Ross contemplated suicide the way some people made out shopping lists -- methodically, with great attention given to detail. There were days when he was fine. And then there were other days when he took census counts of people who seemed happy, and those who seemed in pain. There were days when it made perfect sense to drink boiling water, or suffocate in the refrigerator, or walk naked into the snow until he simply lay down to sleep.
Ross had read of suicides, fascinated by the creativity -- women who looped their long hair around their own necks to form a rope, men who mainlined mayonnaise, teenagers who swallowed firecrackers. But every time he came close to testing a beam for the weight it would hold, or drew a bead of blood with an X-Acto knife, he would think of the mess he'd leave behind.
He didn't know what death held in store for him. But he knew that it wouldn't be life, and that was good enough. He had not felt anything since the day Aimee had died. The day when, like an idiot, he had chosen to play the hero, first dragging his fiancée from the wreckage and then going back to rescue the driver of the other car moments before it burst into flames. By the time he'd returned to Aimee, she was already gone. She'd died, alone, while he was off being Superman.
Some hero he had turned out to be, saving the wrong person.
He threw the empty bottle onto the floor of his Jeep and put the car into gear, tearing out of the parking lot like a teenager. There were no cops around -- there never were, when you needed them -- and Ross accelerated, until he was doing more than eighty down the single-lane divided highway.
He came to a stop at the railroad bridge, where the warning gate flashed as its arms lowered, slow as a ballerina. He emptied his mind of everything except inching his car forward until it broke the gate, until the Jeep sat as firm on the tracks as a sacrifice.
The train pounded. The tracks began to sing a steel symphony. Ross gave himself up to dying, catching a single word between his teeth before impact: Finally.
The sound was awesome, deafening. And yet it moved past him, growing Doppler-distant, until Ross raised the courage to open his eyes.
His car was smoking from the hood, but still running. It hobbled unevenly, as if one tire was low on air. And it was pointed in the opposite direction, heading back from where he'd come.
There was nothing for it: with tears in his eyes, Ross started to drive.
Rod van Vleet wasn't going home without a signed contract. In the first place, Newton Redhook had left him responsible for securing the nineteen acres that comprised the Pike property. In the second place, it had taken over six hours to get to this nursing home in Nowhere, Vermont, and Rod had no plans to return here in the immediate future.
"Mr. Pike," he said, smiling at the old man, who was plug-ugly enough to give Rod nightmares for a week. Hell, if Rod himself looked like that by age ninety-five, he was all for someone giving him a morphine nightcap and a bed six feet under. Spencer Pike's bald head was as spotted as a cantaloupe; his hands were twisted into knots; his body seemed to have taken up permanent position as a human comma. "As you can see here, the Redhook Group is prepared to put into escrow today a check made out to you for fifty thousand dollars, as a token of good faith pending the title search."
The old man narrowed a milky eye. "What the hell do I care about money?"
"Well. Maybe you could take a vacation. You and a nurse." Rod smiled at the woman standing behind Pike, her arms crossed.
"Can't travel. Doctor's orders. Liver could just...give out."
Rod smiled uncomfortably, thinking that an alcoholic who'd survived nearly a hundred years should just get on a plane to Fiji and the hell with the consequences. "Well."
From Second Glance by Jodi Picoult. Copyright Jodi Picoult 2003. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the publisher, Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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