I can’t do this anymore.
Please don’t give up. Please, I’m begging you.
I’m really sorry, Tori…you’re the best. You’ll be better off without me anyway.
Will, no, don’t say that, please. Let me call you, we’ll talk about it.
I can’t. Sorry. This is something I have to do. I’m done with all this crap.
Tori stared at the text messages with horror. She tried calling Will, but he didn’t pick up. She tried over and over, and still he refused to answer the phone. When she called his mom, the automated voice told her the line was disconnected. Tori ran out of her room, shouting, “Mom! I’m going over to a friend’s house!”
“Are you spending the night? It’s already six.” Mom appeared from the kitchen, holding a ladle. “I’m making soup.”
“Yeah, um…my friend is having a crisis, and I’m going to deal with it,” Tori said.
“Which friend is this? What crisis?” Mom looked concerned, and Tori was tempted to spill the whole story. But for some reason, she just couldn’t tell anyone else. Her mouth refused to form the words that filled her with such terror.
So, she lied.
“Abbey’s boyfriend may have cheated on her,” she blurted. “Look, I should be back tonight, but I’ll call if it ends up being an all-night thing. She’s pretty upset.” She shrugged as if this was completely out of her control.
“If it gets to ten-thirty and you aren’t on your way out, just stay there,” Mom said. “You can’t drive past eleven. I don’t want you getting pulled over for being out past curfew.”
Tori nodded, grabbed her purse and car keys, and was out the door in a minute. It was still light outside, but soon the sun was going to set. Will lived an hour and a half away. She didn’t know how long it would take him to act on his threat, but she was begging God to let her get there in time as she unlocked her car door with shaking hands. She drove an old silver Camry that burned through gas much faster than normal. Hopefully she had filled up the gas tank recently…yesterday? The day before? She couldn’t remember.
She got in and closed the door, resting her hands on the steering wheel and taking a deep breath. Oh, God, please help me get there on time. Give me the right words to say to convince him not to do this. Please, God…I love him so much. Don’t let him do this. Make it impossible for him to do anything, at least before I can get there to talk him out of it.
She started the engine and pulled out of the driveway.
“You’re moving?” Tori said, tears in her eyes. Will stuffed his hands in his pockets and scraped his shoe through the dirt.
“Yeah,” he said quietly, looking down to avoid her gaze. “Mom doesn’t want to stay here after the divorce and all. And Dad…” He stopped. Tori knew what he was going to say. He didn’t need to actually say it.
Tori crossed arms to ward off the cold. She was wearing a sweater, but she was still freezing. The air smelled like snow and the wind blew through the trees, a whispering sound in the darkness beyond the small pool of yellow light created by the porch lamp. Will stood at the very edge of the pool and it already felt like he was hundreds of miles away.
“I wish I wasn’t leaving, but…”
“Your mom needs you,” interrupted Tori. “Of course. You should go.”
They fell into awkward silence.
“When are you leaving?” asked Tori quietly after several minutes.
Will hesitated, swallowed hard, and said hoarsely, “Tomorrow.”
Tori’s mouth fell open. “What? And you’re just now telling me this? Will!”
“I’m really sorry, I couldn’t bring myself to…” He trailed off and ran a hand through his hair, finally meeting Tori’s eyes. To her surprise, his eyes were wet with tears. Tori’s immediate reaction of anger melted away and she walked up to him and wrapped her arms around him. He hugged her back, and they stood there for a while. Tori couldn’t keep herself from crying into her best friend’s shoulder.
The memory burned brightly in Tori’s mind as she tried to focus on the road. She had to look up directions to Will’s house, as she wasn’t sure how to get there. She hadn’t visited him since he moved a year ago. They had met halfway a couple of times to get a cup of coffee near the beginning, but soon, as Will’s situation worsened, he had come up with excuses whenever Tori wanted to meet up. Eventually she stopped asking.
How could she not have seen this coming? All of the signs were there–at least, in hindsight. After Will moved, his mother, depressed and angry over her divorce from Will’s father, had started drinking and taking prescription drugs. She couldn’t hold down a job. Will was forced to provide for her and himself while trying to adjust to a new school. His grades fell and the stress kept piling on. He made friends with all the wrong people. A phone conversation with him had made it abundantly clear to Tori that he was depressed, and, worst of all, he had said he was sure that God either hated him or didn’t exist. Tori remembered his exact words…
“Will, please, just talk to me,” Tori begged. “I don’t understand.”
“It’s not hard to understand, Tori,” said Will, his voice muffled over the phone. “All of this stuff has just made me think, that’s all. I need some time on my own to figure it all out.”
“Figure what out?”
“Look, you’ve always had it really easy in life, okay?” Will replied. “Me, not so much. Dad’s a drunk and worthless, and now Mom’s the same way. She swore she would never, ever do that to me after how Dad destroyed our family. But she’s a liar. So’s everyone else. No one says what they mean and everyone lies.”
“I’ve never lied to you, Will,” said Tori quietly. She could hear him breathing heavily on the other side of the line. He was really upset.
It took a moment, but he said, “Yeah. Yeah, I know.”
“Have you…prayed about this?” asked Tori tentatively.
Will snorted derisively. “I tried to, but as usual, God doesn’t answer me. He never has.”
Tori had no answer for him, but it didn’t matter, because he wasn’t finished.
“God lies, too–if He exists. All those words in the Bible about how He’ll never leave or forsake you are just pretty words that don’t mean anything,” he went on. “He’s never done a thing for me. He let my dad hit my mom, He let me be too weak to stop him. Now He’s letting my mom go the same way as Dad. He’s not doing anything. He never has.”
Will cut Tori off. “Look, Tori, you have this strong faith and you’re happy in it, and I’m happy for you,” he said. “But you don’t know what it’s like, living like this. You don’t know all the stuff I’ve seen, all the stuff I’ve done that I hate myself for. I haven’t told you because I don’t want to let you down. If you knew, you’d never talk to me again.”
“That’s not true.” Tori was starting to cry as she spoke. “Don’t you dare say that. If you think for one second that I would stop talking to you because of something you’ve done, then you don’t know me at all.” She had a hard time witholding the sobs that threatened to render her speechless.
“I do know you, Tori,” Will answered. His voice was quiet and so sad that Tori’s heart squeezed inside her chest. “The problem is that you don’t know me. And you don’t want to. Not anymore.”
Tori scrubbed at the tears that ran down her face. “Will, let me help you,” she pleaded, gripping her phone tightly and wishing she could see Will face-to-face. “I don’t want you to…to…” She couldn’t think of how to finish the sentence.
“You can’t help me, okay?” Will’s voice went sharp, taking Tori aback. “No one can help me. I have to do this on my own. I need time to think. Just give me that, Tori. Please.”
Time. He wanted time. And Tori had given it to him, leaving him alone, not talking to him for two weeks. When she finally texted him again, she avoided the subject and they talked about anything else. She hadn’t wanted to pressure him or make him angry with her. Now she wished she had been more persistent, made him to talk to her so that she could help him. She would gladly take him being mad at her over what was happening now.
The sun was going down. She steered onto the highway as her GPS directed, the lights of other cars flashing in her eyes. Ten minutes on the highway and her mind started to wander again, this time to the day she and Will first met. They were twelve, and Will came to her church with another guy in her youth group. He had been no taller than Tori back then, whereas now he was taller by a good six inches. He was smaller, too, and his voice cracked a lot. He had light brown hair, green eyes, and the cutest crooked grin. Tori had the biggest crush on him at first, then forced herself to stop liking him when she was sure he did not like her back. But when they were fourteen, he asked her out, and they dated for a while before breaking up. Tori remembered being completely heartbroken, but eventually she and Will got back to being good friends. Ironically, they were closer after breaking up than they had been before, though sometimes Tori would look at him and think about what it was like when he was her boyfriend, not just her friend.
She was never clear on why he broke up with her. His reasons were vague, and Tori hadn’t felt like asking him about it later. She didn’t want to risk ruining the friendship. It didn’t matter, anyway.
With a vain hope that Will had texted her, Tori glanced down at her phone screen. Nothing. Maybe she should try calling him again.
She pulled over to the shoulder and dialed his number. The phone rang three times before, to Tori’s relief, Will picked up. But his words were not what she wanted to hear.
“Tori, stop calling me,” he said tiredly. “I’m going to do this, and you can’t talk me out of it.”
“Will, please!” Tori exclaimed, feeling desperate. “You cannot do this.”
“I don’t have anything to live for anymore! Don’t you understand? No, no you don’t, because you can’t possibly understand. Not with your perfect life and your perfect God who always answers your prayers and actually gives a crap what happens to you,” Will snarled. Tori had never heard him sound so upset. He actually seemed angry with her.
“Don’t do this to me, Will,” Tori implored. “I love you, you’re my best friend. I need you to not do this. You can’t kill yourself!”
Will hesitated before replying, “You don’t need me. No one needs me. I’ve never done anything to deserve your love.” He paused. “You remember when I broke up with you?”
“That was because I had screwed up really bad and I couldn’t bring myself to go out with you anymore,” he said. “You deserved better and you still do. So just let me do this and get it over with.”
Tori said, “I’m on my way over there.”
“I’m on the highway, driving to your house. I’m an hour away.”
As she talked, she moved off of the shoulder back onto the road.
“No, don’t come, Tori! I told you to–”
“Yeah, well, I don’t give a crap what you told me,” snapped Tori. “I’m coming.”
“I’m not going to be at home.”
“Where are you?”
That was when Will hung up on her for the second time ever.
“I cannot believe you!” Tori exclaimed.
“See, this is why I didn’t want to talk about it,” replied Will angrily. “I knew you would react like this.”
“Can you blame me? I mean, seriously, Will, drugs? Are you crazy?” It was probably for the best that this conversation was being held over the phone, or Tori may have slapped Will, she was so mad.
“You don’t understand,” Will said. “It’s not like heroin or anything. It’s just a little bit of pot every now and then to calm my nerves. You know how stressed out I am.”
Tori took a deep, rattling breath. “Yes, I know, but smoking is not the way to deal with it,” she said, fighting to keep from yelling. “Pray for peace or–”
“You know how I feel about that, Tori,” Will interrupted, an edge to his voice that Tori had never heard him use with her. “I thought we agreed that I needed time and that you would leave me alone about it.”
“I know, but it’s been months since then and we haven’t talked about it at all,” Tori said. “I’m worried about you, Will. I don’t understand what’s going on because you won’t tell me anything.”
She heard him take a deep breath, the kind of breath he took when he was getting angry and was trying to control it. “This conversation is exactly why I don’t want to tell you anything,” he said slowly.
And that was when Will hung up on her for the first time ever.
With a jerk, Tori wrenched her car back into her own lane as the driver behind her honked his horn at her. She had been so deep in memory that she hadn’t realized she was drifting. She really needed to pay attention if she was going to make it. She was only halfway there.
For the next half hour, she focused on the road and listened to the radio, attempting to sing along to the music like she usually did. She did her best not to think about all the time she had spent in Will’s truck, singing and laughing at him when he went off key–which was often, since he was a horrible singer. He would flash his crooked grin at her and then mess up on purpose, just to make her laugh. One time he did it so unexpectedly that her drink came out her nose as she laughed.
What had happened inside of Will to take away that guy, the one who was always smiling and laughing at his own stupid jokes, which were so terrible that no one else could help laughing, either? Tori supposed there had always been that side to Will, the side that got angry unexpectedly, the side that held all his darkness. The side that sometimes scared Tori. But she had always been able to help him, and now he wouldn’t let her.
Her GPS directed her to her exit. Will’s house wasn’t far, but he had said she would not find him there. She had no idea where to go to find him, and so she continued to his house. Maybe his mom would know.
Will lived in a small house in town. The short driveway was all gravel, and the lawn needed to be mowed. His mother’s car was there, but Will’s truck was gone.
Tori turned off her car and got out. There was a walkway made of cracked cement squares, but it was mostly lost in the overgrown weeds that made up the front yard. There was no porch, just a couple of steps and a small platform in front of the door. Tori knocked several times.
A few moments passed, and then the door opened. Will’s mother was dressed in sweats and a t-shirt, just as Tori remembered, but her usual smile didn’t come initially, and when it did, it seemed tight and unreal.
“Tori!” she said. She sounded genuinely happy to see Tori, who couldn’t help but notice the smell of cigarette smoke coming from inside the house. “What are you doing here?”
“Hi, Gina,” Tori said. Will’s mom had always insisted upon going by her first name. “I’m looking for Will?”
Gina frowned. “He said he was going to the store…You know, he should have been back by now.” She sighed. “I don’t know what to do with that boy. He just wanders all over creation without telling me where he’s going.”
It’s not like you try to keep tabs on him, Tori thought, but she kept her mouth shut. “Look, Will’s in trouble,” she said instead. “I think…he’s going to commit suicide.”
Gina’s eyes widened. “Why would you…?”
“He told me, okay? I drove all the way here to stop him,” Tori interrupted. “I tried calling you, but it said your number was disconnected. Do you have any idea where he could have gone?”
“I…I’m not sure.” Gina frowned in concentration. “He and his buddies like to hang out down by the bridge,” she said finally. “The old railroad bridge that isn’t in use anymore. They hang around down by the water.”
Tori’s stomach flipped. “Okay, okay, where is that?”
“I’ll drive us,” Gina said, grabbing her keys from somewhere near the door.
“No,” Tori said sharply. Gina looked at her in surprise. “No offense, Gina, but you’re the last person he wants to see right now. I’ll go. Just tell me where this bridge is, and please don’t argue, we don’t have time.”
Gina gave her quick instructions. “He’s my son, Tori, I have to come,” she insisted.
Tori was already at her car. “Call the police,” she said over her shoulder. “Then come down. But let me go first. I think I can talk him out of it. How long ago did he leave?”
It was pitch black by the time Tori found the bridge. The river was high from recent rainfall, and the bridge, all steel rails and rotting wooden beams, looked threatening and dangerous. Tori parked and turned off the engine. She picked up her phone and dialed Mom, who picked up almost immediately.
“Hi, sweetie,” Mom said, her voice a comforting sound. “How’s Abbey?”
“Um, actually, I…I lied about that. I’m sorry,” Tori admitted.
“What? Tori, where are you?”
Tori fought back tears. “It’s Will, Mom,” she said, a lump rising in her throat. She quickly explained the situation. “I wanted you to know. I’m at the bridge to talk him out of it. I’m really sorry, I should have told you before. But…can you pray? Like, really hard?”
“Of course, sweetheart.”
“Thank you. Gina called the police, and I’m getting out. I’ll call you later.”
Tori was grateful that Mom didn’t get angry quite yet. She would face the consequences of lying and driving a long distance alone later. For now, she had to find Will.
Her legs were shaking as she got out. The late October air was chilly, and she hadn’t brought a jacket, but she felt sweaty and clammy. Looking around, she saw Will’s truck parked closer to the bridge. The headlights were on. He was here somewhere…Gina had said he hung out down on the bank, by the water. But as Tori’s eyes adjusted to the darkness, she saw a familiar silhouette standing on the edge of the bridge.
“Will!” she screamed. She saw his head snap around in her direction, and she broke into a sprint, reaching the bridge in seconds.
“What part of ‘don’t come’ did you not understand?” Will shouted at her.
“Will, come on…” Tori started to step onto the old railroad tracks.
“Tori, don’t come out here,” Will said sharply, putting out a cautionary hand. “It’s not safe. You’ll break through the wood. Stay there.”
Heart beating wildly, Tori stopped moving, but she didn’t stop talking. “Will, please, I’m begging you,” she said shakily. He looked directly at her, and she could see his face, illuminated by the headlights of his truck and by the full moon above them. His eyes were red and bloodshot–he had been smoking. Tori felt her heart begin to break.
“Go away,” said Will.
“I won’t do that,” Tori snapped, voice shaking. Her eyes stung and her throat hurt from holding back sobs so that she could talk. “Will, you’re my best friend! You say you have nothing to live for, but you don’t even think of me! I’m always here for you.” She paused. “And so is God.”
Will’s face contorted with anger. “God doesn’t care about me!” he shouted, turning fully in Tori’s direction and moving a little further away from the edge. “All that stuff in church about Jesus and God always being there, that’s a bunch of crap from a bunch of people who have never had to deal with anything their entire lives. It’s all fine when things are great, but where is God when I need Him? Huh? Tell me that, Tori, if you believe so much that your precious Jesus is there for me. Where was He when my dad was beating my mom, when he was beating me? Where was He when Dad almost killed Mom and my parents got divorced? Where has He been this whole time?”
His hands were curled into fists by his sides and he was shaking with fury. But his eyes were wet. He was on the verge of crying. Tori’s face was covered in tears now. She couldn’t stop them from coming any longer.
“Will, I don’t have all the answers,” Tori answered, her voice thick and choked. “But one thing I do know is that God hasn’t gone anywhere. He’s right here, like He always has been. Maybe I’ve never had problems like you’ve had, but guess what, my life isn’t perfect.” She swallowed and took a deep breath. “You remember when my mom had cancer? I was so terrified that I was going to lose her, and even though it all ended up being okay, I never would have been able to stay calm without God by my side, helping me.”
“I don’t think that’s the same thing,” Will said.
Tori felt frustration and desperation boiling to the surface. “Just listen to me, okay?” she cried. “No one’s life is perfect. Everyone goes through crap. You think you’re the first person to deal with something like this? That’s why it’s called faith, Will.”
“Stop it, Tori!” Will shouted. “You don’t understand. You don’t know everything. Do you want to know what I’ve done? I’ve done a lot of things that have made me hate myself, that have made me hate being alive. All I ever do is screw up and screw everybody else over.”
Tori watched as angry tears spilled down his face. She felt as if her heart was being ripped apart inside her chest even as if pounded with utter terror. “Tell me, Will,” she pleaded. “Just tell me what you’ve done. I can help. You don’t have to do this.”
Will raked a hand through his over-long hair and let out the most terrifying chuckle that Tori had ever heard. It was like there was a completely different person standing in front of her, a person who saw himself as unworthy of living.
“I’ve done it all, Tori,” he said. “Name anything that makes you feel like complete trash, like scum, and I’ve done it. I’ve messed up everything. It didn’t even start when I moved. No, it started a long time ago. I was dating you and I may as well not have been, you know that? I never cheated, but I was so close so many times. You deserved better, and so I gave you that. You still deserve better…” He looked over at the edge of the bridge, and Tori’s heart skipped a beat.
“You think I want this?” she sobbed. “Will, this won’t fix anything! This won’t be better for anyone! We all love you; I love you! Please, Will, you can’t do this to me! I love you so much and if you do this, I’ll never, ever get over it.”
Will didn’t look at her. He turned back towards the edge, and Tori was moving again. She stepped onto the bridge, feeling it creak beneath her. “No, Will, please…” She felt like a broken record, repeating the same plea over and over again only for it to fall on deaf ears.
“Trust me, you’re better off without me,” Will said, and Tori could hear the despair and the tears in his voice. “I’m not doing this for me, or to go to a better place–I shouldn’t go to a good place. I’m doing this for everybody else.”
He stepped up to the very edge of the bridge. Tori wanted to grab him, pull him back, but she was scared she would shake his balance. She was practically screaming as she said, “I won’t be better off! I need you, Will. I’m begging you, don’t do this!”
She stepped up beside him on the edge, latching onto his arm. He snapped, “Let go of me, Tori. Go home, forget about me.”
He jerked out of her grip, knocking her off balance. She teetered on the edge for a moment.
Then she fell.
Even as she screamed out in terror, she felt her wrist caught painfully in a tight hold from above. She looked up and saw that Will had thrown himself onto his stomach and managed to snag her wrist just in time. He met her eyes with complete panic, and for a second, Tori saw a flash of the old Will in his face.
Swinging out in empty space, Tori made the mistake of looking down at the water, which shimmered menacingly in the moonlight. It was impossibly far down, and it swam before her vision. She closed her eyes.
“Give me your other hand,” Will said. Tori did as she was told, and somehow, Will pulled her up. She didn’t know how, but she ended up sitting on the bridge, trembling, and Will wrapped his arms tightly around her and pulled away from the edge. He helped her up and walked her as quickly as possible onto solid ground.
As soon as they were off the bridge, Tori grabbed his arm with both hands and made him look at her. “Will, don’t go back out there,” she said shakily. “I’m begging you, please. I can help you. Just talk to me.”
Will hesitated, looking at the bridge, then looking back at her. “I…I’m so sorry,” he said finally. A sob escaped him and his shoulders started shaking. “I’m so, so sorry, Tori.”
For a brief moment, Tori thought that this meant he was still going through with it. She opened her mouth to speak, but then Will suddenly dropped to his knees, as if having the weight of the world on his shoulders had finally made his knees buckle.
Without a word, Tori sank to the ground and put her arms around him, holding him tighter than ever. He buried his face in her hair and cried, and she let out sobs of relief onto his shoulder, soaking his shirt as the sound of approaching police sirens reached her ears.
Thank you, God.
She prayed this over and over, at a loss for any other words. But she didn’t need any other words. God had brought Will back from the edge, and all she could do was keep repeating over and over: