Content Warning for: depictions of police brutality, murder, blood. Talk of drug addiction.
“And it would be a shame to go back there, wouldn’t it?”
Annette hated saying that to Bill. It was in the sort of condescending tone that a mother would be ashamed to use. But there was nothing else to do say to him about opioids. They almost ruined him once before.
Granted, he took the “cleaner” route of using oxycodone pills as a crutch, as opposed to shooting up in a bathroom. What started as a quick fix to pain from a kidney stone ended up being the best way for Bill to feel a little more human. It was before he met Annette, and it wasn’t like he had love and company to keep him human instead.
Eventually, the ultimatum was to either go into recovery, or get kicked out of the Racket family home. Bill chose the former. 12-Step Recovery was free, and all he needed to do was sacrifice three nights a week. Maybe feign a belief in Jesus Christ too. Surrendering one’s self to a higher power was a step open to interpretation.
As much as it worked, he never wanted to do that again.
So there he was with Annette, wracked with pain and no way out of it. It hurt Annette’s heart to watch him like that. All she could do was rub the painful spot, which tended to be around the original injury on his back. However, the pain liked to radiate outwards during its worst times.
Annette stopped joking about how terrible it was to spend two days in pointless labor with Samira. About how Bill would never know what the worst human pain was like. Of course that still stunk, but Bill suffered for over a year up to that point, and there was no end in sight. Whether it was a horrible burst of pain, or just a strange ambient one, he didn’t get a reprieve.
“How much paracetamol have you taken today?” Annette asked. It was the “safest” option, as she never saw a rush of addicts clamoring to buy Tylenol. So far that day, it didn’t help Bill either. He hurt too much to speak, but he weakly held up five fingers in response. “Okay, guess that stopped working.”
She was out of ideas! All Annette could do was hold him close until he fell asleep. Franco had Samira taken care of for the day, so she could stay there for as long as she needed to.
She curled up close to Bill and rest her head on his back. It wasn’t like she could make things much worse there. “Good thing that I can stay here all night if I have to,” Annette said. She buried her nose into Bill’s shirt and started to fall asleep herself. Gosh, his shirt smelled great. It smelled like his sweat and had adorable cartoon dogs printed on it. She didn’t even want to get up to turn off the lights. It meant tearing herself away from the loving warmth of her painful, paralyzed husband.
Plus, it seemed to boost his spirits when she was there. Annette never wanted him to feel unlovable after the injury. And that night was a night when he needed some love, even though he fell asleep. Annette heard his snoring and could lay there for hours listening to it.
She left her phone on one of the nightstands, and it vibrated twice. As much as she didn’t want to, she wriggled away from her sleeping giant, and read her message.
20 grand for cleaning this house. Made a HUGE mess. 😉
She was an adult who could refuse the offer, but also a woman who needed to make a living. She and Franco were in the middle of a court battle to see who got the unallocated millions that Grandpa Max left behind. But until then? The family needed her help, lest they try to pay their utility bills with an art teacher’s salary and Bill’s small pension.
As for what his winking emoticon meant, Annette let herself be surprised. She asked them for the address, and it turned out to be close enough to walk.
All she needed to do was get some pants on. That was the most difficult part.
Annette found a pair of denim shorts, and her pear-print t-shirt was modest enough for the outside world. As she exited her bedroom, a happy Sagebear came bounding towards her. The dog still had a lot in her! Maybe she could be her partner-in-crime for the night.
Sagebear was a smart dog, and chose to keep Bill company instead. She parked her furry body right next to him and kept an eye out.
So Annette left for her job. It was up the hill, past the old Racket mansion. And the Racket mansion was a scary enough place. What horrors could await in the falling-apart house on the hill behind it? The outside had enough brambles and dead trees to almost ward Annette off.
The lights were on, but the place was quiet and empty, from what Annette could see. She had a feeling that she wasn’t cleaning up after a raucous party.
When she walked in, the sight should have surprised her. Wet blood on the floor, and an unknown man dragging a corpse away. Maybe Annette should have felt bad for Ms. Dilly Pidgin. She was about Bill’s age, and he didn’t have much to say about her either way. But even seeing her dead…no, it was just work to Annette.
“So you’re taking care of the bodies?” she asked the man. He nodded. “Uh, can’t say I expected this sort of mess.”
“Yeah, I know I left it vague. Had no idea what kinda person you were,” he said. “The name’s Mike. I used to be this bitch’s pool boy and dealer, but it’s amazing how much rich people don’t wanna pay for shit. Amazing!”
“Eh, it’s true,” Annette said. There had to have been a few times when she skimped on tips at a bar. “But 20 grand for this?”
“It’s just a safety thing. It’s not like anyone is gonna come up here anyways,” he said. “Or really be surprised that two people were murdered.”
“Her boy toy is upstairs.”
“Huh. I’m in. You mind paying me right now?” Annette asked. Mike handed her a roll of cash, which she stuffed into her shorts. God knows that all those hundred dollar bills had seen worse. He kept his eyes on her as she grabbed a mop from the kitchen, but returned to his work once she started cleaning up.
No, Annette wasn’t going to bail on that job, even if it was a little gruesome and difficult. The blood started to stain the wood floor, but she could sand it off and find a decorative rug to hide it. And she could throw away those sandals. They dated back to her first days in Twinbrook, and time had passed since then. Things changed.
Dilly’s estate had to go to someone. If Annette recalled correctly, she had two adult children. But they wouldn’t miss some antique coins she found in the parlor, now would they?
She’d pick them up on the way out.
Mike told her to vacuum first. The carpet was a lost cause, and it looked like he’d need to re-carpet the place. But he might have left loose hairs behind, and couldn’t take that risk. It seemed ridiculous, but if Annette got 20 grand for it, she’d vacuum in that dreadful pink bedroom until the sun came up again.
She also caught sight of a jewelry box on the dresser, but that was saved for her way out as well.
She turned the vacuum off. “Don’t you think that this was…kinda petty?”
“It’s only fair,” said Mike.
“Forgive me if I think that you seem just fine for money.” The wad of solid cash still pressed against her, held in by the waistband of her shorts.
He put a hand on his right hip and smirked. “Please, it doesn’t seem like you’re one to talk either. We’re all criminals here.”
“You are. I’m just your maid for tonight.”
“Whatever. Let’s clean up this rug. Pretty sure it’s just a loose one, but we should hide this as much as possible.”
Yes, they could just roll it up and remove it afterwards. But Mike seemed paranoid about leaving anything behind. Even stains on the rug he would throw out.
If Annette was getting paid for strange work, so be it.
They both called it quits by the time the sun started to rise. Annette was exhausted and hoped that Bill was still the same way at home. Sleepy and willing to be her big, living pillow. It was often the only way she could fall asleep.
Mike seemed to be a few steps ahead of her, and a lot of commotion started outside by the time Annette reached the front door. One of the voices sounded familiar and sickening.
She hid behind one of the tall cattails, and peeked through the space in its grassy leaves. All she could do was thank any higher being that she wasn’t caught in what happened before her.
Seeing Goodwin at the scene of her antics was hardly a surprise to Annette. He seemed like the only officer in the state who wanted anything to do with her. For everyone else, was it fear? Disbelief in the very being she was? But he had something so powerful, that could override the both of those: a grudge.
He didn’t notice her, though. He wasn’t pointing a gun at Mike’s head either, but pointing with a finger was enough to send Mike to his knees. Even from a distance, Annette could see the strain and terror on his face.
“I’m asking, are you the only one here?” Goodwin shouted every question. And Mike didn’t grace him with an answer.
“Please, just cart me away,” Mike said, in a timid voice.
“Are you lying to me?” No answer. “Fucking hell…is there someone with you?”
He stomped over to Mike and lifted him off his knees. Goodwin grabbed the man by the throat and lifted him with ease. Annette never said that her least-favorite cop was a weakling, after all.
With his throat constricted, Mike still managed to strain out some words. “I’m…alone.”
“Fine, if you’re not speaking, I’ll do this myself,” said Goodwin. He glared at Mike before giving his neck one last squeeze.
Even Annette could hear a sickening snap as it happened.
The whole thing even seemed to catch Goodwin off-guard. He dropped the man and looked frozen in horror for a solid minute, as Mike’s body twitched a bit on the ground. And as far as Annette was concerned, it was a reaction forged out of a moment that Goodwin thought he had to himself.
The officer took a look around the lot, and still didn’t spot Annette. He rushed away in his cruiser. Was he going to get help, or did he want to cover up his shames?
The former would have been bad news for Annette, unless she escaped, but she emerged to check on Mike. He still seemed to be breathing, after the whole ordeal. The mansion was such a remote place, though. Anyone who called on his behalf would be a new suspect. And even if Annette was just acting like a maid for the day, someone would find a loophole to charge her with.
All she could do was hope that Goodwin was getting help. She ran off before anyone could see her at the scene, but not before grabbing a few old Pidgin treasures. Annette wasn’t going to live with that night being a total bust, if she could help it.
Was Franco a bad partner? In hindsight, he’d argue first that Carmen was the bad one, even if it took him a while to place any blame on her either. At that point, Franco had no ill will towards her. Of course he loved Carmen.
But that didn’t mean that another female friend couldn’t be just as sweet.
The time he spent with Hannah always felt loving and genuine. After the time at the gallery, she and Franco understood each other more and more. He regained his old sympathy for her, and then some. At least Carmen had two brothers and two mothers who treated her with love and care. Hannah had her dad and his family, but only half of the time. As much as he heard about the slow progress that Justin had in getting full custody of her, she was still stuck between hell and living with Rackets.
So Franco always tried to step in and make the best of her life. It could be anything, from laser tag in a neighboring town, to binging on television shows until curfew. The same night Annette got paid to help clean up a murder scene, Franco and Hannah binged on season four of Futurama. It seemed like an awful thing to play with Samira on the couch with them, but she wasn’t even two and it was all colors on a screen to her. Most likely, anyways. In fact, she seemed more focused on the cats. She didn’t remember them from when they lived with the Waverlys, so it was all new to Samira.
Most of it was funny, save for crying at “Jurassic Bark” like most viewers did. Franco lost track of the time with it, until Hannah’s father opened the door.
She scrambled to look like she wasn’t touching Franco at all. He had an arm around her shoulder for a bit, in a way he swore was friendly.
“Hannah, you know what I told you,” Justin said, while holding his son. Samira wasn’t the only one to grow a little bigger. “As long as your pants are on, you’re fine. And even if not-”
“Yeah, I know,” she said. “It’s a reflex.” Franco nodded in solidarity. Her mum always seemed uneasy if they were sitting close together. She said it all without words, but those furrowed, severe eyebrows told him enough. And it grew more intense if they were hanging out in the attic in their pajamas. It did look mighty suggestive, after all.
If she was a better person, Franco would blame it on residual from her experiences with the Rackets. But because Sofia was so awful, he had no answers about that.
“Hey Mr. Kayes,” Franco said. He had the awkward smile of a teenager caught fooling around. “Uh…you got the time?”
“Holy–were we really up here for that long?” He headed there right after school.
“I don’t mind. Just take it up with your parents,” said Justin. “Though I bet they love not having a toddler for a bit…no offense, kiddo.” He still was holding little Nicky, and gave him a playful flick on the nose.
Hannah gave Franco a small smile. “I’ll walk you and Samira out.”
He shouldn’t have fretted so much over staying out late, but he did. Franco made sure to tell Hannah everything. “I have that history project due tomorrow, and I’m sure my parents miss-”
“Sorry for keeping you so late,” said Hannah. He shrugged at that, though.
“It’s fine…when it’s with you.”
He put Samira down on the floor to give Hannah a hug good-bye. “I guess it’s back to hell,” he said. It was okay, considering that Annette often said similar things. It just was difficult to return to a house full of chaos and his disabled father. But at that point, it was best to keep a kind face when he was there. Even if unwinding with a friend felt so much easier.
“I just…I just hope things are going well for you guys there, okay?” Hannah said. “I’m with Franco the sadsack, but it’s not like I want that.”
“We’re fine. I worry about you more.”
Hannah would have said something immediately, if a furry feline wasn’t rubbing up against her leg. It was Rose, who warmed up to Hannah better than anyone expected.
She picked her cat up for a hug. “Nah, I’m pretty fine. Thanks again for the cats…you sure they’re better with me?”
He had Samira in his arms again. “Yeah, I’m sure. Babysitting is enough for me.”
He walked home, with his baby sister clutching on to him. It was just going to be a ton of work at home, wasn’t it? If his dad was asleep or in too much pain, then Franco had to get Samira changed and to bed. Then it was that history project. It was small: just write a mock-up bill for the state legislature, and do it on a current issue. Franco, while often more responsible than that, put it off until the last minute. He had an idea of what to pretend to propose. Terrebonne was still one of the last states without marriage equality on the books.
He needed to let some hard feelings go. Shark may have given Franco a black eye and had the muscle to do worse, but in the end, he was a sad and lonely gay man. That state of being had Franco’s pity. He lamented never getting married too, even if the only man he’d ever marry was dead and gone. It wasn’t a stretch at all to think that they would have tied the knot in Terrebonne, if possible.
So yes, a meaningless gesture for Shark. The school still remembered him as the man who was once a fine teacher, so maybe he’d get extra credit for honoring him.
Franco then realized that he might have squandered a great resource for that project.
The house was quiet when he and Samira walked in the door. She was getting to that point where she wanted to walk for short distances, or climb up stairs with a little help. Hopefully Bill wasn’t awake to see that. He might have loved his daughter, but everyone couldn’t help but see the envy in his eyes when his baby could walk better than he could.
“Mum? Dad?” Franco called out. “Amy? Sinbad? Julian?” Not a single person. “Sagebear?” Not her either. The lights were on, but Franco might have been alone.
Until he remembered how much his dad loved naps.
Someone must have left the door open. Franco walked into an open room, and to his sleepy father. He snored, which meant that Franco would have to wait for another night to discover that his dad died in his sleep (god forbid). Sagebear was there too, being a watchful guardian. Or maybe she just liked the smell of their bedsheets (gross!).
Franco got up on the mattress and sat cross-legged. He put Samira there too, and she giggled a bit.
“Hey dad? You wanna help me with something?” Franco asked. It jolted the old man awake.
“Owwww…Christ,” he muttered. “Uh…how long has it been?”
“I dunno. I’ve been gone all day,” Franco said. “You feeling okay?”
“I’m…I…I’ve been worse.” At least he was comprehensible. During the worst pain episodes, Bill was more of a crying mess, or out cold. “Your mum’s not back?”
“I don’t think so. Do you need help with anything?” Franco cringed at what he might have had to do. “Dinner, a bath, going to the bathroom…” Mum made sure to teach him how to take care of his dad, in the event it had to happen. As much as being able to wipe another grown man’s ass could help Franco in the future, it still made him a little sick.
“No, I’m good with everything,” Bill said. “Except…do you mind rolling me over? It’ll be easier to say hello to my little grapenut that way.”
Even if Bill was a rather big guy, Franco found rolling him over to be easy. He looked blissful lying on his back instead, with an arm around Samira. He closed his eyes as he listened to his precious baby babble to him. She hadn’t started stringing sentences together, but she loved to say words relating to the dog. “Dog” was a simple word for her, after all.
Franco stood close-by. “Can you do something for me, too?” he asked his dad.
“I’ll try…what time is it?”
Bill opened his eyes. “Your mum’s gonna hate me in the morning unless I get Samira to bed. You mind giving me a hand with that?”
Franco gave him a small smile. “Any time.”
Samira always squealed with excitement when she got to ride on Bill’s lap. It was like a carriage for adults, or so she later said. And time with his daughter seemed to be one of the only things keeping the old man sane. He gave Samira a warm smile as she sat of his lap. Even Franco was beaming at it. When she was a harmless toddler, Samira was adorable.
The two men got her dressed for bed, and Bill always read to Samira to calm her down. She seemed to find something funny in poetry, but as long as she enjoyed it, why not keep reading?
She came to us with ten thousand names
Ready to wrap us in heavenly games
But I think she is just looking up to a judge
Hoping to flee them, or looking for a nudge
Bill seemed to enjoy those times with Samira. But Franco had Sagebear, who followed him downstairs. There wasn’t much on earth that could beat playing with the family’s ancient dog.
Once Samira was asleep in her crib, Franco could talk with his dad. It seemed so rare that they did. Annette and Samira always hogged up his attention. “I kind of dropped the ball on a history project that’s due tomorrow,” said Franco. “And I know you know your stuff about politics-”
“Yes. Let’s talk about bribes. God knows I’ve taken many.” Bill chuckled at his own admission. “I used to be so bad.”
“Yes, you did,” said Franco. “I’m aware.”
“Come on, I thought you were coming around to your nasty old father.”
“Yeah, I guess. It’s about legislature, anyways.”
“You mean the stuff you and Shark tried to keep me out of? Wouldn’t you ask someone you didn’t sabotage?”
Franco stiffened up his body and scowled. “Fine, I acted out of line there. But you know what? I don’t think you ever apologized to Shark either over what you did.”
“And now he’s dead, so I don’t need to worry about it. Your mum says there’s no afterlife, and she’s probably the closest to knowing that,” said Bill. “And what can I do now anyways?”
“It’s just a way to honor him. I have to write up a mock bill for class, it has to be about a current issue, and there’s no gay marriage in Terrebonne. I thought…I thought it would be a decent idea.”
“I’m down with that,” Bill said. “We can polish it up later and send it with a bribe to Mrs. Martin.”
“Mrs. Martin?” Franco asked.
“Fiona Martin…the woman who actually got elected to the state house, remember?”
“Oh.” Franco gave his dad an aloof stare. “…So you’d really do that?”
Bill sighed. “I do feel bad about what I did to him. Just because it was a bad time for me, doesn’t mean that I should burn a cigarette on my nephew. I get it. And I…I never hated gay people. But I’ve grown more tolerant, and it’s about time I show it.”
“So you’ll give me a hand?” Franco asked.
“As much as I can. Brew some coffee. This might take a bit.”
They stayed up all night hashing out a mock bill for the state house. Franco enjoyed that time with dad, even as he started it out by saying “You first need to set a really good bribe for this.”
A/N: I threw Hannah a bone in the game, which is why she inherited Shark’s cats! And it is definitely not because I’m a dog person who can’t write cats who actually act like…cats.
“Marriage Equality for Terrebonne” is an unfortunate leftover from a time when I envisioned actually keeping Shark alive in this story. But their fictional state can’t look like a bunch of bigoted rubes forever.