Hassler topped out five hundred feet above the valley on a long ledge.
He collapsed on the cold granite, his jaw throbbing, probably broken.
It was night and the town lay dark beneath him, paved streets glowing softly under the starlight.
His pant legs had frozen stiff.
As the chill set in, he thought about his life, and the peace he arrived at as he staggered onto his feet again was this: out of thirty-eight years, one had been magic. He’d lived in a canary-yellow house with the love of his life, and there hadn’t been a day he’d woken up beside Theresa that he didn’t know how good he had it.
He ached for more time with her, but the fact that he’d had any time at all . . .
It was enough.
Enough to cling to.
It took him a moment, but he found their home down there in the dark.
Fixing his gaze on it, he saw it not as it was, empty and dark, but rather as it had been in the soft, cool light of those summer evenings as he’d walk toward the front porch, toward everything he loved.
He stepped to the edge.
He wasn’t afraid.
Not of death. Not of pain. He’d experienced enough agony on his nomadic mission for several lifetimes, and death was something he’d long since prepared for. If anything, it held, for him at least, the promise of peace.
He bent his knees to leap.
A noise pulled him out of the moment like a rip cord.
He turned, couldn’t see much of anything in the darkness, but he realized it was the sound of someone crying.
He said, “Hello?”
The crying stopped.
A woman’s voice asked, “Who’s there?”
“Are you all right?”
“If I was do you think I’d be up here?”
“Yeah, I guess that’s a fair point. Do you want me to come over?”
Hassler stepped back from the ledge, eased down onto the rock. “You shouldn’t do this,” he said.
“Excuse me? What the hell are you doing up here? I could tell you the same damn thing.”
“Yeah, except I actually should be up here.”
“Why? Because your life is so terrible too?”
“Do you want to hear my sob story?”
“No, I wanted to have jumped by now. I’d finally worked up the nerve when this ass**le interrupted me. This is the second time I’ve climbed up here.”
“What happened the first?” Hassler asked.
“It was daylight, and I hate heights. I chickened out.”
“Why are you up here?” he asked.
“I’ll tell you as long as you don’t try to save me.”
The woman sighed. “I lost my husband when the abbies came into town.”
“Sorry to hear that. Were you two married in Wayward Pines?”
“Yes, and I know what you’re thinking, but I loved him. I also loved this other man who’s here. Crazy thing is we knew each other in our lives before. He’s here with his wife and son, and when he came to tell me that my husband had been killed, I asked him if his family had survived.”
“Yeah, but you know what? There was a part of me, a bigger part than I want to admit, that was actually sad she had lived. Don’t get me wrong, I miss my husband terribly, but I kept thinking . . .”
“If his wife had been killed, then the two of you . . .”
“Right. So on top of losing my husband, on top of the fact that I can’t be with this man I love, it also turns out I’m a shitty human being.”
“Did you laugh at me?”
“No, I just think it’s cute that you think that’s horrible. Do you want to hear horrible?”
“In my life before, I loved a woman, but she was married to this guy who worked for me. I . . . arranged a chain of events so that her husband would be removed from the picture. See, I knew what this town was as it was being created two thousand years ago. I made certain this woman was abducted by David Pilcher, and then I volunteered to go into suspension so I could be with her when she woke up. We lived together in Wayward Pines, and she never knew she was here because of me. After a year, I was sent away on a mission beyond the fence. I was never supposed to return. Every day I was out there, it was the thought of her that kept me going, kept me breathing, putting one foot in front of the other. Against impossible odds, I made it back. I thought I’d be returning to her, to a hero’s welcome. But instead, I find that her husband is here and the town has been destroyed.”
Down in the darkness of the valley, tiny points of firelight had begun to gather on Main Street.
Watching them, Hassler said, “So I climbed up here to take my life. You thought about bad things. I did them. Does that shift things back into perspective?”
“Why are you up here?” she asked.
“I just told you.”
“No, I mean, is it because you can’t live with what you did? Or because you can’t be with her?”
“Because I can’t be with her. Look, I’m not going to stop loving her just because her husband’s around. That’s not the way the human heart works. I can’t just amputate what I feel. It’s not like we live in a big, wide world anymore where I can just move to another city, another state. There’s no alternate life waiting out there for me to get on with. This is it. We’re down to what? Two hundred fifty people? I can’t avoid her, and what I feel for her has defined me for so long now, I don’t know the person I’d be if I tried to walk away from it.”
“I hear that.”
“And the funny thing is, as bad as I am, I don’t have it in me to murder her husband. Is there a fate worse than being halfway evil?”
For a moment, the only sound was the lonely whisper of wind blowing across the rock.
The woman finally said, “I know you, Adam Hassler.”
“I used to work for you.”
“Is life weird, or what?”
“I can leave you alone now if—”
“I’m not judging you, Adam.”
He heard her get up, move toward him.
In a minute, she emerged out of the darkness, still just a shadow, and sat down beside him, their feet hanging off the edge together.
“Are your pants frozen too?” he asked.
“Yeah, I’m freezing my ass off. Do you think it means something that you and I both climbed up here to jump on the same night?”