One: Going

If it had been any other day, I would've thought that the sunset was so pretty. If it had been any other day, the sight of the wind-blown trees and dancing leaves would have made me pause in my entitled-teenager musings to stare. I would have been mesmerized by the robin-egg sky and the cotton-ball clouds, by the happy animals and their adventures, by the setting of a perfect spring day.

Because truly, it really was so beautiful. It was as if nature had schemed for this, had tried to make it ironic. Because, on any other day, I would've loved the clear weather. The setting. All of it. The Eden.

Unfortunately, this was not any other day; this was today. And today was a very serious day. It was the day I was going to kill myself.

I sighed. If I had any say in the matter, I wouldn't have done it in such a public way. Below me were kids that I had known since third grade—teachers, doctors, friends. They were all watching. I didn't want them to see… to believe (Maybe it was a little egotistical of me, but I felt as if none of them would ever get over the sight of my brains displayed on the sidewalk, the red gushing towards their feet).

Another unfortunate thing was that it had to be this way. It had to, I reminded myself firmly, as tendrils of fear spiked around my heart. It was a very grown up realization. A sad realization.

My hands clenched at my sides, shaking, as I thought of what was before me… the falling, the cracking of my head, the blood… Of course, I knew that it was temporary—and maybe if I hit just so, I would feel nothing at all—but the pain was never something I found myself looking forward to. It always hurt. Always. I couldn't ever get used to it.

At least it would be fast, I thought to myself. Unless… something went wrong… unless I didn't hit my neck or my head at all…

"Mary." My heart stopped at my name. All of my thoughts drifted away, losing their holding in the depths of my mind. I would know that voice anywhere, even twisted in such a devastation that I'd never heard before.

He wasn't supposed to… What was he doing up here?

"Mary!" he cried once more.

The voice came from behind me, and I cautiously turned my head. Dad stood there, in his orange Hughes Construction work uniform. His arms were outstretched cautiously, hovering a few feet from my body. This was bad, I thought immediately. He could almost grab me, could almost pull me back to him, and I knew he would be able to if he just got a little grasp of my shirt; my dad was a pretty buff dude.

For a second, I forgot about his arms and turned to his face. And… damn if he didn't look tortured. His expression made me want to sob—all contorted, brows pushed together, nose scrunched, eyes misting up, and I'd never, ever seen my dad so upset. Not when Mom said she was leaving, not when he almost lost custody, not… ever.

Oh, God… this was destroying him. He shouldn't have to see this! He shouldn't have to witness my suicide. I'd never wanted that.

"Don't do this," he begged. And the way that his face pressed together even more painfully made me just feel ashamed of myself. This man had provided for me for seventeen years, and I was rewarding him by killing myself. It was wrong. It was messed up.

I wanted nothing more than to run into his arms, but I couldn't; I had to do this. He didn't understand. I couldn't tell him. "It's not your fault," I said. I could tell him that, at least.

His eyes were wide. I saw that he was actually crying now; I was crying, too. "Come on, kiddo," he began tentatively, hands coming closer to me. I saw how tense his arms were. "Back away from the edge. Just… just back away."

"Dad," I warned.

"Come on…" he insisted, begging at that point. "We'll work it out! Whatever it is, it isn't worth this."

"You don't understand!" I screamed.

"Tell me, Mary!" he cried. "Help me understand!"

He took a step towards me, and I moved a bit closer to the edge. "Get back, or I'll jump!" I threatened. He couldn't stop this. I couldn't have him trying it; they would come after him, too! I knew that he didn't—couldn't—understand what was really happening here, but I was doing this all for him. To protect him!

Dad nodded furiously, eyes wide. "Okay, okay, whatever you want. Whatever you want! Just calm down—don't do anything rash!"

"This isn't rash. I've thought a lot about this," I told him.

"Look, I'm sure that you think that this is the only way, but we can figure it out! It doesn't have to be like this! Just listen to me, okay? Mary, listen to me…" His voice broke. My heart broke. I really did love him.

Travis said that this was the right thing to do, but what did that even mean? What was the "right thing"? Was there such a thing? If I did the "right thing," everyone would live, but they would be in pain over my death. If I did the wrong thing and stayed, we would all die, or I would be taken away, and they would be hurt by that. The pain of this was unavoidable. I'd simply been dealt the wrong cards in life, and there was no way around that. No loophole.

Maybe it's better just to stare fate dead in the eyes, I thought wistfully.

"Baby, don't do this," my dad pleaded with me. "Just take a step back, please. You don't have to do this. You don't have to kill yourself."

"Yes I do," I told him quietly.

"Look," he cried, hands shaking at his sides, furious that he was unable to pull me to safety, "whatever it is that's made you want to do this, whatever it is… we can deal with it! We can fix it. Whatever it is. You hear me? We'll work it out together! I don't care what it is—whatever trouble you got in. I'll help you out!"

I couldn't stand the look on his face, so, after making sure he was far enough away to be unable to pull me back, I turned around to face the sunset once more. It would be night, soon.

Like my father, I was crying. I was saying good-bye in a way that I'd never wanted to. I didn't want to leave him; I needed him. I loved him so, so, so much.

"Mary?" my dad said anxiously, perhaps sensing that he was losing me.

With a painful inhale, I summoned all of my remaining courage and glanced over my shoulder at my dad and the two police officers behind him. I recognized them, in the way that one from a small town recognizes every face. Despite this, their names were mysteries. I hoped that they would be able to comfort my dad… after all of this.

"Mary, look at me!" Dad cried.

The tears clogged my vision, clogged my thoughts. I felt bile in the back of my throat; I was losing my nerve. You don't have to, kept playing in my mind. There are other ways. Other ways. Go back. You don't have to do this. It will hurt so badly. No one will understand why you are doing this. They will all hate you.

These antics were getting me nowhere. I shook my head at myself. No, I told my thoughts firmly. No. No, I had to do this now, and in this way.

I had to.

With a forceful blink, my eyes cleared briefly, allowing me to spot my dad one last time. "Some things you just can't fix," I told him quietly.

He shook his head frantically, reaching his arm out for me, and then abruptly realizing that I had yelled at him for coming close to me earlier. The hand he had extended shook at his side. "No, no, it can… we can try! We'll make it better together, I promise. I love you! No matter what happened—no matter what happened, please! Please, baby, please, I love you so much! I love you so much! Please get down from there!"

It was hard not to give in. I wanted to—even just to give him a hug and calm my dear old dad down. But I couldn't get down from here. I couldn't go back to my old life. I couldn't do it. Not even for him.

"I wish it were different," I said. It was all I had left to say.

With a swallow, I took another good, long look at the sunset because I knew that such things would not seem beautiful to me after this. Such a pretty mix of colors. It really did show one the wonder of nature—how glorious it could be without smoke and pollution.

It could be such a beautiful world.

I let out a deep breath at this thought, and then jumped off of the side of the building.

"No!" I heard my dad scream behind me.

My eyes shut on their own accord, out of fear.

As I fell, I was reminded of the fact that time was an illusion. According to physics, I should have hit the cement in under two seconds, but this was not what happened. I stayed in the air, falling slowly, in hours, in days.

And then I was falling all at once, and before I even knew it, there was a sickening crack. There was no way to describe the awful noise. No word. No onomatopoeia.

There was the crack, and then there was nothing.

And then there was everything.

Like all the times when I came back, I awoke gasping for air, lungs starving. My eyes, similarly, searched desperately around the room, apparently having missed moving frantically during my death.

"All right, all right," I heard from beside me. "Calm down. It's stressing me out just looking at you."

"Travis," I mumbled, turning. There he sat, forearms raised to rest on the metal examination table—which I was lying on. He looked perfectly at ease, not stressed at all like he had just claimed.

"Hey, buddy," he said cheerfully.

"Buddy?" I frowned at the new term.

"Does 'BFF' work better?"

"I prefer 'pal,'" I managed to joke dryly, not quite in the mood.

"Well, okay, pal!" said Travis.

I let out a sigh and turned my head, keying him in to the fact that I wasn't in a very conversational mood. I then accidentally surveyed the room, and my heartbeats hesitated upon spotting an adult standing across the room. He was maybe in his late fifties, of medium height, with brown hair and brown eyes. His skin was tan and wrinkled from laughter, but he wasn't laughing now; currently he was staring at me with a slack jaw and a body so in shock that his hands on his brown clipboard were shaking.

He wore a lab coat, like… a scientist…

"Who is that?" I said quickly, sitting up. I was displeased to feel a sticky wetness over my body. I scowled. They hadn't changed my clothes.

"My uncle," Travis reminded me with a sigh.

"Jed?" I clarified quickly.

Travis nodded. "Remember—he's on our side."

"Yes, yes," said Travis' uncle, approaching me. "I'm all for you two. But, u-uh… would you mind if I examined you?"

I stiffened. "Travis, how is this any different from letting the government get me?"

My friend sighed, turning to his uncle. "I told you. She's too shaky right now. Can you just help with the ID and stuff?"

His uncle opened his mouth to talk, but I was speaking over him before I even knew it. "Did my funeral…? Did it…?" I didn't even know what I was trying to say. "Did it happen already?"

The question was built on the fact that sometimes I would be out for days when I died. Of course, I had only died twice before, so the math wasn't perfect, but I was pretty certain that it was normal to remain dead for a while.

Travis shook his head. "No, it's in three days. You've been out for two; your brain was pretty damaged, so it took a while for you to heal yourself."

For a few seconds, I thought of this. All right. So I had the date. The time. It hadn't been so long. One mystery was solved, and now it was time for another.

"My parents…" I began, and then drifted off.

"I've been keeping tabs, like you told me to," Travis replied. It was weird; we had just recently become friends, and it was like he already knew everything that I was going to say, everything that I wanted to know. "Your mom flew in with your step-dad a few hours after you died. I haven't seen them around—no one has, so I think they've just been in your house."

"How are they?" I asked, automatically tearing up.

Stupid question, Travis told me, with his eyes. He didn't say this, though, just told me, "Like I said, no one has seen your mom or step-dad, but I did see your dad… just after you… uh, killed yourself. He's not doing too good. But, look, okay, you can't blame yourself. You just have to move on. Uncle Jed's got a guy working on your passport as we speak."

"Okay," I said quietly.

"Everyone's pretty torn up," he went on, sort of like it would make me feel better. And it did, in a really vindictive, sadistic, messed up way. I now knew that I had left a mark on the world—that my life was not irrelevant to everyone. I only wished that I could be remembered without all of the pain surrounding my name. "I went to school today, and even Chloe was tearing up with everyone else."

Chloe, the mean girl. Well… she had never really been mean to me directly, but that was how she was known. "It's bizarre how people start to care after you're gone," I noted.

Trevor shrugged. "I don't know. I think it's just that stuff like this makes kids remember their own mortality."

"That's not true," Travis' uncle disagreed. "Everyone is really upset about Mary here. You were loved. I wouldn't be surprised if there's another suicide."

"Jed!" exclaimed Trevor.

"Oh, right!" He cringed, realizing how insensitive his comments were. "Sorry about that…"

"It's…" I was going to say fine, but the word got stuck in my throat. It was not fine. Instead of speaking, I found myself blinking away my tears, so I wouldn't have a break down. I had to change the subject. Now. "Um, Trevor… You've had some time to think, right?"

The boy blinked at my comment. "What?"

"About what I asked?" I pressed. At his clueless expression, I restated, "Have you decided if you're coming with me?"

Travis' uncle finally spoke. "Going with you?" he asked. "Travis, what is she talking about?"

Travis gave me a look, and I shrugged, not having known that it was a secret—rather, that it was supposed to be one. He groaned and turned to his uncle. "I told her that I might help her for a few days on the road… just until she's comfortable and knows what to do. It wouldn't be permanent." Travis hesitated, and then muttered, "Even though it should be."

"The government doesn't know about you!" his uncle snapped. "Just her. You don't need to leave!"

"For how much longer am I safe for?" demanded Travis. "They'll catch onto me eventually. Mary was really careful, but they found her! This could be my only shot to make it out of here!"

Travis' uncle opened his mouth, then his eyes flickered to me, and his jaw clamped shut angrily. "We'll talk about this later," he muttered. "I'll meet you upstairs." Jed walked to the door swiftly and slammed it behind him. I was a little taken aback by all of the fury that had entered Travis' uncle's body.

"So… I guess that means I'm going alone," I said quietly, after a pause.

Travis sighed. "Look—"

"It's fine," I dismissed instantly, sitting up on the morgue bench. The last thing I wanted was for him to feel bad for me. "I'm sorry that I brought it up… I didn't know—"

"It's fine," he interrupted, unintentionally repeating my own words from before.

"Why was he so mad, anyway?" I asked, eyes trailing up the stairs to where Jed had disappeared.

"Jed is protective of me," he admitted. "I'm all he's got, and he's all I've got. And," Travis shrugged, "he promised my parents that he would look after me."

"Oh," I said, softly. A faint blush lifted to my cheeks "I didn't know that you were—"

"Orphaned. Yeah. I don't really broadcast it."

I swallowed, nodding as he withdrew into himself. I hadn't meant for that to happen; I just wanted to know him. Travis knew my deepest, darkest secret, and I knew virtually nothing about the guy. "Sorry," I mumbled.

"No, don't apologize. It's… Shit, I'm being such a dick…" He ran his hands through his curly, brown hair tiredly. "You just woke up from literally dying, and I'm… Jesus, sorry, Mary."

"Let's both promise to stop saying 'sorry,'" I suggested coyly.

He nodded and then gave me a bit of a half-hearted laugh. "Sure." He let out another sigh—of relief, this time. "I thought you might not wake up, you know. You said that you would be fine and stuff, but still… I was freaked out. I mean, you were out for so long, and when they brought you in here, your brains were all over the place…" He shivered. "God, I can't stop thinking about it."

I touched the top of my head, a bit self-conscious now. Part of me was trying to imagine the picture. Brains were pretty ugly. "Jeez…"

Travis glanced at me and rolled his eyes. "Okay, I mean, I'll get over it. It kind of feels like a dream, now that you're back, and, you know, you."

"I know," I said, frowning. "I wasn't upset about that. I was worried about… everyone else."

"You're wondering if your dad will ever get over it," he guessed.

I smiled weakly. "I guess I'm just scared that I've made everything worse."

Travis stared at me, and he didn't tell me that my fears were invalid, or that I had no reason to get upset. The guy just said, "Maybe you did. Maybe you did make everything worse."

"Travis," I said, a little crossly. He was supposed to make me feel better. I didn't want the truth.

"I said 'maybe,'" he pointed out, and I perked a brow. "Maybe you messed things up, or maybe you changed stuff for the better. I really can't tell you which of those it is because the only way to know is by going forward."

I let out a long sigh when he finished. "Well, that helps," I snipped, crossing my arms.

Travis shrugged, not bothered by displeasing me. "I'm just keeping it honest. But, hey, you're one of the best people I've ever met. So I'm betting that things are going to turn out okay."

My face twisted into an honest smile. Small. But it was there. "Thanks," I said, meaning it.

Again, a shrug. I didn't know if he was shrugging because he was lackadaisical or because he really didn't know if what he was saying was true.

Travis confirmed the latter. "Let's just hope I'm right," he said.

"Let's hope," I echoed.