Expectations and disappointment
Jules believed with all her heart, particularly now, that the human brain’s tendency to shut off under stress was the absolute dumbest evolutionary progression of all time. That Shock, as we now experienced it, was even less useful than tonsils or armpit hair; so obnoxiously cumbersome that its original purpose could hardly be imagined.
For her, the sensation was wearing off, the world was just slowing down to a tempo she could keep up with, and she wondered if that didn’t explain a thing or two.
She’d spent so many nights, sitting with her sisters in pajamas, making fun of pageant contestants. Those girls, live on television, were continually being asked questions like, “Please divulge your thoughts on climate change,” and it felt like without exception they would answer, “I believe that dribble drobble flobble pop,” or some such nonsense. The ordeal was so embarrassing that it was mesmerizing to watch. What ridiculous thing were they going to say next? Watching those stunningly statuesque women, enviable goddesses in almost every way, break down on camera under the slightest pressure… They tuned in specifically for it. And tuned right out again when the contestants began walking around in their underwear. No one should be that comfortable with their half-naked body.
But what if it was all connected?
Those women couldn’t possibly all be actual idiots.
Julianna usually kept her “silly mouth” shut around her siblings. As the youngest, with four older sisters, her opinions were much safer that way. But that didn’t keep her from having them. And, in real life, those pageant girls had to be regular people. The law of averages said so. If you found yourself having a conversation with one of them in someone’s living room, they would, of course, know where the Middle East was. They would never ask you to repeat simple questions. And would almost certainly never speak to you in indecipherable gibberish.
The root of the problem had to be that, sexually speaking, they were too highly evolved. Being a nine or a ten served them well on the catwalk, but worked seriously against them when it came to mental reflex. Because their poor reactionary abilities, like deer in the headlights, were inherited traits. Jules had read somewhere that animals that didn’t move when frightened were way easier to get pregnant, and, so, were the ones that had the most babies. They were also the ones that were most likely to be hit by a bus. But motorized vehicles were a relatively recent environmental variable, and would take a thousand years to level out the gene pool.
Jules knew that the logic only made sense if, at some distant point in human history, men actually hunted their mates. When she imagined Copeland grunting like a caveman, walking toward her with a club in his hand, she snorted. He’d once spent six months trying to catch a rat in the Inn’s basement, only to give up when he found babies in its nest. She didn’t think Copeland was a wuss or anything, but he was by no means a Neanderthal.
The only problem she really had with the theory was that, if she had come from a long line of women being hunted like foxes, shouldn’t shock, then, be a singularly female trait? Unless, she supposed, it was some sort of genetically shared carryover.
Because Dusty, Cope’s best friend, was as characteristically male as it got, and had stood just as motionless and disbelieving as she had. At the top of the cliff, next to her, his trance may have worn off quicker, but for the longest time they’d both just watched as Copeland writhed in agony below.
Now, however, Dusty was moving so fast that she could barely watch.
The thick mooring line she’d made the boys tie around the trunk of an overgrown Cyprus on the bluff had been the defining prerequisite for her ever going down with them. But even they had taken to using the rope lately, citing their backpacks, “Full of your crap,” as, “Not too heavy,” just, “Awkward.”
She just liked it when everyone was safe.
But, watching Dusty move, Jules knew there was no way he was holding on to it. And she couldn’t help but be in awe. He wasn’t carefully climbing down there to spend the night drinking beer on the beach, like so many times before. Copeland was at the bottom, hurt, and Dusty was practically falling off the cliff to get to him. Franticly. On the verge of losing control. Like a cat coming out of a tree.
She’d never seen anyone move like that.
She’d also never heard anyone scream like he had.
The whole thing still felt a little unreal.
The trail that led from the road, meandering through the trees and sand dunes to the cliff edge and rope, was sentineled by two tussocks of pampas grass. The entire north end of the lane was bordered by them, from the Channel Inn for half a mile to The Underhill Chapel on the point; vestiges of an earlier age, the people responsible for planting them long dead. But two, for no perceivable reason, and only if you knew to look for them, were slightly larger than the rest. Between them, if you pushed through with your hands, covering your eyes for protection from the giant cutting blades, hid the trail mouth.
Dusty had pulled up in his truck, apparently unable to find Cope either, just as Jules had been about to walk in. He’d then driven past her a couple hundred yards and parked on the gravel shoulder. The boys both believed their most holy of holies was only truly safe from outsiders if they refrained from entering while anyone was watching, and never left giveaway clues like parked cars.
Vida Seca Lane was only sparsely inhabited, just a few hotels and summer cottages, but was also the only concrete road on the northern peninsula. It began at the edge of Bayocean’s historic old town and traveled up the coast for miles, rounding the point, passing under the Cape Meares Bridge, and ending on the bayside in the parking lot of Tillamook State Park. The highway had been built parallel to it, but was inaccessible until you reached town, running along the peninsula’s hilly spine. But there were at least a hundred trails and service roads crisscrossing the hill, through walking-tunnels beneath the highway, bringing park-goers and instagramers to viewpoints and wildlife sanctuaries from miles around. And they all drove in, whether visiting the inn, the chapel, or the park, on the lane.
It had only taken a minute to walk in together from the road, and to find Copeland at the bottom, pissing on a bush. And Dusty had immediately knelt to pick something up.
“No, Dusty,” Jules had said sternly.
But Dusty just smirked, looked over the edge, and said, “Fuck it.”
Copeland and Dusty were as close as two boys could get. And Jules tried to respect that. When they were talking to each other, she knew to stay out of the way. Interrupting meant you got the silent treatment, from both of them, for the rest of the day. And that went double for ruining pranks or jokes. So, when Jules had been tempted to yell down a warning to her boyfriend, she’d stayed quiet.
Annoyed. Anxious. And quiet.
Dusty had been practically drooling, looking over the edge, waiting for the splash in the sand that would scare the absolute shit out of his friend, and Jules had been watching, waiting to ignore the inevitably obnoxious victory howl, when Dusty’s miscalculated toss landed the fist-sized dirt clod directly on Copeland’s head.
Dusty saw what he’d done, gasped, and then screamed like a wounded animal.
And then the shock.
Dusty was still ten feet from the bottom when he jumped. Impatient as he had been, he didn’t get far enough away from the wall, and landed in the sandstone crumbles at the bottom. But the sand beneath it was soft, and he rolled to the ground, unhurt. He got up to run, stumbled, fell back down, got up again, and ran as fast as the beach would allow him to his friend.
Copeland had just gotten to his feet when Dusty came up behind him. But he didn’t turn around to acknowledge him. Instead, Cope just kept both hands on his head and looked down at the water. Dusty pulled at them, trying to inspect the damage, but Cope held them tight and ignored him.
Dusty was two or three inches taller than Copeland, and was on his tip toes in the sand, looking through Copeland’s hair and fingers for blood.
Copeland still just looked away.
And then they both just stood there, looking into the water.
Copeland shook his head, but Jules had no idea what the question had been.
Then the boys stepped closer, together, toward the waves.
Dusty suddenly began pulling Copeland back, though only halfheartedly. And, when Cope bent over and began pulling something out of the surf, Dusty moved in to help him.
Then Jules saw what they had.
Before her eyes, a snow white man was being dragged out of the water by his arms. Jules gagged. She wished the two of them had been decent enough to drag him face down so she wouldn’t be so certain it was a man, but why were they touching him at all?
The answer, she imagined, to Copeland’s way of thinking, was that by the time help arrived the tide might have shifted and he could be lost forever.
Jules took a deep breath and screamed, “Throw it back!” But no one heard her, and she sighed. They wouldn’t have listened even if she’d been standing right next to them.
Dusty might not have been at the top of any girl’s list of preferred best friends for their boyfriend, but if ever there was a bonded pair, it was those two. And, sometimes, it was nice to see that kind of loyalty in action. If one of them decided to do something, whether it was a good idea or the worst ever, whether it was what to do on Friday night or to pull a drowned naked man out of the water, their commitment knew no boundaries. And, if she had to be perfectly honest, she was extremely envious. She’d never had anyone like that. And now she worried she never would. That she was too old. She worried that allegiance like that could only be formed early on, with someone who shared your childhood history.
You can’t just make that stuff up or find it with someone you just met.
Cope was the only person she’d had anything close to that with, but he already had a best friend. He’d never spend that kind of energy with her. But, watching them drag in some dead guy together, she was still jealous.
Why couldn’t Copeland have just been asleep in his bed this morning?
Now they were going to talk about this all day.
She reached into the back pocket of her shorts and pulled out her phone to call 911.
One more day.