Gerard would find the hastily scribbled note tucked in the middle of pages 12 and 13 of Perfume by Patrick Suskind.
Did you really kill your dad?
And not long after, Bert came in to clean when Gerard was off in group. He found Perfume by Patrick Suskind on the counter, a red and gold bookmark between pages 59 and 60. This was often their signal that a new note had been placed, as both Gerard and Bert simply folded corners of the pages they actually did wish to bookmark it.
He opened the book to where it was marked, and took out the folded note inside.
No. They're lying.
Bert wanted to believe him, but it was a little difficult giving credit to anything Gerard said from then on, considering the schizophrenia.
Yet he just seemed so... normal. Yes, Bert had found Gerard talking to himself on more than one occasion, but was it so insane to see someone muttering to themselves a bit? Who didn't do that, from time to time?
Although he had to admit, Gerard was often too immersed in his books to say or do much else. The books seemed to distract him from any troubles he had. In Bert's short visits with Gerard, they were all he would speak of. And he spoke of them very passionately, ranting about frustrating parts of stories or quoting his favorite lines. Sometimes, when Bert got the book back, he would see that Gerard had written in it, or underlined a passage -- but he did not mind. Bert even speculated that the books served more as therapy for him than the groups ever had.
He just needed an escape.
Gerard had little resources that could help him return Bert's favors. Bert had insisted long ago that it was not necessary, and that the intriguing conversations he had with Gerard about the books they had read were payment enough. And it was true. As Gerard's room was the first room he was assigned in the morning, he would rely on Gerard to stimulate his mind, enough to get him through the day. Gerard was like his mental coffee.
But Gerard stood his ground on the matter of repaying Bert, and soon resolved to start sharing his medications. He told Bert that they always gave him extra Xanax, and he was free to take from the paper cups of pills that would get upon waking.
And while Bert was not quite the drug junkie he used to be, he knew that Xanax pills could always pull a pretty penny in sales. He accepted Gerard's offer graciously.
The summer went by quickly. Bert was assigned more rooms, and by September, he was no longer assigned to Gerard. Although Bert did his best to try and visit, more rooms meant a busier schedule, and it became very difficult indeed.
Thankfully, he was friendly with the person who had been assigned to Gerard's room in his place. Frank Iero, another newbie. It seemed they didn't want to assign anyone with priority to Gerard, because he was classified as a 'dangerous case'. The idea of it made Bert laugh.
He would give Frank the books from then on, and Frank seemed alright with the deal -- for a few dollars. Likewise, he would trust Frank to continue giving him the Xanax pills. It was much harder having to have a middle man added to their arrangement, and the separation from each other was not helping. It was not like Bert could call Gerard to hang out after hours.
The pills were profitable. Bert opened a savings account and placed all his accumulated money there. His father, stupidly never asking where the money had come from, showed a pride for his son that he had not shown in quite some time.
Things had definitely begun to turn around in Bert McCracken's life.
Yet according to Frank's reports, the opposite could be said for Gerard.
Gerard had become depressed, Frank told him. He was hearing voices that he had not heard for years.
"I caught him crying once." said Frank as he dumped a bag into the soiled linens closet. "The minute I stepped in, I heard him sobbing his eyes out. I tried to ask him what was up, but then he threw a book at me and yelled at me to get out."
Bert frowned, standing by Frank, smoking a cigarette. He asked, "He's really hearing voices?"
"Well that's what schizos do." Frank shrugged. "They hear voices."
"What are the voices telling him?" Bert questioned.
"I don't know. Everyone's different. But Gerard says that he won't leave him alone." Frank explained, "And he specifically uses that term... he. So I assume it's a man, and a particular person. Usually patients hear multiple people, like a chorus of demons."
"You know a lot about this stuff?" Bert noted.
"I'm a psychiatric nurse, remember?" Frank unloaded another bag from his cart and threw it into the closet. "I'm volunteering here so I can get hired."
"Oh." Bert tried to play off the fact that Frank had told him this before by changing the subject back to Gerard. "Well, I think Gerard just needs a friend he can talk to. Someone he can converse with about books. You can do that, can't you?"
"Books? Fuck off Bert, I don't know anything about books." Frank rolled his eyes.
"You were a medical student!" Bert exclaimed.
"Exactly. I got enough of books at school." Frank unloaded the last bright blue bag as he said this, and closet the linen's closet, locking it. "Sorry Bertie. Either way, I think he wants you -- not me. Oh and here's a hint. Maybe you should stop taking his pills. I have a feeling he lied to you about that whole 'they give me extra' shit."
Bert could not think of an appropriate response before Frank wheeled away with his cart.
It was one week after the conversation with Frank that Bert got a chance to sneak into Gerard's room again. It was after hours and he had told his dad that he was going to be home a bit late, due to some errands he needed to run.
"Gee?" Bert peered into Gerard's room, opening the door just a crack.
The pale faced boy was just where he was when Bert had first met him, sitting on his bed with a book on his lap. Yet despite his slightly chubby build, he looked oddly haggard. The bags under his eyes had become much more prominent, and his eyes themselves looked bloodshot. He did not acknowledge Bert's arrival until Bert was halfway to his bed. And to this, he did nothing more than look up at him.
"Hey buddy." Bert smiled at him, unsure of how normal he should be acting. Gerard's eyes were glazed over, unfocused. Frank had told him something about psychotic episodes in schizos, how it can make them detached from reality for a while. He had said that that was what was probably happening to Gerard.
"What are you reading?" Bert asked, picking up the book on his lap. Danse Macabre by Stephen King. But the book was only open to the third page, barely past the acknowledgements.
Getting no other response, Bert tried to cut to the chase. "What's the matter? Frank tells me you haven't been doing so good."
"He won't leave me alone." Gerard answered him, and Bert was relieved to hear him speak, even though the sentence was cryptic.
"Who won't leave you alone? Frank?"
Gerard shook his head. He paused a minute, and suddenly his bottom lip was quivering. He burst into tears. His shoulders began to shake. Bert wasn't sure of what to do.
"I didn't.. I didn't mean to kill him, Bert." Gerard blubbered. Bert nodded, even if he hadn't the slightest clue what was happening. He placed a tentative hand on Gerard's trembling arms. "I fucking loved my dad. He was my best fucking friend."
Bert listened to his story with fascination and horror. Although he had been feeding Gerard horror books over the past months, even though Gerard had felt bad that he had none to give back, inside him was a horror story to match Stephen King's plotlines.
"What happened to you?" Bert asked in a low whisper, prodding Gerard to go on.
"It was all my uncles fault. He hurt me. He abused me so much when I was a kid." Gerard explained, "I was terrified." He shook his head sadly, tears still streaming down his eyes in river like quantities. "I can't even begin to describe how scared I was of him. There were so many times that he nearly killed me, and I didn't tell anyone... because I was scared. But then I got sick. I started seeing things, hearing voices. They all sounded like him."
Gerard took a long moment to just sob, and Bert waited patiently as he did.
He continued, "One night, I could have sworn I saw him outside my window. I know I did. So I took the gun I hid in my room. My dad was home that night, and I got it into my head that my uncle was going to hurt him too. I had to protect him. So I went outside... and I shot...I shot someone... but it wasn't..."
Gerard trailed off, but Bert could put two and two together. Gerard began to cry a bit harder, and Bert pulled him into his arms. They both sat on the bed, in an embrace that shook gently back and forth. When Gerard's head hit Bert's shoulder, he sobbed even louder.
"He was my best friend. I never meant to do it. Not to him..." Gerard cried.
"I know, I know." Bert reassured, feeling slightly ridiculous for being this position. But it seemed to be helping, and he was glad for that. He got the feeling that this was the first time Gerard had really talked about what had happened to him.
"I still hear my uncle all the time. He's following me." Gerard said, his voice dropping to nearly a whisper. "I know logically he can't be here. But sometimes I see him in my room. He won't leave me alone..."
"Gerard." Bert sighed, "I'm pretty sure you're just seeing things that aren't real. It's your sickness. He's nowhere near here. We have security guards and cameras all over the place."
Gerard said nothing, but continued to whimper into Bert's damp shoulder. Bert rubbed his back soothingly and resolved to saying, "...I wouldn't let anything happen to you."
Gerard pulled away from Bert's shoulder. His face still covered in tears, he smiled sadly and said, "...That's how I felt about my father."
Bert felt a chill run down his spine. He looked at the clock. It was almost 12 A.M. The nurses had already made their rounds to make sure the patients had lights out. His dad was going to kill him for being so late.
Yet he felt that Gerard shouldn't be alone that night. He didn't want him to be alone at all, ever really, but the night was about as much as Bert could give him. And so, he stayed.
Once Gerard had finished crying, he seemed unfocused again. But Bert pulled up a chair and spoke to him anyway, about Ann Rice and Charles Baudelaire. Gerard did not say much else, but Bert thought he saw him smile from time to time, and eventually, he slumped onto his pillow and fell asleep.
When Bert got home the next day, he was expecting a major lecture. He hadn't called to say he would be staying over anywhere, and nothing would push his father's buttons more. Yet, to his pleasant surprise, Bert's father was nearly giddy when he got there.
"I just talked to the Human Resources at Methodist Hospital." his father announced over a cup of coffee and Bailey's Irish Cream, "They've agreed to hire you as a patient registration clerk! I told you all those months of experience would pay off!"
Bert gaped, "Seriously? A paid job?"
"Eleven dollars an hour!" Bert's dad exclaimed happily. "I'll call South Hills and terminate your so called employment there. This is a real great opportunity for you, Robert. No more scrubbing toilets for you, now you'll really be on the right track. You can start next week!"
Bert was thrilled. He thanked his father with a large hug, and dashed to his room. He crashed on his bed, tired as hell from watching Gerard all night... wait, shit. Gerard.
Bert's inflating balloon of happiness suddenly bursted. He would never be able to stay at the mental facility and work a job at the same time. Working at this hospital could mean the end of their friendship for good. He would likely never see the pale faced boy again.
He had to make a choice.
Two mornings later Frank came into Gerard's room with what seemed to be a television. Gerard stared almost bewilderedly at the large cardboard box that displayed a picture of an old, bulky television on it's front.
"Delivery for ya, Gerard." Frank smiled at him, and then resumed cleaning the room, pretending not to watch what was happening.
Confused, Gerard got off the bed and opened the gigantic box. As he did, his eyes grew wide.
Inside it was what must have been at least a hundred different books. But one caught his eye, which was in the center of the rest. It grabbed his attention by having a little red and gold bookmark in its pages. The book was The Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs. Gerard opened it, following the red and gold marker. Inside, a note waited for him. He unfolded it and read:
Hey buddy, I hope this letter finds you in a better state than I did a couple of nights ago. I have some news. I've found a paid job at a hospital. You remember the whole point of me volunteering was to get one, and I finally did. I can't deny how excited I am to be moving on to this great opportunity. However, I'm also saddened that this means we won't get to spend any more time together. At least for a while.
I thought long and hard about this, I really did. You're one of the best friends I've had in a long time, and possibly one of the greatest people I've met possibly ever. You are so smart and so interesting. Don't ever think otherwise. You are an amazing person, and that's why it was so hard for me to figure out what I was going to do without you. I loved hearing your thoughts in the mornings, you have such a great mind. I'm sure the folk at the hospital are going to painfully moronic compared to you, and it won't be long before I'll be missing you real bad.
But I'm determined not to let you go so easily. Once I save enough money, I'll come by and maybe try to break you out. Or at least bring you some decent food, something other than the school cafeteria type shit that they serve over there.
I've left you my entire book collection in the meantime. There should be 153 there. If there's any less, suspect Frank of stealing, and kick his ass for me.
Anyway, I think they should hold you off for now, until I can come and get you. I know you'll be just fine without me. Also, I think you should talk about what happened to you to more people. Quoting Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk, "Some stories you use up, other use you up." Don't let your story use you up, Gerard. Use it up, tell it until you can say no more, and maybe then you'll feel at least a little better.
I will never forget our time together. I love you like a brother.
Gerard sighed. He had known it was too good to last forever. But he was thankful that, at least for a small while, he had had a friend. He looked around and saw that Frank left without him noticing.
He grabbed a book -- The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket -- and crashed into his bed. He remembered what Bert said about coming back one day. While he wasn't sure how true he'd be to his word, he knew, at least, looking at the pile of the books in the middle of his room -- he'd have plenty to read while waiting.