"What are you doing up here, you brat?"
Smoke flowed from a seated man's face, mingling with the fluffy odor of cleansing chemicals and vanilla cream-rinse to create an assaulting meld of cotton candy and steel wool that rode up the nose with the grace of a roller derby drunk. The man's hammocked eyes lazed, barely falling to their side enough to look at the youth their owner was addressing.
The young blond boy widened his eyes, jerking back and yelping. He sat to ensure his balance as he growled. "What's it to you, you old man?" The boy's lip rose. This man must've been the reason the school was left unlocked.
The man gave up a shaggy chuckle, letting the overgrown ash free-fall from his cigarette, down to the sidewalk four stories below. It just missed a woman that looked up to yell at him; he waved with a smile.
The man's look went far out to the view of mountains. "It's nothing to me, except that you're disturbing me on my break, and I'd hate to think that the new generation is made up of rotten brats that ruin a man's peace, lacking a proper reason."
White, the boy's fingers pressed down into the brick that made up the flat school topping. His pale brow fell, and the sight of his booted feet didn't escape the brown eyes that shown less than normal due to the red bloat of his eyelids. He resisted the sniffle creeping up on him.
"You'll be happy then," he looked to the sky, "you'll have one less brat to bother you."
Expression stagnant, the man dragged the cigarette's fumes through his throat and out his nose. "So, what? You moving?"
Brown eyes narrowed. "No, you idiot!" The boy's mouth opened wide; he had a black hole in his mouth where he had a molar missing. His mouth wasn't even a man yet. "I'm gonna jump, get it! I'm gonna free my soul, move on in life, push those damn daisies into the ground, kick the bucket, submit myself to the will of God! I'm gonna be released, understand!" The angry young man huffed, his scarlet cheeks making quite a display of themselves.
Silence began and ended with breathing when the man blew smoke out of rounded lips. "No, I don't understand, and don't speak like that to you elders, kid. If I was any less of a gentleman you'd be dead."
The boy narrowed his eyes at the man. He had a beard peppered onto his muzzle and hadn't stopped smoking his cigarette long enough to let the air breathe. The boy's lip curled.
"Wouldn't a normal adult need to be less passive to deserve respect?"
The man's head fell to the side. "Passive, me? I'd say I'm more calm than passive."
The youth shook his head, walking his hands closer to the man and looking up at his silicone mask that oozed a cloudy grey veil. The boy raised his eyebrows. "You're definitely passive. You have to be if you're ignoring a kid about to kill himself."
The man blinked, looking about slowly with a fresh cig hanging from his loose lips. His eyes thinned. "A kid… Wait, where do you see that? Call the police for something like that. Don't depend on me to find some kid like a speck on a building. I haven't played eye spy in, like, ten years."
The blond teen ruffled his features, stirring in a red fury that he may have seen the man actually smile at. "What the hell? I'm talking about me, you dirty old man!"
The man responded with a silence lacking recognition.
Young fists balled, and the teen's skinny frame stood, angry with the man that ignored him like the rest of the world. The sight of the sidewalk enticed him and lit a fire beneath his lungs, making his breath light and hot. His mind going blank, the world fell from beneath one foot, and then the other.
"Whoa, be careful there, boy! A fall like that would send you to the other side."
The young blond groaned, rubbing the place on his hip that contacted the school's roof with the help of a dirty old man's hand pulling him back by his belt loop. He pushed his lips out unconsciously.
The man glanced to the young boy he had thrown to the ground in a hurry when he saw a hastily tied boot hitting only air. He held back a grin at the sullen look falling on the kid's face because of the 'stubborn old man that wouldn't let him kill himself'. He was only thirty-seven. 'Dumb brats,' the man thought.
The boy's voice was calmer than before, weaved with a softness he was tired of ripping from his words. He looked down. "Why'd you stop me?"
The man gave him a fleeting glance. "You looked like you were walking off yourself, so I figured this was all a mistake."
A blonde face scrunched in question. "Wouldn't me walking off mean it was on purpose?"
A wooly laugh entered the air again, floating warmly up the teen's back. "There are purposeful mistakes, you know?" He glanced with a smile to the sulking boy. "The error may not be meant, but the action is. Besides, this is a whole 'nother thing. You don't do something like this because you want it. You do it whether you like it or not, because your soul needs you to."
The teen stared for a moment, curling his toes into the ground. He decided that this old man was weird. "Why the hell do you care? I don't even know you. It's not like your life will change any, either way."
The man rolled his eyes. Clicking his tongue, he moved from his spot for the first time, pulling his leg to the side to turn to the boy. He directed his smoking hand at the youth's flushed face. "You really think a kid like you dying isn't a big deal?" he asked with a crunched brow. "If you were some rotten old guy who had spent his whole life in prison and the rest doing crime, then I might only care for, like, a second. But you're a kid. I don't give a shit what you think you're suffering from. If some young, fresh little thing like you took his life, that'd be on the news, and in the paper, and it'd be in the goddamn air. When kid's like you die, your soul takes a little happiness and hope from all the people you've touched in your life, and that's just fucking irresponsible. No one wants to clean up a boy's corpse from the sidewalk, and no parent ever wants to be in their kid's funeral. You die, and you just turn to smoke, curling up in people's lungs and choking them." The man stopped, the expression on his face felt gentle, so he messed up his brow a bit.
The youth slumped down in his spot, looking at the side of the man's face that had been turned toward him. He thought of standing, running, and jumping before the man could stop him, quickly realizing that wasn't an option any longer. That would only make him a coward now.
He took in a breath, and let out two. "My mom died today." He looked down, watching his feet that made an upside-down V. "She wasn't my real mom or anything. But she was the only family I really had." The boy paused, coughing as the wind blew. "She'd been sick for a while, and I was pretty sure it would happen soon. I was just… too naïve about how it would affect me, you know? I thought I was strong enough to handle having my only family ripped away from me." The boy chuckled, pressing a hand to his wrinkled forehead. "I… was stupid. Well, I mean, I still am. I'm half-sure I'm only here 'cause I don't want to go back to that house if she isn't going to be there." The boy stopped, his head falling slightly. He slid his hand over his eyes and held up the other to say 'I'm not crying, idiot, just give me a second.'
The boy's arm was shaking, just barely, and the man leant back, propping himself up in his hand. "You got any relatives you can go to?" He asked, tossing the remains of his cigarette over the building's rim.
The blond sniffled, removing his hand from thankfully dry eyes. He didn't wish to cry in front of this man. "No. Mom's family didn't like the guy she married and never wanted her to adopt me after he left her."
The man nodded. "You don't know your real folks?"
The boy's head quirked a bit. "Do most adopted kids?"
A sigh floated into the tired air as the man rubbed his neck. "I guess not." He paused, looking at the kid curling into himself. He rolled his eyes at himself, sighed again, and then scolded himself for being so orally upset with his mindset. "… Shit." He stood and opened his jacket, looking through his pockets until a worn leather wallet adorned his fingers. "You got a cell phone, kid?"
The boy fumbled, his gaze skidding across the surface of the man. "Y-yeah. I've got one," he said as a stiff piece of something was pressed to his chest. He looked up to the man. A pen was capped and slid out of sight. The man looked angry, bashful, and frustrated at the same time, resulting in quite the color of red barely showing through his lightly bearded mask.
"That's my card. My address is on the back. If you need someplace to go that bad just call and tell me where you are, I'll come pick you up. But, you need to deal with your mom first. Does anyone know she's gone?"
The boy started, glancing up from the card advertising a teacher he supposed this man was supposed to be. "Umm… no, sir."
"Oh, now that I'm giving you a home I'm 'sir', huh?" he said, not looking at the boy or heeding his own words. He was holding a phone up to his ear, and spoke bluntly to the boy, covering the phone's receiver. "Hey, brat. What's your address?"
The back of the boy's mind told him to not give his address out to strange men, but this man was too strange to him, much too strange to be anything tainted or cruel. "382 Sycamore Way." He said, listening to the man echo his answer into his phone. "My mom's name was Julie Hill." The boy stopped while this odd wind of a man folded his phone and put it in his pant pocket. The youth's brown eyes opened wider. "Ah, I'm Daniel, and you're…" The boy pulled out the card, flipping it around and searching for the name.
The man's eyes closed before looking off again. "… Same." He ignored the boy's look of dumb awe, like they had just done one of those dumb jinx things, and nodded to the roof's exit. "You should go home. The police will be there by now; they'll want to talk to you." The man watched the youth, named Daniel, wanting him to agree quickly and scurry off. He sighed when that didn't happen. "If you don't want to, you can go down and wait at the front entrance. Not even the janitor will be here on Sunday, so no one will catch you. Just let me finish my smoke for a second in peace, and then I'll take you home and deal with the cops. You can come to my place after or maybe the cops will have someplace you can go. "
Looking like he was being taken along by a hurricane, the teen nodded and ran clumsily through the door and down the steps, not sure what he was doing or why, but sure that he wouldn't be doing anything if that man, the other Daniel, hadn't unlocked the school doors, as if waiting for him to come.
A cool wind tousled the man's quick breath, mixing it with the angry air. He crouched, feeling small, and looked up to the sky, darkened with clouds. The man laughed, running an unsure hand through his hair.
"You can't do this to me, Jules." His breath felt ragged and hot as it floated back to his skin. "I know you're real proud of yourself up there. You always loved to fuck with me. But… even his name? I know you felt like I was giving up… on him a-and myself. I had my reasons, though and you know I did. Kate left and I lost my job and a kid was too much. So I trusted you. I trusted you to stay with him, because then I could just be a bystander, and not get in over my head... Oh, god… I'm awful." Daniel pulled against his hair, standing up and letting his arms fall quietly to his sides. He looked up, closing his eyes. "Thank you for taking him in, Jules. He's a brat, but he's got your drive, so I don't think he'll be too much trouble." The man smiled, opening his eyes and bowing his head. "Rest in peace, Jules. I'll take good care of him, so don't worry."
Daniel made his way down the stairs. A tickle in the back of his mind said the young blonde might have left, and he quickened his pace, only stopping a few feet from the glass entrance door where a young teen stood, looking sad, embarrassed, and slightly hopeful. The man hesitated before taking another step, reaching into his pocket and taking the pack of cigarettes into his fingers. He grunted a goodbye to Winston, kindly letting the square man know that he wasn't allowed to die young anymore, and let the box fall to the bottom of a black trashcan. He walked forward, pushing open the glass door that announced his presence to the boy waiting with his hands in his pockets, and the two Daniels, both not sure what they were doing, went off with cheeks flushed, feet on the ground, and lungs free of smoke.