August 5th, 2000
He knew he had to find it before even thinking of stepping out that day.
Harwood had an elaborate morning routine. Some of it was normal, like brushing his teeth, but he was the only man he knew that wore makeup. It wasn’t foundation to cover up the gruesome, rash-like scar over the right side of his face. He tried that a long time ago, but gave up. And Harwood was more than fine with the marks of aging. But he wouldn’t show his face to the public without eyeliner. His left eyelid squinted up a bit too much, and that bothered Harwood ever since he was a child. But a thick layer of black goo fixed it right up.
What a waste of a beautiful summer morning. Stuck inside, when he planned to do…absolutely nothing.
What an idiot, Harwood. It was Sunday. He spent six days a week and some nights too slaving over his sculptures at an outside studio. Sundays, however, were for lazing around the house and having an espresso or six.
He used to love his days off. Now he had to be forced into one. And even then, Harwood knew a way out of leisure.
“Emma, did you take my eyeliner again?”
Harwood got dressed and walked out to the living room, where his young girlfriend was reclining on the couch and watching the news. Her sleepy face contorted into a little scowl as soon as he said “eyeliner”.
“Don’t tell me that you’re going out again. You were gone until two in the morn last night…”
“…And you cried yourself to sleep worried about me. I’ve heard it before,” he said, exhaling with frustration.
Harwood plopped on the couch next to her, with a grimace of his own. Just a few sentences made him miss how Sundays used to be. Concerts or parties or just getting a six-pack with Emma. It wasn’t like Harwood could keep up with her, but it was fun trying. He couldn’t blame her for getting lazier while pregnant, but clingy and emotional? He was only spending all their shared waking hours away from her!
Yeah, that might have been it.
“Look, I just thought that maybe you’d actually be by my side with this,” said Emma, as she stretched her legs out on the couch. “This was your stupid idea.”
It was his stupid idea. And the source of their first real fight, as much as Emma sobbing on their bed was considered fighting. After a positive result, she begged Harwood for them not to have a baby. She was only 26, and didn’t want kids at any age. He begged as hard back. He always wanted kids, never got them, and had much less time than her to make it a reality.
And, of course, he won that battle.
“Guilty as charged,” he said, following it with a sigh. “…uh, let me get some coffee first.”
It made no sense. He wasn’t interested in another fight that morning, so Harwood picked his brain in silence. Did he change his mind? They were past the legal abortion date in Terrebonne, so he was out of luck no matter how much he regretted it.
Unless…well, that would be even worse.
It was a terrible idea that hit Harwood before he could even grind some beans. If he dared to flee town…it wouldn’t be the first time. He did something similar to his aging mother about a decade before, and that might have saved his life.
The whole thing gave him a headache. And it was just a dream or a dreadful impulse, unless he found his tube of eyeliner…
“Honey, I…I don’t like seeing you like this! It makes me scared,” said Emma, from the living room. “I probably have some eyeliner left upstairs. Maybe you just need to take a walk.”
If only Emma knew.
Pregnancy hadn’t destroyed all of her cognition after all. There was a full tube of liquid eyeliner, and a bit of smokey eyeshadow left too! Harwood never felt so euphoric putting on makeup, or getting a pair of jeans on. No matter where he went, it wasn’t going to be in an undershirt and track pants.
Emma pulled Harwood aside before he got out the door, though. “Just…where are you going?” She asked him. “It’ll put my mind at rest, okay?”
He rolled his eyes. “Grocery store. Just realized we’re out of bell peppers again.”
She gave him a pout. “Sorry…you know how it is.”
“Take care,” said Harwood, with a slight nod.
At that point, he didn’t even know what he’d miss more. Emma, or that house. It had a view of the river delta like no other.
February 2nd, 2032
Harwood wished that he knew what prompted that conversation.
Usually, his pillow talk with Shark was forgettable. But maybe it was the bottle of wine they shared that night. Harwood got drunk easier than his giant new lover, and had a terrible drunk suggestion.
Let’s just skip town together. Harwood used to dream of that all the time. There was a time where he hated his “landlady” and wished that he hadn’t fallen into her trap of being housemates for life. But that was over eight years ago! Since then, he grew to love Annette. Like a fun little niece who kept him in check, lest he act too old and boring.
He couldn’t ruin Annette, though. Not like he did to…Emma.
But it wasn’t like he was romantic with Annette. She had a kid, but it was with her actual husband. Leaving Emma kickstarted a downward spiral for her, or so the rumors said. Annette seemed to have a little more stability in her life, Harwood or no Harwood.
Whatever. It was something to mull over. So Harwood got on a bathrobe and lazily walked downstairs, starting his day as usual. Brushing his teeth came first.
“Someone’s up early.”
He saw her in the mirror. Harwood jerked his head around, almost ready to yell in terror. Even if it was just a harmless Annette. Who was standing between him and…maybe buying a beach house in Delmarva. He used to rent one, right on the shore.
“Please get out,” he said, almost snarling.
“Like you’re the only one with a bad morning face,” said Annette. “Besides, I gotta get the laundry. I’m all outta fresh underwear until I do.”
He turned towards Annette with a sickened face, his arms tense and crossed against his belly. “I had a bad night. I don’t need you in this.”
Harwood watched her pout and look towards the ground. “I’m sorry,” she said, almost whispering. “I thought that maybe I could keep someone happy here.”
He quirked up an eyebrow. “Is…is this more stuff about Bill?”
She looked up at him, with forlorn eyes. “We had a fight and I slept on the couch this time. I failed with my own husband! And now I’m gonna fail you.”
“I didn’t know it was still bad with you two,” said Harwood.
“It sucks. It sucks a lot.”
Harwood fidgeted a bit, until he had a different impulsive idea.
Before she could react at all, Harwood snatched Annette for a hug. He wrapped his arms around her shoulder and spoke softly into her ear. “I’ll spare you the details, but I’ve been a terrible person.”
“No, I’m cool with you doing my nephew. He’s just so happy with you,” Annette said. Her arms were still at her side. “Are…you okay?”
Harwood gave her a tight squeeze. “I am with you.”
Annette melted a bit, or at least got a little less tense in his arms. “Well, this is the first hug I’ve gotten since…I never thought you’d feel so nice.”
He finally felt her delicate hands on his back. Annette leaned her head on his shoulder. “Don’t be such a sadsack about this. You’re everything I wanted in a roomie.”
“You know, I can’t see myself anywhere else either.”
Final word count:
So, important stuff too:
- This is a spin-off of my main story, Eight Cicadas. I tried to make it make sense as a short story about trying to do the right thing without all the added context, but who knows how well it worked.
- The events here are canon to Eight Cicadas. The only difference is that I got to use Harwood’s PoV without having to use his godawful journals to tell it. And that I was way less vulgar than I usually am.
- The first segment takes place well before the main story. Yes, Sinbad is Emma’s unwanted little fetus, so you can guess what happened from there…
- I don’t have a set time for the second segment, other than it being loosely during the events of “Same Eyes”. That chapter covered a lot of time.