We Were Liars - Page 29


I watch them until they are settled. “What are you doing?”

“We are being very, very manly,” Johnny calls back. His voice echoes.

Gat laughs.

“No, really,” I say.

“You might think we are city boys, but truth is, we are full of masculinity and testosterone.”

“Are not.”

“Are too.”

“Oh, please. I’m coming up with you.”

“No, don’t!” says Mirren.

“Johnny baited me,” I say. “Now I have to.” I begin climbing in the same direction the boys went. The rocks are cold under my hands, slicker than I expected.

“Don’t,” Mirren repeats. “This is why I didn’t want you to come.”

“Why did you come, then?” I ask. “Are you going up there?”

“I jumped last time,” Mirren admits. “Once was enough.”

“They’re jumping?” It doesn’t even look possible.

“Stop, Cady. It’s dangerous,” says Gat.

And before I can climb farther, Johnny holds his nose and jumps. He plummets feetfirst from the high rock.

I scream.

He hits the water with force and the sea is filled with rocks here. There’s no telling how deep or shallow it is. He could seriously die doing this. He could—but he pops up, shaking the water off his short yellow hair and whooping.

“You’re crazy!” I scold.

Then Gat jumps. Whereas Johnny kicked and hollered as he went down, Gat is silent, legs together. He slices into the icy water with hardly a splash. He comes up happy, squeezing water out of his T-shirt as he climbs back onto the dry rocks.

“They’re idiots,” says Mirren.

I look up at the rocks from which they jumped. It seems impossible anyone could survive.

And suddenly, I want to do it. I start climbing again.

“Don’t, Cady,” says Gat. “Please don’t.”

“You just did,” I say. “And you said it was fine if I came.”

Mirren sits up, her face pale. “I want to go home now,” she says urgently. “I don’t feel well.”

“Please don’t, Cady, it’s rocky,” calls Johnny. “We shouldn’t have brought you.”

“I’m not an invalid,” I say. “I know how to swim.”

“That’s not it, it’s—it’s not a good idea.”

“Why is it a good idea for you and not a good idea for me?” I snap. I am nearly at the top. My fingertips are already beginning to blister with clutching the rock. Adrenaline shoots through my bloodstream.

“We were being stupid,” says Gat.

“Showing off,” says Johnny.

“Come down, please.” Mirren is crying now.

I do not come down. I am sitting, knees to my chest, on the ledge from which the boys jumped. I look at the sea churning beneath me. Dark shapes lurk beneath the surface of the water, but I can also see an open space. If I position my jump right, I will hit deep water.

“Always do what you are afraid to do!” I call out.

“That’s a stupid-ass motto,” says Mirren. “I told you that before.”

I will prove myself strong, when they think I am sick.

I will prove myself brave, when they think I am weak.

It’s windy on this high rock. Mirren is sobbing. Gat and Johnny are shouting at me.

I close my eyes and jump.

The shock of the water is electric. Thrilling. My leg scrapes a rock, my left leg. I plunge down,

down to rocky rocky bottom, and

I can see the base of Beechwood Island and

my arms and legs feel numb but my fingers are cold. Slices

of seaweed go past as I fall.

And then I am up again, and breathing.

I’m okay,

my head is okay,

no one needs to cry for me or worry about me.

I am fine,

I am alive.

I swim to shore.

SOMETIMES I WONDER if reality splits. In Charmed Life, that book I gave Gat, there are parallel universes in which different events have happened to the same people. An alternate choice has been made, or an accident has turned out differently. Everyone has duplicates of themselves in these other worlds. Different selves with different lives, different luck. Variations.

I wonder, for example, if there’s a variation of today where I die going off that cliff. I have a funeral where my ashes are scattered at the tiny beach. A million flowering peonies surround my drowned body as people sob in penance and misery. I am a beautiful corpse.

I wonder if there’s another variation in which Johnny is hurt, his legs and back crushed against the rocks. We can’t call emergency services and we have to paddle back in the kayak with his nerves severed. By the time we helicopter him to the hospital on the mainland, he’s never going to walk again.

Or another variation, in which I don’t go with the Liars in the kayaks at all. I let them push me away. They keep going places without me and telling me small lies. We grow apart, bit by bit, and eventually our summer idyll is ruined forever.

It seems to me more than likely that these variations exist.

55

THAT NIGHT I wake, cold. I’ve kicked my blankets off and the window is open. I sit up too fast and my head spins.

A memory.

Aunt Carrie, crying. Bent over with snot running down her face, not even bothering to wipe it off. She’s doubled over, she’s shaking, she might throw up. It’s dark out, and she’s wearing a white cotton blouse with a wind jacket over it—Johnny’s blue-checked one.

Why is she wearing Johnny’s wind jacket?

Why is she so sad?

I get up and find a sweatshirt and shoes. I grab a flashlight and head to Cuddledown. The great room is empty and lit by moonlight. Bottles litter the kitchen counter. Someone left a sliced apple out and it’s browning. I can smell it.

Mirren is here. I didn’t see her before. She’s tucked beneath a striped afghan, leaning against the couch.

“You’re up,” she whispers.

“I came looking for you.”

“How come?”

“I had this memory. Aunt Carrie was crying. She was wearing Johnny’s coat. Do you remember Carrie crying?”

“Sometimes.”

“But summer fifteen, when she had that short haircut?”

“No,” says Mirren.

“How come you’re not asleep?” I ask.

Mirren shakes her head. “I don’t know.”

I sit down. “Can I ask you a question?”

“Sure.”

“I need you to tell me what happened before my accident. And after. You always say nothing important—but something must have happened to me besides hitting my head during a nighttime swim.”


Tags: E. Lockhart Suspense
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