For what had probably been half an hour, Makoto quivered on the couch. He barely remembered calling his sponsor, and it escaped him when he changed into what he was wearing. Unfamiliar clothes haphazardly strewn his niche of an apartment. Like American Eagle and Aeropostale were bombed.
Makoto realized he had a taste. His mouth soured.
Every moment waiting for Jeb was another moment of recall.
How many people had he brought home?
Four. Maybe more.
Why had he changed clothes?
These didn’t have bodily fluids on them.
“Why am I so gross?” Makoto wondered openly, voice ripping apart. He clasped his face. Still dirty. Spots he missed had dried. Near his ears. in his hair. Under his nose. Cleaning was so easy. Effort itself, was not.
All he had to do was wait for Jeb. There was only time between them.
Jeb was coming.
A raucous motorcycle could be heard pulling into the alleyway.
Then Jeb was here.
Moving was acknowledging the world. That could wait until Jeb spirited him away to the meeting.
Jeb knew where the key was. This was no first time.
“You alright in there Mako?” Jeb yelled from a million miles away.
Piles of clothes, his patchwork couch, and his knees were all Makoto’s world was. An effort was made to speak, but all Makoto did was release a sound, the creak of floorboards in an old house.
Nope. Not alright.
The unlocking of the door may as well been the chorus of Hallelujah, and Jeb his southern-fried Jesus. A black leather coat was thrown over Makoto’s shoulders. Big inhales of its comforting smell followed. Budweiser, fried chicken, aged leather. Scents that had tugged Makoto from the edge before.
A scouring of the apartment was performed by Jeb. Free reign was given in times like these. After a few minutes, he returned to Makoto, holding a wet washcloth. Much like a father, he roughly wiped at all the stains.
“You’re gonna be just fine little shark. Not you’re first time.”
Little shark. That always made Makoto smile. Jeb’s accent made him feel safe again.
But feeling safe made comprehension much easier.
“Looking in my room might kill me.”
“I looked, and you’re right.” He gave a playful pat to his cheek, hands calloused and rough. “You’re lucky, there’s a meetin’ in a few.”
Makoto’s chin met his chest. “I should have kept coming to the meetings. Don’t know why I stopped.”
A prideful harrumph followed. “Little shark, some are okay on their own. Unlike most sharks, you stopped moving forward.”
Those little idioms, phrases, rendered Makoto silent.
Why did he quit the meetings?
He thought he was okay.
Down the staircase, into the alley, Makoto was tossed a motorcycle helmet covered in art of sharks. His own personal helmet. He slipped onto the back, the “bitchpad”, and clung to Jeb with what last bits of strength he owned.
They cleaved through the city, the cycle roaring with urgency. Cutting winds granted Makoto a clear mind. He was more aware of how he needed to lean with Jeb at the turns. They rolled into the parking lot of the community center soon after.
Maybe too soon.
He wasn’t ready.
Makoto dallied after taking off his helmet.
“There were warning signs.” Makoto cradled the helmet, holding eye contact with the visor.
Jeb leaned against a damaged SUV, listening.
“A month, exactly a month after my last meeting, I saw this guy. All legs. All legs.”
Snickers trickled from Jeb. “You’ve always been a leg man.”
A tiny smile creased Makoto’s lips. “It took all I had not to jump him.”
One of Jeb’s well-worn hands slipped into Makoto’s hair and ruffled it. “It takes all we have all the time little shark. And sometimes this full force assault falters. That’s okay. As long as you keep up the war, one lost battle doesn’t matter.”
Makoto, running on battery-saver mode, just gave a nod.
“Let’s giddy up.”
Inside plenty of familiar faces greeted Makoto warmly, but a few were new, their eyes lingering on him, this unknown but known entity.
One of the newbies made Makoto wince.
“How long has she been here?”
Jeb gave a glance, followed by his own grimace. “Never seen her before.”
In the most uncomfortable pine chair in the world, was a pudgy young girl. Nothing more than a huddle, clumsily clattered together. Torn clothing clung to her, a mound of garish knit garb engulfing her.
At most, she may have been seventeen, if puberty treated her unkindly as the knitwear.
But she couldn’t have been older than thirteen.
Jeb tsked. “If I hadn’t seen it all I’d say they were getting younger every year.”
Next to the teenage girl, was Estelle, clean for thirty years, plagued with wrinkles of fifty years, and provider of gaudy knit garments.
“Think Estelle found her?”
Jeb shook his head. “Naw. At this point, I say the universe sends these people to Estelle.”
A subtle nod from Makoto. “I’m glad she’s here.”
The circle of chairs was made, and everyone gathered for the offputting council. Makoto’s chest tightened like a vice.
But he had to speak.
“Who is first tonight?” Asked the head of the group, a middle-aged man. Hershey. His real name was boring in comparison to his nickname, which he got for his head looking remarkably like a Hershey Kiss.
“I’ll go Hershey.”
“Mako the shark is up first tonight!” Hershey clapped in support. A wave of applause broke out from everyone except the young girl. She was him, only a few minutes ago. A few years ago.
With a deep breath, Makoto stood, and gazed at the group. All eyes on him.
“Hello, I’m Makoto.”
More breaths to stabilize himself before the difficult part.
He was the shark. He had to keep swimming forward.
“And I’m a cannibal. I had a relapse as recent as half an hour ago…”