1.34: The Gallery, Part One

Annette expected to spend her life getting a lot of Waverlys out of jail. But Franco wasn’t a part of her plans, on either side. But it was life’s job to throw those twists at her, wasn’t it?

He hugged her once they got outside. With the sun starting to set, it was a perfect time for a victory walk home. Her son survived a few hours in jail, but how well? Annette felt Franco squeeze extra-hard and hold on, which he never did.

“That bad, huh?” she asked him. He nodded weakly. “I’m sorry they felt like they had to do that to you.”

It was soon after the incident at the shops. Someone had to have shot Gavin, and one traitor of an eyewitness said it was Franco, without any other context. But it was hard to deny what really went on, when the cops asked other eyewitnesses. Franco acted in self-defense, and keeping an innocent teenager in jail for any longer was cruel and unusual.

Officer Goode scowled in their direction. Annette would have lived fine without ever seeing his rotten mug again.

“Suck it, Goodwin,” she said. “You don’t get to put him in juvie.”

“Yeah, what a damn shame,” he muttered.

She then thought about what happened at the shops again. Although she wasn’t there to watch it, the paramedics had more than enough gruesome detail about what they found. A shaking, weeping Franco. A dead Gavin, a dead Peanut, and a dying Bill. Samira lying on the cold ground as if nothing happened. If Gavin was indeed one of Armstrong’s mooks, then it baffled her as why he still had mooks at all. Wouldn’t someone be able to nab them? They scooped up Gavin’s body and all his gang IDs. He still had his iron cross necklace under his shirt, and a branded tattoo on his rear.

It wasn’t subtle, damnit.

“Officer, do you mind if we talk about something?” she asked him. “You can walk home, Franco.” He scampered off, leaving Annette with her least-favorite cop.

“Since the break room’s empty.” He led her to that room. It smelled of burnt coffee and they would be the only souls in there. As much as Annette did not want to speak to an armed Goodwin alone, she felt like there was no other choice.

She took a seat at the table and slumped an arm over it. “So tell me this. We’ve had a few instances of people from the Saint Peter’s gang slaughtering civilians here. They’re all easy to find, so why is nothing being done?”

“How long have you been in your field for, Mrs. Racket? Did you simply marry into it?” he asked. The question was loaded and venomous.

“None of your business.”

He continued the conversation as he walked towards the coffee maker. “But it doesn’t matter, because you fail at that too.” Annette couldn’t even dignify that with rolling her eyes. “And your awful family didn’t tell you any of their secrets.”

“Yeah, no shit they didn’t. I married the misfit, and my father-in-law just wanted to force himself into my pants.”

“Maybe you would learn to keep yourself out of where you shouldn’t be if you just…did better.”

“Well, we’re here in your break room,” said Annette, as she slouched in her seat. She noticed a cup of coffee near her, and pushed it aside. “So, what am I missing?”

“Sometimes, a criminal can do my job for me. And I’m fine with letting them,” said Goodwin. “If my best bet is a group of Nazi scum dickbags from Saint Peter, then I’ll take it. They can devour the rest of the scum, and I leave them be.”

“Giving pardons to one gang for killing the others? Yeah, that worked for John Connolly too,” said Annette. She paused for just a beat. “Oh wait, it didn’t. He spent the rest of his days rotting in prison.”

“Beantown matters a little to the world. We don’t. But we’ll stop protecting them once they outlive their usefulness.” Goodwin looked away, with a devious smirk. “Same thing happened to the Rackets.”

“Yeah, good to know,” said Annette. “Wait, is that why Dudley never turned in his family?”

“Now that was a smart guy. Letting the family he hated do his job too,” said Goodwin. “But you guys are well past your prime. You just…will not die. Try as we might.”

In the face of what Bill was suffering through, that was a horrible thing to think about. Just the day before, she found herself hypnotized by IV antibiotics dripping down into his arm. It wasn’t full sepsis, but the bullet tore a hole in his stomach and left the site ripe for infection. He lay there listless and didn’t notice Annette stroking his hand. She wanted Goodwin to be right, for once. But Bill would pass on one day, through one cause or another. And it left very few Rackets in the world.

She got up from her seat, and crossed her arms. “Well, I literally can’t die, so good luck with that,” she said.

Goodwin got the gun out of its holster, though he held it with the muzzle towards the floor. “I’ll be the judge of that…should it come to that. Or maybe the lovely Meredith Green will do the job instead. She did a great one with Dennis.”

She started to walk out of the room when Goodwin decided that he wasn’t finished yet. “Oh, and wearing that top with a c-section scar? Not even my wife would do that.”

Well that was the worst part of it. Annette held a bit of pride for that little line across her tummy. It reminded her of Samira, and if she wanted to wear low-cut jeans and a cropped sweater to show it off? It had already started to fade to a light shade of blue anyways.

What a bad afternoon. And she had plenty of time to remember that while at the DMV.

It was two months after the incident, but it still bothered Annette to think that she was a target. And the mind could to horrible places while waiting for an hour and a half. There could be other things to ponder, such as how much bureaucracy sucked. Bureaucracy meant that getting a name change, for reasons other than marriage, meant going to the state capital. Annette was still Mrs. Racket, but Sinbad sat next to her, and he was done being Mr. Rotter.

Maybe she got through to him about reconciling with his past. But he said that it was pathetic to have the surname of a mediocre foster family. He stayed with them for only a couple months. Reverting back to being Sinbad Takasugi meant that he could honor some of his ethnic heritage and his maternal grandpa, if nothing else. He decided to apply the same to little Julian too. Which might have been the real reason they were in Falls Harbor. Changing children’s names was a different can of worms.

Once that was done, it was getting to be a little late in the afternoon. Annette didn’t want to waste a trip to Falls Harbor and the surrounding area, however. It didn’t matter if Sinbad was making grouchy faces. It couldn’t be at her. Annette would make the same faces too if she had to wait ten business days for a new ID.

He’d get over it.

“Here’s to the new Mister Takasugi,” Annette said, in a cheerful tone. They stood in the golden afternoon glow. It was that long of a wait. “And I know just how to celebrate that.”

“Going home?” Sinbad asked. Both of the women chuckled a bit. “I’m serious. It’s raining. I’m tired, I feel kind of shitty about making Franco babysit again, Amy has work in the morning-”

Amy turned towards her fiance, and then walked up behind him to lean on his shoulder. “Come on, she’s offering something nice to us. I’ll be fine tomorrow.” His frown melted a bit with her up against him.

“That’s the spirit,” said Annette. “Let’s go fire some guns!”

She drove them to an outdoors shooting gallery. It was outside the city proper, and tucked inside a dank swamp. A man named Ruben ran the business, and Annette crafted a good story for him about the need for self-defense. He might have loved his guns, but Ruben (most likely) wouldn’t enable criminals if he could help it.

Annette held the handgun, and offered it to Amy. In a move that Annette wouldn’t have expected even two years before, she shook with excitement when Annette offered the weapon. Sinbad scowled in their general direction. How the roles had changed.

The lack of context didn’t stop Amy. She haphazardly started firing away at a target. “My god, this is a blast!” she yelled. “Pun intended!”

“Shoot ‘em dead, Amy!” Annette cheered. It was the least she could do as Amy’s mentor in that strange, criminal world. But she had a lot of hope for the woman. Annette had been searching for her “new Shark” even before Shark passed on. Amy, for being a bit of an airhead, operated with envious stability. No depression, little trauma. She fired her new weapon with the utmost enthusiasm.

Sinbad rubbed his neck and watched on with disinterest. “This will be quick, right?”

“Are you hungry or something? We can try. I know there’s this vegan place in the city I want to try,” said Annette.

“Maybe not that.”

“You never wondered what seitan and waffles tastes like? It’s like chicken and waffles, but-”

He grit his teeth for a moment, before spreading his arms and trying to reason with Annette. “Look, we’re busy. I want to get home, and I bet Amy does too.”

“Come on. You know that Franco’s running a tight ship at home.” Annette had a confident hand on her hip. “What’s the rush?”

“It’s you,” he mumbled.

“What sort of an excuse is that?”

He grunted and turned away from her. “You can’t face your problems right now, and this isn’t helping…it’s doing the opposite! You’re…you’re just as bad as-”

“I’m fine. Just spit it-”

You’re just as bad as Shark!

His outburst was punctuated by another gunshot. Judging by Amy’s cheering, she fired it into a good place on the target.

Amy turned around and looked towards her fiance. “So, you want to take a crack at it?”

“Yeah, let’s see if I remember anything from drug deals gone bad,” he said, grumbling.

The goal was to hit close to the target, and not to the mannequins. Sinbad fired three rapid shots, all into the center of the bullseye.

Annette seemed unfazed by what he told her. She crossed her arms and put on a friendly smirk. “So he’s grumpy, but what about you, Amy dear?” she asked her friend. “The menu at that new vegan place looks pretty damn good!”

Amy shuffled around awkwardly. “Yeah, I bet it does,” she said.

“Oh god, don’t tell me you agree with him.”

There was a pained look on Amy’s face as she talked about it. “He’s…kind of right. At least you’re not wallowing in your misery, but is…uh…the opposite better?”

“So you’d rather I be chugging whiskey and stroking myself to memories of my husband?” Annette asked.

“I’d rather…other things, ya know?”

Annette pouted at both of them. “I’ll just take a cab home later.” She threw the keys to her van on the ground.

The vegan place was called Flaxbrook, and Annette had fond memories of their collard greens, lentil loaf, and mac and “cheese.” It was a good dinner. She felt so bad about enjoying her meal, though. Someone else was being subjected to the horrors of what a nursing home called food.

No, she shouldn’t call it a nursing home. Long-term care. Rehab. They filled a number of niches. It was supposed to be the last one for Bill, so he could come home one day. But he complained to Annette about it at first. Everyone there was around his age, but just so…different. They had grandchildren and simple lives, and were there for taking a fall or having a stroke. He took a bullet for his young children, and it just happened to disable him.

It pained her, but there wasn’t much of a choice. Good Earth Residential Care offered excellent services for rehabilitation after injuries.

Annette found her husband close by, in the corner of a common room. It gave him plenty of space to be alone with Samira. He was just full of complaints. Another one of them was not seeing his children that often. Their pictures on his nightstand didn’t suffice. Franco had his own life, but Samira hadn’t really grown far beyond being a little worm. Other residents could have their kids hang around all day, but adult children tended not to cry and shit themselves.

In fact, the staff didn’t believe Bill at first. It took them a while to stop referring to Annette as his strange, demonic daughter. Her asking if it was okay to have sex while in their care? They thought that he had a wife his age, and a daughter with some strange concerns. It took a CNA spotting them sharing a long kiss good-bye to convince them otherwise. And they shot-down Annette’s requests for anything more than cuddling. It took them even longer to wrap their heads around Samira being Bill’s own child. But they gave in, and if he wanted his baby there for the day, so be it. There was always someone to watch over her while he was in physical therapy.

Annette always loved seeing the adorable, giggling smile of her baby. And she missed it all day. Held up just a little above Bill’s lap, Samira laughed a bit and tried to grab at her dad’s face with those chubby hands.

If it wasn’t for Bill looking down, with a weak and empty smile, then it would have been the perfect scene for Annette.

She bent down to give her husband a hug around the shoulders. Those were intact. Everything above the T10 vertebra was just fine. His entire lower half felt weak and difficult to control, though, whenever he could feel it. Walking unassisted was a lofty, impossible kind of dream. His therapist said that with hard work, he could use a cane around the house!

But it wasn’t like Annette minded. As much as she had to uproot her life, it was for her husband. Who was still the kindest, most handsome man she knew.

“See, I knew it was a good idea to abandon my daughter for the day,” Annette said. “She never smiles like that for me, do you?” She squinted a bit as she smiled back at her child.

Bill remained silent and forlorn.

“Bad day for pain?” She asked. The remnants of his injury and the nerve damage did one of two things. They numbed his legs, and made his back hurt more than anything he had ever felt. Everyone was hesitant to put Bill on oxycodone or morphine.

“I tried my best today,” he said. “You know, the nurses here love this little jellybean now. Everyone’s jealous of whoever gets to watch her while they try and get me to walk.”

“I can see why, yes I can, my little grapenut.” Annette started to coo at her baby again. She gave Samira a little tickle on the tummy. “I’ll see if I need to feed this girl, and then maybe we can go back to your room. We can…watch a movie until they kick us out. That’s…doable.”

All the staff could tell Annette was to be careful with him, which she could do. Bill started to fall asleep as Annette held him close. He leaned his head back into Annette’s shoulder and snored a bit. With Samira napping as well, Annette had a rare moment to herself. Or she would, if she didn’t want Bill to stay awake. He was much more fun when awake, like with the way he spoke. She missed not hearing his voice all the time. It was deep by nature, and rough with years of smoking.

Over twenty years together with him, and she still melted at its sound. Even as he spent his days sedentary and paralyzed. And right then, sleeping. To wake him up, she squeezed his hand and spoke to him.

“I know this is all troubling,” she said. “But no matter what happens, I’m going to get you everything you need. Everything you want.”

“But what if I want to die?” Bill asked. His voice still sounded exhausted.

“A lot of people would rather you didn’t.” He didn’t respond to that. “You’ve had a long life already, but there’s so much to squeeze out of it. And even if there wasn’t…well…wouldn’t you want Samira to remember you? You’re an excellent father to her. It’d be nice if she could remember it herself.”

He looked down at his baby, fast asleep in her carrier. He looked right into her round, purple cheeks. “Sure.”

He completely fell asleep during Act 2. After pulling the covers over Bill, Annette picked up Samira before she started fussing. It was past bedtime for most residents, and a few of them already complained about Samira waking them up. She tended to stay quiet when close to the physical warmth of her parents, though. Annette let Samira grab at locks of her overgrown, curly hair. There was something better outside of that window. There had to be, as the rain from earlier had let up. The stars shone in a new, cloudless sky.

The skyline was beautiful, but it seemed like every time she was in that city, it was to worry about her husband.

Once the long cab ride home was over, Annette put Samira to bed and got to work doing everything else she needed to do. As she picked up the laundry upstairs, she made a note of all the stairs in the house. There were only four of them to the front door, but getting a wheelchair up them? Good luck. Not to mention that her bedroom was upstairs. A set of stairs led up there, but that was it. Sure, there was a guest bedroom downstairs that she could set up. However, Annette wasn’t going to live without Bill’s warm touch as she slept if she could help it.

Their medical bills were eating a hole into Annette’s savings like she never dreamed of. She had to go off her plan for Bill’s rehabilitation. And after that, she couldn’t pay to gut her house to be handicap-accessible. Even if it was a good idea. Living forever had to mean befriending at least a few disabled people.

Once she got to the top of the stairs, Annette found a pair of helping hands. Two pairs of hands that were taller than her, and made of fired white clay.

They meant something to her, and she hated to think about giving them up. But maybe she could play her cards right, and become a millionaire all over again.

7 thoughts on “1.34: The Gallery, Part One

  1. I love Samira’s smile. What a tough life Bill has had. I’m starting to see what a great couple they are–how many others could put up with him, adore him, respect him, and be completely respected and adored in return? A while back you commented about the love-between-equals that they share, and I can really see that in this chapter.

    Like

    • I loved making the pose for Bill and Samira in that picture. It was just so…weird making her laugh and be happy in the face of everything else. Which might sum up her future character in some ways too, now that I think about it.

      Aren’t they just a great couple?

      Liked by 1 person

      • They are a really great couple. I wasn’t sold on them, at first. But now, I see that they see the other person completely, without illusion, and still love. For me, the turning point in my appreciation of their relationship came during the campaign trip.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I think I did set out to write them as kind of a shallow couple, but the idea of turning them around into what they are now came gradually.

        I was about to cite Chapter 10 as my true turning point, but all they got there was “we shouldn’t fight because we’re in danger when apart”. I think you’re right with the campaigning being their real turning point as a couple. Though I’d cite Chapter 25 as when it became clear that both Annette and Bill want to give all of their love to the other one, and improve themselves for each others’ sake.

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      • It’s been a rewarding and rich experience to read this when I did–after you’d had so much written. It’s like coming upon a novel. From my experience as a reader, the development of plot and character feels like it has an organic integrity, as if it were planned from the start. But I know from my own writing experience that it can all develop organically from a seed, too. You had a strong and viable seed there, for look how much is coming from it! And now that I’m nearly caught up, I’m looking forward to watching it all grow while you write it!

        Liked by 1 person

      • It’s hard to say how much of my initial planning is going to make it to the end. But I’m glad it comes across nicely while binge-reading!

        Can’t wait until you’re hiatus hell with the rest of them, though. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

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