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Edge of the World
A best friend's midnight stroll
Julie swayed, her grip on the fence loosening as she stood on her tiptoes, staring down the edge of the cliff. Pete told her to stop coming out here, that she'd fall off one day, but she didn't believe him. All talk and no muscle, that one. All bark and no bite.
To be fair, that's all anyone did around here, talked. Everybody knew a thing or two about something, especially her.
She swung one leg over the fence and perched astride it, one foot on the path, the other on the edge of the world. A breeze blew past, lifting the hair off her shoulders. It felt gentler on the other side of the hill, where the peaks broke the wind and everything felt smaller. Now, in plain view of the ocean and everybody, it felt strong enough to take somebody down, sending them careening into nothingness over the cliff. The last few moments before the end.
Julie's lips curved into a bitter smile. Fitting to find herself here, on the second anniversary of her best friend's death. Right next to the spot where the town's Little Miss Perfect took her last breath. At least, so they say. Couldn't prove a damn thing, of course, but they tried. Even took Julie in for questioning a few times, though she was too shaken up to say much. Every time they asked her, she just said the same thing.
It was dark. She wanted to go. I told her to stay.
But McKenna didn't want to stay. Now she was gone. Not on the rocky shoreline below, where everyone thought she'd be. Not in the mussels and barnacles that decorated the tide pools, and not in the arms of the seaweed that tangled up every bit of that shore. They thought she jumped, and the tide washed her away. But they didn't find anything - absolutely nothing - that would indicate that she was even there.
You see, when someone disappears, little particles of things get left behind, said the kind policewoman who'd tried to comfort McKenna's shell-shocked friend. Clothing, hair, shoelaces. If she'd jumped, she would have left something for us to find.
If she did, they never found it.
Julie's feet hit the pebble-speckled ground, causing a few of the smaller stones to leap into the air, clattering to the earth nearby. She took one step towards the ocean, then another. She could almost smell the salt in the air, and though the seabirds didn't roost here during the night, she could practically see them floating over the moon.
Other lights danced on the water like fireflies in a meadow. Ships, probably. Big liners, floating from here to there. Maybe a cruise ship of some kind, filled with dancing people and pulsing lights and enough music to wake the dead. Maybe even enough to bring back McKenna.
That girl loved the ocean. Julie could still imagine her hanging over the fence she'd just climbed over. Splinters digging into McKenna's hands, head thrown back, inhaling the scent of the water. She'd been born for it. Longed for it. Julie used to say her friend was part mermaid, and it always made McKenna laugh.
What she wouldn't give to hear that laugh again.
The roar of the water filled Julie's ears as she crept closer. Dark thoughts distracted her: memories of McKenna, trying on dresses for their prom; listening to music that Julie hated and dancing along; stealing a cookie from her mom's kitchen and whisking it away with only crumbs to tell the tale. It was so easy to forget those things in the daylight. Focus on the here and now: grocery trips, calls with her mother, jokes with her dad. Pretend she didn't notice the whispers during her sister's trips to the salon, when patrons and stylists glanced over their shoulders, worry painted in their eyes. They never said it out loud, but she knew the rumors. People were never as quiet as they'd like to believe.
I heard she took it really hard.
They were best friends, you know?
Dunno what I'd do in her shoes.
Julie laughed bitterly, the sound grating against her own ears. Wasn't this what they'd do? Get drunk every night, go walking in search of her dead best friend? She'd never seen McKenna's ghost, but she heard it in her dreams. That pointing finger, that stabbing, relentless scream.
McKenna's scream, from the night she died. The night that burned in Julie's mind, playing itself over and over until she woke herself sobbing.
Nobody knew what happened to her, they said. The trail went cold, they said. Nobody would ever know what really happened that night, they said.
But someone was lying.
Somebody knew. Someone stood there in the final moments in McKenna's life. Someone pushed her over the edge. Held a gun to her head. Stabbed her with a kitchen knife. Whatever happened, she didn't throw herself into the ocean. McKenna wasn't suicidal, and she wasn't that clumsy. Sure, she had klutzy moments, like the time she tripped over a shoelace and smashed her face into the warm fudge sundae she'd been carrying. But she wasn't that bad. Not accidentally murdered herself bad.
Julie crept to the edge of the cliff. She stood with the toes of her shoes jutting into space, feeling the wind whip around her shoulders and salty spray bite into her skin. It hurt. The world swayed before her eyes as dizziness took over again, the warmth of alcohol singing in her blood. Usually, it made everything okay. Tonight, it made it all worse.
Somebody out there was celebrating tonight. Somebody would fall asleep in their bed, pretending that nothing happened two years ago. Somebody would wake up tomorrow, just like normal, and go about their day like they didn't make a teenage girl disappear.
One day, Julie would find them. And just like McKenna, she would make them vanish, too.
The wind lifted her hair off her shoulders again, and she spread her arms wide, feeling the air push against her fingers. It was like driving with the windows down, headed everywhere and nowhere. Sunglasses and smiles, warmth and pop music on the radio. Things McKenna loved, and would never have again.
Whoever the killer was, they should be thankful that Julie didn’t find them. If she did, she’d make them pay. For escaping the police, for evading justice. For letting other people go on without telling them why they did such a terrible thing.
And it would be beautiful, in a tragic sort of way. A lost girl’s killers, losing their lives. Strung up by the vigilante hand of justice. Taken down by none other than their victim’s best friend. Ended without mercy, the same way they attacked their prey.
The starlight reflected in Julie’s eyes as she stared over the horizon. The bobbing lights on the horizon had drifted farther away, nearly disappearing into the night. Alcohol and adrenaline buzzed through her veins as visions of the future unfolded in her head. Not just aimlessly wandering around on cliffside vigils. Not just overhear others talking about her loss. There was more she could do. So much more.
She could bring down McKenna’s killers and succeed where the police could not. Bring peace to her best friend’s soul. Restore the good dreams, the blaring radio cruises, the warm fudge sundaes and the peace of mind. Remember the times when nothing ached and everything was beautiful.
McKenna may be dead, but her memory never would be. Her murderers may not know it yet, but they would be in the ground soon. As soon as Julie found them, they would discover what pain really was.
(Photo by marnock, Pexels)
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