Felisha walked out to the middle of the bridge’s pedestrian sidewalk. She looked over the edge into the blackness far below. There wasn’t much to see of the river at a quarter to midnight, but she could hear it.
As she threw one leg over the railing, a single car lit her briefly as it crossed. She paid no attention to it and didn’t notice that the car came to a stop at the first opportunity on the other side. Nor did she notice the man who got out of the car and began walking toward her.
She swung her other leg over the railing. She faced the bridge with her feet still on the walkway and her hands on the cold metal but her entire body on the wrong side of safety.
“Good evening,” the unseen man called out.
“Don’t come any closer!” Felisha yelled.
The man ignored her. “Or what? You’ll jump? ’Swhat you came here to do anyway, right?”
“Yes. And I’m going to now.”
“Okay.” And he stopped a good six feet from her. He looked over the railing toward Felisha’s intended landing point, hidden in the dark. “Yeah, this should work for you. I suppose you know that you probably won’t die on impact.”
“I won’t?” Her hands were beginning to freeze, so she hugged the railing.
“Nah. You’ll hit the hard, hard water like the proverbial ton of bricks. Every bone in your body will break. And then that heavy coat will drag you down and you’ll eventually drown. Tough way to go, in my humble opinion, but to each her own.”
“Doesn’t matter. As long as I die.”
“That’s almost guaranteed. Still, once in a great while, someone survives doing this. Then they’re screwed for the rest of their lives. Living in beds in nuthouses with people feeding them soft foods; they lost their teeth when they hit the water, y’know. Peeing through tubes. Not even able to scratch their noses.” He paused. “But you might be one of the lucky ones who dies. We can but hope.”
“Why are you here?”
“Would you believe I’m the devil, waiting to take possession of your soul?”
“Okay, then; how about I’m an angel, hoping to talk you back to this side of the railing?”
“There are no angels. Any more than there’s a devil. Life is all we get, and it sucks.”
“And that’s why you’re on that side of the railing.”
“Yes,” she confirmed. “You haven’t answered my question.”
“I saw you as I drove by. I don’t see this kind of human drama too often and I wanted a front-row seat.”
“Great. You’re about to get the whole show.”
“Y’know … this doesn’t make for a good New Year’s tradition. It’s impressive, but you can’t repeat it next year, if you see what I mean.”
“I suppose you’ve got a wonderful New Year’s tradition that you observe every year.”
The man turned away from Felisha in a show of nonchalance. He leaned against the railing, pretending his heart wasn’t doing double-time as he felt the weight of her life in his hands.
“I wouldn’t say it’s wonderful. Actually, it’s kind of embarrassing. I’ve never mentioned it to anyone, but I guess I can tell you since you’re not going to be repeating it.”
He sighed. “It goes all the way back to my senior year of high school. I had a part-time job at a burger place. I’d saved up my money and got my girlfriend a leather jacket for Christmas. Nice one. Looked great on her. She wore it to the New Year’s Dance. That she went to with Scott Sawyer.”
Despite herself, Felisha responded. “She broke up with you between Christmas and New Year’s? After a gift like that?”
“Yup. Second worst holiday season of my life. I went to the dance long enough to see them together on the floor. She was wearing the jacket. I just went back out and got in my car and drove around. I finally parked someplace quiet and cried for half an hour or so.”
“The worst was the next year, when all that pain came rushing back even though I was then in college and making friends and having fun. Came out of nowhere. On New Year’s Eve, I was at home with my parents on break. I told them I was going to a party with some friends. Instead, I went and found that same quiet spot and cried for a half hour or so again.”
Felisha just looked at him.
“So ever since, I always spend half an hour crying on New Year’s Eve. I weep for everything that’s gone wrong that year. For anyone I’ve lost to death or moving or a falling out. For all the bad things that have happened to me. For the pain I’ve caused other people. I just cry it all out. It’s not manly, but it’s cathartic.”
“I go to a party. And raise a glass and sing Auld Lang Syne and kiss whoever’s nearby.” He folded his arms across his chest. “Which I’m more careful about now than I was a couple of years ago when I thought I was standing by Cheryl and it turned out to be Paul.”
“Well, he should cut his hair occasionally, dammit.”
She laughed again. He took a deep, shallow breath and went for the gold.
“Want to know something else?”
He turned and looked into her face. “People who can laugh at silly stories don’t really want to die.”
Her smile faded and she looked at him for a long moment during which his anti-perspirant completely gave out.
“Hey,” she said at length.
“Could you help me get back on your side of the railing?”
“Be happy to.”
He closed the distance between them and quickly, carefully, slipped his arms under hers and got her in a bear hug. She whimpered softly.
“I’ve got you,” he said, looking as deeply into her eyes as he could. “I’ve got you. Take your arms off the railing and put them around me. You won’t fall. I’ve got you.”
She closed her eyes involuntarily, out of fright, and threw her arms around him.
“Perfect,” he told her. He pulled her toward him and took two steps back. “Now swing a leg over the rail.” She haltingly obeyed. “Good, good. Now bring the other one over.”
She hoisted her trailing leg over and pushed herself into him. He slammed up against a girder but limited himself to a soft “oof.” They clung to each other as she buried her face in his shoulder and wept. He looked up at the stars and mouthed the words “thank you.”
“It’s over,” he said, and church bells all over the city began to ring in the new year. “You’ve lived to see another year.”
He let her cry a little longer, then made a suggestion. “Let’s get off this cold bridge and into a nice warm car, huh?” He got them both walking. At the car, he opened the passenger door for her. Then he got behind the wheel; he started the car and cranked up the heat.
“I’m Dare, by the way.”
“Short for Darren. But I like Dare. The short version helps me push myself every day to be better and braver than I was the day before.”
“Pretty name. So, Felisha … I don’t want to belabor the point, but what made you go out there?”
She looked down at her hands in her lap. “My dad left my mom and me when I was six. She raised me all by herself. And she died this summer.” Dare bowed his head in recognition of her pain. “And almost an hour ago, I caught my boyfriend in bed with another woman.”
“I walked out of his place and came straight to the bridge. I’d had it. That was enough misery. But then you came along and made me laugh.”
Dare sighed in relief. “Good thing I came along, then. And a good thing I kissed Paul that year. I may have to kiss him again.”
Felisha laughed once more, but she had her own question.
“You didn’t seem too concerned when you first came out to me. Like you didn’t care if I jumped or not. But … you do care.”
“I care a lot. No problem needs a solution that big. But if I’d gone out there and started telling you how much you had to live for, you’d have let go of the railing.”
“Hey, I was on my way to a party. There’s lots of nice people there. Want to come along?”
Felisha thought about that for a long moment. “Sure. I’d like to be around lots of nice people. Thanks, Dare. Thank you.”
“Happy New Year, Felisha.”