All through the fall I took care of Julie. The bleeding came back a few times, and I made her stay in bed while I got her homework from Victor Hall. I asked her about whether she should go to the doctor to check up on her nosebleeds, but she wouldn’t talk about it. She went out with Tom (by then, I couldn’t pretend not to know his name), and she broke up with him a few times, seeing Brent in between. But she always got back with Tom, even though he never took care of her and watched out for Mike. Then again he didn’t have to. And while I was doing this, I was always waiting for it to get worse. I was always waiting for Julie to go away and die. The winter was bad for her – she had terrible pains one Saturday right before a big exam of mine. I was trying to study for it and walk her back and forth to the clinic. I remember rushing around all day, getting her medicine, making her take it – she was delirious – and then running to make my study class. I had to go to the bathroom so badly, and when I got out of study class I stopped at Victor to pick up her papers, but first I ran in to piss in the restroom they had down in the bottom – some rundown hole they never fixed up. It was freezing down there, and I couldn’t care less. I was pissing into a urinal three times as old as I was, and I was overjoyed and relieved and right then I realized I was happy taking care of Julie. Even if she never loved me. Because I was doing a good job of things, and she was in serious trouble, and she needed someone decent, and even if I didn’t have any friends at school I was decent, and I did something that needed to be done. While thinking these thoughts and letting loose a stream that would have filled a bucket I suddenly focused on the mortar between the tiles right at eye level. Written down there in pencil in the coldest part of the building on the coldest day of the year: “It’s not the heat that gets you. It’s the humility.” I started laughing so hard I pissed all over my shoes. I still don’t know why it struck me so funny, but I was smiling all the way back to where Julie lay sleeping. I kissed her on the forehead, and on my way out of her room, I passed Tom coming in and we nodded to each other, and I was gone.
---It has to be at least a year later so no one connects it, and it should be about a year and a half so it’s not an anniversary of the date, because they might figure that out too. I pick a date in the winter at random, only maybe it isn’t that random. (It’s not the heat that gets you.) But I don’t know. I have a gun from Virginia – I was planning on a Glock, a small lightweight gun with a lot of plastic parts and a good rate of fire. But the kickback is supposedly bad with light guns, and I don’t want to chance it. I get a .45 automatic. It’s a Smith and Wesson, big and clunky and heavy as a brick. I fire it at a couple of ranges in the city, and it’s really very good. At work, my boss is talking about a promotion. I seem to have gotten my focus back. He gives me my jobs each morning, and now I listen to every word he says.
---The winter passed. We all went on Christmas break. I didn’t expect Julie to come back, but she did. She seemed better. She was graduating in the spring. She was happier now, and the headaches were receding, and she and Tom seemed to be going out more seriously. I didn’t come by as much, and she didn’t ask after me. I found out that Mike had graduated a semester early – he was the one who left on Christmas break and didn’t come back.
---I think about doing a test run, but that doesn’t make sense. Just one more chance for them to spot me. I think about getting more information, but that doesn’t make sense either – none of that matters now that I’ve decided to go ahead with it. In fact the only reason I want to come back is because I want to see them. This is dangerous, and it doesn’t make me think of it any less. The key part of my plan was to come back to my old life as if nothing had happened, and stay there. And that’s what I don’t know if I could do. That smell, and her hair, and the way she wears those dresses – I already had to walk away once, and why do I always have to be the one who walks away?
A few months after Julie graduated, in the fall of my final year, I called her and tried to invite myself over. But she was doing something. She seemed to want to get off the phone, but we talked awhile anyway, her making noises like she was just about to end things, and I couldn’t, so I found other things to talk about to fend off the hang-up. Until I asked her about her health, and she said she was fine, no nosebleeds, no headaches. Then I mentioned the tumor. “No,” she said, “I didn’t have one. You knew that.” “No,” I said, “I didn’t know that.” She explained that the first time she went to the hospital – once she decided that she was already running the risk with her folks – she went ahead and got a CAT scan. Even billed it to her father’s health plan. But the results came up negative. The doctors said the bleeding and headaches were stress-related. Maybe it was Mike. “You never told me,” I said. She acted like she thought she had told me. But she knew she hadn’t. She was lying about it. I still think about what her reasons were for never telling me, and that’s why I never checked her name out on the Internet along with everyone else.
And one bright cold Wednesday morning, I’m waiting in my rental down the street from Mike and Marie’s house. They’ve had it sided recently – I don’t really like it, but I suppose there’s nothing I can do. I have only one piece of equipment: the .45. It’s loaded with hollow points. One tap to the head, and it’s over. I’ve tested them out on targets of my own in the woods – a melon, a couple of bricks, and a piece of wood. I blew them all to shit. It felt really, really good to fire that gun and think about what I was going to do. I wish I could say that I didn’t want to hurt anyone unless I was doing a good deed, a secret favor to someone in distress. But maybe that’s not important to me anymore. The door opens, and Mike is out on the steps, followed by Marie, who holds the baby. Mike kisses them both in turn, pops the door of his car open (I slide down so he won’t see me as his car drives up), and gets in. He pulls out and drives towards me (and I reach over and heft the gun, feeling its weight). He drives up slowly, unconcerned, close enough that he could easily recognize me if he’d ever seen me around, which even now I don’t know, because I only remember Julie and her other boyfriends, and the stories of her father (and that might not even be true, right?) and all the other things she told me or held back. His car drives past. I let him go. I can’t do it this way. Take him out with one quick shot while he’s cheerfully driving to work, after he’s changed his life. I want to hit him like he’s never been hit before. I want to let him know how it feels. And there’s only one way to do that. I drive up to his house. I pop the action on the .45 to chamber a bullet, check all around to make sure no one is looking. Then I go up to Mike’s door. I hear the baby cry inside – is there anything as beautiful as a baby? – and Marie makes soothing noises to calm him. To let him know everything’s going to be all right. I ring the bell and wait.