Luke Prescott stood at the top of the cliff, his toes
curled over the edge and pointing downward. Back straight
and shoulders relaxed, he let his eyes close peacefully. And
A rush of power surged over him. Luke never felt so much in
control as when there was none, when all that existed was Luke and
the air and the inevitable stop at the end. It was all up to him in
those moments. He had decided that he was going to jump and that
he was going to land in the water below, and there was absolutely
nothing and absolutely nobody that could stop him. He had all
He hit the water with a splash that, months before, had
knocked the breath out of him. Now he merely succumbed to the
water, letting it close over his head, a stream of bubbles pouring
from his mouth and nose as his feet hit the sandy bottom and
pushed him to the top. His head broke through the surface of the
water, and the solid pounding in his eardrums subsided. He floated
on his back, eyes still closed.
His peace was broken just as quickly as it had come over him.
“If you keep doing this, you’re gonna kill yourself.”
Luke turned sharply and choked as he accidentally inhaled
what seemed to him like the entire contents of Briar Lake. He
coughed, twisted himself around, and began to tread water. He
looked up to meet the intruder’s eyes and smiled. “Hayden. What
are you doing here?”
Hayden stood a few yards away on the bank. He was dressed in
his pajamas and a sweatshirt, and his feet were bare. At eighteen,
Hayden had the broad-shouldered body of a much older man and
the clever, round face of a boy. “I heard you leave,” Hayden said, giving
Luke a lopsided grin, his ice-blue eyes dancing beneath a mess
of dark hair. He reached out a hand to Luke, who paddled over to
the edge of the lake.
“I’m fine,” Luke said, though the question hadn’t been asked.
He let Hayden help him out of the water and then collapsed
onto the bank. Stretching out on his back, his wet shorts clinging to
his skin, Luke shut his eyes again. It wasn’t the same. He opened
“You should probably stop doing that,” Hayden said, nodding
toward the cliff. He shuffled his feet awkwardly in the dirt.
Luke grunted noncommittally. I’m not hurting anyone, he thought.
“I mean, it’s just kinda weird, Luke.”
“Yeah, well, I’m kinda weird,” Luke said, propping himself up
on his elbows.
“Trust me, dude, you’re more than kinda weird,” said Hayden,
squatting down next to Luke.
Hayden grinned. “You know, I almost broke my nose trying to
get here. Tripped over a log, fell flat on my face. Naturally, I blame
you for this.”
“Naturally,” Luke agreed.
“Yep. Totally your fault.”
“Couldn’t have just been me, you know,” Hayden said, leaning
conspiratorially toward Luke. “Because everyone knows I’m as
graceful as a fucking ballerina.”
“So don’t let it happen again.”
“Sorry, Hayden. I’ll try to do better next time.”
“Great. So no more jumping off cliffs in the middle of the
night?” Hayden’s tone was suddenly serious.
“Come on,” Luke said with a short laugh, giving his friend’s
shoulder a shove. Drop it, Hayden.
“Come on, what?” said Hayden. “It’s pointless. Why do you
keep doing it?”
Luke shrugged. “You wouldn’t get it.”
I don’t want to. “Just let it go,” said Luke, annoyance creeping
into his voice.
“Is this about—”
“I don’t want to talk about that,” Luke interrupted, louder
than he’d intended.
“Okay. I’m sorry.” Hayden looked embarrassed.
Luke sighed. “That has nothing to do with this. I just do this
to unwind, to relax.”
Hayden stared at him. “You know, I’ve done it, remember? I’ve
jumped. And I wouldn’t exactly call it relaxing.”
Luke remembered that night. It had been about a year ago. It
was the week before the first fencing meet of the season. He and
Hayden and about four other guys had just made varsity on the
Briar Academy fencing team. Briar Academy, one of the more elite
private schools in California, had many sports teams, but the fencers
were the only ones that ever really won anything. Making the team
was a pretty big deal.
That night the new varsity members and one of the team captains
had gone up to the cliff to jump off. It was a sort of initiation
process for the team, and the experience of the jump was treated almost
with reverence by the fencers. It wasn’t hazing; it was ceremony.
Luke dug his knuckles into the dirt. “I know you have.” He exhaled
loudly. “Look, I’m tired. Let’s head back.”
“All right, whatever.” Hayden raised his hands defensively.
“Have it your way.” They both rose up off the bank. “Keep doing it.
Break your fucking skull for all I care,” Hayden mumbled as Luke
padded off to retrieve his clothes from the end of the bank.
They had to sneak back into the dorm quietly so as not to wake
any of the resident teachers at the school, who did not particularly
like the idea of students wandering off in the middle of the night,
especially not off toward the lake. The wooded area around the lake
was not visible from the academy, so the students mainly snuck off
into the trees to smoke pot or hook up. The school itself was built
in a circle formation, with a large green and a commons area at the
center. Surrounding that were the dormitory buildings, and encircling
them were the academic buildings. The lake hugged the east
side of campus, and the woods stretched out from the north side.
Through the woods, a five-minute hike and a sharp right turn away,
was the cliff.
Luke and Hayden managed to get back into their room unnoticed.
Each of the four dormitories had a resident teacher, but luckily
the one in Luke’s dorm was a particularly sound sleeper. Not that
it really would have mattered if they’d been caught; Hayden could
talk his way out of anything. He’d smile, crack a joke, make the
teacher laugh, and soon he’d be off on his way with simply a warning.
If you got caught doing something you shouldn’t be doing,
Luke figured, Hayden was the guy you wanted with you.