Jumper

Susan looked over the edge of the bridge to the cold water far below. She came here thinking she was resolute, that today would be the end. But the distance gave her pause. For a moment she was afraid she might remember some reason to live, but too late. Maybe half way down she'd remember that friend that's always been there or maybe as she drowned she'd catch a glimpse of some forgotten conversation with her mother.

That wondering triggered something deeper in her core. She immediately climbed up on the rail and steadied herself, looking down at the water making sure she would jump clear of the bridge. There was no friend and no forgotten conversation to keep her afloat in this world. The only person who had kept her here this long had died in her arms just hours ago. Now she chose to join him, heaven or hell or nirvana or nothingness. Anything was better than here and the pain.

As she steadied herself for the jump a man sauntered up to the rail. He threw his elbows over casually and looked down, staring at the same water below. "You know, most people regret jumping almost immediately. They remember some friend or conversation with their mother and then BOOM suddenly they have something left to live for."

That and the casualness with which it was said almost shook her off of the rail. "You're not going to try to stop me are you?"

"Why would I stop you? The question you should ask is why haven't you already jumped."

"What?" She focused on him, and instead of the ratty, dirty bum she expected to see hanging out on a bridge, she saw a young man in a crisp business suit with a wool overcoat and bright beautiful blue eyes. Kind eyes, smiling back up at her. "What did you say?"

"Why haven't you already jumped? The people who really mean to do it climb right up and launch themselves down into that cold abyss." He made a sign with his hand, a whistle and then a sploshing sound.

"I just wanted to make sure I didn't hit anything on the way down."

"Afraid of the pain? Or paranoid about getting stuck on some ledge and making the 10 o'clock news?" he joked.

"The pain I guess." She said suddenly nervous.

"Well a little head trauma is nothing compared to the rib shattering suffocation of hitting that water from this height. I mean a good crack on the skull and you'd be out before you hit, almost painless." He smiled at her still, keeping eye contact, as she gripped the beam next to her tighter than ever. "Now if you were really committed you would have walked a little longer, to the middle of the bridge. At that height you'd die almost instantly when you hit, if you didn't have a heart attack or pass out in flight."

Her heart was pounding at this point. The harsh words coming out of his mouth didn't mesh with the smile. Plus the cold was starting to get to her.

"It's cold huh?" He said nonchalantly.

She looked away from him and focused on the far off coastline. "If this is some kind of reverse psychology it's not going to work."

"No, of course not. Just giving you all the facts so that you can make an informed decision. I'm purely a non-interventionist. But speaking from experience, if you walked back toward the shore side of the bridge, about 100 meters that way" he pointed to her left, "there's a prime spot for people who aren't sure. It's not so high that you'll die but if you really want to you can just surrender yourself to the cold water and drown."

"Y-y-you've jumped before?" She said as she wrapped her other arm around the beam and tried to still her shivering."

"Oh yeah. More than I care to remember. But enough to be able to speak with authority. Every great once in a while I forget myself, forget what this world has to offer, why I'm here, and seek to escape. Sometimes I manage to walk away... sometimes not."

"Is that why you're here tonight. To jump again?"

He chuckled at the question "Oh heavens no! I'm here for you. Just to talk. Help you make your decision."

"What? For me? Who sent you? How did you know I would be here?" She said nervously, looking around to see if there were others. Looking below to see if a safety net had been secretly set up. There was nothing but the sound of cars speeding by to other parts of the city and this one man.

"Well where else would you be, Susan? I mean after all that's happened tonight. With Martin..."

"Wait! What? Who are you? How did you... Did you follow me... how do you..." she screamed and tears streamed down her face.

"Calm down please. I wouldn't want you to lose your grip and fall by accident." His face became more somber, his eyes sadder.

"Get away! I don't need your help! Go whoever you are!" She screamed.

"That's your choice then. I'll leave. But I want you to know that Martin would never have wanted this for you." He straightened his coat, gave her a nod and then turned to walk away.

"Wait!" She sobbed "You knew Martin?"

He stopped and turned "as well as I know anyone" and the smile returned to his face.

She hugged the beam tighter. "How? Tell me something you know about him?"

"Okay. I'll play. I know that he liked to wander the house while he brushed his teeth. That he hated brussel sprouts but ate them because you liked them. That he had a scar under his chin where his father hit him, but he told you it was from skate boarding."

She bent her knees and slid down slightly on the beam, hugging it and waling.

"Most importantly I know how much he loved you. How much he wanted to tell you. How he longed to be honest with you about why he was the way he was." He moved closer to her.

"How did you know him?"

"Why don't you come down from there and we can talk about it somewhere where it will make more sense?" And putting a hand to her shoulder he helped her step down. Quickly he shrugged off his coat and wrapped her in it. Rubbing her now aching shoulder vigorously. "Better?"

"Yes, I think so. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." She blubbered.

"No, no, dear. Don't apologize to me. It will all work out, you'll see." And with that he escorted her off the bridge to a near-by park. As they walked they exchanged memories of Martin and laughed about better times.

"So how did you know Martin," she asked. "Did you work with him?"

"Well that's a little complicated. I'm not sure I could fully explain it where you would understand."

"What? Was it some secret lodge or fraternity?" She joked. Suddenly very comfortable with this stranger.

"Oh no nothing like that. He wasn't that secretive. He wasn't part of any secret society or anything like that as you know it." he smiled down at her, his blue eyes twinkling.

"Well what then?" She pressed.

"It might be better left for another time. Maybe after you've had a few days to grieve and some time to get yourself together."

"Oh my God. You weren't lovers? Were you? Is this... is this what he was keeping from me?" Tears began to well again in her eyes.

He stopped and turned her to face him taking her chin gently in his hand and tilting it up so that she faced him "Shhhh now" he spoke softly "It was nothing like that. Martin loved you with the whole of his heart. He never cheated and never loved another like he did you." His eyes glistened with tears and hers stopped. He released her and she wiped the tears away.

"Heh! I guess I'm just grasping. You seem to know him so well and yet I don't remember him describing anyone like you. In fact I don't even know your name."

"It's John now." He said quickly.

"Now? Is that a last name?"

"No that means right now I'm John. But Martin wouldn't have known me by that name. Martin only knew me for an instant."

"I don't understand. You know everything about Martin how could you only know him for an instant." They continued to walk through the park. Coming to more populated areas. It was still relatively early and the park was well lit and had a skating area not far away.

"I told you it was complicated. I've known Martin his whole live. But he only knew me for a few minutes. It was a great few minutes, but sadly too short."

"Why do you talk in riddles?" She stared at him quixotically.

"It's a technique I use. It helps people open their minds to the answers, or to more questions."

She laughed at that. "You are an odd character, John."It feels so odd to laugh like this so soon."

"It's natural. Grief isn't constant. It ebbs and flows. You can be happy in the moment and sad another. You're allowed. There aren't any rules to it."

"That's comforting. So back to how you knew Martin. You've really got me stumped on that."

"Are you sure your ready?"

"YES! Stop keeping me in suspense." She laughed.

"You know that little voice inside your head" he said.

'This one.' her head said and she stopped cold. Her expression suddenly serious.

He faced her "I'm that. That's how I knew Martin and how I know you and how I know 6,692,030,277 other people."

"How did you do that?" She stammered. 'This?' her inner voice said back.

"It's who I am. Please let's walk and I can explain more, if you're ready."

"Okay" she said hesitantly.

"I was there with Martin in the car today. He was struggling with his feelings for you. He was struggling with telling you the truth about his past and telling you how much he loved you."

"You keep saying he loved me. But he never said it. How do you know he loved me?" Her brows pursed.

"I told you that already. I knew him. I knew everything and for a few minutes just before he died he knew me too."

She stopped. "I don't understand. You're talking in circles again is some sort of parlor trick, some psychic gag?"

"No psychic gag. Nothing like that. You'll understand in a minute." He said softly continuing to walk. She stepped quickly to follow.

"Martin was in the car, turning over in his head the ramifications of telling you his feelings. Saying those three important words. It scared him to death. I was there to encourage him, help him relax. Then for a moment he did relax, and in that moment it was like enlightenment and suddenly he understood who I was and could see me completely."

"Are you saying that the wreck happened because he was distracted?"

"NO! The wreck happened because a man was arguing with his girlfriend about a twenty dollar birthday present she bought for a co-worker. Neither of them would listen to me and they ran a red light."

"So you were in the car with the couple?"

"Yes. I was in the car with them and in the car with Martin?"

She stopped again. "You're killing my head. When were you in the car with Martin?"

"I was always in the car with Martin and I was always in the car with the couple, Justin and Cindy. Just like I was always with you at the hospital and still with you on the bridge and here with you now." He put his hand on her shoulder and with his other hand put a knuckle on her forehead. "In here."

'Right here' the voice in her head echoed. "How do you do that?"

"I told you it's who I am. I am that, alone. When you were on the bridge, I was the one reminding you to look for that friend at work that you just started to get to know or to try to remember that time in 6th grade when your mother talked to you about suicide."

Suddenly those memories came back into focus. She and Jeana had hit it off from the start on Jeana's first day at work just a week ago. And her mother had that talk with her about suicide after one of her class mates made an attempt back in 6th grade. She would have remembered those too late if she had jumped.

"You're starting to understand."

"So you can get into our heads. Like telepathy?"

"No, not exactly. I never leave your head. You stop listening. But I never leave, I'm always with you and always part of you. Just like you're part of me. Then sometimes I'm more a part of you than you are. Like I am with John now."

"Is that your name? I had forgotten to ask. Oh this is just all crazy talk! Are you saying that you can possess them or something? I can't believe I'm asking that. It's insane."

"More like they invite me to be more than a whisper for a time. Sometimes that's a lifetime and more often it's a moment here and there. All I got with Martin was the moment. It was a great moment; Enlightenment is what some people might call it." He beamed a wide smile.

They had come to an area where there were more people. People going from one side of the park to the other. Shoppers buying food or trinkets from street vendors at the edge of the park. "Are you hungry? You haven't eaten today."

"I'm starving, how did you..." her voice trailed off. "I still don't think I get it. I keep waiting for the reveal, for you to tell me that you're reading my body language or I've been hypnotized this whole time."

"That's probably the hunger talking. How about a coney?"

"Yes please!" her stomach growled in reaction to the thought of food. Any food, but especially a coney. Martin used to bring them to her when she worked late and had forgotten to eat. The thought of it made her start to cry again.

He handed her a handkerchief and put his arm around her in comfort. It was a strange sensation to be comforted this way by a man she had only met roughly half an hour earlier. Stranger still that it didn't bother her at all. 'Shhhh...' said her inner voice. 'Everything will be okay.'

She snapped to attention. "Was that you?"

"You mean 'Shhh... Everything will be okay'? Yes. Yes it was." He said rather plainly.

"Could you not do that?"

"Well you could stop listening, but I can't stop being there." They neared a food stand and the man named John pulled a few bills from his pants pocket and handed it to the vendor. "A coney, light on the sauce for the lady, please." The vendor quickly dished up the steaming food and handed it and a couple of napkins to Susan. She and John continued their walk.

She tried to talk between bites, being careful to not let the sauce dribble onto the borrowed jacket. "I need to understand. If I have to go on, I have to understand."

"Understand what?"

"You, this voice, your moment with Martin, why it all happened, everything!" Although it came out more like 'everefeen' as she tried to talk and grab a bite at the same time.

"A bit greedy for one night but I'll do what I can for as long as you're willing. Can I ask a favor though?"

She looked up at him and nodded, wiping the corner of her mouth with a napkin.

"Can I ask for the coat back and bring you another? John has familial obligations to attend to." He said with a smile, his blue eyes almost glowing.

"Uh, oh...yeah" she said with a little confusion. She shrugged off the coat and handed it to John. When he reached out for it she noticed the wedding band for the first time. It stung a little at the realization that during the whole conversation she had never once asked about his life. She didn't even know his name until a few minutes ago and now he was talking about leaving.

He slipped on the coat. "Don't worry, you won't be cold long." And with that he hugged her warmly. When he withdrew that glow in his eyes was gone "I hope you find what you are looking for, Susan" in an almost unfamiliar voice. Then he just walked away.

As she stood there with the wrapper and napkins from her supper, she couldn't believe the night was ending quite like this. John just kept walking and she kept staring. At about twenty feet away, and right as she was about to chase after him, he turned and with eyes aglow again and a big smile he said "Don't worry!"

"I'm right here," came an unfamiliar voice behind her. Startled she turned to see a much older man holding a ladies wool coat. His eyes twinkled with his smile. "I'm sorry I had to leave you waiting like that. I had to pick out a nice jacket and close up the stall or I would have been here sooner."

She just stared at the man. Mouth slightly agape. "Um. Who are you?"

The man just smiled and shook the jacket in front of her. "You're cold. You want the jacket right?"

Like an automaton she took the jacket from him and slid it on. It fit perfectly and had a nice soft lining that made her feel warm almost instantly.

"That's better" he said.

"Who..."

"Sorry. This is Anthony. He runs a nice little clothes shop a couple of blocks away. On the weekends he sells from the park stalls mostly to meet new people and to give away clothes when he meets people in need. Like tonight." There was a familiarity to his voice and his way of speaking.

"Do I know you? Are you a friend of John's?" She asked with look of suspicion.

"Sure, you know me. We've been talking non-stop for the past forty-five minutes. But you've only just met Anthony. Would you be more comfortable if you knew more about him first. He's not married." With that Anthony winked.

"I swear I've never seen you before and I've been talking to John for the past forty-five minutes not you."

"Me, John, Anthony, it's all the same. Like I said, John had obligations. His daughter got sick after a night out with her mom. Nothing too bad, and not completely unforeseen. So Anthony was close and willing so he's here now instead of John." The smile, the twinkling eyes, the matter of fact nonsensical talk, it all made her head spin.

"Why do you refer to yourself in the third person?" She asked, frustrated.

"That's part of enlightenment; Giving up of self, of identity. Anthony and John are great guys for that. They live so much for other people that they're selfless almost all of their waking life."

It suddenly clicked inside her. John, Anthony, the voice in her head were all the same. "It can't be." she whispered, holding her hand to her mouth. "You jumped to another body?"

He belly laughed, and Anthony's sizable belly jiggled as if he were Santa incarnate. "No. I don't jump bodies. I told you before. I'm always here. Always in Anthony, always in John, always in you. It's just a matter of listening."

She stared blankly at him.

"Maybe it will help if we start walking again." He held out his bent elbow and she took it as if powerless to do otherwise. "It's not a trick. Not a gimmick. It's just how things work. Imagine that there's a radio station out there that broadcasts calming music to every corner of the world. But the rest of the radio stations around it are so loud and so close that you can't hear the calm music, all you hear is the chatter, the bass, and the static. Then every once in a while you turn the nob just right, you reach the edge of that static and you catch a moment of calming music. Maybe you listen for an hour, maybe you try to tune it and lose it again, maybe someone distracts you or tries to change the station. However it happens, I'm like that radio station, soft but ever present."

She just stared up at him.

"How about an example. Let's see how many people I can get to say 'Hi' to you as we walk through down to the end of the block?" He pointed away from the park, down a street. There were a few people out, going to and from restaurants or coming home from the park. It was the same direction as Susan's home so it wasn't a leap to keep playing along.

"Okay" she said still somewhat in a fog as to what to do.

"Here's how it will work. I'll send out a message 'Say hi to Susan' and you count how many people respond as we walk. I'm going to guess ten. What's your bet?" He winked at her again.

"Uh, I don't know."

"Well let's see then." With that they set off down the street and away from the park. As they stepped onto the curb her inner voice sounded 'Say hi to Susan' and a reflection of her own face popped into her head.

A street performer at that same corner stopped playing and looked at Susan "Hey! Susan! How are you?" She nervously raised her hand and gave a small wave and the performer went back to playing.

Then as they continued to walk a teenager in a group of other teens, smiled at her and nudged one of his friends "Hey man, it's Susan" the other teen turned and looked confused. Then three more people passed in rapid succession all greeting her in turn, then a few more without recognition, then an older lady with a wide smile stopped her and started talking as if they had been friends forever. Anthony politely interrupted and asked that they be excused to continue on. The older lady obliged.

They continued on down the street until they came upon a weathered old woman sitting on the small stoop of an apartment building. Her clothes were ragged and torn and Susan couldn't tell if they had once been shirts or if they were just strips of cloth she had tied together haphazardly. As they started to pass, the woman looked up at Susan and said "Hi Susan. Are you starting to understand it yet?" Susan stopped and realized that the statement was in stereo. The old woman on her right, eye's glowing, and Anthony on her left saying the same thing simultaneously. "This is about the pinnacle of what I can show you right now. You WHORE! YOU DIRTY ROTTEN HUSBAND STEALING WHORE!" Anthony and the old woman were suddenly out of sync in what they were saying. Anthony stepped quickly to the right of Susan and got hit in the arm by the old woman as expletives flew in Susan's direction.

Anthony talked to the old woman, talking her back to her stoop. Explaining that Susan wasn't the woman who stole her husband. Her husband had died five years ago, but that he loved her so much and had wanted her to go live with her son. She mumbled to herself and went back to sitting on her stoop.

Anthony returned to Susan's side. "I'm sorry about that. You never know exactly what's going to happen when you start talking through someone who suddenly opens up like that. Her mind fell apart. It's been hard for her since Jerry died."

"Do you know her?" Susan asked, still a little shaken.

"I know everyone! But you meant are we friends, have we physically met before. The answer to that is 'No.'"

"What do you know about her?" she asked as they began to reach the end of the block and fewer and fewer people passed.

"I know everything about her. What would you like to know?"

"How do you know everything about her if you've never met?" She challenged him.

"The same way I know everything about you, and everything about Martin, and everything about everybody; I've watched it all and listened to it all happen, every day, every hour, every minute, right by your side. Well, sort of by your side, more in your head than side really," he joked.

His joking didn't make her feel any better and she was beginning to grow suspicious of him. What would someone with this ability want from her. Why did he save her from jumping? Was he responsible for Martin's death. What exactly was he? An alien? A demon? Some kind of parasite that required a human host?

"Well, none of those things really." He said so nonchalantly it shocked her back into focus.

"So you're not some spirit that floats from body to body?"

"No, I think I already answered that. You're assuming I'm something external to you, something from outside. I keep telling you that I'm part of you. I'm here all the time."

"I'm sorry. I'm trying to wrap my head around it. I know I'm being slow. Maybe today isn't the day for puzzles." She said, angry at herself that she wasn't seeing some bigger picture, some missing piece of the puzzle.

"We're not in any hurry. If you don't understand today, then maybe tomorrow, or sometime later. That's the great thing about our relationship, you get to have it on your terms." He smiled at her and pointed down the street. "Your house isn't too far away now. We should probably head that way."

They walked a few more blocks and as they walked they talked about Anthony and his life. Anthony was now 78 years old, a widower, his wife had died almost fifty years ago during childbirth with his only child. After her death, he had thrown himself into his work and built a solid tailoring and clothing business. It had been empty work though and at the age of 57 he was looking for something more. It had never crossed his mind to marry again and he had no other family. Then one day while eating his lunch in the nearby park he met a teen age girl, a homeless girl.

It was a brisk day but the girl had only a dirty long sleeve shirt to keep her warm. Seeing the girl in the cold ate at him as he ate his lunch. He thought several times that he should approach her, offer his own coat, a hot meal maybe. But he couldn't do it, too afraid of being rebuked or being called out as some kind of pervert. So back to work he went.

The girl, a 16 year old runaway, died that night after an unexpected cold snap brought the temperature below freezing. When Anthony had seen her, she was on borrowed time. She had survived on scraps of food left in the park trash cans for too long, unwilling to barter her body for better food or a place to sleep.

Anthony had been crushed by the news. He held himself accountable for her death. From that moment forward when he wasn't working he was at the park selling clothes to people who could afford it to pay for food and clothes for those who couldn't. He became singularly focused on others, so much so that at times he released his self.

This evening had been one such moment. He saw a young woman standing looking confused and cold. So he picked up a woman's coat from his stand and in that instant he felt a feeling of pure bliss. A moment later he was closing up the stand and hurrying to the woman and had left himself behind for a time. That woman was Susan.

"What happens to them? The people you inhabit."

"Nothing. They're still here."

"You mean trapped inside having to watch you control their bodies."

"The things people come up with. If I had a nickel for every time I'd heard that question. Well there's just not enough nickel in the world to say what I'd do." He seemed to ponder for a moment. "Anyway, 'no' is the answer to your question. They don't relinquish control per se, it's more of a partnership. When you're talking to me you're really talking to us. Both Anthony and I are here, at the same time, moving this hand," he motioned with his right hand in the air, "and talking too. Anthony gets this really great feeling of bliss, the ultimate natural high, and then he becomes part of something greater than himself. Then we get to have great conversations like this one."

"I feel so special now." Susan mocked. "So it's purely voluntary? The person gets to choose when?"

"Almost 100% of the time."

"Wait! 'Almost'?" She stopped walking.

"On rare occasions it's necessary to nudge a little harder and force the partnership. It's a short-lived partnership, but worth it. You hear about it here and there. You know, the stories about how some father lifts a car off their daughter or some stranger jumps into freezing lake to save someone who fell through the ice. It's a gray area. The person might have done it on their own, might have voluntarily partnered, but there was no time to wait."

She just looked at Anthony in wonder taking it all in. She remembered the stories of people saying things like 'I don't know what came over me, I just grabbed the car and lifted it' and 'it was like I wasn't even in control and I was watching from outside while someone else controlled my body, I didn't think I was capable of something like this.' It all clicked into place. Then suddenly she was snapped back to reality.

"Why wasn't it forced to save Martin?" She railed. "Why didn't you take control and keep John or whatever his name was from running that read light?"

"Justin" he corrected. "Sometimes people are so caught up in their own internal struggle that it's much more difficult to break through. They're so caught up in themselves that they refuse to see anything or anyone else. In that moment it has to be left up to free will. Forced partnerships only happen when someone is thinking about someone else but can't make a decision fast enough. The rest of the time, well... the rest of the time all that happens is the internal struggle."

"Both Justin and Cindy had shut down, to each other, and most certainly to me. There was nothing that could be done."

"You could have!" She accused him. "You could have pushed harder! You could have taken control!" The tears started to flow again, thinking of Martin battered and blood stained on the emergency room gurny. "You could have done something, but you didn't."

"Yes! Of course you're right. I could have forced Justin to take the wheel. I could have controlled him like a puppet. Bent him to my will!" His eyes glowed even more than before. "I could control anyone I wanted to and force them to be my meat puppets!"

She was suddenly very frightened. He had been such a jovial old man until now, maybe a little melancholy at points, but now he was scary. He seemed to stand taller and straighter and closer, like any minute he was going to pounce on her and she would no longer be in control of herself.

"Meat puppets!" He bellowed and then grabbed her.

Susan shrieked with surprise, closing her eyes waiting for the inevitable moment she would no longer be in control. Then suddenly Anthony let go and laughed uproariously.

"Oh sweet child. Dear sweet child. I would never do such a thing."

Susan slowly opened her eyes, fearful that she might suddenly see a new face in front of her. Maybe a devil or a ghost or something horrible. Instead she saw the same old man smiling back at her. "We have a little further to walk to get you home and it's getting late. You really need some rest after everything that's happened." He nodded in the direction of her home. "Shall we?"

Hesitantly she began to walk again, watching the little old man for any sign of attack. They walked for a block in silence. Susan wracked with anger, fear, and just a little bit of guilt. She was frustrated for falling apart and upset about yelling at Anthony the way she had.

Finally she broke the silence. "So there's nothing you could have done?"

As they reached the corner a young girl crossed the street going in the opposite direction. When she came parallel with Anthony they both spoke in unison. "Not without violating people's free will." The girl stopped and turned to stand with Susan and Anthony. Then again in unison they said "Anthony's a little tired and it's probably best if he heads back home now. Sam will walk with us the rest of the way."

Susan just stared back and forth between the two people in front of her. Anthony had lost that glow in his eyes and looked up at her a little bit older than she remembered him being just moments ago, "It was very nice to meet you. You're welcome to keep the coat, or as a favor to me, give it to someone in need later." The old man gave her a little smile, said goodnight and then turned to go.

Susan turned her full attention to the teen standing before her. She was probably not more than 15, petite but with a big long coat that almost scraped the ground, dwarfing her. Her hair was done in knots with little black bands and bows. Susan immediately thought of the word "Goth" to describe her.

"Goth is probably an apt description. Not one that Sam necessarily prefers, but one that fits with your model of the style she takes on."

"I'm sorry. This is hard to get used to." She said, looking up the street to see Anthony's progress. "Will he remember this, you, the partnership?"

"Anthony? No. Anthony will remember giving a young lady in need a coat and walking her home until someone else offered to take her the rest of the way. He'll remember you being sad over your loss. He'll feel glad that he helped, but he won't remember our partnership or any of the deeper parts of the conversation."

"That's so sad." Susan lamented.

"Why? He feels good about his participation in this. He's fulfilled and happy and got some exercise. What is there to be sad about?" The teen asked.

"I don't know. It feels almost like living a lie. Like he doesn't know what he was used for."

"Well he gave into the moment and got a good experience from it and when he got tired it was his choice to go home. I'd say he made out well by his own measure. It's possible he doesn't want to remember. Some do, some don't." Sam said, putting her hands into the deep pockets of the coat in search of gum. "Gum?" Sam asked, looking up at Susan.

It was then that Susan noticed that there wasn't a glow in the girls eye's like she had seen with her previous companions. Her eyes were just brown. She took the stick of gum, unwrapped it and popped it in her mouth, while still transfixed on the girls eyes. Then suddenly there was a glow.

"Sam's special" Sam announced. "Kind of an enlightenment on demand kind of kid. Tuned in all the time. A messenger and a really great one at that." The glow faded again "At your service" she said making a flourish with her hand. The glow returned. "She's one of the few that remembers everything and taps in regularly to benefit from the partnership."

"So there's some benefit to what you do?" Susan said as they continued to walk.

"Well of course there is. There's helping people. There's the sense of well being, security, and of understanding that you're part of something larger than yourself. Those are all benefits. But for Sam the benefit is knowledge. She uses that knowledge to help others. Other teens like her, but are struggling with where they belong or struggling with direction. Then she's there with answers to help them through tough times. She's there to provide words of encouragement and lift them up so they can make the right decisions."

"So she'll remember all of this, but Anthony won't?"

"Another aspect of free will. Some people don't want to remember. Some people want to keep the magic in their lives and the best way to do that is to forget that it happened to them."

"What about me? Will I remember all of this? This whole conversation?" Susan asked.

"As long as you want to, yes. But you having this conversation is not exactly the same, since you really haven't invited me in at all."

"If I invited you in, could you make me forget. Could you make me forget this whole night? And Martin?" Tears began to well up as she walked.

"No. I can't make you forget. That's your own choice. But the person you are and the person you will become over the next few months and years, you will be because of Martin. You shouldn't want to forget that. He doesn't want you to forget him."

"How do you know that? He would have wanted me to be happy! And seeing him over and over in my head, dying and dead doesn't make me happy!"

"I know everything that he was. Every quirk, every bit of trivia, every internal thought, I understand better than anyone. That part of him knows that eventually you'll remember the positives more than the negatives. You'll remember your vacations together, romantic notes exchanged while he was away for work, or disastrous attempts at baking pies." Sam smiled eagerly at that statement. It reminded Susan of the over the top smiles Martin would give her when he wanted to break her out of a funk.

"I just wish I could be with him. That's all I really wanted tonight is just to end this and go wherever comes next."

That elicited a sigh from Sam and Susan saw a sad expression come across the girls face.

"What? Do you not believe in an afterlife?"

"No, not like you do. There's no place to go. There's only here. The Buddhists got it mostly right with the concept of Nirvana. You're here one minute with suffering and the next you're here without suffering. There is no other place, only here and now."

"So there isn't a Heaven?" Susan asked.

"No. No Heaven, no Hell, no pearly gates, no ultimate judgment, and no divine retribution. You're actions are the reward or consequence almost immediately, here and now. You either do well here or you don't. Plain and simple."

"How can you know that though? Do you not believe in God either? And how do you know he's not sitting up there..." the thought trailed off in her head '...watching us all the time. Everything we do. Always with us.'