The rocky ledge stood as high as his three-story farmhouse. Conrad Newman lingered a body-length from the brink, trying not to think about that. The black pool roiled at the foot of the waterfall below him. The other boys, already treading water—his so-called friends—hollered and beckoned, their laughing faces upturned, squinting into the afternoon sun.
“Jump, Connie. Just jump.” He allowed his friends to call him that, but only his friends. “And don’t forget to cross your legs, if ya know what’s good for ya.”
Across the river on the opposite bank, the girl with long, dark hair lay stretched out on a shelf of rock. She lifted her languorous head from the pillow of her hands, flicking her hair back over her shoulders, then raised up to her elbows and rested her eyes on him. It was time. Now or never.
The rolling thunder of the nearby cascade drowned the voices of the other boys and all other sound, save the inner voice that taunted him. He tried not to think about the height or the hurt, impossible as it was. One thought crowded all others. Suppose he didn’t jump, then what?
Two shuffled steps covered the distance to the edge. He raised his arms in triumph and threw himself into sunlight and space, hurtling downward from the precipice with the speed of abandon. The pinch in his gut tightened.
His crossed feet broke the verge of the cold, clear water with a worthy splash and he plummeted beneath the surface. He opened his eyes to the underwater world of dimmed light and preborn shadows. The submerged rocks the older boys had warned against passed by his right shoulder, within arm’s reach. The muted rumble of the waterfall surrounded him, engulfed him.
Broaching the frothy surface, he shook the hair and water from his eyes. His new brotherhood clamored about, slapping his back and trying to dunk his head again to seal the baptism. He strained to break free from them. With one determined kick, he raised his head and shoulders above water, glancing with a buoyant grin up to the shelf of sunlit rock.
The girl with the long, dark hair had turned away. She nestled her head upon folded hands and arched her Coppertone back, as she lay once more under the warmth of a drowsy summer sky.