A gentle breeze ruffled his dark hair as he looked down from the top of the tallest building. Swarms of students were lazily flocking around the school campus on that spring day. Most of them idly consumed their lunches in the garden, while a smaller proportion had come out merely to enjoy a few blessing rays of light between the morning and the afternoon classes.
Rico stood on the roof of the school's left wing. He raised his arm and looked at his hand, staring intensely at his open palm. His eyes traced the many lines carved into his skin; lines he had heard could hold the truth to one's fate.
He chuckled as he thought about the palm reading experiences he had had in the past: seemingly his life thread was meant to suddenly snap and unravel like an overloaded pulley's cable.
How befitting, he thought as he brushed his fingers against each other in a thoughtful manner. That my life, ruled by chance, should end in such an unpredictable manner. With a solemn expression on his face, he raised his taut fist against the sky and stretched his fingers open and then close, clenching his hand multiple times as if to lure Fate into a personal challenge against him.
On that day, the sun was high, and no one was around; this was the perfect location from where to admire the school grounds without being bothered by the crowd. It's a good spot, he thought with a hint of regret since he might have to leave the place soon.
Suddenly the wind blew stronger, causing his loose-fitting shirt to roll up on his abdomen. He adjusted the cloth back straight, fixing his necktie in the process, and glanced at his blue wristwatch. It was almost time.
He felt the familiar tingling associated with adrenaline building up in his system and smiled. A mixture of anticipation, excitement and tension filled him. It had been a long time since he had felt this high.
Recently, in fact, it had become harder to get hyper as his body had become somewhat resistant and required more stimuli to reach the same level of exhilaration. He had almost fallen into depression, after weeks of research, looking for and failing to find a source of entertainment which would cause his neurons to fire up in chaotic fashion.
Rico was truly glad he had found someone to help him get over the edge again.
His left hand reached inside his pocket and his fingers played with the cold metal coin resting there. The cool feeling spreading through his skin layers overloaded his already heightened senses causing his pulse to quicken.
Head or tails, he thought, such a simple and yet oddly captivating game.
Once again, he smiled, a gleam of bliss beaming from his eyes.
Meanwhile, several floors below, a girl was frantically running around the school looking for him. Her name was Nina and she was a junior student at this school.
Her uniform's jacket swung madly behind her shoulders as she ran through the corridors, carelessly breaking school regulations as she sprinted past wide-eyed students who moved away to make space for her. She would deal with the prefects later if they caught her, she thought turning around the corner at full speed.
Rico had been acting strangely since first period, in a subtle way which would have gone unnoticed to many, but not to her. She was a keen observer and had immediately realised that he had a different aura about himself – the same kind of aura he usually got when he was involved in something dangerous and potentially lethal. She had known him long enough to detect even the slightest change in his attitude; after all she had been watching him ever since third grade. Self-less, unrequited love for which there was no cure.
Lately, she had seen him grow more and more gloomy despite her weak attempts to cheer him up. Nina knew this had to do with his addiction, but she couldn't find a way to directly address the issue with him.
Just like today when she had glanced at him from her seat and spotted the first warning signs. His blue eyes were gleefully staring in the distance, lost into another world far away from the classroom. She had seen him cross his feet and pursue his lips together, repeatedly glancing at the clock. She had counted the number of times, 107, his hand had reached for his pocket to feel its content of which she had a vague idea. He had been out of it for the entire day and even rudely replied to her when she had greeted him in the morning.
The girl slammed the door to one of the rooms open, startling the students inside.
'Oi, Nina. What the heck are you doing?' A tallish boy her age addressed her.
'Can't find Rico.'
'Oh, has he dumped you again? Would you like to…'
'Shut up. We never dated in the first place,' the girl replied blushing. 'And right now I am in a hurry. If you see him text me ok?' Her face showed clear signs of worry and James, the boy talking to her, grew concerned.
'Is something up?'
'Have got no time to explain,' she said before storming out of the room, not caring to listen to what comments the other girls threw at her.
She walked past half-empty rooms glancing inside those. She inspected the toilets and asked a few more students, with no results.
'Not here either,' she sombrely murmured closing the door of the storage room at the back of the first floor.
She had checked everywhere on the first three floors of the building when she ventured downstairs and outside into the heat. She did not expect him to be there as he was not the type to hang around crowded places. Yet, many students with good ears for gossip usually ate around this area and she hoped to find a lead. Indeed, she stopped in her tracks and froze as she heard a second-year utter "Were you not meant to meet up with Rico today, Alex?"
'Ah the loser. No, don't think that was the plan. He's probably chickened out and won't do it anyway.'
Nina turned on her heels and murderously stared at the back the student who had just spoken. His white shirt pained her eyes, but she walked towards him. Alex and Sam, two of the most notorious senior students in the school, stood by the large tree surrounded by their clique and supporters.
Someone noticed her approaching and meanly commented, 'Uh-oh. She must have heard you call Rico a loser…'
Alex looked at her from above his shoulder, a lazy disinterested look. 'Yo.'
She didn't greet him, instead moving her reddish hair out of the way she got closer until she was invading his personal space.
They stared at each other for a fraction of a second, then she broke the silence. 'What did you do to Rico?'
'Nothing, just gave him a little push to be himself again.'
Nina's eyes narrowed, 'Which means?'
'Nothing much. He is not that dumb to go and try his luck with something so risky anyway.'
'Though Alex, we should be collecting our share from him soon,' another boy added.
'Yeah, that's right.'
'You see, there was a fight,' the second one to talk explained. 'Rico lost to me and Alex and we challenged him to take up a bet which he cannot possibly win…'
'Which bet?' Nina's tone had gone gelid and the crowd surrounding them started feeling the uneasiness spreading across the air. Some people left, dreading the change in atmosphere.
'Today at 12 noon, from atop the tallest building he will be flipping a coin. Head means jump tails means he stays.'
Nina's breath was caught in her chest and her eyes widened. She could see it, the allure. The ultimate deathly challenge, a moment of euphoria before the crash.
'Obviously he won't take it…'
He wouldn't, unless you were to challenge him directly. She was familiar with Rico's addiction to taking up any bets which were thrown at him; the higher the stakes, the more he enjoyed them. Alex and Sam were aware of his tendencies, but neither of them thought he would be seriously jumping down that building, even if he drew a Head. Yet, the truth was different, and Nina knew that in his current state of mind Rico would take the step off into the emptiness and towards certain death. She wanted to scream, smash those boys' faces, but she had no time.
The tallest building. She turned, eyes focusing on the left wing. There, in the distance, a small human silhouette could be seen stranding on the roof. Overloaded with emotions, her brain failed to register Alex cursing next to her after he had followed her gaze. In a dream-like state, she glanced at the time: 3 minutes before noon.
With her heartrate skyrocketing she lost no more time and darted forward, directed towards the building. Nothing mattered at that moment, no thoughts were being formed in her mind. She only hoped she would reach him before it was too late. Inside and up the endless flights of stairs, she willed her legs and feet to move faster, almost forgetting to breathe in the process.
The last step almost took her by surprise, and she stumbled, then recovered her momentum and threw herself on the door leading to the roof.
On the other side, entirely unaware of Nina's presence, Rico had been standing in contemplation for the past five minutes. He had taken the coin out of the pocket and observed it shimmer under the sunlight. He had passed the tiny metal circle between his hands several times, occasionally flipping it. Waiting, because scheduled challenges were the best in steadily raising adrenaline levels as one waits for Fate's plans to unfold.
Nobody would come to interrupt his ritual up there, he had thought. The moment when he flipped the coin would be the acme of his pleasure and he wanted no interference with that. He stared unblinkingly at his watch as the time kept flowing, until the it hit 12.
He felt himself fly out of his body, almost as if he was perceiving himself move rather than taking those actions directly. He saw his arm bend in an automated motion, the fingers tensing to flip the coin.
Right at that moment the door behind him sprung open, but he could not hear it. Nina screamed as her arm extended in the thin, empty air separating them, only a few feet away.
And yet, he could not hear her.