I actually wrote this over the weekend but didn't get around to touching up due to all the ambient insanity. Which, of course, I brought upon myself, but that's a given. ;)
Much thanks as always to eltea for another truly amazing beta. :)
Just a boy, just a boy, just a boy, he thinks, for he is. He sings it to himself in rhythm with the pattering of his clumsy feet on the wet sidewalk, because it is true, and because he knows it is what his mother will say. Just, just, just a boy. He’d hate to break her back; the cracks are jagged and try to dart beneath his sneakers.
Some of the other kids at school have Rain Boots; he’s seen them—bright like paint splatters in the gray days on which they’re worn, clearer and closer than any rainbow he’s ever seen, in purples and greens and blues and that warm yellow that transplants the sun into a world that lacks it. He’s jealous, of course, but he’s getting accustomed to jealousy and its quiet poison. He wishes he had Rain Boots, wishes his mother could buy him some, wishes that he could go tromping up and down the yard and watch out of the corner of his eye as the others gazed wistfully at his little plastic pair, at his Rain Boots, but that’s all right. He can imagine.
And for now, he can soak his sneakers, drench his socks, meld with the rainwater, become one with the puddles. Grownups say that, say “Become one with—” and then add something strange and implausible, and then the other grownups always laugh. They have keywords like this, grownups do. Special phrases that mean nothing and everything and set everyone to laughing in that odd, not-quite-real way that worries him.
Artifice unnerves him, because he can just barely detect it hammering at the fringes of his staunch belief in Santa Clauses and Easter Bunnies and Tooth Fairies (and other fairies besides), because the world is real and true and right, such that falseness has no place in it.
The puddles, though are very real, and the soggy leaves crumpling wetly in the gutter are real, too. The raindrops gathering on and clinging to and throwing themselves free from the edge of his raincoat hood are real, and the grit and grime that swirl in the water he disturbs are real, too—real enough to splash on the cuffs of his corduroy pants and stain his off-white socks even further off-white.
And he feels real, in the midst of it, with the rain running off of his plastic coat and confirming his small, self-centered existence, with the water squishing between his toes, with his limp shoelaces flopping and trailing. Who needs Rain Boots when you can have the rain?
His mother sighs and smiles and shakes her head all at once when she opens the door to find him dripping on the Welcome mat, hair plastered on his forehead, grin plastered on his face. She tsks, but tsking isn’t for you’re-in-trouble-young-man; it means he’s already gotten away with it.
“You’re covered in mud, sweetheart,” she tells him, and he giggles, because he knows that, and anybody with a pair of eyes would. “I suppose that’s what I should expect… Come in—careful, watch the rug—look at those socks—here, give me your coat—”
Quite contentedly he follows her to the bathroom, where she’ll fill the tub almost to overflowing and set him to the task of scrubbing himself clean, but that’s okay. The mud comes off easily in the warm, warm water, almost as fun to remove as it is to get on himself in the first place.
It’s all very simple, which is good, because he likes it that way.
As his mother starts off down the hall, laden with his filthy, discarded clothes, he leans into the bathwater up to his chin and listens to her murmur, “Just a boy…”, and he thinks that just-a-boy is a pretty okay thing to be.