Content Warning for: a decent chunk of this chapter taking place at an orgy. Sexually-suggestive/explicit images, discussion of statutory rape. Depictions of marijuana use.
A snowy February quickly gave way to a warm spring. Franco only remembered the weather, as it meant hanging out by the pool a lot in the middle of March. There were a few afternoons, in the waning weeks of Carmen’s pregnancy, that they’d lounge by the water. The adults did their thing on the other side of the yard. Any of their anger about the teen parents had cooled down fast.
It stood in contrast to going over to Carmen’s family’s house. Each time he was there, Franco heard some angered words from Ms. Drill, probably about him. Deep in his heart, he worried about getting expelled. Or being rejected for graduation, even if he was otherwise on a great track to walk the stage in May.
But he felt better with his big, pregnant distraction. Franco had come to like spending time in Carmen’s basement. It was shabby, in its charming way, but sanitary enough for a baby. Who said a nursery couldn’t have band posters everywhere? Franco was supposed to be setting up furniture, but spent more afternoons snuggling with Carmen on the couch.
He said that it was a testament to how he felt about Carmen, when he accepted how much she changed. It felt just as nice to hold a soft and swollen Carmen as it was to have one before her pregnancy. Sure, she gained quite a bit of baby fat in the last months. Her feet and ankles swelled enough during the day for her to have to go barefoot or in flip-flops. And due to her being quite short, Carmen’s bump was big enough to test most maternity shirts. Just in terms of touch, Franco sometimes swore she was an entirely different woman. But he felt a lot of love when she fell asleep in his arms. Snoring like a chainsaw.
Carmen had her faults, but she was nice. Home was different and complicated, outside of lazy pool afternoons.
His attitudes towards his mother’s “parties” hadn’t changed much. Franco still saw them as shameless displays of sexual depravity. He’d rather not be there, and instead be with cousin Lolly like the toddlers and Sagebear were. However, Annette always cooked for the events too. She could market herself as the only orgy in the area with a buffet. And it was all so good, cooked up to Annette’s high standards. Risotto! Sourdough! Pear cobbler! Franco wanted it all.
He was about to slice himself some bread when approached by a familiar older man.
Franco remembered Marc from Amy and Sinbad’s wedding. They did talk during the reception, and he was cool for someone at retiring age. He had all sorts of fun military stories, like about the year he spent in Sardinia. Plus, the man was as friendly as the best of them.
“Hey…Annette’s kid, right?” Marc asked. “Uh…I always thought you were younger than eighteen.”
“Because I am?”
“Oh…eh, it’s getting hard to tell how old everyone is here. Everyone looks young to me.”
Franco wanted to talk with Marc more, but the lustful sounds from nearby started to grate on him.
His face contorted into a disgusted grimace. “Ugh…sorry Mr. Brandt, but I think I’m gonna go upstairs,” Franco said.
“It’s…not really better up there,” said Marc. “But hey, it’s your house. You can shoo anyone out from anywhere.”
It was fair for Franco to assume that his own bedroom was still pure and empty. He headed upstairs to his sanctuary, but couldn’t help but notice a couple sharing a kiss by his door. At first, it looked harmless, and he didn’t know the guy in the open red robe. And there had to be at least a few other skinny young women in Twinbrook, and not just the one he knew the most.
But he focused on her face, and felt sick to his stomach. Hannah was even younger than he was, and still at one of those gross parties. Dressed in matching, scalloped underwear, it was clear what she was there for. The man she locked lips with looked to be well into his twenties, and at the party for the same reason everyone else was.
That was something he wanted to face later. Or never. Franco opened the door to his room.
He recoiled back in horror as soon as he pushed the door open. The one place he counted on staying chaste was soiled by a threesome on the floor. Three women…of course it involved Amy, and Annette with a strap-on. The third one seemed to be Marc’s wife.
The possible nightmares from that were enough to make the blood rush from Franco’s face.
He bolted out of his room and slammed the door behind him. The hall was still too chaotic for Franco, but better by comparison. Sinbad emerged from a room, after doing something with some strange man. The guy in the robe dragged Hannah away, as she looked anywhere from drugged to bored.
There was only one safe choice. Franco grabbed Sinbad by the shoulders, stopping the man from going back for seconds. For sex or food, who cared? The whole situation with Hannah there bothered him.
Franco looked like he was on the verge of tears of worry. “Why is she here?” he asked.
“I was about to ask you the same thing,” Sinbad said. “She’s been here the last few times too, and…like…can you ask her to never come back to these? I don’t want minors here, and I want to fucking snap the neck of whoever’s making her blow him right now.”
“Why me, though?”
“What, you think she’ll listen to me more? I’m just…her art teacher’s husband, or something.”
“But we had a falling out-”
Sinbad crossed his arms. “I don’t care about that. I don’t want her to get hurt any more than you do, and you better try and step in here.”
“I just don’t-”
He clenched his teeth, and shot an angry finger at Franco. “NO! I’m your stepdad, and you better listen.” he snarled out. “No matter how much you upset her, you’re going to make sure that she stays away from here. Or else I tell your mother that someone’s exploiting a minor. You know how much she’ll flip at you for that.”
Franco edged back, with his hands up in defense. “I’ll do it! I don’t like seeing her like this either.”
He waited until Hannah stumbled out of Sinbad and Amy’s bedroom, looking like she was choking. She held her hand over her mouth and nearly slid down to the floor. But Hannah regained her footing once she noticed Franco in front of her.
She scratched the back of her head, perhaps trying to process the awkwardness. “Oh…uh…I thought you liked to stay away from these things,” Hannah said.
“I usually do…but I’m here. And…you’re sixteen. Why are you?” Franco asked, stumbling over his words like she did over her feet.
“Because…uh…I sometimes have fun. It almost soothes me-”
Franco pouted, and cut her off. “You need to stop. You’re gonna hurt yourself like this.”
“What do you care? I’m just a distraction to you,” said Hannah.
She started to walk away, but Franco still wanted to reason with her. Even if this whole thing left her unbruised (for now), he wanted to vomit at the thought of her there. For a multitude of reasons. “It’s not like you don’t matter to me anymore…I-”
“Look, we all need distractions. You have your baby and your Carmen, and I have…this.” She sighed a little at the end.
“It doesn’t need to be this way.”
Hannah turned towards him and shouted, like her demure self never had before. “This is what you wanted! I’m just doing what’s right by you.”
She wandered off downstairs, and all Franco could hope was that she was getting the last of that sourdough.
He sulked off into a room that he remembered was still pure. It was Shark’s old room, still with red wallpaper and curtains. Although it had been cleaned and emptied years ago, Franco could still smell the alcohol and cat piss in the carpet. The faint smell of lavender cologne too, which was supposedly a favorite of Harwood’s for special occasions. Shark liked it for himself as well.
Sat up against the wall, Franco didn’t cry himself to sleep. But he certainly drifted off and slumbered as a sad, despairing young man.
Time still passed, but maybe only a week of it. And Franco wished that he remembered how to unlock the cellar doors. But that April afternoon, Annette left them wide open. He couldn’t find his mum, and this was the one afternoon when he needed her.
He ran down the corridor, towards that little room of esoteric bullshit that Annette led him to. It smelled…herbal and pungent. Maybe a little like someone spilled a whole bottle of rubber cement on top of that. It was a smell that Franco hated to admit that he knew about.
Annette and Amy were down there together, tranquil and sharing a deep kiss on the rug. Two used bowl pipes smoldered on the floor near them, next to a little snuff box half-full of marijuana.
They laughed a bit as Franco entered the room, though likely not at him. The two had eyes only for each other, it seemed. He had to yell for their attention.
Annette slowly turned her head towards Franco. “Heeeeey, kiddo,” she said. She dragged her words out, in a stoned drawl. “Sure the law says I can share with you.”
“No! I need your help, but you’re high in the basement!”
Amy just smirked. “Guilty as charged, sweetie.”
“You’re not getting it!” Franco felt like he was about to get an aneurysm, or maybe the smoke was making him feel sick.
“Relax,” Annette said. “And, dude, I need context ‘bout this.”
He still yelled his words out. “Carmen’s in labor, that’s what!”
Neither of the women sprung to help him. The most they did was stop groping each other.
Annette stayed happy, even with the news. “Kid, you just…you know, have her get in the bathtub and push. It worked for having you!”
Amy still had that sly grin on her face. “Like, the hospital’s half a mile away. You could just do that.”
Franco started to storm out of there. “Getting high…today…just great.” He muttered to himself for the whole trek back above ground.
He got back to the living room where Carmen was, and nothing had changed. She was in the middle of a contraction and feeling the pain. Or at least that’s what grunting and clutching her belly meant. She had been like that for a few hours, in horrible pain every three minutes. Franco just bit his fingernail, thinking of the stupid drugged advice he got.
But then again, hospitals and bathtubs were for laboring in.
“I…I just need to get someone to drive us,” Franco said. He had hoped to get his own car well before then, but the turmoil over his dad’s death had lead to everyone forgetting about that. Even Franco stopped caring, but it would have been convenient to have his own ride. Mum never gave him the keys to her van.
Franco started to pace around, trying to think of a plan. He wanted the bathtub to be a last resort, if it was even an option.
It took about three steps for him to run into Sinbad. He looked sober, and had two toddlers close by. Julian toddling around on foot, and a sleepy Samira resting on his arms.
He just looked over at Franco. “Lemme guess, the ladies are getting high in the basement, and you guys need some help.”
Sinbad rolled his eyes. “The keys to my truck are hanging in the kitchen.”
“Can’t…can’t you drive us?”
He groaned in frustration. “You’re the one who’s gonna be a parent at seventeen. You can drive my truck, and labor’s not gonna be the worst thing to happen in there.”
Franco grumbled more as he grabbed Sinbad’s keys. But it made him feel better to hear the man tell him to call once their daughter was born. Sinbad might have had his opinions about Carmen beforehand, but he wanted to meet his niece.
After they arrived, it didn’t take long to get Carmen in a gown and situated in a private room. She had some choice words after the doctor said that she was too dilated for an epidural. But it looked like it was going to be a healthy, routine labor. Baby was head-down, and all of Carmen’s vitals looked great.
Franco pushed a chair close to her bed, so he could have a seat and take her hand.
“So, you’re fine with just the two of us and Dr. Parsons?” he asked her. “I at least know that you’re working hard here.”
Carmen looked woozy with pain, as she tried to find a decent position on the bed. “Dude…whoever’s here ain’t my concern right now.”
“Are you sure?”
“It fucking hurts! I care about that.”
Franco soon got what that meant, when it came time for Carmen to push. With her knees up, she let out a dreadful scream with each one.
He hated feeling kind of helpless in regards to pain, wishing that he got her to the hospital sooner. Then she could have gotten an epidural and a bit of relief. But Franco got up to stroke her leg during the worst bits. And to watch. Birth videos looked so horrifying in health class, but this didn’t make him want to retch. It gave Franco the exclusive first glimpse of his daughter, after all.
It took a lot of work and time, but Franco soon saw all of their baby. Crying, and drenched in amniotic fluid and general grossness.
And he did start to retch a bit with the afterbirth.
It didn’t take long for Dr. Parsons to clean up their girl and hand her to the proud young parents. Carmen held her for a bit, but also wanted a long rest after hours of labor. She needed to sleep off the sickening horror of seeing a placenta first-hand. So Franco took a seat again, cradling their little Abigail. She looked so much like her mother, colored like human flesh and with the slightest hints of her mother’s devious smile. It being late and him being beyond tired, Franco wished he could look more excited for the baby. But inside, he was glowing like a candle. He’d stay awake just to hold that eight-pound package of love.
Plus, that chair felt so hard on his back. He’d sleep on the linoleum floor before that.
Abigail tried to wrap her little hand around Franco’s thick index finger. It didn’t fit around, but she held on as tight as a newborn could. Her head rest in the fold of Franco’s elbow.
With her soft hand grasping onto his finger, Franco leaned down a bit to whisper to her. “I love you too,” he said. Thankfully, that didn’t wake the sleeping Carmen up.
What did was an excited new grandma, dragging along a new uncle. Annette sobered up and made her way to the hospital around three in the morning. She waved and spoke loudly upon entering.
“Hey guys! Glad I beat Carmen’s mums,” she said. Sinbad just looked over at his sister, and then over at Abigail. Franco couldn’t help but notice the man smile so tenderly at the baby.
However, Annette’s happiness soon turned into cringing. “Uh…hey, kiddo, you mind leaving the baby with her mum and joining me for some coffee?” she asked Franco. He raised up an eyebrow.
“Come on, mums are important too. We’ll just leave Carmen to bond, or post-partum bleed, or whatever.”
Suspicious as he was, Franco walked out of the room and followed Annette to wherever coffee was. If he needed anything other than closeness with his darling baby girl, it was a strong cup of coffee.
They situated themselves in a tiny break room on the second floor, with a cup of coffee each. Franco realized that every hospital-issued chair was uncomfortable. The blue cushions on those chairs in the coffee room were still rough and hard.
“So…what is this all about? And why did you drag me all the way to friggin’ Podiatry?” Franco asked. The sleepless night was making him as testy as ever.
“According to your dad and Dr. Molly, they have the best coffee. And…uh…difficult subject, okay?” Annette said. She bit her lower lip in embarrassment as she seemed to sort through words.
“Just get it out fast. I need to be up there for them,” Franco said. “I thought you knew this stuff about parenting.”
“It’s different, because you and Samira are actually my kids!”
The whole room fell silent, perhaps because Annette and Franco were the only ones chugging coffee at 3 in the morning. Podiatry was a mellow and empty place at night.
Franco narrowed his eyes in anger. “What are you trying to tell me?” he asked, in a low voice.
“Sorry kiddo, but I know one of our kids when I see one,” Annette said. She drank the last of her weak-tasting coffee in one long gulp. “You and her aren’t going to create some…human-colored Aryan baby!”
“As if dad and Blaise aren’t pale?” Franco asked, in a dismissive voice. He thought back to Carmen’s older brother, who had the same biology. But he turned out as white as printer paper.
“Doesn’t matter for you two. You’re brown! Y’all are as brown as me and uncle Harwood and fucking Mohammed himself,” Annette said. “And even without that, I’m pretty sure you only father colorful demon babies like I did.”
He didn’t want to accept it. Franco spent nine months by Carmen’s side, preparing for this baby. And plenty more months before that under the sheets with her. How could it not be his? He swore he saw his father’s grey eyes in Abigail, when she opened them.
“Are you saying I’m stupid?” Franco slammed his hand down on the table, almost toppling those two mugs. “I can recognize my own kid! I can do it better than you can!”
Annette sighed, looking ready to spank her son. But her hand retreated under the table. And the other one could only point a finger.
“Fine, delude yourself. But if you’re going to waste your life being miserable with Carmen because of some human baby she made behind your back, it’s all on you,” she said.
Franco leaned over in his seat, holding the temples of his head in anger. Whatever was true, it hurt like nothing else. Either his mum would say such wretched things about her own granddaughter…or Abigail was just another human. And that couldn’t be the case, if he felt so much love and fondness when first meeting her. It was a feeling that he couldn’t muster for Julian or cousin Nicky. Not even Samira filled him with such joy.
Annette stood behind his chair. “Honey, I just want you to make the right choice about this.”
“And I am,” he said, with an exhausted scowl. He just wanted to get back to Carmen’s room, with her–their–baby. Then he could sleep slumped over the side of her bed. Or hold her–THEIR–daughter again.
When Franco got back, Carmen was wide awake and Sinbad had stayed to talk. He sounded rather loving and cheerful, for once. Perhaps Abigail’s sweet newborn face charmed everyone.
Regardless of lineage.
Annette’s words repeated in Franco’s mind. He watched Abigail fall asleep again in the hospital-issued bassinet. Even in the dim light, he noticed her stark, pale skin a little more. It glowed with a distinct human pinkness. And how did he miss her wispy blond tufts of hair the first time? There weren’t any blonds in his family.
Franco cringed as his mother’s warning echoed louder and louder.
A/N: So are you allowed to hate every character after reading this chapter? Duh. It’s Eight Cicadas!
But while everything is depressing, I can depress you further by revealing that I stole a joke from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia:
Granted, Annette would probably see it as an opportunity to feed people no matter if she was the first to think of it or not. 😛