It was raining. Isn’t that the way all great love stories start? And also usually end? The midnight air was cool against my skin as I stared off that bridge. My blond wig was secured in place by a headband, and chunky sunglasses covered my whiskey-colored eyes. I didn’t look like myself any more than I felt it. Bruises from the night before painted my legs while fresh scabs covered my knees, but it was the hollowness in my chest that hurt the most.
Yep. Still me.
Which was exactly why I was standing on that bridge, wishing for the mental fortitude to hurl myself off.
A man’s voice interrupted my thoughts. “You finally gonna do it tonight?”
I instinctually smoothed my fake hair down and pressed the bridge of my glasses closer to my face, sealing out any possible glance he could catch. I stared ahead as I snapped, “Excuse me?”
“I’ve seen you here three nights in a row now. I was just wondering if tonight was going to be the night you finally jump.”
My eyes flashed wide, but since they were covered by the dark glasses, my reaction remained hidden. “I just like the view. That’s all.” What a load of shit.
I watched him nod out of the corner of my eye. “Yeah me too. It’s gorgeous up here.”
Shuffling my feet to the side, I attempted to slip away as he pulled a pack of cigarettes from his pocket and offered it my way.
“You want one?”
I shook my head and then crept down a few inches to put distance between us.
“Suit yourself.” He used a hand to shield the lighter from the wind, but the constant sprinkle of rain made his task impossible. “Damn it,” he cursed with the cigarette tucked between his lips. “Little help?” he asked, swinging his gaze to mine.
Arching an eyebrow, I asked, “With what?”
“It’s raining…and windy…and I’m trying to burn one.” He tilted his head, equally as incredulous.
“You want me to call God? We had a bad breakup recently, but he might be willing to do me one last favor.”
He breathed an exaggerated sigh of relief. “That would be fantastic. What’s the big guy’s response time like these days? Last time we spoke, it was”—he paused to look at his watch—“oh, twenty-seven years.”
A soft laugh bubbled from my throat, and one side of his mouth lifted in a gorgeous grin.
“I’m not exactly in the mood to wait that long, so maybe you could just block the wind with your body?” His smile spread as he stepped toward me, forcing my gaze to nervously bounce away.
“Sorry. Can’t help you there. Lung cancer and I broke up too.” After gathering the back of my wig into a ponytail, I pulled it over my shoulder and turned away from him. The chill of the wind blasted my face and roared over my ears as it rushed past me.
I went back to staring out at the dark, choppy water, becoming lost in the idea of how cold it might be.
Is tonight the night?
My feet would more than likely never leave the edge of that bridge, but there was a definite reason why I was imagining ending it all. Exactly zero other people in the world would understand why. I had it all, and I dreamed about losing it all—more often than I would ever admit, even to myself.
After stepping out of my heels, I slipped my foot between the bars on the railing. The wind slammed my bruised leg against the metal. “Shit,” I hissed as pain shot through me.
“You think that hurts? Imagine falling twenty-five stories then crashing into the water, which might as well be concrete, at speeds upward of seventy miles per hour,” the man said, leaning on the metal railing next to me.
“Wow. Someone’s done some research,” I said sarcastically, barely sparing him a glance.
“Daily,” he responded frankly, causing my surprised gaze to swing to his. Simply shrugging at my reaction, he turned his back to the railing and propped himself up on his colorfully tattooed forearms. “You forget I’ve been here the last three nights in a row too.” He smirked, lifting the cigarette up to his lips for a deep inhale.
“Listen, I’m not going to jump if you’re some kind of caped crusader on a mission. I just needed some fresh air.” I pointedly glanced at his cigarette.
A laugh escaped his mouth in a grey puff. “Fresh air is overrated. Especially given the reason you’re standing here.” He knowingly arched a dark-brown eyebrow.
“Riiiiight,” I drawled, rolling my eyes behind my glasses. “Okay, well, I was just heading out anyway.”
“Then my work here is done.” He bowed, and the corner of my mouth lifted in a smile as I stepped back into my shoes and walked away.
I shook my head at the random stranger. Then, a thought struck me, stopping me only a few feet away. Spinning back to face him, I asked, “Wait. Were you reaching out to me as a cry for help?”
“Oh look. Designer Shoes has a conscience!” He dropped his cigarette to the damp ground, stepping on it with the toe of his well-worn, black boots. Bending over, he picked the butt up and tucked it in his pocket.
At least he didn’t litter.
“Oh look. Tattooed Stalker has jokes!” I smarted back.
He smiled, pulling another cigarette from his pocket and then pausing just before guiding it between his lips. “Were you judging me based on my tattoos? I’m offended.” He feigned anguish then laughed while lifting his lighter to once again battle the wind for a nicotine fix.
I wanted to walk away, but he wasn’t wrong. I did have a conscience, and right then, I was worried that it might really be his night to make good on his apparent numerous visits to the bridge.
With a huff, I headed back towards him, praying that I could wrap it up as quickly as possible then head back to my house for a few hours of sleep. Or, more likely, lie awake while staring at the ceiling and crying.
“Are you planning to jump for real?” I asked.
His smile fell as he focused on the water. “Nah. I don’t have the balls to do something like that. Talking to you wasn’t a plea for help or anything. You just look worse than usual tonight.” His gaze slid down to my battered legs.
“Oh!” I exclaimed in understanding. “That’s not at all what you’re thinking. I fell down some stairs.”
He quirked his lips in disbelief.
“I’m sure you are,” he told the wind. “You can go. I’m good.”
I could have walked away, but for some reason, I pulled my jacket tighter around my shoulders and silently stood there while he finished his cigarette.
After a final deep inhale, he flicked it over the railing of the bridge.
Apparently, he does litter.
Turning to me, his face became serious. “You need to call the cops before he makes the decision to end it all for you.”
“Who?” I asked, watching the burning ember hit the metal column then explode in a million different sparks before disappearing down to the water below.
“The stairs…and whatever inanimate object you’re blaming for those bruises you’re hiding behind sunglasses at one in the morning. You should call the cops before…” His voice trailed off, but his dark gaze narrowed on mine. His eyes bored into my hidden stare, combining with the rain and wind to send chills down my spine.
I took the moment to secretly assess him. He was insanely sexy, but nothing like the men I was accustomed to. His chin was the kind of scruffy that made women weak, but it was obvious he didn’t pay four hundred dollars for his personal hairstylist to shape it. Judging by his shaggy, brown hair that begged for me to thread my fingers in it, I wasn’t sure he was even a barbershop kind of guy. He stood a few inches taller than I was in heels, so I pegged him at around six one. And while his tattooed forearms were deliciously sculpted and his shoulders were notably defined, his body didn’t appear to be swollen with muscles from hours spent at the gym. By the aura of bad boy he gave off, I would have expected him to be a self-consumed, arrogant prick.
He wasn’t though.
He was just an average guy worrying about the well-being of an average girl.
Only he couldn’t have been more wrong, and a pang of guilt hit me hard.
Just not hard enough for me to do anything to correct his assumptions about who I was.
Very softly, I attempted to put his fears to rest. “I promise it’s not what you’re thinking.”
“Okay,” he responded, unconvinced. He nodded to himself before dragging another cigarette from his pocket.
I watched him struggle for a second before I scooted towards him, using my body to block the wind.
Biting the cigarette between his straight, white teeth, he smiled devilishly around it. “Thanks.” Flicking the flame to life, he hunched over until a stream of smoke swirled up from the red tip.
“You should stop smoking.”
“Noted.” He exhaled through his nose.
We went back to silently staring over the side of the bridge. The familiar lights of the San Francisco skyline danced all around us. And, even as tourists and locals alike passed by us, I felt an odd, and unbelievably comfortable, isolation standing there with him.
When my teeth began to chatter, his attention was drawn my way. “I’m not here to jump. You really can go.”
I nodded but didn’t move away.
He chuckled, crossing his arms over his chest and rubbing his biceps for warmth.
“How are you not frozen?” I asked, taking in his thin Henley for the first time since we met.
Shrugging, he dropped his cigarette, answering as he bent to retrieve it. “Thick skin? I’m used to it? I come here a lot? I’m half Eskimo?”
I eyed him suspiciously. “You’re cold, aren’t you?”
“Fucking. Freezing,” he admitted, tucking his arms close to his body and blowing into his hands. “I just came up here for one smoke. Then I saw you. Now, come on. Be a lady and loan a man a jacket,” he joked, tugging on the edge of my coat.
I laughed, hugging it even tighter around my body and stepping out of his reach. “How about we both just leave? Then neither of us have to worry about the other plummeting to their death.”
“Sounds like an amazing plan.” He shoved his hands into the pockets of the tattered jeans riding low on his hips. As we began the hike back down to the foot of the bridge, he asked, “You have a name, Designer Shoes?”
I smiled and shook my head, not willing to lie—or divulge the truth.
“Yeah. Me either,” he replied.
I bit my bottom lip to suppress a laugh.
Side by side, we trudged the rest of the way in silence.
When we got to the foot of the bridge, he turned to face me and sighed. “Well, I genuinely hope I never see you again.”
My head snapped back in shock, and maybe a little hurt.
But he quickly corrected himself. “No! I just mean… Shit.” He ran a nervous hand through his hair while I watched, amused. “I just mean, given the way we met… I…um. I hope you never have a reason to go back up there.”
I teasingly tipped my head to the side. “But I really like the view.”
He cleared his throat. “Right. Of course, the view. Okay, well, have a good night.”
“You too.” I smiled tightly, but my feet didn’t budge. I told myself that it was because I didn’t want him to see my car or the bodyguard waiting for me behind the wheel. But, in reality, I just wasn’t ready to leave. Home wasn’t where I wanted to be. I didn’t actually want to be anywhere.
Not even standing at the foot of a bridge, talking to a witty and sexy man.
Okay, maybe I wanted that a little bit.
“Yep. Have a good night,” he repeated, shoving his hands inside his pockets and slowly backing away.
I gave him a quick wave, which he returned before he jogged in the other direction.
I smiled to myself, shaking my head at the entire interaction—secretly lamenting that it hadn’t been longer.
Maybe there’s only one direction to go when two people fall
in love at rock bottom—up.