Content Warning: This chapter includes depictions of cigarette smoking. While no pixel lungs were harmed in the making of this chapter, smoking is not a cool habit in real life.
It was easy to get the two artists to be productive, even given the awful circumstances that the property stayed in.
Annette found herself with too many off days, and too many of them spent at the grocery store “getting freebies.” She started to sugarcoat trash collecting that way. It resulted in some possessions of questionable quality. Waitressing started to get more profitable as the occasional patron found Annette attractive enough to tip, but her cute smile wasn’t enough to drag her out of poverty.
Perhaps sucking up to her closest superior was, though. Julienne worked in the kitchen, which had a position of working at a deep fryer to fill. She saw potential in Annette, perhaps after she stood up to a rude customer who made fun of her hooked nose. Or it was after she showed no qualms over dropping a laxative into someone’s coke. They kept claiming they gave them a bunch of unwanted diet ones; it was a warranted response. Either way, she had the edge for the kitchen, or so Julienne liked to claim.
So Annette spent her time at Julienne’s luxurious mansion, owned by her parents (by herself? On that salary? No way). She got access to a spacious kitchen in their basement, and to Julienne’s incessant gossip too.
Yes, Julienne had a lot of that. Gala, one of the new-ish cooks, loved to sleep around. Mary’s younger son got caught fooling around with another guy during prom. The Castor family, who lived up on a hill close to downtown, we’re on the verge of divorce. And Annette wouldn’t believe who Julienne’s dad had to operate on and what he had to remove!
She said all those things with an air of superior, vindictive glee. When it came to Julienne’s own personal woes, her tone changed.
“You in the dating scene yet?” she asked Annette one night, when she went to the Knack manor after work.
“I don’t know. One of these days,” Annette replied. “Maybe soon because this dry spell sucks.”
“I know they do, but for the love of god, have some standards. I made the mistake of dating Bill Racket–you know, the city rep–and good god that was terrible.” It was clear that Julienne made that point a lot beforehand; her mother, ready for a nighttime swim, yawned while hearing it.
Annette gave a shrug. “I don’t think I can even vote in this town, so I dunno who he is.”
“Just be wary for anyone who introduces himself that way, okay? The guy kept telling me that he has a fetish for succubi and demon ladies and stuff, so…you know. But he’s…he’s the fucking worst. He said he cared about me, and then slept with our maid and jerked off on our porch when I said that it’s over. And his mafia family’s the only thing keeping him in office. I can go on, Annette. And I will.” And she did. Julienne and Annette took their breaks at the same time, and Julienne had stories about Bill. There was how he had a way of falling asleep during city council meetings, or how he somehow got elected with a string of public nudity charges. He also was terrible in bed.
She did drop one detail that got Annette’s attention more than the bad stuff: he lived up the street from her, with his own extended family. That meant that Bill had some sort of share in an eight bedroom house, a loaded bank account, and a VFN Kompensator in the garage.
Although Julienne was smarter than to give Annette their address, the phone book told her anyways.
How she scaled a whole story into an open window was something to marvel at. The plain TV room she climbed into, however, was as impressive as the worn-out consignment shop clothes she found for the job. No use dragging dog fur through the house. But the place struck her as much as any stained tank top would. The telly itself measured at 30 inches or thereabouts. The trophies on the shelf were made of cheap bronze. No one even left change between the couch cushions!
But there was a desk. They had a grasp on technology, those Rackets. She got a look at the laptop on the desk; a black ASUS RoG without any thumbprints on it. That could sell for over a thousand, even used. She would come back another day for it, with a coat to sneak it out in.
The Rackets must have anticipated someone like her invading. Everything was hidden away in drawers and closets, and there wasn’t much of it. She made note of the mink coat hanging up in one armoire, but Annette needed more goof-ups from them. More money and cocaine left in the open for her to grab. But maybe the first floor had those.
She tiptoed down the stairs. They did not have gold railings. Not even a crystal chandelier lighting up the foyer. What riches could they have without those alerting her to them? But through an arch, there was a living room, with some artwork inside! She would struggle lugging a heavy stone statue out of the house, but maybe that was a job for Harwood to help with. He must have had practice with that.
Sneaking in, Annette learned that she was not alone. The pages of a book rustled, and someone was reading them. The reader, who turned out to be a teenager, averted her attention towards Annette.
“Didn’t even hear you come in,” she said. “I guess you’re that weird blue girl everyone’s been talking ‘bout all summer.”
“I hope so. Wouldn’t want there to be another one.”
“So who’re you here for?”
Annette knew only one name. “For…for Bill. He’s your…” She didn’t grasp what their relationship could be.
“Uncle,” she said. “Anyways, I think he stepped out back for a smoke. Take a right and you’ll see the door.”
Annette followed the glow of the porch lights to the back. It was a pitiful-looking backyard. They had a pool, but they lacked a diving board or even good pool lights. It looked tepid and sad. But as hot as Twinbrook’s late summer night stayed, Annette was there to steal, not swim. Or perhaps, to meet Bill Racket and form an alibi.
He stood there with a lit cigarette, just as his niece said he would be. She might have expected someone younger and slimmer. Would Julienne feel that way for a portly older man? He hid behind aviator sunglasses, but she could see the annoyed expression he kept regardless.
Undeterred by that, she walked up to the man. “Bill?” she asked.
“Oh…the weird one,” he grumbled, his voice roughed up by smoke.
“Hey! I learned your name, and you don’t need to be an ass about mine.”
“If you say so.”
“Okay, I’m Annette,” she said, transitioning to a slow and meek tone while shifting her feet. “And I’ve heard some bad rumors about you that I want to clear up.” There was no denying that she did, after all.
“Oh please, everyone has,” Bill said.
“I work for your ex. You can’t have worse enemies than that.”
He finished with his cigarette and crossed his arms. “I knew that bitch would do something like this. I’m so sorry for you.”
“Work’s fine, but she likes to complain about you. Apparently you jacked off on her porch and slept with the maid? How ridiculous, her stirring shit like that.” However, Annette admitted to herself that Bill, the politician from a criminal family, had to have done such things. He looked sleazy and smelled like an ashtray and cologne.
“So I did. And she got angry for it.”
“The nerve of her,” muttered Annette. She couldn’t chide Bill for it, especially not after a minute of breathing in that second-hand smoke. Instead of disgusting her, it kicked an insidious part of Annette’s mind.
“Can you spare me one?” she asked him.
“You smoke?” Bill asked. “Your teeth are too perfect for that.” Hers were white and his were stained, that was true.
“I’m flattered, but it’s been a while, okay? I’ve been clean for four or five years, but what a bastard you are for winning me over again.” He threw the box to her.
“Fine, take one.” She didn’t feel bad, taking from an almost full box of sixteen cigarettes. Four years without one meant that she tossed her lighter along the way, but perhaps she could hold the unlit stick between her teeth and pretend. Annette did that until Bill turned towards her, looking close to amicable. He held an open flame right up to her.
“If you’re gonna smoke again, make it count,” he said, with the lighter’s flame flickering near his finger.
“You’re just so sweet,” she said. “I’d almost believe that you weren’t a politician.”
She took the cigarette between her fingers and lowered the end towards the lighter. “And it’s almost like you’re smiling too,” Annette continued, before taking her first puff in years.
“Somehow, you’re better than the rest of the ugly bastards at home,” said Bill.
They ended up hanging out by one of the lounge chairs near the pool. Bill stayed standing, but Annette sat on the concrete, claiming that it was a long day. She did spend five minutes longer with her head buried in garbage that afternoon.
“So, politics? On a scale of one to Congress, how bad are you?” Annette asked.
“I’m there to serve my awful criminal family and they keep me there.”
“Shucks. So what could you do without them?” He gave her an apathetic shrug as an answer. “Gotcha.”
“Well, why cook?” he asked her. “And why at that shithole of a place?”
“Please, their omelettes are to die for. And what else would you tell some dumpster-diving illegal? No one cares about your background in the kitchen. They don’t care that I’m some hybrid who started smoking at fifteen and hotwires cars. They just…just want to give me a home, for once.”
“I get it. You need to pour your heart out. I’m listening.”
She hung her head down, cigarette still smoldering away from her face. “I came here to not do those things, you know? I came here to stop drinking and smoking and stealing cars and swindling people, but look where I am now. I’m turning 24 next week, and I still can’t grow up.”
“And you think hanging around me’s gonna change that?” Bill asked.
“At least you have a house and a kind heart.” He laughed at the last one. “I’m serious about that. I didn’t even need to trick you into giving me a cigarette. I just asked…though I’m regretting that part now.” She flicked the remainder of hers into the pool, where it burnt out in the water.
“Obviously, you’re in the minority there.”
“And I’m happy to be that.”
Bill did the same to dispose of his cigarette. “It pisses off my old man so much when people do that to the pool. I gotta do it more, then.”
“Nice,” said Annette, as she got up from the ground to say her good-byes and return home. “You almost sound like you’re the best person on this street.”
“Believe me, this town’s full of scum. Especially past that door.” He pointed towards the back door for effect. “But…oh hell, you’re not as bad as I thought you’d be.”
“See, I knew that much-”
“I’d even say you’re the nicest girl in the swamp now,” he interjected.
Annette looked away, with a goofy smile. “Well damn. I don’t even think my roomies think of me that way.”
“Who do you live with?”
“Two artists. They probably don’t vote for you,” she said. “But we’re living, I guess. Over on the lawn near the bridge.”
“On this street?” Annette nodded.
“Oh, that place. I feel so bad for you,” Bill said. “You’re welcome here. I’ll protect you from the rest of the assholes within.”
“Spoken like a true gentleman, Mr. Racket.”
Annette took him up on the offer, already tired of waking up sweaty after a night in the unfiltered summer heat. The Rackets had multiple bedrooms to spare. Central air conditioning too. There were a lot of Rackets there; Bill, plus his parents, and his brother and the brother’s family, but Bill decided not to introduce her to them. Whether for her own safety or because he was in his 50’s and didn’t need to alert his parents about every single guest, he didn’t say.
But introductions or no introductions, Annette had a temporary home to turn to. She had a friend too. He made for a good teammate for shoot-‘em-up games. Like friends tended to do.
Friends also hit each other with pillows, or so Annette guessed. They had the house to themselves that night. No one wanted Bill at a formal dinner, it turned out. Annette felt bad enough for him; he needed a friend who wasn’t so hung up on decency and manners.
Friends did things like that, supporting each other through the worst. But when Annette found herself going to a city council meeting and sitting through it just to support Bill, she had to admit that friends didn’t do those things.
A/N: This story sure beats how Bill and Annette really met. He stood outside the diner one day, she introduced herself, immediately got a wish to smooch him. I still question her tastes to this very day. Anyways, it could have made for a funny story, but with less plot/character reveal. And why would I do that?