Bill woke Franco up early. It wasn’t like he had plans for that lazy summer day, but his dad insisted that he planned something good for the afternoon. Better yet, Franco needed to call up his half-brother, to get in on the family-bonding action.
Franco often forgot that Mark Sargeant was his half-brother. They looked almost nothing alike, but they did share one trait in common. Both of them had a sense of bitter apathy towards the man that fathered them. As for Mark, he had a stepfather that accepted his weird, illegitimate existence with grace and respect. Franco had…his dad. Still, they agreed to give Bill’s idea a try. Whatever it could be.
He dragged the two boys to the shops in the early afternoon, and emerged from the grocery store with a collection of glass beer bottles. Bill leaned against one of the buildings and tried to look sneaky. “How about that, huh? Your grumpy old man just sneaked out two beers for his favorite sons.”
Franco cringed, while Mark tried to play it cool. “Yeah, I already learned my lesson about alcohol,” Franco said. “Really? That’s your only idea of fun?”
“Well, I thought we could go to the beach with it, or somethin’. It’s what I did as a kid!” Bill said, his voice taking a sharp turn towards “teenage whining.”
“You thought publicly exposing yourself was fun when you were a kid…and an adult,” Franco said. He and Annette just loved to tell their son some awkward family stories at dinner time. “I doubt you’re full of better ideas.”
“Sorry Mr. Racket. There’s a concert tonight, and I actually want to watch it sober,” he said. “And I need to get there early. I might catch the band for an autograph!”
“Yeah, thanks for trying, but I think we’re calling it a day.” Franco tried to walk away, but Bill yanked him back by the arm.
“What the heck is this?” Franco asked.
“I want to connect with you, damnit!” Bill grumbled. “I thought this could bring us together again. Because we really haven’t been.”
“You know, there’s a pretty good reason for that!”
“Like what? You don’t like that I’ve broken the law? I’m aware, but every adult in our house does that. Even your awful cousin Shark.”
“Well you assaulted him when he was a teen and called him a…a horrible thing!”
Bill raised his hands with a bit of anger. Mark seemed to look on some sort of confused shock. “Franco, this is not the time to bring that up. And it’s in the past!” Bill said. “I’ve tried to apologize to him for it. I don’t think he’s an awful fag. Shark’s horrible no matter who he likes!”
“Well, I think you’re pretty horrible too,” Franco muttered.
“Come on, really?”
“Why can’t you just accept that? It’s not like you were any different with your dad!”
Bill bit his lower lip and looked around. His cheeks turned pink for a moment, until he turned to Mark.
“Mark, come on, you think I’m a pretty cool guy…right?” he asked his other son.
From what Franco told me, Mark always seemed to put politeness first. “Well, it’s not like you’re ever really there for me. My stepdad does a fine job, so…don’t feel bad about it?”
Bill stormed off, taking his beer with him. The two teenagers looked at each other.
“Do you still have time to kill before that concert?” Franco asked.
They only had to walk across the street to find the town’s Summer Festival. Twinbrook tried to keep it fun each year. No one ever complained about snow cones, roller skating, and gnubb. Franco and Mark wouldn’t either.
They settled on gnubb, and ended up on the opposite teams. Franco played with Ricky, Carmen’s older brother, and Mark got teamed with an adult neither of them knew. If nothing else, it would stop Franco from getting too competitive. It was the same principle with dodgeball at school; Franco just didn’t want to be mean to his half-brother.
Yep, nice to that tangential family member. Sucked for his parents, though.
It soon came time for Mark to scram and take his chances at getting his shirt signed by all the members of the Recursive Eagles. The two brothers shared a good-bye hug. Mark would have fun, and he said he was meeting a date there. Franco couldn’t feel bad for that.
Or could he? It wasn’t like Franco had a date that night. He and Carmen were still going steady, but they hadn’t made any plans for the day. Sometimes, she preferred to get a pizza and shoot the shit with her twin brother. Franco shouldn’t have minded, but it took less than a minute for him to need to run away. Run off, fueled by jealousy and loneliness.
It turned out to be a leisurely walk instead. Franco headed off, walking on a safe residential street. It was a nice path, shaded by birch trees and the shadows of two-story houses. The shadows grew longer as the sun started to go down.
He still continued on a sparse road ahead, where the trees didn’t grow. An old billboard alerted him that he might have wanted to turn back. Everyone warned him about how weird Twinbrook was around the edges. The center of town was as quaint as anything, but the hills and backwoods? If you ran into a person, it was definitely going to be a drug addict, or a redneck. There wasn’t anything else a bunch of rich adults would tell a kid.
But Franco saw a hill that he could be alone on.
He could see all the way down to the swamp from there, on such a clear day. The sun was big and golden in the sky, and Franco watched it start to sink into the horizon.
What did he wish for? Attention? Franco had to admit it: his father was doing his best to give him that. It was just so hard to get over the bad parts about him, now that he was aware of all of it. And alone, on top of the hill, it was all Franco could think about. He sat there alone and wanted attention. Anyone would do.
He swore he heard two people chatting. Would three be too much of a crowd?
Franco stood up, and noticed there was a park below the hill. Not that many people spoke of the ampitheatre on the edge of town. Those who did said it was haunted. If it was, then it shouldn’t have scared someone like Franco. He didn’t put much thought into a quarter or so of his heritage being vague and “demonic,” but maybe it made him fearless to things like hauntings.
It was worth a peek.
Once he got down the hill, Franco got a better look at who was down there. Not any ghosts, unless his own housemates weren’t telling him something. But it was Amy and Sinbad. Of course they still lived with Annette, not having another choice, but they focused on each other more ever since April or so. It made sense to Franco, as he didn’t remember a time when they weren’t together. They also were expecting a baby, and perhaps it was a move to try and connect in hopes of working together better as parents.
It took him a little longer to notice the obelisk they stood in front of. It was a little taller than Sinbad himself, and surrounded with flowering bushes. That explained the rumors of the ampitheatre being haunted.
Even though he risked interrupting a tender moment, Franco sneaked up behind them and gave a slight wave. “Uh, I was just in the area,” he said.
The greeting seemed to shock Amy. “Christ! Oh…sorry, Franco. It’s just that this place is usually deserted.”
“I can see why.” It was the world’s loneliest cemetery, with just one grave. “Is this a paranormal thing, or is there a story behind this?”
“Your mum never told you?” Amy asked him. Franco shook his head no. “If you remember your uncle Harwood, he’s the one buried here. I think we actually own this land now.”
“You mean Carmen’s dad is buried here? That’s…I dunno how I’ll bring that up to her.”
“Oh, right. I forgot about that,” Amy said. “I mean…it was my idea to come here. I was friends with the guy! I thought it would be nice to pay our respects-”
Sinbad turned around. “I got myself an excellent little liar here.” He gave his fiancée a friendly, quick smirk. “I guess it’s something I can tell you, before I admit it to your mum.”
“Wait, really? You’re trusting me over her?” Sinbad seemed like the last guy who would do that. Franco didn’t quite know how to feel about him, but maybe he was a little better than being Amy’s criminal squeeze.
“It’s hard to find the right time with her,” he said. “But I need to admit a lot of awful things. I need to…fix myself.”
“What, you’re gonna tell him that?” Amy asked him. “It’s a pretty personal thing.”
“That I cheated on you?” She nodded, looking a little ashamed. “Well, Franco, that’s kind of tricky. Don’t do what I did.”
“And…fine, I have to admit that I’ve been angry at the wrong people about my past. Not about my piece-of-shit parents, but…”
“It’s about his piece-of-shit parents,” Amy said, interjecting. “Well, in his own words.”
“We thought that maybe I needed to get some sympathy for my…fucking dickweed of a father.” Sinbad choked up with anger again, glaring at the stone obelisk and the solar-powered light that shone on it. “It is a long fucking process, lemme tell you.”
“The point is that he’s trying to reconcile with a flawed person,” Amy said.
Sinbad came up to Franco, putting an arm around his shoulders. “I dunno what you thought about me, but I’m kind of family to you now. Just…I’m trying.”
“I think that’s pretty cool,” Franco said. “So what are you guys doing tonight?”
“Going to Willowhelm for a lakeside party. One of my old crime-friends actually did well for himself…sorry that we have to leave you here.”
“I’ll be fine,” Franco said. He turned to Amy, with some curiosity. “What does it feel like?”
“Having a baby inside of you?”
“Freakin’ weird, I’ll say that. Can’t you ask your mum about this?” Franco pouted. “Yeah, I know she’s busy and you have opinions. You know what, I’ll let you feel it from the outside.”
She positioned herself to let her belly stick out a little more. Franco put one of his big hands on the bump, and felt something strong move within.
“Woah…what was that?” he asked, with a strange sort of wonder.
“I think the ob-gyn said that it’s a somersault? Sinbad?” Her fiancé gave her a weak shrug. “As I said, kind of weird. I’ll like it better when it turns into a baby instead.”
That was going to be a change, having two babies in the house. Franco didn’t know if that feeling inside of him was excitement or dread. From what some of his friends told him, new babies tended to suck up attention. It would leave Franco as alone as he was in the haunted ampitheatre. As much as the humans liked to speculate, Franco felt nothing there. Getting tormented by the spirit of Harwood would be better than just being alone, but he wasn’t that lucky.
Standing near one of the tall pillars, Franco took out his phone to make a call. “Carmen! I know it’s sudden, but I was thinking…fireworks? That does sound pretty fun. I’m at the ampitheatre…I don’t think you want to meet me here. I mean, your dad’s buried here.”
He could feel Carmen shrugging with apathy over the phone.
It took her less than half an hour to get there, with a bundle of fireworks in her arms. She and Benji liked to light smaller ones in their backyard, but she got the same big ones meant for Independence Day.
They covered their ears as they waited to the fuses to burn out. Franco didn’t even groan when Carmen said that it would be a blast. Of course it would be. Silly puns or not, he had some company.
The display was colorful and satisfying. They lit one after another, until Carmen ran out of rockets to launch. As it turned out, she had two flavors: being a nuisance to someone, and cuddling with Franco.
The two of them found a pillar and shared a long embrace. Franco pulled Carmen close to him as they watched the stars, but it soon made him feel uneasy.
“Don’t you think this is an odd place to do this?” he asked her.
“Not really,” she said.
“But the view’s better from that hill…and your bio-dad’s buried here.”
“Yeah, you told me that over the phone. I don’t care about him. No one else cares that I’m his daughter. Some sperm donor doesn’t matter much to me.”
It made Franco sick and confused. Out of all of the attitudes about fathers he saw that day, someone just not caring disturbed him the most.
He wasn’t going to tell Carmen that he was a hypocrite, though. Her glow was too strong.