We drive to the cliffs.
Growing up, we’ve always driven here, to the cliffs at the edge of town. When we’re small, our parents took us to the beach down the coast. There we’d run in the dark sand, sunscreen warpainted on our faces, ice cream dripping down our skinny arms and legs, getting all sticky in the sun.
Years later, when we were maybe around twelve, we’d steal one of our parents’ cars and drive to the cliffs to play hooky.
We drove to the cliffs to hook up with girls a year or so after that, lose our virginities. We drove there to fuck, smoke, drink, break bottles, scream, get bruised, get hurt, and afterwards we’d stumble down the beach, vision blurred, the sand stretching out forever, under the white sun like endless black sugar.
It’s now late on a Friday night, or I guess Saturday morning, and we’re headed there in Turner’s pick-up. Moonlight hiccups through the dirty windows, jumps around on our faces as the truck hits potholes. We’re already gone, smoking cigarettes.
All of the guys are here, the ones who’ve always been here. We all have buzzcuts. At the beginning of the summer we got loaded and hotboxed JP’s blue bathroom, we cut each other’s hair through the smoke and listened to the radio. The first draft was announced then. The ships pulled up to the docks down the coast. Sometimes the summer nights got lit up red and bloody with fireworks, celebrating a war we all know we’re losing.
Turner’s driving, like always. He’s chewing tobacco and drinking a “cherrybomb” slurpee from the petrol station. Paolo’s in the back with me, laughing at everything, his voice high and wild. He’s chewing gum, blowing pink bubbles until they’re too big and explode over his skin. JP and Garrett are in the bed of the truck, dust blowing up all around them.
Leo’s here too.
He’s right beside me. His hair is bleached white, blending with all this smoke, but his eyes are smudged up with shit he buys from the drugstore. His lips are redder than Turner’s slushie. Glitter flakes off his skin onto the truck’s seats — with each bump of the road, there’s a little firework of pink and blue glitter falling onto me, onto my wife-beater and bruised blue jeans.
Barbed wire ties together the hands behind his back.
Turner keeps looking back at me, like nothing’s changed: “You good, Jakob?”
“Oh, Jakob’s good,” Paolo answers for me, blowing another pink bubble.
Maybe the guys don’t know anything about Leo and I — and maybe Leo doesn’t know about me and the guys. Maybe all of this can end differently this time.
The moonlight flickers off as rain starts falling, and I can smell the ocean even over all the cigarettes and whiskey and sweat. It’s hard to believe the rain’s even real, after the heatwave, the blackouts and wildfires, after everything in this town has long died, but it’s real and it’s pounding on the windows. JP and Garrett must be getting soaked in the back.
Turner drives faster, and I bite my lips so hard I think I taste blood, salt between my crooked teeth. Why do I always do that? Bite my lips till they bleed.
I try not to look at Leo, because he knows. Of course he knows. He’s seen all the newspapers, all the headlines on our static-filled TVs. The deaths all the police in town decide are suicides, boys who go missing and wash up on black sand.
Turner roughly parks the truck, and we burst out the doors, holding our bottles and our cigarettes, the beams of our flashlights swaying back and forth in the wind — an unsteady spotlight over Leo’s pale skin.
I don’t get how you can live in a beach town and still not get a tan. Being pale as milk in a heatwave. I told him that the first time we’d met, at a bar outside of town. I didn’t know how I ended up there that night, wearing my pop’s leather jacket. I didn’t know why I responded to this poofter when he came over to me, singing along to the song blasting from the jukebox. I don’t know why I looked at him and felt myself smile.
Leo went to my church, so I did recognize him even if I never said nothing. He’d pray with all of us, the mothers praying that their sons don’t get taken away, the others who’d already lost family, to the heatwave and wars. Our church glows bright at night, this nasty neon purple, and we’d pass it by when we drove to the cliffs later on, when it was just us two.
Leo would lounge in the passenger seat, singing to the radio, smoking a joint rolled by careful pale fingers, his nails painted the same purple as our neon church.
We’re now walking in a line down the rocky path, Leo up between us and Turner leading the way. We don’t trip like we used to on this path, when we were still kids — we all know the route by heart, even this drunk, even in this little light.
For a moment, I can close my eyes against the rain, and I can feel warm, can feel the sun hot on my face, see it blaring orange and perfect beyond my eyelids, and I can pretend that this is ten years ago, that we’re all again eight year old kids.
But I open my eyes and the path empties out at this little clearing above it all — above the waves — and that’s when they take off the wire around his hands, and one of them spits at Leo, and Garrett knees him in the stomach, knocking him to the rocks. Glitter, spit, skin. Laughter rings out, and from somewhere nearby, dingos howl.
It’s starting to rain harder. The edge is a few feet away, one missed step away — and I look, I look all the way down — rain pummels the black water into a white blur —
We’re in this circle now. I stare at them through the rain, through the beginnings of sunrise around us. To one side of me, I stare at my brothers, their bloody hands, the mud warpainted on their faces. On the other side, I stare at Leo, his bloody lips, blue eyes. Cold pink light shines on all their faces.
And behind them, a pack of at least ten dingos emerging, breaking our circle, their fur matted, their teeth curling. My mom told me dingos come together in packs to hunt, but in small numbers they’re really not all that bad.
When one of the dingos lets out a shattering howl, that’s when I grab onto Leo — and that’s when we run.