Even from his young age, Franco’s parents could tell that he inherited a different personality from what either of them had. Annette had to have been a rude little shit from the get-go, even if she wouldn’t reveal any details regarding it. Bill, reportedly, was anything from the class clown to young vandal when he was a child.
But they produced a different kind of son.
First, he dressed up every day, and pissed and moaned until either of his parents gave in and said “fine, wearing a tie isn’t lame.” They simply did not understand. Formal clothes were for punishment, not as casual everyday wear. What sorry of little boy would wear dressy trousers just for playing with the dogs?
All they could hope for was success for him.
Franco started school soon after his birthday, but his own year was slim on students and he got along with none of them his age. In fact, rolling around with a group of older teenagers proved to be more fulfilling. From what he said, they all found him endearing and cute.
But most of all, he found a lot of good in two other adults.
His parents were consumed by work. But Shark and Amy? Even their careers were just a few rooms away from Franco’s classes. But when not working, they practiced their art in a studio next to his bedroom. One winter afternoon, Franco wandered inside to watch. Paint filled an empty canvas. Chunks of wet clay fell to the floor. Two adults greeted him with a “hey buddy!”
Franco gravitated towards Amy first, with a charming smile on his pudgy face. “Do you offer lessons?” he asked her.
“Of course I do. It’s my job!” said Amy.
“But to me?”
“Next year, probably.”
“But why not now?” Amy couldn’t argue that logic, at least not in full.
“I’m fine with that,” she said, raising an authoritative finger. “But only if you take this as seriously as I do. Well, come to think of it, what else would I expect of you?”
Franco’s first year of elementary school was spent following in Amy’s footsteps and paint strokes. Soon, he would not just be a boring child, but a boring child who could rattle off a lot about color theory. Little did he know that it might set up something even better for him come the next year.
Next year came, and Franco got escorted into school by Shark and Amy, like he always did. His mum slept in too late, and his dad was banned from the premises for jerking off during one of Lolly’s school functions back in the day. So they took up a necessary job. But Shark got distracted by another family. He dragged Franco to meet them too.
Franco, needless to say, grumbled at the idea. “Can’t I just go into school like everyone else?” he asked them.
“Nonsense! You might have some friends now,” Shark said. “And I’d love it if it was with them.”
Why, it was a happy lesbian couple! Plus their three beautiful children. Alma Drill and Blaise Kindle loved each other, and children too. Shark looked ecstatic. Franco thought that maybe he liked something about those two older ladies and their brood. But forcing him into a friendship? It seemed so weird. It seemed like Shark was treating him like a piece of clay to mould, perhaps moulding him into liking his preferred schoolkids.
They introduced themselves. Ricky, with his dark hair and porcelain skin, was a few years older and not quite on Franco’s level. They tended to ignore each other after that too. Carmen and Benji, with their ginger hair and sandstone-colored skin, were a year behind Franco, but closer than their older brother was. And close or not, Shark insisted that he had to be friends with them. Any of them.
He went on about it to Amy as they walked into the building. “Did you notice? They’re Harwood’s kids! I’m so happy to finally see some.” “That’s nice, Shark.”
Hmm. That name sounded familiar. But before he could put the pieces together (don’t worry, they came together during lunch break), Carmen approached him with a compliment.
“You’re really well-dressed,” she said. “And I think Benji and I could use someone like that.”
Franco still acted aloof. “Uh, see you at recess!” He then ran in, tagging behind Shark and Amy until taking a sharp right into Ms. Olson’s classroom.
But something about being in the vicinity of those two Kindle kids warmed him up to their sweet, freckled faces. Even if it took a while for him to learn what they wanted his fashion sense for.
He still dressed nicely when playing with the twins at the schoolyard. Once autumn settled in, they became close enough friends to do that on a frequent basis. It was playtime limited to the playground equipment, until Benji brought in some magazines one afternoon.
They circled around the small pile, with Franco wondering what to do with them.
“Do you want me to read them? That does sound fun,” Franco said. But as they sat on the cool autumn grass, the twins looked at him like he was as dense as a brick.
“Haven’t you noticed that we’re a little different, Franco?” Carmen asked. “The way we’re dressed?” Franco looked down at his shirt collar. He picked out those two shirts himself, right at the shops downtown. Heck, Shark was with him and looked disappointed at not being able to play the role of the catty gay fashion advisor for an afternoon. Franco had an eye for stylish grey shirts that a man his mother’s age would lack.
And the other two? Mint and violet, and blue and pink? Decent color combinations. They offered enough contrast.
“We look good, I guess?” Franco said.
“Exactly,” said Benji. “Which is why we have these. My mums say that you can make a lot of money doing this.” He did a quick flipping through of the pages in Franco’s face. Photos upon photos of women in sultry evening gowns. Because they were merely children, it didn’t register with Franco much at all.
“Like I know anything about dresses,” he grumbled. “Why can’t we just finish our homework? Or paint? I already do that, and my aunt Amy makes plenty off it. I bet she’d teach you guys too.” The two kids laughed without explanation.
“Come on, we can try something! Use all that, uh, painting money you guys have,” Carmen said. “We can get some nice clothes for that weird kid…Mark? Yellow raincoat?” Franco rolled his eyes. Insulting Mark like that? The kid was his half-brother (his parents decided to just be honest about that with him). In spite of dressing with no sense of fashion, it seemed like a weird thing to tell family members.
He looked back at the magazines on the ground. “Fine, I’ll play your game.”
Franco caught up with Mark another, sunnier day. He had that yellow raincoat, still, and a good book too. Nothing was unusual about them talking; it made Franco’s parents rather pleased when he did. And it pleased Mark too, considering that he abandoned the fourth book in the Generic Dystopian Novels, But for Kids series for a conversation.
“Sorry I’ve been hanging out with my other friends,” said Franco. “Wanna go to the shops with us instead?”
“Do I?!” Mark said, in an eager tone. “Which ones?”
“The clothing store?” Shark never referred to it in front of Franco as anything but that. “Uh, my dad says that he thinks your parents should stop dressing you. They just care.”
“Sounds good, bro.” That tickled Franco’s heart a bit. At least he had something close to the sibling relationship that Benji and Carmen had. They wouldn’t try to make themselves sound so much better for having that when he had it too.
No, the Kindle twins were not evil. And with Franco’s refined eyes, they ended up making Mark look a lot better than before. He even did a fanboy squeal in front of the mirrors when he saw the lovely jumper they picked out for him and later paid for with Franco’s parents’ credit card.
“See, we can have a lot of fun with this,” said Carmen, rubbing her hands in near-sadistic glee. Franco just had a kind smile for the sight in front of him. Happy family members made for a happy Franco.
Well, over good things. Annette kept a lot of her own joys from him, such as her knack for theft. After so many PSAs and heavy-handed episodes of kids’ cartoons against stealing, he wouldn’t understand. It was her true joy in life. So when she got news that she should have felt sorry for, Annette saw opportunity in a terrible thing.
Julienne had a life outside of the diner, to the shock of many, and had a long-standing romance with her own mother’s second-in-command. Wei Keane was a man married to his job too, and not willing to divorce it. Yes, Julienne was able to find someone even more obsessed with their job, and his was with data analysis! She had a limit for the amounts of boredom she could handle.
So that engagement was over. The relationship did nothing to distract Julienne from work, but Annette thought that a different one could. And she looked up the street, at the awesome mansion, garage, and swimming pool of DeAndre Wolf.
He tended to keep those two gold cars in that garage, but Annette caught a glimpse of them through an open door one day. And that also meant that they would be right there, no matter where he was.
Annette could have made it an easy night: steal the best car, polish it up and hope for DeAndre to be open enough for negotiations. But she thought she could up the stakes. He had two cars, and she knew the other car thief mastermind in Twinbrook well by then.
Well, as much as she knew Sinbad, she had no intimate experience working with him. She had the testimonials of Dennis, his former employer, who described Sinbad as “competent.” She had Sinbad’s own brags. It seemed like enough to bring him along for their hotwired ride.
They opened up the door, right in the path of a gold car. From what Annette heard, it was just plating, but enough to cover a sports car at that. And if DeAndre refused her one simple request, she could call a rich man in Dubai to take the vehicles off her hands.
“Take your pick,” Annette said. “Except for the black one. I don’t think he’d miss it enough.”
“Seems doable,” said Sinbad.
Annette took a quick examination of the car in front of her, and took a deep, contented sigh. “I never thought I’d have the chance to even touch this,” she said. “All those years of stealing lemons just so I could drive somewhere, it’s led up to this.”
“I really hope you don’t do this for every mission,” he said.
“Shut up and get hotwiring.”
Annette found the job to be easy, even routine. Within ten minutes, she had the engine purring like one of Shark’s happy cats. She could even take some time to enjoy the cushy leather seats while she wanted for Sinbad to finish. But she waited. Hers was the only car running.
Inside the other car, a frustrated Sinbad gripped the wheel with rage and cursed to himself. “Fuck, where is it? Who the fuck made this car anyways?” Something inside was unexpected, complicating the process. He couldn’t start the car. And Annette didn’t understand.
She hoped that he could hear her from behind the closed doors. “Sinbad, what the hell? Just tell me what’s going wrong in there.”
“No, stop! I can do this.” He seemed to have stripped the wrong wire in the process, so the circuit couldn’t be completed to start the car. He just had a damaged car. One more failure, and he had to hold his head in rage and scream.
“You stop. You’re fucking this up, that’s what!”
“Shut your mouth bitch, and let me work!”
Annette opened the door, scowling at him. “We’re a team, Sinbad. Stop it with this car.”
He exited the vehicle.
Annette couldn’t finish Sinbad’s work or correct his mistakes when he was overwhelmed and on the floor. She found it interesting, as she had never seen anyone do that on a job. But Annette had concern, even if it was just about getting those cars to her own location.
“Do you need help, Sinbad?” she asked him, trying to blast his panic with calm.
He got up and pointed a mean finger at her. “I don’t need your help, and I’ll fucking ruin your face if you keep treating me like this! You’re fucking dead if I-”
Annette grabbed him by the arms before he could hurt her with them. “Sinbad, if you’re a top-tier thief, act like it.”
“Don’t call me a fuck up,” he snarled.
“I will if you are one! Fuck up, fuck up, fuck up, fu-”
WHAM. SPLAT. It was a sharp elbow to her nose. Something was crushed and started bleeding all over her face. Annette hit the ground in agony over it.
“Christ above! What was that?” she strained out, holding her bleeding face.
Sinbad towered above her with his elbow still out. “I hate it when people call me that. Just like my mum,” he said, in a muttering tone.
“Well, I’m not gonna save you tonight,” said Annette. “Get the car to the warehouse if you can. Otherwise, we’ll see if bail is posted.”
She hopped into the running car and drove off into the light snow that was falling. Her shirt started to sop up the dripping blood. Perhaps Annette needed to get that looked at. She also had to remind herself that Sinbad never had to be her concern, but she chose for him to be.
Maybe that panicking man would realize that.
A/N: To my confused buddies from Carl’s Guides who read the original story and wonder why Carmen is much…prettier here, this was a stylistic choice. I’ll elaborate later.