The Improbable Theory of Ana and Zak

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DEDICATION

To my mother, Connie.
Thanks for taking me to the library.

CONTENTS

ZAK

“Zak! Hey, Zak, where are you?”

The sound of my stepfather's voice fills me with dread. My mother is gone—we are alone.

“Zak! Get out here.”

I try to ignore it. Try to lose myself in an issue of
Fangoria
. For now, I'm safe in my little hiding place in the utility room. If I don't answer, maybe he won't find me. Maybe he won't make me do those things . . .

“Zak!”

I look up at the sneering face of Han Solo on the wall, momentarily wishing he were here to back me up. But no, this is something I have to face alone. Steeling
myself for what I know lies ahead, I exit my refuge.

I find him upstairs, grinning that carefree smile of his. And holding a football.

Mother of God, it's worse than I thought
.

He stands there in my kitchen, wearing the fraternity sweater from a college he (probably) graduated from decades ago.

“C'mon, boy-o!” he says in that chirpy voice of his. “It's beautiful outside.”

This being Tacoma, Washington, beautiful weather means it's only drizzling. I can think of a thousand things I'd rather be doing, from organizing my DVDs to chewing on tinfoil. But Mom had asked me to make an effort to spend some time with
him
.

Please, Zak. Just an afternoon. It would mean so much to me
. She had the big sad mom eyes. I have no choice in the matter.

I stomp out the back door, close enough that Roger has to scoot out of my way (small mercy, no one makes me call him “Dad”). Let's just get this over with.

Rog is oblivious to my discomfort. He stands there with the ball in hand, no doubt reliving his high school days. He then passes it to me. I bobble it a few times and drop it.

“Good eye!”

“Spare me your platitudes.” I grin internally as his
brow furrows over that last word. I hurl the ball back at him and only fall short by a yard. A sad showing for the digital Football Frenzy champion three years running.

We toss the ball in silence for a few minutes. I remember the chain gang prisoners from a movie and am tempted to break into a chorus of “Po' Lazarus.”

“Zak?” He breaks the silence. “Your school newsletter came in the mail the other day.”

“Glad to see you reading.”
Toss, miss, toss, miss
.

“Says that soccer tryouts are coming up for the summer leagues. I thought maybe you'd be interested.”

This comment is so ridiculous, I nearly laugh. Luckily, I remember my vow never to smile in his presence. “You thought wrong.” I'm pleased with my voice. Disdain, just the slightest edge of sarcasm.

Unfortunately, Roger does not shut up. “Well, maybe not soccer. How about baseball?”

I catch the football with my chest. “I don't really know how to play.”

He smirks. “C'mon, everyone knows how. Didn't your father show you?”

The ball flies from my hand. I smile inside as it pegs Roger right in the eyeball. He falls to his knees.

“Ow . . . Wow, good arm there, kid . . . ow . . . Um, that's enough for me now . . . Geez, my contact . . .”

I'm already marching back to the house . . .
my
house. I am livid.

Roger, are you really that dumb? Or are you just a colossal prick? No, my father never taught me how to play baseball. Though right now, I wish I did own a bat
.

I slink down to the basement and return to the utility room. Like Superman and Doc Savage, I have my own little Fortress of Solitude. My laptop next to the water heater. My collection of movie memorabilia on the unfinished plank shelves. A mini fridge. I used to have this all set up in the den, but Roger has taken over that room. He says he needs it for his job. His job apparently includes a lot of fantasy football and buying crap on eBay.

I rummage through a plastic bin and pull out a framed photo. Me and my dad, Christmas morning. We're wearing the matching Indiana Jones fedoras we'd gotten each other. I think I was nine.

It's hard to believe I haven't seen him in six years. Some mornings, I still wake up and expect to find him in the kitchen, charring a pan of bacon. Instead, I find Roger, sprawled out on my couch, watching the sports highlights.

Sometimes I wish I was little again. That I could believe that Dad was off excavating Incan ruins in South America or something, and that one day he'd pull up
into our driveway and . . .

Grow up, Zak. You know that's not going to happen
.

I return the photo to its place. I don't display it. I don't want Roger looking at it and feeling superior to the man in the picture.

Two months. That's how long my mom knew Roger before they got engaged. Two damn months.

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