The Telling - Alexandra Sirowy

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This is what after looks like: me picking my way up the ridge in my swimsuit; the swollen water of Swisher Spring at the end of summer; girls baking under an orange sun on the boulders; boys cheering for me to jump, even though they’ve been vying for bragging rights all day. Boys. Yeah, there are those in after—one in particular.

Right on cue, Josh winks up at me from where he treads water with the others. That one thing—a silly gesture he probably passes out like smiles—has been twelve years in coming for me, because I’ve liked Josh Parker since he wore red corduroy pants the first day of preschool. And up until a month ago, I’d never heard him say my name.

After doesn’t feel as good as it looks.

I’m buzzed off one beer, breathless on the rocky ledge that might as well be a stage twenty feet above the others, with a hundred acres of wilderness preserve at my back, and fighting the urge to wrap my arms around my midsection because even after a month, I’m still not comfortable in this teeny-tiny bikini in front of the kids my classmates have called “the core” since the sixth grade. Definitely not with Carolynn Winters sunning herself below, keeping one bright fish eye on me. She’s dazzling, confident, the kind of girl who never asks twice.

Everything is the wrong color and too bright and out of proportion.

There’s space between what you see and what I feel. In my experience there’s usually a line that separates what people choose to show the world and what they keep hidden.

My small life of before was like that too. I was the quiet girl, good in the way adults want teenagers to be: raising her hand for extra credit; more worried about what people were thinking than what I thought. Nights were early; days spent studying. There were millions of flash cards and the eight-semester plan.

I was an earthworm dreaming of being a python.

The wind whips my hair, and I tighten my halter tie. In the water I was knocked around by the boys’ maelstrom. No matter how old boys get, they think it’s freaking adorable to splash you in the face. And no matter how old girls get, we’re always at the mercy of boys and their splashing.

If I said that out loud, Willa would add: and their war. She’s on the shore, likely rolling her eyes behind her aviators and hoping that I’ll jump fast so we can leave and she can watch whatever’s been recorded from the History channel. She’s already been patient with me all day (more like every day for two months) and she’s sick of doing things she despises and hanging out with people she likes even less for yours truly. I flush guilty.

“Jump! Jump! Jump!” the boys howl, pumping their fists as the water slaps their chests. Rusty, Duncan, and Josh have been inseparable since preschool. Rumors always circulate about the three of them and one of their testosterone-fueled misadventures.

“Jump where it’s deepest!” Rusty shouts, his indomitably curly, strawberry-blond hair wet and flattened to his scalp. I can see the hint of a waxy bald spot on the top of his head. A reminder that the best-case scenario is getting old and dying—not that I’m obsessed with death or anything. The opposite. My stepbrother Ben’s voice is in my head. Don’t wait until you’re dead, Lan. Exercise your nerve and mischief. I’m obsessed with living.

“Don’t land on the rocks,” Rusty shouts again. He’s a natural cheerleader, having played team sports since he could walk. I give him a thumbs-up. We’ve been at the spring for hours, lounging until the sun and booze induced comas, our skin sending up steam as we rolled into the water. No one’s made their way up the rocky face of the cliff littered with NO CLIMBING signs to make the jump before this.

Four years ago, Terrance Finnsberg, a senior at Gant High, leaped from this peninsula and snapped his spine on a rock in the water below. Died instantly. I heard he was high when it happened, told his friends he could fly. In response, Gant Island passed a town ordinance that made jumping illegal. It didn’t do a lot of good, since it’s only one of those punishable-by-community-service crimes, and everyone needs community service for college applications. Moreover, this is Gant. A fog of boredom hangs over the island during summer months as tourists descend on us and Seattleites ferry