Upstate, to see his parents. No, it is not time, he says, but he has cousins visiting, his mother asked. Just for the weekend, he says.
He asks Bea if she can work the store.
Asks Robbie if he will feed the cat.
And they say yes, as simple as that, because they do not know it is good-bye. Henry pays the tab, and Robbie jokes, and Bea complains about her undergrads, and Henry tells them he’ll call when he gets back.
And when he gets up to go, Bea kisses his cheek, and he pulls Robbie in for a hug, and Robbie says he better not miss his show, and Henry promises he won’t, and then they are going, they are gone.
And this, he decides, is what a good-bye should be.
Not a period, but an ellipsis, a statement trailing off, until someone is there to pick it up.
It is a door left open.
It is drifting off to sleep.
And he tells himself he is not afraid.
Tells himself it is okay, he is okay.
And just when he begins to doubt, Addie’s hand is there, soft and steady on his arm, leading him back home. And they climb into bed, and curl into each other against the storm.
And sometime in the middle of the night, he feels her get up, hears her padding down the hall.
But it is late, and he thinks nothing of it.
He rolls over, and goes back to sleep, and when he wakes again it is still dark, and she is back beside him in the bed.
And the watch on the table twitches one step closer to midnight.
New York City
September 4, 2014
It is such an ordinary day.
They stay in bed, curled together in the nest of sheets, head to head and hands trailing over arms, along cheeks, fingers memorizing skin. He whispers her name, over and over, as if she can save the sound, bottle it up to use when he is gone.
Addie, Addie, Addie.
And despite it all, Henry is happy.
Or at least, he tells himself he is happy, tells himself he is ready, tells himself he isn’t afraid. And he tells himself that if they just stay here, in the bed, the day will last. If he holds his breath, he can keep the seconds from moving forward, pin the minutes between their tangled fingers.
It is an unspoken plea but Addie seems to sense it, because she makes no motion to get up. Instead, she stays with him in bed, and tells him stories.
Not of anniversaries—they have run out of July 29ths—but of Septembers and Mays, of quiet days, the kind no one else would remember. She tells him of fairy pools on the Isle of Skye, and the Northern Lights in Iceland, of swimming in a lake so clear she could see the bottom ten meters down, in Portugal—or was it Spain?
These are the only stories he will never write down.
It is his own failing; he cannot bring himself to unfold, to let go of Addie’s hands and climb out of the bed, and grab the latest notebook from the shelf—there are six of them now, the last only half-filled, and he realizes it will stay that way, those last blank pages, his cramped cursive like a wall, a false end to an ongoing story, and his heart skips a little, a tiny stutter of panic, but he can’t let it start, knows it will tear through him, the way a shiver turns a momentary chill into teeth-chattering cold, and he cannot lose his hold, not yet, not yet.
So Addie talks, and he listens, letting the stories slide like fingers through his hair. And every time the panic tries to fight its way to the surface, he fights it back, holds his breath and tells himself he is fine, but he doesn’t move, doesn’t get up. He cannot, because if he does, it will break the spell, and time will race forward and it will be over too fast.
It is a silly thing, he knows, a strange surge of superstition, but the fear is there now, real now, and the bed is safe, and Addie is steady, and he is so glad she is here, so glad for every minute since they met.
Sometime in the afternoon, he is suddenly hungry. Famished.
He shouldn’t be. It feels frivolous, and wrong, inconsequential now, but the hunger is swift and deep, and with its arrival, the clock begins to tick.
He can’t hold time at bay.
It is racing forward now, rushing away.
And Addie looks at him as if she can read his mind, see the storm building in his head. But she is sunshine. She is clear skies.
She draws him out of bed, and into the kitchen, and Henry sits on a stool and listens as she makes an omelet and tells him about the first time she flew a plane, heard a song on the radio, saw a moving picture.
This is the last gift she can give him, these moments he will never have.
And this is the last gift he can give her, the listening.
And he wishes they could climb back into bed with Book, but they both know there’s no going back. And now that he’s up, he cannot bear the stillness. He is all restless energy, and urgent need, and there isn’t enough time, and he knows of course that there will never be.
That time always ends a second before you’re ready.
That life is the minutes you want minus one.
And so they get dressed, and they go out, and walk, wearing circles into the block as the panic begins to win. It is a hand pressing against weakened glass, a steady pressure on spreading cracks, but Addie is there, her fingers laced through his.
“Do you know how you live three hundred years?” she says.
And when he asks how, she smiles. “The same way you live one. A second at a time.”
And eventually his legs are tired, and the restlessness recedes, doesn’t vanish but dulls to a manageable degree, and they go to the Merchant, and order food they do not eat, and order beers they do not drink because he cannot bear to dull these last few hours, as frightening as it is to face them sober.
And he makes some comment about his last meal, laughs at the morbid thought of it, and Addie’s smile falters, for just a second, and then he is apologizing, he is sorry, and she is folding herself around him, and the panic has its claws in him.
The storm is brewing in his head, churning the sky on the horizon, but he doesn’t fight it.
He lets it come.
Only when it starts raining does he realize the storm is real.
He tips his head back, and feels the drip of rain on his cheeks, and thinks of the night they went to the Fourth Rail, the downpour that caught them breathless when they reached the street. He thinks of that before he thinks of the rooftop, and that is something.
He feels so far from the Henry who climbed up there a year ago—or perhaps he’s not that far at all. It is only a matter of steps, after all, from the street to the edge.
But what he would give to go back down.
God, what he would give for just another day.
The sun is gone now, the light going thin, and he will never see it again, and the fear crashes into him, sudden and traitorous. It is a gust of wind, cutting through a too-still scene. He fights it back, not yet, not yet, not yet, and Addie squeezes his hand, so he won’t blow away.
“Stay with me,” she says, and he answers, “I’m here.”
His fingers tighten on hers.
He doesn’t have to ask, she doesn’t have to answer.
There is an unspoken agreement that she will be there, with him, until the very end.
That this time, he won’t be alone.
And he is okay.
It is okay.
It will be okay.
It is almost time, and they are on the roof.