Brenna R. Singman
"Hurry up..." Joshua groaned as the late school bus remained still well after the four departing students crossed the street or entered nearby houses. The sun was near setting. If he missed the Dive, he would be labeled a wimp for the rest of his life. No one refused the Dive, and Joshua wasn't going to be that kind of trendsetter. He had a different name to make for himself.
Finally the bus trudged along again until it reached a corner just a block from home. Joshua flew from his seat, nearly bowling over a sixth grader in front of him. He quickly thanked the driver and jumped from the second step to the waiting concrete. He rocketed down the block, ignoring the sting of his backpack as the corner of a book dug into his back. The blue house on the corner of Tommas Drive came into view. Joshua reminded himself that the feel of the frigid water in the pond would be worth every second of his mom's shouting. Instead of another scolding about his detention, Joshua snatched up his bike from the side yard, and, in the next breath, he was tearing down Main Street towards the park, his heart slamming as hard as his feet on the pedals.
Joshua chased the sun into the trees. The wheels jumped as the cement street ended and the dirt paths began. He deftly tilted the handle bar and braced his feet to follow the quickest route over rocks strewn about the dirt. With a few scratches from low hanging branches, Joshua broke free of the trees. The path narrowed as it curled around the murky pond. It sloped gently at first and then sharply curved upward making Joshua adjust the bike's gears. He pushed hard, legs aching, but it would be nothing compared to missing out on the Dive.
A group of boys between thirteen and fourteen years old were gathered at the top of the hill. Some heard the crunch of tires on rock and turned to see Joshua puffing his way up. Two hailed him and jogged over, slapping his back and cheering him on.
"Thought you wussed out, Joshy," said a tall boy who hung back. His shirt was damp and his hair was slicked back and glossy from the fading light through the canopy. "It's pretty late. Mommy misses you, Joshy."
"Shut up, ass face," Joshua grumbled as he balanced his bike against a thick tree. "And don't touch my S-Series."
Joshua walked towards the boys circling like sharks with Vinnie in the center, still sneering and victorious. The circle broke just wide enough to let Joshua brush through towards the cliff face. Watching the pond from tens of feet up was scarier than seeing it on level. From this height, the pond looked smaller, but it dropped into a miles long darkness. One wrong push and the mossy water could choke him. One cowardly twist and he could crack his skull on the rocky edge or get tangled in the dancing cat tails. Joshua shook his head to clear away the fog of fear.
Clearly the other boys took it as weakness and began chiding him. Joshua flipped them all his middle finger and started unlacing his sneakers and ripping off his socks. His face was flushed with eagerness and intensity. He had to do it right now. If he stopped, he would certainly lose his nerve. One motion after another. He couldn't stop. One foot after another. Right towards the rocky edge. Already Joshua could feel the wind picking up as if to warn him of what his last moments could be. But no matter what, he could say he did it. And if stupid, clumsy Vinnie could make the jump, nothing was in Joshua's way-
"Josh, stop!" a woman wailed. Joshua stumbled and waved his arms to catch his balance. Everyone turned to the new arrival, a tall woman with dark hair pasted to her forehead from sweat. Her brown eyes were manic as she charged ahead and snatched her son's elbow. Quiet whispers filled the frigid air. "Joshua Nicholas Garfield, are you insane? You should be ashamed of yourself, acting like an idiot. For what? All these boys?" She turned her hawk eyes on the others. "Shame on every single one of you. Get home to your parents right now! I'll be making a lot of calls on my way back. Damn it."
Josh's face was aflame despite the icy air attacking his skin, and he didn't dare make eye contact with anyone, not even his friends, as his mother grabbed his abandoned wad of clothes, dragged him back down the hill, and practically threw him into the backseat of her van. She slammed her hands against the steering wheel in utter frustration and then paused. Joshua flinched as he waited for her to lash out again or say something else that his friend's might hear even from that distance.
"You scared the crap out of me!" Her voice wavered, and guilt burned a pit in Joshua's stomach. "Joshy, you're all I've got left. If something happened to you-"
"Nothing was gonna happen, mom," Joshua mumbled, but he already saw the argument on her lips. "I won't go back there with those guys."
His mom smiled with tears in the creases around her eyes, and she patted his cheek. "I'm sorry, honey. I was just so worried when you didn't come home. What would I do without you?"
She kissed his forehead and tapped the button on the side of the steering wheel. The van hummed and the seats started warming while the radio abruptly howled his mom's favorite country music station. Joshua stole one last glance at the hill where the boys were still gathered, unheeding of his mom's temper. He had one weekend-two days-to decide how to face them all. No one refused the dive.
Joshua balled his fist, but relaxed it as his mom started to sing.