You look over the edge. "This is unusual."
I down another shot. "That's the point." I'm not looking at you, but I can feel something in your presence, in our presence, something new and different, wrong, perfect. It's been a struggle to drag myself away for work and I've been distracted, present in body only, mind elsewhere. When the edge of my desk pushes against the fresh bruises on my ribs, it's all I can do not to walk out of my office and straight to your front door.
You're drinking coffee while I'm drinking vodka, and you look down again and shake your head, not like you're scared of being up here, but like you don't see the purpose in any of this. And maybe you don't, yet. When they called from the front desk to say you were here and I came down to meet you, we shook hands like we'd only met once before and kept up that pretense for almost twenty seconds until we got in the lift.
I slide forward slightly and my feet get the cold shiver that happens when they're hovering with nothing between them and the ground, a suicidal distance below. It's a familiar sensation and a purely physical one. I feel no less secure up here than sitting in my office chair, although maybe that's a bad example because lately I haven't felt too secure in that chair.
I keep getting stuck in a loop of smashing my desk and peeling the skin off my hands on the broken shards, seeing blood on the walls and wishing it was there for real. I've been fighting the feeling that there's no air left in the room and the only way I can stop losing my shit is to switch on the glass and turn the walls opaque so I can't see everyone else outside, walking about a few feet away and breathing like everything's fine. Anyway.
Your voice skims a stone across my stream of consciousness. "Are you going to start talking about how precariously we balance on the edge of oblivion and how this place is a reminder to live life to the fullest?"
"No. I just like how it feels." I drink another shot. I'm the opposite of precariously balanced. I'm right at the core, restrained, and everything's closing in around me. Except when I'm up here. Or with you.
"Is that your primary motivation?"
"Pretty much. Liking how it feels. Feeling more. Feeling in general. More."
"What if you weren't chasing that?"
"What do you mean?"
"What else is there? Would would you be doing? Who would you be?"
"There's nothing else. I'd be no-one."
There's a fraction of a second, half a heartbeat, when the screen inside my head plays a film of me reaching for you, holding you close, pulling us both over the edge. It doesn't work though, so the film shifts and now you're reaching for me. It's your decision and I'm the one letting it happen, quietly concealing my gratitude. It feels better and kind of familiar. It might have been something I saw in a TV show once, some vaguely dissatisfying but optimistically inconclusive ending that never showed the lovers hitting the ground. It doesn't matter. It's just a metaphor.
"So," you push your hair back from your face, "do you do come here often?"
"To my job?"
"To the roof."
"As often as I can, although it's usually a solitary experience. It's the only place I can concentrate."
"And you never run into anyone else?"
"Nope. Most of them don't have security clearance and even the ones who do tend to stay away." I remember Byron's vertigo and the veins at his temples.
"But you have security clearance?"
"I have it. I wasn't given it."
"That sounds like another common theme in your life."
"Don't say that like you've known me for more than a few days." I shoot a glance at you and you turn away. We both pretend not to be looking at each other, even though we've done little else since Sunday night. This is the game we play. Looking but not looking, but looking.
"Yet here I am, on your roof."
"Here you are, on my roof."
"Should I feel honoured?"
"You feel what you feel."
You set your flask behind you and take a pack of cigarettes out of your pocket. "I quit last year."
"Doesn't look like it. Hasn't looked like it all week."
"No, I mean I did. And then I didn't." You light a smoke and weigh the silver lighter in your hand.
"Why'd you start again?"
"I don't know."
"Yes you do. No-one is better positioned than you to know why you did something. You just aren't admitting it to yourself. Or to me. Whatever."
"Are you my therapist now?"
"You wouldn't have a therapist any more than I would."
"True." You smoke in silence for a minute, then it reaches out of you like a sigh of relief. "I got tired of denying myself things I wanted."
"I never deny myself things I want."
"How's that working out for you?"
I lie back along the wall, the bottle in my hand, the shot glass from my office rolling on its side in a lazy semi-circle. "Sometimes I wonder what it would feel like to drop something from up here, whether or not it would hit someone, whether or not they'd die."
"At least you've never actually done it." You put out your cigarette.
"Not yet." I let you take the bottle out of my hand and I'm starting to realise I'd let you do anything you wanted. I can't tell if that's a problem or the opposite of a problem. Something about how true control comes from relinquishing control. I don't know.
"Not now either." You sit, your back against the wall next to me. It's cold and your breath mists like the ghost of your willpower or the strengthening spirit of cognitive dissonance.
I kind of want to touch your hair or your face, but it seems like too tender a gesture and I don't know what to do with it, so I sit down next to you instead, leaning my back against the wall and my shoulder against you. There's a fascinating solidity to you and I want to slide your coat off your shoulders just to feel your muscles shift under my hands. I reach towards you. "If I promise not to drop it on anyone, can I please have my drink back?"
You hand it over and smile, not at me but near me, in my general direction. I can't be bothered with the glass anymore, so I drink from the bottle and offer it to you. You take it and our hands touch. That contact, your skin against mine, does something to me, a slightly muted version of when you first hit me and everything else you've done in the last few days. Everything we've done.
Your throat tenses into the swallow of someone who doesn't regularly drink straight vodka, then you hand the bottle back and offer me your flask.
"I can't believe you brought your own coffee. Did you think I wouldn't have any? That there would be literally no coffee anywhere in the building?"
"I didn't think there'd be good coffee."
"And coffee's that important?"
"It is." You take the pack of cigarettes out of your pocket again and look at it like you're waiting for it to give you an answer. "I can't figure out if you smoke or not. I mean, I've seen you smoking, but it doesn't seem habitual."
"I don't not smoke. I don't not do a lot of things."
"Are you smoking now?"
"I'm not not smoking." I hold out my hand.
You pass me a cigarette and turn towards me to light it, the flame flaring between us, light dancing across your face, casting shadows of necessity and inevitability and emptiness.
A current runs through me and I am opaque. You hold me at the edge of the void and I become transparent. I wrap my bravado in ribbons of tendons and bruise-kissed skin and even that is not enough of an offering.
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...