"It's all right, Kyle," I say, getting to my knees. "Hey, look at me; I'm right here." I wave my hand at the stranger across the street, motioning for him to back up while I stay focused on the young man.
The teen's forehead crinkles with worry lines and his eyes plead for help. He doesn't want to do this, but I also fear he will use any excuse to jump. He casts the man across the street a sidelong look before turning back to me. "Do you know that dude?"
"No. If I'm being honest, you're the only person around here I know. It would suck to lose my only friend."
"I don't know if I can back out now, Rylan. If I come back over, they're just going to think I'm crazy and lock me in a hospital."
I can't deny that the doctors will most likely send him for treatment, so I focus on the positive side. "At least you will be alive and your sister will still have her big brother. I think it's a small price to pay until you feel better about things." I ease onto my feet and reach my hand out to him, with my palm up. "Please, Kyle. Just give it one more day—one more day to think about it."
He nods and my shoulders sag with relief. "I'm scared to turn around. There's not a lot of room here," he says, struggling to pivot his body so he can climb back over.
"Just take it slow. One foot at a time. I got you."
I rest my hand on his elbow and he takes a deep breath before swinging one leg over the other until he is halfway twisted back toward the railing.
"That's it," I urge, taking his hand. "Now turn your other foot and I'll be able to pull you over."
He doesn't say anything, and when he looks up at me, his hazel eyes reflect pure terror. "I'm scared."
"I know, but you've almost got it. One more turn."
His body shifts, his right foot twisting around, the toe of his Doc Martins pressing against the side of the bridge.
"Yes, good, keep going. You're almost there."
He exhales and moves one more inch, and I hold my other hand out for him to take. As soon as his fingers brush against mine, there is the horrifying crunch of snow and then a rapid thudding as Kyle slides from my grip, and I'm left with only one of his arms in my grasp.
"Shit!" I scream as I lean further over, gripping his slender arm with both hands. I grit my teeth against the pain of supporting his entire body weight. "Hang on, Kyle! Please don't let go!"
"I don't want to die!" he shrieks, tears streaked with black eyeliner streaming down his face.
"You are not going to die," I say, but even as the words leave my lips, he begins to slip through my fingers. I don't know how much longer I'm going to be able to hold him up.
"Give me your other hand," says a calm baritone voice.
I know it is the creepy guy from across the street, but I don't dare take my eyes off Kyle. The boy stretches his other arm, and I clench my jaw as my muscles tremble and fingers ache. All I can do is squeeze my eyes shut and concentrate on keeping my grip on him. The moment the stranger and Kyle's hands clasp together, my body hums with relief.
With a series of grunts, we pull Kyle back over the railing, all of us falling to the road with a thump. I fight to catch my breath, staring up at the gray clouds as flurries float toward me. Glancing to the side at the stranger, I meet the most brilliant set of blue eyes I've ever seen. I turn away and release a breath. This is all so surreal, yet I could swear I'm really here—wearing dated clothes, lying next to some guy I don't know, and saving a kid's life. My brain is doing quite the number on me tonight.
Muffled sobs break me out of my haze. I sit up, take off Kyle's jacket and wrap it around his trembling body. Pulling him close, I rock back and forth, whispering reassuring words.
It's not long before the police and paramedics arrive. I overhear a cop talking to the stranger as the EMTs lift Kyle to the ambulance. Someone driving on the highway below saw Kyle and called 911. I've never been so grateful for the kindness of others, and I feel compelled to pay it forward.
I climb into the back of the ambulance with Kyle and hold his hand the entire way to the hospital.
When we arrive, I'm directed to the waiting room, which is outdated—a boxy television hangs in the corner and the vinyl padding of the chairs rotates from sea green to a rosy pink. I sit down across from the only other person in the room, and when he looks up at me, the striking blue gaze is unmistakable.
"How did you get here?"
"The cop gave me a ride. I just wanted to make sure the kid was okay."
"The paramedics said he was going to be fine; they just want to check him out and then get him some psychiatric care." I sink down in the seat next to the stranger, and after a moment, I say, "You saved our lives tonight...and I don't even know your name to give you a proper thank you."
He pushes the hood away from his head, revealing disheveled brown hair, a dimpled chin with a five o'clock shadow, and full lips. "Sage."
"Rylan." I shiver, crossing my arms over my chest, and I realize I must've pulled my cardigan off with Kyle's jacket.
Sage stands and unzips his hoodie, taking it off and placing it over my shoulders. I notice he has a full sleeve of intricate tattoos on his right arm—a vintage clock, a raven, and a family crest among them. "You have to be freezing. Let's get some coffee."
As I slip my arms into the hoodie and zip it up, I can't help but inhale, the scent of spearmint and laundry detergent intoxicating to my tired senses.
We reach the coffee machine, and while Sage feeds it a couple of dollars, I stare at the bulletin board. My eyes run over several colorful fliers, freezing on a gold piece of paper that reads, Vanderbilt University Hospital Silent Auction Fundraiser—Don't miss it. February 1, 1996.
I shake my head once, twice, and read the flier again, certain that has to be a typo.
I point a shaking finger at the bulletin board. "This date...is this right?"
He hands me a paper cup of coffee and takes a sip of his before saying, "It is."
A chill runs down my spine and my skin prickles.
"You aren't looking so good. Do you need me to get a nurse?" he asks, looking down at me with concern on his face.
"No, no. I'm just tired, and I need to sit back down."
"All right," he says, putting his hand on my elbow and guiding me back to the chairs in the waiting room.
When I'm seated, he takes the chair next to me and we sit in silence as my eyelids grow heavy. The time is all wrong, but I can't pinpoint much that happened before running into Kyle on the ledge. The only person who stands out is Sai.
I pull Sage's jacket around me, settling into its warmth as I conclude: this is one hell of a dream.
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...