When me and Sis would get to fighting, Daddy’d always make us go on what he called a Nature Nurture. He’d make us walk around in the woods and not say NOTHIN for like FOR-EV-ER and he’d point out big ol’ trees and clouds and stuff but we couldn’t even TALK. We were s’posed to just nod our heads and keep on walkin’. He’d say it was important to remember how little we are–that we’re part of something so big we can’t even see it and that we need to love each other so we can get through it together.
I think he just did it so me and Sis would shut up.
Had she known the bag of chocolates would explode into every nook and cranny of her kitchen, she never would’ve opened it. In an instant, brightly colored, candy-coated confetti shot behind her blender, beneath her dishwasher and under her fridge. All she wanted was a tiny indulgence at the end of a rough day. And all she got was really, really pissed off.
“It shouldn’t be so hard to be happy,” she said, spinning around toward the trash can with such force that she lost her balance and jammed her toe into the barstool. “FFFFFFUUUUU–”
When her four-legged little munchkin came bounding into the kitchen and assumed his crooked headed/innocent eyes pose, she couldn’t help but laugh. “Hi, precious,” she said, reaching down to rub his ears. “Who’s a good baby?” She put both hands under his chin and scratched.
And that’s when she noticed the blood.
“PUFFY! Did you get into mama’s stash AGAIN?!” he held his head in shame and looked up from beneath guilty brows. “You have no idea how far that cute little face gets you, little man.”
She reached under the kitchen counter and grabbed a clean pair of latex gloves and a face mask, cranked up the stereo and headed to the back room. Operation Candy Cleanup had just been redefined.
“I swear to GAWD,” she huffed, straining to lean across her belly far enough to reach the syrup. “I just don’t know how she can be so dang stupid!”
Darlene flicked open the sticky syrup bottle top and proceeded to pour its entire contents over her butter-drowned half-stack.
“She’s just unsaveable,” she continued, slapping the bottom of the syrup bottle to get at the last of it before signaling the waiter over.
“Yoo-hooooo!” Darlene jiggled a stubby, freckled arm until her waiter–and the rest of the restaurant–were all forced to acknowledge her. “Now, I don’t want to cause a scene here,” she said loud enough to cause a scene, “but I am completely OUT of syrup ANNND I thought I told you to keep my Diet Cola FILLED. Does this look filled to you?” She cocked her head to the side like a greedy little Yorkie and wrinkled her nose like she’d smelled a fart.
Just as he was about to answer, Darlene turned back to her friend and her pancakes. “I just don’t understand why kids today are so selfish,” she said. “I’ll never underst–” Darlene snapped her head back to look at the waiter, “Honey are you slow, or something? Go get me some seeeer-ruup and more Diet Co-Laa!”
Darlene shook her head in disgust once the waiter disappeared again. “I swear to GAWD!”
“Hush little baby, don’t say a word.”
Using Sir Monkey as a fluffy full body shield, Kayla slid out of bed and tiptoed over to investigate the noises outside her bedroom door.
“Mama’s gonna buy you a mock-ing-bird.”
The song had a serpentine sound that hissed into her ears before slithering down her spine.
“And if that mock-ing-bird don’t sing,”
When their eyes met, Kayla’s chest clenched. She couldn’t breathe. The room was getting darker.
“Mama’s gonna buy you a dia-mond ring.”
The sounds washed over her, throwing her head back and leaving her paralyzed.
“And if that dia-mond ring don’t shine,”
Suddenly, a blinding-white electric light shot out of Kayla’s mouth, eyes and nose. It lifted her off the ground and into the arms of the cooing siren.
For a moment, she felt safe there. Like maybe that had been her spot all along. Here in her arms.
And then everything went black.
Chris dropped off two cold beers and a basket of hot wings before attempting to wriggle out of his windbreaker.
“Got the new shirts in today,” he said, puffing out his chest and pointing proudly at his latest design.
Although the bold, white lettering across the top was at least an inch high, Jon needed to squint through four tequila shots and two beers to read his friend and former band-mate’s black T-shirt:
GUNNAR STEEL FOREVER FOUNDATION
“Nice,” Jon said, grabbing a wing with his long, skinny fingers. “I can’t believe you found those old photos. Those are epic, man. Epic.”
Beneath the title were two shots of Gunnar taken from the best–and worst–night of their lives nearly 30 years ago.
Chris reached for his beer and, as he chugged it down, wondered how much longer it’d take to get over it all. These monthly gatherings were comforting when the Steel Thorns crew could barely squeeze themselves into the back of the bar. But, now that it was down to just the two remaining band members with an occasional Crazy Sherry appearance, drinking at Earl’s just felt depressing.
Back in the summer of ’89, Steel Thorns impressed a gum-rubbing agent at a warehouse party enough to score a spot as the opening band for Satan’s Loincloth. At the time, no band was more influential in the metal scene. But, like many influential metal bands, they also had a dark reputation for drug use and destruction.
Despite the fact that Gunnar had chiseled abs, a voice like a banshee and guitar-shredding skills that once made a grown man cry, the Steel Thorns frontman still felt like he needed more of a rock star’s edge to fit in with the big players. Unfortunately, he didn’t just find the edge … he fell off of it.
Chris was the one who found Gunnar with a needle in his arm and a silent heart in his chest a week after the show. He’d gone over to tell him they’d been offered a contract and could move to LA. He’d left with confirmation that the deal was too good to be true.
Chris still couldn’t decide if it was good or bad that he once set the stage for Devil’s Loincloth. To feel success like that–that’s something musicians live to feel. The cheers. The screams. The sounds of your biggest hit echoing off of the dome and out from the mouths of thousands of sweaty, writhing bodies in front of you. And he’d felt it. And he’d seen the future of private jets and music videos and headlining. And, just as quickly as it was given to him, it was all taken away.
Chris polished off his beer and clinked it against Jon’s empty bottle.
“Yeah, man. Sounds good.”
As soon as Gabe could speak in coherent sentences, he calmly informed his mother that he was a reincarnated superhero given a second chance to save the world. “The only problem,” he said, putting his stubby little fingers up to his temples in exasperation, “is that I can’t remember which one.”
Every penny of Gabe’s weekly allowance went toward his growing collection of luchador masks, capes and tights. And every day he’d try another combination in an attempt to “find himself.”
Despite his solid argument that her “ridiculous insistence on enforcing rules found nowhere in the student handbook was both selfish and unfounded,” the Vice Principal of Eagle Elementary refused to allow Gabe’s soul-searching wardrobe on campus.
Watching him leave her office with his mask in his hand and his defeated eyes on the ground, Principal Judy felt terrible, but she was 80% sure she’d made the right call.
That night, Judy met her girlfriends at Juan Again Off Again to try and find the other 20%.
“I mean, what six year old even talks like that,” she asked, taking a sip of her frozen strawberry margarita. “His poor mom. You know she’s got to be just DYING trying to deal with him all on her own” she drowned a chip in guacamole and shoved it in her mouth. “I can’t imagine. *chomp chomp* Can you imagine? *chomp chomp* I canNOT imagine.”
The only member of the Margarita Mamas ever bold enough to interrupt one of Judy’s infamous rhetorical rants was Terese. The rest of the girls sat in silence, praying she’d use her STFU superpowers to end this episode.
“I know it sounds stupid,” Judy continued, “but there’s a part of me that thinks maybe he is reincarnated. What if he’s telling the truth? I mean, I can’t prove he’s not! Oh, God. What if I just became his nemesis?! What if I–”
“Jesus Christ, Judy,” Terese cut her off. “If you’re going to keep going off on this completely insane tangent, we’re all going to need shots.”
That night, Terese drove her drunken friend home. And that night, Gabe began planning his revenge.