"How many times have you died?" The ceiling's folding in on itself, raining down particles of darkness. My voice is miles away.
"None. Aren't I here now?" Finn's hands find their way to my back and I feel small when he holds me.
"Yeah, but not now, not this time."
"What do you mean? Past lives? Reincarnation?"
"No, like other potential outcomes, I guess. I've lost the words."
"You've lost me too." He kisses me and the chemical rush in my blood twists hooks into my veins.
"Like when a car takes a corner too fast and it almost hits you, but you step back onto the curb just in time. In another timeline or whatever, you didn't step back and you died. Or when you hit your head and it hurts, but you're alright. In another timeline, you had a brain hemorrhage, a one in a million kind of thing, and you died."
"Whose theory is that?" He starts rolling a joint without taking his eyes off me.
He's looking at me. I'm OK with it. I'm trying to be OK with it. "I don't know. I guess I heard it somewhere and it stuck in my head. Sometimes I catch myself in a moment, like one of those snapshots your mind makes to file away for when your life flashes before your eyes just before you die, and it comes back to me."
"What about if it's intentional? The pivotal moment, I mean. Is it different if you put yourself in the situation where you die or don't die, instead of it being an accident." He lights the joint and hands it to me.
I smoke and gather my thoughts from the air around me. "Like if you sit on a really high up roof and every time you're there you imagine what it would be like to jump, but you don't do it? Except in another timeline, you do?"
"Yeah, that kind of thing. Although maybe make it sound less like something you've done."
I hand the joint to him. "It's not something I've done. And I don't know if that's just another non-death or if making it intentional is a way of cheating somehow. Like if you imagine it hard enough, enough times, but you never actually make the conscious choice to do it, maybe you can side-step inevitability."
"And then what?" He hands the joint back to me.
I take a hit. The world slows down and I lean into the warmth of his body. "And then you walk hand in hand with death, one foot on either side of his line, knowing he'll be your downfall but loving him anyway."
"He? You're anthropomorphising death?" There's a smile in his voice.
"Of course. I mean, he could be a she or a they or whatever. I don't know why I said he. Death isn't necessarily male, not every time. Or not for everyone. Just right now, I feel like he is."
"OK, we'll go with that. What does death look like?"
I pass the joint to him. "Isn't there that song about it? Something about a tall, handsome man with a black coat and red hands. Or maybe that's about god."
"I don't know about god, but I've always imagined death as some kind of disembodied chaos."
"No, death and chaos aren't the same person."
"They're not. But sometimes they're in the same place. Sometimes they hate each other, but they're always waiting to speak the same language."
"It sounds like you lie awake at night thinking about this."
"Not thinking about this."
"But you do lie awake at night?"
"I used to."
"Not at the moment."
"Who did your middle-of-the-nights belong to, before?" He gives the joint back to me.
I take a draw, buying time. "Who says they belonged to someone?"
"They always do. Everyone's do."
"It doesn't matter now." That's half true. Mira matters. Brett doesn't. Or shouldn't. But I don't know how to talk about either of them and I don't want to. "Come outside with me." I get semi-dressed in my boots and his sweater that reaches almost to my knees, and walk down the hall to the living room and out onto the balcony without looking back.
He follows, getting dressed on the way, and stands behind me, a comfort, a furnace. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you."
"It's fine. I told you, it doesn't matter." Everything's wearing off suddenly and I can't handle it. I don't want to feel whatever this is.
"It isn't and it does. Please, Cain, I'm sorry."
I don't know what to do with people apologising to me. I look over the edge of the railing like I've done a thousands times and never thought about jumping. Brett used to say he got a strange feeling in his feet when he looked down from somewhere high, but I never did. I never got any feeling at all. I still don't.
Finn wraps his arms around me. Warmth is his natural state of being. He even smells warm, late summer nights and something like forests. He asks if I'm cold. It's dark and November and I should be, but I can't tell. It was a simple question, but there's no such thing as a simple answer. Not at the moment. Not anymore.
I turn towards him and slide my hands into the sleeves of his jacket, soft leather, reaching my fingers around his wrists. "You don't wear a watch."
"I used to." He wraps his hands around mine and we're entangled, vines growing together.
"But not at the moment?"
"Not anymore. Time has become irrelevant." He kisses me and it does. It has.
I pull my hands out of his sleeves and turn back to the railing, back to the view. He stands behind me, wrapped around me. I still don't know if I'm cold and some kind of dread creeps up my spine and slides around my neck. It's an anchorless shame that I don't know how to shake. It's a fear of unlocking doors.
YOU ARE READING
Winter FollowsGeneral Fiction
One month, one city, five lives colliding with the forces of fate. A thrill-seeking tech genius with an appetite for dangerous extremes. A retired contract killer fighting to escape his past and himself. An underworld driver tempted deeper into a li...