It was in the middle of an awful snowstorm in Falls Harbor. They drove there just in time, right before the visibility dropped. So Annette was stuck Stuck in a sweet place to soothe her emotions.
Nope. What an awful sort of logic, like sitting in a hotel common room would sweeten her regret. She could be looking down from the 14th floor of a city hotel, or she could be curled up in her basement at home, and it wouldn’t make a difference.
But it wasn’t like Annette had a choice either.
Getting a referral to the Saint Peregrine Oncology Center made Annette’s heart go wild. It wasn’t for her. She wasn’t even sure if her demonic body was capable of forming cancer. But Bill the human could, and they weren’t going to take chances with that spot on his regular chest x-ray. Combined with his long history of smoking, they couldn’t be too careful. And the minds at Saint Peregrine’s had the failsafe methods to see what that really was, unlike the limited resources back in Twinbrook.
Sure, Annette was tormented inside and out over it. Not even streaming episodes of How It’s Made on her tablet made her forget that torment. Just the possibility of that biopsy yielding a positive result made her full plate of horrible things almost spill over. Bill took it with an unsettling calm. He seemed more perturbed at how it could affect the promotional event he had to attend in Falls Harbor the next day. The light anesthetic still made him groggy enough to fall asleep as soon as they got back to the hotel. He plopped down on the plush double-bed and left his distraught wife to fend for herself.
The mess of her life was a true mess too, scattered and jumbled and all contained in Annette’s frazzled mind. No one back at home would listen to her about it. She and Bill knew they wouldn’t get any sympathy for a cancer scare back at home, so no one knew. Not even their son. Heck, Franco would probably celebrate that if he knew.
Just a jumble in her mind, and there was no hope of sorting it on her own.
“Need more tea?”
Annette turned to find the hostess at her side. From what she could gather, she kept the common room clean, poured drinks, and kept a lively presence for those who wanted it. Tea must have been part of the job too.
“I could use another cup,” said Annette. “Make it another mint tea. Mind grabbing me a stevia pack too?”
The hostess walked over with a refilled mug, and a paper sachet of stevia. “You’ve been here for hours,” she said. “And I guess a nosy guest asked about you.”
“I don’t blame them,” said Annette. She took the moment to read her hostess’ nametag. Michelle. “I’m a weirdo.”
“And you look like something’s bringing you down.”
“It is my job to make your experience here good,” said Michelle. “Plus, I get tips for it.”
“There’s another seat at the end of the table.”
Michelle leaned back in the chair. “You’re right. You’re pretty weird…whoever you are.”
“Annette, and I’ll embrace the weirdness.”
“What brings you to my hotel?”
They might have been there, even if that x-ray turned out normal. It all started earlier that year, when Bill announced to the family that it was time to take his political career to the next logical level. And that wasn’t the real logical level of admitting that he was the worst member of the City Council and retiring. Retirement was a goblin that sucked skills and livelihood out of retirees. Or so Annette convinced him of. No, the next “logical step” was to run for the State Legislature.
Bill had ideas, even if they were in a gross stew of libertarian-lite financial policies and radical social platforms. Charter schools, removing sales tax, and making steps to abolish the state police? The people of neighboring Willowhelm and Pearlbrook grinned and bore it when he did his door-to-door advertising earlier. They had little awareness about the Rackets, or about Bill’s reputation of sleeping through Council meetings.
He didn’t seem to gain much traction, but that just meant try again in the capital. Twinbrook just edged into its district, and he’d have a chance of getting an audience at the Independents and Assorted Weirdos Meet-and-Greet.
Annette and Bill could have made it into a romantic weekend away from the quagmire of bitterness and enemies back home. But no, they scheduled a biopsy to kick it off, and turned it into the worst couple’s weekend ever. Or so it was forming to be.
Explaining her husband’s political career was too long-winded. “Cancer scare for the husband. It’s up in the air. He just had the biopsy.”
“And you’re not with him right now?” Michelle asked.
“He’s asleep. Wants to be left alone…and he says that biopsy site hurts like hell.”
“I bet he’d feel better if you were there with him.” That wasn’t the issue.
“He’s just sleeping…and I dunno who feels worse about this weekend. I wish I could sleep,” said Annette. “I’m fucking exhausted, but I also can’t sleep.”
“Can’t say I’m a sleep expert, but maybe I could try cheering you up.” Michelle slyly stared at a man sitting on the other end of the room. “Hey, everyone love celebrity sightings! Check out that red-haired man over there.” He gave them a disgruntled look, only to go back to typing on his MacBook.
“So, do you like wine?” Michelle asked Annette.
“…Normally,” she said.
“You enjoy the local wine of Belizaire Vineyards?” They operated further northwest in the state.
“Sure thing.” Their sweet dessert wines always made dessert a little more fun. “Until they started sucking at it.”
“That they have, and all because of him.”
He must have stopped listening, and typed with secretarial speed on his laptop. It was all for the better, as he looked tall and imposing even when seated. His ghost-white skin and piercing gaze didn’t help either.
“Guillaume Belizaire, last good winemaker of the family,” Michelle said. “Now gone from the grapes to write shitty vampire novels.”
“No way is he Haitian,” Annette muttered. The surname usually led back to Haiti, and the only black thing about Guillaume was his black blazer.
“Probably an adoption, or a stepparent, or somethin’. But yeah, sold the place to a cousin of his that doesn’t have a clue how to make wine. But if you’re interested, I’ve been saving some old bottles of theirs.”
Under most circumstances, she would drink it straight out of the bottle. But Annette sulked in her chair instead. “Nah, not tonight.”
“Going sober?” Michelle asked.
Annette bit her lower lip. “It’s a lot of things, sorry.”
“Welp, I can’t cheer you up much better than with that. Or maybe I can. You need more tea?” Annette had finished her new cup throughout the conversation.
“No, I’m done for the night.” It was getting late, after all. Or it felt that way. Annette got up early and didn’t have the chance nor the peace of mind to take a nap. She left a $50 note in Michelle’s tip vase.
She returned to the hotel room and gingerly opened the door. She craned her neck in, and Bill was still out cold and snoring. He hadn’t eaten all day, and she barely got to talk with him. Annette shook him awake.
He rolled over and rubbed his sleepy eyes. “What time is it?”
“About 10. Just wondered if you were doing okay,” said Annette. Bill just gave her a weak smile, while holding onto the incision site. Must have still hurt.
“It’s nice having you in the room,” he said. “It’s not a good weekend away without my sugar tit princess.” His voice sounded exhausted, even after a whole day asleep.
“Yeah, a good one,” she sighed.
“You’re strong. You’ll…you’ll survive a weekend away from it all.” Bill’s voice started to trail off as he started to fall asleep again. “I think that’s really sexy ‘bout you…staying strong.”
Annette didn’t have to heart to tell him the truth. To tell him any of it, really. She just undressed, and lay down by his side. Bill slumped an arm over her, and started to snore.
The most she could articulate about herself was that she was afraid, and afraid of everyone and everything. How stupid, as nothing else had done that to her. And all it took then was bad news, or fucking up friendships. Or surprises.
Goddamn that one surprise.
The next morning, Bill regained his usual appetite and consumed a large amount of eggs, sausages and grits at breakfast. The smell of all of them made Annette nauseous, and work did the same to her for the past couple of weeks. So she grabbed an English muffin and some peanut butter and wandered through the hotel. She scared some maids with her cute-if-demonic looks and then passed by the common room on the 14th floor.
Michelle must have only worked nights. The only person there that morning was Guillaume, still dressed in his pajamas and novelty dog slippers, and reading a book.
Annette sat on the other couch, out of options for what to do that morning. She could list many things more fun than mingling with political outcasts that night, and Bill seemed to have a lot of morning energy that she didn’t. He headed out to people watch at the city common until it came time to promote his campaign.
“So, you’re in here all the time?” she asked Guillaume.
“Are you?” he asked.
“Yeah, real funny.”
“Something’s wrong with you.”
“Yeah, my husband might be dying, all my friends hate me, my son hates me…I can’t drink your family’s shitty wine. Everything’s wrong.”
“At least you know that much.”
Guillaume then reached for the remote to change the channel to anything better than the rebooted 700 Club. He found a b-rate horror block and settled with that. Annette, meanwhile, put her feet up on the couch and sulked.
“It’s like I get bad news every week now. Bet they’ll call and say that my dogs died and my son uses heroin, or I’ll gruesomely miscarry…yeah sorry,” she said. The last detail related to something she kept as a secret; half out of good practice, half out of shame and fear.
In fact, she found that out just that Wednesday. Growing exhaustion, feeling sick at work, and a missed period all lead to one place, didn’t it? And Annette had been down that road before. A store-bought pregnancy test confirmed it, and those things were far more accurate than their low price tag lead people to believe.
She hated her last pregnancy and every lonely moment of it. As much as she loved Bill right then, all of that could be blamed on him. It came an inch away from tearing apart their marriage. And Franco came at a convenient time for them otherwise. That new little womb lentil? Neither of them knew what was in Bill’s lungs. Just some mucus, or a tumor? A metastasized growth from elsewhere? To her, it felt more likely than not that it was something so evil, that a theoretical new baby of theirs might never meet their dad.
And no one would help her either. No one liked Annette enough to think about helping.
“Congratulations,” Guillaume said.
“You don’t worry about miscarriage if you don’t want that baby. It just makes sense.”
“I…I…fuck you, I…I guess you have a point. I don’t really know how to feel about these things,” she said. “Or I do…but shit, it feels new and confusing. I’m 45! I should have it all figured out.”
Instead of figuring things out, Annette headed back to her room. Once Cartoon Network was done airing old reruns, she found a budget TV movie about being stuck in a space station and zoned out. What an awful movie. She enjoyed reliving the humor of The Amazing World of Gumball much more. It took her back to a simpler time of studying for her GED in the 2010’s. Maybe she could turn back to cartoons, and a new episode of that godawful new Batman cartoon.
How awful. Could anyone save her from that?
Bill opened the door, still dressed up from the Meet-and-Greet. She must have been laying there all day. So much for ever thinking of him as lazy.
“Well that was lame,” he said. “They managed to make putting commies and libertarians in the same room boring as shit.”
“Totally expected that,” she said. “Got all nostalgic about cartoons instead.”
“Did I miss any Adventure Time reruns? Always liked that one when Shark used to watch it.” Annette shook her head no. “Whatever, then. Let’s make this night worth it.”
He tackled Annette with a wet kiss once she got up from the bed. It felt so nice, with her hands on his shoulders and his hands in much better places. He pulled away a bit, only to whisper to her. “Let’s forget about all the bad things. I know you already have.”
She pushed him away and turned around.
“What the hell?”
Annette could only hide her face. She still sniffled as she spoke. “Look…I can’t do this tonight. I…can’t forget.”
“It’s just a weird possibility-”
Just a weird possibility. Ignoring that the possible diagnosis was just fudge sauce and a cherry on top of her shit sundae, what was right about that? His weird nonchalance over the chilling possibility of dying within a year kept stabbing Annette. How dare he make that feel so trivial? It was tearing her apart into quarters. That with everything else.
She turned back at him, with her hands upraised in anger. “IT’S NOT! It’s something that fucking scares me…along with every other shitty thing that’s happened over these past two years. I can’t believe you can keep a smile for all this.”
He might have tried to explain, but she stormed out of the room, towards the common room. There had to still be tea in there.
She started to prepare another cup, only to notice that Guillaume still was there, frantically typing a revision to his novel-in-progress. Did that guy have a life?
“Is Michelle here tonight?” she asked him.
“She was passing a vacuum through here a couple hours ago.”
Annette approached him and his MacBook. “So what brings you here?”
“I’m always here.”
“Just staying inside a hotel?”
“I met with my publisher this afternoon, and again tomorrow,” Guillaume said. “What’s your excuse?”
“You already know.”
“I do. You left before I could help. And now you’re here again because you didn’t let me help.”
She faced him full-on, with her arms crossed low on her chest. “What, you have an offer to scare the issues away?” Standing in front of him might have added a new fear. Guillaume stood well over 6 feet tall, and with biceps that could make Shark tremble. “Or, what, I find my own emo phase and write about them?”
Guillaume sighed, maybe a little annoyed with her. “You’re not human,” he said.
“Kind of figured that out already,” said Annette.
“At least, you’re not a full human.”
“I’m half-and-half, if it matters so much to you.”
“Where the hell is this leading to?”
“I doubt that other half of you is even supposed to feel those things. It’s difficult to deal with emotions, because you may be the first person who’s ever had a mind like yours. They’re unorganized. And this morning, I was going to offer you a way to organize them.”
“What, write them down?” Guillaume nodded yes. “Sounds weird.”
“I do it all the time,” he said. “If you give me a minute, I have a spare notebook in my room.”
She held it at an angle on her lap, while Guillaume looked over from five feet away. “You just write down your problems, how you feel, and any solution that pops into your head.”
“Do I get to keep the notebook?” she asked.
“They’re less than a dollar each.”
She jotted them down as they came to her mind.
Franco thinks we’re awful. We steal and find loopholes. He’s falling into the same trap all those Rackets do with family. I just want to be friendly with him because we’re stuck together forever.
Amy thinks that we’re awful. We steal and find loopholes, and I dragged her fiancé down with me. I don’t blame her now. I probably ruined her life. But I want a peer too…I operate in a grey area and forgot to tell her. She’s still friends with that fucking police officer, and he was evil enough to shoot my dog. Plus, I’ve stopped criminals before too. Maybe there’s a way to show her what I do.
Uh, apply that to Franco too.
As jumbled as her words were, she felt her mind clearing up. Like those two halves of herself found a bridge between each other. As much as she never thought about herself that way, it helped her visualize the problems. One side experienced strong emotions, and the other tossed them into a storm. Time to bridge, time to organize.
Shark probably thinks I’m that bad woman out to ruin something that mattered to him. I know more about how he feels than he thinks I do. And yet, I feel like I’m losing him. It’s been, like, 11 years. And he’s just going further and further down over that one guy. I need to prove that he still matters to me, and maybe he’ll listen. You know, about getting some help. I just want to still be a good aunt to him.
I need to come to terms with Bill’s mortality, because I thought I did.
And that last bit of fresh news:
I’m six weeks pregnant. And I’d been dreaming of having another baby for a while, so I think I want it. But I don’t know what Bill will do or say to that. And I don’t know ANYTHING about how this could work.
“Well, I tried,” she said to Guillaume, shaking his hand. “I guess meeting a celebrity made me feel better after all.”
“I’ll brag to my friends about meeting a demon, so it’s even,” he said. He even gave her an uncharacteristic, toothy smile.
Good thing she came across him. Organization meant having the words to explain herself to Bill too, who deserved better than Annette substituting anger for sexy time. She tapped her card to unlock the door, and found Bill not asleep. Instead, he had dejected thoughts too.
“Listen…I’m sorry about that,” Annette muttered.
“It’s fine,” said Bill. “I was just trying to not let this get to me.”
“I wish I could be like you too. But hey, I learned something while I was gone.” She got the notebook from out behind her back. “Sometimes, you have to approach things rationally. And I’m gonna try.”
“Not that I could stay angry at you about it.” Annette blushed at the comment.
She seemed like she was going to bed, dressing down to the tank top and plaid knickers she wore under her clothes that day. But she still had that notebook with her. “Forget sleep for now. I need a proof-reader,” she said to Bill. He took a seat at the end of the bed to get a good look at his wife’s ideas.
She had them listed out, in the order she said them to Guillaume. Once she was at her side with the list, Bill read them, with a bit of a critical look in his eyes.
“You…really want people to like you,” he said.
“Sure,” said Annette.
“I think that’s where you went wrong.”
“Because I don’t wanna be lonely?”
“I don’t need people to like me. I’ll be myself, and have my reasons for being me, and people get to draw their own conclusions. And I’m just a human. You have no reason to worry about what people think about you. Blink your eyes, and they’re dead and gone, and you’ll still be living.”
“Franco will be too. That’s kinda the point of this.”
“And he’s stuck with you no matter what.”
“I need friends too. Just because it works for you-”
“Then try a little for them to understand,” said Bill. “But sometimes, you have to realize that it’s a lost cause. I can live with the world thinking I’m a rude fat oaf. Someone found it charming.”
“You think people think I’m charming?” Annette asked.
“Plenty. Even those people you pissed off once did.”
“So you’re saying that they’re just not thinking clearly?”
“I guess…they need to see my reasoning. I wrote it down. I acted within reason…I think.”
“I think you make a lot of good choices,” said Bill.
His words always made Annette melt. Her last point was on the next page, hidden away. Not even Guillaume could get her to trust that something could go right with that. And all the talk about apathy couldn’t break that. She could disregard anyone’s opinion of her if she worked towards it, but Bill? Marriage didn’t work like that, at least not when working right.
But it also didn’t work by fearing anything they had to say.
“There’s something on the next page that’s difficult to say,” Annette said. “And…I can’t have apathy for you. Maybe everyone else is just a human, but you’re more than that.”
“Really?” he asked.
“You’re Bill, that’s what.” She turned to the next page. “And I need to know what Bill thinks about…something else that’s been eating at me.”
He muttered out the words as he read it. “I’m six weeks pregnant…I think I want it…I don’t know what Bill will do or say to that.” His eyes went wide upon reading that last segment. He gave a pouty look to Annette.
“You…I…you’re still scared of me?” he asked her.
“I don’t mean to be,” she said.
“But you are?”
“It happens. I can’t have apathy for you…so I actually have to think about how you feel. I have to improve to, so I’m gonna listen this time. What do you think?”
She felt a hand grab her around the waist and pull her closer. It knocked the notebook off the bed. She never expected him to react to the new by touching her. And Annette went with it. There was almost never a reason to say no to being in the warm embrace of her soft, snuggly husband.
“I…I guess I didn’t expect this,” Annette said. She gazed into Bill’s eyes, and their faces were close enough for the tips of their noses touched.
“I’d love to be a dad again,” he said.
“Looks like you’ve changed!”
“My lesson about apathy doesn’t extend to everyone. You don’t feel that way about me, and I can’t about you. Not even after…that rough patch. You’re the only person who’s been able to change my mind that way.”
“But right now? We don’t know what the results will say.”
He gave her a peck on the cheek and smiled a bit after it. “Well, it might just give me something to fight even harder for.”
Annette found that to be the first easy night in a long time. After a slow good-night kiss, they both fell asleep. Annette spent the whole night wrapped in a plush hotel comforter, and in the gentle squeeze of her darling Bill. Maybe she would give his lesson a little more thought, but maybe she just needed the high from feeling at peace.
She woke up to him still holding on. And she could stay like that for longer. After all, they had until 11 to check out.
A/N: Dear Nessa,
To everyone else: Guillaume was a sim that Nessa made a while back, and it was cameo time for him. Why?
Nessa’s given a lot to me already. ( ͡° ͜^ ͡°)
Belizaire is a surname that is French in origin, but it’s most prevalent among Haitians in this day and age. And while Guillaume is the absolute least Haitian-looking guy the game could conjure, adoption is a thing. Hand-wavey, but I didn’t choose his surname either.
ANYWAYS, I’m not a huge fan of cliched cancer dramas. TS2 had loads of them. We’ve made strides as a community by phasing them out of stories with each successive generation. And believe it or not, I’m gonna do my part.
As a hint, chest x-rays are not a good way to diagnose lung cancer. Both in that they’re not great at detecting it early, and that false positives are rather common. But my justification is that Twinbrook doesn’t have much at hand to screen beyond that. Small towns suck. Which is also why they’d probably forward Bill to somewhere better for confirmation.
I’m an ex-Catholic, and while I could go into how I wasted so many of my years in this particularly cult-like sect of it, or about homophobia in the Church, I’ll just mention one of the positives. I know my patron saints, and Saint Peregrine is the patron saint of…cancer patients.
The “common room” is based off a restricted/exclusive lounge area at a Sheraton I was staying at in Portland. My grandparents have a lot of good karma with that chain. It indeed was nice to hang out in! For hours at a time…
Unpopular opinion (maybe), but I think this moment right now is probably one of the better ones for Cartoon Network. And not just because I’m one of those annoying Steven Universe fans (though it helps). There’s a great good-to-shit ratio overall. Plus, Eight Cicadas is set in the future. 2045 might be at the point where the 2010’s and beyond are considered vintage programming. But I’ll see when it’s actually 2045. 😛
Bill taking politics to the next level is just me remembering “oh yeah he’s still employed in the story, isn’t he?” His political views are loosely based off those of an old friend of mine. I disagree with him on a lot of things, but I’m not exactly expecting my life to be full of socialists either.
Finally, new cast member for Eight Cicadas confirmed! And will Annette’s little womb lentil be the only one? You won’t believe what happens next!!