Strong arms wrapped around Stephanie’s waist, pulling her back.
“Stop!” Tears ran down her cheeks as she fought the hold that prevented her from ending her pain. “Let me go.”
“Not on my watch.” The firm voice insisted that she wasn’t going anywhere.
Jerk! Leave me alone.
“What is it you think you’re doing?” He pulled Stephanie into his arms like she was just a tiny ragdoll. He smelled like… something familiar. Grease? Snowmobile fuel? Yuck.
“Put me down,” Stephanie insisted, pushing against the arms his chest.
“Not until you promise that you won’t try to jump again.”
She gave up struggling from his strong grip, folded her arms across her chest and furrowed her brow. “Fine, I promise. Now let me down.”
The man placed her gently on her legs but kept his arms around her as if still unsure that she wouldn’t rush over to the railing again.
“Leave me alone.” Stephanie pushed out of his arms, not even looking up at him, and stomped her feet up the stairs to the upper deck. “I don’t need your help. I’m fine.”
“I doubt that,” he said. Stephanie turned around and glared at him.
“What right do you have to tell me if I’m fine or not? You ruined everything.”
“If you’re trying to thank me for saving your life, it sure isn’t coming across very clearly.”
“Whoever said I wanted you to save my life? Did you ever think of that? What if I don’t want to live…”
Stephanie broke down and collapsed onto the deck. Tears stung her frozen cheeks and she curled into a ball on the planks of wood.
Large boots approached her and stood next to her for a long time, waiting. She wanted to smack them and force them to leave. She finally calmed her breathing enough to grumble at the boots. “Go away.”
“Sorry, can’t do that.” The voice that went with the boots was far above her, removed from the reality of lying in a heap on the cold wood of the deck.
Stephanie wanted to be far above. She wanted to float up into the sky, beyond the man with the faraway voice, beyond the clouds, beyond her pain.
She rolled over onto her back and gazed up at the gray blanket of doom pressing down on her. Snow would come from that mass of grayness. She could just feel it.
“It was supposed to last forever.” Her whisper floated off into the damp, gray air. Why am I even talking aloud? He can’t hear me from up there. The man with the boots can’t hear me. Jared can’t hear me. I doubt God can hear me.
The man crouched down and Stephanie could see him more clearly. He was wearing brown Carhartt coveralls with a green and yellow patch on his breast pocket. Forest Service? She squinted her eyes. “You’re a park ranger?”
“Off-duty.” He looked down at his clothes. “But, yes. I manage the Huron Shores Ranger Station.”
“Are you bragging about that?” Her derogatory statement caused him to narrow his eyes.
“I’m very proud of the work we do here.” He reached down and offered Stephanie his hand, which she accepted and allowed him to help her back to a standing position. “I suppose you won’t be impressed by my near-perfect study habits while I was earning my Master’s degree in Natural Resources Management.”
“I suppose I would be if I weren’t in such a horrible mood.”
“Been a tough day?” His voice was much kinder than she deserved.
“Been a tough month…”
“Want to talk about it?”
“What are you a grief counselor on your off days?”
“If you think your rude sarcasm is going to make me want to leave you alone so you can head back over to the overlook and attempt suicide again, you’re strongly mistaken.”
“Gee, thanks.” Stephanie turned and walked back toward her car. He caught up to her and cut her off before she could get in.
“I’m legally allowed to take you into custody if I suspect you are a danger to yourself or others.”
“Are you joking?”
“Maybe.” He cracked a tiny smile. “Maybe not.”
“I’m not going anywhere with you.” She tried to get around him to open her car door, but he stayed between her and the car. “I’m going home to wallow in my own misery and maybe eat a lot of chocolate.”
“How about if I take you out for coffee and you can tell me what misery you’re going through that made you want to jump off a bridge.”
“I don’t drink coffee. I’m a Mormon.” She folded her arms across her chest.
“Uhh… that doesn’t make sense, but whatever. How about a drink? There’s a steak house just a few miles from here and I’m sure they’ve got enough beer on tap to drown whatever sorrows you’re dealing with.”
“I don’t drink either.” Stephanie was gritting her teeth. “I’m a Mormon.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, but I can understand why you’re depressed if you don’t drink coffee or beer. Being a Mormon must be horrible.”
“It’s not.” She raised her eyebrows.
“You’ve got me fooled.” He leaned down to look more closely in her eyes. A light smile played across his features. “Want to get a hamburger? I assume you at least eat… right?”
Really? Is he flirting with me? Ugh! “I don’t go out to eat on Sundays.”
He rubbed his eyes and shook his head slightly. “I give up. Do you want to go out with me or not?”
“Really? You just met me. No, you don’t even know my name, and you’re asking me to go out with you? Because it’s not enough that you just watched me try to throw myself off the side of the overlook.” Stephanie waved her hand down toward the deck. “Let me guess, your first thought was ‘she’s insane’ and your second thought was ‘but she’s kinda cute so I’ll let it slide.’ Does that about sum it up?”
“Uhh… sure. That sounds about right.”
“You’re the one who’s insane.” Stephanie tried to push him out of the way so that she could get into her car. He may as well have been a giant boulder for all she could make him budge. His arms wrapped around her waist to hold her there.
“I’m not letting you leave.” His voice was caring, but insistent. “I need to know that you’re going to be okay.”
“I’m going to be okay,” she said. She looked off to the side, back toward the planking that led to the overlook. Her knees felt weak and she knew the minute the words came out of her mouth that they were lies. All lies. “I’m not okay.”
“That’s what I thought.”
Stephanie leaned forward and let her head rest on his chest, face to face with the ugly brown and green patch from the U.S. Forest Service, smelling the greasy fuel smells that reminded her of when her dad used to work on his snowmobiles, scratching her cold cheeks against the rough Carhartts.
“I’m not okay…”