You watch as he keeps peering over the edge, your nerves fraying with every inch closer he leans. His hair, long, dark, falling further to his shoulders than it ever used to, is swept up and ruffled by the steady breeze, billowing out at intervals to reveal the diamond stud earring in his left ear, glinting in the late winter sunlight. You can see a rogue muscle dancing and twitching in his neck, noticeably bare against the February chill, an odd contrast with the smart winter coat the rest of him is wrapped in. His face, as he keeps peering down at the surface of the river, is a mask of tension and stress, hurt and weariness, all combining into one toxic, apathetic mix, a tiredness creeping over his very spirit. Even from ten feet away, you can feel the turmoil raging inside him.
‘It wouldn’t really take much, would it?’ he asks, mostly to himself.
‘Just…come away from the edge,’ you say, tentatively, carefully. ‘We’ll go get a coffee, talk about it. Then we’ll go home.’
He scoffs at the word. ‘You make it sound so domesticated.’ You ignore the rebuke. You have to.
‘I know what you’re thinking,’ you say, a little firmer, as firm as you dare.
‘You do not.’ He throws you a withering look.
‘You think this would be an answer. An escape, a way of ending the pain.’
‘You know damn all,’ he mutters, eyes fixed once again on the surface of the river. The hard, cynical edge in his voice cuts through you. Causes you worse pain than his fists and kicks did after the funeral.
‘I know the person I used to know would never consider this in a million years. Would never contemplate leaving people behind this way.’
‘You of all people should know things change,’ he retorts. You take it. It’s a deserved criticism, after all.
‘Come back with me,’ you plead. ‘This isn’t the answer.’
‘It’s too late,’ he answers, and the deadness in his tone terrifies you.
‘No, it’s not,’ you urge. ‘You still have a choice.’
‘He didn’t, though, did he?’ he snaps, spinning round and glaring at you, his verdant eyes more furious than they’ve ever been. ‘He didn’t get to say ‘‘No thanks, I don’t fancy shuffling off in my twenties’’.’
‘I know that…’
‘What is there really to stay for?’ he demands, turning back to face the river. ‘What’s to stop me just letting myself fall over, right now?’
You pause, a question forming in your mind on sheer instinct. You swallow. Consider the implications for a few seconds. Then realise it’s something you’ve wanted to ask for years.
You ask him.
He turns. Stares at you. Processes it. Hesitates. Casts his eyes back toward the river.
And you know, there and then, whether he’s going to jump or not.