Sherman was fifteen, a sophomore in high school, and he never would have crossed paths with Donovan and RJ if they hadn’t all worked together at the Newsworthy Burger in Dalcette. RJ was eighteen and had dropped out of high school long before Sherman got there. He was quiet, pudgy, and had frizzy dark hair that wasn’t long, really, but gave the impression of being uncut. Donovan was probably in his early twenties, although his lifestyle choices had given him the face and presumably the internal organs of an older man. He was pale and lanky and a long white scar ran diagonally across the back of his shaved head from above his left ear down to the base of his skull.
At Newsworthy Burger, an establishment renowned for its apathetic employees, Donovan and RJ were perhaps the most apathetic. They showed up to fewer than half of their scheduled shifts, and when they did show up they didn’t do any work. Not any. They stood around in the kitchen or smoked out by the dumpster and talked. Well, Donovan talked and RJ listened. But neither of them lifted a finger to help cook, or take orders, or clean up, or anything. They were two of the many beneficiaries of Newsworthy Burger’s owner’s well-known no-firing policy, although since they didn’t actively antagonize the other employees or repulse customers the managers were content to just work around them.
Sherman, who only applied for the job at Newsworthy Burger because his mom threatened to send him to live with his dad in a Heavenburg trailer park, took to Donovan and RJ right away. Their aloofness was irresistible, inspiring. Sherman longed to not care, or at least seem to not care, as much as they did. He had begun to cultivate the ability to not care with the onset of puberty, but Sherman knew he was an amateur when compared to Donovan and RJ. They had probably had traumatic, painful childhoods that had taught them the value of not caring from very early ages. Sherman might never be able to catch up to them.
Sherman gained access to Donovan and RJ’s group primarily because they didn’t care enough to exclude him, although this access didn’t extend to whatever they did when they weren’t at work. He still cared too much about the approval of his superiors to do nothing while he was on the clock, but when Donovan and RJ were around, Sherman was happy to blow off his duties in favor of listening to Donovan talk and nodding in agreement whenever RJ did. Donovan mostly talked about how useless various things were. Many of the things Donovan found useless were not surprising: cops, school, church, snitches, jobs, fake thugs, parents, recycling, foreign languages, his own health, voting, bogus paternity tests. But Donovan also claimed that he didn’t care about sports, extreme sports, video games, fashion, sex, cars, music, movies, stand-up comedians, anime, pit bulls, drugs, the internet, money, food, art, and parties. Donovan acknowledged occasionally participating in or interacting with some of these things, and maybe even enjoying them to some degree, but he insisted that at no point did he really care about any of them.
One warm Spring afternoon, standing by the dumpster behind Newsworthy Burger on a non-sanctioned smoke break, having the fourteenth cigarette of his life with Donovan and RJ, and listening to Donovan explain how little he cared about the passage of time, Sherman asked, “Is there anything you do care about?”
Donovan didn’t miss a beat. “Yeah. Summer. The 80 Degree Leap.”
“Oh,” said Sherman. “But what’s that? Not Summer. I know what that is. What’s the other thing?”
“It’s a ritual,” said Donovan. “It heralds the coming of Summer.”
“Oh, right,” said Sherman, understanding nothing. “That’s cool.”
“It’s a declaration of my readiness for Summer,” said Donovan. “It’s, like, a symbolic act which, if done properly, not only draws Summer forth, but guarantees a good Summer, a complete, fully-formed Summer, a classically summery Summer.”
RJ nodded. His hair moved like it was all one piece.
Sherman had never heard Donovan so articulate before, and he’d certainly never heard him sound so reverent. “How do you do it?” asked Sherman. He couldn’t help but be intrigued by anything that could inspire this kind of response from Donovan.
“Why?” asked Donovan. “You want to come?” He threw his cigarette butt into a puddle of garbage juice underneath the dumpster.
“Sure,” said Sherman, taken aback, not sure if Donovan had meant his question as an invitation or not. “I mean, if you don’t mind. Or whatever.”
“You can come,” said Donovan. “RJ’s coming. He does it with me. More people makes the ritual stronger. But if you come, you’ve gotta take it seriously. You’ve gotta do it right.”
“Of course,” said Sherman. “So what is it, exactly?”
“It takes place after sundown of the first day the temperature gets over 80 degrees,” said Donovan. “Which should be soon. So watch the temperature and be ready. We’ll pick you up.”
“OK, great,” said Sherman. “You want my phone number?”
“Just be ready,” said Donovan. Then, without speaking, he and RJ ambled off across the parking lot in a way that seemed aimless until they arrived at Donovan’s car, got in, and drove away. They had not cared enough to inform a manager or clock out before leaving.
Sherman didn’t see Donovan and RJ again until four days later. The Channel 2 forecast had predicted a high of 78 for the day, but when Sherman used his phone to check the temperature on his way home from school, it was a humid 81 degrees. When Donovan pulled his noisy, gray car into the driveway as the evening began to make bold moves towards night, Sherman was ready. On his way out the door, Sherman’s mom asked him where he was going and with whom and why he hadn’t asked permission and when he expected to be back and if she was just supposed to sit at home wondering about him all evening, but Sherman didn’t answer. He didn’t break stride. He let the screen door slam shut behind him and the structural integrity of the screen door was compromised that much further.
Sherman shared the back seat of Donovan’s car with a man-sized heap of empty cups and wadded-up sandwich wrappers from Newsworthy Burger, none of which were likely the results of financial transactions. RJ rode shotgun with his bare feet wedged between the dashboard and the windshield. All four windows were all the way open and the cool mid-Spring air flooded the car with enough freshness to almost conceal the stench of sweat, gasoline, weed, and Newsworthy Burger Very Very Value meals.
In the ten minutes since Sherman had gotten into the car, the day had transitioned from just before sunset to just after sunset, and Donovan navigated the crumbling county roads west of Dalcette with a lack precision that Sherman found both terrifying and cool.
“Was I supposed to bring anything?” asked Sherman. Outside the forests and farmland turned blue and purple as they absorbed the descending night.
“Nah,” said Donovan. “You’re good.” He paused. “Can you swim?”
“Yeah, I can swim.”
“You scared of heights?”
“Not really,” said Sherman. “I don’t think so.”
“Then you’re good,” said Donovan.
Sherman thought that this was an ominous sequence of questions, but he let it go without comment. He’d find out what was going on soon enough. And there was no way he was going to try to get out of it now anyway. He was hanging out with Donovan and RJ outside of work. This was what he wanted.
The trees grew thick on both sides of the road now, and they blocked up most of the evening’s last bits of light. Twenty yards from a sharp left turn in the road, Donovan pulled the car onto the dirt shoulder and stopped. He got out of the car and tossed his phone, wallet, and keys onto the front seat. RJ stuffed his wallet and phone into one of his shoes, which he left on the floor of the car in front of the passenger’s seat.
Sherman got out of the car.
“They’ll be fine,” said Donovan, sensing Sherman’s hesitance at leaving his phone and wallet behind. “You won’t want to have ‘em with you.”
“You’re leaving your keys,” said Sherman. “You’re not gonna lock up?”
“No one’s gonna come by here.”
Sherman set his phone and wallet on the back seat and covered them with an old sweatshirt he found stuffed in the back window. Then he slammed the door and trotted after Donovan and RJ who had started walking towards the bend in the road. The asphalt was cracked and scattered with dirt and gravel that crunched under the boys’ feet. The air smelled wet and green and was almost chilly enough to make Sherman wish his shirt had long sleeves. Just as the boys came to the bend, a pair of deer stepped out of the woods and crossed in front of them, their hooves clicking on the asphalt. One of the deer, a young buck, had a torn, white plastic bag hanging from one of its antlers. Neither deer looked at the boys, vanishing into the dark woods with a shared sense of purpose. For a few moments after the deer were no longer visible, Sherman saw flashes of the white bag floating between the tree trunks.
Just past the bend, the road continued over a short bridge across a narrow branch of the Runoff River. As Sherman followed Donovan and RJ out onto the bridge, he heard the soft sounds of slow-moving water beneath him, ripples lapping against the bridge’s cement support structure. There were two-feet-tall metal guard rails running the length of the bridge along both sides. Neither looked strong enough to keep a car moving at any normal rate of speed out of the river.
“This is where we jump from,” said Donovan, walking over to the guard rail. He stopped just short of the exact middle of the bridge and stood looking down at the river with his arms crossed, his knees pressed up against the rail. RJ stood on his right side. Sherman walked over to Donovan and stood to his left, following his gaze all the way down to the black water below. It was a much bigger drop than Sherman had expected.
“How far down is that?” asked Sherman.
“30 feet or so,” said Donovan.
“10 or 12,” said Donovan. “As long as you hit the hole right. That’s why you gotta make sure you jump from right here and go straight out and down. Go too far to the left or right and it’s a lot shallower. You’ll hit bottom.”
Sherman didn’t like the sound of any of this. He’d expected Donovan’s ritual to be something mischievous, probably even illegal, but he hadn’t expected it to be so physically dangerous. Although, the name “80 Degree Leap” did make more sense to him now.
“Come on,” said Donovan. “We’ll go swim around down there first to make sure there aren’t any submerged hazards in the landing area.”
Sherman followed Donovan and RJ down the steep, rocky slope under the bridge, clinging to exposed tree roots when his feet slid on loose dirt. When the boys spoke, their voices reverberated off of the underside of the bridge. At the bottom of the slope, at the edge of the water, out from beneath the bridge’s shadow, the boys stood on a large, flat rock and stripped down to their underwear. Donovan wore dark-colored briefs. RJ wore boxer shorts with different kinds of handguns printed on them. Sherman was glad that his preference for unadorned, unremarkably colored boxer briefs was paying off in this situation, at least. It was bad enough that his body looked so boyishly skinny compared to RJ’s masculine flab and Donovan’s raw, wiry boniness.
Donovan and RJ slipped into the water, but Sherman looked at the bridge up and to his right, at the narrow lip of cement just beyond the guard rail where he’d be expected to stand just before he jumped. The drop didn’t seem quite as significant from the river bank as it had from the bridge.
“Get in,” said Donovan, treading water and wiping droplets back off of his bright white, bald head with both hands. Sherman guessed the river was maybe twenty-five feet wide from bank to bank. He sat down on the rock, submerging his legs in the water from the knees down. The water wasn’t quite as cold as he’d feared, but he shuddered anyway.
“Come out here,” said Donovan. He was about twelve feet from shore. RJ floated on his back looking up at the sky, the current carrying him very slowly downstream. Sherman leaned forward and pushed off of the rock with his feet, gliding out into the river towards Donovan.
“Right here,” said Donovan. “I’m right over the hole. Come here and try to touch the bottom so you can feel how deep it is.”
Sherman swam over to Donovan, who paddled backwards so Sherman could take his place over the deepest part of the hole. “Go for it,” said Donovan. “You wanna know what you’re working with.” RJ swam past utilizing a lazy sidestroke, his dripping hair plastered to his forehead and cheeks. Sherman took a deep breath and made his body straight and rigid, turning his hands palms up and propelling himself downward with his arms. His feet touched the slick, rock bottom of the river much sooner than he would have liked. He pushed off of the bottom and kicked back to the surface. When he’d gone under, he’d been facing Donovan, who was downstream, but returning to the surface, he found himself facing upstream with no recollection of having rotated while underwater. He spun himself around to face Donovan again. “Didn’t feel that deep.”
“It’s plenty deep as long as you hit that hole,” said Donovan. “Just make sure you enter the water in, like, almost a seated position and sort of lean back when you hit. That slows you down a lot. Then you just sort of float down and push off the bottom and you’re good.”
“Sounds like a lot to remember.”
Donovan made the facial expression equivalent of a shrug. “We used to go to a different spot when we were younger. There was this old cement platform stretched across the water, maybe twenty feet up. I don’t know why it was there. But that spot was nice ‘cause the water was really deep. You never touched bottom jumping off that platform. Not even if you tried. And it was deep pretty much the whole way across the river, so you didn’t have to aim for a hole like you do here. But a kid got hurt out there and people got mad and they tore the platform down and now it’s gone.”
“That sucks,” said Sherman. “I wouldn’t have worried about jumping off of something like that.”
“You’re worried?” Donovan sounded concerned, but not for Sherman’s feelings or well-being.
“I mean, a little,” said Sherman.
“‘Cause you have to jump,” said Donovan. “That’s part of the ritual. Everyone who comes to the 80 Degree Leap has to jump. There can be no mere spectators. No mere observers. There can only be active participants or the ritual is ruined and it becomes an anti-ritual, an actual impediment to the hasty arrival of a high quality Summer.”
“I’m gonna jump,” said Sherman. “I’m definitely gonna jump. But still, it’s your ritual, so you could change the rules if you wanted.”
“What would be the point of that?” asked Donovan. “Why even have a ritual at all, then?”
Sherman said nothing. He found that as long as he kept treading water, his blood kept pumping through his extremities and he was able to stay tolerably warm.
“All right,” said Donovan. “I’ll go first. You stay down here with RJ and watch how it’s done.” He swam over to the flat rock on the bank and hoisted himself out of the water, dripping all over their discarded clothes as he stepped over them and began to make his way back up the slope to the road.
A minute later, his angular silhouette appeared near the middle of the bridge and stepped over the guardrail. RJ and Sherman swam to opposite banks to make sure they were well clear of the landing zone and Donovan, standing with his toes protruding over the edge of the bridge, pounded his chest twice with one hand. Then he bent his knees and jumped, launching himself out over the water in the perfect semi-seated position, arms pinwheeling. His aim was excellent and he hit the water right over the hole, disappearing with a deep, satisfying splash. After three seconds of calm, Donovan reappeared ten yards downstream, striking the water with his fist and shouting, “Whoo! That’s how you do it! Come on, Summer! Your turn, Sherman! Get up there!”
“I think I need to see another demonstration before I go,” said Sherman. “RJ should go.”
“Nah, you go,” said Donovan. “RJ, go up there with him and talk him through it.”
Sherman looked up at the bridge again. He knew it was an illusion, but the bridge seemed to get higher and higher the longer he looked. Either that or he was sinking.
The tiny pebbles on the bridge stuck to the bottoms of Sherman’s wet feet. There was also a breeze that Sherman hadn’t been able to feel down by the river, but now that he was up on the bridge, it made goose bumps appear all over his arms and torso.
“Right here,” said RJ, touching Sherman’s shoulder. “Step over the guardrail here and jump straight out and you’re good.”
Sherman stepped up to the guardrail and leaned out, looking down to the river. The water looked thick and black, unforgiving. Sherman could barely make out Donovan, a white blob bobbing downstream just past the landing zone.
“Just step over,” said RJ, his voice low and casual. “You can hold onto my arm if you want.”
Sherman nodded without looking at RJ. He felt shaky, jittery.
RJ held out his arm and Sherman latched onto it with both hands, stepping over the guardrail with his left leg and then stopping, straddling the rail while he gathered enough courage to step over with his right leg too and then be all the way, fully, completely on the other side of the rail. The wrong side of the rail, he couldn’t help but think. He stepped over with his right leg.
“All right,” said RJ. “Now just let go of my arm and jump straight out. It’s easy. I’m not athletic at all and I’ve done it. I’ve done it a few times, no problem.”
“Weren’t you nervous?” Sherman hated the frailty audible in his voice.
“Sure I was nervous. Sure. But I just did it and then I was like, ‘Why was I nervous? That was easy.’”
Sherman said nothing, still twisted at the waist so he could keep hold of RJ’s arm. The backs of his knees were pressed flat against the guard rail and still his toes stuck out over the edge, wriggling over the abyss. Well, not the abyss. But still, 30 feet was no joke. It might have been more like 40, really. Donovan might have given Sherman a conservative estimate on purpose to keep him from getting too scared.
“Do it!” Donovan shouted up from the water. “Jump!”
“You want a countdown?” asked RJ.
“No!” said Sherman, his hands tightening on RJ’s arm. “No, that’ll just make it worse. No.”
“You have to jump,” called Donovan. “So you might as well just get it over with.”
“I’m going to,” Sherman called back. “Don’t rush me.”
“Don’t think about it,” said RJ. “Just tune out your brain, make your head go blank, and go.”
“I’m trying,” said Sherman, but his mind was racing. What if he broke both of his legs? What if, even though he knew to hit the water in a sitting position, his body instead went really rigid and straight in the air and he missed the hole and he severed his spinal cord?
“We’re staying ‘til you jump,” called Donovan, swimming over to the rock and climbing out of the river. He sat down on the rock with his bare back against the slope of the bank and his legs stretched straight out, his heels barely touching the water. He folded his hands in his lap and looked up at Sherman. “Do it,” he said. “Do it. Go now. Now.”
“That’s not helping,” said Sherman. “Everyone just be quiet. Be quiet and I’ll do it on my own.” He let go of RJ’s arm, squaring himself up to the edge of the bridge. He took a deep breath and held it, closing his eyes and clearing his mind. Then he tried to jump. He couldn’t. His brain definitely told his legs to jump, but they refused. He opened his eyes and tried again. Nothing. He looked down at his legs, bent slightly at the knee, maybe a hint of tremble, but otherwise normal. But they would not do what Sherman was telling them to do, what he wanted them to do.
“I can’t do it,” he said in a voice low enough that only RJ could hear.
“Yes, you can,” said RJ. “You just gotta take control.”
“No, I mean I literally, physically cannot do it,” said Sherman. “My legs won’t do it. They won’t jump.”
He turned to step back over the railing, but Donovan jumped to his feet and shouted, “No! Do not let him back over the railing, RJ! He’s staying put until he jumps!”
Sherman looked down at and Donovan and scoffed. “You can’t keep me here, Donovan. You can’t make me jump.” He started to step back over the railing again, but RJ put one firm hand on Sherman’s chest and said, “No.”
“What are you doing?” asked Sherman. “Let me back over, RJ. I’m telling you, I can’t do it.” He could feel the drop-off behind him, the empty space between him and the water drawing him backwards. It made him feel dizzy and he grabbed onto RJ’s extended wrist with both hands. Sherman’s eyes searched RJ’s face. There were traces of compassion, but the presence of that compassion did nothing to diminish the apparent intensity of RJ’s resolve to keep Sherman out on the ledge.
“Keep him there!” called Donovan. “I’m coming up.”
When Donovan arrived on the bridge, Sherman saw that he had all of their clothes wadded into a ball in his arms. “So here’s what’s going to happen,” he said, dripping river water behind him as he came towards Sherman and RJ. “I’m gonna make sure Sherman doesn’t go anywhere while you jump, RJ. And then Sherman’s gonna jump. He might jump right away, he might stand here for another hour, two hours, I don’t know. But eventually he’ll jump.”
“What are you going to do?” asked Sherman. “Push me? You can’t make me jump.”
“No,” said Donovan, dumping his armload of clothes on the bridge by RJ’s feet. “You’re right. I can’t push you. And I can’t make you. That would violate the conditions of the ritual. Each participant must willfully choose to leap. Otherwise it isn’t a leap. It’s just a shove and a fall. Only you can leap.”
RJ removed his hand from Sherman’s chest and Sherman let go of his wrist.
“Move over,” said Donovan. “RJ’s gonna jump from where you’re standing.”
“Nah, it’s fine,” said RJ. “I’ll go at an angle.”
As RJ stepped over the guardrail, Sherman turned back around to face the edge. Before he had even finished turning, RJ, with no chest-pounding or whooping or hesitation of any kind, jumped, a pale, flailing shape hurtling downward and disappearing into the river. Heavier than Donovan by probably at least forty pounds, RJ’s splash was smaller. A few moments later, he was out of the water and climbing back up the slope to the road.
“See?” said Donovan. “It’s nothing.”
“If it’s nothing, then it shouldn’t matter if I do it or not.” Sherman was no longer concerned with maintaining any level of dignity. He just wanted to be back on the right side of the guardrail. That was all he cared about.
Sherman lost track of time. A half moon rose above the trees and illuminated the three boys on the bridge and shimmered on the river below. The boys were mostly silent. Every once in a while Donovan would curse at Sherman or remind him that there was only one way off the bridge for him or remind him of how easy the jump was for everyone except him or reiterate the specific rules of the 80 Degree Leap ritual. All Sherman said was, “I can’t.” With Donovan present, RJ resumed his usual habit of saying nothing. Donovan and RJ had put their clothes back on after the night air dried their bodies, but Donovan refused to relinquish Sherman’s clothes until after he jumped. The older boys stood a few feet back from the guardrail, but Sherman knew if he tried to make a move, they’d be on him fast and he was terrified of what might happen by accident in the ensuing struggle on the edge of the bridge.
The moon rose higher. The breeze brought a white plastic bag tumbling out of the woods. The bag blew onto the bridge and over the guardrail, sailing past Sherman and down to the river where it landed safely on the surface of the water and was carried downstream. There was no way to tell if it was the bag from the deer’s antler or not.
More time passed. Finally, Donovan said, “I’m going to the car to check the time. You want me to bring your phone back for you, RJ?”
“Nah,” said RJ.
“Bring me my phone,” said Sherman. “So I can at least text my mom and tell her I’m going to be late.”
“No,” said Donovan. “You get nothing until you jump.” He turned and walked off down the road and around the bend.
This was the first time Sherman had been alone with RJ since Donovan had come up from the river what felt like, and may have been, hours ago. He needed to talk sense with someone who might listen to sense.
“Just let me back over,” said Sherman. “I know you don’t really believe this ritual thing. You don’t care about any of this. What if I do get hurt because of this, huh? You know how much trouble you’re going to be in? You know how much trouble you could be in even if I don’t get hurt?”
“I’m going to tell you a story,” said RJ.
“It’s relevant,” said RJ. “Remember what Donovan said earlier about that platform we used to jump off of? The one that got torn down ‘cause a kid got hurt? He was that kid. I was there. I was eight, so I guess he would’ve been eleven. I was standing on the bank with a couple other kids. He told us he was going to do a double flip, but when he ran towards the edge of the platform, his feet slipped forward from under him. Cracked the back of his head on the edge of the platform and fell straight down into the water. I can still see that. Him falling with the blood trailing after him like the tail of, like, a kite when the wind dies. I’m not a poetic guy, but that’s what it looked like to me then and that’s how I remember it now. I don’t even fly kites. But then Donovan hit the water and he sank and we couldn’t find him. We dived to the bottom, we checked way downstream. We even checked upstream. We couldn’t find him. But, you know, we were scared kids. We probably overlooked something. Didn’t notice something. I don’t know. So we went home, we told our parents. I don’t know who told Donovan’s parents, but they were devastated. I guess any parents would be, even mine, maybe, but Donovan and his parents were super close. So the cops looked for Donovan, for a body or something, but they couldn’t find anything. They looked all night and the next day. The county tore the platform down a couple days later.”
RJ stopped talking.
Sherman’s feet, knees, and back ached from standing tense in one place for so long. “So where was Donovan?”
“No one knows. Neither does he, or else he won’t say. He showed up at his house a week later with a scabbed-over gash on the back of his head. Still wearing his swimming trunks. Which were damp. His parents were, I don’t know, ecstatic, obviously, and he seemed OK. Except he didn’t care about much anymore. Or anything except Summer, really. And this 80 Degree Leap thing. That’s all he’d talk to me about for a long time.”
“That’s a sad story,” said Sherman. “And a weird one. Sort of scary. I get that. But you have to see that this is crazy, RJ, forcing me to jump off of this bridge for the sake of this ritual of his. It sounds like the accident messed him up pretty bad.”
“Maybe,” said RJ. “Probably.”
“So he cares about the 80 Degree Leap because of whatever happened to him when he hit his head. Fine. It’s crazy, but there’s sort of an explanation. You didn’t hit your head, but you won’t let me back over the guardrail either. Why do you care so much about the 80 Degree Leap?”
“I don’t,” said RJ. “I care about Donovan.”
A few minutes later, Donovan returned from the car with his cell phone in his hand. “This is what’s happening,” he said. “It’s 10:30 right now. That means you have an hour and a half to jump, Sherman. If you haven’t jumped by midnight, then the ritual will be ruined and Summer will be ruined.”
Sherman didn’t argue. He didn’t even look at Donovan. He looked down at the river and wondered how long it would take water moving at that speed to erode the bridge’s support structure, to bring the whole bridge crashing down. It probably depended on the river’s silt content.
“So” continued Donovan, “you can stand there for another hour and a half and not jump. You can ruin the 80 Degree Leap. You can diminish Summer. You can hinder its approach. You can lessen it with your cowardice. You can passively ensure that this Summer will be nothing but a dim reflection of those glorious Summers of our youths, that this Summer will feel brief and hollow and slight. Or, sometime in the next not quite hour and a half, you can jump. But if you choose the former, if you choose to not jump, if you choose to oppose Summer, then I will leave you here alone without your clothes, wallet, or phone. And I will not stop there. If you choose to oppose Summer, I will oppose you. I will have something new to care about, and that will be the tireless resistance of all you seek to accomplish. Everywhere you turn, I will be there to thwart you. You will wish you had jumped.”
“But I can’t jump,” said Sherman.
“Maybe by midnight,” said Donovan, “you will find that you can.”
The time passed in silence. All of it, the entire hour and a half. Sherman could hear RJ and Donovan behind him – the shuffling of their feet, the occasional cough or sniff – but he didn’t look at them. He felt weak. He wondered what would happen if his legs just failed him and he fell into the water on accident. Would that count? Would Donovan be able to tell? But Sherman’s legs wouldn’t even fail him helpfully. They refused to take him over the edge purposefully, but they remained just strong enough to keep him upright on the bridge.
At 11:50, Donovan started counting down the minutes. At 11:59, Donovan started counting down the seconds. At midnight, Donovan said, “Let’s go, RJ,” and the two of them walked down the road and around the bend. A short while later, Sherman heard Donovan’s car start up and drive away. Then the silence returned and, without another thought, Sherman jumped.
He wasn’t even aware of the fall. The first sensation that registered was that of his body floating down, down, down through the water. He felt no pain. He exhaled through his nose which made a dark bubbling sound that seemed somehow distant. The soles of Sherman’s bare feet brushed the bottom of the river. He planted his feet on the cold rock, feeling every bump and divot, and thrust himself back towards the surface.
When his head broke free of the water, the night air felt no different. If Summer was offended, Sherman couldn’t tell.