I COULD BE STUPID SOMETIMES. My dad was the first person to say that to me.
"You're a smart kid, Mason," he said one night when I tried to set off a firework from the attic (that was when we used to have our own house), "but sometimes you can be as dumb as a box of rocks. I think you get that from me."
As I strolled down the quiet street on my way home, I couldn't help but remember the way he grinned at me when he said it; everybody makes mistakes was another thing he liked to tell me. I wondered if he would feel the same way today.
I'd just beaten up Nick Sampson, not because I had any beef with the guy, but because one of the freshman kids asked me to. I wasn't usually one to get myself into trouble at school; I kept good grades and got along with just about everybody. Maybe that was why Sam came to me every time our high school's bully took his lunch money or otherwise made his life miserable. Usually I would just wave him off and tell him he'd get payback someday, or something else equally patronizing, but today I just got fed up.
"Give the kid back his lunch money," I barked at Nick as I strutted across the canteen. Apparently I owned the place.
"I have a better idea; stop sticking your nose where it don't belong," he said. Even bullies could give great advice.
But I ignored it. "C'mon Nick? You're a senior, he's a freshman; not all that fair."
"You want fair?" he asked, pushing his way to his feet.
Without warning he sucker punched me and within an instant I was clutching my stomach in pain.
"Mind your business next time," he said, and then he turned his back on me and sat at his table with his underlings as though I'd just been a mere distraction. That's the mistake people sometimes make with me; they barely graze me and think I'd just roll over and crawl away. But I am my father's son.
"Kick his ass!" I heard Sam's puny voice squeal.
The idiot that I sometimes can be obeyed, and I ended up suspended from school for two weeks. I knew that wouldn't sit well with my dad; my doing well in school was extremely important to him. He felt that it was my only chance of getting out of the hole we lived in, and to him, I would be throwing my life away if I missed a single day of school. Dad can sometimes get like that.
I jogged up the steps leading up to our apartment building and went inside. I lazily climbed the stairs to the third floor, unaware at the time of the urgency of what was unfolding in our apartment. I reached apartment 3B, our very own, and fished around in my backpack for the key, thinking that I still had three hours before my dad came home; I didn't know the door was open.
And I sure as hell didn't know what was happening inside.
COLE KNEW HOW IT FELT TO TRULY HIT ROCK BOTTOM, to reach that point where things couldn't possibly get any worse. To his surprise, he liked the feeling. There was no wondering what was going to happen now. No wondering how much longer he could keep putting food on the table. No more wondering how much longer he could keep a roof over his son's head; a place for him to sleep and eat and call home. He needn't wonder about any of those things that made him unhappy anymore; their outcomes were no longer uncertain.
He had control of his destiny now.
He straightened the note to his son out as best he could with shaking hands, and pinned it to the refrigerator door with an alphabet magnet. He noticed how it was chipped and cracked, but did its job all the same, and he grinned: story of his life. And then his grin turned into a chuckle. One of those bitter, sarcastic chuckles you made when you didn't know what the joke was about, just that it was on you. He knew how it felt to be on top too.
Cole was once a boxer. A good one. Not great like one of the famous ones, but everyone thought he would get there someday. Money, a career, a family, and a life: he had them all. Those were the days when he truly smiled, and didn't always just fake one when he thought it was appropriate. He used to be happy.
Now look at him.
He climbed unto the table with shaking bones, but he wasn't afraid; maybe just a little nervous. Just because he'd made up his mind didn't mean he couldn't be nervous, but he wasn't going to let that stop him. If there was one thing worth a damn that Cole knew, it was how to conquer his nerves.
He had the noose around his neck now, and the grip was tight. With just one leap it would all be over. Paying no attention to the guilt he felt for leaving his son on his own, he whispered a prayer for his soul. He knew it was a pointless thing to do. He knew that if God did exist after all, He would probably send him straight to hell; at least, that was what the Christians said about suicide. But it would be worth it, if it only meant that Mason would get a second chance at a happy life.
He was ready now, about to leap off the table. It would be quick. The rope was strong and would instantly snap his neck, sparing him a slow death by suffocation. Everything seemed to slow down. His thoughts became singular and sharp.
For Mason, he thought, this is for you, Mason.
His entire life never flashed before his eyes, but as he took the leap, he remembered the moments that mattered most to him. And then he was caught.