Chapter 5: The End
"Sarah," he said now, "I'll do whatever you want to do. I said as much when we started. And anything you want to know about me, I'll tell you. What I like, what scares me, what I know and don't know, every embarrassing secret I've got, if you're at all interested. Every last piece of me is yours. I don't even care why you might want it, or if I'm going to get anything in return. But if I could be granted any wish tonight...well, I'd like, I'd really like to do more than just...amuse you."
She pushed up and off the bed. She looked troubled by what he'd said, shaken. "This isn't about amusing me, Chuck. That never entered my mind." She stepped up to him, brushing at the lapels of his jacket. "Take off your clothes and let me show you what it's all about."
He did as she asked, removing jacket, shoes and socks, sweater and shirt, and finally his trousers. Standing before her in his briefs, however, he hesitated.
Did she like the way he looked? There was a light dusting of hair from his chest to his navel. His muscles weren't well developed, but they were defined. Was that good enough for her? And what would she think, this worldly woman, of what he had below?
She didn't ask him to expose that last part of himself. Instead she said, "Why don't you undress me?"
His pulse picked up and he felt faint.
She turned, letting him see the zipper on her skirt. He pulled it open, feeling wonderfully intimate. This was the sort of thing men did for their girlfriends.
The suede skirt parted and slipped off those hips. A pair of lacy boyshorts came into view. Chuck had half expected a thong, but these were better. Navy blue and patterned with wavelike swirls. He stared in awe at the curve of Sarah's ass under that pretty lace.
She turned, giving him a tantalizing look at the front of the boyshorts, at the slight V of them pointing down. His gaze trailed down the slender legs and back up again.
He wondered if she'd leave in disgust if he fell at her feet and started weeping in gratitude.
God, Chuck, try to be half a man for just once in your life! he thought fiercely.
"The turtleneck?" Sarah softly directed him.
Forcing his hands to continue he gathered the coral turtleneck from around her waist and drew it up. Her skin was silky smooth. Up past the ribs. A bra appeared, a match for the underwear. Underarms with their own warm aroma. They'd been waxed, smooth.
Chuck found himself leaning in. Before he even knew what he was doing his lips were kissing flesh. He finessed the turtleneck over her head, off her arms and out of her hair. Tossed it. His hands found her shoulders and he got his lips to her neck. He breathed her in, kissed and licked and nipped. Took little bites of those alluring earlobes, loving how their powdery softness contrasted with the hard, amethyst earrings.
He tangled his hands in her beautiful hair and stroked down her back. The straps of the bra slipped off her shoulders and he reached around to unhook it. He fumbled only a little.
She pulled away from him, walking as if she were in slow motion, hips swaying.
She lay down on the bed, she propped herself up with her elbow, her ankles crossed making her long legs look like a mermaid's tail, minus the fin. That was what she was right now, mystical, like her beauty only existed in museums, those old world paintings. The only light was coming from the amber glow of the tableside lamp.
For a moment he just stared at her, hoping her face would show any kind of encouragement. He'd half expected what he got, a blank expression.
He turned away from his thoughts and looked at the live painting and softly said, "God, you're beautiful." With that, went his last coherent thought.
Chuck had been told that men didn't like to cuddle after sex. He couldn't understand that. He'd never in his life felt so close to anyone as he did now to Sarah and the last thing he wanted to do, lying there in the darkened room, was to leave her. Nor could he imagine letting her go. All he wanted, now and forever, was to cradle and protect her.
"My real name is Sam," she murmured, which startled him as he'd thought she'd drifted off. Her head was resting on his chest, her mane of blonde curls blanketing his shoulder.
"Shall I call you that?" he asked.
"No. I've always liked the name Sarah. If I wasn't going to kill myself tomorrow, I'd probably keep it."
A chill went through Chuck. "So, you're still going to do it?"
She sighed. "I guess you've earned the right to know. The reason I was on that bridge... You have to understand I used to feel everything...strongly. And I used to love trying all kinds of new things. Meeting new people, seeing new places. Then, about a year ago, I suddenly went dry. Exotic cuisines, extreme sports, it didn't matter. Nothing stimulated me. And I couldn't seem to give a shit about anyone either. No one I met was interesting. And every place I visited seemed the same. I tried to care, I really did. But I couldn't. It's been a year and I'm still the walking dead. I don't want anything. I don't like anything. There's no pain. No pleasure either. I just can't...feel."
Silence. Chuck was troubled now. "I'd hoped...you didn't enjoy yourself tonight?" His heart hurt at the thought.
"Oh. Oh no, Chuck, honey." Her hand stroked his jaw. "God, no. That's just it. For you it's all fresh and new. Other men have liked how I looked, but none of them have ever looked at me like you did tonight, as if I were the most amazing creature on Earth. It made me feel unique, like I never have before."
That eased his mind. At least I was able to give her that.
"It was why everything we did tonight was special," she went on. "The fun under the table, the kissing, the lovemaking. You were receiving and giving that kind of pleasure, hearing it, smelling it, tasting it all as if it were for the first time."
"I don't think," she added thoughtfully, "that you will ever end up like me. You're one of those rare types who knows how to treasure every sensation, every experience. Nothing will ever grow dull to you, or old or tired."
"I haven't been completely honest with you," she felt him shift slightly under her body. "All those things I did, all the places I've been" she paused.
"It's okay, you don't have to tell me what you really do" he wanted that memory of her intact, he knew it seemed a little selfish but that's what he wanted.
"No, it's not like that, I have seen those things, did those things, just" she said, slightly tensing up " as different people."
"What do you mean?" he said, somewhat relived that she didn't lead just another boring life as he did.
"Chuck, I'm a spy, well was a spy" she said, the first time her voice ever waivered.
He had no other choice but to believe her, that's what he wanted.
"What, what happened?" he asked.
"I quit, I just felt numb, mission after mission. That's what they train you to do, you know? To become numb, so you can just pick up a new mask and wear it as your own. With all the politics and corruption, you don't know what you're fighting for anymore." She said "I couldn't do it anymore, I wasn't living" she paused, trying to think of a better word "…just existing" She said, once again masking her voice with an almost robotic one.
He didn't need her to, he didn't want her to, explain further, he just lied there and slowly nodded his head.
Her face was a white shadow in the dark room, her breath warm as she drew near. She found his lips and kissed him. "There was nothing I wanted, Chuck." She explained further "So you couldn't give me that last meal, that last wish. But you let me re-live life for a night, and you gave me a last chance to feel something. And you did that simply by being you."
A last chance. Chuck echoed in his mind, holding to her. Tears pricked in his eyes. So. He was glad for what he'd done.
He was sorry, however, that he hadn't changed her mind.
Morning light was cresting over the city as they made their way back to the bridge. The streetlamps along the way dimmed, like moons sinking into waves of sunrise color.
Chuck hadn't been able to think of anything to say to Sarah on the return journey. All he could do was hold her hand. It wasn't until they reached the bridge that he finally managed to say, "Are you sure?"
"As sure as anyone can be," she said. "If I thought that things were likely to change, if there was something in life I was passionate about, or looking forward to, that'd be different. But it's all just the same for me. I don't even get angry or afraid anymore. I eat and sleep and time passes. I feel like life is wasted on me and it'd really be better if I just gave up my space to someone else. I wish I wasn't this way, Chuck, and I'm sorry. But I don't see any reason to stick around."
He escorted her up to the exact spot she's been the night before. The early morning wind was moist and less chill than the evening's had been. The sky was lightening from a deep indigo to a rich blue.
"I had," Chuck said with a lump in his throat, "a very nice evening."
"So did I."
They gazed into each other's eyes, and the kiss they exchanged was tender.
Feeling the warmth of those lips, for a final time, Chuck turned Sarah to face the river, exactly as he'd originally seen her.
He crossed over to the other side, hoping he wouldn't hear a splash. He wanted to be gone before she did it.
Reaching the opposite rail, he put up his knee up and pulled himself onto to the stone balustrade. The flooded river rushed dangerously swift below, glowing with the fiery light of dawn. It was beautiful. Welcoming.
There would be one shock of cold, he figured, and then it would sweep him away, along with consciousness. He hoped it would be fast.
The roar of those waters filled his ears as he leaned forward to give himself over to gravity.
She grabbed him by the jacket, jerking him so fast, so hard that he tumbled back and hit his head on the cobbles. Stars flashed behind his eyes.
"Ouch! Shit!" he hissed.
"WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING?" Sarah screamed. She was standing over him and for the first time, there was life in her. Angry, blazing life. Her color was high, her honey hair fluttering in the wind.
So that's what she looked like when she was really feeling something. God.He thought. She was stunning.
Chuck pressed a hand to the back of his head. A bump was already beginning to form. He felt more embarrassed than anything. Sarah had had the presence of mind to race across and grab him, as he had not been able to do for her last night.
He really envied her decisiveness.
"What was that?" She was furious, absolutely livid. "You think you can't live without me or something? Is that what you were about?"
"No," he said wearily and shifted himself first up onto his knees, then around so that he could sit with his back up against the rail. "Damn." He touched tenderly at his head. At least it wasn't bleeding. "That really hurt."
"No," he repeated. "I mean, no offence, Sarah, but it had nothing to do with you."
"I was going to do that last night. Until I saw you and got distracted."
She gawked. Her breathing had been coming heavy, now it went shallow. She sunk down to sit beside him on the icy cold cobbles. Sideways, like a mermaid. He liked that. It was very feminine.
"You came here last night to kill yourself?" she demanded, disbelieving.
"To throw myself off the bridge," he affirmed.
"No lie. I told you I'd be honest with you. Honestly. I planned to kill myself." He smiled bitterly. "Funny, huh?"
"Hilarious." Her expression softened. "But why?"
He ducked his head. "I can't go on like this. I look ahead, and I see myself twenty years from now, middle aged and eating microwaved meals alone. That's not a life."
Tears were trickling down his cheeks. He wiped at them angrily. He didn't want her last image of him to be of some weepy guy. "So now, thanks to you, I know what living feels like, a small touch of it. I know what's it like to have an honest-to-God date, to open up and talk with someone, to make love. That's a good memory to have when I go. A last meal, and a last wish."
"Oh my God." She looked like she couldn't decide whether to be outraged or astonished. "You weren't talking about me last night. You were talking about you."
"I was talking about both of us," he said, squeezing her hand. "But that's the real reason why I asked you out on a date. Because I wanted to leave this world with something other than loneliness and isolation in me. And I hoped I might give you the same. You were right about us giving each other pieces of ourselves. That's what life's all about, I think. Handing another human being some warm part of yourself that they can hold onto for however long they live."
She was quiet for a moment. Tears glimmered in her eyes, and he wanted desperately to kiss and hold her, to make it better.
"You did make me feel that," she confessed. "Experiences aren't just new and fresh for you, they're precious. You know their value. I wasn't numb with you. Others wouldn't be either. Doesn't that make your life's worth living?"
"If I had the courage to go out and find those others, maybe," he sighed. "But I wouldn't have been able to speak to you if you hadn't been about to throw yourself off the bridge. You were right, Sarah. I don't know how to approach the living."
"Chuck—" she said, tears spilling down her cheeks.
He brushed back her hair from her wet face. "I got lucky last night. Luckier than I've ever been in my benighted life. I'm not going to beg the universe for more."
His head was hurting less. The day was getting brighter and if he was going to go through with this he had to do it fast. The rest of the world would be intruding on them very soon. Joggers, folk walking their dogs, or riding their bikes to work. Those that were alive and had no idea how fortunate they were.
He pushed himself up. He felt strangely wistful, as if he were finally, regretfully, giving up on a long held dream. A dream that things might change, that he might have what everyone else seemed to have.
He set a knee back up on the rail.
"Want to go out on a date?" Sarah suddenly said from where she still sat, there on the cobbles.
He went still, then blinked down at her. She held out a demanding hand. He brought down his knee and helped her to her feet.
"What?" he said.
"A date," she wiped tears from her eyes and shook back her hair. "We'll have breakfast, take a walk in the park." She said with a hopeful smile.
He stared at her. Licked his lips. "You're serious?"
"I wouldn't lie to you either," she said firmly.
"You'd...do that for me? Stay alive? Keep living?"
"For another day," she agreed. "Till dusk, say? Then we could come back here." Her long lashes dropped over those sky blue eyes. "And you can jump off the bridge...or ask me out on another date."
Chuck swallowed down a lump. "A second date? That would be a first for me."
"Everything's a first for you," she said, "It's what I love about you."
He thought about that. "Will I have to worry about rejection?"
"Well, given what you'll do if I say no, I'd say you don't need to worry too much. Is it a date?" she said chuckling slightly through the tears.
In her heeled calf-high boots she was about 3 inches shorter than he was. She looked up at him. Her eyes were as blue as the morning sky. Looking into her face, straight on and with no inclination to glance away, Chuck felt her there with him, stirring to life. He felt, as well, a piece of her deep inside of him, warming his heart and soul, giving him a taste of all the world had to offer.
He suspected she felt the same.
"It's a date."