Like A Rolling Stone
Chapter Eleven: Know You're Not Alone
The snow hit me in the face. My heart was in my throat, and I didn't know what kind of emotion I was supposed to be feeling.
He was sitting on the metal barrier, slumped over with the weight of the world on his shoulders. It was snowing, and I could see thick fluffy snowflakes melting in his dark hair. His hands gripped the metal, knuckles white.
Connor, Maria and Matt were waiting near the bottom of the hill that I'd walked up, warm and safe in Connor's car. The hill was part of a sort of rolling set of smaller mountains that surrounded most of the town, and the same hill that led to the drop off that Oliver's mother had driven up the day she killed herself. And Oliver was nearly dangling over the edge. It had been a wild guess, coming to the drop off. He could've been miles away. But Oliver was the type to linger. That was why he'd spent so much time around the house that his mother's ex-boyfriend lived in. That was why he was sitting on the edge of the cliff.
I tried to be quiet; I didn't want to startle him and have him go tumbling to his death. But it took all I had not to run at him and pull him away from the huge drop. My feet crunched in the deep snow, my shoes filling with it. I'd never been more terrified or cautious, and I knew I was close to bursting into tears. There was pricking at the back of my eyes and my throat felt like someone was stepping on it. I only made it a few more steps before a strangled sob escaped my throat. My hand slapped over my mouth, and I tried to control it, but it rang out into the quiet air. Oliver didn't look back, just down. He'd known I was there as soon as I'd come around the trees. His shoulders tensed up.
"Found me." It was so quiet, I barely heard it. That was when I really approached him, and my hand gripped his shoulder like I could hold him there if he decided to jump. I was crying now, tears rolling down my cheeks. I gave up on being cautious, and threw my arms around his shoulders, burying my face into his back. The smell of alcohol on him wasn't hard to miss. It explained a lot.
He let me cry, unmoving. I barely felt him breathing.
"What.. Are you doing..?" My words came out muffled. He tensed up, and I lifted my head slightly. I saw the drop, the frozen lake down below. If he let go, it was death. Nothing else. No question.
More silence. He took a deep breath.
"Trying to let go of this barrier."
"Please don't." I tightened my grip. "Why are you doing this? Because of that letter?"
"Did you read it?" His voice was terrifyingly calm. Like he was somewhere else entirely. "I read it. He wants me to contact him. Like it's totally.. Fucking normal for someone who's been out of my life for sixteen years to ask that.. I can't. I can't, Iris.. I just.."
I didn't know what to do. I didn't know at all how to deal with the situation I was in, and I think that was what scared me the most. What if I said the wrong thing, and he took it the wrong way? What if he really jumped? What would I do?
I'd go crazy.
I hadn't dealt with suicide. Ever. I couldn't imagine how he felt, I couldn't tell him that I emphasized. He was, unfortunately, alone with his feelings. But I wanted, needed, so desperately to help him. To find out what was wrong, and take it away. I chose my words carefully.
".. Then don't." I shook my head, desperate. "Don't contact him. You don't have to. You can light the letter on fire and forget about it. Killing yourself won't solve your problem.. Being dead won't solve anything.. Do you understand that? I can't let you do this."
"I like to think.. That I have a full understanding of what death means." He shifted, and I gasped and held him tighter. Just in case. "Just let go."
"No.. I'm not going to let go. You should know how much it hurts when someone dies, right?" I was playing all the cards I had, my words coming out in half sobs. "What if you jump, and die? Don't you realize what that would do to me, or to Matt? I know you don't think anyone cares about you, but they do. I do.. I can't.."
"It doesn't matter." That hurt. "I can care all I want about you. I do.. Care. It doesn't change what's happened. I'm so tired of dealing with all of this. My brain hurts, and I feel so angry all the time. What happens if I go fucking crazy too?"
"I can't do it. I won't."
"You won't. Your mom.. She was sick. She was bipolar." He knew that. "That doesn't mean you're the same."
"It's not about.. Her illness, Iris. Everyone left her. She was fine until everyone left her." Oliver let out a laugh. "My dad.. You read it. He says he left because her disorder was too hard to deal with. That's a lie. He left because he got her pregnant by accident and didn't want to deal with raising a kid."
"You don't know that.."
"Yes, I do." He lifted a hand to rub his eyes. "And then other people started fucking leaving her behind. Her idiot fucking boyfriend. Then she killed herself, and then it was me."
"What about your grandma?"
"My grandma thought that trying to make me talk about my mom would make me go crazy." He was bitter about it. "And she pretended that everything was okay, all the time. She might have cared about me, Iris, but that doesn't mean I felt cared about."
"What about Matt?" I sniffled. "What about me?"
"Matt's already left me behind. And you.." Oliver sighed, "Will too."
"Is that what you think?"
His voice was barely there. He pleaded with me.
"Please let go."
"I'm not going to let go." I wanted to pull him away from the barrier. Miles and miles away. "You're drunk, and you're not thinking straight."
"Just because I had a little bit of.. whatever.. Doesn't mean this is the first time I've wanted to do this." He leaned forwards more. "Remember? I already thought about it before.. Now I'm doing it."
"No, you aren't." I bit my lip. "I'm not going to let you."
"You can't decide for me.. What I'm going to do."
"You can't either, not when you're like this." I shook, "You need to sober up and think about what you're doing."
"I already said I was gonna do it! Let go!" His voice took an angry turn, and he struggled against me.
"Stop it!" I screamed. It echoed. "Stop trying this!"
"If you don't let go, you're gonna fall too!" He thrashed. It was dangerous.
"No!" I pulled hard, but he wouldn't move. He moved against me, forwards.
"Iris! Fucking.. Stop it, I'll.. Let me.. Go!" My grip was loosening. I was beginning to think I'd made a huge mistake.
Then he fell. And so did I.
"Iris.." A cold hand on my face, desperate, gravelly voice. "Iris. Wake up."
My back hurt. My entire body hurt, actually. I was cold, too. Snow had somehow worked its way underneath my coat and was melting against my back. I blinked, not realizing my eyes were open.
The boy leaning over me looked horrified. His hands were smoothing my hair back, touching my cheeks. His eyes were wild with fear, the ever-present rings underneath them more prominent than usual. I blinked again, and he was still there. That was when my eyes began to fill with more tears, and I sobbed, my arms reaching wildly up for him. My fingers were in his coat.
"You.." I pulled as hard as I could, once again, and he let me. My arms wrapped around his neck, crushing him against me.
"I'm sorry.." He murmured, obviously just as upset. "Fuck. I landed on you."
"I don't.. Care about that.. Don't you get it?" I squeezed him tighter and tighter, just to make sure he was real. It hadn't taken long for me to start bawling. "You're alive.. That's all that matters."
He wrapped his arms underneath of me, burying his face into the side of my neck and lifting me out of the snow. The smell of alcohol made me sad, but I ignored it. I just cried.
We'd fallen backwards. For that, I would be forever thankful. I don't know how, or why. But backwards meant that neither of us were dead. And so, lying in the snow, the barrier still in front of us, I cried and cried.
"You should've just let go." His mouth was against my skin, and his voice was shaky. "Why didn't.. You just.."
Everything stopped. There was the wind, and the snow, and Oliver's soft, shuddering breath. I was freezing, but it didn't matter. Because even though I would never, ever mention it, I felt the warm tears on my neck. I knew they'd been waiting to fall for a long time.
So we sat, clinging to each other. And I could only hope with everything I had that he was just drunk. Just crazy, because of the letter he'd received and that this wouldn't happen again. He cried into my shoulder, terrified.
After a long time, it started to snow harder. I was freezing, my pants were soaked and I knew Oliver needed to get inside. He knew it too.
"We need to get you home." I'd whispered, "It's freezing up here."
He silently agreed, keeping his head down until he wiped his eyes off. I pretended not to watch him. When he finally looked at me, eyes red rimmed, he'd looked so terrified that I nearly started crying all over again. So I leaned in and kissed his cold, wet cheek, and he leaned into me as I spoke.
"It's going to be okay." They sounded like empty words. But I meant what I said with all of my heart. "I promise. I'll help you if you'll let me."
He took a deep breath.
"I need to be somewhere.. I need to go somewhere.. I can't go back to Matt's house. I'll come back here and I'll fucking jump off of this cliff. I need to go somewhere else."
"You don't have to." I shook my head, "You don't have to go back there at all."
He sniffled slightly, and closed his eyes, letting out an odd laugh.
"You.." He spoke very close to my mouth. ".. I never, ever wanted you to see this. I'm so afraid of you.. And I'm so.. Afraid that you'll leave me."
I closed my eyes too. I felt his breath on my lips, smelled alcohol again. It didn't matter anymore. He was alive.
"I promise.. I'll do everything I can to help you." I whispered. "You're not going to do this anymore, okay?"
"I need to leave." He said. His voice was gravelly.
"We can go anywhere. "
He nodded, and unravelled his arms from my body, and pushed himself off the ground. Then he leaned down and took hold of my hands, pulling me out of the snow. I stumbled, standing up and falling into him halfway on purpose. He let me stay there for a moment, holding his hands, my face level with the top of his chest. I was going to cry again. I blinked back tears, refusing to let them fall. This wasn't about my feelings. This wasn't about making him feel bad for me.
But Oliver wasn't an idiot. His hand slid out of mine and he lifted my chin with gentle fingers.
"Listen.." His brow furrowed, and he slid his thumb along my jaw. ".. I'm glad that you were here. Don't cry."
"I know. I'm just confused.. And exhausted." I tried to smile, but my jaw wobbled. Oliver let his hand drop from my chin and took hold of my hand again, pulling me closer. I flung my arms around his middle, and buried my face into his coat. Arms wrapped around me and I felt his hand in my hair. He smelled like cigarettes and alcohol.
"Stay with me." He said, pressing his mouth against my head. "Please."
I nodded, trying too hard not to cry. I ignored the fact that he was drunk. I was going to do anything this boy asked of me. But first, he needed to get away from the drop off.
"We need to leave." I said, backing away again, holding his hand. "Come on."
"Wait-" He shook his head, and refused to move. ".. Iris.. You have to promise something.. B'fore we go."
"Okay." I squeezed his hand, and he looked at me desperately.
And what he said next shocked and appalled me in ways that I would never understand.
"Don't tell anyone. You can't tell Matt." It was firm. "You can't tell him about anything that.. Happened."
"Iris, I need you to promise." He shook his head.
"Why?" I frowned. "Why won't you tell Matt?"
I wanted to tell Matt. I wanted to shove it in Matt's face. His friend was so sad, so hurt, and he wasn't trying hard enough to help him.
"Because. This has happened before." He rubbed his eyes. "If his family finds out, they'll put me in a mental hospital."
I swallowed hard. Maybe that would be good for him. Maybe that was what he needed. But then I took a look at his desperate face.
".. Okay." I looked at the ground. "I promise."
The car ride home was awkward and full of tension. As soon as we got in the car, a silence fell over everyone. They'd seen my face, puffy and red. We huddled in the back seat, Oliver's grip on my hand tight.
"Where are we going?" Connor asked softly after a moment.
"Back to my house." Matt said, "Right?"
But Oliver squeezed my hand, and I looked up at him. He shook his head slightly.
"I need you to stop at my house first." I took a deep breath. ".. Please."
The tension was at its worst point.
"Y'know, Oliver.." Maria sighed. "This.. Isn't okay."
The boy beside me tensed up. I still held onto his hand, so I squeezed it gently. Stay calm.
"Maria.." Matt sighed, "Not now-"
"No. It's not okay. He just picked up and left, because he was drunk." I felt the tension in the air getting thicker and thicker. Connor was even driving faster just to make the car ride shorter. "Do you understand what you keep doing to Iris and Matt? And now you won't even come home?"
"Maria." It was me this time. "Stop. Please."
"Iris, no.." She turned around and looked at me with great concern. "This.. Look at you! You've been crying. What happened?"
And then something happened. Something, probably due to alcohol and fuelled by rage.
"Shut the hell up. This is none of your business." Oliver's voice was gravelly, laced with frustration. Everything stopped, including the car. I saw Connor's eyes in the rearview mirror; wide, as if he'd just seen a ghost. Matt turned around in his seat to look at his friend in absolute awe. Maria was frozen.
"What?" She asked, shocked. "What did you.. What?"
I looked up at the boy beside me, who stared out the window in anger. I leaned into him ever so slightly.
"Keep going, Connor." I said softly, meeting my friends eyes in the mirror. He gathered his bearings and coughed awkwardly before stepping on the gas again. Oliver was panicking a bit, I could tell. His breathing was quicker. I spoke softly to him. "It's alright."
"You just spoke." Maria said slowly, frowning. "The last time you spoke to me was when we were eleven. Say something else."
"Don't force him to do anything." Matt was facing the front again. "Just turn around and shut up."
"Maria. Would you like to walk home?" Matt's voice was just as tense. "Shut up."
I knew Connor wouldn't let Maria walk home, but I kept my thoughts to myself and focused on what was important. I looked the ground as Maria turned around. Oliver's grip on my hand was almost painful.
The rest of the ride home was uncomfortable. Connor did as I asked, and we eventually pulled up in front of my house. Oliver was quick to unbuckle his seatbelt. The door opened and we were out. Nothing else was said before we exited. But Matt rolled down the window as I closed the door to Connor's car.
"Iris." It was hurt, quiet. I turned around. Matt stared at his knees, and Oliver continued to my front door. I wanted to tell Matt everything. But I knew I wouldn't. "I don't.. Know what happened, or why... But call me. If you need anything, or if anything happens. I need to know that everything is okay."
"I will." I said softly. ".. I'm sorry."
"It's not your fault." He laughed quietly, bitterly. "It's mine."
The window rolled back up. Matt spoke inside the car, and Connor glanced at me before putting it back into drive. It pulled away from my driveway slowly, and I felt as though everyone inside of it was frustrated. Matt because he didn't get to be a part of what was happening, Maria because of Matt and Connor because of Maria. It was a mess. But it was also a mess that I couldn't focus on.
Oliver waited patiently at my door. He shivered slightly, an exhausted mess that I did need to focus on. As Connor's car rolled off down the street, I made my way to my front porch. My key in hand, I opened my door and pulled the boy into the warmth of my house. I shut the door and we stood in silence for a moment, safe.
"I didn't mean to invite myself.. Here." He frowned after a moment. "I'm sorry, I-"
"Oliver." I shook my head, stopping him in his tracks. "I want you to be here. Stop."
He stared at me, as if he wasn't used to being told such things. I sighed and took hold of his arm, pulling him towards my stairs. He followed me without a question, up to the second floor and into my bedroom. It took maybe a minute to do so, but it felt like forever. Awkward silence ensued once again, and when I sat him down on my bed, he stared at me like I was insane.
"You want me to sleep here?" He looked around my room. I felt my cheeks colour.
"Well, yeah." I rubbed the back of my neck. "Where else are you going to sleep?"
"I can sleep on your couch."
"You're not going to sleep on my couch."
"But where are you going to sleep?"
"I'm fine. I'll sleep in my mom's room if I get tired." I grimaced. There was not a chance I was actually going to sleep in my mother's bed. It was more likely that I would curl up in a ball on my couch for the next few hours. Oliver frowned as if he was thinking about something. I wondered if the disgust had been clear on my face.
"Can't you stay he.. " He stopped himself. "Never mind."
"Nothing." The boy shook his head. "Thank you for letting me stay here."
"You're welcome." I frowned. "Oliver.. Are you sure it's nothing?"
"It's nothing, Iris." He frowned. "Leave it alone."
"You don't have to be so stubborn."
"I'm not being stubborn." I was just pissing him off. "Thank you. I'd like to sleep now."
I bit the inside of my cheek. He pulled the blankets back over his head.
".. I'll be downstairs." I said meekly. Backing away slowly, I left the room. What was I supposed to do? Crawl into bed with him? Is that what he wanted?
I nearly fell down my stairs. My mind was elsewhere. I didn't know what to do anymore.
How was I supposed to help him if all I ever did was make him angry?
"Iris, honey." My mom's voice was soft. "Sometimes, people.. They don't like.. The way that their lives turned out."
We sat on the couch in my living room. It was too quiet. I was eleven. My mother was trying so hard to explain to me what had happened; why a car had been pulled out of the lake. But she didn't have to tell me. I'd seen people crying, and I'd heard the whispers.
"Is that why that lady drove off the cliff?"
My mother sobbed. I'd never been good at comforting people.
"You're going to hear a lot of rumors." She wiped her eyes, "But Theresa wasn't a bad person. She was just very sick, okay?
"Why would they think she was a bad person?" I frowned. "She just hurt herself."
"No, honey." My mom started crying again. "She has a son. She left him behind. He doesn't have a dad, so he's all alone."
"Where's he gonna go? Didn't she care about him?"
"I don't know where he'll go, baby." My mom was a mess. "Sometimes people go through rough patches, and they can't think about things like that. I think Theresa loved him more than anything. But things happen, and people break down when they don't have any support."
I watched her cry for a long time. They'd been friends, even though Theresa Benton had been so unstable. My mom was that kind of person. She was nice to anyone who needed it, trying so hard to make people happy. So they'd love her, and so they wouldn't leave her. Too many people took advantage of that.
"Never, ever leave someone who needs your help alone." She whispered. I don't know if she was really talking to me. "Never give up on anybody that you love. No matter what."
The door to my room creaked as I pushed it open. It was dark now. I'd fallen asleep on the couch for quite some time. And I'd remembered something important.
Oliver was still a lump on my bed. I stepped quietly into the room, stopping at the edge of the bed. By the way that the lump of blankets seemed to tense up, I knew that the boy was not asleep.
"Turn around." I said. "I know you're awake."
"I thought I told you to go away." His voice was hoarse. I knew he was upset.
"I'm not going away." I pulled the blankets off of him. He curled into a ball, still. "I'm never going to go away, no matter how hard you try to make me."
He didn't respond. The giant, intimidating boy stayed in the fetal position, broken down to nothing. I leaned over and put my hand on his shoulder. He was as still as a statue. I regretted having left him alone in the darkness to deal with his demons. I felt terrible.
After all, he'd tried to ask me to stay. I'd just been too stupid to understand.
I sat down on the bed, bringing my legs up onto the mattress. I brought the blanket back over Oliver, and then put my hand back on his shoulder.
"If you want to talk," I felt like crying. "Or if you need help. It doesn't matter. I'll help you."
".. Why?" Oliver relaxed a bit. He rolled over to face me, his hair a mess. He sat up, almost angrily. "Why have you always insisted on following me around, trying to help me? I don't understand. Explain."
I knew what he wanted to hear. I knew exactly what I wanted to say.
I care about you more than anything. I really, really like you. In the way that I know that if you leave me, I'll go crazy. I know that it's bad, and I'm just a stupid kid. You were so mean to me, but I was drawn to you, and I felt some twisted need to make sure you were alright. Because I need you to be alright. I need you to be happy. For some weird reason, even though we barely know each other.. I need you.
But it wouldn't come out. No words.
I just kissed him.