Breakdown (Crash into Me, #1) by Amanda Lance by Amanda Lance - Read Online

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Breakdown (Crash into Me, #1) - Amanda Lance

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Chapter One

On the day I went to die, I didn’t leave a note.

Don’t get me wrong, I had written plenty. One rough draft after another found itself in the garbage. However, after a while, I thought the entire ritual itself was cliché, basked in the glory of teenage angst. And being all of twenty years old now, I felt too old for the stereotypical crying during sad songs and mulling over suicide notes.

Still, I had made a last ditch effort to scribble something out. It too, however, ended up in the paper shredder. This time it wasn’t just because I found a grammatical error in my drafts or even a few, for that matter. Ultimately, when it came down to it, I couldn’t find the right thing to say, the words to make my act sound justified without being too pathetic.

I couldn’t find the right excuse.

Maybe it also didn’t help that I knew there would be no one around to read it.

In all fairness, I had gone to some decent lengths to make sure no one would even know I was gone—not for a while, anyway. It wasn’t exactly a rare occasion that mom and dad were out of town at the same time. Though they didn’t exactly make it a secret, either, that they both planned their work trips to avoid one another. But to have both of them gone on the same weekend was an ideal situation that didn’t occur often.

It was already after midnight when I switched from my pajamas into my jeans and a light sweater. It seemed silly, but I went ahead and put on the wool peacoat mom had gotten me for Christmas. It was itchy and way too flamboyant for my taste, but that didn’t stop mom from buying it for me anyway, or the furry boots that seemed to go with it. I thought they looked like they were made from a couple of Ewoks, but I put them on, too.

Maybe that was my equivalent of a note—my way of apologizing.

After I got changed, I pulled my hair up high, not bothering to smooth out the bumps or detangling the knots that came with it. Even before my hands were finished with the ponytail, my dark locks were a mess. But I didn’t care—or at least I didn’t want to care. I wasn’t shallow enough to think that it somehow still mattered, especially considering what I would look like when they found me. For an instant the ghoulish image made me smile. Looking in the mirror, I vaguely wondered if the pooled blood around my head could possibly make my hair any darker. Would my brown eyes glaze over after I was gone? Or pop out on impact? Certainly, an open casket funeral would be out of the question.

I glanced at the drawer of unopened makeup mom had gotten for me over the years and slammed it shut. Would they leave my room the same afterward? A shrine to show what good parents they were? Or would they transform it into something else as soon as the wake was over? Using the excuse that they needed to move on? My eyes moved to the corner without even thinking about it. Suddenly, it was incredibly easy to picture an elliptical machine there, a stack of unused yoga mats and dusty dumbbells in the spot where my bed was now. How long would they wait until they remodeled? A month? A year?

I decided on the flight from the overpass on Port Elizabeth Street, surprised by how well the location worked out in my favor. Was it a sign that my plan would fall so perfectly into place? Maybe not. But it sure as hell made it a lot easier to follow through with.

The Port Elizabeth Street consisted of a single-lane overpass, with a busy four-lane highway beneath it. While it wasn’t a pretty way to die, at least this way I was guaranteed a contingency plan. If somehow the 100-foot drop to the pavement didn’t kill me, I had to figure a passing vehicle going 80 miles an hour or so would.

Since my tactical idea was to go head first, I made sure my driver’s license was secured in the pocket of my jeans before leaving home for the last time. I did this along with making sure my car was safely off the overpass—no sense in holding up traffic any more than necessary. Like having a piece of identification on me, I wanted to make things as easy as possible for everyone else. After all, just because I was going to die didn’t mean I had to ruin everyone else’s weekend.

Just like mom remodeling my previous living quarters, it was all too plain to see some.

coroner in the morgue trying to put my face back together while some poor intern filled out the Jane Doe paperwork. Meanwhile, traffic cops below and above would have to direct cars around blood splatter and skull pieces, while others waited for the tow to come for my Subaru. When a couple of state troopers solemnly knocked on the front door of my house, how long would they stand there before they realized no one was home?

I left my keys by one of my front tires and glanced up at the medical office. I was almost certain that they were closed on Sundays and probably only open for a few hours on Saturday, so if anybody thought anything of my car, it probably wouldn’t be until Monday morning. By then, dad would be grabbing a ride home from the airport, and mom would be checking out of her hotel. If everything and everyone stayed on schedule, they could find out about me together. And who knew? Maybe bonding over the tragedy would help their marriage. Christ knew that aspect of their life couldn’t get any worse. Maybe they could cry together. They could reconnect over the charity they’d start in my name, start having a weekly date night with the support group as the feature event…

Despite the little jokes I made to myself, I walked slowly from my car to the overpass, kicking random pebbles at my feet until I was out of the parking lot and well down the street. I rounded the corner and felt the weight of my heavy ponytail shift back and forth. The only time I did stop was when I realized that I hadn’t thought to hesitate at all or even once reconsider my choice. I had wanted to die for so long that anything else was just a fictional possibility, an alternative ending in the DVD extras. Sure, I could think about other options all I wanted, watch a happy ending over and over in my head, but it would never be real. Death, however, was as real as it gets.

I looked back, but I couldn’t see my Subaru anymore. I had traveled too far to even see it with squinting eyes, but didn’t feel as bad about it as I thought I might have when daydreaming about it originally. Instead, I felt nothing, no sadness like you always see in the movies or music videos, but no relief like I had hoped, either. Alternatively, there was a weird sort of indifference that kept me even-keeled, apathetic to my own forthcoming demise. It was as if I weren’t even the one experiencing it, like I wasn’t even the one about to cause it.

I watched while the road evolved from one of pavement to that of matted stone. Though there was a toll on the new road, the condition of the street that led up and past Port Elizabeth made sure almost no one used the elderly overpass anymore. Those who did were usually tourists who didn’t know better and ended up hitting a deer or bottoming out in a pothole for their trouble. How many times had dad lectured me about taking that same road when I first got my license? How many times had I heard mom curse about the dropped calls there?

Once the reflectors attached to the overpass came into view, I didn’t feel as indifferent as I had just a moment ago, invisible boulders found their way to my stomach and made me feel heavy. Right away, I noticed how my imaginary stomach rocks didn’t hurt exactly, just gave off this strange sensation of holding me down. I kept on walking, strangely encouraged by the combination of mass and indifference. The feeling in my stomach, however, did invite a memory of a gangster movie, where the feet of a snitch were plastered in cement before being dropped into an angry river. If it had been a happier memory, I might have smiled.

Then, just like that, I wanted my last smile. I wanted to remember the last real smile I had smiled or at least the last occasion I had felt anything to smile about. Sure, there had been plenty of pretend smiles, the ones for mom and dad, and all the ones for customers at the bakery, a professor’s bad jokes… but when was the last time I had genuinely smiled for anything?

I was still trying to think of it when a set of headlights passed. I didn’t know anything about cars, but I did recognize those techie LED-looking high beams that would have made me see black dots, had I been looking directly at them. And even though the traffic below was loud, I could still hear the soft engine of the car as it roared away.

For the second time, I stopped, waiting until I was sure the car was out of sight and long gone before I finished walking out to the space just outside of the guardrails. Once there, I let my head dangle over the side while hanging on tight. Almost right away, the California winter winds blew the stray hairs to my lips. For an instant, I mused that if I went to pull the hair from my mouth, I could easily fall.

No jumping required.

I watched the traffic for a moment, counting the broken headlights and sports racks. Even on a Friday night—or Saturday morning, rather—most of the traffic on the freeway belonged to trucks and bus drivers. For the first time, it made me truly reconsider. There was something ghoulish about the idea of landing in front of a bus. Forget about ruining someone’s weekend—what if I mistimed my jump and landed in front of a school bus filled with a bunch of kids on their way back from a sporting event? Or some senior citizens on the way back to the nursing home? I’d never thought of myself as much of a humanitarian, but I didn’t want to be that person whose spine, dangling from a windshield, traumatized some poor little kid forever or gave an old lady a heart attack. I was hardly superstitious, but at this point, I couldn’t figure that gaining myself all that bad karma just before dying could be any good.

I glanced at the sleeves of my coat. Maybe it would have been better if I had worn a lighter color—something white—or at least stuck a piece of reflective tape on my arm. If I was going to bet it all on the pavement then I could at least be gracious enough to consider the safety of everyone else—at a minimum I could make sure a semi driver wouldn’t have to rinse me out of his tires.

I was still looking at my sleeves when the lights came back, shifting noticeably from high beams to low. Cursing, I stepped down from the side and snuck back under the guardrail as gracefully as I could. Pulling the hood up over my head, I started walking. If I pretended hard enough, maybe it would look like I had somewhere to be.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work. And I cursed even louder in my head when the engine slowed down completely and the music that blared from within became clear, so close, the lyrics audible.

Excuse me? a male voice asked

I kept walking, deaf and blind to everything but my cause.

This time, the voice was a little louder. Uh, excuse me?

I stopped, blinked hard, and turned.

The soft thundering of the engine belonged to a muscle car with a square front and low top. Even in the sliver of moon, the white paint gleamed enough that I had to look away from it, focusing instead on the face that looked at me from the driver’s side window.

The face belonged to a young guy with blond hair that fell at the top of his ears. I saw right away that he had that intentionally-messy, bed-head look guys sometimes have that always makes me wonder if they do that on purpose or if they were just lazy and got lucky when it looked good. Either way, the driver with his well-cut face and prominent blue eyes radiated confidence, making it clear that he was aware of how attractive he was.

At least I got to look at something beautiful before I died.

Do you know where McKinley Street is?

I shook my head. I did know where it was, of course. I had lived in Riverside my entire life and remembered the park there that had been a brief part of my childhood. Yet I was unnerved by the question more than I wanted to acknowledge. I hadn’t expected to talk to anybody in those last few minutes, and suddenly there was the slightest fear that the interruption would somehow mess up my concentration. I had to admit that I hadn’t thought out this aspect of the plan—what were the odds that someone would use this overpass? That they would stop to ask for directions?

Okay. He tapped his wrist against the edge of the window pane, making little noises from the beaded and leather bracelets he wore. Thanks anyway.

The driver shifted, and his blue eyes looked away from me, his brows narrowing in thought. But just as I figured he would speed away, he looked back at me at the last second.

Hey, are, ah, are, you okay?

I nodded, still afraid to open my mouth. In my mind, I had just registered that he had an accent. His broad A and hard R making me guess somewhere between New York and New England.

The driver smiled and scratched the back of his head. Though the heaviness in my stomach didn’t quite go away, the sight of his smile did something else that felt unique to me, making me wonder if I should have taken an Alka Seltzer before I left.

Not much of a talker, huh?

I shook my head and bit my lip. If I start walking again, then he will keep driving. He will go away, and I can go back to the middle of the overpass, climb outside of the guardrail and do what I came here to do. I can be dead in no time if he just drives away…

Unfortunately, though, I heard the distinct sound of a car door opening, prompting me to upgrade my speed from snail to turtle—my body was unwilling to work with me despite the possible danger. Who else but me would go to kill herself and get abducted by some Ted Bundy wannabe instead?

Okay, so that wasn’t very likely. But the entire point of suicide was to end pain, not expose myself to more. And considering there wasn’t a single person in the world who knew where I was, my remaining spidey sense told me to be wary. I took exactly three steps in reverse, backing myself into the guardrail. I felt the cold metal through the denim of my jeans instantly—a small comfort, all things considered.

Are you sure you’re okay? he called after me. Do you need a ride or something?

I made myself open my mouth and speak, unsure if him thinking I was handicapped made him more or less likely to leave me alone. Swallowing hard, I turned to look over my shoulder. The lights of all those cars were practically calling to me, begging me to throw myself in front of them.

I’m f-fine. Great, because that sounded convincing.

The car door closed, and I heard footsteps behind me.

There isn’t a whole lot out here. Did you have a date go bad or something? I could take you back to your car—

No. No. P-Please… I turned to face him, surprised by how quickly he had caught up with me. Going up there to make out? Why didn’t I think of that excuse? For that, I yelled at myself, that and for just then acknowledging how much taller he was than me, how much bigger. It made me realize that if he really wanted to, he could stop me from jumping or just about anything else he wanted. Please leave me alone.

Hey. He freed his hands from his pockets and held them out defensively. I’m not gonna hurt you.

Just go away, okay? I glanced over to the highway below, tightening my grip on the guardrail that I hadn’t even realized I was holding. I should have just been a stain on the pavement by now, a job for the road crew to complain about, overtime for the police, an excuse to break out the power-washer, and gossip for my graduating class.

I gotta say… He smiled awkwardly and scratched the back of his head again. I don’t really feel comfortable leaving a girl out here all by herself in the middle of the night. If you won’t let me give you a ride somewhere, then do you want to use my phone, call for a ride?

No! I said more harshly than I needed to. I w-want to be left alone. I-I was just going for a walk, and I want to be alone.

He nodded, but I wasn’t sure if he believed me. I wrapped my arms back around myself and leaned all of my weight on the guardrail. Though it wasn’t much, I vaguely hoped the entire thing would give away, and I wouldn’t have to jump at all.

You live around here?

I’m not telling you that. I looked at my boots and then back up at him. With him closer I could see his finely chiseled chin and how his face had a slight oval shape. Maybe he was a male model—that would explain the pricy car.

Smart girl. His smile revealed not only a dimple in each cheek but a perfect set of teeth. Figures.

I was just asking because there isn’t a lot around here, and like I said, it’s awful late for a girl to be walking around by herself.

That’s none of your business.

Well, it kind of is now, he said. You’re like a crime waiting to happen. And I’m a witness. You made me get involved.

I released my lip and went to bite one of my nails. I’m not a walking crime.

Yeah, he scoffed, you pretty much are. Drunks come along this road to avoid the sobriety checkpoints all the time. And the one university isn’t far from here. Some frat boys could come along and—

I know, I said. I go to school there.

He grinned and gazed over the edge himself, seeming to be almost amused by my interruption. Then what are you doing up here by yourself on a Friday night?

Because I want to be. I felt my brow lower as if we were about to duel. Why was he being so insistent about trying to help me? If that was even what he was doing—no one did something for nothing. The driver must have sensed my suspicions because he put his hands back in his pockets and frowned, an expression that changed his face considerably, but not necessarily in a bad way.

You aren’t really going for a walk, are you?

I leaned a little closer to the railing. Good looking or not, if it wasn’t for this guy, I could have been dead by now. Asleep for forever instead of freezing my butt off on some stinking overpass. I snuck my leg over the first bar of the guardrail.

Like I said, that’s none of your business.

The driver smiled again, and my heart jumped just a little. Clearly, it was ready to go over the edge, too.

"Like I said, it is now."

Please. I closed my eyes and shook my head. Go away.

With my hands back on the railing, I finished making my way back under the guardrail, not entirely aware of warm hands reaching out for me, only to grab fistful of Ewok hood. The slightest sense of victory came over me when the buttons of the hood came undone, leaving that in his hands and me free to dangle off the edge. As if the driver weren’t even there, my mind was laser-focused on what I had come there to do. I felt confident about my goal, and even his husky voice and nervous laugh couldn’t tempt me away.

Hey, come on now. Maybe it was just the wind in my ears, but I thought I heard the driver’s voice break with urgency. Why don’t you just come back here? Whatever it is, we can talk about it.