Alex has a plan. One day, not too far from today, he’s going to throw himself off the the cliffs of Beachy Head. Until then, he has obligations. So he goes to work at the library. He nods at people, smiles, makes appropriate small talk, and… exists. The only thing that breaks the smooth serenity of Alex’s self-imposed purgatory is his neighbor, Richard. Richard is a handsome man who is aggressively making his intentions towards Alex known. He stops him in the hallway, leers, masturbates loudly in the apartment next door, calling out Alex’s name. It’s hell, but it’s almost over. One way or another, everything is almost over.
Austen, a mechanic — and a good one — comes to the library to drop off books for his mother. He doesn’t expect to see the pale, dark-haired young man whose eyes bore into his soul. He doesn’t expect to fall head over heels in love with him, either. But when Austen asks the young man out for coffee, he is rebuffed, firmly. Even as Austen leaves, he knows the man will linger in his thoughts. It’s purely by chance he sees the man in a cafe and makes one more attempt to get his name. His name is Alex.
An easy conversation over lunch ends with Alex going home with Austen. As friends. Friendship turns into something else as Austen begins to fall in love and Alex… Alex doesn’t know what he’s feeling. He just knows that one day soon, one Saturday soon, it will all be over. One way or another.
This may be a difficult book to read for anyone who has struggled with thoughts of suicide, or for someone who has friends or family who have struggled with suicide. But, at the end of the book, Alex is doing better. He has a therapist, he has friends who love him and support him, and he’s taking steps to a healthier life. The greater focus of the story is the relationship between Alex and Austen, but the story does touch on difficult subject matter that not everyone may feel comfortable reading.
As a young man, a mere year ago, Alex was carefree and careless, going to clubs with his friends and just being young. One night he met a man, Oliver, at a bar. In the club, it was lust at first sight, but once they got to Oliver’s apartment — away from alcohol, music and the energy of the crowd — Alex lost a bit of interest. The two of them weren’t a perfect fit in bed, and something about Oliver rubbed Alex the wrong way. Unfortunately, Oliver was quite smitten and wasn’t interested in taking no for an answer. Oliver pushed, and kept pushing, and Alex struggled to detach himself from the man. Nothing Alex did seemed to get through to him. First there was the stalking, then Oliver attacked him in the club.
And then, one night, Oliver did the unthinkable. [spoiler] He broke into Alex’s parent’s house, killing his mother, father, and younger sister. Alex found him standing over the crib of his infant nephew, ready to kill him, too. Alex played along with his madness until he was able to get Oliver away from the crib, and then stabbed him with a kitchen knife. Oliver was arrested and will soon be standing trial for murder, a trial in which Alex has to testify. [/spoiler]
Alex is suffering not just the loss of his previous life. He is convinced it’s his fault, in part, for hooking up with Oliver in the first place. He’s dealing with survivor’s guilt, and suffering alone. He doesn’t want help, doesn’t want doctors or pills or comfort. He just wants it all to end. He picked a day and a time and now it’s just a matter of waiting until he can throw himself off the cliff and be done with it. He’s not interested in food or taking care of himself. He’s just counting down the days, even when those days are spent with Austen.
Austen is so very in love with Alex, he can’t see the forest for the trees. He knows Alex is dealing with something, but he doesn’t know what. He just knows he’d do anything to make Alex happy and so he doesn’t ask, he doesn’t push, content in the belief that one day Alex will break down and let him in. And on that day, he’ll be ready to be Alex’s rock, to hold him and love him and let him know nothing matters but Alex’s happiness. Austen wants to save Alex so badly he doesn’t see how badly Alex needs help.
Alex knows he’s using Austen, taking brief moments of warmth to thaw the ice that’s enveloping him, but he doesn’t want to stop. He’s spent the last year in pain and isolation so that the bare glimmer of love he lets himself feel from Austen is almost enough to blind him. But he’s set on his path. He’s relying on it. He’s gotten it into his head that this action is the only possible one. He’s built it up so much in his head, knowing it will be the answer to everything. It will make everything better. It has to, because nothing else will.
We see some of Alex’s catharsis, and we see how much he has come to rely on Austen when, as they stand on the cliff’s edge, Alex agrees to give it one more year. Not to change his mind, not to put the idea away, but to delay it. To give Austen a chance, to give therapy a chance. To give himself a chance.
Suicide, depression, PTSD, and survivor’s guilt are dealt with very lightly. We see their affect on the relationship and how it affects the romance between Austen and Alex. While this book and it’s subject matter may not be for everyone, I do think it’s a gentle, sweet, and hopeful story.