Content Warning for: drawing from a lot of my personal experiences and feelings with depression, which might make it a difficult read for some. Depictions of alcoholism, themes of suicide.
At least he could be home for New Year’s.
Annette hoped that a 72-hour psychiatric hold would do Shark some good, even if he didn’t want it. No matter how he felt about her, she needed to minimize her future survivor’s guilt as much as possible. Shark was in good hands there, or so the testimonials led her to believe.
All she knew about his stay was that he was treated for alcohol poisoning, and later transferred to a facility in Pearlbrook for psychiatric care. They caught his poisoning in time and the prognosis looked great! Even though hemodialysis was a nasty thing.
She dropped off a few of his belongings at the nurses’ station a couple days prior. He wanted clean clothes. As long as they didn’t have drawstrings or anything else to strangle himself with, it was good. When she came back to pick him up, Annette found two nurses who seemed to be on break. She grabbed the one in the black hijab.
“I’m here for Shark Racket? I have an ID, we share a surname and stuff,” she said to the nurse. Her badge was visible, and her name was Faiza.
“Oh, uh, we can go see him,” said Faiza.
“It’s been 72 hours, though…right?”
“Yeah, I guess it has been,” Faiza said. “We just might need to talk.”
They started to walk down the hall. Faiza said that Shark’s room was just two doors down. Her update on his progress seemed dry. He was obstinate and didn’t take his meds. He didn’t like getting out of bed and rejected half his meals. So by progress, Faiza meant nothing of the sort.
“In conclusion, what I say might be troubling, but it seems like no one knows how serious this has become,” she said to Annette.
“He’s in a mental hospital. I’m pretty fucking aware now,” Annette said. “Look, I just want to take him home. I know he wants to go home. He lashed out to me on the phone for keeping him here at all.”
“And that’s the problem.” They reached his door by then.
“Look, we can’t force him to do anything. But maybe you can get through to him,” Faiza continued. “Unfortunately, we can’t. Can you at least try?”
“No guarantees,” Annette said.
Annette opened the door to a sorry sight. Shark looked drained, and like he hadn’t slept in four days. He sat on the edge of his hospital-issued bed and sobbed.
“Well, the worst of this is over,” she said to him, standing near the wall. “Do you feel any better?”
“They can try something better if you stay longer,” Annette said.
He furrowed his brow in anger. “Don’t you fucking dare,” he snarled.
“Fine. It’s your choice. But you’re the only person who can help you.”
In spite of her last words to him before they went home, Annette had a few ideas for lifting Shark’s heavy, drunken spirits. After New Year’s, she approached him with a job to fill up his boring, empty life. Mental soundness wasn’t a requirement for dismantling a meth lab, as she was requested to do. From what she gathered, some guy rented a house out in the swamp to a tenant who was almost never there. They seemed to have a meth lab in the basement. She could destroy it for the landlord and get a nice little check for her troubles. And, of course, bringing along a helper was an option too.
On the outside, the house was little more than a shack. Weeds and brambles filled the lawn, and the paint peeled off the door. It had its own eerie beauty in the snow, however. Annette ended up penciling in time to do it during a snowstorm. Whatever. She had the van to drive through the storm.
For once, Shark seemed eager to do something. “Are those drums of methylamine?” he asked, stroking his goatee. “It’s like someone saw Breaking Bad and missed the point.”
“Yeah. Looks like some poor chemist is getting his dreams crushed tonight,” Annette said. “You start disassembling the table. I spot something nice on that desk.”
She rubbed her hands together in pure greed, once she confirmed that there was a gym bag full of money on the desk. It wasn’t like the DEA would do anything good with it. While Shark surveyed the lab table that faced Annette’s back, she took a look at the rest of the table. If they left money out in the open, anything else was possible.
For the most part, it was papers and green folders full of scrawled notes and doodles. There was a sudoku book as well, how quaint. Nothing interesting in the end, though she could speculate at the initials on top of many of the papers. “S.T.R.”
Annette walked over to one of the ends, to get a better view. She swore that something hid behind that teal gym bag.
Her mouth hung agape at the last hidden object: a black jewelry box, with a bishop’s ring inside. In the center of the ring lay a large amethyst. Oh how she missed that beautiful thing. She took a deep breath and held it. Shark would be all over that ring if he knew, but he seems oblivious, reading sticky notes left on the other table.
The lack of sleep must have been getting to her after all. S.T.R. Short for Sinbad Takasugi Rotter. Brave of him to associate with his mother’s last name, wasn’t it? He spoke of his “former” trade of cooking meth multiple times before. It explained the households continued good finances too.
“You’re not gonna believe this,” Shark said. “This is Sinbad’s hideout! I’d recognize that handwriting anywhere.”
“Yeah, ain’t it wild,” she said. Before Shark could turn around, she snatched the little box and hid it in her hoodie’s pocket. Its baggy form hid the box’s shape well.
Something crashed to the floor.
Shark turned around, with a confident smirk and crossed arms. “You know, after all those awful things he said about me, doing this to his stuff is pretty damn liberating. Wanna help me with these drums?”
“I…I think I need to make sure that there’s room in the van for them,” said Annette. “I’ll be back. You can just pour the unfinished stuff down the sink.”
Making sure that there was room in the trunk was a good idea, come to think of it. But Annette wanted to reacquaint herself with that ring again. She put in on the kitchen counter and leaned over to get a closer look. The amethyst in the center was as shiny and flawless as the day she first stole it. To her, it was just a ring, but her favorite ring still. As long as Shark didn’t discover it in her possession, she could keep it. It was amazing to think that she first stole it just to shock an old man into befriending her.
Her life was hell for plenty of reasons, and Harwood caused at least several of them. But Annette still looked at that ring with fondness, as if he caused no trouble at all. Maybe it was hard to foresee anyways. When she recalled that day to me, she put exactly none of the blame on Harwood.
In fact, blame is something that didn’t apply that day.
Annette heard Shark’s heavy footsteps come up the stairs. There wasn’t really any time to hide her ring again and explain why she wasn’t at the van. So she had three seconds to prepare an impromptu lesson for Shark. One that he didn’t learn the first time she tried to take the ring away from him.
He spotted it instantly, peeking out from behind one of Annette’s sleeves. “Are you just trying to rub my face in this now?” he yelled, with his arms outstretched. Annette sulked, looking away. She knew that Shark had few inhibitions over hitting those who stood in the way of his…delusions after that horrible Christmas. Her face would be next if she didn’t act fast.
She grabbed the box, holding in her fist, and pointing to Shark with her other finger. “You didn’t learn your lesson the first time! You’re losing yourself, and I’m not going to give in again. Not…not after what you did to my son!”
“I don’t care! I’ll fight you for this,” he said. “That’s my ring! You know it’s my ring, and you won’t let me have that one thing.”
“You keep saying that! You can’t see past him at all, can you?” Annette clenched her fist harder. With a leap, she started to sprint out the door.
Shark soon followed, taking long strides that his tall frame allowed. That Annette’s short stature didn’t. She concentrated on outrunning him, hoping to lose him. After that, there were plenty of bogs and lakes around to throw the box into. As much as she liked that ring, Annette considered it a smaller loss than further losing her nephew.
“You can’t run forever, you old maid,” Shark said, as he chased Annette down the lawn.
She looked back at him. “Neither of us can!” Her worried face soon melted into a devious grin. “But guess who’s been hitting the treadmills at the gym whenever they can? Me! And guess who hasn’t been drinking themselves silly this time? Me!” Shark had gotten a bit softer from his extra alcoholic calories, and his muscles weren’t operating at full capacity. As for Annette? It hurt more to run with sore, lactating breasts. Her incision site was still tender and stung when she moved. But those were things she could ignore for a moment. And for the first time in a while, she was the most sober person in the house.
They continued the chase for more than a mile, with Annette always outpacing Shark by a few strides. They tore through brambles, cattails, and shallow pools of water. Annette tried to lose him with sudden turns, but the first few tries, he always seemed to catch on to her tactics.
Ducking behind a large tree seemed to work. Annette still kept her full pace, until she came across a final destination.
She slowed down upon seeing it. It was a slushy pond with a bridge. A few lights let it shine through the heavy snowfall. In the dark of the night, Shark had no hopes of finding a ring at the bottom of that pond.
Annette took the box out and opened it again, to get one last look at her treasure. Unlike Shark, she could let it go for the sake of everyone. She was able to let Harwood go too, in spite of being his friend of over a decade, and being the first to find his remains. And as much as she valued Shark as his own person, he could stand to be more like her in one way.
She looked at it with a bit of a scowl, and almost lowered her hand for the box to fall through the thin ice and to the depths below. But before she could bring herself to do that (what an awful end for a nice ring), Shark’s shouting got her to turn her head.
“You were gonna throw it away?” he screamed. “Just…waste it to teach me some bullshit lesson about being the same apathetic fuckhead that you and Bill are? That’s what you want?!”
“I’m doing this because I can’t be completely apathetic,” Annette said. “You’re letting him control you! And it’s more than a stupid ring. It’s…it’s everything you’ve been doing for the past eleven years.”
“I want my ring back!”
“Not a chance.”
“Why can’t I have something that makes me happy?” he asked. His voice started to crack a bit.
Annette crossed her arms in frustration. “You’re not going to be happy like this. I’ve been telling you this for over a year! You’re a miserable man clinging to the past, and I’m ashamed to have enabled that.” She stuffed the ring back in her pocket. “You know what? I don’t care now. I can’t care. I’m gonna walk away, and if you want to kick my ass just to get a stupid trinket back, be my guest. I just wish you could have lived instead.”
He started to slouch over and cry a bit as she walked away. And to her, that was his problem. As she walked, she knew how it was going to go. He would find his way home, drink a handle of vodka, and narrowly avoid killing himself again. She did her part.
Something plopped down into the thick snow. Annette paid no attention to it until it started wailing.
“I’M A FUCKING JOKE! A HORRIBLE PERSON!” Shark was kneeling in the white powder and crying his eyes out. “AND HE’S NOT HERE TO HELP ME.”
Annette looked over her shoulder, wide-eyed at the scene that was unfolding behind her. “Shark?” she muttered.
“I want his warmth again.” Shark’s voice went quiet and shaky. “He always knew what to do.” He curled up, raising his knees to his chest, and covering his damp face with one hand.
Annette stepped over to him, with a lot of caution. She knelt on the stairs to the bridge. “So…he always helped you in bad times?” Annette asked, with the caution seeping in through her voice. She figured that out a while before, but in that situation, Annette needed to say something. Anything.
His voice was barely louder than a whisper. “He’d hug me from behind, and tell me all the ways I made his day better. How I…made his world less lonely. I never told him how he did the same to me.”
Annette walked back onto the bridge, and sat down in the snow. It buried her legs when she lay them down flat. She looked Shark in the eyes. “I can care right now. I know you’ve been mourning for a while, I get it, but it’s like you’re not even yourself. You’re just Harwood’s, in your eyes. But you’re more than that.”
“I’m not! He made me feel like I was something,” he said, sighing. “Like…like…I think he was the only person I loved because I wanted to. And…he was the only person to love me that way.”
“I know you hate me talking about your uncle, but you know what? I felt the same way about him for a while. That he was the only one. But the thing is, we’re all our own people…if we let ourselves be.”
“And he’s still alive and holding you every night. I don’t have anyone now.”
“And I’m going to exist for much longer without him. I had to get myself help after Samira was born. I did get myself help, outside of Bill. He can’t do everything, and Harwood can’t do anything for you right now. You’re family…you deserve better than you’re giving yourself.”
The tears still rolled down his face, staining the red plaid fabric of his jacket. “I want to cry,” Shark said, sniffling. “I just want to cry.”
“Well, fine. Crying is good,” Annette said.
They stayed there for a while, or so it felt like to Annette. She wanted to keep an attentive eye on Shark. He soon placated himself with his phone, flipping through something.
“You know you can play Geometry Wars 6 at home too, right?” she asked. “You have to be freezing out here.” His fingers seemed to have stopped, as he looked at the screen with tearful tenderness.
Annette glanced over his shoulder, at an old photo on the screen. Although it was taken from afar, she knew it was a picture of Harwood. He sat at the beach on a nice summer evening, watching the lake and strumming his guitar.
“That was a nice day,” Shark muttered. His voice was still choked up.
“It’s like I was talking to a brick wall this entire time,” Annette said, rolling her eyes.
“What else can I do? You can tell me to be my own person…but I can’t be.” Shark turned his phone’s screen off. “I don’t want to be my own person…I want to be Harwood’s person!”
“I can’t do much to help there,” Annette said. “I liked him too, but you lost yourself in him. I almost hate him for that now. Nothing good will happen until you get yourself back.”
“I guess I can cry about this at home. Doesn’t even matter now.”
They both got up from the ground, their pants caked in wet snow.
Annette lay a reassuring hand on Shark’s shoulder. “Just, if you take away anything from this, it’s that I–it’s that you’re in control of yourself. Of your whole future. And I bet Harwood would agree.”
He didn’t seem to change much after that night. Annette found him most nights in the same state: knocked out and reeking of alcohol, but breathing deeply and alive. His cats still curled up next to him, as loyal as a pair of dogs. And he woke up every morning to continue his same routine.
It hurt her to watch that. Even if he was still alive, it pained Annette to think that he could do better. To think that he could have lived.
A/N: I think I apologized to Nessa a lot for dragging Shark through this for the story. We’re still together, and she’s still awesome.