Edwin and Demetria Reynolds prided themselves on being perfect. They lived in a perfect house on a perfect road in a perfect town. Edwin had the perfect job as a corporate accountant, while Demetria was the perfect housewife. And soon, they had created the perfect family for themselves because it wouldn't be perfect without the perfect family.
Their first child was a beautiful little girl, Amethyst. Cherubic face, big blue eyes from her mother and a few wisps of her father's blonde hair. They rejoiced over the arrival of their first child, and then paraded her around to their family, as she cooed and giggled, never crying. She was perfect.
Their second child came a year later; a boy named Barnaby. This boy was born with dark brown eyes (Edwin bragged about how his late father used to have soulful brown eyes) and black hair like his mother. Demetria gushed about how he was going to grow up to be tall, dark and handsome and bring lots of girls home. He also cooed and giggled, not shedding a tear. He was perfect.
Their third child came three years after their second, another boy that they named Chester. And they knew, from the moment they saw him, that he wasn't like them. He wasn't going to be perfect like them.
Chester had green eyes like his father and curly red hair. One thing his parents noted was that he never seemed to stop crying as a baby. That was normal for babies, but they didn't want normal. They wanted perfect. Specifically, they wanted him to shut up and be cute so they could take him places and not be humiliated.
"Edwin, how did you make him shut up?" Demetria muttered, as Chester wailed at 1:25 AM and woke everyone up . . . again.
"I just gave him a bottle!" Edwin snapped. "Here! That should shut him up!" He gave his wife a pacifier for the baby, which she shoved into her son's mouth to muffle his sobs, but he spat it out and kept crying. His toys didn't help. Nothing did.
"Mummy, the baby's nasty! And ugly!" Amethyst wailed.
"Send him away! I don't want to hear him cry any more!" Barnaby begged.
"One of these days, I will," Demetria muttered.
Another time it became clear that Chester would not be perfect was when they were preparing for a family gathering they were hosting. Chester had just turned a year old, while Barnaby was four and Amethyst was five. "I need you to be perfect, is that clear?" Edwin asked. "Polite and clean and smiling."
"Yes, Mama," Amethyst and Barnaby chorused. Chester still couldn't talk yet, so he just babbled.
"Finally, you're being a good boy," Demetria sighed. "I was getting worried about you, Chester Reynolds." Chester gurgled, a thin line of drool shining on his chin. Demetria wiped up her son's face with an antibacterial wipe. "There you go. Now you're perfect again."
"Demetria, stop worrying. This will all go great," Edwin replied.
"When will Grandma arrive?" Amethyst complained. "Grandma gave me money last time!"
"I want money too!" Barnaby whined. Chester was happy to suck on his thumb. Demetria took it out of his mouth and wiped him up with an antibacterial wipe again, but he just put it back in his mouth again.
"Chester, you need to stay nice and clean," Demetria sighed.
"I worry about that boy," Edwin replied. "He's not like us. I could tell that already."
"He'll straighten out soon. He's young," Demetria replied. They were interrupted by the doorbell chiming the arrival of Granny and Grandpa Carew, Demetria's mother and father.
"Hello, Demetria dear!" Granny Carew cooed, hugging her daughter and son-in-law. "Where are my grandbabies?"
"Who wants their presents and yummies?" Grandpa Carew asked. Amethyst and Barnaby rushed over to their grandpa for sweet treats and toys, which meant Chester could be scooped up by his grandmother, who was delighted to see him. He was her youngest grandson, after all.
"Hello, baby boy," Granny Carew baby-talked. "Here are your yummies." The kindly grandmother giggled as Chester ate miniature chocolates with both hands, becoming messy and horribly imperfect. "Want a rattle?" She produced a rattle and Chester grasped at it, shaking it and giggling. He liked the funny noises it made when he shook it.
"He won't need that. He has enough toys," Demetria replied, handing the rattle back to her aging mother.
"Are you sure, Demetria dearie? A baby can never have too many toys," Granny Carew advised. Being ignored and having just had his precious rattle confiscated, Chester whimpered, and then began to bawl. Demetria huffed and gave back the rattle, if only to shut him up. "There you go. Now doesn't he look happy?"
"He looks silly," Demetria muttered.
"Oh, come now. He's only a year old. All he needs to be is healthy and happy. And babies don't care how they look to other people."
"He needs to be perfect," Demetria retorted. "And he needs to learn sooner rather than later." Before Granny Carew could say a word, the doorbell chimed again, this time for Grandmother Reynolds, Edwin's mother. Unlike Granny and Grandpa Carew, Grandmother Reynolds insisted on well-behaved, perfect children.
The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
The woman's son rushed to greet his mother. "Mother, what a-" Edwin was pushed aside.
"Hush and let me inspect my grandchildren. I'll be damned if any of them turn out to be snot-nosed little brats," Grandmother Reynolds snapped. "Bring them to me so I can see their faces."
"Hello, Grandmother. May I take your coat?" Amethyst asked. Grandmother Reynolds looked her up and down, in her beautiful pink dress so carefully picked out by her mother, and she smiled.
"I like this one," she replied. Amethyst grinned, smirking at her brother as if to say this is how it's done. She took the coat and hung it on the coat rack, much to her grandmother's approval.
"Grandmother!" Barnaby squealed, rushing over to her for a hug. He was also met with a critical eye.
"Decent," Grandmother Reynolds graded. "Now, where is the baby? He's a year old, isn't he?"
"Yes, he is. I'll get him," Demetria replied, taking Chester from his granny and giving him to his consistently critical grandmother. Grandmother Reynolds' nose wrinkled at the sight of him. She never did like the look of red hair, especially on a baby. Chester was bawling at being taken away from his granny, which the Reynolds matriarch also thoroughly disliked.
"This one is going to be a problem for you, Edwin," Grandmother Reynolds coldly replied. "I can sense the problematic nature in him, even as a child. This one is a troublemaker, mark my words. You'll have to train it out of him before he does something bad."
"I will," Edwin promised. It was at this moment that Chester threw up on his grandmother. Those yummies, in hindsight, were not a good idea. Edwin scrambled to help clean baby vomit off his mother, while Demetria rushed to take Chester away to clean him up. Granny Carew just chuckled. She had extensive experience with babies to know that this wasn't a big deal.
"Demetria, I'll take the child. He must need someone to cheer him up after such a long day," she offered.
"What he needs is to be fed and put to bed immediately," Demetria muttered, sending Chester to his nursery room where he would be changed out of his clothes into something clean, fed a bottle of juice and then ignored. A pacifier was strapped to his face once he was done feeding to muffle his wails. He didn't know what he had done wrong. All he knew was his mother took him away from the nice lady who was playing with him. After hours of muffled crying, he eventually grew exhausted and went to sleep. "See? He's nothing but trouble. Just leave him alone and he'll settle down in due time," Demetria replied, her mother-in-law nodding in agreement. That was how she'd raised her children, after all, and it was nice to see how her daughter-in-law was following in her footsteps.
Neither of the women noticed how Demetria's own mother shook her head.