Cole unwrapped his burger and winced as he saw two big pickle slices sticking out from underneath the bun.
“You know I hate pickles,” Cole said.
“Really?” Rusty asked with a fake lisp. “I thought you loved pickles, big boy.”
“Rusty,” Cole said. “Seriously, man. I need you to dial it back.”
“OK,” Rusty said.
“They’ve been weening me off the painkillers and I’m on edgy and moody as fuck,” Cole said.
Rusty chomped on an onion ring. “Well, a big ass dog did turn your leg into a Happy Meal so, I suppose those feelings are normal.”
Cole glared at Rusty.
“What?” Rusty asked. “That wasn’t even a joke! I’m just saying, it’s normal for you to feel like shit. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t feel that way in your situation. Just let it all out, man.”
“No,” Cole said. “Fuck that noise. Everyone wants to talk about their feelings. ‘Waah, waah, boo hoo hoo, I have so many feelings.’ Like that helps anything.”
Rusty picked the bun off of Cole’s burger and flicked off the two pickles. “Look here, this is a real easy fix. There. No more pickles.”
“Damn it!” Cole said.
“What?” Rusty asked.
“Well now your hand’s been on it…”
“I wash my hands, Cole,” Rusty said.
Cole picked up the burger.
“Although, come to think of it,” Rusty said. “I did take a big shit this morning and for the life of me I can’t remember if I washed my hands after.”
“Enough with the jokes!” Cole said.
“Not a joke,” Rusty said. “I truly can’t remember. That burger may very well be crawling with fecal coliform bacteria.”
Cole shrugged his shoulders. “Fuck it.” He bit into the burger, then moaned happily. “Oh God. Three months of jello.”
“I knew you’d like it,” Rusty said. “And I did tell that girl at the drive through to not put pickles on yours but you know those damn kids never listen.”
Cole and Rusty munched on their food for awhile as they watched Network News One on the TV in the lounge.
“In recent news Vice-President Cheney has announced that he will try really, really hard to not shoot any of his friends in the face ever again,” Kurt Manley said. “The VP added, ‘That was totally my bad, people. Totally my bad. In other news, Senator Barack Obama spoke to supporters on the campaign trail today…”
Senator Obama appeared on screen at a podium. “For when we have faced down impossible odds, when we’ve been told we’re not ready or that we shouldn’t try or that we can’t, generations of Americans have responded with a simple creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes, we can. Yes, we can. Yes, we can!”
“Will you get a load of this guy?” Rusty said. “‘Barack Obama.’ Why don’t they just run a guy named Jihadi Al-I’ll-bomb-ya?”
Cole sipped his soda. “I don’t know. He’s a real slick talker. I’ll give him that.”
“What you like him?” Rusty asked.
“I don’t like any politicians,” Cole said. “Republican. Democrat. All the same. When they walk in the room, grab your wallet and hold on tight.”
“Shit,” Rusty said. “You got that right.”
Obama continued. “It was a creed written into the founding documents that declared the destiny of a nation: Yes, we can. It was whispered by slaves and abolitionists as they blazed a trail towards freedom through the darkest of nights: Yes, we can!”
“‘Yes, we can,’” Rusty said. “‘Hope and change.’ Bunch of bull.”
“He’s got it locked up,” Cole said.
“You think?” Rusty said.
“Yeah,” Cole said. “The man can talk the paint off a barn door.”
Rusty took a bite of his burger and swallowed. “I dunno. I heard McCain just picked this Sarah Palin lady to be his vice-president.”
“Sarah who?” Cole said.
“Palin,” Rusty said. “Governor of Alaska. Supposed to be a real smart cookie though I dunno, I haven’t heard her talk yet.”
Cole stole one of Rusty’s onion rings. “Really, who gives a shit?”
“Indeed, brother,” Rusty said. “Indeed.”
Rusty wiped the crumbs off his mouth with a napkin, then stood up.
“Got a hot date tonight, dude,” Rusty said. “How do I look?”
“Like you should be a supporting cast member on The Sopranos,” Cole said.
“Oh God,” Rusty said. “Don’t even get me started on that show, Cole. I whacked my TV set for a good thirty-five minutes after that finale because friggin’ HBO made me think it was on the fritz.”
“Where’d you meet this one?” Cole asked.
“Online,” Rusty said. “Internet dating, Cole. It’s amazing. You just log on and it’s like your own catalog of poon.”
Cole bit off a hunk off his burger and chewed. “She’s probably a man.”
“I will hear no insults about the lovely Layla,” Rusty said.
Cole washed down his bite with another sip of soda. “Layla’s dick is probably bigger than yours.”
“Blasphemy, sir!” Rusty said. “You have besmirched my honor!”
“You don’t have any honor,” Cole said.
“Oh, right,” Rusty replied. “Check this out.”
Rusty grabbed the sides of his pants, which were secured by dozens of snap-on buttons. The redhead yanked, the pants broke free and there he stood in the middle of the lounge in his polka-dot boxer shorts.
“What the hell?” Cole asked.
“Breakaway pants!” Rusty said. “You like ‘em?”
“No,” Cole said.
“Check it,” Rusty said. “I put these bad boys on. I take Layla out to the club. We’re drinking. We’re dancing. We’re grinding all over each other. We’re in the mood and…splatow! Off come my pants! No muss, no fuss!”
Dr. Kragen walked into the lounge with a parfait cup in her hand. She spotted a pants-less Rusty and instantly turned around and walked away. “Nope. Don’t even want to know.”
“You really need to put your pants back on,” Cole said.
“Oh,” Rusty said as he looked down at his hairy legs. “Right.”
After Rusty was fully clothed again, the duo continued their meal in silence for awhile. Finally, Cole speak.
“Where is she?” Cole asked.
“Where’s who?” Rusty replied.
Cole slapped the remaining half of his burger down on the paper. “Don’t do that.”
“Do what?” Rusty asked.
“Play dumb,” Cole said. “Don’t play dumb with me.”
“Who’s playing?” Rusty asked. “I’m very dumb.”
“I don’t know, man,” Rusty said. “She didn’t call you?”
“No,” Cole said.
“That’s weird,” Rusty said.
“Stop it,” Cole said.
“Thought she said she was going to call you,” Rusty said. “She probably got busy with something.”
“Knock it off,” Cole said.
“You know how women are,” Rusty said. “They’d forget their heads if they weren’t attached.
Cole pounded his fist down on the table. “Where’s Sharon?!”
A few patients and their families turned around to stare. Rusty waved them off.
“OK,” Rusty said as he put down his burger. “I’ve been dreading this…”
“What?” Cole said. “Come on, man, out with already. Be straight with me!”
“I’ve been straight with you,” Rusty said.
“No you haven’t,” Cole said. “Every time I see you, you got some excuse for her. She’s really busy, she’s sick, she’s visiting her mother, her sister’s got the flu…I was too high to figure it out but now that the doctor cut my dosage I’m getting the distinct fucking feeling that you have been very far from straight with me.”
“Cole,” Rusty said. “I didn’t want to…”
“I lost my leg and my wife hasn’t come to see me once,” Cole said. “I’m not an idiot, Rusty.”
“I know,” Rusty said.
Rusty pulled a piece of paper out of his folder out of his pocket, unfolded it, and handed it to Cole. As soon as Cole looked at it, he felt his entire world collapse. Two words were written on it in Sharon’s handwriting. “I’m sorry.”
Cole crumpled up the paper and threw it against the wall. He pounded his fist on the table over and over. “Fuck!”
The patients and families looked over again. Cole let them have it. “The fuck are you looking at?! Mind your business!”
“That night,” Rusty said. “When the doctors told me you were stable, I swung by your house to tell Sharon and she wasn’t there.”
Cole cocked his head back and stared up at the ceiling in a daze.
“I let myself in,” Cole said. “Found that on the kitchen table. All her stuff was gone.”
Cole remained silent.
“I’m sorry,” Rusty said. “You’ve been through so much. I didn’t want to upset you. I figured it might mess up your chances of getting better. Kept hoping maybe she’d come back or something and it’d all be fine but…that never happened.”
“You call her?” Cole asked.
“Yeah,” Rusty said. “Left a bunch of messages. Just went right to voicemail.”
A few silent minutes passed. Cole kept staring at the ceiling. Rusty kept eating dinner.
“Shit,” Rusty said. “Now I feel bad for telling you about my date.”
“She probably has a dick,” Cole said.
“She most definitely has a dick,” Rusty replied.