AUTHOR'S NOTE: This incident takes place prior to the action of Steal Tomorrow and is alluded to in the story.
Darkness above. Darkness below. The ring of boots on metal. Was it really his boots? Jay stopped and listened. Maybe the problem was his ears. Or his feet. He continued walking.
The clouds parted and the moon appeared. The water below sparkled—something to dive into and get lost in.
He leaned over the railing as the moon vanished again behind a cloud. Now the water was dark like the sky, but it was still there, waiting for him. Jump and it would all be over. No more pills and crazy raids he only half-remembered. No more waking up with bloody hands and patches of memory that felt like someone else’s nightmare. The water would consume him, pull him under, and he would become…what?
He took a step back and turned around, slamming into a pole he hadn’t noticed in the darkness. It didn’t hurt. Nothing hurt if you took enough pills and drank enough gin, or whatever the group had managed to steal that day.
Sometimes it was the girls who brought him things. They asked him for food and protection. They laughed as if the pandemic was a joke, and for awhile the world seemed right again, until he woke up with missing time and a girl he barely knew lying against his naked skin. That was what Trina had done, Trina who was supposed to be his friend’s girl. Oddly, there had never been a fight or angry word about the matter. And now there was nothing to fight over any more.
Jay moved back to the railing. No moon, no water, only an empty pit of blackness. Of course the water was down there. It had been there before, hadn't it? Was he in the right place? He frowned and wished he hadn’t taken so goddamn many pills.
But now he had an idea. Wouldn’t the overpass be better? In the water, he might survive, but surely not if he leaped off the overpass. Yes, that was the better way to do it. He stepped away from the railing again, felt the world tip and fell to his knees, fumbling for something to grab onto.
He pulled himself up against a lamp post, breathing hard. He couldn’t get to the freeway in this condition. Not unless he crawled. In his present state, the idea didn’t seem preposterous. Crawling was safe. Hard to trip and fall that way. But wasn’t falling what he was after? Yes, of course. But one couldn’t fall just anywhere. It had to be from someplace high. He needed to smash his bones and break his skull so all the ugly memories would bleed out, leaving his body free and his mind pure.
Water wouldn’t do that. He would have to find a way to get to the overpass. But as he let go the light post, his knees buckled and he sank to the iron grate of the pedestrian walkway.
Water would have to do.
He dragged himself to the guardrail and pulled himself up. The dark water shimmered below, waiting.
Then a soft footstep beside him. A quiet voice. “Jay?”
He squinted at the boy in the pale light. Thin, about his own age, with large soulful eyes that looked like they could swallow a person whole.
“It is you, isn’t it? They tried to tell me it wasn’t.”
The boy put a hand on his arm. “You know who I am, right? Your cousin Paul.”
Jay tried to shake off Paul’s grip. “Of course I know,” he lied. As if he could recognize anyone in the dark and after so many pills. What had they been, anyway? Pharmacy stock was all he knew.
“I’ve been looking for you.”
“Dumb thing to do.”
“But you’re my only family and I care about you.”
“That’s because you’re stupid.”
“God's not stupid, and he loves you.”
“Not after what I’ve done.”
“If you’re truly sorry, he’ll forgive you.”
“There’s things I've done that won’t get forgiven. Go back to your church group, or whoever it is you’ve been hanging out with, and read your fucking Bible.” He jerked his arm from Paul’s grip and moved a few steps away, the better to figure out how he was going to get over the railing.
Paul watched in silence as Jay struggled to swing a leg over the rail. “You know,” he said, “You could always try this another day.”
“Don’t give me that. You think if I sober up I won’t want it any more.”
“I promise if you still want to try tomorrow, I won’t stop you.” When Jay didn’t answer, he waved a hand in irritation. “Come on—what kind of lame suicide attempt is this? You can’t even do it in the condition you’re in. I always thought if there was something stupid to be done, you of all people could get it right.”
Jay leaned against a post and looked at him, trying to understand this new tactic. The moon was brighter now and he could see the shadows and angles of his cousin’s face. He was thinner than he remembered, and seemed older. “You don’t get it, do you? It’s over—us, civilization, even your precious God.” He took a wobbly step toward him. “Do you have any idea how many people I’ve killed?” When Paul hesitated, he laughed, a mirthless sound. “Neither do I.” He tried again to hoist a leg over the rail.
“If you die, how will you make things right?”
“You can’t do anything for the dead.”
“You could do something for the living. You used to like to help people.”
“I love you.”
Jay looked at him, then turned away, unable to bear the kindness in his eyes. “I don’t deserve it.”
“We don’t always get what we deserve.”
“Sometimes God gives us better, for no reason at all.” Paul held out his hand. “Come on, man. The bridge will still be here in the morning.”
Jay took a step toward him, stumbled, and felt Paul catch him in his arms. “I want to go to the overpass.”
“How about in the morning?”
“I don’t know.”
“It’s okay. You don't have to.”