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Scrambled Eggs with Milk, Bacon, Fried Mushrooms

I hadn’t bought the bacon yet. I’d been lazy. I knew you were planning on having it later in the week, and I meant to go, but I didn’t. I was so tired, Frankie. You don’t know how tired. I thought I’d sneak out early, get it on my lunch break, smuggle it home hoping you wouldn’t notice, and when you did notice—you always notice the things I do, bad or good—­I’d take the note of reproach in your eyes and put it on the pile with the others. I’m starting a collection.

You’d laugh, if you were here.

I hope you’d laugh, anyway. You would have once. You told me that what you wanted in a guy was the same thing straight women said they wanted: a sense of humor. I try hard to believe that.

(A lot of times what makes a guy funny is that they think too hard about things, Frankie. It’s hard to turn that off, even when it starts stripping the meat off the bones in your mind. But you understood that about me, too. You’re a pretty funny guy yourself, Frankie, you know that?)

But like I said, I hadn’t bought the bacon, and the store is forty minutes out of your way on the drive home. So, logically, it couldn’t be there in the skillet when I got home at six after lifting at the gym, the sun just peeping over the horizon, ready to call the normal people out to work and play.

I checked the fridge. The bacon wasn’t in it. Then I realized that of course it wasn’t, it was right there, still sizzling.

It was really good bacon, Frankie. You make it right.

When I got to bed, I tried to ask you about it, but you were intent on getting the last half­-hour of sleep, and I was so damn tired. It was all I could do to shimmy out of my pants before I crawled in bed, cold where you were warm, resting together in smooth quiet coils before the dawn.

You were gone when I woke up in the early afternoon, the sun already setting. Night shift is like another world, one where it’s always dark and your body is always insisting it’s a different time than it is. I’d never had a live-­in boyfriend before; it highlights it, to see someone living in the sun, right beside you, close enough to touch.

I wondered about the bacon all day. Eventually I went and bought the package anyway, put it in the fridge. I want to do right by you, Frankie, even if I’m crazy and it means I’m wasting five bucks. I don’t want you to have cooked imaginary bacon.


 

Grilled Cheese, Turkey, and Tomato Sandwiches on Sourdough

That was when I was sure of it. The tomatoes had been in the fruit bowl for a week already and you kept saying we had to do something with them before they went bad.

(They were okay, Frankie. You didn’t need to worry. Maybe a little squishy, but that could have been the whole pan-­frying thing.)

Anyway, the point is, the sandwiches were there, butter­-hot and smelling like purified joy, but so were the tomatoes, still in their bowl. It wasn’t the right day for pan-­frying anyway. You only make sandwiches on your day off, when I’ll be up by afternoon and we can have a little time together before my next shift, because they’re no good once you let them get cold.

(Except they are good, Frankie, I don’t tell you that enough. Even if they were frozen they’d be good.)

So that was that. Today wasn’t your day off, so they weren’t today’s sandwiches.

They were tomorrow’s.


 

Beef Stroganoff, Same as Yesterday

I kind of enjoyed having tomorrow’s food. It felt special. It was like having a window on you when you didn’t know I was looking. I think about you a lot, Frankie, even if I’m quiet when we’re together. I like to know what you’re thinking about. Mostly I feel like I don’t. That’s why I’ll take whatever advantage I can get.

You never seemed to notice, Frankie. I’m not sure why. You ate those meals, too.

Didn’t you?

(Well, obviously the stroganoff, but honestly, why did you make so much of it? I swear that week lasted a year.)

Maybe you did, but you ate them at the right time, with the right version of me responding to your actual notes and e-­mails and not whatever you’d said the day before or what I thought you might say tomorrow. A lot of times I feel like I’m talking to you a day late anyway, even when we manage to get into the same room at the same time. (I try, Frankie, I really do, but I’m always so tired and half the time I don’t even know what you’re talking about. I’m not good at techie stuff. You just kind of assume I’m keeping up with you.)

Maybe it wasn’t the skillet that was out of synch. Maybe it was us.


 

Five Appletinis and Onion Straws

Well, at least I knew what we were doing for our anniversary. I got pretty hungry at work, though.


 

Orange Juice, Raw Egg, and Worcester Sauce

When we hit the Clamshell with Chad and Mark, I didn’t get even a smidgen drunk. It might have been having the hangover cure before we went out, or maybe it was because I’d already gotten the appletinis and the universe doesn’t allow double-dipping. (Even though I didn’t drink them, and really, how could you drink from a skillet, anyway?) I could taste them going down, candy-­sweet, but then nada. Zilch. I know you like to rag me about the girly drinks and being stereotypical, but I like them, Frankie. Plus Zeta makes them strong enough to dissolve the little swizzle sticks, so if manliness comes from kicking your liver as hard as you can, call me Mister Macho.

You know what’s really boring? Being sober around a bunch of drunk people having fun. I seriously cannot recommend it. Designated drivers are saints, Frankie, and I mean that.

I had the night off. I’d requested it weeks ago and apparently it was the season of miracles because Bonnie not only actually remembered that I’d asked but put it into the schedule and didn’t spring a surprise overtime shift on me at the last minute. It was almost like having a real job and not one-­and­-a­-half crappy retail positions. I’m sure she’ll make up for lost time once we get past August and the “Christmas season” starts up.

When you went to call us a cab, I tried to tell you I was fine to drive, and that almost got ugly. I can’t blame you, Frankie, because you’d seen me downing the drinks. It was logical, what you said. I probably sounded really irresponsible. And maybe I wasn’t as sober as I felt, or maybe the universe would decide to smack me with intoxication all at once after all and in the middle of the highway, and how awful would that be? I could kill someone. I could kill you, or both of us. I don’t want to do that, Frankie.

But I did have the whole night off, and I whispered that to you when you tried to give me a handy in the backseat of the taxi. I tried to make it a romance thing—look at all this time we’ll have together—but really I just don’t like that stuff in public. You know that. And it smelled like cat barf in there and I didn’t like the way the driver was looking at us when we got in. You got to be careful, Frankie. There’s still a lot of psychos and bigots out there. I hear about stabbings and stuff all the time on the TV in the break room at the warehouse. So that almost got ugly too.

That wasn’t what I’d meant to happen. I should have told you I had a nice time, because even if I didn’t I could see the nice time happening and I was there with it. It would almost have been true. I should have let you tug me raw and just put some Neosporin on it. Not like it’d be less than a week before we got another chance, right? Better to take what we can while we have it.

I wish I could see you in the daylight, Frankie. Just for a while. I wish we could go on vacation somewhere the sun actually gets a fair share of time and we can go to bed together and get up together and not sit down at the table and share a meal three hours apart (more than that, now, for me, not that you know that). It’s always dark where I live. The sun comes up and I go to bed. I get up and you’re not home yet. What’s it like where you are, where the sun lives and there’s people on the roads and your schedule is the same every day?


 

Leto’s Pizza, Mushroom, Sausage, and Green Pepper, with Napkins and Plastic Fork

The box didn’t actually fit in the skillet. It just sort of rested on top, sticking out over the edge of the stove, like a diving platform. It’s a good thing we never got that cat because that is exactly the sort of thing that would have ended with some crazed furball coated in tomato sauce and a huge mess to clean up, plus dinner being ruined. You told me at the time that you just didn’t like the idea of animals in the house, and I can see that. I grew up on a farm, so I don’t have any illusions about how much dirt—and “dirt” here basically means poop, Frankie, I’m just going to be clear about that—ends up in food all the time. I get wanting things to be clean, to be controlled, not to have some dumb critter lurching around wrecking stuff all the time. But I’d have cleaned up the mess, Frankie, if we had a cat. I don’t mind, or maybe I do mind a little but it’s part of having a pet, part of the bargain that also gets you someone to love and who loves you back. (Okay, we’re talking cats here, so “tolerates you back” might be more accurate, at least if anyone else is around to see. Cats aren’t demonstrative. That’s what I like about them.)

I wasn’t sure if I should still call and order the pizza. Would a pizza boy just show up to give me an empty box at the appointed time? Should I pay him, or would that already have been taken care of from when you ordered the pizza in the future back when it was still the past? You’re the science fiction fan. You tell me how to deal with this kind of stuff.

You included a note about “crunch time” and some stuff about rendering, so it’s not like I was surprised when you told me the next day that you’d miss the next few weekends, the six hours or so when we even see each other at all. I don’t know why it still hurt so much.

(I called in an order and paid for it anyway. Threw out the pizza when it came in. Time travel is expensive.)

Maybe seeing what’s coming isn’t always a good thing. All it does is make the misery last longer.


 

Stale Sandwich, Bologna and Processed Cheese on White Bread, Wrapped in Plastic

Mostly it had been pizzas or gyros from the Greek place that delivers. Chinese food once, which I thought was nice because I know you don’t like American Chinese. You can say it’s not authentic, Frankie, but you can’t deny it’s super tasty.

But this weird, horrible sandwich was clearly handmade. Not from a restaurant. So if you’d made it yourself, where did you get the ingredients? We don’t keep white bread in the house, and you’d long since cured me of any further desire for “cheese food product” by introducing me to Taleggio. Bologna was only around when I was feeling homesick and nostalgic for Wisconsin. Which, all right, so there was a package of that in the fridge, but the rest of it? And what did it mean, that you were cooking again, but doing such a half-­assed job of it? Were you trying to send me a message? Or would you be in the future, when this actually happened? You were still in “major crunch” last I’d heard—or read on a Post-­it, rather—so was this going to suddenly end tomorrow? Were you going to get fired and be all depressed? Or were you making sandwiches for someone else, someone who ate like a white upper­-middle­-class schoolboy, which is basically everyone who worked at your stupid video game company? Was this an office fling? Did I get your side-­action’s lunch? Was the skillet trying to tell me something? Is the skillet a homewrecker or just trying to help? I can’t ask it; it’s a skillet, Frankie.

You’d probably have laughed at me if I’d told you any of this. (Will have been laughing? Would have been being laughed?) I know it’s silly. I’m just paranoid. Neuroticism, that’s the word they use in personality tests. High neuroticism.

Even if you can see the future, you don’t always know what you’re looking at. When all you have is a sandwich, there’s a lot of extrapolation. It’s like forensic anthropology, which I bet you didn’t know I technically have a degree in. We never talked about our pasts much. Too interested in what was going to happen. To which I say “Ha,” Frankie, in that nasty sardonic way that you said once was “disenchanting.”

Maybe the skillet is just making fun of me.

The weird part, to my way of thinking, is that I wouldn’t actually have gone out and gotten blind drunk if I hadn’t been fussing and fretting for hours on end about what that stupid bologna sandwich meant, and finally just gotten sick of every stupid inch of that stupid house and gone out to get some air and just be away for a while, and a while turned into a lot longer and I didn’t even bother calling out sick because fuck Bonnie anyway, I hate that job. I didn’t sleep with anyone, though, and you know I could have, Frankie, you’ve seen the Clamshell on a Friday night, and we’ve both gone cruising in our day. But I didn’t. It’s probably unhelpful for me to say that but I feel like it’s important, old-­fashioned prude that I am.

My memories get pretty blurry for most of that night, but I remember really clearly the moment when the blue­-and­-red lights started up unexpectedly in the rearview mirror, because that was when my stomach turned into a chunk of ice and dropped onto my bladder. So maybe blue ice, like when the chemical toilets on a jetliner spring a leak.

I also remember sitting in the holding cells and then someone handed me that horrible, stupid plastic­-wrapped bologna sandwich and just stared at me as I sobbed and sobbed.


 

Nothing

We didn’t really talk after you picked me up from the station, and that scared me more than anything else. I can handle arguments. We have those. Those are fine. Maybe I’m not the greatest at defusing them, but at least I know what they mean, like cleaning out a litter box or eating the fifth straight day of stroganoff. I was barely able to walk, I was so hung over, and you were missing sleep after weeks of getting maybe four hours a night anyway. Crappy circumstances.

Excuses, right, Frankie?

But they aren’t insignificant, either.

I hope they’re not.

Bonnie left me a voicemail. I’m assuming it’s firing me, but maybe Bonnie’s nicer than I give her credit for. I’m not good at giving credit. Standoffish. Like cats. It’s something I need to work on. I’ll listen to it later.

What’s important right now is that the skillet is sitting on the stove like always, but it’s empty. And I don’t know what that means. Tomorrow you’ll be gone? Tomorrow I’ll be dead?

Or maybe I’m not giving credit again. Maybe the skillet has had its say and now it’s done, and I’m back in the same timeline as everyone else, one hundred percent.

Regardless, it’s late, and I’m waiting up here for you. I’ll be here when you get home. I need to tell you a lot of things.

I’ll see you tomorrow.




Nathaniel Lee puts words in various orders. People intermittently give him money for this. No one knows why. He is also the Assistant Editor at Escape Pod and the Managing Editor at the Drabblecast. He lives in North Carolina with his family and spends too much time and money on board games. You can find him @scattercat on Twitter.
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