Content Warning for: talk of sexual assault/rape
Franco understood what needed to happen for his dad. He was old enough to know what rehab was, and that not every town has a good facility for it. So he accepted being left alone at home, or having Sinbad attempt to cook dinner. Annette wasn’t going to do it while stuck in a city a couple hours away, making sure that her husband wasn’t getting lonely.
But damn, was Franco glad when Bill came home. Life could start to resemble normalcy, even with the house restructured to be handicap accessible. A physical therapist visiting four times a week didn’t disrupt anything for Franco either. They tended to visit while he was at school. No matter what, at least his parents would be home. Maybe they would care for their baby too.
There was one night they did, which left Franco free to do what he wanted. As a teenager, the world wasn’t wide open for him, but there were possibilities. Movies, watching the local jazz band, having sex with Carmen. Or perhaps, he could enjoy the quiet and solitude of the town’s art museum. Rumor had it that they acquired some new sculptures for their exhibit on the third floor.
He entered to a different sight. They roped off one of the galleries, and a security guard stood by the entrance arch. It caught Franco off guard, and he took a step back.
He then collected himself, and approached the bouncer. “Is this a private showing?” he asked.
“Dude, just take a peek inside and tell me,” said the bouncer.
So he did. It looked to be a lot of well-dressed people from out of town. However, Franco did recognize the Whelohffs, at least from the back. They lived on the same street Franco’s family did, which meant that they had the money to pay to get into a private event. Franco would, if his parents didn’t forget his allowance. They had much more on his plate, but it meant that he couldn’t give a bribe to get in.
“I mean, the other floors are still free to get in, right?” And the bouncer nodded.
Franco appreciated sculpting more than he liked doing it himself. There was a world of fantastic sculptures out there without his mediocre offerings.
It also meant that Franco had a much easier-impressed eye for the craft. For all he knew, the trio of statues that made up Robert Dufresne’s Serve Me was considered mediocre by the rest of the world. But the detail he put into the figures’ noses and lips marveled Franco. Not to mention how he chiseled away marble to make all those clothing folds. If there was one thing Franco knew about, it was how clothing moved and folded.
He should have been at home, working on that dress that one of his neighbors wanted him to alter. But later.
Franco turned around to get a feel for the room. Half of it was empty pedestals. No wonder they didn’t charge admission for that part of the museum. But there were some interesting pieces on the other side of the room.
And against Franco’s expectations, one other person.
She was lanky and wearing a teal frock. With one arm akimbo, she looked closely at a statue of a leaping greyhound. Cast metal on a granite base, if Franco knew his materials.
He didn’t notice her from behind, until he got closer up. Maybe it was time to get a new prescription for his eyeglasses. Franco took a step back, with his mouth agape. Hannah! Yet again, looking as gorgeous as ever. Even if they got back together on the wrong foot, there was just no denying that. Her lean legs looked amazing in a pair of tall, beige heels. She was a little taller than Franco in them.
“Uh, hey!” He said, feeling shaky and nervous. “People don’t go up here that often.”
Hannah turned around and started to cheer. “Franco! Oh my god…I mean, I wasn’t really expecting anyone up here either.”
“You just never struck me as that type of person. Like, someone for the visual arts.”
“My mum’s here for some socialite or rich person event. I’d rather not listen to the keynote speaker this time,” she said. Franco didn’t feel or show any sort of disgust at her, but Hannah started begging at him.
She put her hands together. “Look, I didn’t mean anything from last time! It was just a knee-jerk reaction. I know I’m not the best-”
Franco cut her off. “Don’t worry about it any more. I want to be your friend again, and maybe you’ll understand more about things that have happened.”
“Something else?” she asked.
“It’s my dad. He’s home now, but things were iffy for a while.” It felt jarring to bring up gun fights and pulling the trigger on a worse criminal to her. “He…took a bad fall. And you know how old he is.”
“I thought he was shot?”
“Well, Lolly took me to visit him when he was still in the hospital. You didn’t forget that I kind of get to be family half the time now, right?” She chuckled a bit. Her laugh was still girlish and high-pitched.
He rubbed the back of his neck, and his face went as further pink as it could go. “Yeah, I guess I did. But you’re the only person I’ll admit it to, okay?”
“Anyways, you mind helping me with one thing?” she asked Franco.
They walked over to another pair of sculptures. Independent Hands (Or Maybe Not), by none other than the great Harwood Clay himself. Annette ended up selling the pieces that once greeted people at the top of the household stairs. They had the potential to travel all over the world, but Twinbrook ended up leasing them for a bit. As long as Annette got the huge and baffling paycheck for them, they could go anywhere.
Hannah leaned over, trying to look inquisitive. “So, you might have some context about the guy that I don’t. And I need to analyze something local for an extra credit assignment.”
“You do realize that I barely remember him, right?” Franco asked. “And most of what I remember was him snogging my cousin…huh.”
“You’re on to something?”
He looked over at her. “Don’t take my word as the final one, but if one statue is a set of hands belonging to one person, then he didn’t want independence at all if he made two. If Shark was right, then he seemed to spend a lot of time looking for that.”
“Not like you can ask him now?”
Franco hung his head down. “Wouldn’t that make it easier?”
“Don’t worry, I’ll write something. Probably can get more out of that than whatever B.V.M. is about.” She referred to the large statue in back of them, which was of the Virgin Mary with a covered face. Franco never liked confronting those kinds of artworks. A lot of them were done out of sincere belief, and a demon hybrid disproved a lot of them by existing.
They both turned around, as soon as they heard a pair of tall heels click-clacking up the stairs. It turned out to be Hannah’s mother. She seemed to have mellowed out in terms of her image. She stopped adding pink streaks to her hair, and settled on a more subtle shade of blonde. Her roots didn’t betray her as much either. Screaming hot pink miniskirts were traded out for a classy black cocktail dress and matching pumps.
Without any context about her, Franco would say that she looked fantastic for a woman her age. But the inside was ugly with sin, so no confused feelings about Hannah’s mother for him.
“Come on, Hannah. I don’t like pretending to like art any more than you do,” she said. Ms. Carlton looked stern with a hand on her hip.
Franco had no idea what it could be like for Hannah if she got home right then. He approached her mother with some caution, but also with an idea.
“Actually, I was thinking of taking her out to dinner,” Franco said. He gave her a stern Racket frown. While he didn’t have much cash on him, the bistro downtown took credit just fine. “So you can go home.”
“Wonderful idea! I’m tagging along and paying for dessert,” said Ms. Carlton. “I know a big boy like you loves dessert.”
“Sure?” Franco wasn’t going to deny anything about his weight, but most of it was because of his mum’s savory dishes. If only she knew how much cashew chicken and rice he could eat in one sitting. But then again, he could get a slice of cheesecake there. Annette almost never made that.
They got a good seat outside, due to the good weather of the day. Judging by that dinner, Franco could only imagine how awkward dinner at the Carlton house could be. Hannah had to have had a good time each night with Lolly and Justin. Lolly cooked well enough to rival Annette in certain areas (she could smoke a rack of ribs like no one else). And there was no way that anyone in the old Racket house was as cold and uninteresting as Sofia Carlton. She tended to glare at her daughter without saying much.
Franco tried to look away awkwardly, or glance at the menu for entrees. Fettuccine with pesto sauce? It had been a while since Annette made that as well. Her basil bushes died over the winter, which caught her off-guard. All of her pasta started to taste off without their help.
“So, if I remember right, you’re Bill’s son,” Sofia said to him.
“I thought it was kind of obvious,” he said.
“I just wanted to be sure. I find it funny, really.”
“People point out their age difference to me all the time. I get it by now.”
“There is that. But I knew him pretty closely.”
“I’m aware that my dad had relationships before he met my mum. Her too.”
“Not in that way. He dated my mother back in the day. I was about 9 or 10 when they met,” said Sofia. “I guess they both sugarcoat a lot for you.”
“Not really,” he said. “I don’t approve of all they do, but nothing’s a secret for me now.”
“The story of how he killed a woman?” Franco shook his head no. “What better of a time to tell that, then!”
It was a tale from a bygone era. All the Rackets were younger, if they existed at all. Shark and Lolly weren’t even considerations in their parents’ minds. Bill himself was a strapping younger man, with a smooth face and a lean belly. He had no trouble with getting women either, and one to fall for his charms was Pixie Carlton.
For someone about a decade older than Bill, Pixie was a lovely woman, and had most of the things Bill wanted. A willowy build, stunning blue eyes, and millions stored away in trust funds. She said that a lot of them went towards her young daughter, but Bill could change that. He spent nights making out with Pixie on the sofa in an attempt at that, with little Sofia looking on in disgust.
At first, Bill seemed like a decent guy to Sofia. He made her mum happy, and sometimes he’d take her to the shops once he got out of work. It beat what her biological father did, which was nothing. All he did was care about looking like a good part of the esteemed Pradchaphet family. Sofia didn’t even know if they did investment banking or technology until she was a teenager (it was the former). But Bill did something with her whenever Pixie brought her around.
That relationship went downhill fast, though. Bill was putting his part in, except for watching what his parents did. The rumors were true, and it turned out that Max and Marigold Racket found worse things to do together than deal weapons and run strip clubs. Pixie ran out of their bedroom crying one night.
At the time, Sofia couldn’t put it together with the end of that relationship. It wasn’t a breakup, but Bill holding a gun to Pixie’s face was close enough. They dragged her out of bed, not even giving her time to change out of her champagne-pink slip, and tied her up. Tears streamed down Pixie’s face as she begged Bill not to do it.
Sofia watched from behind the open door. Sure, she noticed Bill’s hands shaking as he prepared to fire the weapon. But he did anyways, while his dad watched on with fatherly pride.
“You might love your parents, Franco, but just remember the things they do,” Sofia said.
“I do, I do,” he muttered.
“Your dad robbed me of a mother. That’s why I try so hard with Hannah.” For the first time ever in Franco’s company, Sofia smiled at her daughter. “She…deserves me.”
Hannah was sulking throughout the whole conversation. Her dress slipped a bit, and showed a bruise close to her shoulder.
Dinner was silent. Franco didn’t want to say anything more to the loathsome older woman next to him, and he feared what speaking to Hannah would bring. Still, Sofia offered to drive him home. It wasn’t like he had cash to pay for a cab with.
Franco got back home to find his parents in the living room. Bill fell asleep, and sat slumped over in his wheelchair. Annette was likely still awake, but she had her eyes closed as she held a sleepy Samira against her chest and shoulders. They both wore pajama pants, which used to be an unusual sight when they were left with a house to themselves.
“Guys?” Franco asked. It startled his dad awake, and Annette opened her eyes at it too.
“Sorry kiddo,” Annette said. “It was a long day for both of us. Did you have fun?” Franco nodded.
“So you’re all alone here?” Franco asked them. Bill turned his neck a bit. He was in too tight of a space to turn his wheelchair around.
“Yep, considering that Sinbad and Amy are out tonight, being those assholes who bring fussy babies to the movies. But as long as it’s not with us…” Bill started to trail off, as if he was falling asleep again.
“Dad, before you go to sleep, I…Hannah’s mum told me something tonight.”
He woke up, and started to scowl. “Christ, that story.”
“But…I want to think you were in the right there,” Franco said. “I’m…open to the possibility you were, okay?”
“Franco, honey, was it the story about your dad shooting Sofia’s mum?” Annette asked. Franco weakly nodded in response. “Yeah, he’s not the bad guy there. You mind?”
Sofia was not wrong about the chain of events. She even got Bill pulling the trigger right. But all she saw was that scene. A gun in Bill’s hand, and his father smiling down with approval.
The night before, Bill wasn’t thinking much about either person. If Pixie went to the authorities with what happened to her, so what? It would mean that his dad would be out of the picture, or at least scared by what he did. And it would be nice to see that old man suffer for once. Until then, he found some users to troll over AIM before dinnertime.
Because there was no door to that little study, anyone could walk in. Bill hasted to turn the screen off before someone saw what he said in instant messages.
It was Max. He leaned onto the wall and smirked at his son. “So, fuckhead, your girlfriend wants to take me to the police. You know what we have to do now.”
Bill rolled his eyes. “It’s not like I tied her down and raped her.”
“Excuse me? We’re a family here, and you always have to look out for your leaders.”
He got up from his seat and got firm with Max. Bill shoved his hand close to his dad’s face. “I don’t have to look out for you! And I already do a lot of that. Keeping me in politics to cover your ass. I’m fine with that, but I don’t need to bend over to everything you ask me for.”
“Well, maybe the reason you have to bend over to us is because you’re useless on your own.” Max grit his teeth. “You mooch off all my hard work, and you won’t even kill one single person for me. Why do we even keep you around?”
“Like I need you guys anyways,” Bill grumbled.
“That’s enough!” Max pushed his son down on his knees.
He pointed in Bill’s face. “You need me, and I guess you’re just the dumbass I always knew you were. I’ve been telling you for years that you’re a waste. You’re useless on your own. And even here, you haven’t done a damn thing for us, and now you finally will.”
Bill looked up into his dad’s stern hazel eyes. The terror almost overcame him right there. But he couldn’t let the old man win again. He furrowed his brow and tried to get up from his submissive stance.
“Well, I can still be that useless dumbass. I’m not gonna do it.”
THWACK. It hit Bill straight in his right eye. He was lying on the ground.
Max took a tough stance, towering above Bill. “It’s been way too long since you’ve had one of those,” he said. “Fine. If you won’t listen right now, I have another deal to make.”
In a bit of pain from the impact, Bill frowned and looked up at his father again. He didn’t want to listen to another word the man had to say, but one black eye ruined his youthful good looks enough.
“Sure,” he said, in a strained voice.
Max led Bill upstairs to the master bedroom, up to the dresser. On the pale wood surface was a generic handgun.
“So there are two things that gun can do,” Max said. “You can either shoot that bitch with it, or I’ll take it and dispose of the both of you.”
A lump formed in Bill’s throat. “You were thinking of this all along, weren’t you?”
“I guess you’re not quite the dumbass I thought you were.”
Pixie was the last woman Bill had to kill. He had to watch Max and Marigold drag other young women away. But perhaps they knew what the Rackets would do to avoid the legal system.
As for Bill, he preferred to ignore them. Friends, lovers, actual family members. Sometimes for both of his parents to violate, and sometimes it was just Max’s job. Bill didn’t care anymore. He would turn away from the situation and either make a grouchy face or light a cigarette for himself. At the moment, it seemed like the lesser of two evils. Even if Bill had to hear their cries for help, his dad still had a collection of guns and plenty of bullets to spare. And his mum had tricks up her sleeve too. It took Annette for him to change his mind and grab a gun for his own work.
Maybe he could have saved them. Maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference.
“So, as you can see, most people never saw the big picture with us,” Bill said. His face was still contorted with disgust and anger. “And that b–Sofia has no right to accuse me of anything, unless she’s beating her kid at gunpoint.”
Franco sat on the couch while he was telling his story. He turned towards his dad with a bit of a warm smile. “That’s what I was thinking it was all about.”
“Wait, really?” Bill asked. Franco nodded in response. “Well…geez.” He blushed while saying that.
“You’re not perfect, but you did take a bullet for me,” said Franco. “I guess I’m better than Ms. Carlton’s mum?”
Bill chuckled. “Trust me, by leaps and bounds.”
Franco then left his parents to be alone. Knowing them, Annette would put Samira to bed and spend some precious time with her darling husband. Even with his new handicap, they could still cuddle and be close.
Upstairs in his bedroom, Franco had two interesting guests. Ever since Shark died, no one really cared about what happened to his cats. Meechum and Rose would find their niche in the world, because they were cats. Cats didn’t rely on an owner. The only problem was that those two acted more like loyal dogs than anything. They moped and yowled for their beloved owner, until settling on the boy in the room next to his. Franco could have gotten worse out of his cousin’s death than inheriting two furry cats.
Yes, he enjoyed their company. And Annette made sure that Franco got the references behind their names too. He didn’t sit through the entirety of Steven Universe for nothing. But even as he scratched Rose under her chin, and got white fur all over his clothes, Franco had to admit something that sounded a little bad. He knew of a better place for those cats.