Chapter One: Jump
There's a picture I have on the wall, black and white, because that's how Gray liked it. He appreciated those kinds of things. It's of a smiling boy and girl, who are stuck in the weird limbo of growth at fifteen, all blinding grins and gangly limbs and wind tousled hair, because it's taken on the beach.
That boy went missing three years ago, gone, disappeared somewhere on The Cliff.
A year before he disappeared, the girl lost all hope. No one would miss me, she told herself. Boyfriend left, parents divorced, etcetera, etcetera. So she stood on the edge of The Cliff, because she could never get a hold of enough pills and didn't have the gall to wrap that rope around her throat. So, the great blue was all that was left.
Not that she minded much. She loved the ocean. It was a better way of going, in her book.
Now, that girl stands again at the edge of The Cliff, at the same place, hoping against hope to find her best friend the way he found her. Right here, as the waves break over sand.
That girl's me.
It's Friday the thirteenth today.
While I'm not particularly superstitious, I have a feeling this is going to be a bad day.
The sun is almost directly above me, beating down on the sand until it burns slow feet, but I sit with my legs dangling over the edge of The Cliff, under the shade of the oak tree.
Like yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that, and all those days before, so many that they stretch out into infinity, because that's what it feels like, I come here.
What if I jumped?
The edge is about fifteen feet above the water, which is deep enough to be black at about seven in spring. If the impact didn't kill me, I'd just let go. Give in.
I stand up while still staring at the horizon, hands at my sides, and as a wind passes by, I smile enough for me to stretch out my arms, close my eyes and tilt my head back.
But I don't jump.
I've heard others call suicidal people crazy, insane, get away from me don't touch me. Because some people think suicidal thoughts are contagious.
But an insane person wouldn't keep her feet planted firmly on the ground while evil thoughts ran through her mind.
The wind's gone; so are the thoughts. Gray wouldn't have wanted them to stay.
Why do I come here every day? What do I expect? A body—no, bones? Maybe he'd come out from the forest, and we'd talk about those missing years, and maybe he'd tell me that he had amnesia or something, and that's why he never called.
But who am I kidding?
So I go home.
Mom worries about me too much. She gives me that same we'll talk later I promise look like every single day, but of course it never happens. I just blink as she brushes past with a pat to my shoulder and watch as she goes out the door and to the car and then as she pulls out of the driveway.
I change into something warm, because I'm shivering. I make popcorn, but I just pick at it. I turn on the TV but just stare blandly at the screen and don't really pay attention to the game show that's on.
Somewhere in this old house, a floorboard settles with a creak. Night life begins to come out. There's a bat that lives under our eaves outside, one that Mom almost called an exterminator on it, but Gray convinced me to convince her not to.
I know she tries, my mother. But I don't think she understands. She sure didn't when I broke down when Gray's family moved after he vanished.
While it's great fun to listen to creepy old house settling, I'm relieved when the phone rings. Maybe it's Mom, telling me she doesn't want me to stay up so late anymore, but since she doesn't live by her own teachings, I don't feel compelled to do, either.
I pick up the phone. "Yeah, Mom?"
There's a breath on the other side, too deep sounding to be Mom's. "Cassie?"
I choke because I recognize the voice.
"Cassie, is that you? It's...it's Gray."
Back in school, they used to call me Crazy Cassie, or Nut Case Cassie. I'm starting to believe them as I cry and sob over the phone that only produces a dial tone.
He hung up.
Mom finds me like that, crumpled on the floor where I must've fallen asleep. My face feels swollen and hot, and though she looks at me in concern, she doesn't comment on my red eyes.
"What are you doing on the floor?" she asks.
The light's too bright. "What time is it?"
"Six. What are you doing on the floor, Cassie?"
I sit up as I remember. "Gray!" I cover my mouth and try not to cry again. "Oh, my God!"
Mom looks at the Caller I.D. and tells me that she doesn't recognize the number. When she calls and I sit hopefully on the couch, all we hear is the beep-beep-beep of a busy line. She calls again, later, but the number's been disconnected.
She drops the phone and sits at the kitchen table, rubbing her forehead. I look up. "Aren't you going to call his parents?"
"Why should I?"
"Why should you?" I parrot back. "He's their son!"
"That's exactly why we shouldn't, Cassie. What if this isn't true?"
"But it is! I heard his voice with my own ears!"
"But what if it isn't him? To put his family through that…" She shakes her head, gets up and walks to the stairs.
"What about the police?"
Mom looks back at me. "Are you absolutely certain it was him?" Cassie, it's been three years—"
"It was him. I'm positive."
"Did it sound like him?"
I waver. "His…his voice was deeper than I remember. But I'm sure it was him! You know how his voice was before he…he left."
My mom looks at me for a few seconds before sighing. "We just can't know for sure unless we see him, honey." Then she turns and walks up the stairs.
Maybe I am losing it. I know I just bought a bottle of Tylenol a week ago. Where did it go? I have a headache. I guess I'll have to go the pharmacy.
I bring my cell phone, after I've saved the number into my contacts, under 'Gray?'. It's my good-luck charm. Or bad luck, maybe.
I always believed that Gray was named after his eyes. It's the first thing you notice about him when you meet him.
I called them storm-gray, though they were closer to the color of the palest-gray wool. Gray laughs the first time I called his eyes mini-tornadoes, but I never told him that it was because something about them pulled you in. Everyone loved him.
And, while he wasn't the typical description of 'popular', everyone wanted to be his friend.
Funny to think a guy like that went out of his way to save the life of a girl he didn't even know.
It's warm out enough for me not to worry about wearing a coat. I enter the store, grab a bottle of Tylenol, and head for the cash. The cashier doesn't smile, or even say hello, just sighs and frowns and sighs. When he asks me if I want a bag, I tell him no. I don't tell him I'm hoping to help the environment, because surely his sour-mood induced sighs must be destroying some of the ozone layer, and I'm trying to compensate.
I leave the store and my phone begins to ring. My heart starts a crazy chase, but it's only Mom. I feel disappointed and relieved at the same time, and move off to the side of the sidewalk because I don't like walking and talking on the phone. Mom got into a cell phone caused car accident before, and walking while using a cell phone reminds me too much of it.
Someone bumps into my back, sending me stumbling. They just growl 'watch where you're going' before continuing on with their day.
"Rude," I mutter.
"What?" Mom asks.
Mom pauses, like she's thinking of asking, but she doesn't. "Where are you?"
"On my way home."
"From where?" She sounds annoyed.
"The pharmacy," I say, wincing as I rub the sore spot on my back.
"Why did you go?"
"I bought Tylenol, okay?" I snap. "You don't have to know everything about what I do, Mom."
"Don't you dare use that tone with me, young—"
Another person runs into my shoulder, this time harder, hard enough to send me sprawling. The pill bottle goes flying. I sigh and get to my feet and grab the bottle, biting my lip at the scrapes on my jeans. Mom won't be happy about that.
I look around for my phone, which lies nearby, screen black; I pick it up and turn it on. Then I glance around for the person that bumped into me.
Maybe I am going crazy. The person, a boy my age, looks back at me quickly, but doesn't stop in his pace. He has the reddest hair I've ever seen, but that isn't what makes me think I'm slowly going insane.
I only get a quick glance at him before he turns the corner, but his eyes are gray, similar to the palest-gray wool.
I forget about Mom. "Gray?" I yell, then start running after him. "Gray!"
Stop, please, why are you running?
But I round the corner to see a busy street, too busy to see anyone, much less their eyes. He's gone.
Mom calls me back demanding to know why I hung up. I tell her somebody rammed into me and that somebody is Gray. Probably.
"Are you sure it was him? Absolutely positive?"
My hearts sinks because I'm actually not completely sure. "Well, his hair was red, but, Mom—"
"But Gray's hair was blond."
"I know, Mom, but his eyes—"
"Gray didn't have terribly unusual eyes, honey—"
I want to scream that, yes, he did, that they were unlike any other eyes out there, so cold and welcoming at the same time, like the nursery of a tornado where hot and cold air meets.
"—so it probably wasn't him, honey. I know this must be really hard for you." She takes a deep breath. "I think I know why you think that it's him."
"Sometimes, when a loved-one goes missing, we start to hear and see things because we love and miss them so much, especially around the anniversary of the disappearance."
"Mom, I'm not seeing things. This is real, just believe me, please."
May the nineteenth, the day of his disappearance. Five days from now.
"I'm sorry, honey, but it might just be all in your head. Now, come home, so I don't have to worry about you."
I'm suddenly overwhelmed by a sense of anger and grief so raw that I hang up. I remember that I haven't gone to The Cliff today, so I run.
It must be five o'clock. My phone's off, after I felt sorry enough to send a text message to tell Mom that I'm fine, but that's all I tell her. Either way, she would've only assumed I'm here because it's where Gray went missing.
But she doesn't know this is also where he saved my life.
Four—almost five—years ago, I wanted to take my life, plain and simple. I won't hide from it. I almost jumped, but something, something even now I can't name, made me stop long enough. Gray saw me about to jump and had been running to stop me, and because I paused, he convinced me not to go through with it.
That's when we became fast friends. That picture I have on the wall, taken by his father, is from a few days before he went missing. Now, almost four years to the day of his disappearance, I find myself at the last known whereabouts of a missing person.
A hiker saw him sitting under the oak tree, whistling and smiling and tossing loose pebbles into the ocean.
But when he didn't return home that night, his mom got worried and called the police and was told to wait for twenty-four hours, just to be certain, they said. So his family waited, didn't bother telling us just in case it was a mistake, but it wasn't a mistake.
Twenty-four hours later, Gray Forrester was in the missing persons database.
People say many things to comfort others or even themselves, and, often, these are lies, cotton-candy-like, nothing substantial or true, because they melt at the first sign of rain.
I told myself many things.
Not my fault, how could I have known?
I try not to think about how I could have stopped it, the way he did for me. Could I have been there for him? What if he was abducted? I could've been there, with him at this spot four years ago, and could have done something. Anything.
What if it hurt?
I hope he went quickly.