Staring down from the top of the cliff, the people were almost indistinguishable from the still brown water of the Shangalih. The river looked about twenty feet across from up here, normal until you realized that you couldn’t see bank-to-bank when you were on the ground. That’s how high up we were.
The height fascinated and repulsed me, making my heart beat three times faster than normal.
“If you’re going to do it, you had better do it now, Thayne,” I said, ignoring the voice that told me this was a really, really bad idea. The tiny girl shivered beside me. “Mr. Yering will be back soon.”
Thayne looked down with an expression of terror. Hanging around the tents, the rest of the class watched with rapt attention, anticipation making them edgy. Her vulnerability struck me with anger. I wanted her to jump.
“Come on, Thayne, are you afraid?” I said, stepping toward her. “You a scared little baby-boo? Not so tough as you thought you were, are you?”
She didn’t say anything, her eyes filling with tears as she stared at me. Her silence made me even angrier. Without meaning to, I gave her a shove. She stumbled, landing inches away from the edge. Everyone behind me gasped, then laughed. Thayne was seventeen, a year older than the rest of us because she had been held up a grade, but her size made her easy to push around. Or maybe it was because she was just so insignificant, always fading into the background, sitting somewhere with her nose in a book. Alone. Always alone. and she never, ever talked.
So it was a surprise, a shock even, when she started babbling to me about how it might feel to fly. I had been looking down on the river when suddenly she came up like we were friends or something and started going on. Her voice was too quiet for anyone but me to hear the words, though everyone knew she was talking. And that’s when I got my idea. “Did you hear that, everyone?” I called, spinning around so that my long brown hair drifted over my shoulder. “Thayne says she’s going to jump off!”
There was laughter. “You wish, Luna,” someone said.
“No, it’s true,” I said loudly. “Right, Thayne? She’s finally going to do something worth her…time.” I was going to say ‘miserable life’ but that seemed kind of mean. I fixed her with a stare. Mouth agape, she nodded weakly. She knew the consequences for disagreeing with me. I smiled my best smile.
“So what are you waiting for?” I said now, standing over her cowering frame. “Get up!”
Her face went blank. Wordlessly (of course) she got up, dusted herself off, and balanced with her toes hanging over the edge.
“Jump!” I said. “Jump, jump.”
“Jump! Jump! Jump!” chanted my classmates.
Something moved far off in the trees behind me, something red. I snapped my head around and there I saw her: Mysterious Molly. She wore black, a long, floating crimson scarf around her neck. She watched me with wide, almond-shaped eyes. I was surprised she had even come on this year-end camping trip, considering the fact that she never got out. Nobody liked Mysterious Molly, and nobody disliked her either. Like Thayne, she was very silent, except Thayne was pathetic and Molly was just…mysterious. When she did speak, it was only one word, and that word was always a premonition for whoever she was speaking to.
Molly didn’t say anything to me, and with her steady gaze it was like she had spoken anyway. Why. Why did I hate Thayne so much? Did I actually want her to die?
“Jump, jump, jump!”
Still locked in Molly’s gaze, I barely noticed Thayne look over her shoulder, taking everything in with clinical disinterest, her eyes dilated and glassy-looking. And suddenly, it was like I was her. I had no friends, I was all alone. Here I was about to jump off a fifty-two-foot cliff and people were actually cheering me on. I was poor, my parents had tried multiple times to disown me, nobody loved me; what was the point? And I was alone…we were both so alone.
Thayne bent her knees.
“WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?”
Thayne wobbled, startled like the rest of us, and fell. Not off the cliff, but backward and right into me, both of us toppling to the ground. Disgusted, I shoved her off. Klutz.
I turned just in time to see Mysterious Molly floating across the campsite to Mr. Yering, who was standing arms crossed, eyes wide and uncertain. She snapped her fingers in his face, then pointed directly at me.
“Luna,” she breathed, her voice like death. It was like her eyes were speaking to his soul, because after a mere second, his expression hardened into one of undeniable outrage.
“Luna!” he said, like he was hypnotized and simply repeating her. I twirled my hair around my fingers, adjusting my pink top with my other hand. I wondered where Shana was. She had said she needed a makeup break and had snuck off into the woods so she wouldn’t get caught, and still hadn’t returned. She would’ve gotten Thayne to jump before the Mysterious Molly got to me and Mr. Yering, and then I wouldn’t be in this mess.
“Yeah?” I said.
He stared at me for a minute, probably thinking that he could be like Molly, but he wasn’t, and after a while he turned and started directing everyone to start breaking up camp. Breathing a sigh of relief, I turned to give Thayne one last glare before pretending to help out, but she was gone. Inexplicably panicked, I rushed to the side of the cliff and looked over. The Shangalih was still, the wind churning the water and making it swirl.
On the school bus ride back to Henderson High, I finally found Shana. Or at least her backside waving in the air as she made out with Tony Kendal, her friend with many, many benefits. Brittany and Selena Welts were trying to get my attention so they could go on with stories of their recent visit to Greece, but my supposed boyfriend Nathan was looking at me with a look that said he was jealous of Tony and Shana right now. He sat on the other side of the bus and two seats up, and kept looking back at me with a lusty and hurt expression that I had made him sit up there. I regarded him with disinterest, not really needing a smooching session right then. Later, definitely, but I had other things on my mind. Where was Thayne Atalda?
I looked, and the Mysterious Molly was still sitting right in front of Brittany and I, silently gazing out the window. Just looking at her still, speculating form sent a chill through me. I ignored it, finally mustering up the courage to lean over the seat and tap her bony shoulder.
“Where is Thayne?” I asked, barely able to speak the words.
Her long, white-blond ponytail shone darkly in the sun. The second she took before answering felt like ten. “Beaten,” she said.
All my fear and respect disintegrated. I glared at her. “Look, Molly, I know you’re supposed to be all mysterious and everything, and everything you say comes true, but I am really not in the mood for more of your one-word riddles that never—”
“Thayne is in a dark place,” Molly interrupted, looking me full in the eye. “She is trying to escape, but she won’t. Not until someone sets her free. And you are that person.”
I shook my head, trying really hard not to laugh out loud. What did she think this was, a Disney movie? “Molly, I’m not kidding. All I asked was a simple question, and apparently you missed it, so here it is again: Where is Thayne?”
Again, she just looked at me. The funny thing about Molly was, no one knew what colour her eyes were. Though she was always staring at people with that speculating gaze, you forgot the colour as soon as you saw it. and you didn’t even notice that you had forgotten until she was gone. “There are many misconceptions about me,” she went on. “They view me as they wish to perceive me, and they perceive me as they wish me to appear. But you, Luna, you see me as you don’t want to see me. You see me for who I am.” And with that, she turned away.
I shivered again, violently. Okay, that was way too much weirdness for one day. I sat back, where Brittany and selena were just talking amongst themselves, having given up on me.
“Hey, Luna!” called Leno from a seat back. “What are you doing talking to Malignant Molly?”
She turned and looked at him, not offended, just thoughtful, her colourless eyes holding him helplessly captive. Everyone made the “Ooooohh!” sound that said he had just got told, and she looked back to the window. He made a face of mock fright and laughed, but you could tell that he really was scared. I hid my smile.
“Hey, Nathan,” I said, butt-scooting until I was in his seat. “You looked like you wanted to tell me something?”
He smiled and reached for me. “Yeah. It had nothing to do with talking, though.”
By the time the bus rolled into the lot at Henderson High, I was ready to crawl back to my seat on my hands and knees just to get away from Nathan. For the first time, his soft kissing and gentle caresses didn’t make me giddy and ready for more. In fact, it was the exact and extreme opposite.
“What is wrong with you?” he asked at one point, holding me at arms length and peering at me intently.
I shook out my hair, trying to act indignant. “What’s the matter with you?” I retorted, sliding my hand up his stomach. Though the move repulsed me.
Slightly unsteady on my feet now, I inserted the keys into my silver Miata. My head pounded. Someone brushed passed me, almost knocking me into my car. Pressing a hand to my forehead, I turned, almost running into Thayne again. this time I really did fall over.
“Thayne?”I whispered, heart in my throat.
Her blue eyes were the colour of silk, but they were ringed with lines. Lines that hadn’t been there six hours ago on the cliff. She sort of smiled at me, except it wasn’t a smile, it was more like she was writing me off, and then she left.
Okay, that was way weird.
But oh, my head. I slumped into my car, slinging my camping bag onto the seat beside me. at least it was finally summer. But all I wanted to do was sleep