Annette almost wept with joy as she hugged Bill. The letter arrived the Tuesday after their weekend in Falls Harbor. After an uncertain Monday (her outlook wasn’t going to improve in a day), it felt so great to be certain. All Annette had to worry about was that fetus that made her throw up in the mornings. And about work, and how Julienne was falsifying their taxes. Not to mention how to mend things with everyone else at home.
And one day, Annette had a chance to tackle a bit of the last two things at once. Someone shared some gossip with her: none of the Knacks were honest people. Julienne’s mother was the CEO of Harmony Systems, a corporation headquartered in a shiny glass building next to City Hall. And while they were always on the verge of audit, it never seemed to happen. Old Mrs. Knack must have been hiding something, or hiding it with one of her accountants. The most suspicious of them was a man named Lenny, close to retirement, who was also the father of one of Amy’s best friends.
Annette vaguely remembered Jenni. She was about Amy’s age, blonde, and that was about the extent of what she recalled. She had a birthday coming up later in April, and invited Amy to a small gathering at her place. Annette nagged her housemate enough to tag along.
The walk over there was awkward. Amy scowled at the ground as Annette attempted small talk.
“You know, this is a great opportunity for you too!” Annette said. “Maybe you can see the sort of jobs I do.”
“They don’t have that many valuables,” said Amy. The disdain in her voice was obvious. It got Annette to scowl too.
“Maybe if you opened up your mind a bit, you’d see that I do a lot of things. And all I’m doing is outing a possible criminal. I do that more than you think, you know.” There was the case with Blanchard and the sex trafficking ring. But sometimes, Annette just had to drag an unlawful traitor to justice, and she loved those jobs as much as taking cars and pearl necklaces. “That’s all I want to show you, that the world is crazy, and not exactly black-and-white.”
“Alright, whatever you say. It’s what you do that counts,” said Amy. “I guess I’ll try to listen, then.”
“It’s all I ask for.”
Whenever she went over to that island, the one in the middle of Twinbrook’s main lake, Annette always thought about where she started. The lights were on in Harwood’s old house. Sometimes she still wondered what was left there, and not too heavy to steal.
It comforted her to look just one house over, where her job waited. She hadn’t changed much at all, and that would bother a lot of people. Just not Annette.
It started off as an easy job. Lenny had a complicated relationship with Renee, his…wife? Ex-wife? They still lived together, but held some sort of a mutual disrespect. Renee didn’t miss a beat when it came to leading Annette to the most likely location for Lenny’s work documents. She told Annette to check his bedroom. No specifics as to where in there, but it was just one small place.
Whatever. She had done harder things.
Annette tended to act with care during her jobs. But that evening, why bother? It was the closest thing to noble work that she had done in a while. If she was discovered, someone would think of her as a heroine. And if no one did? Well, the job sounded fun and she wouldn’t regret taking those Knacks down a peg, even if all her encounters with Julienne’s mum were pleasant.
The goal was to scare Julienne and get the deed to a boxcar diner out of the deal. So much work for so little of her own gain. But Annette wasn’t allergic to assisting the law. Sometimes it had a place.
She threw clothes out of the drawer, and they piled up on the floor. She ransacked the whole dresser, but to no avail. Lenny used his dresser for clothes and only those, just as intended!
It wasn’t like she was running out of hope. There were only so many places he could keep work documents. But Annette had to think about it, and sunk down to the floor, knees raised and her head resting in her palm. That was a waste of time. The desk on the other side of the room was a more likely candidate for holding business papers, wasn’t it?
So many places, so little time. Hopefully Amy wasn’t going to betray her over this…not like she’d blame the woman for it either. Annette took her husband’s new advice, or tried her best to: make your case, and let everyone else reach their own conclusions. No matter what happened, she could find a way out.
She had lived with Amy for long enough to recognize the way she walked up the stairs. She had a light gait, and wore ballet flats that day. Without her big, demonic ears, Annette might not have even heard someone come upstairs.
There wasn’t any time to hide her work anyways.
Amy crossed her arms, and looked Annette in the eye like a stern mother.
“Be honest,” Annette said.
“I thought you’d be smarter than this…it’s obviously under his bed,” said Amy.
“Oh…well, I’m glad you told me?”
Amy beat her to that, sticking her head and arms under the bed frame and pulling out a heavy black box.
Her face melted into a sweet smile, which was a lot more normal for Amy. She sat on the floor to get on Annette’s level. “I’ve known Jenni’s family for years. You pick up on these things,” she said.
“I like that…what changed your mind so fast?” Annette asked.
“Thinking about it, instead of having fun tonight.”
“Geez, I made you feel that way?”
“It’s not fun learning that the world is grey and difficult.” Amy took the lid off the box and sorted through a stack of beige folders. “But my lovely fiancé should have taught me this sooner.”
“You said you won’t marry him yet because he’s a violent criminal.”
“Yeah? But he’s really been mellowing lately! And I don’t care that he steals cars with you, or used to cook meth, or that he won’t apologize for the things he’s done. I bet he’s done worse things than you…and…screw it, I missed being your friend. I haven’t connected with Jenni at all tonight. I wonder how many more I’ve lost…sometimes, you really feel like the best I’ve ever had.” Amy’s eyes widened at a folder towards the middle of the pile. “It’s this one. Well, last year’s work.”
Annette moved closer, and held it open on her lap. Her friend looked over her shoulder.
Being so jaded herself, Annette did nothing more than nod as she read through the sheets. The false revenues stated should have looked fake to any investor with half a brain, but they kept coming for Harmony Systems with their money. One of the most common ways to falsify reports, how charming. It was such mundane stuff, in the eyes of a woman who rubbed elbows with murderers. Amy, however, might have never seen that before. She balked at the obvious fakery going on.
“Did Lenny really do that?” Amy asked, scowling. “I mean, I’m not angry at you. It’s just…you think you know a guy…”
“Yep, but his boss had to have signed off on it,” said Annette. “I don’t have anything against Lenny. He can walk free for all I care. But I want that diner…and I need to make sure none of these Knacks will whoop my ass over it.”
“Yeah, I’ve been told that you can’t do much in prison.”
“Good thing you have a fiance to teach you these things.”
“So how are you going to bring these to the authorities?” Amy asked. “It’s not like they like you much either.”
“Excellent point, my student.” They both had a chuckle at that. “Anyways, I usually bribe someone else to do that. Sometimes I get a job to out some awful drug dealer or pimp or something. I get what I need about them, however I can, and someone better than me brings it to the cops.”
“Maybe I can be that person?”
“Wait, really?” Annette asked.
“What’s so surprising about that?”
Annette scratched the back on her neck, a little flustered. “I thought it would take a few days for you to turn on…everything good about you. You moved here with a fucking cop at first.”
“Yeah, you’re right. But…you believe people can change, right?”
“Wouldn’t have stayed with my husband if they couldn’t.”
“Right. I might have been referring to that,” said Amy. “Sorry. He’s been good to you for a while now!”
“Don’t feel like you need to apologize for everything. You’re a better henchwoman if you don’t.”
“Am I a good friend if I don’t?”
Annette moved her hand closer to Amy’s, touching her fingers just a bit. “I hope this is enough to say…yep, you still are. For as long as you live.” She could see Amy blushing from beneath the thick foundation she wore on her face. “Hey, it would be nice to die like a human. I just don’t have that luxury.”
“I’ve accepted it,” Amy said.
“So how about we sneak this out under your shirt, and scram?”
“Can I say good-bye to Jenni first?”
“Not by yourselves.” It was a mysterious third voice. Or it would be mysterious, if neither of them encountered him before.
Goodwin stood behind them, dressed in his plain clothes and holding his gun out. Annette expected nothing different from the guy, but also expected to know if he was there or not.
She turned towards her friend with a strained whisper. “I thought you’d tell me if the pig was going to be here.”
“It…it slipped my mind, okay? I thought you knew that he and Jenni were married.”
“Enough chit-chat. I don’t like using this gun anymore than I need to,” said Goodwin. “Off the ground! I know I’ll get a warrant for your arrests one day.”
Amy held her hands up, and her face sunk into wide-eyed, unblinking fear. Annette, instead, sneered and looked off the side. “He’s not even trying,” she said.
Goodwin chuckled. It was the most evil thing either of them heard that day. “Well, this is the last person I expected to see at a crime scene,” he said. “If it isn’t my long-lost best friend! Siding with this thorn in my side.” Annette said that she resisted the urge to flip him off, but that it was one of the hardest things she’s ever done.
“You know, I sided with you for a long time,” said Amy. “Don’t think I’m doing this lightly.”
“She has to be bribing you with something,” said Goodwin, rubbing his temples in frustration. “Lemme guess? Money, clothes, licking your vag?”
Her face scrunched up in disgust. “Do you think…do you think that I can’t think for myself about these things? Is that how you think of me?”
“Please, you were the biggest ditz in all of San Mateo-”
“People can change, Goodwin! I’ve started to think a little more, and think for myself a bit, and I think you’ve changed too.”
“Are you saying that I’m evil?”
“You are pretty fucking evil, I said it!”
Goodwin lunged at Amy, forcing his elbow into her chest. It almost knocked her down onto the bed, but she pushed back, trying to avoid Goodwin and the fist he had curled-up tight.
“You can’t accuse me of that! I am the law, and you two are nothing.” Before either of the women could stop him, he socked Amy, punching her right in the eye. The bruise formed fast, in a sickening shade of dark red.
Annette couldn’t let any more of that happen. She grabbed her friend and helped her to her feet.
Amy whimpered a bit, considering that blood was pooling around her right eye. Annette held her around the shoulders and frowned in Goodwin’s direction. “I can report you to the state for this, asshole,” she said.
“And they’ll call the cops for you on the spot, cuntrag,” he said, before tucking the gun into his jacket again and exiting the room. The two women left without saying good-bye to their hosts, but Annette folded up a few papers to stuff into her back pocket. As bad as it was to be foiled by Goodwin, Annette had already witnessed him say and do much worse. It was the same guy who shot her dog with no apology, after all.
That was just for someone who faced the world’s chaos for most of her life (or so I’ll assume), though. Amy had not, and a paradigm shift in her life must have gotten her in a bad mood. On the way out of the house, she took a seat on their front stairs.
“I wish it could’ve been something a little easier, you know, for your first time,” said Annette.
“I…I just feel like a dumbass, that’s all,” Amy said.
“Well, you should’ve learned not to listen to Goodwin about anything-”
“It’s that I did listen to him!” Amy leaned over, resting against the rough wood siding of the house. “Like, I’ve known him since I was five. And the more I look at it, the more I wasn’t thinking about the things he did. He hasn’t changed a bit. He double-crossed a lot of people in San Mateo. He did a lot of awful things to Sinbad. Usually just withholding dinner or holding the past over his head but, like, I should’ve been less of a dumbass.”
“Well, you can always change.”
“I’ve seen a lot of dumbasses that couldn’t change it.”
Annette grabbed Amy’s hand and lifted her up from the stairs. “Change it, don’t change it…you’re not too much of a dumbass for me. How about that?”
Amy smiled a bit, and tried to look Annette in the eyes. “I’ll take it.”
“Can’t lose another friend who’s my age,” said Annette, rolling her eyes. “Though I think you’d have to do a lot to change my mind.”
“Be like Goodwin and shoot my dog.”
“You said it was a hunting accident!”
“Yeah, I did. At least you’ll believe it now.”
She touched the red spot on her face. It still hurt. “You can say that again.”
They started to walk down the driveway, when Amy asked Annette another question. “You’re the landlady. Do you think the house could handle another baby?”
Annette was more than aware of her own condition. Those sore breasts and gagging at every smell at the diner didn’t come from nowhere. And boy did they continue! But there had to have been room for another if she was growing her own new baby.
“God, I hope so,” Annette said.
“I’m…I’m glad. It’s a little too late for the answer to be no.” She gave Annette a cheeky wink. “I don’t think what happened tonight hurt it.”
Maybe she should have been scared of five adults and a teenager being responsible for two babies, at roughly the same time. But Annette started to muffle those fearful screams in her head. If she looked away and yawned at Goodwin’s gun in her face, this was amateur stuff.
“That’s some bizarre timing we had,” she said.
A/N: First chapter where the title was not explicitly dropped in the chapter. It’s a rather obvious combination of the “shades of grey” and “being jaded” motifs that go on through this chapter, but I know it seems like an unusual title for an Eight Cicadas chapter. Or maybe it’s just me. 😛
Amy is pregnant because she had a kid in my original dynasty, and he was a character that I quite liked. Annette is right now because her future child has a lot of potential for a character (read: I love writing siblings, and this obviously gives Franco a younger sibling).