The wind swirled in a downward spiral from above me, guiding me toward the blackness of the ocean. A bold wave of numbing adrenaline swept my body from my toes to my head and I relaxed my hand, releasing my fingers. I felt a surge as I began to fall.
Two hands closed tightly over both of my wrists.
Turning to look over my shoulder, I gazed bleary-eyed into the faces of Vicky and Cameron. Vicky looked terrified as she and her brother hoisted me back onto the safe side of the railing. She shrugged out of her coat and threw it around my shoulders, hugging me. I hugged her back uncertainly, and consciously avoided Cameron's eyes. Instead, I stared over Vicky's shoulder, and was surprised to see Henry's wife standing nearby with little James. She had a hand clamped over James' eyes, but slowly removed it. He blinked and looked up at me with curious blue eyes.
After a moment, I pulled back to look at Vicky. Her phone started to ring in her pocket, but she made a point of ignoring the call and turned back to me. "How did you know?" I asked.
"If you didn't want us to find you, there are other bridges in town you could have jumped off of." It was Cameron. His voice betrayed anger and hurt. I finally summoned the courage to look at him, to see that he had his hands shoved in his pockets with the icy look of disbelief on his face.
"Silly me," I muttered into Vicky's shoulder, not knowing whether to feel guilty or angry.
Vicky reached over and slapped Cameron on the arm. He winced away in annoyance, and she grabbed me by the shoulders. "Thank God we got here in time," she said. "What were you thinking? Do you really want to die?"
I looked away, feeling the tears begin to form again. "I don't know," I replied. "Sometimes."
Vicky's phone went off again, I felt it vibrating against my hip through the thin pocket of her jeans. She jerked it to her face. "Marion, I'm going to have to...I understand, but I'm in the middle...DAMN IT, MARION, I'LL CALL YOU BACK," she shouted, then put the phone back in her pocket. Turning back to me, her face calm and concerned once again, she asked, "But why?"
I smiled, so grateful for her, and shook my head. "It's hard to explain."
I heard a loud scoff, and glanced at Cameron sitting on the pavement of the bridge walkway, brooding. Instead of feeling irritated, my eyes softened on him, knowing what he was thinking. First Maddy, now this. When would he ever catch a break?
My eyes moved to Alice, who still stood with a concerned look on her face, watching me. "Why is she here?" I asked Vicky.
Alice stepped forward quickly to answer. "Cameron called the hospital looking for you," she replied. I turned to Cameron but he turned sharply away. "Henry wanted to help, but he's not well enough yet. He insisted I come with them in his place to find you."
"Why does Henry care?" I asked. "It's none of his business."
Cameron threw his arms in the air and ran them roughly through his hair in frustration. "Yeah, because it's none of our business when you decide to jump off a bridge, Emma. That's not fair and you know it."
"Really? You want to talk to me about what's fair?" I challenged.
He stood, advancing on me while I stood my ground. "Yeah, let's talk about it," he flared. "You come into our lives, you make us love you, and you think you can just leave and it'll be none of our business? If you died today, do you think you would be the only one you'd be killing?" I stared at him wide-eyed, and he sighed, turning wearily to lean on the rail.
"Henry was so worried about you," Alice added. "He called your cell phone about a hundred times."
"I didn't get any-" I stopped, realizing that I left my cell phone in the car. Henry was worried about me. Figure that. We all stood in silence for a minute, then I touched Cameron's arm. "Hey," I said softly. "I only know what it feels like to be left behind. I just wanted to know what it felt like to leave for once. You, of all people-"
"So you would leave me behind, hurt me the way others have hurt you?" he interrupted quietly, his eyes reflecting the light of the twilit sky. "Is that your idea of retribution?"
Vicky rested her hand on my elbow. When I looked at her, I was shocked by how much she looked like her brother. I wondered why I never saw it before. "Emma," she said softly. "The ones you love never really leave you. Hasn't anyone ever told you that?"
I shook my head stupidly.
"When you see things that remind you of them, or do something that they taught you, you know?" She looked at me with bright green eyes and brushed the hair from my face. Sweet Vicky.
Alice touched the top of James head. The boy stood so quietly with his thumb in his mouth, looking somberly into my eyes. Suddenly, I never felt less alone in my life. I found myself wondering if Vicky was right, if my mother and father had been keeping track of me all this time. Even if they weren't watching over me, they loved me as a child, that I knew. I had been loved.
I looked at Cameron. I was loved still. Bridging the distance between us slowly, I felt Vicky's hand slide from my arm as I reached to touch his face with my hand. "I'm sorry," I whispered. When he closed his eyes at my touch, I spit it out, the three words I had never said to anyone my whole life. "I love you."
"You don't have to-" he began, but I touched his lips with one finger.
"But it's the truth. Really."
Placing his hands on his hips, he tilted his head back and stared at the sky through the interlocking red cables of the bridge. Then he sighed through his nose, shaking his head, and abruptly placed his hands on my face and kissed me. I closed my eyes and felt the warmth of his lips against mine. When we broke apart, I threw my arms around his neck, thinking that if I had fallen to my death half an hour ago, I would have missed out on this moment. That would have been the real tragedy. Living is so much more than just surviving, and I had been skating through life on my tiptoes, content with mere survival.
"I love you, too, Pigeon," he said, and smiled crookedly.
Later, I stood in front of a closed hospital door, and took a breath. The others stood in a cluster a few feet away, watching me. Pushing the door open, I crept in and saw Henry propped up on the hospital bed, relief lighting his face upon seeing me.
"What have I done to you?" he asked despairingly.
"Alice told you," I said.
"God, Emma, I never should have given you to that agency. I should have stuck it out, we could have-"
"Henry," I said, cutting him off. "It's okay."
"Are you kidding? It's not okay. You were right before, about my walking out on you-"
"Henry," I repeated, going to the chair by his bedside and collapsing in it. "Sure, you did what you did. Did it suck? Totally. But you can't go back and change it. So, let's just start from right here, okay?"
He looked at me, but slowly nodded. "What changed you?"
"I just had a realization, that's all," I replied. I closed my eyes, exhausted.
"And what might that be?"
"That I'm not alone, and I never really was alone. I just chose to be. I made a choice, a bad one." I took a deep breath, feeling like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders by admitting that. "Things are going to be different now." My eyes opened slowly and I glanced at him.
Henry stared at me from the bed, then slowly reached for my hand. I jerked it away instinctively, but smiled apologetically and placed my hand back into his. "Do you know how brave you are, little sister?" he asked softly. Hands clasped together, we were still and quiet for a long moment, basking in the somber silence.
When visiting hours were over, the nurse on duty came into the room and shooed me out. I squeezed Henry's hand once more before I left. As I entered the hallway, I saw the whole gang standing and waiting: Cameron, Vicky, Alice and her boy. Alice and James rushed into Henry's room to kiss him goodbye, then joined us again.
"How did it go?" Cameron asked.
I smiled. "Great, actually." I went to him and rested my head against his chest. This day felt like an eternity, and it still wasn't over. I was struggling to keep my eyes open when I heard a tiny voice behind me.
"Can I have some ice cream?" Little James asked his mother. I turned around and slowly sank into a crouch. I grinned at him. He looked like a miniature of his father, and I even saw some of my own features on his face.
"There's ice cream downstairs," I told him in a quiet, excitable voice that adults only use on children. "Can I come with you?"
He stuck his belly out shyly. "What's your name?" he asked.
Alice bent to whisper in his ear. "That's your Auntie Emma, James. Do you want to get ice cream with her?"
James nodded, and I reached for his tiny hand.
Vicky straightened up. "Wait, are we really going for ice cream?" she asked. "Because that would be stupendous." Vicky's phone began to ring again and, without so much as a glance, she threw it like a basketball into a nearby trash can. "Swish," she said with a sneaky, triumphant smile. "I quit."
"You're such a little badass," Cameron chuckled, pulling her along as we trudged down the hospital hallway, forming a formidable group. He grabbed my other hand so that I had him on one side and my nephew on the other. He looked at me and saw that I was smiling. "What?"
"Nothing," I replied. "My hand barely twitched that time."
He laughed. "I'm proud of you, Pidge."
"Yeah," I said. "Me, too."
Author's Note: And there's that story! I really hope you guys enjoyed Emma's journey from messed up to slightly less messed up, and I want to thank you so much for reading and sticking it out, and for your support and feedback! I love you all, and my next story is already in the works! Can't wait to share that one with you guys, I must say it's one of my favorites so far. Love you love you love you! -Kirby