Mack had taken his dress uniform out of the dry cleaner’s bag and laid it out on his bed.
He stepped into his pants and zipped them up, then put on his clean white dress shirt. He stared into a mirror as he made sure that he fastened every last button.
Next, he tied his tie and made a perfect knot. He put on his coat and buttoned it, then took a moment to admire the medals pinned to it.
Finally, he put on his beret. The outfit was complete.
The solider inspected himself in the mirror, brushed a bit of lint off of his shoulder, then shouted, “Atten hut!” and snapped to attention.
“Left face!” Mack barked as he snapped his body in perfect time to the left.
“Right face!” was next and Mack quickly snapped to the right.
“Forward!” Mack found himself standing up straight in front of the mirror again. He snapped his right hand up to his temple in a salute then whispered to himself, “At ease.”
The soldier stood there, trembling. He unholstered his service pistol, pressed it up against the side of his head, closed his eyes and clicked off the safety.
His hand shook as he hovered his finger over the trigger. He was thinking about pulling it when he heard a car door slam.
Then he heard some familiar voices.
“Look,” came Abby’s voice from outside. “I don’t need this. You two are going to stop being little monsters for one week and you’re going to have a good time.”
“How can I have a good time now that Tommy is going out with Heather instead of me?” Paige asked. “Hashtag life over.”
“Your life is not hashtag over,” Abby said. “One week at Wombat World and you’ll be saying, ‘Tommy who?’”
“Wombat World is a tool of the man to turn us all into mindless consumers, slowly giving away pieces of our soul to the corrupt and oppressive capitalist state,” Dylan said.
“Maybe,” Abby replied. “But its also fun as all get out so stop complaining. Huh. Weird. Why is Mack’s car here?”
“Shit,” Mack said as he clicked the safety of his pistol on and holstered it.
The soldier shut the door and sat down on the edge of his bed as the voices of his family poured through the house.
“Can’t we just have a nice vacation at home?” Paige asked.
“Yeah,” Dylan said. “I can work on my beatboxing skills.”
“You have no skills,” Abby said. “God, you kids are the worst. When I was your age I would have killed for a trip to Wombat World.”
“When you were our age there was only like three things to do,” Paige said.
Mack lowered his head into his hands and closed his eyes as the voices grew louder.
“That’s not true,” Abby said. “There was at least nine things to do.”
Abby knocked on Mack’s door.
Mack grunted as his sister creaked the door open. “Are you decent?”
The door opened all the way. Dylan ran into the room and playfully socked his uncle in the gut. That move would have hurt most people but Mack just shrugged it off.
“Aww sweet, you’ve got your uniform on,” Dylan said. “We gotta play Power Action Ninja Soldier Force.”
“After dinner,” Abby said as she held up a pizza box.
Paige poked her head into Mack’s room. “Unk can you teach me how to drive? Mom can’t handle it.”
“I guess so,” Mack said.
“Thank God,” Paige said as she left. “Hashtag someone knows what they’re doing.”
Abby shook her head in disgust. “Dylan go polish your action power soldiers.”
Dylan instantly corrected his mother. “They’re power action ninja soldiers serving together in a single force.”
“Whatever,” Abby said. “Uncle Mack and I need to talk.”
“OK,” Dylan said as he left the room.
Abby sat down next to her brother and opened up the pizza box to reveal a steaming hot wheel of pepperoni pineapple.
“Some za?” Abby asked.
“Don’t mind if I do,” Mack replied as he took a slice.
Abby took a slice for herself and closed the box. Brother and sister sat there for awhile, silently chewing and avoiding talking to each other.
Finally, Abby gave in. “So, you were supposed to be working until five.”
“Yup,” Mack said.
“I take it another job has bitten the dust?” Abby asked.
“You take it correctly,” Mack said.
“What happened this time?”
“I shared one of my stories,” Mack said.
“Oh,” Abby said. “No wonder.”
“To an eight year old kid,” Mack said.
“Oh God,” Abby said.
Abby pulled a crispy piece of pepperoni off of her slice and ate it. “So to recap…”
“Do we need to recap?” Mack asked.
“To recap,” Abby said. “There was the car wash where an engine backfired and you tackled your boss to the ground because you thought it was an ambush.”
“Right,” Mack said.
“Then there was the job at Price Town, which was going well until you told an old lady which common household items she should stock up on and how to use them to kill intruders,” Abby said.
“In my defense,” Mack said. “She asked.”
“The deli where your co-workers accused you of looking way too happy while you were slicing the ham,” Abby said.
Mac had finished his slice of pizza and started working on the crust. “Trumped up charges if I ever heard them.”
“The club where the patrons accused you of bouncing too hard,” Abby said.
“Had they not started shit they wouldn’t have been bounced at all,” Mac replied.
“And the groundskeeper gig you went way too overboard on,” Abby said.
“Squirrels are no match for C-4,” Mack said.
“You blew up a golf course, dumb ass,” Abby said.
Brother and sister each grabbed a second slice.
“So,” Abby said. “I can’t help but notice that you’re wearing your dress uniform.”
“Just wanted to take it out of mothballs to see if it still fits,” Mack said.
“I’d believe that if it weren’t for the gun on your hip,” Abby said.
“You have to take them out once in awhile and clean them or they get rusty,” Mack said.
“Bullshit,” Abby said. “I’ve seen Scent of a Woman, Mack and I know perfectly well what you were up to.”
“You do?” Mack said as he took a bite of his pizza.
“Yes,” Abby said. “And I think it sucks. These kids love you, you know.”
“I know,” Mack said. “I’m not sure I was even going to do it. Sometimes it just helps to know its an option.
“But…why?” Abby asked. “Why would you even entertain such a thought?”
“This,” Mack said as he looked around the bare room. “This isn’t a man’s life.”
“What?” Abby asked.
“Outside of America there’s a whole world that’s a pile of shit,” Mack said. “People are suffering. My fellow soldiers are dying. I’m not able to do the one thing I’m good at.”
“Are you ever going to tell me what happened?” Abby asked.
“Can’t,” Mack said. “Classified.”
“Come on,” Abby said. “Something embarrassing happened, right? You got drunk and brought a hooker to the base or something?”
“No,” Mack said. “And thanks for thinking so highly of me.”
“Well I don’t know,” Abby said.
“You’re not cleared to know,” Mack replied.
Abby scoffed. “Fine. But you have got to figure out how to make it as a civilian.”
“I can’t,” Mack said. “There’s no one like me in the civilian world that I can relate to. No one has done the things I’ve done, seen the shit I’ve seen. No one at a regular job understands me and I can’t do any security contracting because of the bogus dishonorable discharge, which I assure you, was completely undeserved.”
“And I trust you enough to take your word for it,” Abby said. “And you know you’re welcome to be here for as long as you need to be.”
“Thanks,” Mack said. “But real men pay their own way. Real men have their own homes. Real men…”
“The kids listen to you when you tell them to do something and the house has never been cleaner since you moved in,” Abby said. “That’s payment enough.”
“It’s not enough for me,” Mack said.
Abby stood up and held her hand out.
Abby flexed her fingers toward herself.
“A soldier never surrenders his sidearm,” Mack said.
“He does if he wants to keep staying here,” Abby said. “I don’t need the kids coming home to your blown out brains one of these days.”
Mack grimaced then stood up. He popped the bullet out of the chamber, took out the clip, and handed it all to his sister.
Abby reached into Mack’s closet, took out a lock box, and locked the gun and parts inside.
“This stays in my room for awhile until you’ve got it together,” Abby said. “Understood?”
“Understood,” Mack grumbled.
“Good,” Abby said. “Now come hang out with the kids. You’re not going to see them for a whole week.”