It started off as a pleasant summer afternoon. The heat wasn’t to the inside of Satan’s asscheeks levels it could be, and Annette had some good things scheduled at the hospital.
Something with the dreadful title of “anomaly scan” was made into a good thing with Bill at her side, anyways. He squeezed her hand as the ob-gyn said “I guess demon babies are cute after all.” “I expected something much worse here.” Everything was fine on the inside. The two excited parents were expecting a healthy baby girl, and Bill couldn’t keep his hands off Annette.
Annette was not the buzzkill who would refuse a messy wet kiss in public. But the real buzzkill was her phone’s buzzer. Every phone call mattered to her. It could be a new opportunity, or an excuse to insult the mum of whoever was on the other line. The number on the screen didn’t register with her.
“Hello?” Annette said, to a robot caller. Bill was less than pleased with the diversion.
“I thought you wanted–it’s okay, I guess you don’t,” said Bill. She was too busy listening to the message on the other end. It spoke to her in a pleasant London accent.
“Hello. This is Randall Rajput, host of Culinary Calamities USA. We have received your demo tape, and put you on the next step to getting selected for the show. We look forward to seeing you at Brunton’s Boxcar Diner on July 18th.” The date and restaurant name were stated by a computer voice.
“Holy shit, it’s you! Thanks you!” Annette then remembered that, yes, it was a pre-recorded message. Hence why Microsoft Sam delivered parts of it too. After she hung up, it was only fair that she explained the news to Bill.
She turned to him. “Okay, you remember how I had you record some bogusly bad footage of work a couple months ago?” The show’s premise was tearing into restaurants with bad food and shoddy management. Annette just wanted a platform to humiliate Julienne with. That tax cheat deserved it, and on a nationally-broadcasted show, if possible.
“That was fun. Especially when you locked me in the walk-in to hide me from everyone else,” said Bill. “You’re on the show?”
“Closer to it. We’ll see next week,” said Annette.
Pregnancy was a funny thing for Annette. Once her extreme aversion to the smells of breakfast subsided a bit, Julienne kept talking to her about maternity leave. It was going to have to happen sooner or later. And Annette was starting to have a little more trouble tying her apron in the back.
Until then, she still worked. The 18th was a shift that ended at sunset, around the time she was to meet her mystery correspondent from Culinary Calamities. She crossed her fingers for it to be Randall, but they had a few camera-people who seemed cool in the show’s blooper reels. Of course, she kept it a secret from everyone else. Julienne gave her an excited wave good-bye, seeming to be none the wiser about Annette’s schemes. It seemed so weird, considering that her mum was being investigated over the bad accounting under her authority.
Annette stepped outside, after no one of note seemed to be inside. She looked to one side, which had only three customers, all of whom she already knew. They lived in Twinbrook, and didn’t work for television at all.
It was the man on the other side who was the only possible candidate, due to her never seeing him before. “Man” being a loose term. He was male, Annette was sure of that. He also had the plastic-smooth skin of a mannequin and the awkward lankiness of a teenager. He wore dark colors, had a shoddy blond dye job that betrayed him with brown roots, and there was a strange scar near his left eye. Odd person. She pegged his age as 20, at the upper limit.
She put her face into her palm and groaned. “Damnit, what could that kid even know?” Inside, she secretly just wanted to meet Randall. He was her idol! Or at least she appreciated his “Perfect French Toast” video. It taught her well. That young man, picking at a plate of pancakes, was a nobody.
The youngster gave her a knowing look. He must have been told to look for the most unusual worker there. Or he saw the demo tape and looked for Annette’s pale blue arms. “Alright, demon girl? It looks like you’ve come out,” he said, with a cheeky smile. He had a stringy, youthful voice and Annette could only take a stab at his accent, as he toned it down for her American ears.
“They didn’t warn me of the little boy,” Annette said.
“I can’t work with that attitude, lass. I could fucking drop your pitch right here!”
“Look, you twerp.” Annette leaned over the table, waggling her index finger in his face. “This is now my country, and my turf. I don’t care if you guys are still getting over the bloody apocalypse there.”
“I can fight you now, and I can fight you again on television.”
Annette almost clenched a fist for him, but she remembered what was nestled in her pelvic cavity. That little girl might not survive a fight.
“I’m not here to fight,” she said, pinching the bridge of her nose. “I’m here to pitch a show to you guys.”
“I don’t even know why you are,” he said. “We couldn’t even get Randall to fake disgust at these.” Although the plate of pancakes was barely touched, it seemed like a sincere compliment. More sincere than a lot of Randall’s exaggerated disgust at the dishes on the show.
“Because I know my food is delicious. It’s…you mind talking quietly about this? Can I get your name too?”
“So Landon, it’s not gonna be a typical pitch.” Annette took a seat and rubbed her neck, trying to word the pitch right. “It’s, well, a lot of legal bullshit.”
“It’s…unique. I’ll give it that,” Landon said.
“What, are you saying that you’ll uproot the format of your show just to expose a tax fraud…who also runs a restaurant?”
Landon smirked a bit. “I can make it work.”
“Damn. You are a little better than I thought you’d be,” said Annette.
He got up from his seat. “So you mind getting me the proof?”
“Goddammit…my boss is still in the kitchen. Uh…wait…just wait in the back, near the exit.”
The fire alarm for the building had an emergency switch, right near the entrance of the kitchen. It was behind a wall and outside the sight of any of the diners, but one of Annette’s co-workers could see her.
She got the switch when Gala exited the kitchen, holding up a plate of eggs. They nodded at each other, and Annette could only hope that it didn’t mean what she thought it meant. Biting her lower lip, Annette pulled the lever. The alarm sounded, and everyone evacuated the building. She took a quick look through the little window of the kitchen door. Empty. Even Julienne left.
Annette had a backpack with her, filled with some spare clothes, but she stuffed the papers inside. Julienne always kept the most recent year’s tax papers inside one of the counter drawers, close to some baking sheets.
There was a “secret” exit through the walk-in fridge, which led to the back of the diner. Annette pushed the door open, sprinted out, and tagged Landon to run with her.
“Where the fuck are we going?!” he yelled to her.
“You like bars, kid?” she asked him.
Annette got dressed into her plain clothes, in the bathroom at The Red Rendevouz. It was a small bar in the center of town. Landon seemed to know what to do, and started to order a beer without her. She checked to see that her makeup wasn’t too out of place, and then went upstairs to join Landon. Maybe he was more fun after a drink or two.
She got herself a coke, while Landon sipped at a beer. “They warned me about your piss-poor American beer,” he said.
“Should’ve ordered Crayfish Tail IPA. That’ll kick your arse,” Annette said.
“Don’t try to flatter me.”
She rolled her eyes, and turned around to watch the rest of the bar. At first, it was half-hearted people watching, done as she sipped from the glass bottle. Annette recognized a few faces. The mayor’s daughters sat in the corner and joked amongst themselves. The abusive, piece-of-shit mum that Franco’s little friend had watched them with a bit of bitterness. And an Indian girl that Annette didn’t recognize at all seemed to be chatting it up with an older man. Annette then recognized his shaggy, greying hair. It was Julienne’s husband.
Finishing up her coke, Annette paid a little more attention to that one table. The young woman seemed to be questioning DeAndre, while he sounded close to the verge of tears.
It was rather disturbing to see him that way, his face buried in his hands. Tears staining his sharp, purple blazer. Too bad his family had yet another thing coming.
She grabbed her backpack and tried to leave the bar, but DeAndre caught up to Annette before she could get far. Looking uneasy, he tried to catch her attention with a question.
“We’re neighbors. Can’t we talk about something?” he asked her. They lived on the same street, after all. His logic was too strong.
“Sure. It’s been a while,” she said. “Where are the kids, anyways?” She sometimes saw him and his three little dumplings while they ran errands or something. But Julienne was at work, and DeAndre was acting weird in a bar.
“Home, with their elderly grandmother who’s currently being probed by the feds.”
“Okay then. Whatever, talk to me about things.”
He took a cautious stance near her, and nervously rubbed one of his arms. “Look, I know you have some bad shit brewing. Let’s not deny it.”
“And what gives you the right to accuse me of that?” she asked, with a sassy raised eyebrow.
“You have a chip on your shoulder, and it’s pretty useless to try and hide that from me and Jules. I know you have something to do with Pat, and I’m just-”
“I’m worried, that’s what! Worried for, you know, my wife. My family. People I love!” A tear rolled down DeAndre’s round face. “I can’t stand to see this happen to them.”
Annette put a hand on her hip. “It’s not your issue. It’s just stuff your piece-of-shit in-laws have done. I’d give it a break.”
DeAndre looked like he was shaking in place. “Just…you can’t blame me for this, okay?”
“Yeah, not really. But I have the upper hand here, and all I can say is…run.” Annette crossed her arms, waiting for him to leave and run home.
Annette hailed a taxi home. The lights were off in the house when she entered, except for the glow of the telly. As it turned out, the [adult swim] block was as stupid in 2045 as it was 30 years before. Shark must have been watching something on it, but it put him to sleep. He lay slumped over the couch and snored lightly, as he tended to. Or was that one of the dogs? Who knows. Two empty beer bottles lay on the floor.
She didn’t expect him to be doing much of anything else.
Annette found the remote within a couch cushion (she hated it when that happened), and flipped to the Terrebonne News Network. She watched it from close-by, sitting on the decorative rug.
The newscaster, who Annette remembered to be deep-voiced and bald, had a fresh story. “In local news, scandal for the State Rep race? Independent candidate Bill Racket might have a few demons in his closet…and in his personal stash. Here is TNN Cyber Expert, Ricky Sandoval, with the story.”
She watched it with slack-jawed bewilderment. Not at what they found in Bill’s old deviantART and favorite fetish zines. He opened up about those years ago, and they both had a good chuckle over the bad quality of his works. Maybe the fact that someone dug them up after 30 or more years confused her. But the biggest thing was why she wasn’t jumping to defend his good name.
Maybe she wanted the same results Shark did.
How toxic of her.
Oh well. Where was Bill, anyways?
Even if the house was dark, the string of lanterns out back near the pool shone bright and strong. That search didn’t take long. She peeked out the window that gave her the best view of the pool, and saw Bill lounging in the hot tub. He looked oblivious to the world, and also had a few beers with him. Now the world was just taunting her. But that wasn’t his fault, and he must have had a rough day.
Her usual remedy for Bill’s rough days was to dress down to a bikini, and offer him a massage and/or a blowjob. Annette wondered if that would still work when she was five months pregnant.
She still fit into one of her new favorite bikinis with little extra effort. After changing, she went outside and dipped her naked feet into the hot tub. “Rough day?’ she asked her husband. He stopped smiling.
“The boys abandoned me. They didn’t want my smuggled booze, and Franco’s probably just snogging that Kindle girl now,” he said. “You?”
“Pitched the episode, ran into Julienne’s husband.” Bill laughed at that. “He wants to think that I care about him.”
“I care about him. I feel bad for anyone who has to stick their dick in there…just take my word for it.”
“Should I worry about him?”
Bill got up, out of the hut tub, and sat on the edge like his wife did. “Why? I wouldn’t worry about any of them. Julienne’s a pathetic little bitch, and poor DeAndre can’t be doing too well if he’s staying with her.”
“So I shouldn’t worry about any of them?” she asked.
“Nah. Go for apathy…I guess except for family. Wouldn’t want you not caring about our darling little fetus…daughter…I’m still trying to come to terms with that.”
“Hey, I just ask that you try.”
Soon afterwards, they got their feet out of the water, and proceeded to snuggle on the stone tile floor. They were under a blanket of stars, and some rogue fireworks going off on the other side of town. It was still pretty romantic.
“Have you thought of a name yet?” Annette asked Bill. He shrugged and shook his head no.
A/N: Landon is another one of Nessa’s original characters. Unlike last time, I actually discussed this with her in advance. I took a few more creative liberties with his design (giving him a duller eye color, dark roots in his hair, the scar, etc.), but if she disapproves, that’s our business as gal pals.
I take full responsibility for any character butchering, as so on and so forth.
Anyways, crayfish (and lobsters) symbolize escape and tricky situations. They could easily be the real animal emblem for this story with that.