Content Warning for: naked asscheeks. It’s all at the end of the chapter.
She made it to the next level.
Landon must have pulled through for her after all. The higher-ups added the diner to its filming schedule, for an afternoon in September. Her maternity leave started before that, but Annette didn’t have to be left out of production. She waited outside the diner all day, to greet Randall and the crew when they arrived in the early afternoon.
First, there was Randall. Randall Rajput himself was standing less than three feet away from Annette. He was just as gentle-yet-imposing as he looked on screen. She couldn’t help but squeal with excitement in front of him. Even her big fetus gave her an extra-hard kick in the side, as a reaction.
“First time in Terrebonne. What a great place,” he said to her. “Anyways, no need to waste time. I’m pretty sure that our dear Landon over there filled me in on what I need to know, so do you mind if I start filming?”
“Not at all,” said Annette. “Mind if I watch?”
She took a seat at one of the outdoor tables, out of the reach of the single camera. Apparently budget cuts had forced the series to switch to a smaller crew and a one-camera setup. The direction seemed pretty good, though, as Landon asked for Randall to act more impassioned. The show had a few staged elements. Or a lot. Nothing that bothered Annette when she used to binge episodes of it.
They ended up retaking the scene a few times. Annette wasn’t surprised. They’d probably goad the other workers into redoing their work inside the diner to be more disastrous too.
During that, Annette learned why she should have paid attention to the work schedules, maternity leave or not.
Julienne must have had an afternoon and evening shift, as she walked onto the property during the third take. Or she needed to check on matters or the front-of-house. Either way, Annette realized that she was suffering from worse “pregnancy brain” than she thought. Of course Julienne would be on the premises of her own restaurant, whether she liked the random filming or not.
She seemed to mutter something to herself, and took straight to Randall.
“You know, if my business was failing, I wouldn’t need to whore myself out over it!” she yelled, right in his face. Randall gave her a stern look.
“Are you bloody insane?” he asked her, mumbling.
Julienne gave a nasty look in Annette’s direction. “I’m just fending for myself, but I think that she’s pretty insane to pull this stunt.” The camera followed Julienne as her anger burned hotter and hotter. Randall started whispering to his crew about putting the footage in the season’s outtake episode instead. Not that Annette would blame any of them for packing up and scramming at that point.
She leaned back in her seat. “Not like anyone else was budging with this,” she said to her boss.
“You’re one of the head cooks here!” Julienne snapped. “And now you’re gone for less than a month and say it sucks?”
“Your finances suck, that’s what,” Annette said. Julienne froze for a moment, her pale face managing to go even more pale.
“No wonder those papers went missing,” she whispered. “You’re behind all this?” Annette gave her a toothy, shit-eating grin. “I’m…I’m in shock. But this is the sort of shit you would pull against me.”
“Yeah. Because I like thieves and I like murderers, but tax cheats are fucking cowards,” Annette said. “Yes, you are one. I don’t need to hold my tongue-”
Julienne’s face clenched. The camera kept its lens focused on the scene at the table.
She cut Annette off. “You don’t hold your tongue over anything! To anyone! And I’ve spent years putting up with it…but I guess I know my limit now.”
“What are you gonna fire me, or something?” Annette asked.
Julienne crossed her arms. “I guess I have no choice now.”
She walked away from the scene, not even bothering to say good-bye to her idol. He explained to his crew the importance of making sure that all parties consent to being filmed, and Annette had to admit her defeat and leave. The last thing she heard was Landon saying something to Randall and the camerawoman, along the lines of “never thought that two cunts fighting wouldn’t make for episode material.”
No, he wasn’t getting a good-bye either.
Deep down, she wanted to be calm and rational about what just happened. But the promise of going back to work after the new year created a sweet feeling inside of her. It didn’t dash hopes for the other great things she anticipated in her life, but it meant making a whole new plan.
She walked up the path to her front porch, when something pawed at her jeans.
It turned out to be the fluffy paw of Meechum. Maybe he should have been comforting his real owner, who was working on demolishing a six-pack of beer and being miserable when Annette left earlier that day. But who was she to question the furry touch of a beautiful cat?
She picked him up and scratched his fuzzy head. “I guess I can’t mope that much…we both have bigger things to care about.” Annette let Meechum down once she closed the front door, hoping that he would find Shark.
So the day was as sour as the preserved lemons she used to flavor the tagine she was making. She hadn’t found a suitable earthenware pot for it and had to make do with her usual pans. And so what? She would find a Plan B for both the meal and the big picture. And no matter how much the afternoon sucked, her night would be great. Spending it inside, curled up with a book on her tablet and a delicious dinner. Petting Sagebear and Peanut. Not blowing it at the debates.
Poor Bill did not get that last luxury. Instead of witnessing that tragedy on local TV, Annette cooked. And while cooking, she had an unlikely spectator.
Shark used to like watching Annette cook dinner. She never asked him why, but some people liked to know where their food came from. He stopped for reasons that were more clear to her: they didn’t like each other as much. But that afternoon, he kept his eyes on the stove.
“I think I remember you liking this,” Annette said. “From the human culture of Morocco, where my ancestors may or may not have come from.”
“I need a designated driver,” Shark said. His voice was low and grumbling. “I know you’re not gonna drink.”
“I’d rather you not go out drinking either,” she said. “You’ve been going through my beer stash like it’s water ever since the breakup. And it’s not like you were sober this morning.”
“I am now and it sucks. So I’m going to this club whether you want me to or not. Would you like me to die while driving home instead?”
“Fine, whatever, I’ll drive. Which one are we looking at?”
“Red Brick Club, in Pearlbrook.”
Annette groaned. Not that the club was a bad place, but she knew what the Red Brick was. It catered to gay men. Maybe bisexual ones too. “You just want me to wait outside?” she asked him.
“I don’t care what you do,” he said.
Annette checked on her dinner again, when she heard someone else walk into the room. It was Sinbad, who had a question for her.
“Hey, do you mind driving me to The Red Brick Club in Pearlbrook tonight? The lady has a late-night baby shower, and I’m just gonna avoid that to make things less awkward,” he said.
Annette scowled, looking in the direction of her tagine. “This is gonna suck, isn’t it?” she asked herself.
After eating a serving (she wasn’t going to sustain her little parasite on nothing), Annette got on an old corduroy jacket and a denim skirt. She got them years ago, when they were a couple sizes too big on her. It didn’t look that trashy, not even when she was seven months pregnant, but also fit for a bar/club atmosphere. It would be fun to see how long she’d last in a gay club without drinks. She didn’t last too long in a regular bar without them.
The club was disguised as something close to a brick house. It didn’t even have parking on the premises, which was supposed to be a safety measure back when most of its patrons were in the closet. But as times and attitudes changed, The Red Brick Club stayed the same. They still hosted Voguing Nights and drag shows, but they arrived on a normal day for them.
Shark, just as he promised, headed to get a beer. He sat away from the dance floor and stared into his bitter, brown drink. Annette took a seat next to him, without even getting a glass of water or ginger ale.
“I thought that maybe you wanted a community, or hookups,” she said to him.
“I wouldn’t betray him like that again,” he mumbled. Shark then looked up at Annette, for once. “I’m doing fine here. Wish you could have this beer, I’m liking it.”
“I’m good either way,” she said. Annette looked around the club. Its patrons seemed like an interesting bunch.
When looking at the dance floor, Annette watched men of all flavors get their groove on. Most of them had a sense of rhythm, from the average joes to the lone crossdresser. Even Sinbad seemed to have found a friendly dance partner. As long as he wasn’t looking for dates or lying too much about his real romantic situation, it was an improvement. No one got socked in the face by him right then.
She had spun around once when a gruesome reality hit her: there was only one restroom. It was marked for men and only for them. After the drive to Pearlbrook, and with her uterus weighing down on her bladder like an anvil, Annette needed to go. She hadn’t quite mastered peeing in the bushes.
“Screw this sausage-fest. I need to pee,” Annette said, leaving her nephew to drink however much he wanted to. “You think they have some in the underground?” No answer, so she had to find that out for herself.
Annette exited the subway, and she found a grimy underground bathroom while under there. She had an idea while washing her hands as well. Rumor had it that there was a weapons dealer in Pearlbrook, not too far from the Beaufils Square stop. She had held up on that shopping trip for long enough. Annette emerged to a newly-overcast sky, and a crowd of people who wouldn’t suspect a thing.
Across from the square, the lights from a small house shone bright and strong. If Annette was reading the sign correctly, it was a coffee shop. Green tea sounded nice. Maybe a cupcake did too, considering that her recent glucose readings were fantastic. Gestational diabetes could be someone else’s curse. For her, the back and hip pain was enough suffering.
She came in through the door, and it seemed like the shop was doing good business that night. Still, there was a free table inside.
Annette put on her nicest face for the barista behind the counter. “What is your tea selection like?” she asked her.
“Pretty good,” the barista said. “If you want, we can lead you to our outdoor tea table outside. There’s another weird lady out there, but she ordered a pot our Maghrebi Mint-”
“Mashallah! Uh, say no more.” It was Annette’s absolute favorite tea, when done right. Bitter green tea plus cool spearmint always put a smile on her face. It didn’t sicken her like coffee did when she was pregnant, and it packed more punch than mint alone. The excursion to Pearlbrook might have been for the best after all.
When she walked outdoors, it turned out that the “weird lady” was just a familiar face to Annette. Gala from work? Well, most of the people in Twinbrook loved taking trips to its cleaner, pearly neighbor. And from what Gala seemed to imply, she was a city girl at heart.
Annette took one of the plush, colorful seats next to her now-former co-worker. “Of all the people to order Maghrebi mint tea here.”
Gala looked up from her cup of it. “It’s right near the biggest stop in Pearlbrook, and I love it here when I have a day off…maternity leave got boring?”
“Kind of. Shark and company needed a designated driver. I guess this is my last chance to do it.”
“What, are they at the gay club tonight?” Annette nodded. “You know, we have a lot in common. We’re weird, and undying, and have gay roomies that just want a drink with their people. Buddy used to drive me around a lot…when I could drink.”
“Is that a vampire thing?”
“Yup. Can’t metabolize anything. I’m gonna have to throw up this tea in a few hours, but damn, it tastes great.” Gala proceeded to refill her teacup. “Even if they don’t use glass here.”
“They’re trying,” said Annette. She reached for the teapot and the rock sugar. Aside from the ceramic pieces, everything else hit the mark. It smelled like minty heaven.
“I’m shocked we never really talk about this thing we share,” Gala said.
“I don’t think we share an ethnicity,” said Annette. “I just know my tea.”
“Not that! The fact that you’re some sort of immortal demon, and I’m kind of close,” said Gala. Her voice gained an odd seriousness. “I mean, I have it because I was stupid at a party and some leech took advantage of…my neck. But I still get the existential terror, right?”
“So when does it kick in?”
Annette stopped, her face freezing in shock. She almost contemplated escape, eyeing any good exit point. It was hard to look at Gala when she finally said something. “Always.”
“Well, maybe we are different,” said Gala. “I’m fine with drifting around and partying. Or experimenting with my sexuality and stuff. Floating around the earth forever…like, it horrifies basically anyone else I talk to about it. But I’m pretty fine this way.”
“Like I haven’t done the same? There’s so much for me to explore…fuck it, I’m a pansexual demon who doesn’t know how anything about me works. I dunno when or if I’ll stop aging. There’s a whole world of demons and devils I don’t even know about. I have a bucket list that’ll last for a while, but I’m still grasping for shit like meaning and it’s killing me!”
“I guess that explains wanting to own the diner,” said Gala, leaning back into the back cushion. “Goals are nice. I kind of envy people with them.”
“Can’t do that now,” Annette grumbled.
“I guess maternity leave is a killer, ain’t it?”
“I tried to get the place on Culinary Calamities as part of some crazy scheme. Serves me right, I guess.”
“I know you pulled the fire alarm a couple months ago-”
“For that,” Annette said, interrupting her.
“Uh…I’m just a young city girl, so take this with a grain of salt,” Gala said. “If you have plenty of time to live, you have plenty of time to decide how to live, or to keep changing your mind.”
Annette slumped her right arm over the chair, with the other pressed against her belly. “Well, when you put it that way…I’ll take it as a pretty nice conclusion.”
“Wanna finish up that tea?”
Gala was the last person to judge Annette for her criminal side-jobs. So when she said, in the open, that she needed to buy two compact handguns, Gala just offered to walk her to the vendor. As much as Pearlbrook boasted about its safe streets, it was better to go with someone.
They held hands and spoke about whatever they could fit into a half-mile walk. Gala got the spiel about how demons couldn’t take painkillers or be anesthetized. Annette learned that vampirism stopped the menstrual cycle in women and rendered her friend infertile. Of course, Gala was still happy for her.
Annette decided that the rest of the journey was best spent alone. The gun vendor, a grizzled old woman named Artemis, operated in the basement of an antique shop. She believed in the right to bear arms and, true to her name, hunted. Annette believed in her right to defend herself against violent white supremacists.
She hid them under her corduroy jacket during the train ride back to The Red Brick Club.
They were best left out of the club. Annette would have to explain them to the two housemates who were with her. Well, maybe just to Shark. She left him in the dark about where their smuggled rifles led the family to. His father was dead because of them, and Annette could be next. She needed a discreet option for carrying when she was paranoid that his gang was behind her. Perhaps, she also needed to tell her nephew something.
As she predicted, Shark leaned over with his elbows on the bar counter, and a few beers next to him. That was becoming a horrible, regular thing. Maybe there were other things to do, as a pansexual demon-woman in a club for gay men.
Gala was right about her roommate being there. Annette knew Buddy in passing, and he seemed to be having a great time on the dance floor. Sinbad was chatting it up with a man in an unbuttoned shirt, near the pool table.
It seemed too happy. Talking to Shark it was.
She sneaked up behind him as he was swilling another beer. “Hey, I know you’re busy, but I’m back. Maybe it’s time to stop?”
He paused and looked back at her. “Whatever.” Shark finished up the other half of the bottle, with some of the fizzy liquid dripping down his chest and red henley shirt.
Annette gave him an angry sigh. “You know, I’ve had a lot on my plate before this, but I think I’m ready to face the big issue now.” He still was on that beer.
“You know? Tonight’s a fun night. I feel like I’m more open to you than ever,” Annette said. “I guess I gotta come clean about something.”
With a just a little left in his glass bottle, Shark shrugged. “Do it.”
“Do it? Do you know the sort of baggage I carry? I could tell you that there’s a white supremacist gang who killed your dad and is after my half-brown ass next, and that’s all true. Are ya gonna be apathetic to that?”
“Can’t change that, can we?”
Annette crossed her arms. “You really don’t care anymore. Call me when you’re out of that phase of the midlife crisis. I give it another month at most.”
She would have stayed at the bar and gotten some sparkling water, had some patron not have yelled over the entire floor. Someone’s fighting the guy in assless chaps!
If nothing else, it was a sight she didn’t see every day,
Annette walked up to the scene, rather horrified. It seemed that Sinbad couldn’t keep a friendly facade up for long. With a tight fist, he socked a young man in the face. His victim wore a fishnet shirt, boots, and the aforementioned assless chaps. Somehow, the rest of the club regarded it as normal behavior.
In an instant, the young man was on all fours and seemed a little out of it. Sinbad regarded it as some sort of victory, crossing his arms and giving Annette a confident smirk. “That’ll tell them to not be a total dickass about me dating a woman.”
“Dude, wrong place to mention that stuff,” Annette said. She looked down at the other man, who seemed to cough up some blood. “You doing okay there?”
He turned around, looking like he was ready to pounce on Annette and attack her, in some sort of misguided revenge. “Alright, you wanna be next?”
She should have recognized his bleach-blond hair immediately. It looked like Landon had some extra time to kill in Terrebonne, without an episode to film. Annette was used to him looking far more professional, however, and not going out in public with bare buttcheeks. He had his teeth bared as well, and seemed to be growling.
Annette knelt down, to get on his level. “I don’t,” she said.
“Fucking Twinbrookers, I swear.”
All three of them stood up, only to face an angry bartender. He directed the message to all of them. “I can’t believe there’s a such thing as too drunk and too rowdy, but get yourselves out of here. That includes the one in the henley.”
She let Shark and Sinbad take a leak before leaving for the ride home, but Annette nodded and left the club as soon as she was told to. She knelt down outside, looking at her two guns. “Do well by me,” she said to them. “Whenever you need to.”
Landon followed her out the door, looking like a smug bastard. “Worshipping some guns? You are a bloody American after all.”
A/N: If you found prolonged shots of Landon’s scrawny ass to be uncomfortable, then I did my job.
Nessa and I discussed me doing that to the poor guy for a long time. I forget if she approved of it as being strangely in-character or just too ridiculous to not do.
Welcome to Pearlbrook! As mentioned in a previous post, the custom world of Blue Bayou is standing in for it. This chapter would be so much different without it, so thanks to the creator. 🙂
Pansexual Annette is canon, has been to me for a while, and you just haven’t seen much of it yet because she’s pretty happy being married to Bill right now.
Because Culinary Calamities is kind of an obvious parody of Kitchen Nightmares, I guess I should say one thing: the US version of the show has to be mostly faked. I still love it, but I can poke fun at reality TV when I want to.
The chapter title is meant to be a little ironic. While Mashallah is often used as an expression of thanks or general happiness, the point is that Annette lost her job. But she did get tea.