The Western Edge
By Tom Foster
Saturday, May 29th
“It’s so nice out here.” Tyler smiled at the young woman as they stretched upon the sands, their bare feet moving just slightly as they sought to keep their balance upon the grainy surface. The young lady was not the knockout that his girlfriend was, but she was undeniably cute with her long wavy black hair and young features. Madeline Rohen had become his friend earlier in the year and had stuck by Tyler’s side since that time, always making it known how she felt about him. They had quickly become good friends despite the high school hierarchy that kept them apart at times.
Tyler was a jock and a scholar, liked by many and idolized by more than a few, while Maddie was the shy girl that didn’t talk to people and kept mostly to herself. For the last three years Tyler and Maddie had spoken to each other now and then, but their friendship had only been cemented this year, which Tyler found as odd. He liked Maddie well enough to consider her a very good friend, but until this year she hadn’t decided to open up to him, and he had found out just why back in September.
“Yeah, it’s a nice day today, too bad Kera had to work on her research paper.” Tyler said, stretching out his arms as he groaned lightly. It was still relatively early in the morning, but as their Track and Field coach always said it was important to get a good start to the day.
“Is she almost done? We only have a few weeks of school left.” Maddie felt her heart clench just a little as she realized the truth of her own words. She knew that Tyler and Kera were going to be leaving home not long after graduation. The two of them were going to be heading for Vancouver, nearly three hours away. Maddie would be stuck here for another three years until she graduated. She had no idea what she wanted to do yet, but she had at least a few interests. She was one of the students within her class that had no true path set ahead of her just yet, finding that her prospects for college were rather grim unless she began to apply for scholarships and really decided upon an interest she wanted to pursue.
Unlike so many other kids Maddie just didn’t know what she wanted to do. She liked to draw and was good at it, but she was also domestically skilled. She could build anything within shop class that she was instructed and she could pull straight A’s if she really tried in any class, but her home life often intruded upon her desire to actually push herself, impeding her progress as a human being at times. She’d never had a boyfriend despite being so damned cute, no one seemed to be able to get close to her. She had sought out Tyler and Kera, not the other way around. Her two friends ran in different groups than she would ever do, they were popular and she was not, they were the people that everyone wanted to be like, she was the shadow on the wall that watched everyone else and envied.
Tyler and Kera had always been kind to her no matter what, whether it was saying hello in the hallway or being her lab partner in science classes. They’d always smiled with her, genuinely enjoying her company once she’d opened up to them. Not many people in their high school would take the time to be nice to someone who didn’t seem inclined to talk all that much, but Tyler and Kera were good people, they liked talking to her, they’d said so. Just last week, watching them practice on this very beach, had been like heaven. She had almost cried as she’d witnessed the beauty and grace of the martial art they’d practiced with their teacher, Mr. Delong. Afterwards they had spent the entire day with her, even going so far as to invite her to dinner that night. She’d called her mother and asked her tentatively if she could stay for dinner, that Tyler and Kera would drop her off later. Thankfully her mother had said yes.
That had been undeniably one of the best days of her young life. Tyler and Kera had introduced her as their friend, their friend, to Tyler’s parents, Evelyn and Gary. It had been easy to see how Tyler and Kera had grown up to be such wonderful people after meeting Evelyn and Gary Ferris, in fact Maddie had found herself wanting to move in with the family that night. She envied the Ferris’s just a bit, but she also respected her friends enough to know that she was their friend, not a part of their family. When Tyler and Kera had taken her home later on she had been forced to fight back a wave of sadness as she had stepped from Tyler’s truck. Her shabby, run down mobile home that she shared with her mother, two sisters and little brother was a wreck compared to the nice home that the Ferris’s kept.
Tyler and Kera had never judged her no matter what they had seen of her life. They’d always been happy to see her, they’d always had a smile on their faces for her. Maddie had at one time believed that Tyler’s kindness had been given out of pity and had nearly chewed him a new asshole over the fact. That had been the only time she had shown a hint of fire within the halls of the school, but later on she had apologized profusely, mortified that she might have driven away someone who genuinely cared. Tyler had shaken his head at her apology before stating that she had no reason to say that she was sorry. He’d explained slowly and with great care that no one had any right to pity her, that she was a great deal stronger than anyone seemed to see. Those words had touched Maddie so deeply that it had been in that moment that she had fallen in love with Tyler.
The love she felt for the young man was far different than the misguided lust that teenagers often shared during their high school years, but Maddie had kept it to herself, thinking that no one would care to really understand. She loved Tyler much the same way as she loved her younger brother Seth, who was among the only kind souls she knew. Like Tyler, Seth didn’t assume, he didn’t pity and he didn’t accept pity. Though only in the sixth grade Seth knew the situation at home was not the best. He knew that their mother worked her fingers to the bone and required a great deal of help at home, but he also didn’t accept this excuse when the woman could not find time for her children. Their mother hadn’t been given a fair draw at life any more than her four children had, but unlike them she was in a position to do something about it. Not a single one of them blamed their mother for having to work so hard to provide for them, but it was hard when on her rare day off when the woman could not find time to spend with them. Maddie knew that she and her siblings loved their mother, but it was a conditional love at best.
She loved Tyler in a way that went beyond physical means. He was handsome and she had actually wondered at times what such a thing might be like, but she had already figured that it wasn’t quite like the smutty soap operas that her mother and her sisters seemed to enjoy. Maddie couldn’t quite see someone like Tyler acting so melodramatic as the ridiculous people on the TV.
“Yeah, we don’t have much time left do we?” Tyler grinned at her as Maddie smiled back. She had no doubt at all that he knew what she was thinking. Tyler seemed to be able to read people so easily it was uncanny at times.
“I’m not going to get to see you guys any more.” Maddie said, sounding just a little sad as she inhaled through her nostrils. Tyler opened his mouth to speak as Maddie continued, snapping his mouth shut again as she waved one hand at him to interrupt.
“I know you’ll come back now and then, you’ve told me how much you love home, but I won’t get to see you as much, like at school and stuff. I’ve really enjoyed you two this year. It makes me feel dumb for not having tried to hang out with you before now.” Tyler had to admit that Maddie was a lot more open now than she had been only a year or two before. It was as though the young woman had found a measure of strength that she’d not realized she possessed. In truth it was nice since Tyler could see a far tougher persona emerging now than Maddie had ever shown, a face that was far more adequate to handle the rough environment of high school. He only hoped she could keep that attitude once he and Kera were gone.
“You have others who will hang out with you Maddie. There’s Sarah, the Mack twins, Alex, hell even Tiffany might be nice to you if you talk to her.” Maddie smiled at him sarcastically then as she replied.
“Yeah right, if her friends would let her talk to anyone else. They’re likely to call me a lesbian if I try to talk to Tiffany or maybe they’ll make up a few rumors about me just to make sure I can’t show my face anymore. You know how vicious they can be.” Tyler nodded as he conceded the point. For all the genuinely nice people there were in high school there were just as many who sought to ease the pressure of their lives by making sure they were seen as superior in some way to others. Tiffany Kischener was a genuinely nice person, but she was too easily influenced by the friends she kept. As one of the ‘upper class’ of the high school she had been dubbed into the life of a cheerleading, athletic, snob-nosed scholar, which in Tyler’s opinion was not who she really was. She was a good student and a good friend, but she was not a snob. Her younger brother on the other hand was a different story.
“I think if you could get around the friends or just ignore them altogether you’d be fine with her. She’s good people Maddie, you know that.” Tyler finished stretching as he rolled his shoulders out, looking out upon the horizon as he watched waves roll into shore.
“Yeah, you’re right, I know. I just wish that high school didn’t have to be the way it is sometimes. It’s bad enough we have to study so hard to make sure we have a future, but peer pressure and trying to keep up with everyone else makes it worse.” Tyler smiled as she spoke, keeping his eyes out on the water as she joined him, standing at his left upon the sand.
“So quit trying to keep up with them, just realize that they’re trying to make themselves feel better. You should feel fine about who you are.”
“That’s easy for you to say Tyler, you come from a good home with parents who are there all the time.” Tyler frowned just a bit as he listened to her words, not liking where this discussion was going.
“Stop that Maddie. Your mom does what she can. You don’t want anyone to pity you and I’m glad because you’re stronger than that. Don’t talk like you envy us.”
“I do Tyler. I do envy you, but,” she held up one hand to forestall another comment, “I also know that you’re right. I don’t want pity, but I also don’t want to deal with the snobby, stuck-up little bitches that think they’re so damned important because of their designer clothes and flashy hairdos.” Tyler laughed briefly as he looked over at Maddie, shaking his head slowly from side to side.
“You do what you do best Maddie, just be you. No one else can do that.” Maddie smiled at him as she leaned towards his shoulder, feeling his bared shoulder under her cheek as she leaned far enough to her right. Tyler was always so warm it seemed, no matter how chill the winds on the beach were.
“So are we going to run or talk all day?” she asked.
“Are you in a hurry?” Maddie shook her head briefly as she too looked out at the incoming waves.
“Isn’t this about where that kid was said to have drowned last year?” Tyler sighed as he nodded, remembering the tragic tale of Colby Durbin, the sophomore that had gone missing last October. The young man had been reported to have snuck out of his room one chill Sunday morning and made his way down to the beach. The report filed by the police and later written in the local paper, the Chinook Observer, had stated that the sophomore had been known to frequent the beach front more often than not. His parents had been quoted as saying that Colby had been fascinated in the presence of ghosts and had at many times claimed to see them in the waves. It was an interesting and somewhat disturbing bit of trivia about the dead boy, but Tyler and Kera hadn’t been too surprised.
They’d both known Colby at least somewhat, the younger boy had kept mostly to himself for the most part. His family lived only a half mile away down I Place, the road that ran in front of the Ferris home. He’d always seemed a bit strange to both of them, as though he weren’t all there in the head, but he’d been nice enough. Maddie had not known Colby except from seeing him in the hallways at school. The sophomore had kept mostly to himself, always engrossed it seemed with one or more ghost stories that he kept with him at all times.
“Yeah, somewhere around here I guess.” Tyler replied.
“How many people does that make in the last few years that have drowned off this coast?” Maddie asked. Tyler raised his eyebrows as he tried to think of the reports that had come in within the last few years of swimmers being caught out to sea by the powerful currents. He found it odd that those who were such strong swimmers could be towed out to sea without the knowledge of how to avoid such a thing or keep themselves calm enough to paddle back to shore. He knew the currents were deadly, but never had he felt in danger of being sucked out by an errant wave.
“I think that brings the number up to around four or five with Colby.” Tyler said. It was a bit harsh to think of the young sophomore as just another statistic, but in all honesty that was life upon the coast. Those who played with the ocean at their leisure were wise to always remember that it was a wild thing, apt to take what it wanted whenever and wherever. Tyler held a great respect for the ocean currents and knew not to tempt such a thing. Still, he knew that each time he waded into the waters his luck might not hold out, that one time or another he might be swept out to be come just another statistic.
“Are the Durbin’s still moving?” Tyler nodded as she asked this, he’d seen the For Sale sign in their front yard covered over by a rectangular SOLD sticker. The Durbins had no doubt had enough of the coast for the time being, finding it prudent to leave what had once been a good home to avoid the memories of their son. Tyler couldn’t help but think that the memory of Colby would follow them no matter where they went.
“Is this coast really that dangerous?” Maddie kept her cheek upon Tyler’s shoulder as they spoke, standing close to him to share his warmth. For some reason he just always stayed so warm no matter the temperature.
“The western edge of the continent is no worse than any other stretch of coastline, at least here we don’t have as many sharks off the coast. People don’t seem to realize though just how strong the currents are and as a result they don’t seem to think that swimming in the ocean is a big deal.”
“There’s sharks off this coast?” Tyler looked down at her with a raised eyebrow.
“Are you sure you pay attention in Mr. Milner’s class?” That earned him a light punch on his arm as Maddie straightened up, yawning as she stretched her arms up to the sky in that moment. As she looked at him again Tyler grinned as she narrowed her eyes.
“I’m betting my grade in that class is better than yours.”
“I’m not taking that bet.” Maddie laughed at Tyler as he shook his head, grinning back at her.
“So are we going to run?”
“I’m just waiting on you Mads.” Tyler replied, rolling his shoulders again. Maddie arched one eyebrow at him as her grin deepened just a bit.
“If I’m not mistaken I’m the one who made the districts for the long distance run.” Maddie preened just a bit before she broke down laughing, moving away from Tyler as he leaned towards her, acting as though he meant to stomp on her foot. She knew he wouldn’t ever try to intentionally hurt her, but the mock play was fun.
“Just because you’re a runner and an accomplished letter-winner now you think you’re so cool huh?” Tyler said with a grin, advancing a step towards Maddie as she continued to back away.
“Of course,” she replied, “It’s not every freshman that gets to wear their own jacket before they’re a sophomore.” Tyler grinned as she continued to back away, her pace quickening just a bit as she eased into the simple warming up rhythm she’d established during this last track season. Maddie had always been a competitor, but in this her freshman year she had found a true reason to compete and had found in Tyler, Kera and another girl named Brooke Landis people who were willing to encourage her and spur her on. The three friends had urged Maddie forward every meet, inspiring her to try harder than she ever had and eventually cheering for her when she had placed sixth at districts. She had gone to the state finals with the team, their head coach had insisted on taking her, but she had not competed due to her low ranking.
“So now you’re big and bad, but can you prove it?” Tyler took off running as he spoke, smiling as Maddie easily paced him, her much lighter form allowing her to almost skim over the sands as his heavier frame almost sank with every other step.
“First to the finish again?” Maddie asked as they began to run. Tyler merely nodded as he decided to save his breath for running, keeping his pace even and steady as Maddie ran beside him almost effortlessly. He knew that eventually she would pull ahead and no doubt win their little race, but he wasn’t about to go down easily.
Tyler had always been a thrower, never a long distance runner or a jumper or a sprinter. He was built sturdy enough to run for a good while, but his endurance for long distances had never been all that good. At this time he could run nearly three miles without being terribly winded, but his pace was nowhere near what Maddie could hold. As a long distance runner Madeline Rohen had competed since the seventh grade, learning the tricks and secrets of how to pace herself during a race so that she wouldn’t use too much energy too soon. Tyler had never learned those particular tips.
* * *
Nearly nine minutes later Maddie was still in front of Tyler as he could feel his leg muscles burning slightly with the strain of trying to keep up with the petite freshman. She had kept her own pace easily from where they had started to the Surfside beach approach, which was a full mile from where they’d began. Maddie had gone so far as to jog in place as she had waited for him to catch up just a bit, smiling at Tyler as he had rounded one of the tide markers as they’d stipulated before taking off on their run. She’d been barely winded as she had jogged in place, her dark hair bouncing upon her back, bound up in the long ponytail she’d placed it in. Tyler had growled just a bit at her playful mood, shaking his head as she had then taken off like a nimble deer, actually increasing her pace for the second mile as he’d began to huff and puff his way along.
He was in shape, but he wasn’t a runner. Tyler could outdo a great many students in the weight room, he could maneuver his way down a football field and sack nearly anyone that came into his line of sight, but he was not a distance runner. He was made for short bursts of speed and perhaps a mile or two at his own leisure, but Maddie, she was a born runner. It was child’s play for her to increase her pace as she’d continued down the beach, seeming not to notice the shifting sands beneath her as she kept pumping her arms, striding forward with each passing second as she’d easily kept the distance between them.
Tyler didn’t mind losing to anyone, he knew it was a part of life to lose at times, but losing so horribly at times was a bit embarrassing. Had he not already planned to lose to Maddie he wouldn’t have challenged her to such a race. It wasn’t pity that had caused him to suggest this little race, it had been a need to keep the smile upon Maddie’s face. She had tried her best at districts and she had performed beautifully, beating out all but five other competitors, each one of them at least a year or more ahead of her in age. The girls she’d raced against had undergone years of training and had the benefit of having teammates who’d always believed in them instead of ignoring them for so long. Maddie had been cheered on by her entire team at districts as well as at sub-districts, the surprise she had given her teammates elevating her quite a bit in their eyes.
He’d always known she was someone special. Tyler didn’t judge people by what they did or didn’t do or say, he preferred getting to know them for who they were. Maddie had always struck him as a little quiet, a little reclusive, but still a very interesting young lady. He couldn’t imagine why she didn’t think so much of herself, but he’d always done his best to make sure that she knew just how he felt about her. The rest of the track team had found out later on just how skilled Maddie was, which in Tyler’s eyes had been regrettable since Maddie had never hidden her talent for running. In the high school hierarchy though Maddie had been barely a blip on anyone’s radar save for his and a few others, meaning she was beneath notice to many people. He had to agree with her when it came to high school, it was often hard enough without having to worry about status.
Tyler pushed himself a little harder as he tried to catch up with Maddie, but he already knew he was beaten. He would have to treat her and Kera to lunch and a movie later, which he had fully expected. The bet had been for lunch if he won, but he had added a movie if she won. There was no pity in his actions, Tyler enjoyed being around Maddie, she was an interesting young lady and a good friend. He’d known that she had no money to take him out to lunch, meaning he would have gladly paid anyway, but the bet had been more to keep Maddie’s competitive fire from guttering out after her defeat at districts. Maddie was the type that became easily depressed if she was suddenly cast back into the shadows of obscurity and Tyler meant to keep her in the light as much as he possibly could. Neither of them owed each other anything, this was simply the way of good friends, to be there when they felt they were needed.
Maddie stopped as she reached the mark they’d designated, turning around as she continued to jog in place, grinning at Tyler as he was still a good hundred yards off. Tyler shook his head as he grinned back, his gaze turning in that second to the incoming waves as he found his smile fading quickly at what he saw. Maddie didn’t notice anything was amiss as she continued to grin at him, waiting patiently as she blew out a long breath of air.
Tyler couldn’t help but keep his gaze towards the breakers as they continued to roll in towards the shore, each wave curling after the one before as the two figures he saw standing within seemed to appear and disappear with each swell, looking outward, looking at him. Around him time seemed to slow as Tyler could feel the winds that came in from the coast stiffen somehow, as though they’d somehow been thickened into sheets of unseen force that slapped instead of caressed.
The western edge, how appropriate a moniker.
Will he join us?
No, he will not join us. He is meant for other things.
Frowning in confusion Tyler barely felt as he began to stumble, his feet kicking up sand as he continued to stride forward. The figures continued to appear and disappear with the waves, as though they were only figments of his imagination. He wanted to believe they were, but each time he saw them each person was so vivid, so there, that he couldn’t help but at least partially believe what his eyes told him.
One of them was a young man that he could easily recognize as Colby Durbin, his youthful features and skinny limbs standing out in his bulky coat and regular shirt and scuffed jeans. That couldn’t be though, Colby had been missing for months, presumed dead since his parents had been unable to comprehend that he might have run away. That option had been too painful for the couple, which was why they’d had their son presumed dead. Colby had never been unhappy at home they’d said, a statement that had been backed up by nearly everyone that had known the boy.
The other figure he did not recognize, but there was something about her, some quality he couldn’t fully identify with that seemed to draw Tyler in to her strange gaze. As he stumbled suddenly he lost all track of either of them, hitting the sand hard as he felt the dry particles grind into his exposed skin. Tyler rolled several times, feeling as sand was ground into every possible place it could go, from his shoes up to his hair. Sputtering and spitting he finally came to a stop, wincing as he closed his mouth only to crunch down upon a fine layer of grit and sand particles within his teeth. There were certain drawbacks to running on the beach, particularly if one did not watch where they were going.
As he rose slowly to his feet he heard as Maddie ran up to him, exclaiming even as she giggled over his fall. Tyler waited until she was within range before shaking himself briskly, grinning despite the sand still in his mouth as she protested being showered with sand.
“Serves you right.” he said in a low voice, keeping his tone light as he began to rake his hands through his hair in an attempt to rid himself of the intrusive gray material. It would take a long shower before he could rid himself entirely of every last bit of sand but the least he could do was ease his discomfort just a bit for the moment.
“You were almost there. What happened?” Tyler shook his head again, bending over slightly as he did in order to shake himself all over again. Raking his fingers through his hair again he tossed it back, squirming around as felt sand within his underwear as well.
“That can’t feel good.” Tyler grimaced at Maddie as she giggled again, the sound causing him to roll his eyes as he looked back to the waves. There were no figures in the breakers now, only rolling blue waves crested by white. He frowned briefly as the image of what he’d seen came back to mind again.
“So where are we going to lunch then?” Tyler brought his attention back to Maddie as his eyes widened just a bit. He could see Kera attempting to sneak up from behind the girl, stepping lightly as she depended upon the noise of the roaring ocean and the other natural sounds of the beach to mask her approach. Tyler made a show of ridding himself of the overabundance of sand that still clung to him as he carefully watched Kera approach, doing his best not to grin as she came ever closer.
“Well, I got paid yesterday so I thought we’d go to Doogers and then just go the movie from there.” Maddie’s eyes widened as she heard the name of the restaurant, she was still oblivious to Kera’s presence as the young woman was almost within arm’s reach.
“Doogers is kinda spendy isn’t it?” Tyler smiled genuinely at Maddie as he continued to notice Kera in his peripheral vision, still trying not to laugh as Maddie was so hopelessly unaware. As Kera finally closed the distance she pounced, gripping Maddie by the arms suddenly without saying a word. Maddie’s reaction was as expected as she jumped nearly a foot in the air, her body tensing as she turned quickly to see Kera smiling at her, laughing lightly as Maddie held one hand to her heart. In the next moment Maddie couldn’t help but laugh along as she shoved Kera away lightly with one hand, her eyes still wide as she kept her one hand over her heart.
“Oh you witch!” she breathed, still laughing as she turned back to Tyler, “And you, you knew she was there! God almighty you almost gave me a heart attack!” Maddie continued to laugh as Tyler and Kera stepped closer, still chuckling as Kera clapped a friendly hand upon her shoulder.
“So we’re going to Doogers then?” Kera asked.
“Yeah, and then a movie I guess.” Maddie replied, still catching her breath from the shock of being surprised. Kera raised her eyebrows at Tyler as she pressed her lips together, nodding a few times before speaking.
“Feeling generous today are we?” she asked, smiling to show she was joking.
Tyler shrugged before wiping at his face once more, “What can I say, I like their Cajun seafood.”
“What movie are we seeing then?” Kera asked.
“Well, the theater’s playing Office Space and The Sixth Sense, I thought we’d leave that up to Mads here.” Tyler said. The freshman waved one hand in front of her as she looked between the two seniors, taking a breath before speaking.
“Oh no, no. I don’t want to pick the wrong one and have you two sit through a movie you don’t want to see.” Kera put one arm gently around Maddie’s shoulders as she looked up before looking at the freshman.
“Mads, we want to see both of them, so trust me when I say that you won’t make the wrong choice.” Maddie looked uncertainly to Tyler and then Kera, seeing as each of them looked to her expectantly, waiting for her to make a decision.
“Well, I’d like to see Office Space if that’s okay.”
“Office Space it is then.” Tyler said, “First though I need to go home and have a shower, I feel a bit gritty.” Kera laughed lightly as she looked her boyfriend up and down, arching an eyebrow at him as she spoke.
“Were you trying to take the beach home with you?” Tyler grimaced at her as he flung a bit of sand in her direction, smiling as she flinched away. As he and Maddie gathered their shoes and socks Kera waited for them, stuffing her hands in the pockets of her jeans as she felt a stiff breeze roll by, sending a snaking curl of sand skating across the ground. She smiled at this small manifestation, she’d always liked the way the wind whipped the sand around, it was cool-looking.
“We ready to go?” she asked, hopping up and down once as she turned to go. Maddie and Tyler followed, making their way up the gray sands until they reached the dunes that separated the beachfront from the acres of dune grass and the lands beyond. Each one of them turned around then, Tyler and Maddie setting their shoes down as they each brought their hands together. Kera did this as well, bowing at the waist just as Tyler and Maddie did in a show of respect.
Maddie had expressed how weird this practice seemed to her before, but Tyler and Kera had been very patient in their way of explaining to her how it just seemed to come naturally, a way of showing respect to something far greater than themselves. To others it might have labeled them as kooks, but to Maddie it made them seem even more interesting and in a way, even more respectable. She found things out about her friends every week it seemed, which made it all the more difficult to think that they would be graduating soon. She didn’t want to let them go, she would miss them too much.
Tyler looked up before the others, his eyes scanning the waves as he sought to catch even a glimpse of the figures that he’d seen just before he’d stumbled. As he’d expected though he saw nothing, only more and more waves as they curled forth to break upon the shore. It didn’t sit well with him that he’d seen something, and he knew he had, when he couldn’t confirm such a though. Letting out a breath he turned around once more, bending down to pick up his shoes and socks as he, Maddie and Kera began their short walk home.