better view - they all looked to the floor of the platform. There, alternating between examining himself and his surroundings, was the subject.
Only now, he was three inches tall.
In awe, the entire room watched his miniscule movements as the subject looked around in amazement. He was perfectly proportional. His hair, his build, even his jumpsuit - it was all exactly as it was, only now unbelievably tiny. He was still alive, he was still conscious, he was still able to move, which the scientific aspect of Sarah’s mind took note of with great relief. However, that aspect of her consciousness was vastly outweighed by the borderline childish aspect of her mind that was marvelling in perfect amazement at how fragile, how delicate, but most of all how gosh-darn cute the tiny man on the platform looked. Everybody else was in similar bafflement, but it soon wore off as everybody quickly remembered that they were all supposed to be professional scientists, not middle-schoolers on a field trip. At that, the lead scientists directly next to the platform got themselves together.
“S-Sir?” the female scientist squeaked, to which he looked up in her direction. He could still hear, obviously, which was another good sign.
“D-Do you, um… are you in any kind of discomfort? Does it hurt anywhere, do you feel tired or sluggish at all, does your head feel fuzzy, anything like that?” she continued. After taking a few long moments to self-check, the impossibly small subject looked back at her. His stoic expression finally transformed into a relieved, excited grin, and he shot the scientist an enthusiastic thumbs-up.
At that, the room erupted into applause and cheers. It felt like the weight of a thousand suns had lifted from everybody’s shoulders as the result became clear:
Their experiment was a success. Humans could safely be shrunken down.
It would be impossible to describe the overwhelming relief and joy being experienced in that room, but unfortunately it did not last long. The shrunken man suddenly flinched and held his hands to his head, which only the lead scientists and medical team noticed amidst the celebrating. They all quickly moved in closer to see what was wrong, their hearts about to explode. However, they immediately noticed that the subject was actually holding his hands to his ears, and they swiftly understood what was going on.
“EVERYBODY SHUT UP!” shouted the male scientist, in his loudest and most authoritative voice. Everybody promptly followed his instruction, and looked to him with nervous eyes. The scientist held a finger to his lips before pointing to the subject, and they all sheepishly realized their mistake. The celebration resumed, but this time at a hushed volume. Many smiles were adopted, many hugs were shared, and many tears were shed. Sarah was sporting one of the biggest smiles of her life, and fighting the urge to tear up herself. Realizing that the next few days were going to be unbelievably busy, she whipped out her phone and began to craft a message to her son.
Sorry sweetie, I have to work late again. Can you handle dinner tonight? Exciting news today!!!
Sarah hit send. After a brief loading period, the word “delivered” appeared under her message. She quickly slipped the phone back in her pocket, not waiting for the reassuring response that always came within seconds. If she had, though, she would have noticed something peculiar.
After a few long moments, the word “delivered” changed to “read.” However, unlike the previous time, or the time before, or the time before, or the time before, or the many previous times before that, no speech bubble with three dots popped up. The message had been seen, but no reassuring response ever came. Sarah was too excited to notice.