Content Warning for: talk of suicide/murder. Misogynist slurs.
He noted that it was a pitiful, cramped place, saved only by the mandalas covering the walls.
From what Franco heard, there was a lot therapeutic about coloring in intricate mandalas. They symbolized balance and required a lot of concentration. So those must have been by his therapist’s patients. However, he hoped for something a little more direct than a coloring book for adults.
He hoped for something useful out of the young school therapist. By request, she went on a first-name basis with the students she saw. Pansy. The rest of her looked more professional, if a little frumpy. Pansy’s blazer looked a size too big.
“I don’t know much about you,” she said, as she leaned on her desk. “But I want to! You look like the most interesting guy in this school.”
“Yeah, I get that,” Franco mumbled. His pink skin was always the first thing anyone noticed. And no one could explain it, not even Franco himself. “I’m not here for you to try and guess what I am.”
“But…fine. There’s something else you’re here for.”
“It’s a long story,” he said, sighing.
“I…Ohhh. She was my patient too.” Even that seemed a little too personal to reveal, or know about them. But Franco knew what Carmen used to do after school on Tuesdays. Through a mandate and what was likely also the command of her mother, Carmen had to see a therapist. It was just to try and assist her through being a teen mother. There wasn’t anything requiring Franco to do so, but there he was in Pansy’s little office. On her couch.
One of the mandalas there had to be Carmen’s, done in various shades of purple and mint. It hung just above his head. Franco’s face contorted and cringed as he looked at the coloring work.
Pansy took a seat in her desk chair. “Let’s start.”
“…I’m here to get things off my chest,” he said. “So I’m going to assume you know nothing.”
Carmen and her baby spent only a day in the hospital, after the birth. That meant that she and Franco were on their own for caring for their daughter. Annette might have begged and pleaded for her son not to waste any of his time on an unrelated human, but he wasn’t going to listen to her accusations. He had plenty of love for his mum, but just as much skepticism. He was starting to trust his stepparents so much more. And neither of them said that Abigail had to be someone else’s.
Instead, he might have been coming to that conclusion on his own. Franco spent a few long afternoons at Carmen’s house, in the nursery they set up in the basement. Nothing could override his intense paternal instinct. He still gave every shred of attention he could to little Abigail, but it took less than a week after her arrival for it to stop being out of love. Instinct ruled all, but there was still that niggling feeling that itched at Franco. Some other guy was in the picture. And he had no reason to love a baby that wasn’t his.
He didn’t want to entertain that thought. It was heartless to think that about a baby. It also pointed to his potential failings just as much as Carmen’s. And one that would damn little Abigail to all sorts of vitriol. But there were implications coming from all directions. If Abigail wasn’t his, then there weren’t many other men like Franco in the world for Carmen to sleep with. Then, if Abigail was just an ordinary human, why subject her to being a Waverly? It didn’t seem like Annette’s weird scheme to be immortal would work so well on a fleshy human.
Franco took a deep breath. If he had to ask about it, he was doing it for the sake of Abigail.
Carmen was in the bathroom, but came out with an odd sort of enthusiasm. She held up a balled fist. “That big, Franco!” Ever since the birth, she was trying to get any sort of fun out of post-partum bleeding. As awful as occasionally passing clots the size of oranges was, it seemed to help her mood. “Anyways, it’s my turn with her.”
Franco handed her the baby, and struggled to form a simple request.
“Hey…there’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you,” he said to Carmen. “Something my mum brought up.”
She sounded undisturbed by it. “Is this about the immortality thing? Can’t we just wait until we’re adults? She’ll be fine here.”
“It’s not that. It’s just…I think we should do a paternity test.”
Carmen turned towards him, with an angered, sour face. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“Well…I’m not putting a baby through my family’s nonsense if she’s not mine-”
“Are you saying that you think I cheated on you? That’s…Franco, that is fucking ridiculous. You shouldn’t have to do that.”
An unsettling silence fell over the room, as Franco’s face scrunched up in anger.
“What are you so afraid of?” he asked, in a menacing low tone.
“Nothing! I just think it’s a waste of time.” She retorted back hastily, sounding like a frightened child. “I mean…who else’s would she be?”
“Then you’d have no problem going up there and getting us tested. We can even get T-State to do it fast,” Franco said, pointing towards the stairs. “Since you don’t have anything to hide.”
Carmen cringed, and shuffled her feet back. “Fine, whatever. Get your mum to do it.”
Buccal swabs took no time at all to do, not even on a wriggly newborn Abigail. And Franco was right about one thing. It also didn’t take long for the letter from Terrebonne State to get back after they sent in the samples. Franco knew of what Annette requested from them some years back, but not how she did it. Perhaps there were hostages involved. He wouldn’t put it past his mum.
Dear Annette Fatima Waverly Racket, and family.
It has been a pleasure to work with you again. Enclosed are the results of the paternity test requested for:
- Franco Ahmed Waverly Racket, b. August 8th, 2031. STATE_ID @031000446
- Abigail Maria Kindle, b. April 25th, 2049. STATE_ID @036009671
Genetic match of 2.107%. A match of 50% indicates parental relation…
There were more details further down, but Franco wanted to destroy the letter in rage right there. But it just fell out of his hand onto the dining room table. Franco extended one arm over the table, tensing it. He buried his other finger into his hair, as his face cringed in pure anger. He was as stupid as he feared! He allowed Carmen to betray him like that. And worst of all, Annette was right all along.
He called Carmen, demanding that she come over alone. Abigail, no matter who’s she was, didn’t deserve to see Franco that way.
She walked in the door, looking as nervous as Franco expected.
He led Carmen to stand with her back against the wall. Pinning her down with his severe face, Franco had only one question: “Who was it?”
“The test came up negative. So if it wasn’t me, who was it?”
“That’s impossible…we were so careful.” Carmen’s eyes went wide after she said that. She covered her mouth in embarrassment. “I…I mean…”
“Yeah, I thought I was being careful too,” Franco mumbled. He grit down his teeth in anger.
With her hands up, Carmen admitted her defeat. “Alright! It was Will Goode. You were busy for weeks with your portfolio, and we had to do a project together…you know how I am when I get lonely! It was one time-”
She wiped a tear away with her left hand. “I didn’t want to trick you,” she choked out. “All this time…I thought she was yours.”
Carmen fell to her knees, looking as if she was begging Franco for forgiveness. He looked into her eyes, severely, for what felt like an eternity to him. And possibly to her too.
“You’re on your own. I’m sorry,” he said.
Franco debated to himself on whether to go public with exactly what happened or not. But he had no choice, as the high school gossip machine made it for him.
To no one’s surprise, everyone was on his side. Franco had trouble stepping out of class or into the schoolyard without being tackled with…sympathy. He could understand his half-brother lending him a supportive pat on the shoulder, but pity hugs from girls he barely knew? At that point, he couldn’t appreciate it. Not in full, when it felt so weird.
He couldn’t even crack much of a smile seeing Will look so furious over what happened. He wasn’t even angry at him. Heck, he was more angry at himself for not noticing how Abigail had his blond hair. The boy scurried away like a scared animal whenever he saw Franco, though.
Everyone was on Franco’s side. Even Annette didn’t taunt him with I told you so. She baked Franco no less than two peach pies, and even bought him the vintage convertible he was pining after for ages.
In her defense, it was a fantastic ride. Franco took a small joy ride in it the day it was bought, but it didn’t help his feelings. His anger was spread too evenly, and all he wanted was a good way to respond to all those good wishes for him.
While it didn’t come to a head while Franco was babysitting Samira one evening, it tipped Franco off. His sister was preoccupied with her building blocks, which meant that Franco was stuck scrolling through Facebook on his phone. Annette begged him not to get one, but what fun it was to have all his friends and enemies one swipe away!
Most of his news feed was still selfies, shared articles from The Empire City Times, and pet photos. But he didn’t know how to feel when it made him sick to read Carmen’s a slut confirmed sandwiched between two pictures of someone’s new cat. It seemed like a well-liked status too. Although Carmen has been quiet on social media, gossip could persist. There were a lot of “knew it”s and one savage “some bitches just shouldn’t live”.
Franco wasn’t stupid, but instead of stepping in, he pulled a disgusted look and turned off his phone.
Just one night later, he headed out for a walk with Sagebear. The old dog needed to stay active and mark her territory, after all. Even though it was raining, the quiet Twinbrook night was just what Franco needed.
Sagebear stopped in her tracks. Franco thought she caught someone’s scent. He half-heartedly waited for her to finish sniffing around.
But, it seemed like something much stronger pulled that dog.
She wiggled free of the hook around her collar and bolted. Sagebear ran like a spry adult dog, instead of the deteriorating ancient she was. It even tested Franco.
He chased her for a couple blocks, as she led him up the hill where Carmen lived. Franco made a vow not to walk past there, for his sanity. But Sagebear insisted, not stopping until getting to that wood-sided house.
Sagebear watched by the sidewalk, and the scene before the dog made Franco stop in his tracks too. He almost never saw the whole family together, but there they were. Either crying on the porch, or yelling at a paramedic. All of the Kindles were there…except for Carmen and Abigail. Franco noticed the covered stretcher near the stairs, and his heart sank deep inside him.
He backed up in terror, as he put the pieces together. “Oh…no…I didn’t ask for this.” He couldn’t see anything identifiable sticking out from the blanket, but Franco could hardly choke down his feelings. Carmen did something else unthinkable, worse than one night with another guy.
“Sagebear, I didn’t want this,” he whispered. “I…I just wanted to leave this behind.”
Franco got the confirmation later that night. Carmen took some of Alma’s sleeping pills and drowned herself in the bathtub. She clutched Abigail close to her chest and held her under the water before she sank down herself.
What Franco was later able to articulate was that he didn’t know if he should mourn or not. He also wondered if it reflected badly on him to not try and help, when having a heart was otherwise one of his defining traits. No one at school seemed to understand why he felt so strongly about Carmen’s suicide. Didn’t he want karmic revenge in some way? Anyone else would.
He stopped himself from saying much to Pansy that afternoon, though. Franco leaned over in his seat, his arms folded on top of his knees. “It’s just a messed up situation,” he said.
“I…I’m glad you were able to get that off your chest. It does speak a lot about you,” Pansy said, in her most helpful voice. “Though…okay, I thought you were going to have something more fantastic to tell.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Franco asked.
“Something about whatever makes you so pink and demonic. I’ll admit…you’ve had my attention for a while because of that.” That last bit made Franco raise a skeptical eyebrow. “Not every therapist gets that, okay?”
“I bet your confusion comes that dual heritage. Caught between two worlds-”
“My mum got that from an armchair therapist too, you know.”
“Why don’t we think of a plan to work on this inner turmoil you have. I bet you can sense it almost as well as I can,” Pansy said.
Franco just got up from the couch.
Pansy got up too, looking Franco in the eye with a lot of sweetness. “I know that no one can get this all fixed in one day,” she said to him. “But I think we’ll do well together.”
“Yeah…I’ll just talk to my parents about that,” he said.
Franco looked over his shoulder at the bottom-center mandala. It had Carmen’s signature too, when he gave it a longer look. All he could do was nod once at it, as a strange way to say good-bye.
Although Franco was more than capable of driving himself, he often carpooled to school with Amy. Therefore, she was waiting near the lockers for him, and looking less than pleased.
She gave her reasons once they were outside of the building, though not like a still-distraught Franco was going to listen. “You look like you didn’t like it…and I get it. I don’t like her either. She only got hired because her dad’s the best math teacher we’ve ever had,” Amy said.
“It’s not Pansy,” Franco said. “It’s just…what now? Where am I supposed to go? I thought I had my whole life planned out with her.”
“Alright, you’re not gonna get this talk from your mother,” said Amy. “All respects to my lovely wife, but we’ve both been cheated on, and she’s not gonna slander your dad’s good name.”
He turned towards Amy. “And you’d slander your husband’s?”
“I can at least be honest about how I felt! It was all behind closed doors, but I was angry too,” Amy said to Franco. “And I didn’t know who to hate more. Sinbad, or Shark, or…myself. I know he’s talked about fixing himself, but I’ll talk about me. I had to make a choice to move forward somehow. I could have done anything, but I’d be miserable if I couldn’t forgive and at least fall in love again. And I think you’re the same way.”
“Like a romantic?” he asked.
“I think you’re quite a bit of one.”
Amy continued. “I know that Carmen isn’t an option anymore, but I know that you have so much more of a life to live. Forget about going to Pansy, and live it.”
Franco grinned a bit at his stepmother’s advice. “I’ll try,” he said.
A/N: Many thanks to the people who post colored mandalas online. It worked well for making the wall decor behind Franco (Adult coloring books and art therapy are great. Color a mandala for your betterment).
Anyways, it’s time to admit to some hypocrisy: I pretty much agree with the idea that we should stop killing/otherwise putting female characters through terrible things just to further the story of a male character (so Annette doesn’t count because all her shit is to further her character). Except when it comes time to give Franco a new case of the sads. So to Carmen, I’m sorry I offed you and your baby for that. And also because I was out of ideas for your character.
Edit 2-18-2017: This chapter/mini-arc got probably the widest spectrum of reactions of anything yet. From “close to fave” to “makes me not want to read Cicadas anymore”. In hindsight, there are plenty of cringey parts. Trying to make a “DEATH BY CYBERBULLYING” point was my most hamfisted ~moral~ yet and I would have approached this so much differently if I did it now.