Action Figures - Issue Three: Pasts Imperfect

Copyright
© 2014 by Michael Bailey

All
rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used
in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the
publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

Printed
in the United States of America

First
Printing, 2014

ISBN-13:
978-1502340160

ISBN-10:
150234016X

Michael
Bailey/Innsmouth Look Publishing www.innsmouthlook.com 

Cover
illustrations Copyright © 2014 by Patricia Lupien
Cover design by Patricia Lupien

Book
production by Amazon Create Space, www.createspace.com
Edited by Jake D. Lewis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To Joe Kubert and Mike Chen,

who let me know I was
chasing the wrong dream

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PART ONE: HIGH SCHOOL HELLCATS

 

 

It’s been a weird winter.

Weird by my standards, I
mean; life hasn’t been normal for me since I got my powers from a dying extraterrestrial,
but feuding sorceresses and demons attempting to literally raise Hell on Earth?
That’s a bit much, even for me.

Still, I would happily run
out and fight every demon in creation to get away from the man who could prove
to be my greatest enemy ever:

Mom’s new boyfriend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ONE

 

Ben sits on the opposite
corner of the couch, looking as uncomfortable as I feel. We stare at each other
in awkward silence, our mouths set in a line that, at a glance, might pass as
thin smiles.

“Dinner smells great,” he
says, acknowledging the mouthwatering aroma of my mother’s lasagna, a hearty
dish so dense with pasta, cheese, and assorted meats you could use it to patch
up potholes. It’s one of her A-list meals, one she trots out for special
occasions.

“Yeah,” I grunt. Not much
else to say, really; “food smells good” tends to be a self-affirming
observation.

Cue awkward silence the
second.

“I’m not good at small talk,”
Ben says.

“Me either. Well, the point
of this dinner is to give us a chance to interrogate each other, so let’s get
to it. When did you start dating my mother?”

“Um, a couple of weeks ago?
We’d gone out before — with after-work groups, I mean,” he begins. I
unconsciously dig my fingernails into the armrest, and his voice dissolves into
nonsensical white noise.

A couple of weeks ago, my
mother enjoyed a Friday night out with some co-workers. She didn’t come home
until Saturday morning. She told me she had too much to drink, so she spent the
night at a friend’s place. It’s important to note that she told me this while
staring at the carpet guiltily, as if I’d caught her stealing money out of my
purse. Conclusion: her “friend” is sitting across from me, and they did not
simply have an innocent little sleepover — and now, they’re a thing. An item.

A
couple
.

I accept certain realities
about my parents’ divorce. I know, logically, their marriage is done and gone.
I know they’re never getting back together. I knew they would eventually move
on and find someone else. What I didn’t expect is that it would happen for Mom
this quickly;
six months after the split,
she already has a new
boyfriend. That’s what pushes my mood far past mere discomfort and into the red
zone.

It takes a supreme effort of
will to stomp that anger down and, for the sake of civility, say to Ben in a
steady, level voice, “That’s cool.”

“I know she hasn’t mentioned
me to you at all,” Ben says, though he doesn’t seem bothered by this, “but she
talks about you all the time.”

“Often through clenched
teeth, I’m sure.” Hey, I’m realistic. I know I can be a pain in the butt.

“No. No, it’s all been
good.” I cock a skeptical eyebrow. He smiles. “Okay, it’s been mostly good. I
get the feeling you two are a lot alike.”

“That’s what Dad thinks,” I
say, putting a little too much emphasis on
Dad
. Scale it back, Carrie.
Mom and I have been on relatively good terms lately, don’t screw it up by
chewing out her —

Her boyfriend.

Grrrrrrrrggghhh
...

Mom emerges from the
kitchen, carrying a plate of fresh bruschetta. “How’s it going out here?” she
says.

“Fine,” we say in unison.

“Good,” Mom says. She sits
in the easy chair near Ben — close enough to make it clear they’re together,
but far enough apart to try to put me at ease. That’s the theory, anyway.

“We’ve been talking about
how you two met,” I say.

Panic flashes across Mom’s
face, ever so briefly. “Oh?”

Ben jumps to the rescue.
“Carrie was appropriately bored.”

“I may have fallen asleep,”
I say. Mom relaxes, smiles in relief, then excuses herself to tend to dinner.

Apparently, we set the tone
for the evening right off, because dinnertime conversation is sparse, dry, and
inoffensive. There are no inquiries more probing than “How is school?” and
“What do you do for work, exactly?” — standard getting-to-know-you chit-chat.
The bland discourse continues through our dessert of tiramisu and Mom’s
disgusting coffee. Normally Mom likes to throw a little Bailey’s Irish cream
into her dessert-time coffee, but this time around she takes it straight, and
doesn’t offer any boozy additives to Ben. Now that I think about it, she never
broke out any wine to go with dinner. Minimizing the chance either of you might
let something embarrassing or scandalizing slip out, Mother?

That’s when it hits me: This
night wasn’t about us trying to impress Ben;
they
were trying to impress
me
.

Ben, thankfully, doesn’t
linger long after we finish dessert. He gives Mom a chaste good-night kiss on
the cheek (urge to kill
rising
), tells me how nice it was to finally
meet me, and away he goes. He’s barely out the door when Mom hits me up for my
opinion.

“Well? What do you think?”
she says hopefully.

I highly doubt my approval,
or lack thereof, matters for much, but I say, “I liked him.”

She buys it, but Mom’s not
going to let me leave it at that. “Honestly?”

No. “Yeah. Honestly.”

“I want you two to get
along.”

“I think we got along fine.”

“Good,” she says. “I expect
you’re going to see each other quite a bit.”

“Cool,” I say, and I head
upstairs.

“Carrie?” I pause. Mom
wrings her hands anxiously. “You really like Ben?”

No, Mom, I hate him.

“Yes, Mom. I like him.”

She smiles, and in that
moment, I realize what an exceptionally skilled liar I’ve become.

I’m not proud of this.

 

I’m too wound up to fall
asleep right away, and I spend the night fading in and out. I wake up feeling
like five miles of bad road, as my dad likes to say — less than ideal condition
for enjoying a day of birthday festivities.

Not mine, mind you; my
birthday is about two weeks away. No, today is for celebrating the sixteenth
anniversary of one Matthew William Steiger’s entry into the world. Today is
also February 29, which is appropriate; it’s an odd day for an odd kid, who I
expect will take full advantage of his privileges as the birthday boy and call
for a day of odd activities.

After wolfing down a couple
of strawberry Pop-Tarts and power chugging a big mug of coffee, I head over to
Sara’s house. She greets me with a furrowed brow.

“Where’s Matt’s present?”
she says.

“Well, crap,” I say. “Back
at my house, because I’m a moron.”

“Let me finish breakfast,
and we’ll run back and get it.” I follow Sara into the kitchen, where she
proceeds to gobble down a corn muffin like she was in a corn muffin-eating
contest.

“Slow down, girl. What, have
you been taking eating lessons from Stuart?”

“I need to get out of here.”

I’m about to ask why when
Mr. Danvers appears in the kitchen, dressed in a dark blue suit. “Oh, hello,
Carrie,” he says. “Sara, I really think you should go with me.”

“I told you, I have plans
today,” Sara says through a mouthful of muffin.

“And I told you, church is
more important than that Steiger boy’s birthday party. You can go after
church.”

That Steiger boy?

“Yeah, I could. Or, I could
go to the party right now, like I planned. Come on, Carrie.”

Sara brushes past her
father. I follow, offering Daddy Danvers an apologetic smile, which he does not
return.

Once we’re out the door, I
ask, “What was that all about?”


Ugghhh
. Dad’s in one
of his moods,” Sara says. “All week he’s been all
gay agenda
this and
liberal
media
that, and this morning the fair-weather Catholic decided it’s time to
church up again after, like, a year of not going.”

“And he asked you to go with
him.”

“Repeatedly. In the
strongest possible terms. He tried to get Mom to go too, but she gets to play
the Get out of Church Because I’m Jewish Card.”

“Can’t you play that card
too?”

“Technically, yes. If the
mother is Jewish, by tradition the child is too, but if I try to claim immunity
to Catholicism by virtue of Jewishness, all that’ll do is set the stage for yet
another fight over my spiritual well-being,” Sara says. “You should’ve seen the
Great Bat Mitzvah Blowout four years ago.”

“Fun. Frustrating parents
must be the motif today.”

“Uh-oh, what’s going on
now?”

“Mom has a new boyfriend.”

Sara’s jaw falls open. “No
way.”

“Uh-huh. I met the new
suitor last night. Ben and Mom and I, we had a
lovely
little dinner
together,” I say. “Ben was
so
interested in me and my life and my
friends. He wanted to know
all
about me so we could become the
bestest
of friends.”

“I don’t know how to ask
this delicately,” Sara says, “but do you think this is the guy your mom spent
the night with that time?”

“Oh, I know it is. Mom was
twitchy all night.”

“You didn’t bring it up?”

“God, no. Things were
uncomfortable enough without me asking Ben if he got busy with my mother.”

“Can I ask you something?”
Sara says. I know what that means: she has a question I might not like, but
doesn’t want me to blow up at her. “Do you think you might be misdirecting your
anger?”

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