Sam Lafette didn't see a light at the end of the tunnel. Or a tunnel. Or anything, really. When she died all she could see was darkness. It felt thick and cool and submerged her completely, but she didn't feel like drowning. More like floating in the ocean at night; a gentle rocking that began to lull her to sleep.
A beeping woke her. She'd tried to ignore it at first, but it didn't stop or quiet, despite her mental pleas. She pried her eyes open and was nearly blinded - perhaps she'd finally seen the white light so often spoken of.
Nope. As her eyes adjusted she discovered it was only fluorescent lamps bolted to the ceiling. She wasn't sure if she was disappointed or not.
The beeping continued. Sam managed to turn her aching head to the left and saw a heart monitor, like she'd seen on TV, keeping track of her heart rate, which had quickened. Another turn of her head let her see the white, linen blanket covering her and an IV standing next to her bed. Her gaze narrowed; just what had happened?
Unlike in books, movies, and TV shows, no doctor conveniently appeared to explain all this to Sam. Not until a half hour later, anyway.
The first time Sam Lafette saw Jasper Greene she'd been trying to not see him. Sam had her nose buried in her copy of Catcher in the Rye, determined to keep her gaze glued to the familiar pages. This particular copy was so worn the words almost couldn't be seen. Over the past two years, Sam had turned into a sort of book nerd, anything to stop her eyes from straying.
This time was different.
Why, she can't really say. Maybe because Jasper kept twitching in the corner of her eye. Or because Jasper sighed loud enough to actually startle her. Or because he sat next to Sam for about an hour without talking at all. Or because it was winter and Jasper only wore a T-shirt and jeans. Didn't really matter, Sam supposed. She snuck a glance at the guy and that was that.
Those were the green numbers glowing faintly above Jasper's head, ticking down in time as Sam continued to stare. 4383.26.12...4383.26.11...4383.26.10…
The guy (Jasper, though Sam didn't know at the time) smiled kinda-sorta awkwardly at her and waved. "Uh...hey…?"
Sam blinked, and her gaze flickered downward into the boy's green eyes that matched his numbers. "Hello…"
She wasn't hooked.
Not just yet.
"Aren't you cold?" The words slipped from Sam without her permission. She clamped her mouth shut, as if she could take them back even after they left.
The green-eyed boy shrugged, rubbing his hands over his tan arms. "Yeah, a bit. Just not enough to go back home to get something."
Sam made a noise of understanding, because hell yeah, that was something she understood. The unwillingness to go home. She set her book in her lap, though she didn't close it. Holden was getting a coke.
"How 'bout you? What're you doing out here? It's not exactly the most comfortable reading spot I can think of." The boy leaned back against the blue park bench and turned to face Sam more fully. He tilted his head and supported his chin in his palm, dark brown hair casting his eyes into shadows.
Following his example, Sam shrugged and twisted in her seat. "It's an okay place to go when you don't have a place to go." She played with a loose thread on her jeans and tucked it into her book between pages.
The boy sighed in a way that had Sam glancing up at him again.
The green numbers gleamed.
Sam stared blankly at the hospital ceiling. Her heart monitor still beeped next to her, mocking her. She had a heartbeat.
Her brother did not.
David was dead.
Sam gripped the white bedsheets so hard her knuckles matched its color. It had been to ground her at first, in hopes to keep from screaming, but all it did was burn inside her chest, aching to be released.
The doctor (Sam couldn't remember the name he'd said.) had come in every once in awhile to check on her, only to find her in the same state. And each time he entered the room the wavering air Sam saw above his head became more and more clear. Rather than the clear waves one would see above a fire from the heat, numbers appeared. They were a gray-blue, like the doctor's eyes and counted down steadily. Sam wasn't sure what to, nor did she really care. Her brother, the one person she still had in her life - dead.
"The stars are nice, huh?"
"Hm?" Sam turned her attention back to the boy, who appeared to be following Sam's gaze.
He gestured to the open night sky. "Isn't the stars what you were looking at?"
"Oh. Right, yeah. Nice." Sam had actually been staring at the boy's numbers, though she couldn't tell him that. It always ended badly. "Nice…"
Sam bit her pillow and screamed.
"I'm Jasper Greene." The boy stuck out a hand for Sam to shake. It felt like ice when Sam took it.
They spent the night on the bench.
Sam Lafette was cursed. Ever since her death she saw the exact time of everyone else's. It killed her all over again, because there was nothing she could do. She'd tried to warn people, only for them not to believe her. And on the rare time they did they thought she had the key to their survival. She didn't.
Accidentally, Sam's gaze swayed to the sidewalk where a woman pulled her child through the crowd. The little girl's numbers dwindled...dwindled…
She wouldn't make it through the night.
Sam didn't need to look up from her book to know who stood in front of her. "Hey." She turned the page.
Jasper sat down next to her and leaned his head on the back of the bench. "You read a lot."
"Doesn't it get boring? Wouldn't you rather watch the world around you?"
"The world around me makes me sad."
"Because unlike characters, people aren't immortal."
"Maybe we should actually meet somewhere with heat. We might end up getting hypothermia one these days and die." Jasper scooted a bit closer to Sam to share body heat. Sam pretended not to notice.
"You won't." She ended up saying this so confidently that Jasper glanced at her, eyebrow raised.
Jasper rolled his eyes and nudged her with his shoulder. "You're not invincible you know."
Sam nudged him back, probably harder than necessary. "I know."
Two people sat on a bench.
One wondered about death.
One wondered about life.
They both remained silent as snow began to fall.