"It's a suicide attempt, miss," the short, fat man told Aleda briskly. "Now, a nice young lady like yourself shouldn't be here right now."
Aleda ignored him and pushed into the crowd. A suicide attempt. She prayed it wasn't anyone she knew. But as she fought her way to the front, her heart sank. There was no mistaking the checkerboard hair. It was David hanging off the side of that bridge.
Aleda stepped toward David, but a policewoman stepped in her way. "Please, miss, step back."
David glanced over his shoulder to see who had been pushed back and his eyes met Aleda's. They weren't good friends by any stretch of the imagination. They were acquaintances, really, but David called back anyway, "Let her through or else I let go!"
Aleda stepped into the cleared perimeter around David and asked, "Can I come close?"
David gave a weary nod. "Hello, Aleda. What are you doing here?"
Allie stood behind him and rested her fingertips on either side of his waist. "I'm the priest's daughter. Dad's out of town and the assistant pastor is sick, so I volunteered to see what was going on. To offer help, counseling and whatnot."
"You're a brave girl, Aleda."
"Allie," she corrected. "No one calls me Aleda except my mother. Why on earth are you hanging off the side of a bridge?"
"Why aren't you flipping out over it?" he challenged.
Allie shrugged. "I learned to play a role when I was little and I do it every day. I panic, but nobody ever notices."
David turned slightly to look at her. "Interesting. I'm hanging off the side of a bridge because I'm not unique. Nobody notices anything except my physical appearance."
Aleda's heart broke at that revelation. Slowly she snaked her arms around his waist and hugged him. "Is that really what you think?"
"David...you don't think you're unique?"
"Actually, the problem is that nobody loves me because I'm so ordinary."
Allie felt tears streaking down her face. "I would miss you," she told David abruptly.
"I doubt it, Aleda. You barely knew me."
Allie carefully rested her head against his back, painfully aware that they had a huge audience. "I suppose this is as good a time as any to tell you. David, I chose not to know you better."
"Doesn't that prove my point that--"
"I had a better reason than you know," she interrupted. "I love you. I can't be near you without my head spinning and my heart beating like it wants to pound out of my chest and my pulse racing and so on. If you have any desire to die, please don't do it while I'm around. It would break my heart. It would destroy me, shatter my life, and just might drive me back to my gothic tendencies."
"You're too calm. If you really felt it, wouldn't your voice have more emotion?" he asked with a bitter laugh. He moved as if to let go.
"David," Allie gasped, squeezing him tighter. "Please, don't do that," she begged softly.
"Answer me!" David snapped.
"I'm not an emotional person. I work hard to keep a shield up, showing only a sunny, cheerful girl. I've developed this to the point where if I show any emotion, it's false or else I'm slipping a little bit. I feel, but I keep it hidden."
David shifted, and Aleda heard heels click against the concrete behind them. David called back, "Step away. Now."
The steps faltered. "Are you okay?" asked a soft, high voice.
David turned. "Elizabeth!"
Promptly he pulled free from Allie's grasp and swung over to talk to Elizabeth.
Aleda looked the other girl up and down. A couple years older, about David's age, tall, slender, with honey brown hair and blue eyes, she wore a skimpy pink sweater and black tights. Tight tights. Slutty, Allie decided, glaring at her. Elizabeth returned the glare and the onceover.
David stood there awkwardly for a moment, but before he could speak, the ambulance paramedics swept him away, leaving the two girls there. As soon as they were alone, ELizabeth narrowed her eyes and hissed at Aleda, "Leave David alone! He's mine and you had better not forget that."
Aleda adopted her blank, ditzy expression and replied, "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Of course you do. I saw the way you were holding him, as if your life depended on it. You like him, don't you?"
Aleda closed her eyes, trying to press down her anger at the way Elizabeth was dismissing her. She failed.
"Oh, so you're denying it now?"
Allie opened her eyes. "No. I don't like him. I love David, something you're too cheap to understand. I have no intention of bothering David. If anything, I'm going to keep away from him until I die."
Elizabeth smiled and said triumphantly, "Well, I'll help. Believe me, I'll help."
Aleda looked at her and nodded. "I know."
Aleda watched as the man exchanged vows with Elizabeth. The older woman tossed her a smug look and walked back down the aisle, clinging to her husband. As the church emptied, Allie held back, watching people pour out. After everyone was gone, Aleda sat down and gazed distantly at the huge crucifix hanging over the church altar.
A hand touched her shoulder. "I love you. I can't be near you without my head spinning and my heart beating like it wants to pound out of my chest and my pulse racing and so on."
"That's familiar," Allie said absently.
"Yes." David pulled her to her feet and led her out of the church.
Allie smiled up at David. "I said that."
"Yes," her husband agreed.