Franco might have had his apprehensions about his mother getting re-married. Though he had to admit that the setup just weirded him out. But in the end, he was happy for her. And the wedding was hardly the worst part of the weekend.
So Friday started off as a blast in a new city. Franco walked around, marveled by the skyscrapers and lights everywhere. Even the dirty water and abandoned construction sites were at least new. He thought that the city looked magic from the brochures, but soon Franco wanted to live in that smoggy wasteland. At least some of the time.
Friday night was when Annette and Franco’s new step-parents went out to the Banzai Lounge for drinks and sushi. They gave enough of a bribe to let him and Hannah in, and Franco could use a few nigiri pieces. Plus, there was shuffleboard! It was having a comeback in those days for being a cool bar game.
He played a round with Hannah, before handing her off to another player and checking his phone. It seemed like everything fun was happening back at home without him. Well, he was missing seeing the Braeburn Quartet in Pearlbrook. He got a friend to send a few videos, though. It looked like a tight performance.
Sometimes, he got a text message too.
And sometimes, a text message could bring his whole world down.
It didn’t take long for Hannah to notice. As Franco curled up on the sectional seating, looking down at the floor, she spoke in her most kind voice.
“I can’t just ignore you when you’re like this,” she said.
“Yes you can,” he said, grumbling.
“Is this about Sean Malone dying? I know how much you wanted a Gordian Knot reunion.”
“No…wait, what?” Franco checked his phone, and it turned out that Hannah was right. “Well, that sucks too.” All the members of the band were getting old, but Franco always had a sliver of hope for their reunion.
“So what is it?” Hannah asked. “I don’t want this weekend to suck for you.”
He turned his head away and pouted. “It’s…it’s something I need to sleep on. That’s all.”
The next day was the start of two overnight tours. Hannah headed for the College of Music, and Franco for the Bridgeport Institute of Design. It was only a few blocks away from the hotel, and he needed a walk. Half for trying to not focus on a difficult text message from Carmen. Half to prepare for facing a bunch of teenaged strangers.
The school occupied a small block of high-rises, as well as part of the city’s art museum. Franco’s group was led up to the twelfth floor of one of the towers, to a modest residence hall. It sat on top of floors of studios and classrooms, making the trek to class just a matter of catching an elevator. As for the hall itself, it was devoid of people but filled with sketches and rough sculptures. If Franco lived there, billiards in his spare time would be an option too.
“We just re-did this floor, but all the halls will look like this by next year,” said the guide. Franco thought she was friendly enough, and her enthusiasm for the school read as only half-faked. “You guys can find your rooms and settle down before we head to the museum.”
Franco was assigned Room 1217. Sharing it with a nice, freckled young man named Jefferson. He seemed social and extroverted, with a passion for photography.
Room 1217 was as spacious as Franco could reasonably imagine a college dorm to be. Two desks, ample space between the beds, closet space for two. Even the color scheme was okay. Franco couldn’t find much to complain about avocado walls and an ocean-blue carpet.
Or he did. Actually, it was just what was bothering him from the night before. Just a text message from Carmen. She was known to send him plenty of blunt and insulting texts, and he learned to laugh at those a little.
But Franco had reasons to lighten up, at least for a few hours. He told me that the day could have been worse. It involved a trip to the museum and an ice cream social later. Such an itinerary hit upon two things Franco loved dearly. He took in the hall of selected student artwork when no one else did. And he shared a banana split with a lovely girl named Lin, who wanted to go into video game design.
They got back to the dorm once it was dark out. Everyone was in their pajamas within half an hour. After that, Franco obsessed over his phone, while Jefferson waited for a punk girl he was trying to get with. Jefferson sat on his claimed bed.
“So…are you actually gonna have fun tonight?” he asked Franco.
He put down his phone. “I have fun on my own terms, and I doubt you have to deal with half the nonsense I do.”
“The fires of Hell?” Jefferson laughed. Yes, he laughed at his own quips.
“Yes. Add in new step-parents and…you know, it’s my own business.” Franco sighed. “Uh, do you remember which floor the architects’ studio was on?”
Franco stormed downstairs after that, to the ninth floor studio. He drew furious lines and curves with his pencil once he got to a surface.
He had to admit, it was the most fantastic place to work on sketches. The high floor offered a panoramic view of the city. From what he heard on the tour, it was the preferred room for architecture students. There was no inspiration like the towers of Bridgeport, after all.
And the same held true for aspiring painters like Franco.
The drawing formed in a frenzy. It was a meditation on paper, or maybe the reverse. The blocks of bright colors looked like pure screaming on a white surface, and Franco wasn’t done with the theme.
Franco noticed the purple tint that the room took on almost immediately. His work was color-based, and the new light threw it off in the worst way. He looked over his shoulder, right as something heavy crashed to the ground.
Annette had at least described her to him. This…annoying cosmic imp popped into Annette’s life at least once a month. She always wore a black bodysuit and had their hair tied back into a long braid. Everything about her glowed.
But as terrifying as she might have looked, Annette always blasted her away with her ring. For Franco that night, he had no such option.
She landed on the ground in a heap, and reach out in Franco’s direction. “Earth boy, I need to find that servant girl with the stone.”
Even though she was unarmed, Franco couldn’t help but step back in fear. “I…I don’t get involved in these things,” he said. “I have enough to worry about on Earth.”
“But you must know her…you look so much like her.” That was the first time Franco ever got that comparison. Everyone else agreed that he was a younger, pink Bill instead.
“I’m sorry, but I have too much-”
Franco looked down. She crawled over to him, and sat on the floor with raised knees. He finally saw how harmless she looked up close. It turned out that she was no taller than any other average adult. Even her glowing white eyes showed the faint outlines of normal irises.
“I can be a diplomat too,” she said. “You’re different from that servant girl. She never likes to talk. I doubt she even knows my name.”
“Okay, I’ll listen to that,” Franco said. “What’s your name?”
“Dii’aaihjmaainv’ndlag…Diamanda…though there are plenty of me where I’m from.”
He sunk down to the floor, giving that Diamanda a worried look. “I know you want that ring, but now isn’t the time. I…I just wanna be left alone. By everyone.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be a social species?” Diamanda asked. “Why…be alone, if it’s against your nature?”
“Because life sucks and I hate the twists it throws at me.” Franco crossed his arms and hanged his head down. He then realized something about Diamanda: she wasn’t going to gossip. Even if he opened up to her about his exact problem, who would she tell? Annette? She just said that Annette never conversed with them. She just blasted Diamanda away as soon as she could, and waited for the next time.
“Are…do you guys…know what romance is?” he asked her.
“It’s one of those Earth things. The servant girl blasted me away to one of your other cities once. I guess I learned a few things,” she said. “It tends to go…wrong.”
“Right,” said Franco. “And I’m having issues with it. My…mate just gave me some bad news last night, and I don’t know what to do with it.” He fumbled with how to explain even the most simple of concepts to someone like her. For a moment, Franco stopped in silence, looking at an intent Diamanda. Something warm exuded from her stern, otherworldly face.
“This is fascinating,” she said. “I…I think you are a monogamous species, right? Did they break your bond?” Franco shook his head no. “Get into another without asking you?” Another no. “That’s all I got about you simpletons.”
“Fine, if you have to know, she’s pregnant,” he said, sighing afterwards. Thinking of the message he got put him in a worse mood. It was just a picture from Carmen of a positive pregnancy test and its one-word caption. Oops. The whole thing made him feel stupid, because it had to mean that there was one night where he messed up. Put the condom on wrong or something, even after years of practice.
“Isn’t that a good thing? Every other organic species seems to think so,” said Diamanda.
“Not always. I…I don’t feel like we have much choice in what to do. I’m not a normal human, so who says we can just end it? Mum said she had no choice in having me!” Franco hit a hand against the floor in anger. “I…well, I just don’t know if I’m ready for this. And I might even have to give up going here!”
Diamanda started to crawl over to Franco. “I don’t need to just be here on Earth for that stone. Maybe…maybe I can try to help?”
“Be my guest. I’m open to any advice,” he said. Franco cringed a bit when Diamanda started stroking his face, though. And even more when she grabbed a fistful of his hair and started dragging.
“What the hell are you doing?” he cried out, as Diamanda started to drag him across the floor. Franco tried to grab her arm and free himself, but Diamanda’s grip wouldn’t budge.
“I just want to see that servant girl,” she said, with a devious grin. “And if I win, you’ll never have to deal with me again.”
“No! I won’t…I won’t do that to her,” Franco said. But then the pull on his hair got harder and more painful. He felt some get ripped out. “Fine, fine…just let go of my hair.”
He escorted Diamanda out of the building, and she scampered over to some motorcycles parked near the curb. Franco had no choice but to run after her.
Diamanda crossed her arms. “I can power these…transport devices, if you can be my guide,” they told him. “This place is so different from where that servant girl is.”
“She’s in this city,” Franco said. “We could even walk there-”
“No. I want to use these! I didn’t know there was still a place that used wheels,” she said.
“Fine, if this will put an end to your nonsense,” Franco said, with a tense stare.
He held on while Diamanda rushed around the city. She was able to power the motorcycle through touch, but steered like a show-off. She raced around the town square, and then through a street leading away from the hotel. Franco swore he almost fell off twice.
Even in the rush of Diamanda’s joy ride, Franco managed to get a message out to his mum. IT’S HER.
“It’s just over there!” he cried out, when the ride became too much. “Just that building!”
Diamanda just nodded once she saw Franco’s pointing finger.
She ran up the stairs to the hotel, with Franco following close on their trail. Annette waited on the top, and Franco could see her intense glare from below.
He sprinted into his mother’s arms for a hug. Even in the heat of the moment, he still wondered about the sickening maroon bruise on her face. Or that she was outside in her underwear. Annette squeezed onto him, but gave Diamanda a disgusted look. “I thought you had more tact than to touch my baby,” she said, snarling at the imp in front of her. “I dunno where you’re from, but we love our kids here on Earth.”
“If you want to blast me away again, be my guest,” said Diamanda. “Or maybe you could just let explain why we need this! It’s something bigger than Earth, bigger than Vega, bigger than anywhere I’ve been!”
“I don’t care,” Annette said. “I was hoping that you’d give up after last time.”
“I guess you are just a stupid Earthling, aren’t you?”
Annette raised her fist, as the ring on it started to glow. “No, I just know what’s best for me.”
The last thing Franco saw on Diamanda that night was her disgruntled face. “Fine. Can’t wait to see you again.”
Franco seemed to shrink a little once it was all over. “She did seem to want to talk instead…maybe,” he said. “It sounded like a threat.”
“Look, whatever she’s trying to get this for…I need it to, you know,” Annette said. “Honey, this shouldn’t have been your thing to deal with. Lemme get you and that motorcycle back to the college.”
She started to walk away, but Franco wasn’t moving. He instead took a long, forlorn look at the rain. He had been spending the whole weekend trying to forget about that thing he told Diamanda. Being a dad at 17. Sure, he had the time to be a mess before the baby was born, but Franco hated feeling like anything but the sane one. Seeming like the most sane was one of his only comforts in life.
“You’ve seemed off for this whole trip,” Annette said. “Is this about Sinbad and Amy and I? Sometimes I wonder if we sprung that on you too fast-”
“No. Just stop.”
“Look, if that was a problem, I would have complained earlier. You should know that about me by now,” Franco said, frowning. “I just want to get to bed now.”
He didn’t sleep well that night. And it wasn’t something he could blame on Jefferson, who was a quiet sleeper. If he hooked up with that punk girl like he said he would, it must have been while Franco was out or kidnapped.
The teenagers were released the next morning, and Franco met up with Hannah at an unusual place. She wanted to go across the city to Lawrence’s by the Bay. It was a seaside bistro that had a promising menu and outrageous prices.
Franco thought he could use some lunch, but Hannah stopped that idea in his tracks. “I probably should have told you this,” she said. “But I really wanted to go here for someone else.”
It was a lot more chaste than Franco expected. Hannah did some research earlier, and learned one stunning fact. Her maternal grandfather was still alive. Granted, he was ancient and somewhere in his 90’s. But regardless, he turned out to be quite a figure. It was tough to wade through financial news articles without seeing Anan Pradchaphet and his empire mentioned. Even in his old age, he worked hard to keep his company great.
Anan also had quite a number of illegitimate children, the eldest of them being Hannah’s mother. From what Hannah said, he sounded courteous over the phone. Plus, he loved the idea of a lunch with a granddaughter he never knew about.
She still took Franco to meet him, even if the meal was just between her and Anan. He stuck out among the young, hip population of Bridgeport. He wore a clean suit and leaned on an ornate cane.
But it felt nice to see him smile at Hannah. She must have not gotten that many smiles in her life.
Hannah looked up with contentment at her grandfather. “I know it’s just supposed to be the two of us, but I just wanted you meet my friend first,” she said.
“He’s…different,” Anan said. His face melted into a suspicious frown. “So Camilla, is he from that dreadful town your mum settled in?”
“It’s Hannah…yes,” she said. “But I’m from there too!”
He turned towards Franco, still looking sour as he reached out his hand. In one way, it was obvious how he was related to Hannah, even beneath the effects of time. They both had that same oval face. But Mr. Pradchaphet had none of his granddaughter’s sweetness at all. “I don’t like shaking hands with people outside of the city,” he said.
On most occasions, Franco would have given him a polite wave. But he just scowled, looking towards the table. “I’ll just leave you two,” he mumbled.
He didn’t wish anything ill against Hannah right there, but he didn’t care about it possibly happening either. If nothing else, Anan seemed much friendlier as Franco walked away. The tone of his voice sounded open and confident as he spoke with only Hannah.
Franco walked off to grab a soup and sandwich at a nearby café. He then wandered for what seemed like half an hour, towards the direction of the hotel. However, he stopped at a park right near one of the harbors.
In spite of the ominous-looking tall fence around it, Franco thought that the park was okay. It had greenery, and a playground too! He might have come close to breaching the weight limit for the swings, but Franco took a seat on one. Nothing broke.
He didn’t bother to swing himself far into the air, but Franco people-watched from his seat. Most of the city people looked a lot slimmer than he was, for starters. Heights varied, but Franco saw maybe two people pass by who had anything approaching a pot belly or thunder-thighs.
To his left was a sandbox, and two parents playing with their toddler in it. One of those adults seemed to be a great sand castle artist, as they were putting the finishing touches on a detailed one. They even put little flags on top of the spires.
Alright, Franco might have been enamored by it. Even from a distance of twenty feet or so, the little girl looked so happy, getting to play with her parents. She babbled and laughed for the whole time. In fact, Franco might have felt bad that they left Julian and Samira with a babysitter back home. He missed those two babies, and what made them unique to him. Fussy and shy Julian, or loud and cheeky Samira. Sure, most of his babysitting of them was out of obligation. But there were still many afternoons where Franco wanted to do nothing else.
He loved Julian and Samira, and biology dictated that a kid of his and Carmen’s would be a little like an amalgam of those two.
Franco kept watching them, until the parents packed up and left with their daughter. His weekend felt a little better once he got a glimpse of a different future. Maybe he didn’t plan on spending much time in that playground before then, but for a moment, he saw himself. Dressed in his best slacks and sitting cross-legged in the sand while his kid dug around.
Heck, it sounded almost too sweet to reject. Carmen didn’t mention any alternatives either. Maybe she was hanging out at a playground back in Terrebonne, wondering the same things.
Kids were great. Franco couldn’t think of much that was worth giving up his first chance to be a dad for.
He then hung out by the fountain, until a familiar set of footsteps approached him. It sounded like Hannah in beige pumps, because it was just that.
She sat down on the grass, across from him, and rubbed the back of her neck. “So…you look like you decompressed.”
“Lunch at Almeisan Café does that,” said Franco. “How was your lunch?”
Hannah scowled. “I’m just a number to him. Apparently there are just too many grandkids for him to care much about us. And he said that I should just…suck things up back home.”
A familiar feeling washed over Franco. It was the same pity he had for Hannah whenever she brought her home life up. The same sadness when he noticed the thick foundation on her face to cover up bruises, or when a purple mark peeked out from under her knit shirt.
That sympathy for her did a lot. It was so easy to get lost in his time with Hannah. She said that it helped her forget about the worst stuff with her mum. He let it make him forget about mum. About being a Racket and a Waverly. And often, it made him forget about Carmen for days and weeks on end. Carmen used to just tease him about it, with no hard feelings and the everlasting promise of sex when he got back to the real world.
That wasn’t going to be an option anymore. Not with a baby.
He seemed oblivious as they got up, and as Hannah still spoke. He picked up something about Anan feeling like discussing his upbringing in Thailand was just too personal for his own granddaughter. It upset Hannah, even if not as much as him offering no help for the terrors back home.
“…But at least I still have you, so I can’t be too pissed about it.” Hannah finished and took a deep breath.
“I actually…look, I don’t want to get lost in you anymore. I can’t anymore,” he said.
She took a step back. “Wait…what?”
“I have to suck up a lot of things now, okay? And you’re…you’re my biggest distraction.”
“I don’t…Franco, I don’t get what you’re saying,” Hannah said. She looked at him with her sparkling blue eyes. “Or…I hope it’s not…”
He lashed out at her. “I’m having a kid! And unfortunately it’s not with you. I used to love being distracted by you! I used to think about a future with you! But I CAN’T.”
He didn’t expect Hannah to take it well, and she lived up to his expectations. “…I’m sorry. I won’t do it again,” she said, in a quiet whimper. “I mean…you’ll make a good dad. I hope.”
It hurt Franco to have to hear her like that, cowering in fear of him. But he admitted that he couldn’t think of anything else to say to her that afternoon. The whole situation was, at that point, the scariest thing he had ever faced. It would scare anyone in his shoes! And he was the one who loved babies and hoped to accept his fate.
But there was also the regret, of when Hannah walked away and didn’t speak to him for the rest of the trip.
A/N: Obligatory “FRANCO YOU WHORE” comment here. “No teen pregnancy” was a promise I made to myself that I decided to break for what might be the greater good.
And “FRANCO YOU DICK” too. Though he needs chapters like this when he’s a stubborn, mopey dick about things. There have always been two sides to Franco in my mind. He has a soft heart, but a tough head. And maaaaaaybe is a glutton for misery and the lows in his life.
I don’t have everything in my story planned out, but I know how Franco’s life progresses. Just enjoy the ride. 😉
I have no idea how old musician Sean Malone is, as Wikipedia is useless in that matter. Could he be dead in 2048? I don’t have any reason to ever want him dead. Especially because, yeah, Gordian Knot is great. Jazzy progressive rock, stuff that’s somewhere up Franco’s alley.