F One F
My wet skin shivered as I cowered atop the cliff, even though the wind was as still as my breath. What was worse, I couldn’t stop my head from bobbing side to side as Sophie hummed that stupid Jeopardy tune.
I felt silly being in lace lingerie instead of a bikini, but we weren’t planning on swimming when we trekked through the woods tonight. We were gonna accidentally run into Robert and Jhett at the river spot they always hung out at, but the closer we got the more I freaked out about getting Robert alone.
Oh why did I let Sophie talk me into coming to the hidden pond first? She probably thought the detour would give me time to calm my nerves. But stupid me, I let her dare me into jumping off the freakin’ cliff as soon as we stripped. And as much as I wanted to talk to Robert, I secretly hoped she’d let me chicken out once I looked like a drowned rat.
The humming stopped, and the sweet sound of Sophie’s voice was smooth as it taunted me through song now. “Oh, Ja-hen-na!”
Crap, crap, crap…
I forced myself to peek over the rocky edge and look down – way down. There she floated effortlessly in the midnight blue pond, weak ripples flowing away from her pale silhouette, playfully squirting water towards me with the squeeze of her fist. Sophie’s aim was dead on. Had I not been thirty feet above the surface of the water, she’d nail me easily. I’d welcome it gladly if it would temporarily blind me, cause me to stumble forward and complete the dare I had yet to fulfill.
I had never been afraid of heights before. Of course, I had never tried to throw myself from one before either. And the lack of moonlight in combination with the creepy, placid water was freakin’ me out right now. Also, I’m pretty sure that squishy algae thing skimming the surface was The Blob and it was gonna jump out and devour me once I did my face-splat.
I moaned as I diverted my eyes to the milky white stars above. This was the third time I’d braved the path up the cliffs tonight. And it seemed inevitable that this would be the third time I did the walk of shame back down the way I came.
“Jenna Baker! If you don’t jump this instant I’m gonna grab your clothes and set them on fire! You know I will!”
Ha! Maybe I should remind her that the clothes came from her closet. Er, scratch that. Then she’ll have zero remorse for lighting them up.
Sophie’s been a crazy friend and roommate, to say the least. I’m sure it was a little odd for her to room with someone like me. Like all the other rich kids at Pennington Academy outside Rutland, Vermont, she had everything at her disposal and an unlimited credit card to pick up what she lacked. And parents that actually called and emailed her every week to check up on her.
Me? I barely had a penny to my name and absentee parents. Literally nonexistent. I was dropped off at a firehouse when I was only a few days old. All the babies born in the county were accounted for, so it was assumed my mother (and possibly my father) drove through Rutland to obliterate their parental rights. The only reason I could attend this swanky establishment was cause the academy sponsored a new student each year and provided them with a full scholarship. I didn’t care how many hoops of fire they made me jump through to get here, it was worth it to get out of those disgusting group homes. I even added a summer class every year just to avoid having to spend summer vacation in one.
Fall session of our senior year began not even a week ago and already Sophie had convinced me to try something stupid. I came to my senses twice already and walked back down the cliffs, only to have her put on the charm and convince me once again that this would be good for me.
Oddly enough, I actually did wanna jump, so it wasn’t all Sophie’s fault that I was up here again. And at the moment I was more scared to talk to Robert than I was to jump off the cliff. So maybe I could end the night with at least one fear tackled...
I sucked in a deep breath and edged my toes forward until they curled over the rock. My heart pulsed so hard I thought it would break through my ribs and burst through my body like that slimy alien did to that man in that movie. (Did’ja see that one? Grody, right? – So what if I’m stalling? What are you, the cliff-jumping moderator?)
Okay, maybe one more deep breath. God, just jump Jenna! I winced my eyes tight and flung myself into the void before I could think anymore about it. The feeling was exhilarating, prickly goose bumps and all, and I managed to brave a peek through the haze of my vibrating eyelashes. My heart gave one sharp pound, then froze when gravity took me. The wind whished and lifted me slightly as I fell closer to the glistening liquid below. The cliff and trees blurred, leaving nothing more than vertical streaks of muted tans, greens and blacks that resembled streaks of camouflage.
Sophie’s cheer filled the air. I could sense the ‘finally’ in the long, drawn-out hoot.
Surprisingly, I managed to point my toes and pass through the surface of the water cleanly. So smoothly that the slightest lift of my feet curved my body and sent me farther into the dark abyss like a missile. Water whooshed as it streaked alongside my body, eagerly parting the way for my descent.
I did it! I finally did it! Elation filled my body and soul for that one split second.
And then it happened.
My feet scraped the bottom of the pond and fire burned on my skin. Debris and dirt swirled about as I skidded across the floor bed, destroying what little clarity the moon’s glow offered underneath the silky surface. Weeds tangled around my legs and snagged my arms. I tried desperately to slow the impact by digging in with the palms of my hands, but all I did was give myself more rock burn.
My legs were crumpled and forced upward as an immovable blockade refused to budge. A sharp pain dug into my back as I bobbed up and down across the boulder. The jolt knocked the wind out of me and air escaped from my lungs. A cool gush of foul tasting water filled my mouth and trickled down my throat, causing my chest to spasm.
My head snapped back as the last of my body shot past the boulder. I felt a surge of sharp pains shoot out from the back of my skull, then a soothing numbness. A heavy daze overcame my head and traveled down my arms and legs. The only thing that seemed to be reacting at all was my heart and it threw itself into hyperdrive. Thub-thump echoed through my stuffy head and pulsated down my limbs. I wanted to breathe, to move my legs and arms toward the surface, but nothing would obey the command. My chest blazed as my heart began to slow now. Thuuub-thummmp.
My body lay lifeless above the clay bottom, bobbing gently with the ripples caused by my wake. I shot so far from where I crashed that the water around me wasn’t as murky here. My still eyes were swallowed up by the turbid liquid, yet I could still hone in on that blurry sliver of moonlight trying to lead me to the surface. It struggled to overcome the shadows of the depth, to reach out and extend what help it could offer and show me the way to salvation. But it wasn’t enough. My body was heavy – unwilling to move to save my life.
I was surprised at how good the release felt. Never had I known that stress ate away at my body until it began to dissolve in this moment – little tickles that skidded along the surface of my skin. But with this soothing release came excruciating pain. The lack of oxygen caused my lungs to heave so hard a rush of water gushed down my throat. I tried to gag but my body was beyond that now, even though the water splashing in my lungs left me with the most unnatural, uncomfortable feeling ever.
The water around me darkened more, and it had nothing to do with the strength of the moonlight.