I liked the way her hand danced with the wind. The air felt harsh blowing against my face in the backseat, but Osh made it seem like her and the wind were good friends. Her other hand rested low on the steering wheel. She was undeniably cool. I made a mental note to drive just like her when I got my license.
“Why are you leaning so close to my seat?” she asked. The question startled me, and heat rushed to my face. Did she see me staring?
“Relax, new girl. Sit back and enjoy the ride,” she said.
Jay and Gina laughed. I laughed, too, even though I hated the thought of being seen as new. In an alternate timeline, Osh and I were already friends. We took the same classes and liked the same music. We shopped at the same stores. We even frequented the same park, something I learned after seeing Osh on the swings with a boy two grades ahead of us. The only difference is that I spent my freshman year one school zone over. Living with my father again meant I could live my alternate life, the one I thought would never happen and only did because something I’m not really allowed to talk about happened to my mom.
Despite being two months and six days younger than me, Osh seemed like she had been alive a lot longer. She wore heeled boots and fashioned multicolored beads around her waist. A gold ring, that she sometimes tucked inside her nostrils to avoid being dress coded, sat effortlessly below her nose. And she always smelled like honey and smoke, a combination that wasn’t the most pleasant, but one I could mostly ignore.
We pulled into an unmarked parking lot not too far from the main beach. Jay and Gina hopped out of the car and followed Osh to a flat piece of land with a clear view of the ocean. My parents took me to these cliffs to hike as a kid, but I hadn’t been back since I was in elementary school. I wasn’t the best swimmer, and I’d slipped into the water paralyzing my mother with fear and sending my father into full action star mode. I think I might have been fine if they had given me a chance to rise to the surface on my own. Seeing Osh, Jay and Gina here felt like I had copied and pasted them into my childhood memory.
“Jump,” Osh said as I stood behind her. She pretended to push me over the edge, but I fumbled back into her. This was a joke, a cruel and unusual induction to their secret society. I looked to her for reassurance.
“Jump,” she repeated.
“That’s at least a 20-foot drop,” I said as I struggled to both speak and understand her request. “You’re out of your mind.”
“Jump or leave,” she said. Jay and Gina who had been quietly standing behind her, toughened their stances like high school henchmen. I knew very little about Jay and Gina except for their unbridled loyalty to Osh. I wondered if they existed outside of her. When she slept, did they disappear into thin air? Did she turn them off to conserve their energy? Or maybe they were powered by pure everlasting devotion?
I peaked over the cliff. Jagged rocks stood proudly just before the water. Panic crept into my chest, and I backed away. A lump rose in my throat, my stomach curled, and my feet sunk into the ground. The irony of jumping off of a cliff because my friends told me to was not lost upon me. No one would blame me if I had chosen not to plummet to the bottom of the earth.
Osh rolled her eyes like she had already heard my answer. She turned away, and that scared me more than jumping. I was smart enough to leave. Smart enough to not jump. I know. But these were after thoughts. During thoughts. These were the thoughts I should have had as I walked back to the car, rested my phone on the hood, kicked off my shoes, and took one more deep breath before running.
Although it was one of the warmer days of the year, the water was cold. It worked in my favor because I couldn’t feel the pain of my body slapping against the ocean. I was only in the air for a single breath—barely enough time to pinch my nose before my body plunged so deep I couldn’t see light anymore. It was a nightmare. It was the one where you’re drowning in total isolation and moving in slow motion. You want to rescue yourself, but you can’t. When I fell into the water as a little girl, I was terrified mostly because it seemed like I had to be. My father pulled me out of the water, and he sobbed as he wrapped me in his arms. He yelled at my mom for not watching me. How could you? He repeated those words when I came to live with him, but in a whisper to himself when he thought I wasn’t listening. How could she?
My hands found the sky and painted diamonds, pulling the water down around my body. I kept making diamonds until I could breathe again, until I could feel the wind again. The water violently crashed into the rocks but gently rocked me back and forth. I was good, giddy even. If the desire to see Osh’s face wasn’t so strong, my body would have shriveled into a raisin. I swam to the shore and climbed up the cliff. The rocks were slippery, and I scraped my knee. Blood pooled into the cracks of my skin and dripped down my leg, but I didn’t stop moving. My breath grew heavier from exhaustion, but mostly excitement. The thought of Jay and Gina’s jaws painfully hitting the pavement from jealousy motivated me. Osh’s admiration motivated me even more.
Waiting for me at the top of the cliff was an empty parking lot. My shoes and phone laid on the ground were the only record of someone else being there. I grabbed my belongings and used one of the outdoor showers to wash myself off. The water felt surprisingly colder than the ocean. Blood from my knee swirled down into the drain, and mounds of sand collected on the side. It wasn’t a popular day to visit the beach. An old man walking an even older dog on the pier tossed a waste bag into the trash can. And a small group of cyclists in matching spandex nearly ran me over. I was mostly alone.
Across the street, I spotted Osh’s car at Mr. Frosty’s, the only restaurant on the beach that wasn’t overpriced and made decent food. In the clouds of red rage that began to fill my brain, I imagined a careless Osh chomping down on a burger while the status of my life hung in the air. She didn’t know if I had been swept away by the ocean, hit on the head by a rock, or torn apart limb by limb by a bloodthirsty shark. My face grew hot, and my body clenched. Without any account of oncoming traffic, I ran across the street and forcefully pulled Mr. Frosty’s doors open. Osh and her minions were sitting in a booth in the back of the restaurant laughing too hard to notice my entrance. I opened my mouth to shout but only a soft stutter came out.
“Can I help you with something, Sweetheart?” a waitress asked. I pointed to the back.
“Those are my friends,” I said. Friends felt like the word of a language I’ve never spoken. The waitress ushered me to the booth, and I slid into an open spot next to Osh. My clothes, still soaking wet, did not sit comfortably against the pleather seats.
“Do you want me to bring you anything, Sweetheart?” The waitress touched my shoulder and gasped. “You’re soaked.”
“It’s okay. I’m fine,” I said. The waitress didn’t seem assured, but something shattered in another part of the restaurant, and she left.
Jay and Gina exchanged a glance between them and looked to their leader for approval. Osh, silent at first, laughed and playfully nudged my arm.
“You’re not gonna cry are you,” she said, “‘Cause it’s not like you died.” She plopped a basket of fries in front of me. She stared, waiting for me to accept. I smiled, swallowing any tears I might have had, and popped a fry into my mouth. Osh, pleased by my acceptance, continued a story she told before my arrival. She occasionally acknowledged my presence and filled me in on the missing details. It almost felt like we were friends, except I knew this was the last time we’d ever hang out.