Stepfather

Challenge-made fic by Hector Gilbert

"What's happened to you?"

"Nothing."

"Really?"

"I'm sure."

"'Nothing'll be alright with me..."

Stephen knew that was what his father would say.

"What's happened to you?"

"Nothing."

"Really?"

"I'm sure."

"Oh?"

"...What?" Stephen Eddie looked up from his chair, annoyed at his stepfather.

"Why does 'nothing' always seem to be what happens to you these days?" Stephen's stepfather looked down at him with an expression which looked too questioning for Stephen to feel secure.

"What's it to you?" Stephen defended, now trying to divert eye-contact from his stepfather to the television set in front of him. Apparently, Seven of Nine was more interesting.

"Well... To be honest, I'm worried."

"About what?" Stephen shot out. "About me?"

"Yes... I'm worried about you."

"Why?" Despite the fact that Stephen knew what this would lead to, he was still all the more curious.

Stephen cringed as he heard his stepfather tell him the old story again. "Every six o'clock, I watch the news. And on the news I see-"

Stephen interrupted, "you see kids doing things that they shouldn't be doing and think, 'I hope Stephen won't turn out like that'."

Stephen's stepfather gave up and withdrew. Stephen replied like this every time he brought the subject up; at this stage, he wouldn't even bother. Stephen's stepfather had spent six years failing to solve a problem; in his opinion, it was probably some behavioral complex. Stephen's stepfather could guess without much hesitation what that complex was, whether his guess was right or not was another question.

But of course, Stephen's father was missing for many more years than Stephen's stepfather was with his mother. He was probably dead. So Stephen's stepfather knew with some regret that realistically, trying to find Stephen's father was ridiculous.

It had seemed at first like a perfectly normal Monday afternoon. Stephen's stepfather was waiting for a train on the way home from work, in a station which happened to be the same one that Stephen took going home from school. Usually Stephen's stepfather was at that station an hour after Stephen himself, and this left a group of what according to Stephen's stepfather were surely dysfunctional youths sitting down along the side of the waiting area.

Stephen's stepfather generally ignored them; when the train came, they stayed, and he knew why. This at least was proof enough to him that Stephen didn't hang around with them, or at least didn't hang around really late.

Stephen's stepfather usually tried to ignore the guys that hung out at the shelter with plenty of success as the train came only a couple of minutes upon arrival. But Stephen's stepfather was so attached to spying on people that he couldn't resist just taking a peek at what was inside through the windows of the train.

Just as the train began to move in its departure, Stephen found that among the teens and twentysomethings there was one man in the shelter that appeared to look much more like a worn-down fiftysomething. He looked distracted, but wasn't smoking anything at the same time.

Stephen's stepfather only managed to get a proper glimpse of that man's face for one second, as the anxieties on it were mainly hidden by a plain-looking black baseball cap. However, the image of the man that Stephen's stepfather had never met before was plastered into his head. He could recognise the man upon that first glance: the man that was Stephen's father, Paul Eddie.

The train finally forced the group of people gathered in the shelter past his line of sight after a crucial few seconds. With that, Stephen's stepfather swallowed hard, but not enough to prevent his feelings leaving a lump in his throat that he couldn't clear until he came home to his son.

Paul Eddie had left his family to try his hand in business. But he had failed miserably with his gambling, and now all he had left was a few pounds, a sample collection of Irish euro money, his clothes and his baseball cap.

They wouldn't recognise me if I came back to them, Paul thought. Pessimism is more a virtue than patience could ever be when it comes to long-awaited returns.

Paul gritted his teeth wondering about his separated wife, and his son. What was his son doing now? Paul hoped that his wife was with another man in one way, but only one way. He threw them all away, just like he did his own life.

If Paul Eddie was going to search for his family, Paul Eddie was going to be a stalker. He was going to be a bum who couldn't have been recognised as being this Paul Eddie person because of his beard and a few extra wrinkles. So, he didn't even bother.

All he did for the rest of the night was stay in the bus shelter as the kids eventually left.

When Stephen's stepfather got back home, he very nearly told Stephen that he had found a man who looked a lot like Mr. Paul Eddie. But Stephen was undoubtedly going to be skeptical about it, perhaps to the point of being apprehensive.

In case of an argument with Stephen, the stepfather decided to think of what would happen if he actually met this guy at the stop. Could he talk to him? How would this guy respond to a greeting?

Stephen's stepfather would have been prepared for the worst, so he assumed the worst. He tried to see himself among those kids as they were smoking cigarettes and joints rolled with the paper of cigarettes, talking to a weirdo in the bus stop. He couldn't.

So, even though he very nearly did tell Stephen, he did not.