Life After—

The dead leaves danced across the sidewalk, and Will pulled his coat closer around him to keep out the chill of the late autumn wind. He blinked and looked up at the sky already tinged with purple and orange. With a sigh he drew his keys out of his pocket and crossed the parking lot to his car. A few other employees called out goodbyes to each other as they left, and Will waved to a few of them. He turned onto the congested city street and peered up through his windshield.

"Well, at least it's a pretty sunset."

After being stopped at yet another red light, he drummed his fingers against the steering wheel. There wasn't much reason to go back home, not yet anyway. "Oh, hang it," he muttered and took a sharp right turn when the light turned green. Every day he just went through the motions, waking up and going to work and coming home, rinse and repeat. Dr. Adamson had said he needed to do things to break up the routine, and this would help, he was sure.

Will turned off into the arts district and, after a few minutes of searching, managed to find a parking space. He palmed a handful of quarters and dropped them into the parking meter before climbing the museum steps. He hadn't been to the art museum in ages, and maybe a stroll through the Impressionist wing was just what he needed to pull him out of this fog, or at least clear his head and let him take a step in the right direction. He reached the glass doors and peered into the lobby. But for a few ambient spotlights shining down on a modernist sculpture exhibit in the middle of the lobby, the museum was dark and the admission desk was unmanned. Will glanced at the hours posted on the window and sighed. The museum had closed a half hour ago.

"Of fucking course," he said to no one in particular before pulling the cuffs of his coat back up over his wrists.

Not wanting to waste his quarters in the meter, he wandered over to the small park across the street. Will sat down on a bench and surveyed the empty enclosure. Perhaps, he thought, 'park' was too generous a term for such a small rectangle of greenery carved out of the urban sprawl. But the bench was not uncomfortable, a few of the leaves still clung to the tree branches, and the museum had not shut off the water in the fountain even in the face of the increasingly chilly weather. It wasn't much, but it was something.

Will sighed and took out his phone, thumbing through his text messages. June had told him they were out of milk and asked if he could pick some up on his way home. A woman he did not remember meeting at a bar two weeks ago had sent him a flirtatious message informing him she was thinking about him. He deleted it without a second thought. And of course, there was the daily query from Dr. Adamson. "Are you feeling all right today?"

Will quickly typed out his typical response. "All fine, no complaints."

He closed his eyes and titled his head back, allowing the breeze to play over his face. Autumn always made him feel a little melancholy, but for all that it was his favorite time of the year. Maybe he liked it because it gave him an excuse to be a little melancholy. He shook his head and looked back down at his phone. One of the messages was an old one from Katie, informing him that she had emailed him a recipe for a vegetarian casserole. He hadn't gotten it for a few days, and by then it was too late to reply without seeming tactless.

He put in her number, not even bothering to use the speed dial. Tapping in the familiar keystrokes was calming in a way, almost nostalgic. He had dialed the number before he really knew what he was doing, and by then it was too late to stop. It was late enough that she probably wouldn't be in class anymore, but for all he knew she was in the middle of something and wouldn't pick up. That was probably for the best, he could just leave a message. That way she could save it if she needed to.

"Hey, Will? What's up?"

Will cleared his throat. "Oh, um, hi kiddo."

"Damn it, when are you going to stop calling me that? I'm not a kid anymore."

"You're still my little sister, and it's my sacred right to tease you about our birth order no matter how old you get."

"Oh, go to hell." Will could hear the smile in her voice. "So what's up?"

"I just, um… How are classes this semester?"

"I'm still pissed I managed to let Mom talking me into taking another year of French. It's killing my average. But at least my photography course is really cool, and I'm in this really awesome film class about aesthetics and symbolism."

"Dad still trying to get you to change your major to business?"

"Yeah. I'm not sure he can stomach the idea that both of his kids are going into 'non-paying' majors."

"Hey, I turned out all right."

Katie laughed. "I mean, subjectively." The laughter died off. "You don't really do the whole social call thing. Is everything okay?"

Will couldn't even remember the last time everything was okay, but there was nothing Katie could do about that. He wouldn't burden her with that. "I'm fine. Really. No, I just remembered it's your birthday next week—"

"Nine days."


"My birthday is in nine days. That's two weeks, genius."

Will sighed. "Right, whatever. I'm just calling to wish you a happy birthday a little early. Things are getting a little hectic on my end, and I may forget the day of. I'm just trying to cover my bases in case something comes up." He absently scratched at his wrist. "I'm a little out of it these days."

"You've always been a little out of it, bro." Katie laughed again, and the sound brought a smile to Will's face. "Remember the year you forgot it was Christmas?"

"And I drove all night in the rain to make sure I got there by morning. Yeah, I remember."

"When I saw you passed out on the couch in the morning, it was just about the funniest thing I'd ever seen."

The siblings shared a laugh. "So what's got you so busy on your end?" Katie asked. "How are the books coming? You started on a new one, right?"

Will shrugged unconsciously before remembering that Katie could not actually see him. "It's doing all right. I've been querying agents with Across the Sea of Clouds, and I just had to rewrite a bit of the new one. Plot hole, you know. It doesn't really have a title yet, but I'm trying to channel a little Chekhov with it. I think I'll probably get the name eventually, so I won't worry."

"It sounded cool when you told me about it last year. But God, it sounds so… literary. You used to write, like, fantasy and sci fi and stuff. You were really good at it too. Why not go back?"

"No one wants to read fantasy anymore," Will said with a trace of bitterness. "I haven't written anything like that for a while, and I need to focus on things that will sell."

"I guess."

Will could tell she didn't really accept that as an answer, but he wasn't going to try to explain to her and Katie probably didn't want to hear about it anyway. He scratched his wrist again. "Look kiddo, I have to get going. Stay safe, and I'll try to call you on your birthday. Bye now."

"See you later. Talk soon."

"Oh, I forgot, I really liked that casserole!"

But it was too late, she had already hung up. Will sighed, put his phone away and nearly reached for a cigarette. As his fingers closed around the pack, he shook his head and withdrew his hands. Smoking was for weekends only, and other especially strenuous circumstances. He had been good about cutting himself off so far and was now down to smoking only four a week. He wasn't going to jeopardize his progress now over a moment of listlessness and indecision. He remained on the park bench in a nearly meditative state until an especially intense blast of wind roared down the steel and concrete canyons around him. He buttoned his coat and buried his chin in the collar.

It was time to go home.

"Silver glow of the moonlight… on the still waters of the lake," Will murmured, typing rapidly on his laptop. "No, damn it, that's just, fuck." He muttered a stream of profanity as he deleted the last two paragraphs he had written. "How the hell am I supposed to channel Chekhov if I can't capture his basic style?" He reached for the open bottle of wine on the coffee table and poured himself another glass.

The wind roared outside, and Will was once again glad for kicking his smoking habit. Cigarettes on the apartment's fire escape weren't unpleasant in the warmer months, but being out in the wintery weather that came with the late autumn nights was miserable. It was the kind of night that made one want to sit in front of a fireplace with a cup of something strong. Or a radiator with a glass of cheap wine, as his luck would have it.

The door to the apartment swung open. "I'm home!" June said from the front hall.

"I left some chicken and a potato in the oven for you," Will called. "It should still be warm."

"Did you get the milk like I asked?"

"We weren't out of milk. I looked in the fridge when I got home."

"Yes we are! And that means you didn't get it in the first place. You always do this. It's a good thing I got some."

"We still have like half a thing of soy milk."

"I don't drink soy milk, Will."

"And I don't drink anything but soy milk. Mike probably had some when you had him over. Not my fault." He sighed as his roommate walked into the living room, her hair in disarray and bags under her eyes. "But look, I'm sorry I forgot about the milk. I bought some wine, though. How was the hospital?"

June retied her dark hair. "Jesus, you drank that much already? It's Tuesday night."

"Yeah, two cups, and? I'm writing, it helps with inspiration."

"Oh, whatever." She moved into the kitchen and took her dinner out of the oven, fetching a wineglass while she did. June sat down opposite Will and poured out a little of the dark red liquid. She raised the cup to her lips and sniffed it. "Not bad."

"Only the finest cheap stuff for us," Will replied. They shared a laugh and tapped their glasses together. "So, work?"

"About the same as usual. Can't really complain, but I'm not terribly enthused either. What about you?"

"Same. Nothing special. Standard Tuesday." Will glanced down at his screen, typed a sentence and then deleted it. "I had a few clients that actually seemed like decent people. That's always refreshing."

June nodded and ate a little of her baked potato. "You try something new with this? Tastes different."

"Nah, I just cooked it a little longer than usual."

They sat in silence for a few minutes, the only sounds the rhythmic tapping of Will's keyboard and the soft sound of June's chewing. Little by little, Will felt himself being drawn back into the scene and worrying less about the descriptors he used and more about just conveying the emotions and sensory impulses. Surely Chekhov wouldn't be rolling in his grave for that, and besides, he could edit it later. Best to just get it out on paper and—

"—in with him and I—"

"Sorry, what?" Will looked up from his manuscript and gave an apologetic smile. "I spaced out."

June smiled. "It's okay. I was saying, Mike asked me to move in with him. I said I wasn't really sure if I should."

Will sat back and poured himself a little more wine. "You've been dating for almost three years. I think it's about goddamn time. You obviously like him, get along with him really well. What's stopping you?"

"Well, I'd worry about you."

"I can take care of myself. I don't need you." An edge had crept into Will's voice. He didn't mean for it to come off as harshly as it did, but from the pained grimace June gave him, it was clear he had hurt her.

The woman sighed and pushed the last bit of chicken around her plate. "I mean, this place is pretty nice. I don't think you'd be able to afford the rent if you were alone. I'd hate for you to have to look for a new home."

"Don't worry about it. I can make do for two, maybe three months. That's plenty of time for me to look for some place cheaper." He smiled in a way that he hoped was reassuring. "You've been with Mike a long time. I think it's time you moved on from our little life here. You don't have to stick around for me."

"I can't just leave you all alone. I mean what if you have a… a relapse."

"I'll be fine. You can go and not feel guilty."

June rose to her feet. "You know I can't just do that! I'm not walking out on you when you're…" She trailed off and shuddered.

"Go on!" Will snapped. "Say it."

June shook her head. "I need a cigarette." She took her pack from her coat pocket and opened the window to the fire escape. Will heard the click of her lighter and muffled swearing as the wind kept putting out the flame. The chill from the open window quickly became uncomfortable, so Will wandered to his bedroom to put his hands over the heater. He idly scratched at his wrist before he realized what he was doing and chewed on his fingernail instead. He really had to stop doing that. When he had calmed himself down, he went to his bureau and picked up his bottle of antidepressants. Dr. Adamson had prescribed them, and promised they would help, but Will didn't like them. They made him feel weird, foggy, and not in a good, drunken kind of way. He didn't feel in control when he was on the pills, so more often than not he didn't bother with them.

When he took his pills, he couldn't write very well. He'd learned that pretty early on. June had looked over the stuff he had written back then and said it didn't read any differently than his usual work, but it didn't feel right. It didn't sound honest anymore, it didn't feel natural. He decided that writing helped him more than the pills did, and if he could only have one, he would do the thing that made him feel best.

He sat down on his bed and ran a hand through his hair. Dr. Adamson had warned him that it would be like this for a long time. It would be like fighting a war, or rather a series of wars. Every day was a long collection of battles that he had to do everything in his power to win. Eventually it would be easier for Will to win out and come out on top, and he would start winning more than he lost. That seemed like a long way off, but then hadn't Dr. Adamson warned him about that too?

Will tried to count up his victories for the day. Like he had told June earlier, some of the customers he had called today had been pleasant. He had eaten lunch at the new sushi place with Richard and Clara, and that had been good. He had liked two of the songs he heard on the radio. And he'd been able to talk to Katie. That one might count for two wins, one for actually calling her and one for having a good talk. On top of that, he'd managed to avoid a fight with June for now, so he had won the opening salvo of that battle.

Will noticed the family photo he kept on his nightstand. It was taken at a cousin's wedding a few years ago, back before everything. Back then he had worn his shirt sleeves rolled up, and the photographer had snapped the picture right before he had burst out laughing at a witty quip Katie had made. His smiles had reached his eyes a few years ago, he noted with a pang. He slowly turned the picture frame face down so he didn't have to look at it.

Will walked back into the living room and refreshed his glass. June was back inside, and the window was closed again. "Hey, sorry about that," she said. She stuck her plate in the dishwasher and sat back down. "I wasn't really thinking right."

"You don't have to apologize," Will replied. "I was being an ass. I shouldn't have snapped at you. You have a rough enough day as it is, doing what you do." Neither of them said anything for a moment. Will rolled his shoulders in a small shrug. "But I was serious. You ought to move in with Mike, if I'm the only thing holding you back. It's not like we couldn't be friends anymore. I'd still see you around."

"I know, but you all alone…"

"I'd manage. I could like, not wear pants around the house anymore. I haven't been able to do that for ages." June rolled her eyes and Will went on. "Or maybe I'd find some nice girl to keep me company and keep my bed warm through the cold winter nights." He winked. "Maybe having you around has been holding me back."

June reached over and punched his left shoulder. "You ass. Oh, but I guess there was that girl from the bar last week. What was her name?"

"I thought it was Emily, though now I think maybe it was Abbey. But anyway, no, not her. She was one of those vegan locavore types, and she was all preachy about it. It might have been fun for a week or two, but then I'd get really tired of it. I don't like being told what I can and can't cook."

"What about that one who took your shirt?"

"I don't want to talk to her again. She took my shirt."

"If you saw her again, maybe you could get it back."

"Or she could take my coat the next time. Or my car keys."

June thought for a moment. "What about that weekend my sister was in town and we went to Squall? We met… what's her name, I liked her."

"'She' was a man."

"Oh." Then louder, "Oh! Well, I mean if that's what you're into, I won't stop you."

"Ah, shut up." Will took a drink and sighed. "I wasn't being serious about finding someone. I'm not that interested."

"You know, I think it would be good for you. They don't have to know about… things."

"They'd realize eventually. It's kind of hard to hide."

"Well, they wouldn't be looking for it necessarily, and you would have time to be able to explain.

"It's not that simple, June!"

June put her hands up in a gesture of surrender and backed down. When the silence between them grew too long and uncomfortable, she walked back into the kitchen and began rearranging things in the drawers. After a moment, she put a hand on her pocket. "Um, Mike is calling. I'm going to go take this." Will nodded and watched as she walked into her bedroom. Mike wasn't calling. She never left her phone on silent when she was home, but they both had little white lies they would tell each other when they needed a few minutes alone. Will respected her space like June respected his.

Will pulled on his coat and took what was left of the wine bottle out onto the fire escape. He leaned against the rusty iron railing and tipped the bottle up to his mouth. The blue light of a TV screen flickered in the upstairs apartment, casting strange dancing shadows on the building next door. Will closed his eyes and listened to the sounds of the dark city, the car engines and alley cats and distant police sirens. Someone was shouting somewhere. A throbbing bass beat played in a nearby building. It was all chaos, madness really.

He felt at peace.

Will tried to string together some deep phrase about webs and the universe and connections, something poetic that Hugo or Fitzgerald would have been proud of. But if he was honest with himself, sometimes Hemingway could put it best in his blunt, direct style. Will settled for that instead. "Things are good. I'm good. I think I'll have some wine."

June stepped out onto the platform not long after that. "You feeling okay?"

Will nodded. "Come on, drink with me." When June took the bottle, Will turned his head over the railing and spat. "I don't deserve a friend like you. You put up with all my shit."

"Of course I do. That's what friends are for."

"Don't be so modest. I put you through too much shit."

"You're just at a rough point. You did the same for me back when we were in college."

"I guess so. But you were never this bad." Will took the bottle back. "Still, I don't get why you stuck around as long as you did. Any sane person would have bailed on me ages back."

"And who said I was sane?"

"Fair point." The wind whipped past, howling through the alley between the buildings. Will looked up at the narrow rectangle of sky above their heads. "Clouds are coming in tonight. Don't know if it'll rain, but maybe we'll have some snow."

June knew perfectly well that there would be no snow that night, and she was pretty sure Will knew it too. But they both liked winter, and were getting tired of fall. Hoping wouldn't hurt them so much. "Snow would be nice." She saw Will was scratching at his wrist again. "You shouldn't pick at it, you know. It's a bad habit."

"Yeah. Sorry."

June took the bottle from him and took a long swig. "Look at us, a pair of idiots drinking like this on a Tuesday. What ever happened to class?"

"Never had any," Will said with a laugh. "So I really couldn't say."

June smiled back and leaned against the wall. Will was leaning out over the rail, his eyes closed and face turned up to the sky. The wind caught his coattails and made them flap about his legs. He looked almost like a crow shuffling its feathers, ready to spread its wings and leap into the air and fly, even if it was just for a moment.

"So I read this article the other day, they said that most people who jump off buildings or bridges or whatever immediately feel regret when they're out over the void. Did that—"

"How would they know if they felt regret or not?" Will asked, his tone decidedly neutral. "I mean, if they tried to commit suicide they're dead a few seconds later, right?"

June hadn't meant to bring it up. She really hadn't, it just slipped out. She had meant to talk to Mike about it, not Will. Never Will. But she couldn't go back now. "I guess it's the people they managed to rescue? Like, with an airbag or something."

Will grunted. "Well then I guess it's a good thing they saved them, if they were having second thoughts on the way down."

"Well, what about you?" It was time to take a risk. June had been avoiding the subject for so long, but now that it was all coming out, maybe it was time she just addressed it. "Did you regret it?"

Will shook out his arms to push up the sleeves of his coat. He glanced down at the collection of mostly parallel white scars on his wrists. "Nah."

"What are you talking about? I mean, you're still around and…"

"Look, it's complicated. At the time, I was at an absolute low. No job, couldn't get anyone to look twice at my books, no friends except for you and Mike, out of touch with my family, smoking too much, drinking too much. I was an absolute mess, and I figured it wasn't worth waiting around to die of old age anymore."

"But why… that?"

Will shrugged. "I was trying to be tidy, I suppose. I didn't want to hang myself because that would have meant you or somebody else would have had to cut me down. Didn't want you to have to deal with that. If I stuck a gun in my mouth, I would have left a huge mess behind. I thought if I just bled out in the bathtub, you could just run some water, toss in some toilet cleaner and wash it out afterwards."

"You think I'd want to live here after you… y'know?"

"Killed myself? You can say it out loud, June." Will sighed. "No, I didn't think you'd stick around, but I didn't want you to have to repaint a room or anything to cover up the blood for the new tenant. I'd assumed you would just move in with Mike after I was gone."

June shook her head. "You fucking sociopath. How can you be so calm about the whole thing? If I hadn't gotten home when I did, and if I wasn't a nurse, I mean, Jesus, Will."

"I already said I didn't regret doing it." A note of anger or perhaps impatience had crept into his voice. With Will it was hard to tell, because one so quickly led to the other. "I mean, I'm not going to cut open my wrists again, but at the time the decision seemed the most logical path." He held up a hand. "No, I get it, I should have talked to you, or somebody, and gotten some help. But back then I wasn't exactly being logical, was I? Objectively I can look back and know my thought process was flawed now, but then I didn't really care."

"How can you approach this so clinically?"

"It's easier that way. I didn't want to be alive anymore, so I took measures to change the situation. Obviously my process was flawed, because I'm still around."

"My God, you'd do it again?" June cried.

"Well, not in the same way, no. But I haven't ruled out the possibility of a second attempt."

"Jesus. You're crazy."

"Probably, yes."

"And after all the help you've gotten, you still want to…?"

Will shrugged. "That's what I said, didn't I?"

"Wait there," June said, and ducked back inside. Will heard her rummaging around, but he didn't turn around. When the woman finally reemerged on the metal platform, she was holding something wrapped in a dishtowel. She held it out wordlessly to Will.

He took it from her and slowly unwrapped the towel. Some of the ambient light from inside the apartment glinted off the reflective surface of the object in the towel, and Will switched his grip. He held up the broken mirror shard and turned it over in his hand. Some of the blood had crusted over on the jagged edge, and it was obvious June had never bothered to clean it. The mirror shard was tarnished and the sharp bits he had used to open up the veins in his wrists had dulled with time. "You hung onto this?"

"Yeah. Why did you use the mirror?"

"Part of the process. I knew I'd have to break the mirror to do it, and I had a feeling I'd wind up hurting my hands if I did that. If the pain was too much or made me come to my senses, then I could have backed out and passed it off as a panic attack or something. Plus," he said with a shrug. "It was kind of poetic. Why did you keep this?"

"I don't know. It seemed like the right thing to do."

Will grunted by way of reply. His muscles tensed, and June moved to grab him before he could hurt himself. Will shook out of her grasp and hurled the mirror shard at the wall of the neighboring building with a kind of violence June had never seen in him before. When the piece of glass and silver cracked into a multitude of glittering pieces, Will barked out a short, humorless laugh before seizing the wine bottle and draining it in three swallows. He coughed once and then nodded, his strange aggression completely abated.

"That felt good."

June was silent, standing as far from Will as she could be. He shrugged and leaned against the railing again, eerily calm. June tried to get her breathing under control, and pulled her coat close around her. When the silence had stretched to the point where it had been acutely uncomfortable, she managed to find her voice. "Why?"

"I didn't need it anymore." Will didn't look at her. June traced his gaze and saw him looking down at the collection of fragments in the alley below. "I told you, if I was going to try again, I wasn't going to do it the same way. Keeping that thing around wasn't doing any good, and it was best to just get rid of it. Doing it my way was cathartic."

"I guess. I honestly can't say why I hung onto it." June fumbled in her pocket for her cigarettes. When she managed to extract her lighter, she held her hand up in front of her mouth as a windbreak. She could tell Will was abjectly trying to not look at her while she tried to get the flame to catch. Finally, after she took a long drag and exhaled a cloud of smoke, she turned back to her friend. "So how would you do it? If you were going to do it again?"

Will gave an almost imperceptible shrug. "I thought about that for a while. I think I would probably jump off a cliff, into the ocean. That's a little more poetic than the mirror thing. I've always kind of fancied dying in water."

Deciding not to comment on the utter madness of what Will was proposing, June found she couldn't help but burst out into nervous laughter. The sound was strange and, to her ears, just a little too shrill. "Diving off a cliff into the sea? That's how you want to go out? Just like fucking Ophelia?"

"Yeah," Will said with a nod. "Just like fucking Ophelia."

June shook her head. "You're a fucking psycho." She went back to smoking in silence.

Will leaned back from the railing with a groan. "You don't have to worry. I'm not going to kill myself tomorrow. Or the day after that. Hell, it might be months, years even, before I drive out and jump. I've got the spot picked out, you know. Nice place. But I don't think I'll be needing it any time soon. It may sound weird to you, but it's comforting to be able to set my own terms. That's enough for me right now. I don't think I'll decide to try again for a long while yet, and when I do I'll make damned sure there's no one to stop me. I looked death in the face once, I'm not afraid of it anymore. I'm the master of my own fate."

"You're an idiot. A goddamn, fucking idiot." June wrapped her hand around the iron railing of the fire escape so tightly it made her knuckles white. She was shaking with unbridled anger. "You have this stupid romantic ideal that's just so utterly moronic I don't know where to begin. Death isn't beautiful, Will. I see it all the time at the hospital. It's fucking terrible. I just, I can't believe you would actually want to do that to yourself. Go on about being the master of your own fate all you goddamn want, but don't expect me to believe it for a second. It just doesn't make any sense. You've got your health, you've got a decent job now, you have talent, your writing is really good! We've made sure you got the best help possible. You have us, your friends, this whole support network. I just, I don't understand why you would throw all that away!"

"I told you." Will's voice was quiet, with an edge like a razor. "Having this kind of plan is good for me. It's the only way I can have any control in my life, knowing how it's all going to end."


"I'm not asking you to understand. I don't want you to. I'm doing this for me, not for anyone else!"

"But it affects everyone else! Don't you understand how selfish suicide is? No man is an island, Will!"

"It's my life! I should be able to with it what I want. And if that includes ending it on my own terms, well, that's my prerogative, isn't it?" Will took a deep breath. "Look, I'm trying to give you a way out here, June. I know I'll never be able to make you understand why I feel the way I do, and I know you're only trying to help. But I don't need it. Right now I'm fine, and when the time comes for me to end it all, I want to have as little collateral damage as possible. You've got a chance to make a life for yourself with Mike. Go, take it. There's nothing you can do to stop me, and I'd rather you don't get hurt when it all plays out."

"I'm going to get hurt anyway," June replied softly.

"I know. But you'll get over it. You'll have something else by then. Kids, maybe. For God's sake, you've got a life to live."

"So do you."

Will shrugged and leaned out over fire escape railing. "Maybe. Maybe not." He sighed. "I don't want to get old. I don't want to watch my body decay and get weak. I've cured myself of the fear of death, but only because I'm afraid of living. Of getting old."

"You're insane. You're a fucking psychopath."

"Yeah. So I've been told." All the anger and aggression had vanished from Will's voice. He just sounded tired now, weary from carrying a burden June didn't fully understand.

She reached out and patted his hand. "I just… look. You're my best friend. I don't want to lose you, okay? I'm not going to stop trying to talk you out of it, this fucking stupid idea of yours."

Will closed his eyes. "I guess I can accept that, if it makes you feel better. I don't think I'm going to change my mind. Still, you've got a few years at least. I think there're some things I want to take care of first." He nodded slowly. "Yeah, I think I've got to finish this book before I go. And one, maybe two more. Maybe even try to get them published. Plus, well, no, it sounds stupid."

June gave his hand a squeeze. "What?"

"It's a big world. Most people go their entire lives only seeing a tiny fraction of it. I think, in the time I've got left, I want to see a little bit more." Gently, he brushed June away and looked out across the alleyway. June knew he was seeing something more than the worn bricks, but she didn't press.

June finished her cigarette and immediately pulled out another one. Will felt a pang of guilt; it was bad for her to smoke like this and he was driving her to it. But even if he said anything, it wouldn't have stopped her. He simply watched June stand there on the fire escape, her head wreathed in small acrid tendrils of drifting smoke, only to be caught up in the wind and whipped away. His wrists were itching again, but he resisted the temptation to scratch at them. Picking at old scars wouldn't do anyone any good. The red glow at the end of June's cigarette flared bright with each breath she took, a tiny sun against the darkness of the alley.

"Hey June?"


"I think I'd like a cigarette now."