The four men were cops, or federal agents, running through the rain at a Rest Stop off the Pennsylvania Turnpike. They sported shaved heads, broad chests, suits with sunglasses poking out of the breast pockets, and belts with a firearm holstered on it.
It was early in the morning and the thunderstorm had hit hard and fast. We all landed in the doorway at the same time. We did the shaky-stompy thing, and then the youngest one opened the door for me, and we all squeaked across the floor to order coffee.
I ordered coffee. They ordered breakfast. I went first because the oldest one, clearly The Leader, said, “You first, ma’am,” in a perfectly polite but terrifying way that made me obey. If he’d have said, “Go away, you don’t get coffee today,” I probably would scurried right back into the rain.
The person taking my order told me they’d just put on a new pot of coffee, and it would be a minute. While I waited, The Leader ordered a breakfast sandwich of some kind–with bacon.
“Extra bacon,” he said, using the same polite and terrifying tone. “I’ll pay extra, but I want extra bacon, okay?”
The person taking his order didn’t miss a beat, but the man beside him started to laugh. He was the tallest of the four, and when The Leader shot him a dirty look, that made him laugh harder. I dubbed him Second in Command.
Second said, between chuckles, “Yeah, I’ll have some of that extra bacon too. Extra extra, if you got it.”
Third guy was short, barrel-chested, and had a lethal pair of dimples. He didn’t order, per se, just slapped his hand on the counter and said, “Extra bacon! Hooah!”
Finally came number four, the polite young man who’d held open the door for me. He was The Rookie.
The Rookie stared up at the order board, and I had one of those visual epiphanies writers get when they’re spying on people in a public place because those people are interesting. Which is another way of saying, I’m going to rip off this moment of your life and use it in my fiction.
My epiphany was, The Rookie didn’t like bacon. Or he preferred ham or sausage or maybe, gasp!, he was a vegan or vegetarian. I had a flashback to the moment in My Big Fat Greek Wedding when the aunt says, “He don’t eat no meat!” in a tone of utter disbelief. It was that dramatic.
My coffee arrived just when The Rookie leaned forward to order. That made him pause, and look aside at his cohorts, and he must have had an epiphany, too. His seemed to be, if I don’t order bacon, these guys will take me out to the car and stuff me in the trunk.
“Uh, I’ll have the uh, breakfast sandwich, with uh, bacon.”
The Leader nodded his approval. I picked up my tray. The scene I could steal, I thought, was over.
Wrong. Half of the eating area was roped off for cleaning, so I pulled up a table and they pulled up beside me. This, I decided, was karma’s way of telling me to eavesdrop.
I listened to karma, and to The Leader as he unwrapped his sandwich. He sniffed it like it was perfume, or a freshly mowed field of grass, or a baby’s head after a bath, or something equally exquisite.
Second in Command did the same thing. Then he said, “God damn whoever invented turkey bacon.”
Hooah chuckled. The Rookie looked confused. The Leader closed his eyes, bit into his sandwich and gave off a moan that I rated NC-17. Second in Command did the same thing.
The Rookie picked at his meal and finally said, “What’s wrong with turkey bacon?”
If anyone from the National Council for the Advancement of Turkey Bacon is reading this, I apologize. I am only relaying the story. Don’t kill the messenger.
According to the lively conversation that followed, turkey bacon is something wives like to inflict on unsuspecting husbands. It’s a marital rite of passage. To the man, turkey bacon signifies three things: he is getting old; he can no longer eat like an indestructible kid; he is not really the master of his castle.
For the wives, it’s a gesture of caring, love, and concern. It means she wants to spend many long, happy and healthy years together. Strict obedience to the turkey bacon shows she is loved in return.
In short, according to the The Leader, even though you hate it, you shut up and eat the ****-ing turkey bacon if you want a happy home life.
But…when you’re away from home and can’t get caught, you stop for fast food and order bacon. Extra bacon.
The Leader pointed at Second in Command and said, “I won’t tell if you won’t tell.” Second’s mouth was crammed full, so he gave a thumbs up.
This was all very interesting, and kind of cute, and I was ready to stand up and leave when Epiphany #3 happened.
Hooah shook his head at the two big men being naughty by eating bacon on the DL. “You two are pathetic,” he said. Then he looked at his sandwich. His dimples faded and he added, “Of course, if my wife had cared enough to make me eat turkey bacon, we might still be married.”
Maybe he meant it as a joke. Maybe he didn’t. The rain had slowed and I wanted to be on my way, so I left my table without hearing whatever followed. But the message of turkey bacon stuck with me the rest of the drive.
In fiction, it’s often the small gestures between characters that show feelings:
~ A man puts his hand on the small of a woman’s back as she walks through the doorway ahead of him. That shows intimacy.
~ A woman crosses her arms over her waist when her boyfriend stands near her. That can show discomfort, or fear.
When you read about a young male character buying an engagement ring, this tells you two things: first, that he’s in love; second, that there is someone in the story who will care about what happens to him. His emotional value in the story just doubled. If he gets hurt, that hurt will spread to the person who loves him.
At the rest stop, the first two cops savored the extra bacon, but at the end of the day, they would go home to someone who cared about them. They recognized that turkey bacon means love. They were smart enough to know it and appreciate it and, if they were going to disobey it, do it on the sly.
How do you show caring, or love, or intimacy between characters?