He knew he would probably get a beating from the guys if he showed up. But he decided to come anyway. He’d had enough and it was time to stand his ground. Besides, they said that after tonight they would leave him alone.
Night was falling, and he welcomed the dark as it wouldn’t show his shame. As Dion made his way along the wooded path to the quarry where the others were waiting, he shuffled along like a prisoner on his way to execution. Winter had almost arrived, the arctic flow bringing its chill winds to Boston’s south shore as early as October. He pulled his collar up against the cold and emptied himself of his fears. Maybe this time he would be accepted or at least left alone.
He mounted the stone steps to the highest quarry ledge, which was roped off with police tape because of the dangerous drop of nearly one hundred-and-fifty feet. The world’s record for Olympic high diving, Dion recalled, was for only a few feet more and had resulted in broken bones and internal injuries for the diver. The names of kids who had leapt off the ledge to their deaths on a dare were carved on the rocks bordering the path. “Mick” and “Joey” had been guys at his school from previous classes.
That’s not why he was told to come, was it?
The Alpha, Frazier, stood at the ledge’s lip, extending his arm out over the darkness of water and rock. He poured the remains of his beer into the space. The others watched. Dion scanned their sullen faces for a hint of their intentions.
“Yo, Two-Face, you made it. I don’t believe it,” taunted Frazier.
“Don’t call me that. I told you not to.”
“A sacrifice to the gods,” Frazier laughed, ignoring Dion’s objection. He pulled back his arm and winged the empty bottle out as far as he could. Moments passed. Finally, it crashed on the rocks below. Way below.
Dion unconsciously touched the scarlet birthmark that covered most of one side of his face, like a mask: like the Batman character, Two-Face. His shame since he was little. He’d been defending himself because of it ever since.
“You want to be one of us? Why?” Frazier leered at him and winked at the others. “He thinks it will get him a date with that fox, Chanel.”
His crew guffawed, made obscene gestures, swigged at their beer.
“I want this crap to end.” Dion glared boldly at Frazier. “What do I have to do?”
The Alpha smirked, leaned out over the abyss, and swept his arm outward, indicating the mirror-like reservoir, its surface hard as concrete. At this height, a body would hit at 60 mph.
“Simple,” he said with a smile. “Jump.”
Dion glanced from Frazier to the faces of the other boys, smug in their team-lettered jackets, signifying their dominance at school as bullies and ladies’ men. He involuntarily shivered as he turned his eyes to the abyss, with its deceptively-still waters and unplumbed depths. From class, he knew that much of the granite used in monuments, gravestones, and federal buildings around Quincy and Boston, going as far back as the 17th century, had come from this quarry. Over time, the pillaged earth, mined deeper and deeper like a giant rotunda, had filled with rainwater. It still provided bathers relief from the sweltering heat of summer and a secluded drinking and necking spot for the city’s teens.
“I don’t need to prove anything to you.”
Frazier bestowed him with another of his withering smirks.
“Don’t you? You’ve been running from your own shadow ever since I’ve known you.”
Dion flashbacked to a time in kindergarten when they’d been best friends. Before everyone started calling him Two-face. Before he’d learned to swallow his shame.
He started to back away, resigned to suffer another defeat. There was no way he was going to risk his life by jumping, a fool’s game.
Dion grabbed his shoulder. “You’re not going anywhere until you’ve faced your fear.”
He dragged Dion toward the crumbling edge.
“Do it!” he commanded.
There was scuffling as Frazier’s sneakers scrambled for purchase. Dion reached for him, ineffectually, too late. Frazier slipped backward, arms flailing as he spun away, plummeting downward, freefalling.
The others huddled around Dion, peering into the dark; recoiling at the sound of their invincible leader, their Alpha, tearing down through the trees jutting from the quarry walls, before dropping into the water with a thunk. The sound of thrashing resounded eerily and then stopped.
Silence. The boys, united in horror, looked at each other wide-eyed. But no one made a move to help Frazier.
“Should we call the police?” someone murmured, taking out his cell.
“No cops,” someone else hissed.
Dion peeled off his jacket and shoes and hurriedly paced ten feet back.
“Out of my way,” he screamed.
The boys parted. Dion ran toward the cliff’s edge and leapt out, as far as he could, to avoid the outcroppings where Frazier had struck.
That day, Dion became a hero. His rescue, captured on video by one of the boys at the quarry, went viral on the Internet. It showed Dion relentlessly diving down beneath the surface of the cold, black water until he found his childhood friend, swam him to safety, and administered artificial respiration and CPR.
There was a picture of him and Frazier in the local papers after the rescue, showing them side-by-side if not arm-in-arm. Dion’s birthmark was prominent. The caption read, “Youth risks own life for friend.”
Noticeably, there was no mention of his birthmark. In Dion’s mind, it was still there, but less prominent.
His courage had forged him a new identity, one that Frazier guarded vigilantly, fronting anyone fool enough to stare too long at Dion, or point at him openly.
Kids being kids, at school they still called him “Two-face,” but now he understood that the reference put him in good company, with Marvel’s superheroes. He didn’t let it go to his head – only to his heart.