Content Warning for: physical assault of a minor by an adult, depictions of alcoholism, implied (not shown) underage sex
Thanksgiving was a dismal day that year.
Franco enjoyed playing Trigonometric Showdown 3 on his phone that Thursday, after eating a box of Thai takeout. If Thanksgiving suddenly became the holiday of touchscreens and green curry, he’d be okay with it.
Granted, his holiday could be better too. Instead of getting to enjoy himself by himself, the adults of the house saddled him with two babies for the afternoon. It almost seemed unfair to have two squirming, larval people in his life after more than fourteen years as an only child. But Franco wasn’t quite as bothered by it when he saw how cute they were. Julian, Sinbad and Amy’s son, had sparkling green eyes. And Samira, Franco’s own little sister, had the purple skin and chubby cheeks that ran in the family.
They were both family to him. Julian was Carmen’s nephew, after all, and hadn’t proven himself to be unlikeable. And it would take a while for Franco and Samira to go the way of all other Racket siblings. Right then, her worst crimes were crying when she was hungry, and still having that weird-looking cord stump attached to her. She couldn’t help either of those.
So no, Franco playing daddy for two newborns was hardly the worst part of the holiday.
If nothing else, he wasn’t having the worst time.
It was while he was feeding Julian that he got some sober company. Amy took a seat next to him, on the side that didn’t have Samira sleeping on a blanket.
“Sorry for making you handle my breastmilk,” she said, looking at the bottle in Franco’s grasp.
“I just try not to think about it,” he said. “For either of these little guys.”
“So he’s not bugging you?”
“You thought he was?”
Amy reached out to pat Franco on the shoulder. “You’re such a good kid, you know? Well, I really should’ve seen it coming.”
“From my parents? That’s hilarious.” Franco rolled his eyes. “They’re not even telling me what’s going on with mum.” He would likely be having a home-cooked meal for Thanksgiving if Annette was there. But she wasn’t. Without any details given to him, all Franco heard from his dad was that Samira could come home, but his mum was still in the hospital.
“Well I can. Your mum’s been better about being open to me about things,” Amy said. “So she calls me a lot, and…and…okay, it’s coming back to me now. She wanted me to relay two things to you.”
The first was not to go into surgery, if no one in the operating room knows how you work. Annette usually avoided hospitals, but if her labor stopped progressing, someone had to help. Long story short: being part-us means that you can’t be anesthetized. While it did not take them long to slice her open, retrieve a baby, and stitch her back up, Annette went under the knife screaming. And she came out crying and traumatized.
That last part caught Franco off guard. He had never seen her cry.
“Look, I can’t fill in the gaps about her past. That’s probably stuff she won’t even tell your dad,” Amy said. “But she said that the last part was really important! For…reasons.” Her eyes darted over to the other side of the living room. “Anyways, you’d probably believe that she hit a nurse.”
It was apparently an impulse response. Annette elbowed a nurse in the jaw, all while Bill looked on in shock. No one was injured beyond a bit of bruising, but Annette remained frazzled after the incident.
Of course, Bill took the time to give his wife some company, and a broad shoulder to cry on. But the second thing that she wanted to tell Franco was that one single person can’t do everything to help you. Her husband was not a professional at anything, let alone with the mind. A therapist might be, though, and Annette wanted to take a stab at addressing her own issues. Whether it was years of pent-up troubles, or ruling out PTSD as a result of her botched c-section, she opened up to letting people do their jobs. Bill’s only one was to keep her company when it got lonely in Room 322.
Franco’s eyes darted to the other side of the living room too. “I’m supposed to be making a connection right now, aren’t I?” he asked Amy.
“Yeah, if I was reading her tone right.”
“It just seems cruel to judge him like that.” Cruel to judge a man who was wildly alternating between drinking and sobbing on the floor? Franco didn’t want to be rude to his own cousin.
“We didn’t put him on leave just for fun,” she said. Shark’s drinking habits caught up with him fast. Franco was a little sad he couldn’t get him as an art teacher, and instead had an average substitute. “Well, your mum has a decent heart. I think she’s trying to guide you however she can.”
Franco sulked, and then handed Julian back to his mother. “So you can just pump milk out? And mum does that too?”
“I’m definitely gonna bring up that awful health curriculum next chance I get, I promise,” said Amy.
After that conversation, Franco didn’t feel too bad about getting a hug from his mother when she returned home on Saturday. Of course, he’d probably be forgotten for Samira in a matter of minutes. That made him feel…weird.
But this chapter is not about Franco’s thirst for attention. He had a whole adulthood to prove that further. It was about learning who was the most dysfunctional in his family.
Christmas Eve was less than a month later, and the family liked making it into a big affair. It was weird. Annette liked the aesthetics of the holiday while laughing at the beliefs behind it. Against all odds, Annette pulled it off with a needy newborn and a slow-healing wound she loved to discuss at the dinner table. Franco still had little idea of what help she got at the hospital, but something helped her stress levels, at least by a bit. It was easy to see that she was never a tough person, but she had a period of being somewhat admirable. Franco almost felt like admitting it to her face, that she was an okay demon-person.
But he decided to live in the moment, at first. Life was good. At least she wasn’t argumentative anymore. Or drinking.
She also seemed to care enough for Samira. However, Bill was more than happy to act as Samira’s sole parent when Annette was cooking. Which she did a lot of, such as making another roast turkey for the household on their lazier Christmas Morning. Her husband was more than content to stand in the corner and press his baby daughter close to his chest and that itchy wool sweater he wore. And Franco started to have a little more fun watching his mum season the bird, while he sipped a hot coffee. His parents didn’t care much about him drinking it once they had to focus on a baby. Maybe Samira was a great choice of theirs after all.
By the afternoon, Franco was having a great, quiet Christmas. He had a new tablet courtesy of mum and dad, a bunch of other opened presents, and the Tomasz Stanko Quartet playing on the stereo system.
And all but one person seemed to have the same.
Shark was drunk on Christmas Eve, and he kept his streak up into the next day. Franco almost felt betrayed; how did he get such an underworking liver? Meanwhile, it was a miracle of biology that Shark was conscious most of the time. He ignored whatever presents were left for him that day, and broke into Annette’s liquor cabinet again. Everything around Shark smelled strongly of isopropyl alcohol. Or cheap vodka, which was almost the same thing.
Franco was saved by a message from Carmen. He could get those sent to his tablet as well. Technology was amazing, but she still had a slight edge over it.
Gimme that dick for Christmas. 😉
Yep, still had that edge.
He walked into the kitchen, keeping a cautious air around him. Annette had another roast in the oven and nothing to do as it cooked and browned. Nothing except for baby talk to a semi-awake Samira.
She walked up to him, with a baby in her arms. “Would you be offended if I saw a friend instead?” Franco asked her.
“And by friend, you mean Carmen, don’t you?” she asked him, raising an eyebrow. “I’ve been paying more attention to your life than you think.”
“Well, do you like her?” he asked.
“Probably more than her mums like you. She seems fine…I’m glad you found where I keep the condoms.” As Franco learned sometime later in November, his mum had a drawer full of them in the kitchen. She even left a note for Franco, in the event that he found them. Better safe than sorry! -Mum ❤
“Yeah, thanks for that. Uh, are you sure you don’t mind if I-”
“Christmas Day is boring. I’m surprised it took you this long to crack.”
Franco gave her a slight smile. “Thanks, mum.”
With two condoms tucked under his sweater-vest, Franco tiptoed past the sleeping giant in the living room. It was difficult to gauge what Shark could sense and what he couldn’t, though. Hell, it was difficult to gauge if he was even asleep or not.
“Where the fuck are you going?” Shark mumbled, slurring his words a bit. He was slumped over the couch.
“I’m just seeing a friend,” Franco said. “I can get you an alka-seltzer or something. You don’t…look well.”
“What, are ya going to screw that Clay girl again?” Shark asked. “How perfect.”
Franco scoffed and continued out the door. It seemed rather inane to refer to her that way. It wasn’t like he didn’t know Carmen’s genetic background. nor did she reject it. She wasn’t calling Sinbad her brother for nothing. But her parents were two old lesbians who loved her, and didn’t ever think of the man who helped them.
He was barely down the sidewalk when Shark chased him down, almost stumbling out the door. While Franco walked, Shark ran as fast as his drunkenness would allow him to. It still surprised Franco when his cousin ambushed him, grabbing him by the shirt collar and lifting him off the ground. He couldn’t move, and was pinned to the stone fence by Shark’s force.
“You…you…you have a lot of nerve rubbing that on my face like that,” Shark snarled.
“What? Rubbing what in your face?!” Franco asked, yelling and squirming in place. It didn’t do anything against that tank.
Shark let go of Franco’s shirt, only to push him against the wall with an open hand. “You know why! I can’t have him, I can’t have his son…why…why do you get somethin’ like that, huh?!”
Franco raised his voice. “You’re drunk! And you’re becoming the same guy you hate.” Less than a year ago, Franco had to sit through the story of how a teenaged Shark was assaulted by his uncle. The only difference that Christmas was that Shark didn’t have a lit cigarette held between his fingers. “I don’t want you to be like th-”
He was cut off by a swift punch to the left eye. It started to bruise immediately, and the blow sent Franco down into the thick snow.
Franco got to his feet and ran, even though Shark was no longer running. He sneaked yet another handle of vodka out in his coat and started chugging it like it was spring water. The situation become dire. That much more alcohol could kill Shark, given how much he had beforehand. In spite of what happened, Franco wanted help for his cousin. He needed to run and find it.
It didn’t take long for him to run over the bridge and up the hill, to a familiar house. Once Franco got up the steps, he pounded on the front door, until just the person he wanted to meet answered.
Alma, Carmen’s other mum and the school principal, looked at Franco with shock. “Franco! Dear, what happened to your face?” She noticed the gruesome red bruise that surrounded his eye.
“It’s an emergency,” he said. “And I think you can answer something for me.”
Alma led him inside, and seated him down near the lit fireplace. Franco sulked in his seat, holding the injured side of his face.
“I think you’re safe here. So what happened over there?” Alma asked. “I’m terrified about what your parents could do-”
“I don’t care, it’s not them! It’s Shark,” he said. “I thought he’d get better.”
Her face sunk into an embarrassed frown. “Oh. Well, we hoped he would too. So he…did that to you?” Franco nodded.
At that moment, Carmen peeked into the living room. “Mum! I…I thought you’d be busy in the kitchen all day,” she said. Her eyes look on, wide with fear.
“Franco has some bigger issues right now, sweetheart,” said Alma. “You can talk to him all you want when we’re done.”
Carmen wandered off upstairs. Alma turned to Franco again. He turned away and pouted.
“Look, can you call an ambulance for him?” Franco asked her. “He should be close to the bridge, and he was drinking a lot. I don’t care what he did…I don’t wanna lose him like this.”
“Just sit yourself right there.” Alma dashed to the kitchen, where she made the call.
Franco lounged around, until Carmen came back to check on him. “Nice commotion you guys had going here,” she said, standing near the coffee table.
“Yeah, how wonderful,” he grumbled.
“Dude, I thought you wanted this,” Carmen said, approaching her boyfriend. Only then did she notice the bruise. “If anyone asks, your cousin did it.”
“You’d be surprised.”
“Not really,” she said. “I’m glad he’s not at the school right now. Apparently he lashed out at some students and liked to inflate the grades of any of my brothers.”
“And why don’t I get this gossip?” Franco asked.
“I dunno, man. Now that I think about it, I wish I took a class with him so he could inflate my grades. It’ll make that bad bio class look a little better.”
“Whatever,” he sighed.
Carmen climbed onto his lap and put an arm around him. “Oh well. You have something a lot better now. I went upstairs to put something nice on under this…nothing.”
“You’re really going all out this Christmas,” Franco said, chuckling.
He was stroking her fluffy red hair when Alma came into the living room again. “I was going to tell Franco that the paramedics are on their way, but it looks like I have to just…face that facts!” Her arms were crossed as she watched those two kids.
“What’s all that about? Mum-One gave me a high-five when I told her about this,” said Carmen. “Don’t you have a whole school to worry about?”
“Keep it safe, it’s all I ask for.” Alma then headed off to check on a dish in the oven.
Carmen looked into Franco’s eyes, including the bruised one. “You know, if things are going to be weird and chaotic at your place, there’s always here.”
“You mean it?” he asked. “I mean…won’t your mums think-”
“Mum-Two is all stern words, but she’ll give in. And the other one won’t care at all. Plus, we always cook more than we can eat. Should work, even for a big boy like you.”
He felt welcome once Carmen gave him a kiss on the cheek, right under his injury. Things would be alright on his face, for sure.
It was strange to see the house looking so blank when he came home the next morning. Most of the lights were out, and one of the babies was crying some rooms away. Franco still hadn’t learned how to differentiate the two by sound alone. He noticed some breakfast leftovers in the dining room, and thought to treat himself to a second breakfast. Those omelettes from Carmen’s family needed some company.
It was like Annette was waiting to pounce. She stood in the archway at the other side of the dining room, and looked close to tearful upon seeing his injury. It was big enough to see from there, wasn’t it?
He tried to look away. “Mum, you don’t need to-”
“Honey…I’m sorry,” she said. “Take a seat, I need to get a better look at this.”
He pulled up a dining chair and sat. Annette knelt on the ground to get a closer look at the liver-red mark. “He’s a big guy so it could be…no, I think it’s just a bad bruise. Is that all he did to you?”
“Lifted me up by the shirt collar too,” Franco said.
“Ya Allah, I…I hate myself for letting him get like this. He’s in decent hands for now, but…it’s a difficult thing to articulate. But it’s my job. You just need to enjoy some of this holiday, at last.”
He still hung his head down. “Mum, what’s going to happen to him?” he asked.
“That’s…that’s up in the air. And not your thing to worry about,” she said. “You’re an amazing kid…young man, now that I think about it. Don’t blame yourself for this. He just has his issues.”