Arc 1, Bittersweet 5

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The truck door slammed loudly.  I nursed my temper, trying to calm down a bit.

The broken seat is going to drive me mad.  I need to look at it tonight, and fix it tomorrow.

I saw the blinds in Danny’s room move, and then a couple fingers formed a slight gap between white strips of plastic at the right level to be him looking out while being seated at his desk.  I walked around to the passenger side door, unlocked it, and then opened it and grabbed the most perishable foods.  Two gallons of milk, two dozen eggs, and two loaves of whole grain wheat bread.

Today’s shopping would last us a few days, unless Danny went into another milk-drinking kick.  Anne and I typically used more milk than he did, since we did cereal and coffee in the morning and he didn’t, preferring his smoothies and pancakes, which were made with dough that only required water.

I left the truck door open.  Danny would be coming through the front door of the house any second now, judging by the thumping noises and the muffled sound of Anne telling him loudly to stop running in the house.  Something of an inside joke between all three of us.

Danny intentionally walked loudly in the house.  This dated to a point a couple years ago, long before I got my powers, when Anne and I had thought Danny was out with friends and decided to engage in a little hanky-panky in the living room.  Danny had apparently returned earlier in the evening and went to his room without us ever noticing him.  He walked into the living room, just passing through on the way to the refrigerator, not paying the slightest bit of attention to us, until it registered with him what we were doing.


Anne and I didn’t even make a noise.  We were frozen like deer in headlights, connected at the hips.

He had stared for only a second before turning around and walking back to his room without saying another word.  A couple minutes later I, being the male parent, was required to go deal with potential fallout.  Anne listened from the end of the hallway.

I knocked on the door.  Danny answered, without even asking who it was.  “Buzz, buzz, chirp, chirp.  We already had this conversation.  I just wasn’t expecting show and tell.  I’ll walk louder in the house from now on.”

Anne grabbed my arm and dragged me away from the door, whispering to me, “That’s the best we’re going to get.”  Then she dragged me to the bedroom, carefully locked the door with exaggerated motions, and after a little mutual encouragement, we returned to regularly scheduled programming.

So now, Danny walked loudly in the house, and Anne made fun of him for it.  Danny figured out a way to get back at her though.  On our last two anniversaries, he would leave the house to go watch some movies, saying only “I’ll be back late!  Buzz, buzz, chirp, chirp.” as he left the house.

We raised a good kid.

I was almost to the door, bag with milk in one hand, bag with bread on top of the eggs in the other when Danny opened the door and held it open for me.

He looked out to the truck and saw the door open.  After I was in the door, he walked past me towards the truck.

“Stuff on the floorboards is mine.  Bring in the stuff on the seat.”

He nodded and walked out to the truck.

“Your mighty hunter has returned bearing both liquid and solid proteins as well as cooked, ground grains, domestic goddess.”  Anne turned around from where she had been poking at whatever was in the oven that smelled of chicken and oranges, giving me a grin that didn’t reach her eyes.  She was worried about what I wanted to talk about tonight in the family meeting.  That made two of us.

Danny brought in the bags of apples and oranges, as well as his pancake mix and frozen berries.

“I have some stuff I bought for myself that I need to take to the barn.”

“OK, Zeke, food’s ready, I’ve been keeping it warm.  Please hurry.”

Danny put the grocery bags on the counter, then, with exaggerated sneaking motions, walked behind Anne and opened the over door slightly, holding his head a foot or so above the opening and breathing deeply.

“If you aren’t back soon, I might have to put bruises on the young one to prevent looting of the oven.”  She looked at me and held my eyes, swinging the wooden spoon in one hand rapidly at the other palm but not making contact.  I nodded, and she repeated the motion, this time smacking the wooden spoon into the palm of her hand with a loud popping noise that startled Danny and made him jump.

After he recovered from a brief moment of being startled, Danny grinned, and returned to sniffing at the oven for a moment before looking up at me.  His grin went away, replaced by a slightly puzzled expression that was clearly intended for me to see, and Anne to not see.

Clever boy.

He knew I rarely drank, and yet I had bought two six packs of beer today.  If he had looked, and known what to look for, he might have noticed they were high gravity beers.  If things went as badly as I suspected they would tonight, I had made certain I had more than enough alcohol to slosh myself with, and keep myself sloshed for a while.

My family had its issues, just like any other, but we had rules too.  No serious conversations without announcing them in advance like I had done earlier.  We were kidding with each other on autopilot right now.

“It’s just a couple things; I’ll be back in five minutes, tops.” I declared as I walked towards the front door, which hadn’t quite been closed fully.  Danny had been carrying two big bags of fruit and a bag of groceries, so I didn’t say anything.

I drove the truck to the barn, but then realized I probably wasn’t going to be sober or calm enough to work on it tonight.  I hadn’t been planning on fixing it tonight though, so that wasn’t a change in plans.  I could probably look at the damage while I was getting started on the planned bender.  Even drunk, I’d be able to figure out if I had the tools to do the job.

I can think about this stuff later.  First things first.

I parked the truck in front of the barn, walked out around to the passenger side again, and grabbed the bags.  Beer, toothpaste, and deodorant.

Almost like I was a bachelor again, isn’t that appropriate?

It could be worse; I could be sleeping in a horse trailer.  Again.

Keep moving, dinner is waiting on me.

I locked the passenger side door with my left elbow, and bumped the door hard with my left hip with sufficient force to latch it.  I carried the bags inside, up the stairs into the converted hayloft that now served as my studio apartment.  Restroom, tiny kitchen, bed, desk, drafting board, videoconferencing setup.  The loft had already been a converted studio apartment when we bought it, having once been where the prior owner’s son lived between oil rig jobs.  It still smelled faintly of farm animals and hay, though it hadn’t been used as a working barn for more than twenty years.

I simply set the beer in the fridge without taking the six packs out of the plastic bags.  I hung the bag with toothpaste and deodorant in it over the bathroom door handle.

My computer caught my eye.  I hadn’t done anything business-related since checking for emergency emails this morning.

Dinner.  Wife.  Son.  Business can wait, that’s why I hired competent employees.  They will call Anne if they can’t reach me by email, messenger, or my own phone.

I grabbed my chin with both hands, thumbs under my jaw, and pointed my own head at the door leading to the steps down.  I started walking, chuckling at myself.

I carefully walked down the stairs, crossing the concrete pad with workbenches, large tools, larger toolboxes and even larger storage cabinets around the perimeter.  Tools of the trade.  I almost looked back up at my studio again before closing the person-sized barn door and making sure it was locked.  I made sure my truck was locked as well, out of habit.  Work would eat up every minute of every day if I let it.  That had almost cost me my marriage a few years back.  It was still a source of friction, regularly.

It wasn’t too hot out, so I jogged back to the main house, knocking five times and waiting briefly before letting myself in.

Anne and Danny were already seated at the table, which was set for three.  Danny was loudly crunching on an apple, apparently attempting to stave off imminent starvation based on the urgency of the biting and chewing process.  Anne was staring out the window at the back of the dining room as I walked by the table.

“Sorry, it was hard to drag myself away from the studio before I sat down at the computer.”

Anne just nodded with a little half-smile.  This would be no news to her.  She had probably been about to call my phone to tell me to get off the computer when I knocked and entered the main house.  It drove me crazy to take a day off work without sneaking off at least a few times to check and make sure there were no emergency messages, and she knew it.

I turned on the hot water at the sink, wet my hands, and put a dollop of dish soap on them, giving my hands and fingernails a good cleaning.  I rinsed my hands and dried them on the brown rag hanging off the white ring attached to the side of the cabinet above the sink.

I walked back to the table and sat down.  Danny set the pathetic remnants of apple on a napkin next to his plate, and we started to eat.

Chicken, orange, cinnamon, honey.  Delicious.  The rice pilaf was good too, though it was store bought, I knew.

“This is absolutely delicious Anne, you will need to let me help you make it next time.”

She smiled and shook her head.  “Not a chance.  If I teach you how to cook, what good will I be around the house?”

“Curses, foiled again.” I grinned, while pretending to twirl a pencil mustache.

Danny spoke up.  “Well, mom, after I start college this fall, I could always bring home my laundry every weekend instead of doing it myself at school.  Only if dad starts taking over the cooking duties, and you need something to do, of course.”

“You haven’t done laundry since I taught you how, five years ago, Danny.”  Anne poked his hand with her fork, grinning.

“Good point.  I could make new friends, and bring them home with their laundry too?”

Anne just stared at him a second.  “Zeke, he’s obviously yours, no matter how small his ears are.”

“College cross-country runner found dead with three teammates, all strangled to death with their own warm-up shirts.  News at eleven.” I muttered, making certain it was loud enough they could both hear it.

They both chuckled briefly and we all started eating again.

How can I even think of giving this up?

How can I hold tightly to this, and risk their lives every day?

I stared out the back window.  The sound of forks and knives on plates grew more distant as I lost track of time, just staring out the window, watching the wind move the trees.  Not really thinking of anything, because I was specifically trying to not think of anything, hoping that some solution would come to me from out of nowhere.  It was a technique I had used with some success before.

My right hand was on the table next to my dinner plate, still holding a fork.  I felt a feathery breath of a touch on the back of the hand.  “You OK, hon?” Anne’s voice.

“Yes, a lot to think about today.  Zoning out.”

My left forearm was laying on the table on the other side of my plate, and Danny had his right hand tented over my left wrist.

That’s not polite, Zeke, arms on the table is bad.

I shook my head.  “Sorry.”

If I had transformed, they would have both been touching me immediately, and I would have been able to immediately change back, and not have to deal with having the memory of my wife and son trying to kill me, or worry about them harming themselves while trying to figure out how they could hurt me.  Of course, they would also not have the memories of trying to kill me, just a brief memory of being very angry at me.  We had experimented.

I nodded at Danny, who pulled his hand back.

We finished the meal in silence, except for the clink of utensils on plates, and the occasional light thump of a glass on the table.

I put all my attention on the food and avoided looking out the window again.

So many people fantasize about getting super powers.  Most people who get super powers, get powers that are really weak, and even the ones with strong powers usually get powers they can hide in their civilian identity.  Me?  I get disruptive powers that are both extremely powerful, and not fully controllable.  My wife and child love me, and fear me.  Our relationship is scarred by our memories of the times they have tried to kill me when I lost control over my power.  They deserve better. 

I had zoned out again, staring at my plate.  Anne and Danny were looking at each other, preparing to disturb me again, like the last time.

This tendency to zone out while I’m thinking about problems is dangerous.  I’m going to have to start working on controlling it like I do when I’m driving, moderating it, remaining conscious of my surroundings when I’m around other people.  I forced myself to moderate it when driving because of how dangerous it was.  I need to moderate it now, whenever I am near other people.

I raised my head a bit and they were both clearly a little relieved.  “Sorry.  You know how I get when I’m working on a problem.”  They both nodded.  The tendency to zone out when thinking about difficult problems was one reason I lived in a completely separate house now.

They were both done with their food; I devoted my attention to what was left of mine and rapidly finished off the orange cinnamon chicken and rice pilaf, washing it down with ice water flavored with a small wedge of orange.

Anne stood and started gathering plates.  I put my hand on hers.  “My turn to do dishes, remember?”

She nodded. “You seemed distracted tonight.”

“I am distracted tonight.  That doesn’t mean I won’t be doing dishes.”

“OK, if you want.” Anne smiled.

“I want.” I grinned.

At about this time, Danny would normally be pretending to sneak out of the dining room, and whoever was actually washing dishes would grab him by the collar and drag him back, but today he just got up and started helping to clear the table.  The only way to get out of doing dishes was to cook the meal.  Danny did, occasionally, cook.  When he was twelve the meals were hot dogs.  Recently, he had made a couple very tasty stews, and had found an excellent red beans and rice recipe.  Every now and then he did a passable stir fry.  Anne and I had rejected smoothies as meals, which had actually turned into a bit of an argument.

When Danny cooked, it was my turn to try to sneak out after the meal.  Anne would grab me by the collar and pull me back into the room.

I still remember the first time I did that after one day Danny cooked last year. Anne grabbed me without even realizing that it was me and not Danny. Danny almost died laughing when she did a double-take and realized it was me mock-sneaking away and not him.

My mouth twitched as I remembered.

Danny and I rapidly knocked out the table cleanup and dishes, stacking the scraped and prewashed dishes in the dishwasher before washing our hands and wiping them dry.

After the dishwasher started its cycle, it immediately began rattling loudly, a metal-on-metal sound.

Danny looked at the dishwasher, then back at me.

“Give it a try, Danny.”

He kicked it lightly, tapping it several times with his foot, but it wouldn’t stop rattling.  After five or six times, he was a bit irritated, and backed away from it.

I carefully kicked it myself, once, and the rattle stopped.

“I still have no idea how you do that.” He complained.

“You’re just not holding your mouth right.”

And you’re not wearing the right type of shoes.  I thought to myself.  The hard toe of my boot hits the machine much differently than the toe of your running shoe.

He gave me a dirty look.  “Right.  Keep your secret.”

“If you don’t figure it out by the time you go to college, I’ll teach you.” I promised.

“I’ll hold you to that.”

I hadn’t figured out yet where the rattle came from.  Since it could be fixed with the tap of my boot, I wasn’t going to tear the machine apart to figure it out, unless it got worse.  It sounded like one of the cosmetic black panels had lost a grommet and was tapping against the chassis, metal on metal.  That could be fixed with a little duct tape on the frame, or a new grommet.  One day.

Anne had been scribbling on one of her notepads while Danny and I were doing dishes.

As we sat down at the table for the family conference, Anne tore off the top sheet of her notepad and handed it to me.  There were two blurbs of text.

I read the first blurb to myself, “Things we will not be talking about today: Divorce, or separation.”

Sometimes having a wife that understands me too well is a pain in the ass.

That pretty much cut me off at the knees, but I read the second text blurb anyway, “Things we can talk about today: How much your power sucks, PTSD counseling if things are getting to you, or survivor guilt if someone died today that I don’t know about.”

After folding the note in half, I handed it back to Anne, and said “Meeting cancelled.”

I knew better then to start an argument with Anne when she was ready to shoot me down.  Maybe the SPA people would have ideas on how to convince a spouse to separate?  No way was I going to even suggest divorce, though if it came down to it and Anne wanted divorce I’d give it to her.  There wasn’t anything left to do here, right now, other than start a fight, and I didn’t want to do that.

“Anne, please explain it to Danny.”

She nodded to me.

Danny looked from me to his mother, and did not look very confused, but didn’t say anything either.

I stood up and simply left the house at a normal pace, carefully closing the front door behind me, and locking it.  Anne and Danny didn’t say anything while I was in the house.  As I walked across the yard towards the barn, I began to wonder if I had made a mistake by sacking Blindside.

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  1. hierakles

    Wait, is he honestly thinking about letting a mentalist super tinker with his family’s minds at the end there? That’s…… kinda really dark, seems like a notion most wouldn’t even begin to entertain.

    • Ray

      I dunno, have you never said to yourself, ‘I wish I could make them understand’ (usually meaning agree with you).
      Well, in a world with supers, that becomes a real possibility. A scary one, too.
      Unless he starts planning how to contact Blindside, I am just chalking it up to ‘wishing it better’ type thinking.

  2. thomas

    Anne appears to know Zeke better than he understands her or Danny. Make me wonder if he is really immature to think it is okay to determine another person’s fate. Nice chapter

    • of the truck
    Superfluous or redundant depending POV
    • door of the truck and unlocked it, then opened it and grabbed the most perishable foods.
    And/then issues: door, unlocked and opened it, and then grabbed the most perishable foods.
    • with a dough
    with dough
    • as well, I need
    • a couple things, I’ll be back
    • an excuse, he had been
    • worse, I could be
    semicolon instead of comma
    • laundry
    confusing who does or doesn’t do it
    • right hand, was on
    comma not needed
    • number paragraph
    • started it’s cycle
    possessive: its

    • farmerbob1

      Fixed many things.
      The numbered paragraph is something from Word I think. I’m going to have to start using a normalized style with all the automatic formatting turned off
      Adjusted the laundry section. Added “at school.” I think it should be clearer now. Anne does the laundry in the house. Danny will be doing his own laundry at school, but is threatening to bring it home. When Anne indicates this would just be the same thing she was already used to doing, Danny threatens to bring friends home with their laundry too.

      Danny spoke up. “Well, mom, after I start college this fall, I could always bring home my laundry every weekend instead of doing it myself at school. Only if dad starts taking over the cooking duties, and you need something to do, of course.”

      “You haven’t done laundry since I taught you how, five years ago, Danny.” Anne poked his hand with her fork, grinning.

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