A freezing gust of wind whips my ebony hair in front of my down-turned face, and a bone-rattling chill runs through me. I look down at my hands, my warm tan fingers curling in the cold sludge beneath them.
"Snow?" I say, lifting my head and looking side to side, seeing nothing but long straight asphalt blanketed in white.
"Did you hear me? I said to stay back."
I glance over my shoulder and find a boy no older than sixteen in wide-legged jeans and a black Smashing Pumpkins t-shirt gripping a rail. His chin length hair blows in front of his face, playing peek-a-boo with his hazel eyes framed in eyeliner. The toes of his black Doc Martin boots hang more than halfway off the narrow ledge he stands on.
My eyes grow wide and my voice trembles as I say, "What are you doing?"
"What does it look like I'm doing?" the boy responds, his voice as bitter as the frozen air that surrounds us.
"It looks like you're about to jump off this bridge," I whisper under the wind. "Please, come back over the railing." I inch toward where he stands, the hard snow scraping against my knees.
"No," he says, his voice a choked sob. "I can't do this anymore; I can't live like this. I just want to let go. No one will give a shit anyway."
My heart races and a lump rises to my throat; this scene is too familiar, the words too close, the emotions too raw. "Please don't say that."
"They don't care. I'm just a freak that isn't even worth a second look. I hear them; they don't even try to hide what they're saying. Why stay? Give me one fucking good reason to stay."
His words crash down on me, and my heart feels as if it is being squeezed inside my chest. This is the question I always wished Sai would have asked me. I'd made a list of all the reasons I loved him...all the reasons I needed him to stay, and now this stranger needs to hear them.
I sit in the snow, not caring that my body heat is melting it and it's soaking through the short dress I wear. Pulling my knees to my chest to keep warm, I say, "Someone loves you. And I understand that you feel like that person's life would be so much better without you in it, but it won't. You are a piece of them, and you have a perfect place in their life. No one will ever fill it the way you do."
He shakes his head. "No, that's not true. I'm so worthless."
Sai felt that way too, like he couldn't meet the high expectations of our parents, and they couldn't love and accept who he was. But I unconditionally loved him, I wanted him to stay. My teeth chatter as I try to make the distressed boy understand. "You're not worthless. I know because someone I loved thought everyone was better off without him, and I'm here to tell you I'm not. He left an enormous gaping hole inside of me, and you will do the same to someone."
For the first time since I've been in this boy's presence, he seems to relent. He casts me a sidelong glance from under his black strands. "But did you tell him how much you love him? Because no one fucking tells me."
A tear falls down my cheek and I swipe it away, trying to stay strong for this young boy who clearly needs me right now. "Maybe not as much as I should have," I admit. "But that doesn't mean I didn't. I loved my brother with every piece of my soul." Something on his face shifts, and I take advantage of the moment. "Do you have any siblings?"
He nods. "A little sister."
I close my eyes and inhale, my breath swirling in the cold as I exhale. "Then I can promise you; you'll break her heart if you do this. Please, come back over the ledge."
"I don't know." He leans forward and looks down at the drop. "What was your brother's name?" he asks into the wind.
"Sai. What is yours?"
I pull the thin black cardigan I'm wearing together and the jingle of delicate gold draws my attention to my wrist and the bracelets my parents gave me as a reminder of my Eastern Indian heritage. Shaking off the thought and shivering, I say, "I'm Rylan."
Kyle looks me up and down and his eyes soften. "My jacket is right there if you want it." He jerks his head toward the black pile on the other side of the ledge.
I'm scared to move forward and trigger him, but the heavy coat is so enticing. "I'm just going to grab it. I won't make a move toward you, okay?"
"Okay," he replies.
I stay on the ground and crawl to the jacket. Once I have it on, I look over past the ledge—the drop has to be close to 150 feet straight down to a highway. I take a deep breath of freezing air, sit with my back to the railing, and look up at Kyle. "I'd feel better if you come sit with me."
"Just give me a moment to get my thoughts straight, all right?"
"All right, but keep talking to me so I don't remember that I'm going hypothermic sitting out here in this stupid dress. And where did I get these shoes?"
Kyle glances at the bulky patent leather Mary Janes and chuckles. "I think girls are hot when they wear those."
"You've got vintage taste, Kyle," I say with a raised eyebrow. "But you know what?"
"If you let go of that railing, you'll never see another hot girl again."
"Yeah, that would be a shame."
"Yeah, it would. You have been a complete gentleman; some girl is going to be very lucky to—"
"Stay the fuck back, man!" Kyle screams, leaning forward like he is going to let go.
My gaze darts to the other side of the bridge where a guy in a black sweatshirt with the hood drawn over his head crouches in the shadows across from us.
YOU ARE READING
[ONC SHORTLIST - ONC AMBASSADOR PICK 2020] When Rylan Walker wakes up almost 25 years in the past, the only explanation she has is that it's a vivid dream. But when her eyes open the next morning and she's transported back into the American Civil W...