A gigantic, bustling crowd snaked around the emergency vehicles in front of Valentine Hall. I shoved my hands in my pockets, but it didn’t stop them from trembling. Everything around me looked and sounded like panic.
I could see an outline of Char. She must have hopped off the roof because she was standing on a decorative ledge. She looked like a little doll so far away. A little doll that I wanted to pluck up and cradle in my arms. I concentrated on my breathing after noticing that I had stopped.
Trina, Leah, and Mallory were all gathered next to me. They followed me out to Albert’s car and climbed in, uninvited. I spotted a familiar face behind the yellow caution tape.
I gasped and shoved my way through the crowd, to the edge of the bright yellow tape. “Officer! Officer! Over here!” I said as I waved my arms around. My friends pushed their way through and joined me.
The young officer squinted his eyes and drew closer. “May I help you?” He said with the same stone eyes and expression that he had the day he came to Theta.
“Yes, it’s me. Brie Merritt. We met.”
“Ah, yes, Miss Merritt.”
“What’s your name, again, sir?”
“I’m officer Crew. What do you need?”
“Um,” I said glancing up at Char. “Officer Crew, please let me go up there and talk to her. Please. I have experience with this kind of thing.”
I felt Trina squeeze my shoulder. It reminded me to root my feet in the ground and stare directly into his eyes. Even if I knew there was no way in hell he would let me help.
“We have our best negotiator up there right now,” Officer Crew said with a softer tone.
I made my hand into a shade for my eyes to see through the darkness of night and the splash of red and blue lights.
“I don’t see anyone up there.”
“She won’t let anyone-” Officer Crew’s eyes darted around and he leaned closer, “this isn’t public knowledge, Miss Merritt. Off the record, she will not let anyone come close to her. It’s a stand off of sorts.”
“I need to get up there, please, help me!” I said reaching across the tape and touching Officer Crew’s arm.
Why did you do that! Hold it together!
Officer Crew stepped back three steps and his eyes burned into mine.
“Young lady, never-”
“I’m a survivor,” I admitted, cutting him off.
I heard Leah and Mallory gasp. They didn’t know. But I didn’t care who knew anymore.
“I’m a suicide survivor!” I yelled. “I think I can help!”
“Leave it to us, everything that can be done, is being done, I assure you,” Officer Crew said. He turned his back to me.
“Brie! Leah!” A pained voice croaked from behind me.
“Oh my God, Krissy!” I said as I threw my arms around Krissy’s small frame. Krissy returned my embrace and sobbed into my shoulder.
“Krissy, I’m so sorry,” I said, feeling my lunch swirl around in a tornado in my stomach. “I’m sorry for everything!”
“Oh my god, stop,” Krissy said as she held her thin fingers to my lips. “Like any of that stupid shit matters now?”
“Has she been struggling with depression?” I asked.
“No!” Krissy said stepping back and wiping her mascara stained cheeks. “I had no idea. I mean, she’s moody, but we all are moody. We’re girls.”
“I want to help,” I said peeking up at Char. I’m a survivor and I’ve learned a thing or two eight years of intensive therapy. Plus she knows me.”
“Sneak around back?” Krissy asked, nodding.
“Here,” Trina said reaching into her bust and pulling out a swipe card. “I live here, so use this. There is a door back behind the building. It’s behind a few tall bushes, where the janitors sneek smokes. You know which one I’m talking about, love?”
I nodded. “Yes. I know where that is. I know how to get to the roof, once inside.”
“I never tried to use it on that door,” Trina nodded to the card in my palm. “I think it’s a service entrance. I hope it works there, too.”
“Wait,” Mallory said. “Think about this, though. If you do manage to get up there. What if seeing you…I hate to say this…what if it makes it worse? You know…you guys aren’t exactly on the best terms.”
She’s so right, I thought. But if I don’t at least try, I will always regret this moment. If anyone knows where Char’s head is, it’s me. Only I took the plunge and she’s still standing there. Oh, what I would have said to the clueless, desparate hopeless Brie if I could go back in time. Besides, I’m pretty sure that Mr. Negotiator has never stuck a razor an inch into his wrist.
“You’re right Mallory,” I said eyeing the distant Char. “But I have to try.”
“Good luck,” Mallory said dropping her gaze.
My group of friends wished me luck as I shoved my way through the crowd. I wandered into the trees that surrounded most of Valentine Hall. I snuck all the way to the back, where the chain link fence stood and outlined the dormitory’s grounds. I walked along the fence. My leg scraped against some kind of thorny bush and I covered my mouth to muffle my yelp of pain. I kept going and a branch poked through my sweater and broke the skin on my chest. I didn’t stop.
When I came out the other side, the secluded service door was in view. There was also an officer standing watch in front of the other student/public entry which was just a few yards from my door. I guessed that the building was closed, and all entry ways were secured. Besides the janitors’ door. They might not have even realized it was there.
My resolve faded as I yanked a leaf out of the tangles of my hair and stared at the policewoman. She hadn’t noticed me yet. I could have easily went back without any questions. After all, I didn’t know if the card would even work. If I managed to get there unnoticed and it didn’t work, could I sneak away? Would I be arrested if she caught me?
If I get in, I just have eleven stories, I thought to myself. Holy shit. Eleven. The same age as I was on that Christmas.
For some reason that’s all it took. It was like the universe saw all of my offerings the other night when I let go of my tragedy box and this was her way of giving me a little push. It made sense at that moment. And I didn’t have a single doubt.
I took off my heels and ducked back into the shadows. It felt like I was a Charlie’s Angel, or a secret agent. My adrenaline flooded through every inch of me. I waited for what seemed like forever, before the policewoman paced towards the opposite direction. She had her back towards me. It was my chance.
I darted towards the service entrance and stepped into a tall bush that was on the side of the sidewalk. From inside of the bush, I held out the swipe card and slid it through the card reader next to the door handle. It blinked yellow for a few minutes.
Fuck, it won’t work. Now what?
Then it turned green.
It made a buzzing sound when I crept from the bush and slid inside. My heart jumped into my throat. The buzz was too loud for comfort. I sprinted, in case the officer heard it and came to investigate.
I winded my way through the abandoned halls of the lower level, and found my staircase. Hardly anyone used it, most everyone used the elevator. I even saw people from floor 2 using it when I had lived there. My only hope is that they were vacant as usual.
I let out a sigh and started up the metal stairs. It helped that I was barefoot for noise level, but I knew I would pay for it later. The pads of my feet screamed with each slap onto metal, only passing floor four.
It wasn’t long before I was at the upstairs landing. The pain from the scratches of the woods and bare feet died in an instant and was replaced by my heart crashing into my ribs. There were two shadows by an open door. I could see the night sky outlining their figures. A full moon.
Just like that night.
I took a few steps closer and I figured that I must be staring at the back of the negotiator guy. He looked more like a grizzly bear in a suit. There was also a younger officer next to him. They didn’t notice me, until I squared my shoulders, marched up behind them and cleared my throat.
“Hold it right there!” The police officer demanded in a startled voice and he whipped around.
The negotiator man turned around slowly and met my gaze. There was a hit of a smile beneath his salt and pepper mustache. His calming energy allowed me to find my words right away.
“Sir, I know I’m not supposed to be here.”
“You’re right,” the man said in a gruff, but soothing voice.
“I’m a former dorm mate of Char’s and a survivor of suicide. I want to, I mean, I need to speak with Char.” I took a few steps closer.
“I said don’t move!” The officer screamed, pulling his gun out.
Oh my God. I’m at fucking gunpoint. My inner self screamed.
“For Pete sake, kid,” Negotiator man said. “Quiet or the gal will hear yas.”
“Mam,” The officer said, in a quiet, but firm voice, with his gun pointed at my head. “Put your hands up.”
“Stand down, officer,” Negotiator said, putting his baseball-mitt hand on his shoulder.
“Yes, sir,” the officer said lowering his weapon.
My hands flew up. “Look, I’ll comply! But you have to let me see her.”
The negotiator just stared at me and folded his hands. I wondered if he was profiling me.”I’m Saul. What’s your name?”
“Brie. I just want to help.”
“You are a brave girl,” Saul said giving me a wink.
I heard a wail on the roof and Saul and officer turned around.
“What’s going on?” I heard a distant Char yell.
“Nothing to worry about,” Saul answered.
I couldn’t get over the serenity in his voice. This was life or death and Saul must have mentally been on a Flordia beach.
“I heard someone. Tell me who is there, or I’ll fucking jump!” Char said from her spot on the ledge.
“You climb up a little closer for me. You do that for me, I’ll tell ya.”
Saul gave me another wink. He leaned out to watch Char, but blocked my view of the roof.
“See? ‘At a girl, Char. Now I live up to my word. It’s a friend of yours, a blonde. Goes by the name of Brie.”
“What? You have to be fucking kidding me!” I heard Char yell. “Of all the fucking people in the world….”
I gave myself a hug as Saul turned around and met my eyes.
He turned back around. “Char, remember I’m on your side, see? Never mind her. What can I get for you?”
“Tell Brie to come here. I want to talk to her before I do it. I’m doing it at midnight, still, Saul. I have some time.”
“Char, I want to let Brie out with ya, but this is a restricted area.” Saul gave me a single nod. “If I let Brie talk to you from here, it’s my ass on the line, you got me?”
“Get Brie up here! I’m not playing this game with you, I already told you that.”
“Brie’ll talk to ya from here, but you won’t be able to hear her very well, see? We have to scream as it is. Now, if she comes and talks to you, will you come closer, to the middle of the roof and sit down?”
“Saul, I’ll jump right fucking now if you are shitting me!” Char screamed.
“You are in charge here, Char, not me. I just want you to talk to your friend, here.”
Saul reached behind me and pulled me in front of him, placing me at the door frame. “See?”
This guy is a fucking badass, I thought as I saw Char creep off the ledge. She walked closer to us and sat down. She looked like a black widow spider as she folded her legs and stared at me. So tiny and dark, but so lethal.
“Give us space, Saul,” Char snapped.
“Sure thing,” Saul replied as he took a step away and removed himself from Char’s view.
He was still close, which gave me comfort. I didn’t know what to expect when I got up to the roof. I suppose I thought I knew more than a seasoned expert. Now that I was there and heard Char screaming about jumping off, I realized I knew nothing. The only thing I did know was that I was a damn fool. A fool who was out of her league.
“Brie, why the fuck are you here?”
“Honestly, Char,” I yelled across the roof. “When I heard what was happening I just wanted reach out to you.”
“Don’t talk so loud, sweetheart,” Saul advised in my ear. “If ya gradually decrease your volume, she’ll be drawn closer, you see.”
“Why, so you can feel better about yourself?”
“No. I just wanted you to know that someone understands. You’re not alone. And it gets better.”
Char stared at me in silence as the wind ruffled through her short dark hair. I shifted uncomfortably and darted my eyes to Saul.
“Doin’ great, kid,” Saul whispered.
“You don’t know anything about me,” Char grumbled.
“Maybe not, but I do know a thing or two about suicide. I’m a survivor.”
“No you’re not. You’re like, fucking perfect.”
“If I had one wish, I would go back in time and beg young me not to kill myself,” I said, feeling a flood of emotions that were dark, yet cleansing. “It’s like I’m looking in a mirror.”
Char rose up and folded her arms around herself. She walked a closer to me.
“Is that so?” Char said, now close enough to look into my eyes. “Were you pimped out by your mother for drug money as little girl?”
“No, I wasn’t.”
Char sneered.”Were you abused by your foster dad so much, that you had to slather on makeup everyday, just to hide the bruises?”
“Did you think things were going better when you got into Baylor, only to be rejected by something that meant the fucking world to you?” Char’s eyes gleamed with tears.
It felt like something was in my throat. I shook my head.
“Then you are not looking at a mirror. You are looking at someone who has nothing to live for. Nothing to look back on and nothing to look forward to. You have everything, Brie. I have nothing!”
Char buried her face in her hands and sniffled.
“Okay kid, this is good,” Saul said.
“What?” I whispered out of the side of my mouth. “How?”
“Speak from your heart. Walk out only a few inches, and then open your arms for her to come to you. You got this.”
Okay, here it goes. Speak from your heart.
“When I was eleven, I found my pregnant mother in the snow Christmas Eve. She was dead. She had vomit dribbling from her lips, her skin was as cold and white as the snow, her lips were purplish and her eyes were opened half way.”
Char sniffled and looked up. “Are…are you shitting me?”
“No,” I said, taking a few steps on the roof, as instructed by Saul. I lowered my voice, hoping to lure Char in. “For years, every time I closed my eyes, I saw that look on her lifeless face.”
“That’s…there are no words.”
“There really aren’t. What’s worse, everyone thinks she overdosed on pills as suicide.”
“Well, I think that she started to kill herself, but then, she realized she wanted to live. So she bolted outside to get to her car and drive to the ER.”
Char paced a few steps closer. With a crackling voice she said,”She wouldn’t have called an ambulance?”
“No, we were dirt poor. No phone.”
“And my neglectful dad was an alcoholic. She probably thought she had to drive herself because he was drunk. Or maybe she was trying to reach the neighbors. I’ll never know.”
Char mumbled, “Sorry, that is horrible.”
“It was. I was traumatized,” I said, feeling my cheeks grow warm. ” I wore sunglasses for a year after that, I couldn’t stop crying. I haven’t cried ever since. I can’t.”
Char took a few more strides. She was only a arms length away.
“I had flashbacks for years,” I said opening my arms, motioning Char in. “I only recently started healing. You can heal, too. I will help you.”
Char’s lips trembled as she collapsed into my arms. “I can’t go back down, Brie. I’ll never live this down. I’m humiliated.”
“Screw Baylor,” I said, resting my cheek on the top of Char’s head. “You can leave. You can stay. You can do whatever you want. You’re alive.”
I took a deep, cleansing breath. “You know Char, I just know my mom changed her mind, but didn’t make it. I almost didn’t make it but someone pulled me back to life. Let me pull you back. Please.”
“What do I do?” Char’s voice trembled.
“Just breathe,” I whispered to Char. “Breathe.”
I felt Char’s lungs inflate against my chest, and heard her sigh. The lump in my throat swelled. My eyes felt heavy. Then blurry. A single tear slid down my cheek and was absorbed by Char’s hair.
Tears are warm, I thought.