The dark water that flowed far below the bridge rippled calm and serene under the reflection of the moon overhead. Tan stared unseeingly, lost in the thoughts that slipped past like the slow swirl of the current. His feet had carried him here, unconsciously searching. For what? If Tan knew, he wouldn’t be standing in the center of a bridge in an unfamiliar city at god knows what time of the night.
Where was he? He didn’t know. A city in the Maritimes, logically. They were due to fly out in two days. Or was it tomorrow? He’d stopped asking weeks ago where they were. Time was meaningless. What time was it? Was someone looking for him? Had they noticed he’d left? How long had he been here, contemplating the inky peacefulness of the water?
The voice, so soft, so sudden, startled Tan out of his reverie. A young woman in her early 20s watched him with wide fearful eyes. She had a phone clutched tightly in her hands and pressed to her chest like a lifeline.
“I’m… I’m not…” Tan tried, but the words of assurance wouldn’t come.
The woman took a tentative step towards him, one hand reaching before she quickly withdrew it to the security of self-comfort. “Yes, you are.”
“I… fuck.” Tan rasped. His fingers clutched desperately to the cold steel of the bridge railing, the only barrier between him and freedom from his mask of equanimity. 4000 feet between him and an indefinite quietude. Nothingness sounded so pleasant and inviting.
“Think of your family,” she rushed.
The sharp dry laugh shattered the stillness of the night. High and humourless, until it wasn’t. Tan’s voice crackled wetly with the weight of the shuddering sobs that caught him off guard.
“My family?” Tan gurgled. The steel rail was freezing against his forehead, even in the blazing humidity of a midsummer night. None of this felt real. “What family?”
“Family don’t end with blood.” The answer was so quiet, Tan almost missed it.
The hysterical laugh that exploded from somewhere deep inside the hollowness of his chest surprised Tan. “Did you just quote Bobby Singer at me? Un-fucking believable,” he said, but couldn’t stop the mad grin that slowly split across his face.
This was madness. Absolute madness.
“I’m sorry.” The young woman looked seconds from throwing herself at Tan, hands uselessly wringing her phone. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean-”
“No. No, it was good,” Tan said, breath less ragged, but his chest ached. “I needed to hear that.”
She was right. His family wasn’t his parents. Their callous dismissal was meaningless in the grand scheme of his life. They forfeited their claim on him the second they decided he was less than who he was.
He found his family. Ayla had always stood behind him and pushed him to take what was thrown at him and do it his own way. And Chord, even a bossy little bitch, in the best way, never expected anything from him beyond what he was willing to give. He brought colour to the world in a way no one else ever had, and he expected nothing in return. And then, no matter what, Mama K’s hugs would always be there to welcome him, to comfort him, to remind him that he was needed. And then there was Kian…
So much could be said about Kian. How did one summarize the unwavering loyalty and support Kian’s presence had brought to his life? Tan wanted to simultaneously impress him and bask in the coolness of unflappable acceptance. He drove him to want to be a better person.
Tan’s fingers loosened from the death grip on the rail. They tingled as the blood rushed back into the fingertips. He still wasn’t sure what his purpose for being here was, but standing on a bridge in the dark wasn’t going to help him solve the mysteries of the universe.
The park bench was illuminated by a single lamp like a scene out of a movie. Tan wasn’t entirely sure how they got there. Still, he sat next to his supposed saviour – Lexi – with a paper cup of mediocre hot chocolate. Apparently, it was too late for coffee. Not that he was a big coffee drinker. Tea was his game.
Sitting alone with a stranger in unfamiliar territory was surprisingly low key. Almost meditative. Time slowly began to have meaning again. Lexi had offered to listen if he wanted to talk, but they had sat in silence for at least twenty minutes.
Tan sipped his hot chocolate. Too much sugar. He sighed. “I wouldn’t have,” he finally said.
Lexi hummed. “You sure about that?”
Yes, Tan was certain. “Too many variables.”
Tan sighed again, his entire body sagging against the back of the bench as he slouched down. “No guarantee that the deceleration of the body would be fatal, even at 53 metres per second, which is surprising because anything over 12 should be intrinsically fatal. And yet, people often survive.”
Lexi’s eyebrows crept further into her bangs, but Tan ignored her as he rambled. It was easier to keep talking if he didn’t look at her.
“However,” he continued. “The pain of survival of a fall that distance would be insurmountable. I’d break every bone in my body. More likely I’d drown, unable to fight the current or keep my head above water, which I find far more terrifying.”
He’d almost drowned once. His father had pulled him out, but he could still remember it. The burn in his chest, how his head felt as if it would explode, and then the shock of the first breath of freezing water.
Lexi chuckled. “You really are the smart one,” she said, and then upon realizing what she had confessed, clapped a hand over her mouth.
“Ah…” Tan drummed his fingers against the body of the paper cup clutched in his hands without glancing her way. “You know who I am.”
“Uh… well, yes.” Lexi shifted self-consciously beside him. “I mean, how could I not? You’re… you’re you! I couldn’t believe it when I saw you, but then… then I saw your expression and I just…”
She talked with her hands. It reminded him of Chord when he ranted about some writer killing off his favourite character or another musician’s apparent genius mix of a song.
“Hmm…” Tan nodded to himself. Being recognized shouldn’t have been too much of a shock. Still, Lexi had remained relatively chill, which was not standard fangirl procedure.
“I won’t tell anyone!” Lexi promised.
Tan snorted, his attention still focused entirely on the white lid of the cup in his hands. “That’s was never my concern,” he assured. He had never been as paranoid as Chord about the public at large. Then again, he wasn’t the one with the countdown clock to the day he was legal, or if he did have one, he wasn’t aware of it. It’d have a much high count.
It was quiet again for a moment. Tan almost forgot he wasn’t alone.
“You really should get help,” Lexi said. It was almost too quiet. Tan almost missed it. “Talk to someone. Anyone.”
Tan smiled down at his hands around the cup. He had a hangnail on his right middle finger. Chord was going to drag him to another manicure. “I will take that under advisement,” he said with a sober earnestness.
“Please do.” Lexi turned her body, not so discreetly studying him. “I always forget how young you are.”
“Yes. Young.” Technically, Tan is young. He’s only sixteen, two years younger than his bandmates. He’d always been the odd one out growing up. It felt like he had already lived 10 lifetimes, and yet, he was still as directionless as ever.