Stella Armstrong stood at the side of a bridge, looking over the edge. Her fingers gripped the thick chain link so hard her knuckles turned white and she could feel the metal cutting into her hands. She stood there with the stillness of an animal. Staring at the cars rushing below her.
She currently stood over a bridge that went over interstate forty. The drop must be at least seven stories high. Maybe more, she guessed as she tried to look straight down below the bridge. Her heart thundered as her body tilted, she knew the gate wouldn’t allow her to go anywhere but her hands still turned slick. Sweat mixing with the blood on her hands made her yank them away from the fence, finally.
Stella pulled the sleeve of her sweater over her hand and wiped away the blood on the gate. Or tried. It smeared and only made it more obvious but she shrugged and took a careful step back toward the middle of the concrete walkway.
She inhaled deeply, attempting to return her heart back to normal as she shoved her hands in her pockets. The lights of the cars flashed, bouncing off every surface, along with the city lights in the distance but they never once grazed her. She felt so invisible. So, small staring down at the world from a view that only she was getting right now. Her heart leapt again but this time she didn’t know why.
“Stella.” A man's voice from beside her. She turned toward him, her long bleached blonde hair blowing in the wind behind her, making the knots even bigger.
“Eugene.” She greeted with a tilt of her head. He smiled at her and she returned it.
“You look like hell.” He took a step closer to her, taking in her appearance. The sleeves of her sweater were worn down almost as much as her shoes which now had duct tape wrapped around the top of one of them.
“Well, aren’t you charming.” She rolled her eyes, glancing quickly back at the freeway below.
“So, where have you been?” He asked, concern laced his voice even as he kept his expression neutral. Eugene tried not to worry about Stella. Tried to let her figure things out on her own. He tried to be there for her even when she pushed him away. Which she did, more often than not. Stella had been losing it and Eugene was the only one to notice.
“Around.” she sighed. He sucked his teeth and looked away, trying to keep his mouth shut. “You don’t look much better.” She scoffed. Stella looked at Eugene pointedly up and down, taking in his ripped jeans and chipped black nail polish.
“I haven’t been home in a few days.” He didn’t bother to mention it’s because he had been trying to track her down. Keep an eye out for her. “Why are you here?” He nodded to the bridge.
“It’s pretty.” Stella looked back over at the edge and back at the drop below her. Eugene's eyes followed and his hands turned slick. He looked around the bridge. There was nowhere that she could jump. The chain-link curved at the top to stop people from jumping. She wouldn’t be able to get up there.
“Let’s go. My car is parked around the corner.”
“To get you some food, Stella.” He turned around and started walking, not bothering to see if she was following.
They reached his car and Stella threw herself into the passenger seat.
“I’m not really hungry.” She protested, softly. Eugene rolled his eyes and reversed his car out of the parking lot.
“You haven’t eaten. We are going to go sit down and eat something at least. Okay? You don’t have to eat a steak dinner but have a few pancakes or something.”
Stella only shrugged and pulled her sweater tighter around her. She knew she was acting terrible but she didn’t have the energy to care.
Eugene pulled into the parking lot of a dinner open twenty four hours. The place crawled with spiderwebs and was generally not clean. It stood in the same parking lot as a motel. Several people that worked there stood outside the doors, cigarettes hanging from their lips.
A few ladies strutted from the motel, eyes wide as they wiped at their faces. They had less clothing on than socially acceptable but they never cared for such things. Not at this hour, not down here.
Eugene and Stella walked into the building and took two places at the counter on red barstools with stuffing coming from them.
Stella lifted her menu to her face and read over it, not truly processing anything.
“I’m going to get some French toast, what about you?” Eugene tried.
“I’ll get pancakes.” She nodded, closing the menu. They were silent until they gave their orders to a cook and disappeared in the back.
Eugene looked at Stella as she leaned her elbows on the counter and blew out a long breath.
“What’s been going on, Stells?” Eugene asked, softly, carefully. He desperately wanted her to talk to him about what was going on with her. He saw the void in her eyes. The way she no longer looked at things, but through them. Her behavior was erratic at best. He couldn’t tell what had happened. Why she seemed to change so much.
She took a deep breath, opened her mouth then shut it again.
“Stella, you can talk to me. You know that. Whatever is going on, I’ll help you however I can. I-” He almost said worried about you but he knew that wouldn’t go over well with her.
“I know. I know. I just-” She took a deep breath again, her eyes looking for the ceiling as if she could look through it and ask the sky for guidance. “Do you remember a few weeks ago, when we went to that party by the river?”
He did remember. She left early. She had been there and been drinking and then she disappeared. They had driven together and he called her repeatedly until she sent him a text saying she went home claiming she felt sick. He thought it was strange then.
“Yeah, you went home early. You said you didn’t feel good.” She shook her head and looked down at her hands in her lap.
“I didn’t though, I didn’t go home. I-” Shouting from outside stopped their conversation short. They both whipped their heads to the window to see one of the ladies from before. She was in a struggle with a man. He had one hand gripped around her arm and the other pushing on her shoulders, slowly buckling her knees.
Eugene was still watching the struggle, frozen, when Stella jumped from her seat as if possessed and ran outside.
“Shit.” Eugene muttered, running after her. Eugene ran for her trying to stop her from putting herself in the middle of something that could get her hurt but she reached them before he could reach her.
Stella reached the interaction and before she could process what she was about to do, she kicked her foot into the knee of the man. A scream pierced the air as he fell to the ground, his grip loosening on the woman.
“Don’t fucking touch her.” Stella seethed through her teeth. A crowd had now run outside to see what had a grown man screaming like that. His knee was bent the wrong direction and his face twisted in pain. He clutched his stomach and screamed again when he looked down at his knee.
Everyone, including Eugene, had no idea what to do. He had never seen Stella react like that. Not to anything. She had gotten into fights and flipped people off but he had never seen the light leave her eyes. His hands shook as he watched her, once again, frozen in place.
All at once everyone burst into motion. The girl straightened herself and stared wide-eyed at the man still writing in pain on the ground. The rest of the workers from the diner ran out, looking around as if there would be a solution somewhere in the dirty parking lot.
Stella stared and stared at the man. The man who wasn’t anyone she knew. His face wasn’t one that haunted her and she knew that. But she couldn’t see it.
A gentle hand touched her arm and her whole body jolted as she pushed the hand from her arm. She looked up into the eyes of the lady that she had helped. She stared at her, scared, relieved, and shaking, she nodded to Stella, keeping her hands far away.
“Thank you.” She tipped her chin. Stella wanted to do it back but instead of seeing this woman’s brown eyes she was seeing her own green eyes and she couldn’t look at herself.
“Stella.” A careful voice came from behind her, a gentle touch on her shoulder. “Stella.” She turned her body away and slapped the hand away from her.
“Don’t fucking touch me!” She shouted, her voice growing in panic. Her eyes snapped up to Eugene.
He blinked at her. Having a hard time processing why she slapped him away. Pain laced his face and his eyes and all the puzzle pieces crashed down together, in one big horrific picture he hadn’t been able to see before.
They stared into each other’s eyes, shame and hurt in hers and pain and understanding in his. In that moment she knew that he knew. She wished more than anything that he didn’t know. That she could hide this part away forever but there it is and there he is. Watching her, seeing her, knowing her.
“Let’s go, Stells. The cops are going to show up.” He reached a hand out to her and she took it. A hand in the darkness.
Sirens wailed in the distance as they drove away from the diner and Eugene still held Stella’s hand.