Bluff was the location of the wildest and most consistent parties and, also, there was the tradition of “bluffing” to shove one of your buddies off the “bluff” at the most unforeseen moment. The irony is terrible that neither definition of “bluff” actually applied. It was a cliff. Period. A one hundred foot plummet off an upward-tilted lip of earth adorned with clover and dandelions at the far end of a county park, out of earshot of the parking lot even without the roar of sea winds that muscled up the ragged, rocky face of the cliff and stirred drunken teenagers’ hair in interesting ways. And, therefore, faking a shove off it was a lot more like a threat.


Bluff had been played on the girl once. She went out there as a freshman, which even among freshmen, was considered a pretty foolish thing to do. The crowd she rode with was peppered with other first year students clutching warm cans of Hamm’s like they were talismans, but mainly it was sophomores and juniors and even some seniors. Because she was appropriately wary of this crowd—getting good and cracked on an early Friday afternoon—she instinctively moved to the highest part of the bluff so she could observe everyone present, but of course this put her back to the open air at the edge of the cliff. When one upperclassman girl distracted her by inquiring after her peculiar ethnicity in that innocent and moronic blonde suburban way (“Ohmygod yoursooocute whatareyou?”), a redhead rocker chick with a hatchet face and leather jacket that would go on to die with a needle stuck into her arm at the ripe old age of 17, grabbed the girl and shoved her hard toward the edge. The redhead had good purchase on the girl’s backpack strap, so she probably wasn’t in any real danger, but nonetheless she shrieked, a spurt of piss got away from her, and she both vomited and began to cry when the redhead released her, disgusted.


The girl had come a long way since that freshman afternoon. She was a legal adult, however burdened with a handful of AP English essays before she could kick high school and the awful postcard town full of phony white people goodbye. She had lost her mother to a man named Ramon from Florida and her older brother to an IED in Fallujah. She still had her taciturn father that turned the engines of the town’s luxury SUVs inside out seventy hours per week, and her best friend, a wickedly smart film buff named Arthur, and a string of ex boyfriends that got more embarrassing the more she reflected. And so she tried not to. She tried to be mindful and in the moment and breathe, like her Buddhist auntie Celine had taught her once. That’s what she was doing the night of the last high school party she ever planned to attend, fittingly back on the bluff in the deep black of a late April night.


She had been there enough times with boyfriends or Arthur or on her own that she knew just where it was safe to place her feet without danger of the winds whirl-whipping her away into an ugly swan dive. She stared out at the obsidian ocean, seagulls like small triangles of cotton jagging about, using the force of the winds for swoops and ascents. She tipped a sip of German pilsner into her mouth and didn’t spit it out when the hand slid like a boa over her hip because she’d known it was coming.


His plot for dealing with her after having raped her in the bathroom at his parents’ Christmas party—she would always smell potpourri and asparagus piss at the most unwelcome moments—was to treat her as often as possible like his girlfriend. Of course she didn’t take to it and, for months, would slap him away, shout him down, spit at his giggles, but she’d found with time that all of that only made it worse. People quickly believed that no guy so adorably smitten and devoted despite her rejection could be guilty of choking her out and having his way with her over a toilet. And when she did stop protesting, when she let him put his arm around her in public, he thought it was victory. And he cooed cruel triumphs in her ear about what he would do next. And she could feel that this was the night that he would actually try.


His forearm was around her waist and his hand palmed her thigh through her jeans and she could smell the animal in him. She sighed, as if in resignation and ducked beneath his arm, coming face to face with him, albeit three inches below where he now stood on the lip of the bluff, his back to the sea and desolate song of the gulls. Behind her she could hear the inane squeals of drunken girls and false bravado of drunk boys boom and shatter in the loose thicket of Evergreens where the keg was planted. The sickle moon lit the white of his narrowed eyes and one canine tooth as he half-grinned. She shook her head, as if at herself, and slid one hand demurely onto his crotch, which responded with instant heated expansion. Before he did it, she knew it because she’d seen it happen, against designer wallpaper a year earlier: his head tip back in pleasure. She pushed hard, but didn’t have to. His eyes snapped back in time to catch hers and she’d be lying to this day if she denied the burst of pleasure in her brain, the flood of dopamine that followed the image of his going, his cry erased by the wind. She stayed and finished her beer, but didn’t peer over. She knew she couldn’t see anything at all, way down there on the dark violence of those rocky, sea-smacked shores.

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