On a chilly autumn night, after the crickets had gone asleep until the next summer, Annette figured that she could get an extra payday from Dennis. Being on maternity leave for so long, she needed another check. So she pushed the buggy further up his walkway, with Franco fussing the entire way.
“C’mon, little man, he’s not that evil. And he’s your uncle!” Annette said to her crying baby. “You’ll thank me for this later, I hope.”
She called Dennis in advance, just to make sure that she could avoid the rest of the family. They all recognized her as that fool who married Bill, and she wanted to avoid the backlash as much as possible. He promised to do something to oust them for the night, or just to put them to work. With the troubles Annette faced with her husband, there wasn’t any reason to hate Dennis after all! He must have recognized that too, sounding more than cordial over the phone.
He left the door unlocked for her. She left the stroller outside, but took Franco in with her, of course.
He sat in the living room on a brown leather armchair, trying to look serious. And that wasn’t to say that Dennis didn’t command a presence; he had the same stern face that all the Rackets did, and a taste for black clothes. Annette walked in through the ornate archway with her son cradled in her arms, which Dennis noticed.
“I almost thought you weren’t going to bring the kid,” said Dennis. He got up from his seat and bounded towards Annette to snatch little Franco out of her arms.
“He’s the cutest that a clone of my vile brother can be, yes you are.” He cooed to the infant a little more, pressing him against his shiny leather jacket.
“Yeah, I know your kids are grown up by now and you just need a little one again, but I don’t have all night,” said Annette. “And hell, I wanna be a cool sister-in-law to you.”
“Or ex-sister-in-law, if things go right,” Dennis replied.
“Wishing divorce on me? You gotta have more tact than that. I ain’t here to talk about my awful marriage, I’m here to talk cocaine, machine guns, tax evasion, whatever you got.”
“I appreciate your honesty, Annette.”
“It’s all the next step up from stealing, ain’t it?”
“How about we take a seat?” asked Dennis. “I still have one of those baby playmats back from when the kids were little. Lemme just get that for the cutest nephew ever, aren’t you?”
While Franco alternated between napping and looking kind of dazed at the colorful toys hanging above him, Dennis and Annette talked guns.
“Historically, it was guns and prostitution. And my dad’s still proud of the last one,” said Dennis. “I think it’s a pretty sick business. He thinks I’m a pussy for not liking to handle it, but you know what? Sometimes I support well-intentioned people by selling them a machine gun. I like that, but…I’ll be honest, prostitution is grimy and you’re always hurting somebody with it.”
“Take it from someone who sucked dick for booze as a teen…they’re all sick fucks and we’re all disturbed women out there. I’ll sell guns before giving that my approval again,” said Annette. “But yeah, guns, you get a lot of money from that?”
“Pretty big chunk of the market.”
“Nice. So what can I do?”
“I’m wondering. Can you carry a machine gun?” Annette shrugged.
“Maybe not like a six-foot Racket can, but probably. I could get Shark to do some for me too,” said Annette. “But, at least storing your stuff? It looks like I should be against you. I’m the last person they suspect because I’m married to your enemy.”
“That you are, for now,” said Dennis. “What got you to see the light?”
Annette tapped her chin in thought. “Working for his ex has its perks.”
“So why go to me instead of breaking it off with him?” Dennis asked.
Annette looked down at her child on the playmat, with a longing stare. “You can see why, right on that rug. Bill isn’t fun anymore but single parenthood ain’t either.”
“I hope something goes right, that’s all,” he said. “The orders are kinda sporadic, so I’ll give you a message when you’re needed. Get a good lock system.”
It took until winter, right in the middle of a snowstorm. Like a normal person, Annette planned to stay indoors. She had sculptures to pose for, which was nothing too new. Harwood wanted some practice with human features in ice, just to be sure he wouldn’t mess up his newest commission (a beautiful centerpiece for a state government function, or so Annette recalled). She stayed still until her phone vibrated once in her pocket. Ever since meeting with Dennis, she was on constant guard for his promised notification.
“Annette, come on. I need to you to stay still for a bit,” said Harwood, with an annoyed tone directed at Annette walking away with her phone. She stood with her mouth agape, though, both at the phone and the piling snow outside.
“What shit timing he has,” she muttered. “You know what I look like by now. You’ll do fine.” She went upstairs to grab her turtleneck and scarf for the weather, and Shark too.
“Your dad’s finally made good on the deal,” she said. “Just tell me where to pick it up. You know where, right?”
Annette had an easier job getting Shark to help her on a job for his own father than she did getting him to do many other things. Perhaps reaching out to him was a simple matter of loyalties after all. She rented a van big enough for two people and the new shipment of weapons. Six sniper rifles and boxes of ammo. And of course, they grabbed some warmer clothes too: a turtleneck for Annette, and a leather biker jacket for Shark. Shark kept the guns company while Annette drove the van further and further away from Twinbrook’s center. Shrouded by snow and fog, she retreated past the town’s military base and to a pond and a cabin.
Annette bought it, actually, hoping that it would be a good use of her leftover cash. She even built the plans for the cabin, from deciding on reclaimed wood for the siding to building a small bar inside (of course). Good for parties if she didn’t feel like cleaning a big house. She also built a wedding arch, completes with flowering bushes and seating. That was a more confusing choice.
They parked the van at the edge of the lot and unloaded the cargo. They each grabbed a rifle.
Shark rubbed his neck while effortlessly holding the gun with one arm. “So what were you telling me about how life with you is better than the family business?” he asked Annette.
“Being a sarcastic little shit tonight, aren’t you?”
“I just think it’s funny.”
“Sure it is. I was wrong…I still care, of course. Are you doing okay?”
“What’s all that about?” Shark asked, with a bit of a sour look.
“Look, whatever the future holds for me and Bill, you’re still something to me,” said Annette. “I care about you. Like, if you’re happy with me, then I’m happy with you.”
“You found a special someone yet?” Shark let out a rather shy chuckle. “Aww, you have, haven’t you? Those hickeys on your neck came out of love after all!”
“Yeah, they did,” he said, in a quiet voice. “It’s kind of weird, though. You might think less of me for it.”
“I’ve seen a lot of weird things, kiddo. And as long as it makes you happy…and that it isn’t abusive either. Like, as long as it’s nice for you, I’m all for it.”
“Fine. It all started with being rejected. I kind of kept thinking about that Sinbad guy that Amy dragged to your wedding. He has the prettiest green eyes in town, or so I thought. And he’s bi! But he gave me a black eye after I asked him if he wanted to grab a drink and watch some footie.”
“But it led to a few revelations, and it turned out that an even better green-eyed bisexual guy needed someone to love, if you know who I mean.”
Annette kind of went blank, trying to think through all the green-eyed guys in Twinbrook. It wasn’t uncommon, though she met Sinbad once and noticed his electric green eyes immediately. Now those were rare. She could think of only one other guy who had a similar color.
She should have been grossed out at the age gap, but instead had a more calm response. “Huh. Didn’t know that old man was bi.”
It either made no sense or all of it. Harwood was not someone Annette would cite as attractive, not even in a “for his age” way. His face bore the marks of old age and scars from mysterious injuries. It looked like a total wreck. All he had going for him were those big green eyes and being as bitter-yet-pleasant as ever.
But, as Shark explained, they got along well in a teacher/student sort of way. And it didn’t take long for it to be an intergenerational, egalitarian friendship instead. In fact, Shark saw a lot of the same things in Harwood that Annette did. Companionship, support, dark humor. Friendship and mutual admiration came to a head when they had to go to Nadine’s funeral, and sparks flew. Or as Annette said to me, they totally fucked in that hotel room.
So as Shark tried to reassure her, it was a better relationship than it sounded like. It was just two best friends who liked to kiss and bang, and with one of them able to tell horrifying first-hand stories about the other’s grandparents.
“It brings tears to my eyes, but I’ll bug Harwood about your freaky love life later. We’re a team now, and teamwork means hauling guns for your auntie,” said Annette.
She knew the lot better than he did, though, and led him to where they would store the weapons.
“And down there’s where we go,” said Annette, standing with Shark by the cellar door. “So when did they tell you about their rotten business?”
“Thirteen,” he said.
“What did you think back then?”
“Same I do now. Rotten business, but I like thrills and I like money and I thought it would get me laid.”
“We could make a good team, the two of us,” she said. “I got the keys. The lock system on this is intense, but so discrete. We’re in the clear once we get these bad boys downstairs.”
Perhaps there was some magical thinking involved on Annette’s behalf, as she seemed to believe that storing guns on owned property would scare her marriage back to order. But no. Her sex life didn’t pick up, and when it happened it bored both her and Bill. All she could say was that they lived together, and some part of her still loved him. It just got harder to communicate with that part as time went on, but she still held out hope.
But that marriage was the only source of apathy she could find. A hefty 200 grand in payment for storing Dennis’ weapons gave her the euphoria she stopped feeling. The risk factor paid well. She could tell Bill right there where the money came from. Expect either a scared man or a more broken relationship. But Annette might not have thought those through at all. Damn her for asking Shark for advice! He suggested such a pointless thing! She just wanted things back to normal, back to her and Bill being in love again under perfect terms.
The bank promised that no one could ask about that large new account she opened up.
Her new hope was for the bad air to clear as if it was a rainstorm.
Due to life being more than a relationship, Annette still had events to look forward to. Such as loose summer clothes and a balmy August afternoon for Franco’s birthday.
And a pleasant September evening for her own.
Annette did not change much. A small haircut changed her more than forehead wrinkles and five grey hairs did. Franco was a different story, considering how fast children grow up. He went from being a cue ball to having abundant, straight black hair. He needed a new wardrobe of clothes in size 2T, and shoes with more protection than mere socks had.
Plus, it became more and more clear that he took after his father in many ways. From his square jaw to being just plain whiny. But Annette found that endearing in her son, and in Bill, it couldn’t be so bad either.
Yes, her little pink toddler might have been the answer she was looking for.
As it turned out, Bill was merely an inattentive husband. He made for a better father, working in trying to get Franco to speak while Amy painted. As frustrating as it was when Franco would just look away and pout, Bill persevered through it.
He said that it was worth it for Franco’s rare and precious smile.
So fatherhood was the least of Bill’s flaws. And therefore, was it perhaps not the root of the problems? Everyone saw that, and it made Annette’s heart melt a little seeing that the problem wasn’t with an innocent young child. As for giving a kickstart to their life inside the bedroom, not so much, but she was able to treat Bill like an ally. They shared a table in the breakfast nook and talked about work, and made rude jokes about the other rich people living near them.
Heck, even if he ignored Franco, Annette had two other adults who had her little man wrapped around their fingers. Shark seemed to ignore Franco’s presence most of the time, but with Harwood and Amy to pick up the slack, it wasn’t like they needed him.
Even Sagebear, who started to be a lazy and unexciting house-dog as she aged, warmed up to what she likely saw as an annoying little bug. Sure, Franco hugged her neck when she didn’t want it and tugged at her floppy ears, but soon enough, he got doggie smooches like the adults did.
She also spoke fondly of lazy mornings where she didn’t need to get dressed or straighten her hair and could just play Mario Kart with Franco on her lap. As well as with Harwood and Shark cuddled together and beating her by a wide margin.
Now, if Annette was a better person than a gross-if-talented drunkard, then I would think that her life would turn around with all of that. Being a mother and happy with it. Alas, that is not Annette.
She still had the issues in bed, namely with nothing happening. Any friendly vibes that she and Bill built up throughout the day disintegrated if they tried to get it on. Sometimes they could fall asleep together, but with only one of them using the blanket and never, ever with cuddling.
Divorce started to sound like a sweet word to Annette. But she still had some sort of a heart back then, and there was only one condition she would consider divorce under.
Mrs. Scout Sargeant lived on the other side of town, in a beautiful, hilltop neighborhood. She drove a beautiful Bwan Speedster and also had a collection of accolades from being the town’s Chief of Police. And everyone knew that she and her husband had a new baby.
Julienne mentioned that, didn’t she? She was the only person who mentioned that Mr. Sargeant was not the father. At first, Annette thought it was laughable. Scout wouldn’t cheat on her buff, military husband with an ineffective, out-of-shape politician. No one in that situation would. And there was no evidence of Bill mailing out child support checks either, though it would be out of character for him to do so.
Annette had to see it for herself. She kept it casual, wearing leggings as pants and not bothering to knock on the door. She walked right into the Sargeant’s house, and to Scout playing with her baby son, Mark.
“Jesus, you can knock first,” said Scout.
“He’s cute,” Annette said. “Grey eyes? I love those. My husband has ones just like that.”
Scout’s face froze. “Oh. You’re Bill’s wife, aren’t you?”
Scout put her baby down. “We can take this to the basement. I wanna keep this one private.”
The Sargeants had a great basement, save for the tacky retro wallpaper. But between the thick cinderblock walls, the new gym equipment, and the corkboard of police cases, it seemed like a great “headquarters.”
Scout’s face showed a lot of pain. “I’m so sorry, Mrs. Racket. We had been trying for a baby for so long, and all my tests checked out, but I started to get desperate. And then I met Bill, and he never mentioned you until much later. I thought he was always a bachelor. And then Mark happened, and I’m thrilled and Bobby is thrilled too, but…I hate that there’s someone else in the mix now.”
“Hey, don’t cry. I’m not mad to you, at least not much,” said Annette, trying to offer a comforting hand to Scout. “I mean, I’m glad I know now. Bill wouldn’t speak about it.”
“Did you try?” Scout asked.
“Well, I mean, I have-” she stopped herself, considering that she was talking to the Chief of Police. Scout would have her in handcuffs if she admitted to keeping automatic weapons for the Rackets. As for what the Rackets would do, she kept that out of her mind. “Sometimes I’m scared of them. I mean, all those Rackets are a lot bigger than me. Even Bill could crush me because, hey, a lot of people can crush 110 pounds. So, it’s tough to muster the courage to talk to him about it, sometimes.”
“I’ve been married for a while, Annette,” said Scout. “You have to talk with him. Even if it’s angry.”
Scout was right, but it took Annette a bit of time to heed her suggestion. She didn’t talk. Falling asleep next to him was still difficult. She just stayed awake, feeling vulnerable with just her underwear and fragile emotions. She lay on her side and pondered her woes. Woes at work to what went wrong at home, and most of the time, it was the latter.
She got up and sat on the edge of the bed, close to the end table and lamp, believing it would help her think better. Not as much as it should have, but maybe she could wake up Bill and get some late night fighting in. If nothing else, she needed the release as if she was a pressurized steam valve.
Annette shook him awake. “Stop snoring and maybe we can talk for once,” she said, taking him by the shoulder.
He got out from under the comforter. “What now?” Bill mumbled.
“Why are we living like this?” Annette asked him.
“Because you made me do it.”
“Is that how you still think about me?”
“Most of the time.”
“I didn’t come here to be resented,” said Annette. “And I’m not wasting my youth with you if I don’t have to. I ain’t wasting more of my time with…a dirty cheater.”
“What, did Julienne bribe you to say that?” he asked.
“Bill, let’s talk about this. Like adults.” She took a seat on the tail-end of the bed, sitting cross-legged and with a cross face too. “I visited Scout not too long ago. Looks like she has a new baby. Same grey eyes I’m sadly used to now.”
“That’s nice, Nettie.”
“Rather an agile, fit policewoman than you, right? I didn’t know how to handle myself. You promised to make this easy for me, and you know what you did? You didn’t make this easy for me. I never wanted a family, Annette. I never wanted any of this.”
“Maybe you should have spoken up a little earlier. I don’t even think an apology can cut it at this point.”
“Because I’m not sorry.”
The room was silent, save for Annette’s heavy, enraged breathing. She just lifted a finger at Bill.
“Remember how I told you that you’re free to go whenever this gets to be too much? I assumed you’d behave a little. Now? With this? You don’t deserve freedom like that.”
A/N: Because I know what might be the most shocking thing in this chapter…ah, Harwood x Shark. Blame that (and his allusion to crushing on Sinbad too) to some conversations with my girlfriend. And that I’ve always headcanoned Harwood as bisexual.
It’s full of inside references and that’s all I’m gonna say. 😛 I probably would have kept them friends in the story if it wasn’t for that adorable group video games pose. Shark teaching his much older boyfriend about those newfangled video games is kind of ridiculously heartwarming in a kind of creepy way.
Oh, and the other thing? Bill is a jerk. Just let me get to the nicer parts…