Three Weeks Before
She wasn’t sure what prompted her to ask him the question at the time. She didn’t think it was that important either. After she asked, however, her normally playful and sarcastic twin went out of character.
“Why do you climb?”
Usually, he would answer with an airy way about himself. He would dismiss it with a wisecrack and manage to poke fun at her. Adam didn’t like to take anything too seriously and he lived by the cliché that life was too short to sweat the little things. He even considered getting it tattooed on his bicep. At least that was a step up from his friend Ryan who got the middle finger tattooed on his butt with the words “fuck the world” in block text underneath. “At least it’s not comic sans,” Adam would say in defense of Ryan.
She waited for that half smile that would come to his face whenever he thought of something clever. On the face that looked so similar to hers. She knew that he got in the habit of smiling like that because it showed off his slightly chipped tooth that he was strangely proud of. Instead, he took a moment and reflected on his answer.
It was winter in Laguna Beach but it was hard to tell since there was only one forecast all the time: sunny. Emily carefully parked her cherry red Jeep along the curb at the top of the hiking trails. Adam already had the door open and was jumping out of the car before she could even put it in park, glass water bottle in one hand and a half eaten protein bar in the other.
“Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go! Ten o’clock, Emily. We only have a few hours before it gets super hot.”
“Okay, jesus, hold your horses I’m coming!” Emily grabbed her faded black backpack off the backseat. She has had it since middle school and it was still holding up. She jogged to catch up with Adam who was already at the head of the trail.
“Not a horse, Em. They just shit everywhere,” he said as he sidestepped around a few loose rocks, “I’m swift like a gazelle. Ain’t nobody gonna catch me.”
Cacti covered in sharp spines and yellow flowers colored the landscape in contrast to the dirt paths. Adam and Emily would always make time in their busy schedules for these treks. No matter how hectic their personal lives were, they would set aside a few hours every couple weeks to enjoy the ocean air and catch up. When Emily was getting too stressed about her job at the bank, Adam was the one that encouraged her to do the teacher training at her yoga studio and become an instructor. Emily was the one that helped Adam after Jenna dumped him despite being together for three years. He claimed that he was going to end it anyway since Jenna would unironically intermix French into her sentences. She would say phrases like, “La vie est très drôle.” What was annoying was that she wasn’t even French. But Emily knew that he hurt over it and she comforted him. It was the least they could do for each other. “From womb to tomb,” they always said. They got it from a psychology textbook and always liked the sound of it.
The sunshine was hot on their backs as they slowly climbed one of the hills in Moro Canyon and Emily knew that she was going to have a gnarly sunburn on her shoulders by the end of this. Emily could feel the burn in her calves as she walked and decided to go backwards to give them a break, workout a different muscle group. She turned around and tried to unobtrusively watch Adam as he thought. But she was impatient. Now that she had asked the question, she really wanted to know. His blue eyes flashed up to her and he finally gave that stupid half smile, chipped tooth on display.
“Remember that time we went cliff diving?”
“You were terrified.”
Of course she was at the time. She remembered that trip vividly because of the fear burning the memory into her brain. Seared, it really. She loved her brother, she really did. But she knew that it would be awhile before he managed to convince her to do something like that again.
Emily remembered slowly stepping to the edge of the rocky cliff. A sudden breeze tumbled through her long brown hair, catching her off balance. She teetered on the edge, throwing her arms out to catch herself. Falling over was the last thing she wanted to do. She carefully peered down to the deep pool below. The ripples indicating where Adam plunged expanded wider and wider. She could just catch a glimpse of his body swimming back to the surface. His head popped out and he treaded water for a moment, blinking the cool droplets out of his eyes and spraying water out of his mouth. She could see him glance around him as if he expected her to have already followed. Fat chance of that, that was for sure.
“What are you waiting for?” She could hear him faintly call back up at her.
The sound of his giddy laughter trickled up to Emily as she gazed over the edge. Adam the adrenaline junkie, just her luck. She could feel herself getting dizzy. Her body swayed in the same direction the world was spinning. She carefully seated herself into the soft dirt that sprinkled the cliff. She gripped her hands in the few patches of grass to try and anchor herself back on Earth. Adam knew she couldn’t do it so why was he trying to encourage her?
“Come on, Emily! You have to at least try!” he shouted up at her.
“Are you the one afraid of heights? No. So, shut up and leave me alone!” she shouted in his general direction. She wasn’t going to look over the edge again, that was for sure.
“I’m getting pruny down here!”
She rolled her eyes at his comment and took a deep breath through her nose and out her mouth. She could feel the cleansing air chase out some of the stress in her body. She realized that her shoulders were tensed up to her ears and she tried to relax them. She massaged her fingers that went numb at the slightest instant of anxiety. She could do this.
She clamored back to her feet. She just needed to trick herself that was all.
“Oh, hello David Beckham. What was that? You want me to jump off this cliff where I could possibly die? Of course, anything for you Dave.” She stepped confidently towards the edge before realizing what she was doing and panicked again. If the thought of David’s majestic man bun circa 2014 didn’t inspire her over the edge, then nothing would.
“I can’t do it, Adam! Go on without me. I’m done for.”
“Shut up and jump, Emily.”
“What if I belly flop?”
“Just jump, dammit!”
And she did before she could over think it. She pulled her legs together but nothing would stop her arms from flailing out around her. She knew she looked about as graceful as a dodo bird. She could feel her heart pounding its way outside her chest as she made impact with the crystal clear pool. All the outside noise was drowned out by the sound of the water rushing around her. Emily opened her eyes, only to see the blurred bubbles swirling about. She could feel
that horrible wrongness of water rushing up her nose. Her numb toes lightly scraped the floor of the pool before she started to float back up to the surface. She rose slowly with the bubbles, her racing heart the only thing to concentrate on.
Emily felt the cool air graze the top of her head as she emerged and could suddenly hear the cacophony of applause and psycho laughter that was coming from her brother. The water poured out of her nose as she pushed her hair out of her eyes.
“You did it! Didn’t I tell you?” Adam said with both arms raised in the air in triumph.
Emily stared at him for a moment before the realization came on her. Her lips twitched into a smile and finally a grin as she realized what happened.
“I did do it! Adam, did you see? Did you see me jump?”
“Yeah, you screamed the entire way down.”
“I did?” she couldn’t remember that at all.
Emily stared back up the face of the cliff to where she was just moments before. Her heart beat just as fast then as it did thinking about it on the hike.
“Em?” the sound of Adam’s voice took her out of the memory of their cliff diving adventure.
They had walked the mile and a half that made up the Moro Canyon path and switched onto the Poles. She wasn’t positive why it was named that but she had a feeling it was most likely because of the row of utility poles that buzzed with the sound of electricity through the park. There wasn’t any shade on this path and she could feel the sun burning her skin.
“You know that burst of adrenaline you got that made you jump? And that sense of accomplishment afterwards?”
“That’s great and all but that’s only part of why I do it.”
“What is it then?”
“It’s all about trust. You trusted that you would make it in the pool. If I fall, I have to rely on my belaying partner. I have to believe that they will catch me. And I know this will sound stupid but I have to trust myself too.” Emily looked closely at Adam’s face, at the freckles that glazed his crooked nose. The same nose as hers, but not. His light brown hair was styled in the tiniest pompadour despite them being on a hike. He was obsessed with his hair.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean,” Adam put extra emphasis on this, “you’re going to want to quit at some point. You’re on the wall and you have blisters on your hands, your forearms are tired, your legs are cut up and you want to give up. Go home. My biggest fear is that I might actually do that. I have to trust in my body and what it can do. I know I can get to the top so it’s just a matter of doing it.” Adam ran an anxious hand through his hair and rumpled it. He looked down at the dirt in embarrassment.
Emily knew how hard it was for Adam to be serious like this.
“Shit, you should use that as a pick up line. Has the right amount of cheese to be impressive,” she said laughing, trying to lighten the mood for him.
“I’m serious this time, Em,” he said with exasperation, “why does no one believe me when I’m being serious?”
“Because you never are!” now she was the one that was exasperated with him.
“Well, this time I am.”
“Alright, well, you bring it upon yourself, you know.” Emily said as she nimbly jumped over a snake hole.
“The world would have to be ending before I even consider dropping my humorous façade. It’s who I am!” Adam said slightly out of breath.
Emily was secretly satisfied to see him so out of breath considering he was always bragging about his physical prowess. Taken down one hike at a time.