Content Warning: contains a homophobic slur, physical violence by an adult towards a minor, bad MS Paint art
Meanwhile that weekend, Annette and Bill left the rest of the family to do whatever was needed. Enjoy life without them? Sure. Or in the case of Shark and Franco, help Lolly with an errand.
Shark had, reportedly, done a good job with mending any lingering sibling rivalries with his younger sister. “Asslicker” and “cumslut” were thrown around as terms of endearment, and she trusted him enough to not mess up the simple job of painting a room. Lolly was expecting a baby with Justin, and it was about time the old bedrooms of the house found uses again. Just with fresher paint. God knows the last time those walls saw it.
He was over that rivalry, but not quite.
“Surely her big, strong husband can do a painting job just fine,” Shark told Franco. “Instead, let’s do one of my projects.”
According to Franco, the room smelled of sweat and unwashed bedsheets. Shark coughed and gagged at it. “Sorry for leading you up to the room where your parents banged,” he said, with a strained voice.
“And why?” Franco asked. He still was down on his knees to look under the bed, as Shark told him to, but the objective got muddled. “Knowing that, I’m fine with painting instead. It’s what I do.”
“Yeah. So you know how your dad is running for the state’s House of Reps?”
“Unfortunately.” Even at his young age, he had little faith in what his dad could do in higher office.
“I don’t think he has a chance anyways, but all I can say is that I know he did something embarrassing in the past and it’s our duty to stop him. The guy always stayed cooped up in here…maybe for the better, but still. I swear dad said that he wrote weird fanfiction, or kept niche porn under his bed.”
“Can’t say I’d be surprised.” Franco then combed through a thick wall of dust bunnies, old socks, and what might have been an old bra his mum owned. Good thing the Racket mansion was not lacking for showers and bathtubs. “Wasn’t your dad some sort of neatnik?” Franco asked.
“I think he wanted to leave this place alone. I guess you should be lucky you were born when you were. Age mellowed out your dad a lot,” said Shark. “But I think you’ve seen enough to draw your own conclusions.”
“Pretty much.” Franco had trouble getting under the bed, with his shoulder and gut getting in the way. God knew if his dad was able to do it much better. Perhaps that’s why he seemed to leave so many socks down there, plus an empty box of chocolates. His hand then hit something with sharp edges. The face was smooth vinyl, though. He pulled it out, just out of curiosity.
A three ring binder, filled with horrors or boredom.
“Something like this?” he asked Shark. Franco got back on his feet and let his cousin examine it for himself.
Franco could still read the text from over five and a half feet above the ground, though. “I just want to shove my whole fist into that succulent demon pussy? What sort of-”
“Yeah, this doesn’t even phase me,” said Shark, examining it like it was a cadaver on a table.
“I feel like I should be aroused by this, but I’m not.”
“Well, I’m not confused. And it’s handwritten and signed by him…submitted to a fetish magazine too. There’s a copy in the pocket.” Shark took out a faded magazine, looking squeamish at the pastel-drawn demon lady spread eagle on the cover. “Oh boy, and he didn’t even use a pseudonym.”
“I’m disgusted for even existing,” said Franco, shoving the contents back under the bed.
“Guess you won’t want to look for his online presence either?”
“It’s not he’d win the election anyways, and you know, we did come here to help Lolly.”
“Look, your dad’s always been corrupt and backwards,” said Shark. “More than mine. You know him. He steals from the city, is lazy at work…we’re on the verge of a lot of progress in Terrebonne. I don’t want there to be a chance for him to shit on that. See if he’s still logged into deviantART there or somethin’.”
It took forever for that old desktop to boot up, and the fans purred louder than a pair of happy cats. However, his browser remembered the credentials for that infamous art website. It kept going in 2045 due to all the fetish art is hosted. What a lovely thing for Franco to associate his father with. User “THANKSFORTHETITTIES” had a penchant for breasts and keeping his finger on the Shift key. The age matched up with Bill’s too.
Franco cringed going through the list of Favorites. Little did he think that he could be turned off by pages and pages of naked women and nipples. Maybe it was instead thinking of what made the L key stick on the keyboard.
“Why are you making me do this?” Franco asked his cousin. “This…this is stuff my dad…it’s overkill what you’re doing, okay?”
“Well, I just want-”
“Why are you making me look through my dad’s porn collection?!” Franco’s face went red (okay, redder) after saying such a sentence.
“I thought…I thought I’d be a little happier–no. I’m doing this for the good of Terrebonne,” said Shark, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Look in his gallery. He might have drawn some stuff.”
Franco groaned at having to do it. He clicked on what disgusted him the least.
What disgusted him the least was still a mess drawn in MS Paint, of a demon woman squeezing a pair of gigantic breasts together. The light blue palette for her skin was too close to Annette’s for either of their comfort.
“Yeah, I’m done,” Franco said, almost ready to exit out of the browser and draw a hot bath for himself. Shark, however, took one last look.
“Next piece is…Marceline and Lapis Lazuli fingering each other? Yeah, watched those shows as a kid, I’m done too.” He pressed the power button to shut down the machine.
“Are you not happy?” Franco asked Shark. He went a little wide-eyed at the question.
“I’m an adult. I have a lot of shit going on in my life. It happens…not being happy. You know, I bet we can find something happier downstairs,” he said. “Our grandma used to take photos in her spare time. Pretty sure most of them are nicer to look at than that.”
“No porn?” Franco asked.
“Probably not too much.”
Downstairs could also refer to going from the third floor to the second. After going into two wrong bedrooms (it was a big place, remember), Shark led Franco to the right one. It was a children’s bedroom at the end of the hall. Why Lolly and Justin wanted to rip apart another one for their incoming sprog was anyone’s guess. But Shark led Franco to the bed on the left, and pulled a wicker basket of photographs out from under it.
“I know that listening to your old uncle Shark relive his childhood might be boring, but would you rather be painting a wall?” he asked.
“It’s not that far off from the usual,” said Franco. “Plus, I think Lolly’s husband knows a lot about digital art, or 3D modeling. I’m really fascinated by all that! I wanted to talk with him about it.”
“No, you’re not gonna leave me alone here. Not like this,” said Shark.
Franco crouched down next to him, doing his best to melt his signature Racket scowl into a warm smile. “It’s not like I like seeing you unhappy,” he said. “Is it something about this house?”
“Well, I thought this place could help me…kind of a stupid idea.”
Franco pondered about what was in that basket. Framed pictures and Polaroids, mostly of out-of-context still subjects. He did his best to forget about the pictures of bound-and-gagged women he found in there too. So much for not finding porn.
“Grandma was kinda weird, wasn’t she?” Franco asked.
“We just say…eccentric. I dunno how she made time for it all. Crime, family, taking photos too,” said Shark. “I’ll say it’s better than whatever grandpa was doing.”
Franco continued through the collection. Tucked in a corner was a small photo-album, like those you could get at a dollar shop. That one had Tigger on the cover; a peculiar choice.
As it turned out, it was full of family pictures. Graduations, marriages, parties. And he stopped dreading yet another bondage pic after it proved to be a chaste collection. More towards the end, something almost made Franco’s heart melt. Almost.
He never knew what uncle Shark looked like as a baby before that afternoon, but there he was. It wasn’t too far off from the Shark of the present day. Big green eyes, brown hair that curled a bit at the ends, an upturned button nose. How adorable. Uncle Bill holding him was less so. Maybe Annette would have appreciated it, just to see what she missed out on. He still wore those hideous aviator sunglasses, but his face and torso looked slimmer, and his brown hair had yet to gain those many grey streaks.
Shark peered over Franco’s shoulder at it. “Oh, right,” he mumbled. “I know I was cute. Turn the page.”
He did. Birthday parties, Shark’s first day of kindergarten, Lolly following up not too long later. And then some pictures from the Spring Festival of 2013. After three near-identical shots of a hanging piece of Spanish moss from one of the trees, Franco finally flipped to some humans again.
His father was far more of a recurring subject than Franco expected. It seemed to catch Shark off-guard too, as his face scrunched into an uncomfortable grimace seeing that. The picture was rather innocent. Lolly and Shark played on the swingset, and Bill stood behind Shark to push him higher.
“It’s just…difficult in light of other things,” Shark said, looking away from the album. “Sorry.”
“I thought you said this would make you feel better,” said Franco.
“The mind is a complicated place, and these fifty consecutive photos of one leaf that I found aren’t too bad.”
“So…it’s just for dad?”
“You’re asking if I hate you by proxy? I don’t. No one has to be their parents, and you’ve done a great job of not being them.”
“Alright.” Franco flipped through more of the album. That one had better organization than the loose ones in the basket. It looked like his grandma could get caught up on a subject, but picked out the best and most relevant (some of the time) for one book.
It wasn’t like his parents, either of them, liked to talk about the past. And it was amazing what he could find when they were away…at least about his dad.
“Look, you keep wondering why I’m so stuck on making sure your dad doesn’t see public office again,” said Shark. “I get it. And I don’t care what he does to this town, like it matters much. But I care what he can do to the state.”
“Yeah, you said that back in the other room.” Franco’s voice grew disgruntled.
“I know I did, but…there’s just one thing I really want to live to see. I probably wouldn’t get married anyways, but I really want everyone to be able to get married in Terrebonne. And we’re one of the only ones left in this country where that can’t happen. And…I doubt your dad would help matters.”
Franco raised a brow in confusion. His main beef with the guy was stealing from the city and having a long history of being a public nuisance. But…homophobia? Unless Franco wasn’t looking for it hard enough, it seemed like a pretty pointless accusation. It wasn’t like Shark had any beef against Franco for being a heterosexual who didn’t think about those things much. And Bill couldn’t be far from that mark.
“Yeah, I don’t tell the story much, but I like to think about why I still don’t like the guy,” Shark said. “It’s nice to feel right.”
From what Franco was told, it was a winter night in early 2021 or thereabouts. Before Annette even knew that town’s name. But the Rackets were there, being themselves. And Bill had a way of being insufferable and callous, long before someone arrived who thought that was attractive. As Shark told his younger cousin, he came to terms with his sexuality rather early, coming out as gay to his family a year earlier. Everyone knew. Bill knew too.
Of course, his attitude in general was enough for Shark to often act pissy towards his uncle in response. It was the only reasonable response to a man with some public exposure charges under his belt, and some of the worst budget plans City Hall had ever seen. But the worst night started about a month beforehand, with a naive rich man named Kevin.
Shark, in all honestly, did not know Kevin beyond a few things: he made the Rackets look modest and middle-class with his riches, and he was gay. Apparently had a preference for larger men. And Bill was able to come up with both a plan and acting skills to get his slice of Kevin’s big money pie.
Of course, Shark saw right through it. His uncle’s pitiful attempt to be gay for pay was like a spit in the face to the teen. The same teen who got some shifty looks from his grandparents for coming out, the same teen who lost most of his friends for it. Bill never did anything in the other direction to help. The apathy was too much to bear.
And on a winter night, he caught Bill in one of his favorite places to be alone and enjoy a cigarette or five. He slammed the door open, which didn’t seem to capture the man’s attention at all.
“Alright, this was a long time coming,” said Shark, with a snarl of disdain in his voice.
Bill exhaled a puff of smoke and mumbled. “Don’t worry, I can guess.”
Shark approached him, stomping with each step. He looked up at Bill with a angered pout. “Well…fuck you for doing that.”
“Why don’t you dry your tears with all that inheritance money you’re somehow still getting? I don’t have that luxury.” Bill rolled his eyes, and his face contorted into a disgusted frown. “And if it means blowing Kevin, so be it. You shouldn’t be so offended by that.”
“You’re pretending to be something…something I can’t change that’s putting me through hell!”
“Yeah, for money. It’s fine.”
“I don’t care! You’re…you’re really insulting me by doing this.” Shark started to tear up at that. “I…you don’t know how hard it’s been-”
Bill raised his voice, hoarse with new anger and burnt tobacco. “Maybe stop being a little brat about this, huh? I can play this game for money if I want, no matter what this whiny faggot has to say about it.”
Shark’s face froze at that slur, before he tried to match his uncle’s anger. “What the fuck?” he whispered. “You want to get your fat ass beaten?” It was a bit of a bluff. Shark, at the time, was a wimpier teenager and had yet to come close to the muscle and mass he had as an adult. Weight mattered in a fight, and Bill had the advantage there.
But Shark also was cocky that night. He attempted a punch, aimed for Bill’s gut, but that got intercepted. His uncle grabbed his arm in mid-air. He pinned Shark to the wall with one hand, keeping him there with the force of his right forearm. The other hand still had a smoldering cigarette between two fingers.
Bill snarled his words through clenched teeth, and held the cigarette’s burning end less than a foot away from Shark’s chest. “They can’t tell me what to do, and neither can you.”
So Shark backed down that night. Getting one cigarette butt pressed under his clavicle was bad enough on its own, let alone risking another. And Kevin? He was just a passing phase in Bill’s life, gone before that April. Yet another failed plan. For Shark, it seemed like too much effort for too little reward to try and control his 50 year-old uncle after that. Hatred and negative opinions took little effort to form and little more to keep, even as Shark was pushing 40 and struggling with bigger issues in his life.
Shark curled up, with his knees bent close to his chest, once he finished the story. While not crying, he had a distant look in his eyes.
“Well, I’m glad you were able to share that,” Franco said. “I mean, you have a stronger ally in me now, right?”
“I mean, sure,” said Shark. “Like, I know it’s right to have a bad opinion of him. Confidence counts as being happy, right?”
Probably not. Franco didn’t say a word, though. He turned to the last page of the album, which didn’t help him either. He had to admit, it sucked to feel helpless in regards to someone else’s problems. And it sucked more to see the same man, back when he was a happy child.
Maybe it was just the moment in that photo, of little Shark catching a rare glowing butterfly at sundown. Maybe just that moment got him to be blissful and smiling, and the rest of his time was still torment. But Franco wasn’t a dumbass. Most of Shark’s current issues stemmed from an event just over a decade in the past.
What could be done?
“Hey morons! I’m not paying you for a family reunion.”
Lolly had finally found them. She had her arms crossed and smelled faintly of paint primer. “I mean, I did tell you guys that you’re getting dinner on me after this, right?”
“I think,” Franco said. “Sorry. Shark dragged me into this.”
“I’ll make sure to up my insults for him,” Lolly said. “Anyways, it’s the room at the other end of the hall.”
As he expected, the room was drab. The walls were stripped, but there was a crib assembled. Some cardboard boxes, taped up, sat near the windows. Tarps were laid out, and there were two fresh cans of paint in the corner.
Justin was there, as was expected, but he seemed to have a guest too. The guest’s childish, high-pitched voice made Franco stop to observe.
Hannah! He did listen to Shark talk about how sure he and everyone was about Justin being her father. It looked like Justin listened, or got back results from a paternity test he never asked for. He had a happy conversation with his daughter, and Hannah’s face was free of bruises and other injuries. Her one missing tooth could be chalked up to still losing her baby ones.
Justin turned towards Franco, with a toothy smile. “Hey! Weren’t you two feet shorter last time I saw you?” he said to him. He extended a hand out for Franco to shake. “Maybe we should get together for Christmas this year…hopefully it’s not too chaotic.”
Franco returned the kindness. “Lolly said you do a lot of stuff with digital imaging…but I guess you’re Hannah’s dad too.” She seemed rather distracted, walking over to unpack a box, or to check out those roller brushes they just bought.
“Yeah…it was before I met Lolly, okay? It was quite a fight, but the court said that sharing duties was the best. I disagree, but…” Justin stopped himself there.
“I’m aware,” Franco muttered.
“Look, I’m trying my best here. She still talks about you all the time.”
Hannah looked over and gave Franco a wave, before taking out pieces of a disassembled changing table. Something about that seemed to fascinate. He waved back, but he had grown a lot since they stopped hanging out. For a brief moment, he thought he was over Hannah.
A/N: Would have been posted sooner, had I not been dying last week.
But I survived!
A lot of this chapter was an excuse for me to use flashbacks to Shark’s past. Or to show that Annette and company followed through on proving who Hannah’s father is.
The incident with Bill and Shark was mentioned in Chapter 12, in case you forgot.