I picked the wallet up and shook the mud off. Its owner was already halfway down the block. He looked tame enough - leather jacket, faded jeans, dark hair that played freeze tag with the wind. He sprinted across Nicollet Avenue, skipped up to the curb, and proceeded on his way without a sideways glance around him.
Forget about meeting Dad and catching a safe ride home. I had more important things to do. Like chase a stranger through downtown Minneapolis. On a Wednesday night. In the dark. Alone.
I could imagine what my sister would have said: You have no common sense, Nikki. He could be a drug dealer or... or a murderer. I mean, come on. Where's your head?
As always, I attributed her ‘the world is full of freaks who are out to kill you’ attitude to the fact that our father put those freaks in prison. But there was more to my carefree attitude than a need to show her wrong. I was like a wind-up toy springing back to life, and after so many months of feeling like shit, it was a welcome change. Besides, he looked pretty good in those jeans.
He entered the Foshay Tower, and I followed half a minute behind. I came to a full stop and blinked. Pink and blue neon lights shone off the walls and cascaded over a checkered floor. Sitting on a donut-shaped desk was a lighted “W”, and to the right was a lounge of sorts with black leather chairs, a wrap-around sofa, and a hot-pink beaded centerpiece that dropped straight from the ceiling.
I focused on the lighted sign. W? What does that mean?
Try W Hotel, numbskull.
You mean eerie. Where is everyone?
She had a point. The place was deserted. No desk clerk, no guests, no bellhop. One glitzy brass elevator was moving – the only thing alive in the entire place. I watched the numbers creep higher and higher, all the way to the observation deck without stopping. I stepped into the second elevator and jammed my thumb on the number 32.
So what are you going to say to him? Shani’s voice rose to a creaky falsetto. ‘Hi, my name is Nikki, and I thought your ass was so smokin’ hot, I just had to follow you up here.
I was thinking more along the lines of, ‘hey, you dropped your wallet’.
Ah, the art of simplicity. No wonder you got all the guys.
Before I could ask her what she meant by that, the elevator stopped and the door slid open. I glanced at the empty desk where a night guard should have been sitting. I walked towards the doorway to the observation deck, anxiety carving a nook in my gut. I grabbed the door handle, turned and pushed.
The boy was standing on top of the four-foot high cement wall that surrounded the observation deck, behind the metal fence built to deter people from climbing it. He was 450 feet in the air, grasping a cold metal bar, his feet teetering on the edge.
Anxiety escalated to panic. If not for Shani, I would have passed out.
Don't just stand there, Nikki. Do something.
“Don’t do it!” I shouted.
He lifted his head and cocked it to one side.
“You um… you dropped your wallet.” I held up the sad little piece of leather.
Nice, Nikki. Real nice. You never were one for crisis situations, were you?
Yeah, what was your first clue?
“Thanks,” the boy said, “but I don’t think I’ll be needing it.”
He wouldn’t be needing it. Of course. What was I thinking? I peered down at the wallet. It fluttered as though it had grown wings. Or maybe my hand was trembling.
Calm down, Nikki. Breathe. This time I decided to trust my sister. I didn't need to add hyperventilation to my problems.
The wind snatched his hair, tossing it around like a feather. He balanced his weight forward and crossed one ankle over the other.
Inha... ex... in... in...
He chuckled. “What’s your name?”
“M-my name? It’s um... Nikki. My name is Nikki.” This was good, right? Isn’t this what you were supposed to do to keep lunatics from jumping off skyscrapers? Keep them talking? “So uh… what’s your name?”
The corner of his lip tilted upward as his eyes roved over my chest. I couldn’t believe his nerve. Of all the places to be checking someone out.
“Sam,” he said. “My name is Sam. Like your friend Yosemite there."
I cringed at my favorite t- shirt. Yosemite Sam had his arms crossed, aiming two guns, while the words SAY YOUR PRAYERS glittered in gold letters. I’d never be able to look at the ornery little prospector the same again.
“Look, Nikki,” Sam said, clasping his hands together. “I’ve got some business to take care of, and I can tell you don't want to witness it, so if you don’t mind…”
“You expect me to leave?”
“Actually, I do. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I appreciate you using me as a guinea pig for your 'Good Samaritan' campaign, but trust me. I’m not the kind of guy you want to save.”
“You shouldn’t be so hard on yourself.” Dr. Katherty’s words. He had said them to me so many times over the past six months I’d lost count. Though they never worked in my case.
“You wouldn’t say that if you knew why I was planning to jump,” he said.
I breathed more deeply, gaining confidence. “Try me.”
He laughed and ran both hands through his hair, not even noticing that he’d let go of the fence in the process. His fearlessness was making me ten times more nervous. “Trust me. You don’t want to know, and besides, I don’t have the time to tell you. Like I said, I’m on a tight schedule.”
“What, so it’s dinner at 9:00, jump from the Foshay Tower at 9:15? How insane is that?”
Baaad, Nikki. Bad. Bad. Bad. You don't call someone who's contemplating suicide insane - even if they are.
Again, Shani was right. My confidence waned.
“I-I didn’t mean you were crazy,” I said. “Lots of people think about…” I swallowed on the word that had come to my lips, “but it’s not an answer.”
“Actually, I’m pretty sure it is.”
“No, it’s not.”
“Um… yes, it is.”
His eyes twinkled and a huge smile spread over his face. I bit my tongue. The trickster was baiting me.
“You know, Nikki,” he said, “you’re really something. Do you think you could do me a favor? Grant a guy one last, dying wish?”
“Grant you a wish? I-I don’t know that I have anything I could give you and besides, what would you want, being that you’re so gung-ho about doing this?”
He tilted his head, his eyebrows making flirtatious little dances. “Oh, I can think of something.”
Incredible! The balls he had. The nerve. The –
“I was talking about a kiss,” he said, laughing and holding up his hands. “Nothing more. I’d just like to get a kiss from a pretty girl before I crack my skull open.”
This settled me. Well, it would have settled me if he hadn't added the visual.
“You want me to kiss you?”
“Or I could kiss you. I’m good either way.”
At least he wasn’t afraid of rejection. Then again, he probably didn’t expect rejection. Because what was I suppose to do? Say no?
“Well, I suppose,” I said, “but I’m not going up there. You have to come back down here.”
Ha! Take that! I’d get him down from there yet.
He shrugged once and hopped over the fence. Seeing his feet fly through the air, my own had trouble staying firm. I set a hand against the wall. My teeth chattered.
Sam sat on the ledge, peeled off his jacket and held it out. “You’re shivering.”
“D-don’t you need it?”
“Not where I’m going.”
“Enough with the dead jokes already.” I snatched the jacket and slipped it on.
“Let’s get this over with.”
“A woman who knows what she wants. I like it.”
I tried to smile, but it was difficult. His whole attitude was perplexing. It was all a joke to him. Like, “hello, Death. Here I am.” The thought made me shake and I hugged his jacket closer.
“Looks good on you,” Sam said.
“Uh… thanks, but if you want your kiss, you’re going to have to come down further.”
“Nah,” he replied. Bending over, he slipped an arm around my middle and lifted me onto the wall. I shrieked, but Sam just grinned and pulled me closer. Disgruntled, I scooted back and hugged one of the metal fence posts.
Don’t look down. Look at Sam, Shani instructed.
Oh, bad idea, sis. Bad.
Being this close to the crazy boy, my own sanity hit the skids. Nothing seemed as it was. Shapes lost their edges, his face seemed both wider and thinner, and his skin appeared translucent. Then I noticed his tattoo.
It was hard not to. Etched all the way from his wrist to his bicep was a cobra, one that seemed to have sprung from a hole in his flesh. I guessed it was supposed to represent some sort of inner demon. And yet, the snake’s eyes were closed as though it were asleep. Weird right? But then, the snake moved! Or at least I thought it had. It seemed to have opened its eyes and flicked its tongue out. I blinked, but then it appeared to be sleeping again.
It’s a trick of the eye, Nikki. Like one of those dancing girl tattoos that moves when the guy flexes his muscle.
Only Sam wasn’t flexing.
He was smiling though, and damn if that smile wasn’t bewitching. I mean what was I doing, sitting on a wall 32 floors above the ground, getting ready to kiss a guy who was going to kill himself afterwards?
I tore my eyes away from Sam’s tattoo and focused on the view. The tower itself was dwarfed by the nearby, taller buildings; its lighted reflection danced on the windows across the street. The sky was midnight blue, the moon a crescent wedge suspended from a string. As I watched the tiny, flickering lights of a passing airplane, everything fell into place. I knew what I was doing there. This boy had crossed my path for a reason. Whether Sam lived or died, at least I could say that I had tried to save him. And that was something.
You don’t think it’ll make a difference?
The wind carried her sigh. We'll see.
Sam leaned forward enough so I could make out a pink cut on his chin. Staring at it, I didn’t realize how close he had advanced – until our lips met.
I know how crazy it sounds to say that was the best kiss of my life. But it was. Thoughts of lost wallets, skyscrapers, death and the deceased slipped away. All that existed was the two of us, coupled by fate and secured by the wind. With his lips pressed against mine, I let my fingertips graze his face, memorizing the sharp angle of his jaw, the prickly hairs that sprouted along his cheek. He was soft and rough, boy and man, dream and reality, all rolled into one being who seemed to dangle just beyond my reach.
A noise echoed from inside the building, and as quickly as it had begun, the magic ended.
Sam pulled away, eyes staring past me to the door.
“Tick tock,” he whispered.
Seconds later I found myself back behind the safety of the wall. Sam stood again, a silhouette against the Minneapolis skyline.
“Sam, please. Don’t.”
“I’m sorry, Nikki. I never would have involved you in this, but now you are and…” He seemed distracted again, and for the first time, his arms shook. He tightened his grip on the metal bar.
“Sam, you don’t have to do this.”
“Actually, I do have to do this.”
“But we can figure it out. We can –“
“The only thing you have to do is close your eyes. Or better yet, leave. There’s still time. You should get out of here while you can.”
“No. I won’t leave.” I would have gotten down on my knees and begged if I thought it would help, but I already knew. It wouldn’t. “Tell me what’s wrong, and I’ll… I’ll help you.”
Tears I’d been holding back fell loose. His face softened.
“That’s sweet, Nikki, but you can’t help me. It’s hard to explain, and I wish I could, but…” Suddenly his arms were moving so fast they made the fence rattle. The sleeping snake swayed back and forth, hissing. I wanted to believe I was imagining it, but Sam's expression told me I wasn’t. “You have to go. Now,” he said.
“I’m not going anywhere!”
His face twisted and he looked away. “I’m sorry, then. Tell him… tell him that a kiss from Nikki is worth a thousand wishes.”
I blinked, his weird poetry startling me, tickling me, and then confusing the heck out of me.
“Huh? Tell who? What?”
But it was too late for explanations. Sam leaned back - and let go of the bar.