Victor let Mitch take the other bedroom. The man would never fit on the couch, and Victor didn’t sleep much anyway. If he did happen to get tired, he certainly didn’t mind the plush sofa. That had been his least favorite thing about prison. Not the people, or the food, or even the fact that it was prison.
It was the damned cot.
Victor took up his drink and wandered the wooden laminate floor of the hotel suite. It was remarkably realistic, but gave no squeak, and he could feel the concrete beneath. His legs had spent long enough standing on concrete to know.
An entire wall of the living room was made of floor-to-ceiling windows, a set of balcony doors embedded in the center. He opened them, and stepped out onto a shallow landing seven stories up. The air was crisp and he relished it as he rested his elbows on the frozen metal rail, clutching his drink, even though the ice made the glass cold enough to hurt his fingers. Not that he felt it.
Victor stared out at Merit. Even at this hour, the city was alive, a thrumming, humming place filled with people he could sense without even stretching. But at that moment, surrounded by the cold, metallic city air and the millions of living, breathing, feeling bodies, he wasn’t thinking about any of them. His eyes hovered on the buildings, but his mind wandered past them all.
TEN YEARS AGO
“WELL?” asked Victor later that night. He’d had a drink. A couple drinks. They kept a stocked beer shelf in the kitchen for gatherings, and a supply of hard liquor in the drawer under the bathroom sink for the very bad days or the very good ones.
“There’s no way,” said Eli. He saw the tumbler in Victor’s hand, and headed to the bathroom to pour himself one, too.
“That’s not strictly true,” said Victor.
“There’s no way to create enough control,” clarified Eli as he took a long sip. “No way to ensure survival, let alone any form of abilities. Near death experiences are still near death. It’s too great a risk.”
“But if it worked…”
“But if it didn’t…”
“We could create control, Eli.”
“You asked me if I ever wanted to believe in something. I do. I want to believe in this. I want to believe that there’s more. ” Victor sloshed a touch of whiskey over the edge of his glass. “That we could be more. Hell, we could be heroes.”
“We could be dead,” said Eli.
“That’s a risk everyone takes by living.”
Eli ran his fingers through his hair. He was rattled, unsure. Victor liked seeing him that way. “It’s just a theory. ”
“Nothing you ever do, Eli, is meant to be theoretical. I see it in you.” Victor was very proud of verbalizing the observation in one try, considering his level of inebriation. Nevertheless, he needed to stop talking. He didn’t like people to know how closely he watched, matched, mimicked them. “I see it,” he finished quietly.
“I think you’ve had enough.”
Victor looked down at the amber liquid.
The moments that define lives aren’t always obvious. They don’t always scream LEDGE, and nine times out of ten there’s no rope to duck under, no line to cross, no blood pact, no official letter on fancy paper. They aren’t always protracted, heavy with meaning. Between one sip and the next, Victor made the biggest mistake of his life, and it was made of nothing more than one line. Three small words.
“I’ll go first.”
He’d thought about it in the car on the way back from the airport, when he asked why not? He’d thought about it as they ate lunch, and then as he walked around campus, finishing his coffee, thought about it all the way back to the residence halls and the upperclassmen’s apartments beyond them. Somewhere between the third and fourth tumbler, the question mark had become a period. There wasn’t a choice. Not really. This was the only way to be more than a spectator to Eli’s great feats. To be a participant. A
Suzanne Brockmann, Melanie Brockmann