I'm sitting on the roof of the rec center. I'm looking down at the people looking up at me, a staring contest. Despite the fact that I'm three stories off the ground, I can see the fear and surprise on their faces. I can imagine the whispers rushing through the gathering crow. "It's Rachel." "Rachel Sidowski?" "What's SHE doing up there?" I smirk because I know exactly what they're thinking. They would never expect to see me on the rook. I'm a straight-A student with a lot going for me who smiles at everyone and acts totally normal. They might expect the see the emo kid from my world history class up here, or the cutter from English or the gay kid who always gets teased in algebra, but they never suspected me because I'm not the jumping type.
The cops are here. The flashing red and blue lights add a nice ambience to the scene of panic and chaos and fear. They remind me of the flashing strobe lights at the school dance. I hate dances. My last dance was the Valentine's Day Ball, and I didn't want to go but Cassidy begged and begged and begged, so I went. But as soon as we got there, Cassidy ditched me for some blond dude in a polo shirt and nobody would dance with me. I was absolutely miserable, and even though Cassidy was my ride, I just left. I had to walk home carrying my heels in my hand. I scowl. The lights are suddenly very irritating.
The police are asking around for confirmation that Rachel Sidowski is actually on the roof. A boy from my biology class nods when the a cop points at me. The kid looks like he's about to cry, and I feel kind of sorry for him.
So now they know. Now they're going to call my parents and tell them that their daughter is sitting on the roof of the rec center and my mom and dad are going to jump in the 2008 blazer and race over to join the growing crowd of stunned on-lookers.
I hear the door to the roof top click open behind me. It must be a cop who came up to convince me not to jump. "Mind if I join you?" a male voice asks cautiously.
"Not at all."
The cop comes and sits down next to me, looking nervous. It's the officer that talked to the boy from my science class. He has big, blue eyes, and scruffy blonde hair stick out everywhere from under his cap. "Hey," he says quietly. "What are you doing up here?" He seems young for a cop, and much too young to handle a jumper. I can tell this is his first by the way he bites his lip and keeps glancing over the edge. "My name's Steven," he says, forcing a nervous smile. "What's yours?"
"Rachel," I say in a no-nonsense way.
"What are you doing, Rachel?"
"Thinking," I reply.
"About what?" He seems sincerely interested, like he really wants to know. And maybe he does.
"Not a lot. About how funny it is that all those people down there are panicking about me sitting on a roof."
"Why is that funny to you?" He doesn't sound mad or horrified, but simply curious. I'm surprised. He's handling the situation pretty well for such a young officer.
"Because none of them really care. Well, maybe the teachers, and Bobbi for sure, but that's probably it."
"That's not true," he hastens to assure me.
"Psssh," I scoff. "It is, too. There's not a single person down there who cares heads or tails if I jump. Except Bobbi. And my parents when they get here."
Steven switches tactics and changes the subject. "Which one's Bobbi?"
I point at Bobbi and wave. "The Spanish kid in the black tee. He's in my Ceramics class. We went to the gallery in together."
"Are you two dating?"
I laugh sarcastically. "Oh, please. We're the best of friends and we stand up for each other, but it could never work. We fight like an old married couple." I pause for effect. "So, actually, we're already halfway there!"
He smiles a little. "What do you want to do when you graduate high school?"
"I want to go to an actors' community college in upstate so I can be an actress on Broadway."
"How good are you?"
"Well, apparently good enough to get the lead in the school play. The teacher says I've got 'real potential.'"
Steven nods his approval. "You've got so much going for you. Why are you up here, Rachel?"
I think about it. "I'm up here to get away. I'm up here so I can look down on people, not vice versa. I'm up here because I can see the whole town and no one knows I'm watching." I pause. "I don't belong down there."
"What do you mean?" He's watching me and listening, really listening to what I have to say.
"I'm not exactly what you'd call 'popular,'" I say as I make quotation marks with my hands. "I'm a teacher's pet. A geek. A nerd. My only real friend is Bobbi. All the other kids think I'm crazy." I chuckle bitterly. "This probably doesn't help."
"You know," Steven says carefully, "Taking your own life isn't thie only way out."
I can't help but laugh. "Oh please. I'm much too smart for that."
I stand and roll my shoulders, stiff from sitting in the same position for half an hour. A startled cry comes from below. "She's gonna jump!" There are a few screams. One person even faints. I resist the urge to laugh out loud as Steven stands up ever so slowly so he won't scare me over the edge (or fall off himself, I can't be sure). Instead, I turn around and go back inside. Bewildered, Steven follows me to the stairs and watches me start to descend. I pause about halfway down. "I wasn't up there to jump, Steven."
"I wasn't going to jump. I go up there to think, to get away from it all. When I'm up there, I feel free, powerful. I go up there to be alone. Most days, no one sees me up there. But today, the lighting was just right and one of the teachers saw me. I guess I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time."
"I guess you'd better be a little more careful next time," he said.
"I don't think there's going to be a next time." I paused. "One more thing; There's going to be press down there. When we get out there, you get full credit for preventing a suicide and saving a life."
It takes a minute for this to register. "But I didn't! I didn't prevent anything! And if they think you're suicidal, they'll send you to a shrink. They'll make you go to therapy, even if you don't need it."
I put my hands on his shoulders. "It's not just about me, Steven. You're a part of this, too. Besides, therapy might actually do me some good. And you deserve all the credit. Just because you listened."
He pauses. He opens and closes his mouth a couple of times.
"And Steven?" I add.
"Thanks." With that, I walk out the door and put on the best performance of my life.