[November Breaks] THEN | 13 | Brett

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FRIDAY 24TH NOVEMBER 2017

Noah glances over the edge. “This is unusual.”

I down another shot. “That’s the point.” I’m not looking at him, but I can feel something in his presence, in our presence, something new and different, wrong, perfect.

It’s been a struggle to drag myself away for work and I’ve been distracted, present in body only, mind elsewhere. When the edge of my desk pushes against the fresh bruises on my ribs, it’s all I can do not to walk out of my office and straight to his front door.

He’s drinking coffee while I’m drinking vodka and he looks down again and shakes his head, not like he’s scared of being up here, but like he doesn’t see the purpose in any of this. And maybe he doesn’t, yet. When they called from reception to say he was here and I came down to meet him, we shook hands like we’d only met once before and kept up that pretence for almost twenty seconds until we got in the lift.

I slide forward slightly and my feet get the cold shiver that happens when they’re hanging with nothing between them and the ground, a suicidal distance below. It’s a familiar sensation and a purely physical one. I feel no less secure up here than sitting in my office chair, although that’s a bad example because lately I haven’t felt too secure in that chair.

I keep getting stuck in a loop of smashing my desk and peeling the skin off my hands on the broken edges. I’ve been fighting the feeling that there’s no air left in the room and the only way I can stop losing my shit is to turn the glass walls opaque so I can’t see everyone else outside, casually existing a few feet away like everything’s fine. Anyway.

His voice skims a stone across my stream of consciousness. “Are you going to start talking about how precariously we balance on the edge of oblivion and how this place is a reminder to live life to the fullest?”

“No. I just like how it feels.” I drink another shot. I’m the opposite of precariously balanced. I’m right at the core, restrained, and everything is closing in around me. Unless I’m up here. Or with him, apparently.

“Is that your primary motivation?”

“Pretty much.”

“What if you weren’t chasing that?” he asks.

“What do you mean?”

“What else is there? Who would you be?”

“There’s nothing else. I’d be no-one.”

There’s a fraction of a second, half a heartbeat, when the screen inside my head plays a film of me reaching for him, holding him close, pulling us both over the edge. It doesn’t work though, so the film shifts and now he’s reaching for me. It’s his decision and I’m the one letting it happen, quietly concealing my gratitude. It feels better and kind of familiar. It might have been something I saw in a TV show, some vaguely dissatisfying but optimistically inconclusive ending that never showed the lovers hitting the ground. It doesn’t matter. It’s a metaphor.

“So,” he pushes his hair back from his face, “do you come here often?”

“To my job?”

“To the roof.”

“As often as I can, although it’s usually a solitary experience. It’s the only place I can concentrate.”

“And you never run into anyone else?”

“Most of them don’t have access, and even the ones who do tend to stay away.” I remember Byron’s vertigo and the veins at his temples.

“But you have access?”

“I have it. I wasn’t given it.”

“That sounds like another common theme in your life.”

“Don’t say that like you’ve known me for more than a few days.” I shoot a glance at him and he turns away. We both pretend not to be looking at each other, even though we’ve been doing little else since last weekend. This is the game we play. Looking but not looking, but looking.

“Yet here I am, on your roof.”

“Here you are, on my roof.”

“Should I feel honoured?”

“You feel what you feel.”

He sets his flask behind him and takes a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket. “I quit last year.”

“Doesn’t seem like it. Hasn’t seemed like it all week.”

“No, I mean I did. And then I didn’t.” He lights a smoke and weighs the silver lighter in his hand like it’s his soul.

“Why did you start again?”

“I don’t know.”

“Yes, you do. No-one is better positioned than you to know why you did something, but you aren’t admitting it to yourself. Or to me. Whatever.”

“Are you my therapist?”

“You wouldn’t have a therapist any more than I would.”

“True.” He smokes in silence for a minute, then it reaches out of him like a sigh of relief. “I got tired of denying myself things I wanted.”

“I never deny myself things I want.”

“How’s that working out for you?”

I lie back along the wall, bottle in hand, the shot glass from my office rolling on its side in a lazy semi-circle on the roof. “Sometimes I wonder what it would feel like to drop something from up here, whether or not it would hit someone, whether they’d die.”

“I assume you’ve never actually done it?” He puts out his cigarette and stands up.

“Not yet.” I let him take the bottle from my hand and I’m starting to realise I’d let him do anything he wanted. I can’t tell if that’s a problem or the opposite of a problem. Something about how true control comes from relinquishing control. I don’t know.

“Not now either.” He sits down again, on the roof this time, with his back against the wall next to where I’m lying. It’s cold and his breath mists like the ghost of his willpower or the strengthening spirit of cognitive dissonance.

I want to touch his hair or his face, but it’s too tender a gesture and I don’t know what to do with it, so I move and sit next to him instead, leaning against him. There’s a fascinating solidity to him and I want to slide his coat off his shoulders to feel his muscles shift. I reach towards him. “If I promise not to drop it on anyone, can I please have my drink back?”

He hands it over and smiles, not at me but near me, in my general direction. I can’t be bothered with the glass anymore, so I drink from the bottle and offer it to him. He takes it and our hands touch. That contact, his skin against mine, does something to me. A slightly muted version of everything else we’ve done in the last few days.

His throat tenses into the swallow of someone who doesn’t regularly drink straight vodka, then he hands the bottle back and offers me his flask.

“I can’t believe you brought your own coffee. Did you think I wouldn’t have any? That there would be literally no coffee anywhere in the building?”

“I didn’t think there’d be good coffee.”

“And coffee’s that important?”

“It is.” He takes the pack of cigarettes out of his pocket again and looks at it like he’s waiting for it to give him an answer. “I can’t figure out if you smoke or not. I’ve seen you smoking, but it doesn’t seem habitual.”

“I don’t not smoke. I don’t not do a lot of things.”

“Are you smoking now?”

“I’m not not smoking.” I hold out my hand.

He passes me a cigarette and turns towards me to light it. The flame flares between us and dances across his face, casting shadows of necessity and inevitability and emptiness.

Hovering above the boundary between potential and decision, I am opaque. He holds me at the edge of the void and I become transparent. I wrap my bravado in ribbons of tendons and bruise-kissed skin, and even that is not enough of an offering.