He feared what would happen that April. Amy came back looking as shaken…as if she snorted coke and fell down a flight of stairs. Sure, Annette must have noticed, but she was hard to change the mind of.
But if one person could and should change it, it was her wife.
“Okay, let’s look at those Weimaraner puppies together!”
Franco woke up late one morning soon after, to find things looking smooth and forgiven. It was after Annette told Seng to cool down affairs with her. He sulked in his own special way, and Annette had a scheming look on her face for days.
But what a turnaround! His mum might have done plenty of gross things in the name of love, but them holding hands across the table warmed his heart. And talking about dogs together? How romantic. He wished for such skills of forgiveness for him.
Oh, how he wished for those.
“I’m glad,” he said.
“About the puppies? There’s a whole litter of them upstate and there’s this one girl who’s so cute,” Amy said.
“Well, that…but you two look happy.”
“Your mum and I had a long talk. And, you know, sometimes you both need a good cry,” said Amy. “And I’ll do anything for a revitalized marriage. It feels so good!”
“Yeah…I’ll believe it.”
“If I could make it work with your dad, I can make it work with anyone,” Annette said. “So…you mind if I bring up something serious?”
“Yes…I mean…fine. Where else could you bring it up?”
Her face scrunched up a bit. “It’s hard to admit it, but I’ve been slacking off with Amy because of…well…a return. I kept trying to think of what I could do to keep those visitors away from us and Earth, but it’s tough! So I just want you to keep an eye out for them when I can’t.”
“You want me to stop some…space demons?” he asked.
Annette smiled. “Kiddo, you’ll do a damn fine job. Plus, you’re all free and single right now! I’ll make Seng do it when you’re not.”
Franco glanced over at Seng, who was enjoying a beer in the corner. He started doing that more and more for breakfast after breaking up with Annette. He justified it as being liquid bread, like raw toast, and heartier than rice.
“Seems like he’d do a great job,” Franco muttered.
In June, Franco cherished sleeping in. Final fittings for wedding gowns flooded in, but those went fast and he often scheduled them for the afternoon. But everyone else liked waking him up. They had two kids and two dogs in the house. Spooky, their new Weimaraner, could be a special kind of brat.
He was daydreaming in his bed, when someone opened the door.
“We need to talk,” said Hannah. She stood in the doorway, dressed in nothing but a crop top and grey briefs. Years before, she expected Franco to undress her from far more than that. “It’s about…well…I know you don’t care about Seng anymore, but it’s him.”
“I…don’t want to do it like this,” he said, averting his eyes from her. Two and a half years since the breakup, and the only change was her short hair. He would still often wake up in a sweat after dreaming about her willowy, underfed frame. “Can we do it over breakfast?”
“No, because Seng will be there,” she said, closing the door behind her.
Hannah sat cross-legged on his bed, pouting like she did best. “So, I know this is gonna make me sound like a bad person, but you know the senior sound engineer I work with?”
“Well, his wife is Seng’s GP. Rumors got out, and…please don’t take this like he’s dying, but this drinking is catching up to him,” she said. “I then asked him about it, and he cussed me out, and…yeah. It’s liver damage.”
“…is there anything that can be done?”
“Lots of care and not drinking. I couldn’t go to your mum about this. She wouldn’t listen.”
“Are you asking me to do something?”
“Can you just try to talk some sense into him? I saw him nursing another beer this morning.”
Franco grimaced. “No one here listens to me.”
“It’s a side effect of us all being prisoners here,” said Hannah, as she moved to sitting off the edge of the bed. “But if it were me, I’d let you knock sense into me.”
“I doubt it.”
“That was you begging me after a bottle of wine. Sense is…something else…I’m sorry.”
June was also the month of Seng’s birthday. That year, in 2056, was when he turned 30.
The party was up to him. Venue: One Lounge on the River, because the rental costs were waived for his own building. Guests: lawyers, sister, Benji, and the family. And he mentioned something about having a date to bring too. He special-ordered a bottle of champagne for the occasion too. Franco was helpless to stop it. Seng just told him that he could have it his way for his 25th that August.
June 11th rolled around. The kids were left home with responsible guardian Sagebear, and a mushroom pizza that Julian refused to eat. The adults all dressed well, and One Lounge on the River opened its doors for a private party.
Franco stayed to the side. In a party where the only other people he knew were his mums and that goddamn Benji, Hannah the wallflower was the least-awkward companion. The oldest lawyer there had so much to say about law. But to Franco, what even was a subpoena?
At least Seng’s date was looking bored too. She stayed over once and introduced herself to Franco. Her name was Zo, she was in her 30’s, and lived just two doors down from the Waverlys. Her parents always gushed about Annette’s cooking. She worked in payroll by day and indulged in a hair-and-makeup obsession by night. Her big, fluffy afro was well-kept and smelled like coconut oil.
And Zo seemed like the exact person Seng wouldn’t date. She was smart and sober, but hardly a boss for Seng. He seemed to have a bad fetish for bosses like Fred Smith. For boorish strip club patrons who pushed him around, when he was a cash-strapped lad. For captors, like Annette. And Franco.
He didn’t want to think about it.
Hannah set a bad example for Seng, finishing her glass of white zinfandel. And he couldn’t blame her. He considered a Sauvignon for his troubles that night himself. It would help keep his mind off Hannah and her form-fitting cocktail dress. She just had to choose one with sheer lace side-panels. And Franco had to tailor it! There was extra room in the hips when Hannah bought it.
“Uh, I guess we’re alone after all,” he said, amid the growing ruckus over environmental law. Emerald was an environmental lawyer, and it seemed to be the one field Seng couldn’t care less about. His dark eyes glazed over as the discussion about yet another pipeline stretched on.
“Yeah, they probably don’t give a damn about sound mixing,” she said. “And I’m not gonna bring my guitar here. Someone would spill wine on it.”
“I…understand. Well…how’s that new demo coming?”
“Knowing my luck, it’s just a useless set of songs. I’ll see if I can sell them or polish it up, but…you know,” said Hannah.
“Yeah, things are feeling slow too,” Franco said. “Just a lot of tailoring jobs.”
“Sucks, ain’t it?”
Franco took a giant gulp, and backed into the wall.
“Hannah…I miss you.”
“So now you say it.” She crossed her arms over her flat chest. “Lemme guess, it sucks almost turning 25 and being single?”
“Well, maybe neither of us have to know.”
“Maybe we wouldn’t if you just…acted better!” She yelled. “You’ve been leaving me in the dust for years now. Everyone in this goddamn house has!”
“So no, it’s still over! Have fun with that.”
Seng’s whole crowd had turned to her. Some sighed, some facepalmed. Benji laughed, at Franco’s expense. It was hard to ban him from his in-law’s birthday.
“Fantastic job,” Franco said, growling a little as he spoke. He had no idea if she was crying out of shame or regret.
Whatever it was, surely she could be soothed by cake. Annette baked a dark chocolate cake, with a ganache frosting. Franco thought it was her best yet, when he first tried it earlier that year. She promised that he’d get one in August too.
Seng got only five candles, but everyone there knew his age. Franco couldn’t bring himself to cheer for Seng, even if Hannah who broke the bad news could. Sure, his stage of liver disease was an early one. It had to be. If not, Annette would stop being a good wife to Amy just to pamper him again. She had a big heart for the truly sick and hurting, like dad was! And Seng would be different too. He’d look more jaundiced and bloated in his slim-fit blazer. He would think twice about taking that slice of cake too.
It just felt wrong to put on a happy face and cheer for that ailing man. And after years with Seng, Franco had unlearned what made him crack. What he remembered was all related to the city. He loved sightseeing and clubs and taking pictures from the tops of buildings. Before drinking took a toll, he loved races through the streets of Bridgeport. He even had dreams of qualifying for the annual Bridgeport Marathon one day. And none of that meshed with Franco. He had lost his taste for adventure, and was a poor runner.
“So.” Seng had an eerie calm to his voice. “I’m getting the biggest slice.”
Franco grabbed a hearty slice. It was three layers thick and moist with cocoa and ganache. He set it down on the counter, almost ready to dig in.
But instead, he got wrapped up in watching Seng. There was an empty calmness about him for that whole night. At least, he should have been excited by chocolate. He loved it when Annette got a bar of 80% dark chocolate and a bottle of Shiraz to go with it. He’d even split it with Franco, though Franco liked to take his half to eat alone.
Chocolate and wine was the worst kind of lonely pairing. It had its place as both a romantic thing to share and as a pathetic breakup food. Boy, did it feel like the latter to Franco that night. He wanted to drown in chocolate, but that pointed to something worse than a craving.
And Hannah was holding up better. She declined a piece. She also ran her pinky finger across the icing for a taste. What a little shit! But Annette’s ganache was her and everyone’s favorite.
He turned back towards his big slice of chocolate cake. It looked kind of gross after some thoughts. Scraping the gooey chocolate crumbs off the white plate after the party was going to be so gross too.
In spite of the two hookahs being Franco’s idea, he never liked them. He couldn’t inhale without his throat stinging. It was the exact same problem he had when trying a cigar on his 18th birthday. So all he could do was take a seat, watch, and pout.
The night wore on. A couple guests left, and Franco wanted to as well. But he’d get berated to the end of the week if he was a bad guest/host like that.
Harry, the silver-haired attorney and law professor at Tulane, turned out to be a great pianist as a hobby. It worked out well, since Destiny Train had to bail. Franco at least enjoyed listening to him. He played with a highly-classical sense. Rumor had it that he studied music all the way through his undergrad.
Maybe Hannah could use him as a friend. As old as the man was, probably pushing 70, she could befriend him. She could make weekend trips to Tulane and give the old man a last romance for his twilight years. And then widowed maybe ten years from then, she’d run back crying to Franco…
Harry and Hannah never formally met each other. Especially not that night.
The bartender was absent too. But Seng unlocked some cabinets and a fridge for drinks. Beers were passed around, though at first, he stayed sober. Franco watched him again. The sweat dripped from his forehead as he said no to a lager and a rum-and-coke.
One of the other guests, divorce court rookie Luke Mainard, slid a bottle of whiskey over to Seng. Luke was already hammered after drinking with Annette, and grabbed yet another beer. Franco didn’t care about him and his drunk red cheeks. But no one else worried about Seng.
Not even when he opened the top and poured four glasses.
“Wow, I guess you are just a worthless lush,” said Zo. Seng didn’t seem to notice at all.
Franco bit his nails. “What can I do now?” he asked Hannah, who sat near him.
“Hmm…I don’t know. I thought you knew that I’m just a pushover you can manipulate and get back,” she said.
He rolled his eyes. “You’re the one who asked me to do this.”
Seng grabbed a glass, and was about to take a sip. The two of them hadn’t even talked in a week, much less had an honest conversation about alcohol.
Franco slapped the glass from Seng’s hand.
“Cut that out, okay?” Franco asked him, pointing a finger near his liver. “You’re killing yourself.”
“Oh,” said Seng. “Yeah, I was looking forward to that.” He then walked off to the men’s room.
Franco watched. He didn’t follow Seng to watch him piss, but he watched with wide eyes and felt the many hairs on his back prickle and stand up. And while he watched, the whole lounge had eyes on him.
“Man, I didn’t even think my kid knew what a liver was,” said Annette, her words running together. She had a fresh beer in her hand.
“They say ours is different! I looked so weird when they sliced Sam out of me.” Annette’s words trailed off as Franco stepped outside. As mentioned earlier, the building had two entrances. One led to the lounge, and the other to the basement offices. Franco preferred the latter. Its soft lighting, abundant climbing ivy, and the soothing splashing from the fountain made for his dream sanctuary.
Franco took a seat on one of the benches and sighed. He hunched over and exhaled more, almost unable to open his eyes.
“He really doesn’t care about himself,” he said, in a whimpering voice. “And it’s like taking beer away from mum.”
“We need to start over.”
Franco glanced over to Seng, peering out of the darkness. He almost went unnoticed. He didn’t smell like his boozy self at all. Instead, it was only the nighttime air and Head-and-Shoulders.
“Look…well…I guess someone spilled the beans about my checkup,” said Seng. “I’ve been trying! It’s a real kick in the ass to have a failing liver at 30.”
“Excuse me for being fooled.”
“Can we talk? I mean, we bought two-seater benches for something, right?”
“And for stuff like this! You know I have amazing foresight like that.” He gave Franco a cheeky wink.
Maybe he was right. Seng’s foresight was so great, he knew every way he was dying via alcohol. And that theory made a world of sense.
Franco couldn’t look at the rest of the bench. “Hannah told me to look out for you. But it’s hard. If I could convince people…”
“Oh yeah, Hannah told you. She just cares about me so much, the way she never talks to me,” Seng said. “I wish your mum was stroking my dick again. She gives a damn.”
“Here we go.” Franco groaned. “And I thought you’d learn this by now, but she doesn’t care about anyone at all.”
“And here you are, kinda caring.”
“Sometimes I wake up a little happy ‘cause I’m not stripping or in some Bridgeport slum! And…I get to look at you a lot. Sometimes your mum would peg me and I’d imagine it was you instead.”
“Yep, you haven’t grown at all,” said Franco.
Seng put a hand around Franco’s shoulder, stroking the herringbone fabric of his coat. “I’ve made this point before, but I’m lonely and you might be the last one left in this goddamn state! Seriously, the male picks are terrible here and your ladies ain’t better. I kept seeing Zo check out Christopher Lang at our last date anyways.”
“I’ll stop drinking for you. It’s the least I can offer.”
He gazed into Seng’s dark eyes, amid the muffled lounge music and screaming frogs in the swamps nearby. And Seng started to massage him around the scapula, with his spindly fingers. Franco would lie if he didn’t want to…draw them in detail.
He pulled away.
“No! This isn’t what I was asking for,” Franco said, snarling. “You need a reason to live, I get it, but it can’t just be me! Everyone has to find their own purpose whether we’re keeping you captive or not.”
“But there’s this one burning question,” said Seng.
“Do you think I’m hot? You’ve given some mixed-”
“Yes, okay? You’re hot. But I’m not going to fulfill your boss fetish just to get you clean.”
Franco started to storm off again.
“Franco, just, what else can I live for?”
“I don’t care. Don’t you have a brother-in-law to help you?”
A/N: I missed you.
Yes the Waverlys get a new dog. I just forgot to get pics of darling Spooky for this chapter.