Jordan leans back against the grey-bricked ledge, shivering, and takes a drag on her cigarette. Her hair, stirring in the wind, runs over her bare shoulders. I want to put my arm around her but that’s not how we are. Perhaps I would if we were boyfriend-girlfriend, not best friends.
The full moon makes Jordan appear washed-out, her blonde hair a shocking shade of white. Her cheekbones seem to jut out worse than usual, giving her a skeletal fashion. I know I look just as bad – nobody looks good at night.
‘How was your day?’ she asks, giving me a furtive glance before going back to her cigarette. The smoke appears to be a blue-grey mist that winds away from her frail hand and twirls up to the stars.
I drop my gaze to my lap. ‘Doesn’t matter,’ I murmur, wrapping my battered arms around myself. It’s cold out tonight.
Jordan doesn’t respond, just meekly tucks a stray chunk of hair behind one ear. Out of the corner of my eye I can see the purple welt on her temple. It looks fresh; she probably got it just this morning, coupled with others. We don’t talk about those things.
She finishes her cigarette and flicks one slender wrist, tossing the butt over her shoulder, over the edge. Her favorite bracelet, beads of green that match her eyes, jangles timidly. It was my fourteenth birthday present to her.
‘Listen,’ she crawls over to me and presses a finger to the corner of my mouth, next to a faded scar.
We’re silent, straining to hear the cars rumble by, more than a dozen stories below. She informs me she heard it, her large eyes blinking slowly.
It was a game we used to play while our fathers were sleeping off their hangovers; throwing things off the building and estimating how long it would take to hit the ground and pretending we could hear them. Jordan always heard the splat before I did. Childish, but it stuck with us. Everyone remembers the most unimportant things in his or her childhood.
Jordan straightens from her crouch; late-night moisture clings to her flimsy shirt. She brushes dirt off her pants and walks over to our potted plants, twenty or so, resting on an old card table. At an apartment with God-knows-how-many people, it’s surprising there are just a few who venture out to the roof. Jordan and I’ve planted flowers every spring since we were eleven and never have much trouble keeping them alive. No one destroys them.
‘Too bad there’ll be no flowers next year…’ Jordan pushes her finger into the dark soil filling the cheap plastic. ‘They’re kind of pretty.’ She plucks the flower from its stem. A small petal floats to her palm and she brings it close to her face to blow away. She sets about removing the other petals.
Seeing my friend destroy something we’d done together makes me feel slightly nauseous. I realize I soon have to tell her I’m backing out of our plan. She catches me fidgeting with my jacket zipper. Our eyes meet and my hands pause, mid-zip. My fingers are freezing on the metal. She studies my face.
‘You asshole,’ she whispers, her face crumpling. She drops the remaining bit of blossom. ‘You said we’d go together.’
I twist around and peek over the edge of the building, to the masses of life below. ‘I just can’t… when –’ I pause to think. ‘We’re going about this the wrong way, Jordan. Why don’t we just run away?’
‘Because that doesn’t end anything, Paul!’ she cries.
I turn back to her. ‘Yeah, and this doesn’t solve anything!’
‘Don’t tell me you’d rather keep living like this, Daddy’s little play-thing? You enjoy it?’
Her words strike me but I silently forgive her; she’s angry and doesn’t want me to know she understands. But she does.
I remain calm. ‘You think I enjoy my father…’ Refusing to let the words form on my lips, I continue. ‘I don’t like it any more than you do.’ She flinches, her hand raising to her bruised temple. ‘We could call someone…’
Jordan’s eyes narrow to slits. ‘Been through this part, Paul. I refuse to be a runaway or foster child. Neither has a good life. This is bad enough; I don’t want it any worse. I’m going…’ her voice lowers and her face softens. ‘And if you’re not coming –’ She fumbles with the catch on her bracelet, steps towards me and clasps it on my wrist.
I can feel the much-expected tears well up but I blink them away. ‘I just can’t. I’m going to call someone for myself… tonight. I’d rather be a foster kid.’
Jordan doesn’t speak so I plunge ahead. ‘You knew all along that I’d back out,’ I say.
She nods. ‘Yeah. I did.’ She stuffs her hands into her faded blue-jeans pockets and strides back over to the ledge. She’s shivering again. Or is it still? I didn’t notice if she had stopped. One sneakered foot raises up, then the other.
She doesn’t hesitate and I don’t wait around. This isn’t a game; I know I’ll hear something hit the pavement. I fling open the heavy steel door to the apartment’s dim interior, dash inside, down the stairs, more stairs. By the time I reach the frigid outdoors, there’s a crowd gathering. I push my way through, lungs feeling as though they’ll burst.
Sweat drips down my forehead, clings to my upper lip and I raise a hand to wipe it away. Jordan’s bracelet slides along my wrist. I remain fixed to the spot, practically boring a hole into her head before heading to the phone-booth down the street.
All I can think is I was wrong. I said people aren’t attractive at night… but Jordan was absolutely beautiful.