By Alicia Marie Devers
“You have no idea what you’re doing, do you?” he asked.
I stood on the edge of a high cliff where the water far below me hit the rocky enclosure. I knew that was the understatement of the century, but Kyle would never hear me say it.
“Of course I do,” I said, “You just have to jump.”
“If you say so,” he said, crossing his arms. He had a smug look on his face. I wanted him to eat his words.
I could jump off this cliff. People did it all the time on TV. It was just water on the other end. It would be a safe landing, unless I whacked my head on the way down. But dying in a watery grave with bragging rights at my funeral seemed more reasonable than the humiliation I’d face if I didn’t jump.
“Well, hurry up, it’s gonna start storming.”
“Quit rushing me.”
He was right. The sky in the distance was inky black, the feel of electricity in the air made my hair stand up on my arms. The waves were gray and harsh from the wind that made its way across Lake Superior. Kyle moved back as I tiptoed closer to the edge, willing myself to jump and hoping someone would call us in and we’d have to ditch this idea until tomorrow, where something new and more intimidating would catch Kyle’s eye.
I took a deep breath, let it out. How far could this cliff really be? 20 feet? 30?
Most things on TV tell you that you’ll hang there, time will slow down to an unnatural pace and you’ll be able to count the raindrops as they fall in arcs in the sky. That’s not how that works. You plummet and you hit the water hard. Water shouldn’t be that hard, but it is. It knocks the breath out of your lungs and everything you told yourself you’d do once you’re down there goes completely out the window.
As my body fell through the water, the current washed over me. My feet and head changed places. I lost track of where the top of the water was, the bubbles and foggy water making it impossible to see. I started trying to swim up toward the blurry distorted picture of the sun but my arms and legs couldn’t seem to move fast enough. Eventually my body evened out. I swam up until my head broke the surface, my lungs reaching out for air.
I didn’t get a breath before a wave crashed over my head, sending me back under. It was cold against my skin. I came back up again, gasping, rain pelting me hard in the shoulders. I managed to swim toward shore, walking once it was shallow enough.
Kyle was gone, the rain had sent him running inside. I could just make out the color of his swim trunks hopping up the steps to his house. I shivered and went over to grab my glasses, put them on, my towel drenched in icy water.
My house backed up to the beach with a set of stairs leading from my patio down into the water. There were beach weeds tall enough to block my fence along with some well placed bushes. But what really kept my house secluded from the beach were the tall pine trees that sat up and down the street and the path leading up to the cliff.
I wrapped my arms around myself and jogged to my house which was only an arm’s reach to Kyle’s. The bathroom window in my house was close enough to his that if we had stretched out our hands we could’ve touched. I slid open the door wall and stepped into the kitchen.
“In here,” she said.
Her voice came from the living room. I walked in to see her on her knees scrubbing the bookshelf, her books scattered on the floor. She had finally hung up the pictures that had been stacked in a cardboard box in the corner. There were mostly just pictures of me and a few of the two of us but all the pictures that had had my dad in them were only obvious by their absence.
“What are you doing?”
“Just some spring cleaning,” she said. She stood up, wiped her hands on her pants.
“It’s the middle of July,” I said.
“It’s never too early to do spring cleaning,” she said, “Your lips are a little blue. What have you been doing?”
“Swimming, with Kyle.”
Her lips thinned, but she didn’t say anything. Ever since we had moved in after the divorce and I had started hanging out with him, she would get this sour look on her face like she sucked on a lemon. She spent time with his mom but mostly to get dirt on everyone’s children. She walked toward the kitchen leaving me in the middle of a puddle on the hallway floor.
“Make sure you wipe up that water.”
I dropped my towel on top of the puddle before going upstairs and into the bathroom. I locked the door behind me. I leaned against the sink, my fingers white as they held on like at any moment the world would stop and I’d need something to hold onto. My breath was caught behind my teeth as soon as I was alone. I splashed water on my face. Everything was fine. I was fine. I turned the shower on until steam was fogging the mirror, making it impossible for me to see my reflection.
The hot water fell onto my skin, thawing me until I was red. My throat was tight, but no one was looking now. Not even me.
“Clio,” my mom’s voice came from under the door. “Dinner’s ready.”
I turned the knob off, the water dripping to a halt. I put on the pair of pajama bottoms I had left on the floor that morning. I wrapped the towel around my head before going downstairs to the smell of lasagna.
My mom set our plates down, “We need to talk about Kyle.” She unfolded her napkin, put it on her lap and then faced me. “I don’t think you should hang around him.”
“He’s a bad influence.”
“Well, he’s my friend,” I said. I supposed that was true. He was about as much my friend as anyone here could be.
“Not a very good one,” she said. “I’ve talked to his mother and he’s been in trouble since he started high school. He’s bad for you.”
“Who else am I supposed to hang out with? I don’t know anyone!”
She swallowed a bite of lasagna. “There’s plenty of people to be friends with here. You just have to try.”
My mom was that person that never went to the same school for more than a semester. So, naturally she thought this was normal.
“I don’t want to try. I want to go home. Kyle’s all I have. Do you want me to be alone all summer?”
“Stop being dramatic.”
She was right. Kyle was a bad friend, but no one wanted to be my friend, not when they could be friends with the same people they had been friends with before they left the womb. Their grandparents probably hung out together and played bingo. Kyle was the only person I had. My mom just didn’t understand.
After my parents had gotten divorced we had moved to this desolate little town far away where my father couldn’t just drop in. Not that he would try. The only downfall was I was out of district and had to change schools. My old school was in the suburbs right outside of Detroit. My new school was here, in Marquette, 455 miles from where I wished I was.
“Whatever,” I said.
We sat in silence, the only noise our forks scraping against the plates. They were same blue plates my grandmother had packed away for us so my mom didn’t have to run into my dad at the house. We still had boxes along the floor my grandmother had taped closed, her block writing labeling them as kitchen, living room, bathroom.
I was finishing my dinner when the doorbell rang. Mom’s chair scraped along the floor as she got up to answer it. I looked down the hallway to the door and could see Kyle’s face was hidden behind a large black umbrella. It was raining now, the wind picking up as the storm closed over us.
“She can’t talk right now,” my mom said.
“Yes, I can. I’m right here.”
My mom looked between the two of us before sighing. “Five minutes.” She left us standing by the door.
“What do you want?”
“That was so sick! I didn’t think you had the guts to do it.”
He turned around and sat on the porch swing. There was an awning above us so he stashed his umbrella under our feet, we faced the storm and the water at this angle, not enough to see the cliff. The rainwater slid down the awning, a small waterfall of sorts in front of us making a mud puddle in the grass in front of us. The wrought iron fence around the porch was rusting where the water landed, flecks of red swimming in the muddy water.
“Well, I’m sure I can think of something for you to chicken out over,” he said.
“I’ll let you know tomorrow.”
I heard his screen door slam shut before going back inside.
My mom was on her phone, her voice low like she didn’t want me to hear, but she couldn’t hide the anger. She was leaning against the fireplace, her back to me. I could see her face in the window and she had her eyes closed as she listened to whoever it was on the other end.
“You’re not speaking to her,” she said as I passed her on my way upstairs. I took my foot off the bottom step to try and listen to what she was saying but she snapped her phone onto the mantel piece and was silent.
When she opened her eyes she saw me standing in the doorway. “Everything okay?” she asked.
“You just seem down,” she said.
“I’m fine. Everything okay with you,” I said nodding toward the phone.
“What? Oh, yeah, it’ll be okay,” she said.
I knew my mom felt guilty about the divorce, it was in every line of her face. But I also knew I didn’t blame her for it. He was the dad sleeping on the couch, a bottle of something on the table, a ring of water under it from where it had been placed over and over again. I had learned pretty young not to wake him up when I came home, or I had the chance of being yelled at, hit or both. My mom would be standing at the doorway leading into the kitchen and immediately usher me in, watched me do homework as he slept. It was quiet there. It didn’t surprise me when she decided one day while he was at work to leave to my grandmother’s house and not come back.
I walked up stairs to my room, closed the door behind me and put my face in the pillows.
That night the storm settled into a light mist in the early hours of the morning but the wind still circled our house. The tree next to my window scrapped the glass, my eyes open because of the noise. The wind was howling as it raced through the cliff face and into my yard, swirling in angry zig zags lifting sand and pelting the side of the house. I was just about to grab my blanket and sleep on the couch hoping the tv might drown out the noise when I heard a little tap.
It was Kyle. I had no screen in my window so when I opened it, we were face to face.
“What are you doing? It’s like midnight,” I said.
“Actually it’s almost one.”
“Doesn’t change anything. Why are you here?”
He pushed me aside and pulled himself into my room. The moonlight behind him casting his face into shadow. My front yard was deserted without him, the gravel road now just mud and puddles.
“Listen, I know you don’t have a fun bone in your body, but there’s a party. On the beach. We should go.”
“A party. In a storm?”
“It’s not storming. It’s a little mist.”
“It’s not that big of a deal,” he said.
He sat down on my bed in front of the mirror. He smoothed his hand over his face and then laced his fingers in his lap. His blue eyes looked even bluer as the street light outside hit half his face. His dark hair drying in ringlets across of his forehead reminded me of the mud swirling in the grass earlier. “What time does your mom go to work in the morning?”
“Okay, so be back by 5:30.”
I was positive this was probably the worst decision of my life, but he was sitting there so smug. I only had a month tops to make my reputation a good one and so far, with Kyle’s help, I was failing miserably. If it really was a party, maybe I could make some different friends.
“Fine, let me get dressed.”
“Knew you had it in you.”
I put the clothes I wore the day before back on, then watched as Kyle went out my window, his feet leaving footprints on my windowsill.
“Are you sure this is a good idea,” I asked.
“Yes, come on.”
I slipped out into my front yard behind Kyle hoping to whoever was in the sky my mom wouldn’t wake up as soon as I was out and come and check on me. I hoped the tv she kept on at night would drown out any noise I was likely to make.
Kyle walked like he had no fear but I tried to at least stay somewhat out of the only street light on this side of the street, my shadow dancing between the bushes along the side of the house. We rounded my house and went down the stairs onto the beach. In the distance, closer to the pier, I could see they had lit a fire.
We passed Kyle’s house and then came up to the party. There was probably only 30 people at this point. I wondered why exactly they lit a fire, seeing as there was still mist hanging in the air around our shoulders but it was smoldering, the other light coming from a few burning embers. A few guys were crouched in front of it trying to make it bigger.
“Don’t embarrass me, okay,” Kyle said. He set his shoulders back before knocking his way through people.
I rolled my eyes and followed him into the crowd congregated under the pier. It was people I had seen around town but had never spoken to. They were sitting on driftwood, glass bottles in their hands. The fire was in the center of the crowd, a few people drenching the wood in lighter fluid. There was the occasional shriek from some girl as her group of friends arrived. The girls were closer to the fire, their faces clouded in shadows flickering from the tiny flames that flashed before dying out again, the boys were the outer circle, like they had shepherded us between them.
Kyle slapped backs with some boy who managed to fit a bottle in each of his back pockets, plus one in each hand. He had tan skin, blue eyes and his hair was pushed in directions like he had just gotten out of bed.
“I got the beer like you said,” he said to Kyle.
“Cool, did my old man notice anything,” Kyle asked.
“No, passed out from what I could see.” He turned towards me, “Do you want one? I’m sure I could spare it.”
“No, thanks,” I said but Kyle cut me off.
“She’ll take one.”
The boy handed me one from his back pocket. I wasn’t so sure this was a good idea but I took a sip anyway.
“Ew, what is that?”
“Beer. I stole it out of the garage. Kyle’s dad had a whole case in there,” the boy said.
“Uh, here. You can finish it.”
I handed it back to the boy who took a gulp before going over to a group of girls who had just arrived. Kyle pulled me over.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m not drinking beer.”
“Listen, if you want to make a good impression, you might want to act like it,” he said.
He left me alone next to the beams of the pier. Someone had turned on some music, so people were beginning to dance, if you could call grinding against each other dancing. The guys looked at the girls like they were sheep about to be hunted, their eyebrows heavy over their eyes in the firelight.
I was about ready to leave the party and go home when someone else slid up to me. He was pimply and lanky, and he was dressed more plainly, like he wasn’t supposed to be here but had somehow snagged an invitation.
“Hey, why are you all alone?”
“I’m not. I came with Kyle. He went to get drinks.”
“Well, until he gets back…”
The boy took a seat next to me on the thin piece of driftwood. His dingy plaid jacket smelled like smoke and pineapples. He took his vape pen out and took a drag, letting the thick, heavy smoke cloud his face. It smelled like pineapple.
“I think I’m just going to go home. I shouldn’t be here anyway,” I said.
“Don’t leave. You can hang out with me,” he said. “I’m Todd.”
He got closer to me. “Cute name.”
I put more distance between us. “Yeah. Sure is.”
Todd handed me his drink. I took a sip. It was still the bitter nasty taste of beer but this time I didn’t almost gag. I took another sip before handing it to him.
“That’s nasty,” I said.
“It was the only thing we could get. Kyle’s dad drinks for a living so he doesn’t notice.”
We stood in silence, the air around us heavy with awkward. I had not heard much about Kyle’s father and anytime it got brought up he’d change the subject. A few more people had arrived but just as many had left, a few couples sneaking into the seclusion offered by the trees.
“So, how long have you lived here?”
“I just moved this summer,” I said pushing his arm off.
“Why? This town is in the middle of nowhere.”
“I don’t know. My mom picked it. I think because it’s far away,” I lied.
Todd thought about this for a second, the side of his body coming closer to mine. “Why did she want to get away?”
When I finally faced him face on, he seemed a little older than most of the people here. He seemed a little older than someone who was in high school and I wondered how many grades he had failed.
“My parents got divorced.”
“I know how that is. My dad left when I was seven.”
He almost seemed sincere when he said it but his face was getting closer to mine and I backed away. That wasn’t happening, in any lifetime.
“Well, look at that. Time for me to go.”
I walked toward Kyle, through the crowd that was stuck together from hips to mouth. Bottles were clicking together, the voices way too loud for the beach at this hour. If they weren’t careful someone would end up calling the police.
Todd grabbed my wrist from behind and spun me around. His eyes were a lot glassier now he was bathed in the light from the pier.
“Where you going?”
“Away from you.”
He laughed and pulled me over to Kyle, his arm like steel around my shoulders.
I pushed him off again. He was just about to say something when Kyle interrupted. “Todd. Aaron and I want to go get snacks. Aaron said he’d drive.”
“Wanna come, Clio?” Todd had a grin on his face and my gut was telling me not to go, just go back to bed. But if Kyle was going, I was sure I’d be back in time to sneak into my house without my mom knowing.
“Sure, why not?”
The four of us, Aaron, Kyle, Todd and I, walked up the sand into the lot near the beach. We piled into his four door car. I was wedged in the back next to Todd and some garbage Aaron didn’t seem to want to part with.
We had the windows down, the music up, as we pulled out of the beach parking lot. It was a long twisting road lined with oak trees, their branches lazily stretching over the road, wet leaves sticking to the cement. When we got to the main road there were more street lights but everything was closed up for the night. The small family restaurant had a few cars in it but someone was out back taking out the trash. The gas station on this side of town was open but I could see the guy behind the counter had his eyes closed as we stopped at the stop sign.
We turned again, taking a back way, houses flashing past our car. Old houses that had two stories and wrap around porches, most with an American flag by the door. The trees in the front yard waved to us as we sloshed past through rain puddles.
Todd’s hands were on my thigh and at first it was a nice weight on my skin. It seemed to anchor me there along with the music pulsing through the frame of the car and my chest. But then his hands ever so slowly were coming closer and closer to the inside of my thigh. I grabbed his hand between mine and just held it there, crossing my legs so hopefully he got the idea.
I didn’t make eye contact with him as I moved his hand back to his own leg, the Walmart coming into view as we passed a McDonalds and a gas station. I wasn’t actually positive where we were, my summer confined by the sandy beaches near the house. The four of us got out of the car and walked over to the door. We were loud, but the workers didn’t look at us as we yelled down the aisles.
It was ghostly silent. The lights were dimmed overhead, the few workers we did see where leaning against their counters reading magazines. They glanced up when we came in but they looked back down again when we went over to the food section of the store. We went to the snack aisle in the back of the grocery section, the only camera two aisles over and looking in the wrong direction. The boys started pulling things off the shelf, stuffing things into their jackets.
“Here, Clio, put this in your pocket,” said Kyle. He was handing me candy bars.
“No way. You’re crazy.”
“God, come on. It’s just a few candy bars.”
“Listen, we do it all the time. You won’t get caught,” said Kyle.
“And even if you do, Kyle’s dad is a police officer. We’ll be fine,” said Todd.
“No, way,” I said. “My mom would skin me alive.”
I tossed the candy bars back to Kyle and turned around to leave. Jumping off cliffs, sneaking out and now he wanted me to steal.
I was walking toward the door and out of the store when Todd caught up to me. I only knew he was behind me because of his smell invading my space.
“What are you gonna do? Walk home?”
“Maybe,” I said.
“Let’s just go sit by the car,” he said.
I went down the aisle that we had parked down and found Aaron’s gross beat up green car that looked like it was between baby vomit and something less pleasant. One of the windows was broken so a plastic garbage bag was covering the hole.
I sat on the hood of the car, Todd taking the spot next to me.
“They should just be a minute,” said Todd.
“Why do you do that,” I asked.
“It’s fun,” he said shrugging his shoulders.
We were parked so that we could see into the large windows on the front of the building. Todd took out his pen again and sent the water cycle into overdrive leaving my glasses fogged up. I took my glasses off and was wiping them on my shirt when–
“Oh, shit,” he said.
“What?” I jammed them back on to see that Kyle and Aaron had been stopped just inside the door to the store by a guy dressed in a grey security uniform. I stood up to go into the store.
“No, way,” said Todd. “Are you crazy?”
“Do you have a phone?”
“I’m calling my mom,” I said.
“You can’t call your mom.”
“Got any better ideas,” I asked.
“Yeah, we get out of here.”
“Wow, what a great friend, you are,” I said.
“I won’t be much help if I get busted too,” he said showing me the stuff he had in his pockets.
“You guys are not the brightest, are you,” I asked, “Give me your phone.”
“I swear man, Kyle and Aaron will be real pissed if you call your mom,” he said.
“Yeah and I’m sure Kyle’s drunk cop father will be so pleased to see him at the station,” I said.
It seemed to have dawned on Todd what that would mean if Aaron got sent to his dad and he slowly handed me his phone and I was glad my mom insisted I memorize her phone number instead of just putting it in my phone.
When my mom finally got there to pick me up from the Walmart, she strolled in like it was nothing and talked to the police officer. Kyle and Aaron were slouched together, at least from what it looked like from the parking lot. My mom went over to them and they stood up and followed her out of the store. She walked the two of them to her car and pulled me along with them.
“Get in,” she said and the four of us got in.
“Where do you two live,” she said to Aaron and Todd.
“Just on the other side of town,” said Aaron, “On Westchester.”
So we drove in silence. Eventually she turned onto their street. Aaron didn’t bother saying thank you but got out and started laughing with Todd. Todd looked over his shoulder and waved goodbye to me. I didn’t wave back.
“Now, I don’t know what you two were thinking–”
“Mrs. Chase,” said Kyle, “Are you–going to tell my dad?”
“Yes, I am,” she said. She faltered a little when she saw the look on his face.
He seemed, almost, afraid. My mom pursed her lips, in the middle of thought.
“You know what, Kyle. I’ll give you this one,” she said, “But if it ever happens again…”
“Thank you, Mrs. Chase.”
The rest of the way was silent and we pulled into our driveway a little while later, Kyle going one way and us going the other.
“Are you okay,” she asked.
“I don’t know.”
“I’m sorry, Clio,” she said.
“Judging Kyle,” she said.
“What do you mean,” I asked.
She took the keys out of her purse and opened the door. I squeezed into the hallway behind her.
“You might not need him, but I think he needs you,” she said. “His dad–”
“I’ve never seen Kyle look like that,” I said.
“Yes, well, keep him close, I think he needs it.”
About the Author:
Alicia Marie Devers grew up in Roseville, Michigan, where she lives with her mom, Kim and dad, Bryan. She is currently a senior at Siena Heights University where she is studying Creative Writing.