The day Bacon came back, he just walked through the door and said “Hello.” Like nothing had happened. As if he hadn’t been gone for 15 years.
Son of a bitch walked in like he owned the joint, sat down in the chair across from me, and said “Hello.”
“‘Hello’?” I could barely look at him, I was so angry. “‘Hello’? That’s all you have to say, you cowardly shit?”
Bacon shrugged his shoulders and gave me his best ‘what do you want from me’ grin. It was pretty obvious he was sure I was going to forgive him. I always had before, what made this time any different?
Well, for one, it had been 15 years. Not to mention what happened in homeroom all those years ago. What Bacon had made me do.
“I missed you?” Bacon added.
“Fuck you,” I said, but if I had to admit it, I had missed him too. 15 years is a long time to go without your best friend. It feels like a piece of you is missing, a phantom limb that itches with no way to scratch it.
“There’s the spirit. I was starting to get worried about you.” He settled back in his chair, glancing around the sparse room. I could tell from the way he sat he knew he was out of the doghouse already. Or at least, he figured as much. “Haven’t been too lively these days. Seems like you’ve given up, Mick.”
“How the hell would you know? You’ve been gone 15 years.” There, I said it, spat out the phlegm at the back of my throat. There was his crime, clear as day, 15 fucking years. Not to mention what happened in homeroom.
Bacon went on like he hadn’t heard me.
“I’ve popped in on you from time to time. Checked you out, made sure you were getting on okay. Just didn’t feel like the right time, you know?”
No. I didn’t know. Had Bacon been stalking me? How exactly had he been “checking me out?” And why had it taken so long for him to come back into my life?
“I’m not getting on okay. I haven’t been. Not since you left.” I sounded pouty, a sulking child, but I couldn’t help it. It hurt.
“Aww, buddy. C’mon, Mick.” Bacon leaned forward and cuffed my knee gently with his knuckles. “You know I only act in your best interests. I always have. It was time for me to go, I couldn’t stick around. Not after—”
“Homeroom.” I finished the sentiment at the same time it came out of Bacon’s mouth. He nodded grimly, for the first time exposing the serious side of himself I knew was always lurking beneath the surface.
“You’re slipping away,” he said bluntly.
“Fuck you. You think you can just pop back into my life and start judging me?” Bacon was always judging me. Always pushing me to do better, go a little farther. I suppose without him maybe I’ve slipped but fuck him anyway.
“That’s why I’m back, Mick. I can’t let you slip away. You’ve got more to do.”
Always more to do with Bacon. Maybe 15 years had been better for me than I thought — I’d missed him so much I’d nearly forgotten how demanding he could be.
“I think I maxed out in 2001,” I sneered, and that made him sit back in his chair a little. Not quite as relaxed when he saw I could potentially put up a fight. “Can’t imagine what else you’d have lined up for me. Besides, I’m not a kid anymore. I’ve got my limitations.”
Bacon gave me a brief but thorough look over. Nodded in stern agreement.
“Yeah. I can see that. But I can help. I can get you back on your feet. Stop the slipping. That’s why I’m back, buddy, you’ve got potential and you’re stronger than I thought.”
“Gee thanks.” I broke eye contact to stare at my feet as if there was something particularly interesting to examine there. “You sure know how to make a guy feel good after abandoning him for over a decade.”
“Mick,” he began, but I cut him off.
“You were supposed to be my friend. We said we were going to do it together and you backed out and now here I am.” I was mortified to realize I was on the verge of tears so I shut my mouth and kept staring at my feet.
“I know,” Bacon said, then added gently, “and I’m sorry.”
Bacon never apologized before.
“I got scared. I thought I could do it, thought it was the best option, but at the last second I chickened out and I’m sorry.” He cuffed my knee again and I looked up from my feet. He looked sorry, too. “I’ve been using our time apart to think, you know? Because if that wasn’t the best option, there had to be another one, right?”
“You’ve got another option,” I said, my tone dry as desert sand.
“Bet your ass I do.” Bacon grinned, then leaned forward conspiratorially. “What went down in homeroom—”
“When you left like a cowardly shit,” I interjected, but he went on.
“—that wasn’t right. It wasn’t what was supposed to happen. I had the signals all mixed up. I got it wrong.”
“You ‘got it wrong?’” I would have laughed in his face if, you know, I wasn’t so furious. “What about your ‘signals’ got it so ‘wrong’ that I put a gun in my mouth in front of a class of kids I’d been going to school with since kindergarten and pulled the trigger? That seems pretty fucking far off the mark, Bacon.”
He held his hands up in defense of his mixed-up signals.
“I know. I know. I was wrong, I’m sorry, I told you. But you survived! You’re still here!”
“I’m here,” I spat, fuming. “You’re damn right I’m here, look around, Bacon!” I would have lifted my arm and swept it around the dayroom of the psychiatric ward if, you know, I wasn’t paralyzed.
Bacon wouldn’t look. I noticed he’d been pointedly ignoring all the other psych ward patients, in fact. Probably made him feel worse.
Did you know when you eat a bullet, it’s not always your last meal?
I didn’t. But turns out, if you aim just a little too high, you miss the part that controls heart functions and breathing. If you aim just a little too high, you just destroy the part that controls language and memory and motor functions.
I didn’t know that, but I think Bacon did.
“I’m going to help you,” Bacon insisted.
“You were supposed to go with me,” I said, but you know I didn’t really say it, I was just sort of thinking it because Bacon could hear me even when I couldn’t talk.
Bacon could always hear me.
“I couldn’t.” He grimaced a little. “You did it wrong, Mick, buddy. If you’d blown your brains out the right way I’d be gone with you but we’re both still here.” His face brightened but I still noticed how he refused to look at any of the other vegetables in the dayroom. They wheel us out of our rooms for sun a few times a day and wouldn’t you know that’s where Bacon had found me, staring listlessly out the windows with the rest of them.
He cuffed my knee for a third time.
“But it’s okay. Because like I said, I was wrong. I thought you had to kill yourself to end our torment but you know what, buddy, that day you pulled the trigger in front of all those kids?” Bacon let out a long, low whistle of appreciation. “The agony in that room when the gun went off… the agony that lingered after those kids went home? I can still taste it, Mick, and it’s fucking delicious.”
“I don’t know what you mean.” But I kinda did. And I was getting excited.
“You weren’t supposed to kill yourself. That didn’t take away the torment, did it, Mick?”
No, it sure as shit didn’t.
“But you can cause it,” Bacon said. He sounded as excited as I felt. “Turn the gun the other way. We could go right back to that high school, right back to that homeroom, and have some real fun.”
He paused, then added, “Or we could start right here.” Bacon turned towards a nurse on watch, acknowledging someone other than me for the first time since he’d walked in the door. He cocked his thumb and forefinger in mockery of a pistol, aimed it at her head, fired.
The nurse didn’t even blink. After all, it’s not like she could see Bacon.
Only I could see Bacon.
It had been 15 years since Bacon had whispered to me every night, every day, about how I had to kill myself. Where my dad’s gun was. How to load the bullets. How I had to end things, and how I had to do it. Now here he was, out of nowhere, with a whole new plan. Demanding things. Bacon could be so demanding.
He could also be very, very persuasive.
“I’m paralyzed, Bacon,” I said, but it was hard to deny that my palms were sweaty. I ached to flex my fingers, wiggle my toes, anything. What was Bacon promising, exactly? “I can’t even wipe my own ass, let alone fire a gun.”
“And that, my dear friend,” Bacon said, leaning towards me again, “is why I’m here.”
He paused, then — keeping a careful eye on the nurse — reached for my hand. He cuffed my knuckles the same way he’d been cuffing my knee and suddenly, miraculously…
My hand twitched.
I thought for a wild second that I’d imagined it but Bacon gave me that grin of his so I flexed and —
My hand twitched.
“Consider it reparations for my long absence,” Bacon said, leaning back in his chair again, lacing his fingers behind his head. “But I told you, it wasn’t the right time. Signals were all wrong. Now is the right time.”
“This is gonna be a lot of work, isn’t it?” I asked him, staring in wonder at my hand. It ached, the long-dead limb coming back to life, but I could almost wiggle my fingers already.
“Yeah. You betcha. But it’ll be worth it.” Out of nowhere he gave my twitching hand a sharp smack. He was frowning at the nurse, who I could see out of the corner of my eye — she was watching me. “Careful with that. You don’t want them to know you’re getting better. Element of surprise, you know?”
“Yeah,” I said, but my heart was hammering hard in my chest. I should’ve known that when Bacon came back, he’d come back in a big way.
“There’s the spirit,” Bacon said, grinning. “Now let’s get started. I can’t wait for you to taste the agony, Mick. It’s fucking delicious.”