Content Warning: this chapter includes a rather difficult-to-read example of a character victim-blaming a rape survivor. Their views do not reflect my own.
Annette had to make a choice, once she heard Amy and her guest definitely having sex in her locked bedroom. Not to mention, Bill followed orders and had to have been walking home. Shark was all taken care of, having a healthy sob in his own room. So she was left with two choices. She was tired, and could sleep, or she could stay up and ask Bill why did you call your nephew a fag? Even I’m telling you to have some goddamn tact. Once he came home, anyways. And that could take hours.
(Also: she had tact at one point. Who knew?)
But regardless of that lapse of character, Annette made her choice and went upstairs for a second wedding night alone. She did wake up, sort of, for when Bill finally got home and climbed under the covers to spoon. Compared to their first try at an “intimate” night as newlyweds, simple spooning was rather erotic.
She couldn’t stay under the covers for too long, as she still had to make breakfast the next morning. Annette still hadn’t quite shaken off the habit of cooking for five adults plus a toddler and a dog, when they were down to four adults. But Amy indeed brought home another adult, so none of her French toast would go to waste! Annette didn’t have to bother with not grossing out the guest either for the sake of first impressions. No, he already knew her. Therefore, Annette decided to forgo pants that morning.
Thanks to how they set up that nook, Amy and Sinbad had no choice but to sit with just the two of them. They acted like friends, but Annette knew better. In spite of their hair and pajamas being in order, they banged the night before and she knew it, since Amy was a screamer. But an appropriate person would not ask them about it. Annette?
“How many inches, Amy?” Annette said, shouting over the whole nook.
“What?” she replied, seeming confused by the question.
“She’s trying to talk about my dick,” Sinbad grumbled.
“Oh. Well that’s none of your business, okay? I thought we were being pretty discreet up there.” Annette laughed at that. Hard. “But I can tell you about the rest of the night. I’m excited about it!”
When did their story start? Maybe when Amy first met Sinbad, when she first moved to Twinbrook. She knew his roommate from their hometown, though how Goodwin the police academy student ended splitting the rent with a criminal was anyone’s guess. Sinbad was a native to the area, and everyone’s nuisance. But in spite of that, Amy knew him as the nicest thief, meth cook, and former foster care teen she could imagine. He didn’t do the drugs he made, and in between fighting with his roommate, he did his laundry and cleaning duties like a decent person.
Of course, Sinbad got the invitation to Amy’s adult birthday party. He stood out when along with her other friends that were in a better moral standing. But like them, he was a sucker for dubstep and cake.
At first, he seemed to keep his tough guy attitude. Dressed in his favorite leather jacket and with his face contorted into his trademark scowl, Sinbad looked like he wasn’t enjoying the dubstep much at all. Certainly not as much as Amy, who tried coaxing him into a nice groove.
“Am I bugging you?” she asked him. He shook his head no.
“Yeah, probably shouldn’t be mad on your birthday,” he said.
“I wasn’t sayin’ tha-”
“Well, now I remember how many years we’ve been friends. At least you haven’t backstabbed me yet.”
First, it made Sinbad much happier to go clubbing, for a friend. But it also made Amy, at long last, analyze their friendship. Regarding Sinbad as attractive meant nothing, as a lot of the town thought the same. However, he did have a way of losing friends. There used to be some sort of chumminess between him and his roommate. It didn’t take long for their continued companionship to be a mystery, as their fights regularly woke up the neighborhood. His roommate’s long-time girlfriend stayed loyal to Sinbad for longer, but even she had to admit to Amy that his “asshole tendencies” made him unbearable most of the time. As for Amy? She never saw that in him. He showed all of the paltry scraps of good in his heart to her. And as it seemed, to her only.
Good lord, that made him hot.
Amy felt bad about those feelings around then. Shark had spoken of having a crush on Sinbad before turning towards someone else in closer proximity, but had that faded? Amy couldn’t guess, and a heartbroken Shark had enough to deal with just with the survivor’s guilt. But then again, she had a heart that ached too, and a few more years tacked on to her age than Shark had as well. So if she perhaps had a chance with one of her good friends, Shark would have to suck it up and get a Grindr account.
She might have chosen a bad night to do it. With Franco fast asleep, Sagebear fed, and Bill and Annette out to renew their vows, Amy got tired of watching game shows. Even Shark looked tired of them, but he wasn’t going to switch channels if he had trouble finding the emotional energy to change his boxers. To remedy her situation, she called a friend to stay the night.
“Is he always like this?” Sinbad asked, as they both looked down at Shark from the couch. “I remember him being a little more…functional.”
“Dude just lost someone he loved. It’s okay, but it’s also been like, two weeks,” said Amy.
“Like it wasn’t going to happen anyways?”
Amy pouted. “I mean…yeah, I thought it was just plain bizarre. And seeing them get all flirty over breakfast? Gag me. But they seemed happy together. I envy that bit.”
“Any couple could be better than them!” Sinbad said, with his angry scowl disappearing for a bit. “All those broken families you grew up with in San Mateo?”
“Yeah, no fifty-year age differences there, unless you count the Oakleys,” said Amy. “But, uh, uh…there’s Bill and Annette, the landlords here. Landpeoples? Anyways, they might have had issues, but they’re happy together. I can envy them, can’t I?”
“You’re a tough nut to crack, Sinbad.”
“Are you saying that like it’s a bad thing? I need to be that way!”
“No! I do like that about you,” she said. “In fact, there are a lot of things I like ‘bout you.”
With a touch of sarcasm, Sinbad pretended to think hard about it. “It’s my red hair, green eyes, the six pack I’m trying to work on. Not to mention the bad boy attitude that your buddy Goodwin from San Mateo doesn’t have.”
“Yeah, like that!” said Amy.
Sinbad chuckled, though this one was a common chuckle he had, one so tense it could break with a slight touch. “What, did…did you think I was cold to you? I’m not cold! Unless someone pisses me off, of course. Which is everyone, but not you, I swear.”
“Hey, it’s fine. Lighten up about it. I’m just…really glad you agree.”
He put an arm around her and tried to lighten up, as she said. “Fine, I can try, but just for you.”
They shared a close, but modest, first kiss. Perhaps Amy wanted that at first, knowing that Shark was still sitting with glassy eyes and his back against the couch.
But she ended her story with this: she might have really enjoyed making out with Sinbad on the couch, and also having sex upstairs, but she knew that Shark might have had different feelings. Amy tried to apologize to Shark, but he still had moping to do.
Annette didn’t have conflicting feelings, however. “Grats on that, you two. So, Mr. Rotter, you like my breakfast enough to be the newest member of the house? We are down one member.”
His tone shifted to a rather tense, even scared one. “Not for some weird cult! I’m sorry I couldn’t stop Amy from getting into this.”
“Your loss, then.” Annette shrugged and got the last slice off her plate. A full serving of French toast was a heavy meal for the petite Annette, but it couldn’t go to waste and Bill had enough already.
“And she keeps telling me that you don’t even tell her the rules,” Sinbad continued.
Amy looked shocked, and defensive. “No, Annette, I never meant it like that.”
Annette just looked at her empty plate, and then to her husband. She could have confronted him with what she heard the night before about his real history with Shark, but took a small sigh. “So honey, what do you think of Mr. Rotter?”
“I think he could be worse,” said Bill, as he got up to wash the used dishes. “I mean, he could be that whiny snothead instead.” Annette considered that insult an improvement.
Shark, still sniffling over his plate of toast, had no good response to Bill’s comment. He instead kept to himself, until he turned his head towards an empty room right near the breakfast nook.
“What the fuck even is that?” Shark muttered.
“What the fuck is what?” replied Annette. “Are the floorboards rotting already?”
“That room! That empty room you swear you’re going to use. And that’s not even the worst thing about this house. Whoever did the floor plans was smoking something.”
Annette ignored that insult towards her mediocre architectural skills, and instead tried to reassure herself that she made a functional house. The hallways were spacious, and the empty spaces everywhere were simply to give a large household room to breathe! Plus, she had such a roomy kitchen with that plan.
Then Bill turned towards the bathroom with the dishes, because Annette didn’t build a sink in her kitchen. Yes, one sink for the whole house. And only one bathroom too. The lines to use the shower or bath in the morning got infuriating with that.
“I think we could use something new,” said Annette. “But it’s coming out of your inheritance, Shark.”
“Really?” he asked, with sparkling eyes and looking honest-to-god pleased for the first time in two weeks.
“Sure. There’s plenty of room for improvement.”
Of course, they had to find a professional first. That could be saved for later like a lot of things were, because Annette had one more pressing matter. Someone was suspicious about her mission? She couldn’t blame Sinbad either, but she wanted to win him over. For Amy’s sake. And Amy herself seemed embarrassed, at the least, over her new boyfriend’s comments. She stayed that way for the rest of the day, even. What an awful way to leave her. But rather than be direct, Annette planned to be direct, but with some proof of her rules too. Those were hidden away elsewhere.
Digging away the deep snow and dirt, Annette unearthed a large stoneware pot she buried in Twinbrook soon after she arrived. Also not secure, it fit within her budget at the time for storage, and a strong plastic bag kept her belongings safe from the ground water. It warmed her heart to see it again, filled with the few goodies she kept from back then. And among them: a purple, hardcover book.
She barely got it out and in her hands when she heard another person kicking up snow as they walked closer and closer. Annette could see that orange snow coat from anywhere.
Amy had the furrowed brows of annoyance, though not all of it was directed towards Annette. “Don’t exert yourself. He’s just being a shit about this,” said Amy, with one arm raised.
“He’s a shit with a point,” said Annette. “I have a rulebook, sorta. It’s a copy of archaic punishments.” She opened it up and flipped to the table of contents. From blood eagles to emotional tactics to existential horrors, such as forced immortality, it was all outlined in that purple volume.
“The immortal dynasty is in here?” Amy asked, with an eyebrow quirked up. “You’re punished?”
“I’m compliant, that’s what. It really does beat the blood eagle,” said Annette. “And it asks more from me and my descendants than it does of you.”
“So what was the painting about?” asked Amy.
“I thought you’d question it later. And…I guess this is something I told Harwood instead. Damn.”
“Well, I trust people easily, even you,” she said. “And I dunno if he did, you know? So I didn’t ask, and…uh…oh, he was distracted a lot. So, I guess you didn’t need me.”
“I like to think I do,” said Annette. “I dunno if you do or not.”
“Well, I do! And I like you, and I like living with you.” She looked a little tearful after that. “You’re really good at making nice things out of bad things, you know? You built a mansion in the midst of punishment! You fixed your marriage! You’re doing really well for having to see one of your first friends kill himself. I’d…I’d give up after that. At least I’ll die when the time comes.”
“And I want to enjoy you alive. You’re cool.”
Amy stood there, with her arms wide open.
“Come on, you have a hunky young man to hug now,” said Annette.
“But there’s you too!”
Annette reciprocated, and gave Amy a squeeze. “Thanks for sticking around, you little clementine.”
“Especially because Sinbad might listen to this!” squealed Amy.
“We’re taking that pot home, though. I need to put it in a better place…I do have a safe rented out.”
Now, Sinbad responded to Annette’s official rules in a predictable way. He’s stuck as a legal member of their family, and Annette does the heavy work of personal success and learns how to cook a magical dish. With his steel-toed boots, he stamped on Annette’s bare feet. She didn’t even dignify that with a middle finger, just an offer that he could sleep over whenever he liked.
Actually, Sinbad couldn’t stay in the house, at least not for a while. Annette took Shark’s criticisms of her house to heart. A professional devised a radical new idea that would rebuild the house from the foundation itself. That meant no repeat of living on the lawn, and finding suitable lodging instead. Amy had a default choice: playing mediator between Sinbad and Goodwin. As it turned out, Annette and her blood family (and the dog) had a host too.
“Your dad still likes me, right?” Annette asked Shark. He nodded. The grief left him rather quiet for a while.
“You mind living with him while we redo the house?”
“And with Lolly too?” he asked.
“I dunno. I like her now that I can out-cook her. It’s that, the lawn, or you find a friend on Grindr.”
Shark joined them in the van, sandwiched between Franco’s car-seat and a bunch of suitcases. The rules of their hosts’ house were simple: stay comfortable. Don’t cause significant damage. No smoking (Dennis loathed that too). Don’t sleep in Dennis and Silver’s bedroom because they quite liked it to themselves.
Annette steered clear of the old master bedroom, where Max used to sleep. It was for her own good. Dennis and Bill and even Shark voiced their concerns about her staying there, but Annette had good memories of the other seven or so bedrooms. Whether it was where she got amazing oral or where she hilariously failed to striptease (fell over, nose first, onto one of the nightstands), those places were better.
She treated the place like her home and volunteered to cook dinner when Lolly was too tired after a day of bank telling. Only a couple of incidents made the cut in her narrative.
One winter night, Dennis was out to manage a rogue attack on his warehouse, which left everyone else at home and snowed in. Thankfully, the TV room on the third floor could host five adults, a toddler, and Sagebear if she had a chew toy.
Shark turned on the telly and left the controls to anyone else. However, he remained a little disinterested or even listless throughout an airing of Mad Max: Fury Road. That didn’t stop Lolly from trying to gush over the strong female characters or the action sequences to him.
“Come on, I thought you loved action movies! And instead of bitching to you about them, I finally found one I liked,” said Lolly.
“You did always think they were stupid,” he said. “I bet you think everything about my life is.”
“Are you talking about, uh, Harwood, right? I didn’t know anything about him. Stop thinking I’m going to act like a shrew about everything. I’m just your sister.” Shark rolled his eyes, and reached out to Sagebear to gently scratch her belly.
Annette did not care about their sibling rivalry, and instead sat at the minibar with Bill, chatting without any drinks. Back then, she could easily go a night without getting plastered. Her sister-in-law might have had different issues with that.
Silver and Bill were not on good terms, not even in a vague way, but that didn’t stop her from blending some mixed drinks in front of him. “For our guests,” she said. “I mean, we’re all adults here.”
“I don’t stoop to drinking in front of my own son, though,” said Annette, looking over to her little boy playing with a plush shark toy on the couch. “And if you do that, it’s your life.”
Silver leaned over the bar with an almost seductive grin. “I gotta get to know you somehow,” she said. “Why cant we have a drinking contest? He’s too young to remember, and as if the hubby has never seen you drunk. I’d drink even more if I was married to him. Right, you fat bastard? She drinks because of you?”
Bill flipped her the bird and left the room. “I’ll come back when I hear a thud, honey,” he said.
“Fine, just to spite you for saying that,” said Annette.
Whole bottles of vodka started to make the two women friendlier. Silver had loads of funny stories about Dennis, and Annette brought out hers about the forgotten eggs.
And before too long, they sat on the floor with empty bottles. Annette kept an arm around Sagebear. Her big hound could keep her upright, right? Her eyelids grew so heavy, but Silver seemed to stay alert.
“Wait, wait, don’t tell me. Weren’t you the one who killed Max?” Silver asked.
“Damn straight…damn straight that it was for me, ya know?”
“So that’s why we haven’t talked! You were that uppity bitch who wouldn’t fuck him, that’s what, darlin’.” Silver’s face contorted into a devious smile. “I mean, he offered you a million. A million! I got that and you know what? I knew my place and he didn’t rape me. And there’s a fucking million waiting for me. Yur just a broke cunt now, what, crying rape? Cryin’ rape when you coulda got a million.”
Shark came short of striking or even approaching her, but he could rant to Lolly. “What the fuck is happening tonight? Mum was never like this.”
“I can’t believe she thinks that way about us,” Lolly said, with a distant voice.
“Wait. Yeah, she’s had some issues for a while. Dad and I just accept it now. But that rape stuff, she’s never been that cruel.” It looked a little like she was retreating into her mind after that.
He scratched his neck and tried to ignore that trainwreck. “I just hope she sobers up,” he whispered.
Annette fell over. She told me that she faked it to get out of that conversation. Meanwhile, Silver got herself a bottle of cheap wine and drank it standing up. It made sense. She had twenty five years and six inches on Annette, and room for a little more booze.
Bill must have been listening outside of the door, because he scooped up Annette and brought her to a safer place.
A/N: I was going to release these chapters in a huge block, but I guess I got impatient. Plus, my five chapters became eight after I split some of them up. Chapter 14 was supposed to be 6,000+ words! But instead, it got split up into our current Chapters 14 and 15.
Do remember that Eight Cicadas explicitly takes place in the future. It started in 2023 and at this point, is even later. This is why the Racket siblings can watch Mad Max: Fury Road right at home instead of making it movie night at the theatre like we guys have to.
The house really did get remodeled a lot as I was doing these chapters. I kind of hated the original dynasty house because of its extreme “function over form” design. It was hideous, even. But the in-story justification? Annette has the sudden inclination to be a “cool aunt” to Shark, especially when he’s grieving. And she won’t go halfway with those things. I know the deep justification for her to do so, but you have to figure it out yourself much later. It’s how I roll.