They would have done it on a clear day, but his body was starting to rot. Dennis needed to get that off his floorboards before the stench became a permanent fixture. So the rainy day it was. The added darkness and fog gave them a cover, if nothing else.
In the cool autumn weather and torrential downpours, the three didn’t work as a team to get out of there as quick as possible. Instead, they left Annette to dig a hole for the makeshift coffin while Bill and Dennis fought near the van. She ignored it at first. If it didn’t get physical, then why bother stopping mere words? It had to get out sooner or later.
It continued with each scoop of dirt she lifted up. “A sad end? You didn’t like him either.” “I wouldn’t murder him.” “It’s not murder if it’s self-defense.” “And you didn’t have the balls to stop it from getting that far between you and her. If you weren’t such a colossal fuck-up, maybe she would have stayed by your side.”
If they called Annette into the argument, she had to step in.
She stood with a scowl and a hand on her hip. “Hey Dennis, maybe stop talking shit and help me dig this hole.”
“But I do have a point,” he said.
“Predators will be predators. I might have told you this before, but I know about the sick fucks of the world better than two old and rich white guys will. I’m not going to play the blame game with anyone but Max. He deserved every bullet he got. I still feel unclean.”
“I mean, I’m sorry about all of what happened to you, but I’ve been fighting with this bastard for the better part of a century now. This isn’t your battle-”
“Guess what?” Annette took a defensive stance in front of Dennis. “We’re all screwed if you two don’t stop acting like children and cooperate for once!”
“I’ve done a lot of this before,” said Dennis, on his own defense.
“But you know? Maybe someone will wonder about the bloodstains on your floor and how close together your parents died. Maybe someone will find the guns in my basement. But I can’t protect you guys against any of that if I’m jumping between two sides.”
“Honey, why do I have to forgive him?” asked Bill, who frowned as he often did.
“I need you too much to land you in jail. Your fingerprints are on that gun now. And you know what? I don’t want Dennis in jail either.”
“I do,” said Bill.
“Come on, Franco thinks he’s pretty cool. I’m doing this for him. So can we have a truce, guys?”
“No,” muttered Bill, turning his head away from Dennis.
“Not a chance,” said Dennis, doing the same to his brother.
“Fine. Then I’m going to sit you guys down until you do. Come on, right near the back wheel,” said Annette. She took a seat, with her knees up, near one of the wheels. “One on each side of me. I’ll protect you from killing each other.”
She ended up having to drag each of them there, but Annette got them to sit down and she took her seat on the wet grass again. “So why do you fight so much?” she asked them. “Funny how you’ve never mentioned why.”
“I don’t have to repeat myself,” said Dennis. “He’s a fuck-up. He’s cost us so much due to all his mistakes. Why do I have to like a liability?”
“They couldn’t have been that bad-”
“Having to bail him out of jail for public nudity? You know, it costs a lot to keep someone off the sex offender list for that. Rigging elections just to keep him from whining. That’s another hundred thousand each season.”
“I know that much,” said Annette.
“Well Dennis was always their golden child,” said Bill. “And I was the scapegoat. There was a lot that I didn’t deserve a lashing for. I never got the chance to do much important for you guys because, guess what? It always went to you.”
“Though, it’s not his fault for being a golden child, now is it sweetie?”
“Alright.” Bill turned away to sulk. “I…I’m not wrong about you! I never have been. I don’t want to work with him. He always sided with dad, while all I have from him is a scar on my ass.”
“Look, Bill, maybe you were too dense to notice, but I stopped liking dad a long time ago,” said Dennis. “I’m no saint, but he screwed over too many people. And like you’re the only one of us who got the belt? I hate his guts too.”
“See, this is what I was aiming for,” said Annette. “Just make a truce now, so we can get this done and collectively piss on his grave afterwards. Isn’t that what we all want?”
“Fine,” grumbled Bill.
“I’ll take it,” said Dennis.
They both got up from the ground and tried making eye contact again, on friendlier terms. “Shake on it,” said Annette. “If you don’t get grossed out touching each others’ hands, I’ll call it a success.”
They might have winced a bit at first, but with a weak squeeze, they shook on the deal to get along for the hour or less needed to bury Max.
“I’m proud of you two,” said Annette, with a big grin. “Now come help me. If anything, I’m gonna need someone to get tiny little me out of a six foot hole.”
Bill spat on Dennis’ shoes once they were done, but he said that he wasn’t going to be mad at Annette for keeping the deal either. “They give out big paychecks, okay?” he said, with a nervous laugh. “I know I’d like those too.”
“I wish it was just for that,” said Annette, as she wistfully looked out the window of the van. “It’s amazing the sort of bullet you dodged with Julienne, I tell ya.”
That story started not that long before, with a crash to the floor.
“You see girls, this is why I’m retiring,” said Mary, embarrassed over the creamy puddle on the tiled floor.
“Jesus, and I worked hard on those grits,” Julienne said, with an annoyed sigh. “Don’t sweat it, Mary. Annette! You have table 4’s order?”
“Doing the eggs right now…after I stop fooling around, okay?” She was in the middle of that egg juggling act she was working on. “I think I got it this time. All I need to do now is catch them all with the spatula.”
“Annette, you’ve wasted a lot of egg money on this,” said Julienne. “Give it a rest.”
“Just one more Jules, okay. And they’re up!” She readied her utensil for the landing.
SPLAT. Three raw eggs on the floor.
“Well, we’ll just have to add that to the grits too,” Annette murmured. “I didn’t know you were retiring, Mary.”
“It’s a long time coming, and maybe it will convince one of the boys to man up and give me a grandkid. I guess I’ll have to drop my big secret too,” she said.
Julienne and Annette gathered around for it, while Mary hid her secret under a devious grin. “I decided who’s getting the diner after that,” she said. She spun around and pointed her finger in the direction of one of the ladies.
“Jules! You’ve been a star employee from day one. It’s a disservice to hand this place to anyone else,” said Mary. “I still have some life left in me, but once it runs out, this place is yours.”
“Oh my god!” Julienne squealed. “I’ve been working for this place for so long, and I didn’t even need to get mum to buy you out.”
“Isn’t this great, Annette? We can make this place rock,” she said to her.
“It’s great. We can run this place like sisters. Big sis and little sis.”
“Or you can treat me like a co-worker, that’s nice too,” said Annette. She would outlive Julienne, maybe even without the immortality. Eight years could make a difference, right? But Julienne entered the job from a wealthy background and with no children. Annette would have been the best if she wasn’t juggling learning her trade with changing nappies and watching Sesame Street.
Annette got out of her painful daydream. “Really, she can go to hell for all I care,” said Annette. “I could have been a lawful star chef with one teeny little temp side job. I want to be the top of something! I can’t be if I’m just Julienne’s line cook and—Christ, her ‘little sis.’”
“Suit yourself,” said Bill, as he drove through the storm and through town. They hoped that their van wouldn’t arouse suspicion, at least not until Max’s body had decomposed enough.
Even after just two days of the healing process in their relationship, Annette and Bill found themselves close again. And Annette almost rushed into it, claiming that she had been through worse. Still, getting kissed on the neck from Bill went from sexy and exciting to terrifying. And they waited even more to get back into having bedroom fun times. But something kicked them into gear.
Something…something started to work. It seemed to start with a day at the beach, where after a refreshing afternoon swim, Annette and Bill relaxed on a mint-green beach blanket and discussed life. And for once, they confronted their issues about themselves. A lack of commitment, or a weird need for accomplishment. Hearing it only from Annette’s recollection while she was on her third beer of the day, it taught her to demand a little less. Maybe not settle for Bill when he was being an ass (she admitted to it), but just lay it on less think. After all, she had a whole life to try out behaving in decent society (not like she did).
And that felt pretty nice. I tuned out once she started talking about the awesome beach sex they had on that blanket, but maybe that was nice for her too.
It was so great that it put Annette in a nice enough of a mood to potty-train Franco by herself.
“Now, you might sit down now, but soon I’ll let you watch your dad take his morning piss to see how it’s done,” Annette said to her son. “Just don’t ask me about it.”
With a pat on the head, she left Franco to try it on his own.
“Get off?” he asked her.
“Not until you’re done, Franco.”
From that pout, she guessed that he needed some stronger convincing for peeing like a civilized human.
Still, he got off the seat when he was done without making a mess. “You’ll like it eventually,” said Annette as she lifted Franco off the ground. “I’ll get you an iPad to entertain yourself while doing your business when you’re older. You’re gonna love Candy Crush.”
“Sure mummy,” he said.
Annette wanted to make dinner early that night, because there was always a lot of whining when she made it at midnight after work. She had salmon steaks prepped and thought that her oven would be just salmon steaks. However, a surprise waited for her on the counter.
A wooden platter of three cheese and three Bartlett pears greeted Annette. She found a note under the pears, in Bill’s handwriting. You kept talking about pears and brie. I don’t know if any of that is brie, but I was too scared to ask.
The small white wheel of cheese was indeed brie, and the rest could go into a delicious mac and cheese later. Annette took her food and prepared the dessert. She avoided telling Bill the recipe asks for Bosc pears, you numbskull the next time she saw him, even.
After that and also finding his last package of cigarettes in the trash, things were going to be fine for them.
She almost gave me even more anecdotes about the many wonderful nights where she reclaimed her sex life by being pinned against the wall and fucked by her husband. In fact, she did. But if she spared my feelings and left it at an anecdote about nice beach days and pears, I’d get it. Something worked. She might have even had inspiration to better herself and her relationship from an unlikely source.
Annette didn’t have much of a reaction to her only nephew dating a man over fifty years his senior. Sure, it was weird, but weird was a poor metric for an immortal demon to judge others by. From what she observed, Shark and Harwood had a bizarre sort of perfection to their relationship. Age aside, they treated each other as equals and spent a lot of time talking and further getting to know each other. Heck, they expected everyone to see the same in them. In public, they didn’t hide their relationship any more than the average straight couple did. Compared to other things Annette saw in her life, perhaps they were even normal.
She could have gone without hearing their awful, dirty pillow talk, but she wasn’t one to talk.
Because of all that, Annette had dozens of reasons to believe that Harwood and Shark set a good example for her. And that worrying about the happiness and/or well-being of either of them would be a waste of time.
It was true, right until one awful winter.
Annette started to use her bunker at the cabin for more than storing guns. Hell, that wouldn’t be its purpose after long, as Dennis gave her an excited call a few days earlier that they found a customer for the weapons. Not wanting a good basement to go to waste, she bought her own industrial oven and second-hand furniture to give it a deliciously-grungy appeal. It gave her a safe place to bake, without worrying about Franco half-walking underfoot and getting hot gravy dropped on him by mistake.
It was a snowy night that night, with the visibility too low to drive in. Annette left the doors unlocked for that reason. Just because she would brave the weather and not even throw a coat over her brown sweater didn’t mean that the cops would do the same.
But while the cops wouldn’t, two people would: Annette, and as it seemed, Harwood.
“So you’ve been hiding out here, haven’t you?” he asked, then looking over the stair’s railing to her store of guns. “I swear to god-”
Annette, with a fresh and hot plate of ratatouille, pretended to ignore that last sentence. “Ain’t it neat? It has a lovely antique feel,” she said. “I love it here.”
“You…you are hiding guns for the Rackets. Hiding illegal automatic weapons for the biggest crime faction in the county.”
“Yeah, there is that.”
“Christ, Annette, you are the worst!” he yelled, arms raised. “Condoning war and violence, and you’re still leading this life? I thought you would do better.”
“I thought I would too, but hey, I got a huge sum for this,” she said. “So it offends an old peacenik. I don’t care if you dodged the draft and protested Vietnam, times have changed! It’s third-world drug cartels now.”
“Like I would approve of them more?”
“I’m trying to save my ass here-”
“You’re putting us all in danger!” He pointed his finger in her face, and a few beads of panicked sweat formed on his forehead. She could almost see his heart pounding underneath his purple cardigan. “I don’t care how much you’re saving yourself. What about your friends, and your son?”
“Why don’t you have a seat and listen to me? Stress ain’t good for your heart, especially at your age,” said Annette.
He still glared at her. “Fine. I’ll listen.”
“These are getting sold. And it’s the last sale Dennis wants to make,” she said. “He’s an old man too, and he wants to retire and quietly lay the family business to rest. After that? He’s done, and I’m done with him. I’m peeved about how I can’t own the diner now, but who knows? Maybe I’ll make a killing in real estate, maybe I can go to law school. But he made it clear. Last sale.”
“I don’t trust him, and I don’t trust you most of the time either. You made me sculpt for no purpose.”
“And I set you up for some awesome things. You’re rich again, someone finds you attractive, you left a genetic legacy behind too. So what if I’m a liar? I’ve lied about worse.”
“I just have mixed feelings about you,” he said. “Always have.”
“So why did you do it?” she asked. “You know, I wouldn’t have done much if you said no to this nasty, drunk cum-slut and crook who wanted to take you prisoner. Heck, the others don’t feel that way ’bout me.”
His face sunk, a lot, as he thought it through. “It can’t be because of that,” he muttered to himself.
“Dude, don’t over-think it.”
“I can’t still be hurting from—no, Annette, I will over-think it.”
Annette bit her lip and thought. “Well geez. Uh, do you need to just relax? I mean, I have some vodka upstairs. Or we can just have some hot chocolate.”
“The alcoholic one sounds nice,” he said. “It’s just a bad thought. Sorry. But you know what a happy drunk I can be.”
Harwood might have taken the lying role away from Annette. Two shots in, and while not drunk yet, he leaned over the counter with an even more sorrowful face. “I thought it would work, okay?” Annette said.
“I thought it would too. Just…just give it a few minutes,” said Harwood. He got tired of waiting for it to work, as it seemed. “I’m sorry for all this. I shouldn’t have to be sad around you. It was for the best. I mean, you did get me out of retirement, and I met Shark all because of you. I…it’s something far in the past. It hasn’t haunted me in so long.”
“Well, you were my first friend. I wish I could help,” said Annette.
“It’s…look, you can’t. It’s so deep-seated now. Even if I don’t notice it, which hell, I usually don’t, it’s this ominous shadow over me. Sometimes I love life now, but that’s just because I can avoid thinking about the past. And if I don’t, then all I can think about is that last good year. And that brings me down about the present if it comes up again. It’s been so long, and I can’t believe it’s still so hard to think about.”
“Longer than I’ve been alive?”
His eyes widened. “It still boggles my mind how long ago it was. Nineteen-Seventy-Six. Can you even think of that? You needed another 24 years to be born. It’s so hard to say this. It sounds like I don’t love a few things here, and I love them, but I can’t think about 1976 without getting all misty-eyed. Which is why I usually don’t. It’s when I brought her over here, to my hometown.”
“Are you drunk enough to tell me?” she asked.
He downed the full shot he had poured. “Whatever it is, maybe I am. I met her a few years earlier, in her hometown. I was arrested for being a raucous war protester…and she worked at the police station. She understood. And to think, I later married that woman. My god, Macy. I still remember those beautiful grey eyes of hers. We married in ’73, moved here in ’76, bought our first house and everything. If I think I’m in love now, there wasn’t a day when I wasn’t weak in the knees around her.”
“And I expected it to last forever. And it ended, right after New Year’s, 1977.”
“Divorce or death?” she asked him.
“The worse one.”
“As someone who almost went down that road, I feel you.”
He gave her a threatening glare, before breaking down, with a fearful stare and an emotional state as fragile as greenware pottery.
“The worst part is, I thought I healed. But I never knew how to. I’ve been covering it up for so long, Annette. I’ve tried to forget, and it worked for a while, but remembering hurts so much. Ever since I lost her, it’s just been lonely. I mean, the sculpting helps, but what about when I take a break? Think about it, and I’m back over here. Even Shark sometimes feels inadequate. Why should he not? I lost the most amazing woman ever, and now I wonder what I could do to get her back.”
“Good job on keeping that a secret,” Annette said. “I just feel bad now. I thought I knew everything about you. I thought I was treating you well.”
“You tried, you tried. Pour me another shot.” She obliged to the request.
“And now, I hate that I’m probably going to live for another decade or more,” he said.
Annette took the glass and dropped it on the floor, shattering it. “You’ve had enough. I’m not turning you in to the hospital, but we’re going home. And you won’t mention a word of this to anyone.”
“I shouldn’t,” Harwood said. “I usually don’t drink…this wears off soon, right?”
“Usually,” she said.
A/N: Greenware is the technical term for unfired clay/pottery pieces. It is the most fragile state they can be in (I know it too well 😦 ) And get it, because his last name is Clay and I’m really just trying to make depressing times less depressing, aren’t I?