Chloe didn't believe in God, coincidences, and absolutely not fate. If fate was real, she reasoned as she briskly walked down the snow-laden sidewalk, then her mom and uncle would still be around. At the thought of her relatives, her lips rolled deeper into her mouth, pinched between her angry teeth.
When she was little, her mom and uncle would tell her stories about angels. That they hid among humans and protected everyone, which she now knew was complete shit, but as a little kid, it made it easier to sleep at night. Throughout her childhood, men and women in long white dresses with grand, sweeping wings danced through her daydreams and bookcase.
Sucking in a quick, deep breath, Chloe jogged across the street quickly and crossed the snow-wet grass. Her sneakers and the ends of her pants were frigid and wet as she walked across the lawn of the cemetery weaving between the crooked headstones as she looked at the names.
Nelson...Patterson...Ricci...Saunders. Her stomach lurched like it always did as she wiped away the weeds that were crawling from the snow-covered ground, sneaking in the breaks of the stone. Her sigh came out as a misty cloud as she knelt down, wiping away the snow that had wedged itself in the engravings of their names.
Chloe rubbed her cold hands along her face, pushing her hair out of the way with a scowl. The whole saying "time heals wounds" had been a complete lie. It had been five years since she lost them and the hurt never went away; if anything, the gaping hole festered and was slowly rotting, infecting her.
"Hey," she said quietly, running her thumb across the dates of their deaths with a sad, tiny smile. "Sorry I didn't come out yesterday. Lauren wanted some good old family bonding. You know, shopping. Of course, Dad didn't come; he said, and I quote, 'I have some work things to do,' which I know is code for I don't care."
A mirthless laugh bubbled out of her as she smashed some icy chunks between her fingers. "I swear, he thinks stores are the worst thing ever. He buys everything off Amazon now. It's gotten ridiculous, to be honest. I'm pretty sure he's turning into a hermit, but of course Lauren doesn't care. Oh, did I tell you Amber whacked off all her hair? Gave to that hair charity that you liked." Another laugh, this one filled to the brim with sadness.
She grew quiet, her jaw tight, and then she got to her feet. Her knees hurt, and her hands had gone numb; she could hardly feel her cheeks anymore. "I gotta go," she said quietly, using the inside of her wrist to wipe away the tears that threatened to drip down her face. "Lauren will be pissed if I don't come home before dark." She swallowed thickly, tracing the familiar curves and lines of their names before she turned away quickly and forced herself to walk away. If she had to choose, she'd spend her time freezing her ass off in the cemetery, talking like a crazy person to her dead mom and uncle.
The walk back was relatively calm; aside from the traffic and screaming of playing kids, nothing was out of the ordinary.
On a whim, she walked along the bridge, a cold breeze cutting through her heavy winter jacket, pushing her hair behind her as she strode briskly. The half-melted snow crunched under her sneakers, and she gazed out quietly at the blue-gray waters that always reminded her of her mom and aunt's eyes.
Sometimes, when she got really depressed, she thought about jumping. She thought about the bite of the rusty railing on her palms as she scrambled over the bar, of the terror and the pounding of her heart when her feet touched the lip of the road that hung a few inches passed where the railing ended. She thought about the icy wind piercing her clothes as she gathered her courage and then jumped, the wind whipping her hair against her skull, her scream making her head thump.
She clenched the railing, the rough edges of the paint flaking off onto her skin, and drew a deep breath. Icy air filtered into her lungs, cutting off the edge of her depressing thoughts and morbid fantasy.
"Hey." The voice was deep, dark, and, most importantly, pissed.
Mindful of the snow and ice, she turned and saw a man standing a few feet away. Even with the space between them, she could see he was tall and imposing. "What do you want?" she asked flatly and then realized her defensive tone admittedly wasn't the best way to respond to him; he probably thought she was thinking of jumping. Which, truthfully, she had been, but not seriously.
When he stepped closer, she couldn't help but step backwards. The railing bumped into her lower back, and her left foot slipped a tiny bit, making her heart stutter.
"Easy now," he snapped, his eyes shifting between her feet and the river behind her.
Annoyance filtered into her system. "What's your problem?" she asked, trying to stealthily side-walk out of his range. Her stomach was twisting at the way he kept his hands up, like he was talking her off the edge, and she stepped forward, ready to sprint home. Unfortunately, she hadn't seen the patch of ice underneath and pitched backwards, losing her balance with a girlie yelp.
"Are you trying to kill yourself?" the guy demanded, his eyebrows slanting over his eyes.
Chloe sputtered at the accusation. "What's your deal? Even if I was, it's none of your business." The railing dug into her back uncomfortably, and she could faintly hear some sort of creaking. A prickly dread ran up her spine, ominous.
The guy glared at her. "So you're just gonna jump? Over what? Some guy not liking you back? Life got too hard? Too real?" he spat.
That really pissed her off; even if she was going to jump, he had no right to stand there and talk down to her, making her feel two inches tall, acting like she couldn't be upset or suicidal if she wasn't being beaten, raped, or worse.
Her teeth clicked and ached when she ground them. "Listen, you rude asshole—" she started, her voice low and angry, but, as she stepped forward, her foot hit that same patch of ice again, only this time her balance threw her backwards into the railing...and the metal gave way. That was what had been creaking.
She barely had the chance to suck in a breath before the water smashed into her back, and the force of her fall pushed her deep into the raging waves.