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Single Parent
by Bob Stein
Bob Stein -- all rights reserved
 

The door bell rang just as Bob plopped down onto his favorite chair. Having just fixed himself a cup of hot oat mash and started Pachobel's Canon on the CD, he was more than a little reluctant to answer. Besides that, he didn't want to have to wrestle his Shire-horse body back up out of the specially-built recliner. So he ignored it.

Unfortunately, whoever it was didn't take the hint. After the fifth buzz, his caller pounded on the door with his or her fist. Sighing heavily, he struggled to his hooves and clomped out to the entrance. A quick check of the security viewer revealed a formidable-looking woman shouting angrily at the door. Shouting? Oh. He turned off the 'mute' feature."

"...is the third time. Dr. Stein! I know you are home. If you do not answer, I will be forced to return with the police!" Well, at least she didn't sound like an Avon salesperson. He frowned, trying to figure out what the woman was talking about. Third time? Oh, there had been some cards left in the door, and some phone messages. Someone from Social Services. He'd already told them he would take a couple of additional cases at the free clinic. He took another look at the viewer as he picked up his pile of cue cards. Maybe the volunteer recruiters were getting more aggressive.

He released the security system and opened the door remotely, catching the woman rather comically in mid-pound. She paused, and made an obvious attempt to pull herself together. "Dr. Stein?" At his nod, she drew herself up to full height and glared up at him. "I am Janice Rand of the Social Services office. Since you have failed to return my calls, I was forced to make a direct visit. This is the third time I have come."

Flustered, Bob shuffled through his pre-prepared stack of responses, finally pulling out WON'T YOU PLEASE COME IN? She stared for a moment, and then picked up a dark briefcase and walked stiffly in. The woman looked like something out of an old movie. Even as fashion-ignorant as Bob was, he knew that her loose dress and heavy boots didn't quite match up, and she was wearing a turban, for God's sake! However, she also wore an expression that said 'Don't mess with me.'

As Rand entered the living room, she gave everything a careful scrutiny. He could see her pause and savor the music. However, that seemed to be the only point in his favor, as she frowned almost continually during the rest of her sweep. Damn this inability to speak! He snorted in frustration as he searched for and pulled out HOW CAN I HELP YOU? Quickly followed by HAVE A SEAT.

Rand chose a chair opposite his, sitting almost at attention as she continued to scan the room. "Are we alone?" At his nod, she opened her briefcase and pulled out a tri-D viewer and placed it on the coffee table. "Dr. Stein. I am here to investigate a complaint made by one of your neighbors. While your contributions to Social Services have been quite valuable, you must realize that no one is above the law. Especially in the case of children."

Bob almost tuned her out when he heard the bit about complaints by a neighbor. His part in undermining the Humans First movement had earned him a lot of petty revenge. So far, he'd been forced to undergo veterinary inspection and certification, ordered to wear an equine diaper whenever he left his house, and even been forced to fight a complaint that his house wasn't zoned for large animals. And then her last comment registered. Children?

"We have received anonymous information that you have been keeping a young boy here for several months. A child you have claimed is your own?" She pressed a button on the tri-D and the holographic image of a red-haired little boy appeared. "I believe this is the boy you call Robbie."

Bob stared and broke into a short whinny. Fortunately, Rand didn't know that was his version of laughter. 'I'm sorry, Dr. Stein. We researched this quite carefully before coming to you. I know that you have had to put up with petty discrimination because of your affliction. And your generosity to a wide variety of organizations, including ours, was taken into account. I handled the investigation myself in order to keep the press from getting hold of it. But we both know that Robbie is not your son. I haven't discovered where you got him, but you simply can't pick up a child off the streets, no matter how good your intentions. There are channels, and quite frankly, with your handicaps, there is a question as to how suitable you are to be a single parent."

Incredulous, Bob shook his head as he stared at the cards in his hand, and finally flung them across the floor and flopped back in his chair. Good God, this was hilarious! He was apparently being accused of some sort of child abuse, and the child involved was himself!

Rand frowned at the emotional display. "I understand your handicap, Dr. Stein. However, this is something that must be addressed." She sighed. "I'll be glad to wait while you get a pen and pencil."

Scrambling up, Bob nodded and clomped into the office. Shutting the door, he made a rapid shift to his youthful human form. Stepping out of his shorts, he ran to the desk and began writing rapidly. Damn! What could he say to explain this? MS. RAND. REST ASSURED THAT THERE IS NOTHING ILLEGAL INVOLVED HERE. ANY BLOOD OR DNA TEST WILL PROVE THAT ROBBIE IS OF MY BLOOD. That was truer that she could possibly imagine. He thought for a moment, and then continued. I HAVE NOT GOTTEN ANY PAPERWORK YET FOR HIM. HE JUST CAME INTO MY LIFE A FEW MONTHS AGO. A SURPRISE. BUT DEFINITELY MY RESPONSIBILITY.

He heard the door creak behind him and did a panicked shift back to his normal Shire form as Rand came in. "Dr. Stein? I have a pen and paper here if you...." Her voice trailed off as he spun around to present his statement, staring at a point somewhat below the piece of paper. Horrified, Bob realized that his shorts were still lying on the floor.

Her rage was instantaneous and chilling. "I can see my initial impressions of you were quite wrong, Dr. Stein. If this is some sort of sick joke, I am -not- laughing. And I also think this answers any questions about your suitability to be a parent, single or otherwise."

Even Bob's oversized, hoof-like hands were inadequate to cover his generous endowments. He ducked behind the desk, and waved the paper at her. She ignored it, reaching down instead to grab his shorts and throw them at him. "I will be back, Dr. Stein. With a court order to remove Robbie from your care until a hearing can be scheduled." With that, she spun around and stormed out of the room.

Bob fumbled with his shorts awkwardly as he tried to chase after her. Damn! If this went to court, his secret would be out, and it wouldn't take much for people to connect him with that Barnes incident on TV. He'd have to show her, let her know the truth and hope that she would stay silent. However, his equine legs were hard enough to walk upright on in the best of situations. Flustered, confused, and trying to get dressed by hopping on one hoof, Bob exceeded his clumsiness quota, and went sprawling on the floor with a heavy thud just as he heard Rand slam the door shut behind her.

His mental scream became a cry of frustration as he shifted to human form and scrambled up to chase after her. Before he got to the door, it was flung open and Rand came back in. The woman was obviously confused, even more so when she saw the object of her earlier concerns standing naked in the living room.

Bob grabbed a pillow from the couch and sat down quickly, flushing despite himself. "Look, Ms. Rand. There's been a real misunderstanding here." He took a deep breath and shifted back to Shire form. The couch groaned under his weight, and he heard the supporting frame start to crack. He returned to being a little boy both to save the furniture and to regain the ability to speak. "As you can see, I give new meaning to the concept of being a single parent."

The woman's eyes widened, and for a moment he was afraid she would faint. Her briefcase fell to the floor. And then she grinned. "Like father, like son? Do you have an aversion to clothing, or is it just me?"

He sighed. "The size difference. My clothes don't change with my body. The streak wasn't intentional. I'm sorry if I offended you, but I had to switch so I could try explaining things to you." At her questioning look, he explained, "A secondary effect of my SCABS infection. Caused by some rather unusual conditions. My equine form no longer recognizes written language, and is incapable of speech. And I have tried to keep this child form a secret."

"The Barnes telecast?" Rand snorted at his fearful expression. "You're smart to keep this secret. To be honest, there has been speculation that you had something to do with it, but I don't think anyone really connected you directly with the kid on TV." She picked up her briefcase and then sat down on a chair. "The question is, what can we do about it? It's obvious that normal statues don't apply, but if you want to keep this a secret, we'll have to think of something."

Bob looked up at her hopefully. "You're willing to help me? There could be repercussions if any of the Humans First movement find out later. As much as I want to avoid trouble, I don't want to put you at risk."

Rand looked at him thoughtfully for a moment, and then reached up to pull a pin from her turban. The cloth unwound to reveal rich, thick brown hair. And two very large and furry mule's ears. As if that wasn't enough, she leaned over and tugged off her boots, uncovering black, polished hooves not unlike those of his Shire form. Grinning, she leaned back in the chair. "I've got a tail, too, but THAT you don't get to see. Not yet, anyway."

He stared open-mouthed. And then looked at her in amazement. "You came back! I didn't think about it before, but you heard me call you with my mind, didn't you?"

Nodding, she gave him a curious look. "Some sort of equine telepathy, I suppose? I haven't run into it before, but there was no doubt where the words had come from. Did you pick up the fact I was a mule Scabs?"

Bob grinned. "No, just dumb luck. Though it seems that there are recognizable traits among mule morphs. Compassion and kindness are two of them. Maybe I'll introduce you to my other point of reference." But not right away, he thought. No point in creating competition for a woman he already found very interesting. After all, she just might be the perfect answer to complaints about his being a single parent!

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