Chapter 9.

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I smell the sea before I see it: a briny, salty smell. The wind carries water droplets across the trees. I lean my bike against the fence, next to a car parked crookedly across the grass with its doors hanging open. The car stereo is still playing, and fragments of music drift toward me: a nasal male voice saying every day is like Sunday, silent and grey. I recognize the feeling.

I plow down the steps towards the underpass to the beach, and halfway I have to stop for a moment to catch my breath. From the steps, the beach looks deserted. Dion and I used to come here sometimes, before my depressive episodes started, to light a campfire and smoke pot. (Or he did, with his friends. I usually just pretended.) There would be people everywhere. But not now. Even the West Beach Bar & Grille that I cycled by to get here had its glass sliding door partway open, the wind blowing the linens off the tables inside.

I duck under the underpass and keep walking until where the rocks give way to pebbles beneath my feet, and gaze out across the water. The horizon is a faint line, broken by the buildings on Point Roberts, on the other side of the bay. What's going to happen to them when there is no one left to keep up their maintenance? Will the entire peninsula finally crumble into the sea? How long will that take?

I sit down to take off my shoes and socks and walk to the water line, where the eager sea is tossing foamy whitecaps on to the beach. The water tickles the soles of my feet and pulls sand from beneath my heels, and I feel myself sinking down. The pebbles are coarse and cold between my toes.

Just keep walking, the voice in my head says. Further and further out, until the ground beneath me disappears. And then even further out, until an undertow drags me away, into the depths of the sea. Make an end to the despair that clings to me like the sand to my feet, and that nothing seems to be able to wash away. Certainly nothing in the world as it has become.

Maybe I should. Just keep walking.

Honestly, I can't tell what I want anymore.

Then, suddenly, I feel two hands on my back, and someone pushes me. I stumble forward, landing on all fours on wet rock. Before I realize what's happening, Dion yanks me upright again.

"What do you think you're doing, asshole? Planning to sneak off?"

He shoves me once more, and I almost fall again, but Dion keeps a firm hold of my jacket collar. "Who do you think you are? We had a pact."

I want to say something, defend myself, but Dion cuts me off.

"You're staying, and I'm staying, that was our agreement. You think you can bail out just because you don't feel like it anymore?"

"How did you know where to find me?" I ask.

"Don't change the subject. What do you think you're doing?"

"Taking a walk."

Dion cups the back of my head with his hand and forces me to look at him. "Now you listen to me, you little prick. You're not splitting, you hear me?"

His hands are gripping my hair with painful force, but the pain is dulled by sudden wonder. Are those tears in his eyes? Dion, who just yesterday yelled at a cop, who never cares what anyone else thinks, is tearing up?

He sees me looking and shoves me again, and this time I land butt-first on the beach. He leans over me, his fists clenched. "Don't you dare leave." A stray tear slides down his cheek. "Don't you dare, asshole." He rubs his face with his sleeve.

With a clarity I haven't felt in ages, I suddenly realize three things.

Firstly, Dion – despite all his brawn – is scared.

Secondly: Dion is scared for me.

And thirdly, a slowly expanding and completely new realization: I'm scared myself.

Not of him. His stupid threats I've been hearing all my life. Not of myself, or of the voice that has been haunting me for years, or even of what I might do to myself.

No; it's his eyes. The tremor in the furious expression he is trying to keep on his face. The traitorous tears he keeps wiping away. They unleash a fear inside me I have never known before.

Fear for him. For what will happen to my parents' rowdy surrogate child, who taught me how to ride a bike; who could grab me in a stranglehold but also showed me how to get out of one. Who always brought his cuts and bruises to us to be healed; by my parents, and now - I see with the complete clarity of revelation – by me. Me, the guy with one foot permanently in darkness. Perhaps the one least suitable for the job.

And the only one left to do it.

Sadness and compassion wash over me like the waves on the beach, and my breath stalls, as if my body is actively resisting the intensity of the feeling.

And it might be. When was the last time I have been allowed to feel anything so deeply, other than despair?

The briny smell of the sea overwhelms me and I'm hit by a wave of nausea. Beneath my fingers, every dent in every pebble is suddenly accentuated. I hear Dion's jacket rustling, see the calluses on his clenched fists. His teary eyes are blue as the sky and so deep they instill me with a feeling of unearthly awe. I've never seen anything like it: something so fragile, so unpredictably beautiful in all of its imperfection.

A shock courses through me: like the ricochet of a string after it has been plucked, like a piece of a puzzle put in the right place, like water filling a glass. None of those things, but all of them at the same time.

Only for a moment.

Then my emotions fade into to their normal, muted proportions, like a tap that was wide open but that is now dripping again. The world dials itself back to its familiar Sunday-grey.

But there are some things that have changed.

I raise my hands. I don't need to look at them to know they are solid. "It's okay, Dion. I'm not going anywhere."

The words are pure truth, without a shred of doubt. Dion realizes it, because he lowers his fists. For a moment he just stands there, his shoulders sagging. Then his body starts shaking, and he falls down on his knees on the rock beside me. He pulls me into a fierce hug, pressing both fists to my back.

"You'd better not, dickhead," he says, his voice breaking in my ears.

"It's okay, Dion," I tell the fabric of his jacket.

He hugs me even fiercer, his chest shaking with uneven breaths. I hug him back, feeling like I've just been given something, though I'm not exactly sure what. All I know is that the one thing I want to do, the one thing I need to do, is be here

"We'll be alright," I repeat. "I'm not going anywhere."

And that's enough.

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