A door creaked open as I pulled on my coat in the foyer. My sister's voice echoed from the top of the stairs.
"Mike, can you stop by the drugstore? We're out of pain medicine."
I hated when Cara called me "Mike" because that's what our absent mother used to call me before she took off. But I couldn't be mean to her right then.
"Okay," I said as lightly as I could. "I'll stop there on my way to the club."
Before she could turn around, I called her name.
Cara froze on the fourth step and my heart sank when I noticed something like hopelessness in her aquamarine eyes.
"I like your necklace," I told her awkwardly. "A selfish part of me was glad that she'd stopped wearing our mother's old jewelry. It had been one of the things we argued about so much.
Cara glanced down at the garnet pendent sitting in the hollow of her throat and to my relief, a tiny smile formed on her lips."Brandon gave it to me," she said, referring to her new boyfriend. "He said it's the birthstone for January."
I nodded. As of late, my sister's pretty face had become creased with worry lines that a person only gets in their mid-thirties. I felt bad because we only had each other now that our father was too sick to break up our fights, and sometimes I didn't make it any easier.
"Well, it makes you look like a beauty queen," I told Cara without even a hint of sarcasm in my tone. The garnet looked romantic against her apricot skin, and it was time I accepted the fact that our mom wouldn't return to claim her things. It was just us, as it had been for six years.
Cara rolled her eyes good-naturedly and ran back up the stairs.
I hurried out into the chilly March evening.
On my way to the drugstore, I kept thinking about the essay I'd left on my desk back home. It was for a journalism class I was taking at the community college. My friends had warned me against taking Professor Donald's class due to his pickiness with unbiased reporting, citations and research. But I was determined to attend Trenton University in the fall so I'd blindingly gone with my gut. Now I didn't know what to do anymore. All my work came back with frustratingly blunt critiques and the worst part was that Professor Donald never told me exactly what I had done wrong!
Shaking my head, I maneuvered my muddy brown Bronco down the rain-washed streets of Rathbone where I lived.
The past year had been messed up for so many reasons.
My father had to have heart surgery and since Cara was still in high school, I had to get a job as a bartender at a club in Milton called The Purple Haze, which was the next city over. It wasn't ideal by any means, but I had no choice.
Sometimes it truly terrified me to envision the future, so I tried to take in one fragile moment at a time.
There was a new Indie rock band playing at The Purple Haze that night, which brought in a new slew of college kids. I stood behind the bar as I always did, filling out orders; except that this time, I was actually listening to the music, which was surprisingly decent.
My eyes trailed to the door in the back as I poured bourbon into a glass for a lady who kept leaning over the counter, trying to draw my attention to her plunging neckline. I was about to tell her that she would only end up tumbling over and smashing her head on the floor, when something unusual passed through my line of sight.
It was a boy.
Quite possibly the most uncommonly beautiful one I'd ever seen.
He was wearing mostly black; onyx jeans and a black leather jacket with a dark maroon-colored shirt underneath. His hair was pure black as well, and cut with strands falling longer in some places and shorter in others, making him look like a rock star from an 80s magazine. I couldn't tell what color his eyes were from a distance, but as he neared the bar and took a seat on one of the stools facing the stage, I noticed that his skin was almost translucent.
The simpering girl finally moved away from the bar as I slid over her drink so I went to stand near where the boy was sitting.
"What can I get you?" I asked as pleasantly as I could without letting my voice tremble.
He was so good-looking..
It was at times like these that I was acutely aware of my sexual preferences.
When he turned to look at me, I saw that his eyes were an unmistakable shade of sea-green rimmed with charcoal, and I immediately hoped I wouldn't do anything stupid in front of him.
"Vodka Tonic," he said. "Hold the tonic." He winked.
I bit my lip and quickly turned around to prepare his drink.
I'd never seen anyone who looked that much of an angel before.
He grinned when I placed the Vodka Tonic in front of him.
I noticed that his nails were painted black when he reached for the glass.
My gaze wandered to the long expanse of his throat as he tipped his head back and downed the drink.
I had no idea why I was suddenly feeling so childish and nervous. It wasn't like I didn't know how to talk to a cute boy. I wasn't naive.
"Do you like the music?"
The boy blinked. He leaned forward a bit, folding his arms on the counter and cocking his head to the side, as though mulling over his answer. "It's really good.. I'm shocked," He said at last.
I chuckled, genuinely amused. "Yeah, so am I," I mumbled, glancing down as he handed me the money for his drink.
His fingers brushed against mine and I looked up to see his smile widen. The temperature of his skin wasn't what I'd expected. It was very warm; almost like he'd been standing close to a furnace.
"What's your name?" He asked, holding my gaze.
"Michael," I said quietly.
"Are you..new in town?"
"No, I grew up here, actually," Seth replied in a flippant manner. "But I've been away for awhile and got homesick."
His pale pink lips turned up in a little smirk, as if he were laughing internally at some private joke.
Before I could ask anything else, the band, Lovesick July, started playing a slow song and people crowded around the bar or started swaying dazedly to the hypnotic rhythm. I had no choice but to turn my attention to the college couple waiting to be served. When I finished off their order and two others, I turned back to the spot where Seth had been lingering, only to find him gone.
I sighed and picked up a rag to begin wiping down the bar, and grudgingly accepted the fact that I'd probably never see him again.
The air was thick with fog when I stepped outside after my shift. This was New England so it didn't surprise me.
I zipped up my jacket and hurried to my car with the intention of turning on the heater as quickly as possible.
As I neared it, I heard a tapping noise and found that it belonged to a bird that had landed on the windshield. It was picking at something with its beak. At first, I thought it was weird that any bird would be out at night, especially in that chill. But then I got closer and realized it was a magpie, with a white underbelly and a mix of black and blue feathers.
Magpies were commonly nocturnal and hung around my backyard a lot. When Cara was little, she would try to catch one by leaving shiny objects like our dad's watch and mother's rings outside her window.
The bird on my car pulled whatever it was holding in its beak out from underneath the windshield wipers. Then it flew away. The loud flutter of its wings echoed above my head and I looked up as it landed on the roof of the car parked across from mine.
Peering back down at the object the magpie had left on the windshield, I saw that it was the size and shape of a coin, but it was actually a medallion on a tattered black string like a shoe lace. Picking it up, I felt how warm it was in my fingers, as if someone had just worn it.
It was possible that whoever had left it was drunk and didn't know what they were doing. I would have to bring it back to the club the next night and ask if it belonged to any of the customers or employees.
I pulled out of the parking lot and turned towards the highway. It started to rain as I was nearing the bridge that led back to Rathbone. My mind was somewhere else; not on that wet stretch of road or the blurry sight before me.
I almost sped right past him.
A tall figure teetered atop the railing. In the grayness, I could only make out the black color of its clothing.
I slowed the car to a crawl, and rolled down my window, bracing my face against the cold slanting rain.
"Hey! What- What are you doing?" I attempted to make my voice louder with each word. Still, though, the figure refused to move.
Finally, I set the Bronco in park and opened the door, cursing under my breath as the icy breeze hit me.
I took a step towards the stranger and tentatively placed a hand on his shoulder. "What's the matter? Are you alright?"
He turned around so quickly, I don't know how he didn't lose his step and clamber over the edge.
My breath got caught in my throat. It was Seth.
"What is he doing here?" was my first thought but then I got this sinking feeling in my stomach, like I might already know the answer.
"You can't.." I stammered, too scared to say anything intelligent. "You can't do this."
To my utter shock, Seth smiled that same sarcastic little smirk he'd given me before. "I wish it had happened this way," he said and once again, I was shocked by the youthful and friendly sound of his voice. "It was too ugly the way it happened, you know?" He continued. "Completely different from how I had imagined."
"What are you talking about?" I was afraid to ask this, as he might not be in the best frame of mind and I had no idea what to do.
Seth let out a short, throaty chuckle. "I mean dying. It shouldn't have happened the way it did. There's nothing liberating or peaceful about it. There was just so much pain and fear."
I could've sworn my skin froze over at that instant, like someone had just dumped a bucket of ice over my head. Seth was clearly unwell. I had to get him somewhere safe.
"Umm.." I reached my hand out to him. "Come with me. I'll drive to the hospital..or the clinic."
He laughed again and pressed his back against the railing. I was about to make a grab for his arm when he fell backwards.
My heart was a stutter of beats as I made myself peer over the railing. But there was nothing below; only rocks and the little bit of water from the sewage. No body or ripped clothes or shattered skull.
I don't know how I made it home that night. Perhaps it was the absolute terror I felt; the panic and need to get away from that place as fast as I could. The entire evening, ever since seeing Seth for the first time, I'd been feeling like a kid. But after watching him commit suicide right in front of me, I had never felt so immature and horrified in my life. I wanted to go home to my dad snoring and my sister watching TV.
The first thing I did when I stumbled through the door to my house was lock it and race up the stairs. My sister bedroom was shut and the space under the door showed that it was completely dark so I knew she was asleep. My father was also asleep, as I saw when I cracked his bedroom door open. My heart thumped wildly in my chest as I thought about how much I wanted to talk to him right then. But I was more than happy that he and Cara were both safe. I don't know how Seth jumping off a bridge would have affected them, but I wasn't thinking rationally.
I hurried to my room and shut the door.
Pulling out the medallion from the pocket of my jacket, I examined the surface. I didn't know why I was doing this. I didn't know what you were supposed to do after seeing someone jump off a bridge. But in the back of my mind, I wondered if this necklace belonged to Seth; if he had left it on my car for me to find specifically. Why?
Maybe there wasn't a reasonable explanation. Perhaps he was just..troubled.
There were words engraved on the surface of the medallion, yet I couldn't understand their meaning.
On one side it said "Slainte" and on the back there were only two letters; L and C.
I sank to the floor at the foot of my bed, bringing my knees up to my chest while fingering the lackluster medallion. I wanted very much to forget the image of Seth in the rain, standing on the bridge with a smile on his handsome face. I knew I couldn't pretend it didn't happen. I wasn't drunk or so exhausted that I'd imagined something so startling. He'd killed himself. And I'd watched it happen.
Never in a million years would I have thought this could happen to me; maybe to other people, but to me it still felt like a made-up ghost story. Then I remembered Seth saying something just before he leaped. "It was too ugly the way it happened," He'd told me. "Completely different from what I had.imagined."
What could that mean?
At that moment, the rain came down harder on the rooftop and hit my window with a loud noise like cymbals clashing. I scrambled to my feet and went to my computer desk. Turning on the monitor, I had my doubts as to whether the connection would be decent. A part of me hoped it wouldn't. But I needed to know what "slainte" meant.
It was Gaelic for "cheers" the search engine said when I typed the word in. That didn't tell me anything about Seth or why he had done what he did. I typed in the word again along with the initials on the back of the medallion. This time some more Gaelic translation sites popped up. I clicked through about fifteen of them, my eyes aching with fatigue. I didn't stop till I reached the bottom of the sixth page of my search. It was an article about a homicide.
The article read: "Fight at Irish pub leaves one person dead, two injured."
This had happened in 1997. Twenty-five years ago. The pub was located in Milton but had been closed for years. It was called Liam's Corner, named after the owner, Liam Connor. There was a picture of him; a man maybe in his early thirties with light-colored hair and a charming smile. But the thing that caught my eye was what he had around his neck; the medallion. Quickly, I scrolled down the webpage to the victims' photos.
The two people said to have been injured were college kids; one boy with brown hair and glasses, the other a blond with a heavy built frame. When I got to the photo of the deceased person, it was Seth.
He wore the same dark clothes he'd had on at The Purple Haze. According to the article, he was twenty-two years old and "a close friend of the owner".
I couldn't believe this.
The next thing I knew, it was morning and I had fallen asleep in the chair in front of my computer. I'd had a dream sometime between turning off the monitor and accepting the possibility that I could have indeed been drunk without even realizing.
In my dream, Seth and I were at the bar. He was sitting on one of the stools and I was cleaning the inside of a shot glass with a towel.
He leaned across the counter and said, "I wish you wouldn't pretend not to hear me."
"What do you mean?" I'd asked.
He'd grinned mischievously and brought his lips close to my ear. "Like when you know how much I think about getting closer and you act surprised when I actually do."
He leaned back on the stool with an air of nonchalance then, as though he hadn't just been flirting with me, and I hadn't been totally paralyzed by his green magnetic stare.
"Why do you always do that?" I demanded, a little annoyed at Seth's aloofness.
He always made me think he was about to reveal some secret before pulling away abruptly.
"Weave around the subject," I replied tersely. "Never say what you really mean."
He shrugged. "Isn't this what you wanted? To be discrete?"
That was when I realized what his secret was. In the dream, he and I; we knew each other. Very well, it seemed. In the dream, he was mine; secretly, but still..
Sitting up straighter, I leaned across the desk and turned the computer back on. The article page popped up with Seth's picture still there. The medallion was still there also, on the screen and on the desk near the lamp where I'd set it down last night. I hadn't imagined any of it.