That afternoon after school, I rehearsed the conversation in my head on my way home. I hadn’t said a full sentence to my stepfather in three years.
“Hey, Henry,” I recited to myself. “We don’t really talk. Sorry about that. So…” I stopped. This was stupid.
But as I got within a few blocks of the house, questions started swimming through my head. Why did I avoid Henry? Why did he bother me so much? Why had Dad left? Why hadn’t he fought to stay? Was it my fault? Where was he now? I’d never really thought about those questions. I’d kind of just shoved them under the rug and adopted the out of sight out of mind mentality. I didn’t hate my real Dad. I was just confused.
I finally made it home and saw Henry’s car parked in the driveway. So I circled the block a few times.
You’re such a punk, Daniel. He’s just a man. It’s not like he’s abusive. What are you scared of?
“This is just awkward,” I answered back. Great. Now I was talking to myself. I was seeing demons and I was talking to myself. This would all look really good on my psychological profile.
Twenty minutes later, I finally stood in front of the front door and took a deep breath. I opened the door, stepped into the house, and found Henry sitting in the living room, reading a book.
I walked up until I was barely within earshot of him. He didn’t look up. Either he was at the climax of the newest Neil Gaiman novel or he just didn’t give two craps about me. But I knew neither of those were true.
I took a breath to prepare myself and felt emotions rising up in me. My skin started to crawl, my forehead went damp, and my shoulders felt heavy. I wasn’t scared. I was uncomfortable. And it felt strangely similar to how I would feel whenever I woke up in Hell. I could almost feel the heat on the back of my neck and the chains on my wrists.
This was it.
I cleared my throat. “Um…Henry?”
He looked up immediately. “Oh hey, Danny. Didn’t see you standing there.”
I forced a smile and tried to remember my lines.
Cue the lines. Cue the lines.
But nothing came.
“Did you want to tell me something?” Henry asked.
I forced out a nervous chuckle. The heat was rising. The chains were rattling. And now I could even smell the discomfort. This was so gross. But I had to do it.
“We don’t really talk much, do we?” I finally said.
Henry grinned. “We don’t.”
“Well…” Here goes nothing. “I wanna change that.”
Henry’s grin widened.
“I’ve been avoiding you because it’s so uncomfortable. And I’m sorry for that.”
Henry stood up. “I completely understand, Danny. My parents’ marriage fell apart when I was about your age. And I know from experience that no one escapes divorce unscathed.”
“That was an awkward choice of words,” I said.
But before the sentence was fully out of my mouth, I felt my body temperature sky rocket until I was dripping with sweat. My chest and arms swelled, my clothes suddenly vanished in a blur, and I was standing in the living room in a ripped tunic and burned pants, holding my sword.
I laughed out loud.
Photo cred: Chozley