Content Warning for: drug use
The city of San Rodrigo tended to be mild and dry. Hardly an hour’s drive away from the Hamakhaave Desert, its oceanside location could not combat the dryness. But considering how wet and dreary Twinbrook was in April, Franco took it as a much-needed escape.
His only wish was that it was for something better.
“You don’t need to fret,” Amy said. “You only have to meet them once.”
Franco was busy checking his face in the mirror. He had a razor with him, in case he missed an overgrown hair on his neck. Anything longer than light stubble made Franco look like a slob. And sometimes, he missed hairs in the small fold of his double-chin.
“Yes, but they’re your family. I should treat them well,” he said.
“My dad called you a-” She sighed, and hung her head down. “I shouldn’t speak ill of the dead.”
“And I forgive him.”
“So you won’t make grouchy faces at his corpse?”
Amy retreated back, with her cheeks growing red. She clasped her hands together in a tight grip.
“I…I…I think I need to talk to Julian about this. He took his halmi dying just fine, but…that was a few years ago.” Franco then remembered that Sinbad was around then. Mostly because he was fucking giddy at the old bitch dying. In his words, of course. He skipped out on the funeral, but raved for hours about how great it would be without Soo.
It was weird. Franco later read about Japanese imperialism and Korean “comfort women”. And Japan never apologized for its war crimes, not until 2081. And I saw those newsreels. The Prime Minister couldn’t have looked more disgruntled at having to say it. Soo almost sounded right. But no Japanese-American could identify with it less than Sinbad did. He reverted back to his original surname and stopped there. And he never spoke well of his mum’s family as a whole. There was sweet Grandpa Takasugi, who he was honored to carry the name of, and no one else!
And then there was Stanley. Blamed his “benign” bigotry on mere bad experiences with Soo. But he was not rude in the way she was, and warmed up to Julian as his grandson. He sent birthday money and nice cards, and even offered him a trip out west one year. Julian refused because of the state’s black widow spiders and rattlesnakes. It was bad enough looking out for occasional coral snakes in Terrebonne.
“Mum, I need you to come out here!” Julian knocked on the door furiously. “Mum!”
“Alright sweetheart,” she said, sighing a little under her breath. She took a look at Franco. “This is why I bring you places. You’re good backup.”
He grit his teeth. “I’m glad to help.”
Both Amy and Julian stepped into the main room with caution. It wasn’t a big wake. Franco didn’t know any of those mourning over Stanley’s body, but everyone looked un-threatening. Well, they looked un-threatening to him. Everything scared Julian, even some harmless, bereaving family.
Amy muttered some things under her breath. “All you could get was Uncle Andy’s family…where’s Jeremy?”
“I guess we better join them,” Franco said. “Do I have to be careful around them?”
“They’re…fine. I just expected a bigger crowd,” said Amy.
“Who are these people?” Julian asked. “Why is the old man lookin’ at me?”
“That’s your great-uncle Andy…he’s…okay,” she said. “I…I think I’m gonna step out.”
Franco found her looking up the stairs. They seemed so unnecessary for a funeral home, unless that was there they prepped the bodies. They seemed to lead to a dark hall. Looking at the stiff corpse of Stanley Bull was scary enough.
“I’ve been here before,” Amy said. “They have a bar up there.”
“At your dad’s funeral?” Franco asked. He didn’t have to intervene much. Julian trotted over to them.
“Mum, that girl kept wanting to shake my hand and cried when I said no,” he said. “Can’t you just make her go away?”
“Leah is your cousin,” she said. “I think you should branch out. Maybe start with your aunt Connie instead. You’re only gonna see these guys once!”
“I hope they’re cleaner than Samira,” Julian grumbled.
“Now kiddo, you don’t know until you meet them! Give them a chance.”
Something about Amy’s sweet voice got Julian to sulk away, back into the main room. She let out a sigh of relief.
“If I have to suffer, we all do,” she muttered.
“I…I really think you should join him. I’ve had to go to funerals for worse people,” said Franco. When his school held a memorial for Shark, his eye still stung from that punch. And just because he was two at grandma Marigold’s funeral didn’t mean that he wasn’t there. “We can make this quick and see the rest of San Rodrigo afterwards. I’m up for it!”
“Well, there’s family up there too,” said Amy. “I know Holly and Jeremy wouldn’t just skip the wake.”
“Oh. Stepmother and half-brother.” It hit Franco that Amy had been lying to him about being an only child for as long as Franco knew her.
“They…weren’t at your wedding.”
“There’s a reason for it…I might never see them again after this. I need a last word.”
He turned away from her. “Amy, I know I’m just your stepkid, but maybe you should listen to me for once and realize that this is a bad idea. And you…well…we all drink too much.”
Amy’s sweet face furrowed into an intense scowl.
“No, we’re gonna say one last good-bye to Holly.”
The only lights on upstairs were a couple in the corner. Their faint golden light did little to help the atmosphere. But Amy was right about people being upstairs. He could hear a drink sloshing around in a mixer, and one loud, prolonged snort.
“Wa-hoo!” Perhaps that was the mysterious Holly. She was an older woman, with streaky grey hair and a short black dress that would look ridiculous on someone half her age. It contrasted with the white cocaine powder on the coffee table.
“Huh. She used to be a lot more sombre,” said Amy.
“And then I discovered uppers!” said Holly. “They’ll end lives and save ‘em too.”
If that was Holly, then Jeremy must have been the man behind the bar. He couldn’t have been much older than Franco, and had Holly’s long face. Stanley’s round eyes and Amy’s petite nose marked him as a Bull, though.
“Is this an open bar?” Amy asked. Jeremy just nodded. “Don’t be such a loser, kid. Pour me something.”
He ended up taking a seat on the loveseat next to Holly, along with a pineapple cocktail from Jeremy. The instant rush in Holly had cooled, and she was merely chipper.
“Oh man, I didn’t even know she got remarried!” Holly said, after Franco introduced himself as Amy’s adult stepson. “I don’t think she even said anything to Stan about it. He’d counsel her through divorce like a champ.”
“I…wish it was just that,” said Franco. Holly didn’t seem to react.
“Pretty neat stuff tagging along for some guy you barely knew.”
Franco smiled a warm smile. “Oh…thanks, Mrs. Bull.”
“Please kid, call me Holly. Or Ms. Laurito. I…think I might have to go back to that.”
“You don’t need to. My mum and I still have my dad’s name even after…”
It didn’t hit him every time he brought it up. But sometimes, Franco would have to stop and oust the memory of running upstairs after that gunshot. Blood and brains dripped from the wall. His mum couldn’t even cry as she held her husband’s lifeless body. At least Sinbad got discovered by coroners.
And Amy never would do that.
“…it’s just a little weird to think about,” he said.
“Aww. Tell her that from one widow to another, I’m sorry. Maybe she can…have some coke! You pinkies can have coke, right?” she asked.
“I don’t think so,” Franco said. The world of drugs and Waverlys was a mysterious tangle. “Why don’t you talk to Amy about it instead? She lost her husband.”
Holly got up from her seat, gesticulating and waving her arms as she ranted. “That girl spent all her time bored with dad’s nice house and comfy job and angry at me daring to fall for her divorced dad, and she leaves only to be a big bitch about Stan coming to her wedding and trying to be a grandpa. She has to prove herself to me!”
“Crap…we’re gonna be billed for that too,” said Holly, cringing at the broken lamp on the floor.
“Maybe you shouldn’t chew out your stepdaughter in front of her?” Franco asked. Amy was right by the wall.
But with her little glass of gin, she didn’t notice at all.
He tried to be subtle, though the worry in his eyes was probably visible across the room. “Oh, uh, I don’t really know you, Holly. Maybe someone else in here does?”
No response. In fact, she must have snuck off, somehow, in those high Louboutin heels.
Franco then learned what Holly’s bony arms felt like when wrapped around his neck and shoulders.
“Wanna be friends?” she asked him.
“No! Get the hell off me,” he said, trying to get a grip on her long silk gloves. Curse the slippery fabric. It was the one thing to stop the force of Franco’s giant hands. “Amy…a little help here?”
“Oh, yeah, keep ‘em coming!” she said to Jeremy, as he continued making drinks and barely making a sound. Her words started to run together a bit. “Maaaan, I can’t believe it took dad dying to get me out of this rut. Are you bein’ a good son?”
“I guess. I finished my master’s,” said Jeremy.
“You get angry? Feeling reaaal angry over his death?”
“No. His heart was having troubles for years, so, you know. I expected it.”
She pinched her nose bridge, and her face crinkled up a bit, as if sniffling. “Oh…I guess you have been a good son.”
At about that moment, Franco threw Holly off him.
“Ugh, I just can’t make friends with the newbies,” she grumbled.
Holly dusted off her lacy dress. “Guess I have to bug Connie now.”
Amy grabbed another drink off the tray. Franco had lost count of how many she had so far, and he hoped that Amy did too. But he remembered back to the year before, in the lounge. She seemed to know everything she was doing then too.
“What a shame. It isn’t a Bull family reunion without a coke fiend bothering me.” Jeremy chuckled a little. “Uncle Mike’s death really made these things a lot less exciting.”
Amy looked up from her glass. “So…is it you or me?”
“It’s not exactly my thing,” said Jeremy.
“Well, then it’s me.”
Franco went through drug education in high school, even though cocaine and opiods would just pass through him like water. He shouldn’t have remembered the dangers of mixing cocaine and alcohol, but he did.
“Amy, please don’t,” he said.
She didn’t listen, and walked towards the coffee table full of powder.
“It’s so white! I…I guess I just need to snort it.”
“Look, can you stop her?” he asked Jeremy.
“She’ll probably listen to me even less. Barely knew she existed for a while,” he said. “Really. Dad never talked about Amy until I discovered some old pictures of her.”
“That’s…why would he do that?”
“I dunno. Can’t ask him now,” said Jeremy. He nudged Franco’s arm. “You want a drink?”
“Alright, I’m ready!” Amy said, taking a tough stance.
“Ready for what?” asked Franco.
“Gonna tell uncle Andy what I really think of him!”
Jeremy just shook his head.
She started to run, and Franco did too.
“Amy, you can do better than this!” he cried out. “You need to be more careful!”
Crash. Crash. Crash. And so it continued, for as many stairs as there were.
It was harrowing to watch Amy unconscious for the whole night, and morning too. But she woke up stuck to a heart monitor, and with an IV port in her hand.
“Oh god…was I run over?” she said. Her voice was low and groggy.
“They said you blacked-out on the stairs and seized.” Franco had been waiting on that couch in the room the whole time. He alerted the doctor to her endless drinks and one line of cocaine, and watched the man’s face go white with horror. “Or something to that effect. I…I’ve never seen one.”
“And now they’re gonna call the DMV…oh god, did Julian have to see this?”
It hurt Franco to nod yes.
“I think Connie took him back to her place for the night,” he said. “And to the burial.”
“Oh…you missed it?”
“I’m more sad that you did.”
Franco sat on the edge of her hospital bed. It went lopsided on his side, which made no sense. Surely those beds were rated for up to 400 pounds. He lay one of his big hands on Amy’s shoulder.
“I want to know what got into you,” he said. “It’s been happening for a year now. Something’s wrong, and I haven’t stepped in to fix it, but-”
“I don’t want this,” Amy said, pinching her nose bridge.
“What don’t you want? Me? Mum?”
“This isn’t helping,” said Franco. “You could have died because of this…that wasn’t the point, was it?”
“Please get off the bed. You’re gonna snap something.”
The white-and-burnt gold sheets were wrinkled where he was sitting. He looked back at Amy, with a bitter pout. “I don’t want to have to lose you too,” he said. “I thought you were better than this. Better than…everyone else we knew.” The list of suicides was too long, even back then.
“Maybe you could have helped me,” said Amy. “I feel like I’ve been crying for help, and you’re always there for everyone else.”
“I wish I could,” he said. “I wish I could.”
She curled up on the mattress, knees against her flat breasts.
“I always thought I was better than Holly,” said Amy. “I can’t believe some legit cokehead has won on life. At least dad seemed to love her.”
“She looked miserable to me,” said Franco. He noticed the door opening, but Amy wasn’t even looking at anything.
She hung her head down instead, with closed eyes lined up with the pattern on her hospital gown. “She’s gonna be a happy widow with a great son. And I just have Annette and Julian.”
Julian peeked out from behind the opened door. He looked well-rested, considering the circumstances, but with a look of open-mouthed mortification. And still, Franco noticed it first. Amy still sulked in her hospital linens.
“Julian…she just woke up. She doesn’t know what she’s saying,” said Franco. He must not have believed that. Everything about Julian grew more tense.
He stormed in, looking ready to strike someone with his tiny child hands. But Franco grabbed him by the wrist.
“Get off me!” Julian yelled, trying to shake Franco off him. “She said she doesn’t like me!”
“She didn’t mean that at all.”
“But that’s all she acts like! She doesn’t care about anything-”
“Look, we can address this at home,” Franco said. “But you’re not gonna get near her if you’re acting like this. And I might even ground you when we get home.”
“Why can’t I complain like you always do? You always say this stuff about your mum.”
He stepped back, with the impact of a reality-brick hitting him in the gut.
“Julian…we’ll talk about that later,” said Franco. Much to his relief, a nurse escorted Julian out of the room.
“I’m sorry, Amy,” said Franco. “Well, I’m sorry you had to hear all that.”
She was still curled up on the sheets, and half-crying into her hands.
“He’s right,” she choked out. “I don’t care anymore.”
A/N: My original name for the city (aside from going with the default “Starlight Shores”) was San Dominguito, after Saint Dominguito de Val. Even after reading about how he likely wasn’t real and was created as an antisemitic legend. But as it turns out, there is a pretty rich history of Jewish Spaniards in the Americas.
And if anyone’s read my November 2016 short story “Autograph”, I can confirm this: I was lazy and used the same save for both this and that. Fun fact: Collin and Russ wouldn’t stay on their community lots and did once threaten to photobomb. 😀
I know the timing might seem a little outrageous for Amy to have a half-brother who’s around 30 to her mid-50’s. But here’s my logic:
- Stanley had her rather young, in his 20’s. Not mentioned, but it was always the intention so she could have living parents for her wedding. If anything, Soo implied that she was younger than “almost 78” in Chapter 45. She and Stanley were meant to be the same age, or him a couple of years younger. That was in 2047 (two years after Samira was born in 2045/when Annette was 48), making Amy 45 and her parents 77 or younger. The upper limit Soo could have been when Amy was born is 32. Lower limit? I think Stanley might have been in the 22-25 range, with Soo anywhere that’s plausible.
- I’ve been a mess with time right now, but this definitely takes place when Franco is 24/to turn 25 in the summer. He was born in August 2031, so it’s April 2056.
- For a safe bet, let’s say that Jeremy is 30 right now and a likely 2026 birth (fun fact: he shares this birth year with Seng!).
- Amy was 21 when we first met her (oh how the times have changed!). She is a January birth (for that garnet birthstone) and her birth year was 2002 (to make her 21 in the summer of 2023), making her 24 when Jeremy was born.
- Stanley was anywhere from 46 to 49 when Jeremy was born.
- Holly, while no spring chicken here, is up to a decade younger than Stanley. I tried to imply that through her being spunky and alive (coke can’t do everything), but she would have been a more-than-plausible late 30’s when she had Jeremy.
Phew! And if you don’t want to read that, consider this: Annette was able to have an accidental and healthy pregnancy at 45/46. Anything’s possible.