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The Perfect Boy
I had been there the day Jessie swore he would climb all the way to the top of the water tower and spray paint Miranda’s name across it, for the whole town to see how much he loved her.
Miranda grinned with all her shiny white teeth. “I’d like to see you try,” she taunted, even though she very well knew how much Jessie loved her. That was freshman year, and because she was president of our class and he was the starting quarterback, we all thought they should go out, since that was stereotypical high school movie fashion. The rest of us sat back and watched their relationship go through its ups and downs, like a show we didn’t even have to pay for.
Those were the good days, before Jessie died.
I remember that day well, because I sat with Jessie in third period biology, and I told him he was an idiot for wanting to climb the water tower, and that Miranda wasn’t worth it anyway, because girls like her like to make guys do things for them, just so them can break up with them later and have a good story. Jessie had just laughed it off. “What do you know?” he asked, and I guess he was right, because I knew nothing about the lives of him and Miranda, just the rumors and gossip I heard about them..
When I saw it on the news the next morning before school, I was almost tempted to laugh, because I told him so. That was before the news reporter’s eyes got all huge and sad, and she said that Jessie died from the injuries he sustained when he fell from the top of the water tower. She made it sound like it was a tragic shock, but when you hit the ground from nearly 100 feet up, it’s likely that you’re going to die, unless you’re really lucky. But Jessie was only lucky on the football field when he made those amazing plays. This time, he landed wrong and broke his neck.
Now, if the day was clear and you squinted past the sun, you could see “Mira—“ scrawled in bright purple spray paint, Miranda’s favorite color, across the smooth white surface of the water tower. Somewhere between the A and the N, Jessie’s foot must have slipped, or maybe he just fell, no one knows, but he never finished writing her name. No one ever washed it off, and I think it served as a reminder of teenage stupidity.
Miranda didn’t come to school for days after Jessie died, and when she did, she was isolated and quiet. Her reaction at the funeral was maybe the scariest thing I had ever seen. She didn’t cry, like the rest of us, even though she had every right to be sobbing. She just stood there against a tree, and watched them bury the body of the boy who died trying to show his love for her. And then she turned and stared at the water tower, which you could see from the cemetery. Slowly, she smiled. It was disturbing, honestly. Jessie was dead and she was smiling in the direction of the place where he died.
Someone, definitely not me, finally gathered the courage to ask Miranda why she had been smiling at her boyfriend’s funeral. At school, she still acted like she was affected by the tragedy, and once I found her crying by the bathrooms after lunch, but at the funeral, it was like it was all a joke, a simple game to her.
“I was just thinking . . .” she began, tucking a strand of dark hair behind her ear, enjoying the attention. “Jessie died ‘cause he was writing my name on the tower. I was just wondering, if there would ever be any other boy like him. If anyone will ever finish writing my name up there.”
“But Jessie died trying,” Anna pointed out, her voice hushed. “Aren’t you afraid that the next guy who tries will die too?”
Miranda’s eyes, dark to match her hair, sparkled. “Jessie said he would be the perfect boy and write my name on the water tower. But he didn’t finish, so maybe he’s not the perfect boy. Whoever can successfully do it will be.”
“But what if no one can do it?” one of the boys asked, obviously wishing he would be the perfect boy for Miranda, but not having the guts to even go near the tower.
We caught Miranda’s reflection in the windows of the cafeteria, and saw how beautiful she was. The kind of beauty that a boy would be willing to die for.
“I’ll wait.” Miranda smiled slyly, and I don’t think I was the only one who winced at the cold laugh in her words.
That night I went to Dave’s house with everyone else, and sat around the bowl of popcorn and listened to them talk about Miranda.
“Maybe I’ll do it,” Dave said gallantly, and his twin sister, Anna, gasped and grabbed his arm.
“Are you stupid? No one is gonna be able to climb that thing. Look at it sometime— the steps on the ladder are so tiny, and it looks like it would split if you step on it. And at the top, you have to let go of the ladder of be able to write anything, and just hold onto the railing. And it’s totally illegal, you know. If Jessie hadn’t died trying, he would have gotten arrested for spray painting up there.”
“Dude, if Jessie couldn’t do it, you can’t. None of us can.”
There was a long moment of silence, as we thought about Jessie, good-looking, strong, popular Jessie, and wondered how this could have happened to him. We could sit around and wish we had stopped him from climbing it, but that was no use because he was already dead.
“It’s just Miranda, anyway,” someone else added from back by the fireplace. “Yeah, she’s hot, but is she worth dying for?”
“Well, we saw what happened to Jessie. Maybe if we did everything differently . . . like didn’t stand on the rail . . . maybe we could do it.”
“It’s just dumb.” Anna shook her head. “Plain stupid, if you ask me. Miranda doesn’t even care about any of you idiots. She just wants to mess with you and then sit back and watch as you kill yourselves over her. The girl is freaking psychotic.”
“You’re jealous,” her brother retorted, and that weekend, he was the first to attempt to climb the tower and win Miranda’s “perfect boy” award.
I couldn’t bear to watch it, but Anna and everyone else went to see if he could do it, and later told me everything that happened. Dave was armed with a bottle of purple spray paint and a plan to do things differently than Jessie had, and set out in the dead of night. The cops had been keeping a close eye on the tower since Jessie died.
The people who had been very close to Jessie, like his parents and Miranda, and Dave and Anna, who had been his best friends, saw his body before the funeral. “He looked good,” Dave had told us later, in a soft, ominous voice, “but he was still bent all weird, like nothing was where it was supposed to be anymore.” Dave used the image of his dead friend as his excuse for why, halfway up the ladder, he freaked out and climbed back down. Everyone was prepared to give him a lot of crap about chickening out, but then we remembered Jessie’s funeral, and how we had all whispered about how awful he must have looked inside that coffin.
Some old lady who lived by the water tower had seen Dave and the rest of them, and told the police, who announced that if we tried any more dumb stunts, the annual block party would be cancelled.
When Miranda found out about Dave’s attempt, she sat beside him at lunch and patted his arm. “Semi-perfect.” She smiled sweetly at him, and then the rest of the boys, daring them to try. She took a picture of the writing on the tower, and sent it to all of our phones, and started talking more about what a nice boy Jessie had been, and how she wished someone else could love her like he did.
“The boys around here are such losers,” she hinted loudly in the halls, and before class. “I miss Jessie.”
Still, no one else dared to try. The block party was approaching, and no one wanted to be the stupid kid who wrecked that for everyone. Plus, Dave’s failed attempt left everyone believing it was impossible. The purple letters of the unfinished name glared down at us every day, as taunting as Miranda’s “come on, one of you has to be perfect for me!” and I began to wish someone would just wash it off, and I wasn’t alone in thinking it. No one made any move to say that someone should erase it, because as much as it scared us, it was also a constant reminder of the world we lived in, a world controlled by Miranda and her haunting beauty.
But the night of the block party, T.J, a kid from school who didn’t even hang out with our group, decided to take advantage of the fact that the cops would be off watching the party, and to climb the water tower, and prove that perfect boys did exist, and that Dave was just a chicken. He announced it at school that morning, while the rest of us listened in shock and Miranda just grinned and wished him good luck.
“It’s your lucky day,” Miranda said. “I’ll come watch you try.” She called it extra motivation.
It spread around the school like fire, and soon everyone was planning to slip away from the party and watch. I had a bad feeling about it all, and didn’t want to be anywhere near, just in case he died, but Anna and Dave found me as I set out a plate of brownies and dragged me along.
We stayed back, huddled in the bushes and ready to make a quick escape if the police showed, but Miranda stood right there at the base of the tower with that same unnerving look in her eyes, like at Jessie’s funeral. Anna had to be right, about her being crazy. No normal person would just stand there and smile as someone climbed to what could be their death. Did she realize that Jessie had died doing this, that T.J could just as easily fall to his own death? She shouldn’t be smiling like that. But she was grinning like this was her favorite movie, and absently twirling a strand of hair around her finger, already looking bored.
T.J. gripped at the narrow sides of the ladder and lifted himself off the ground, starting the ascent up to the top. The ladder quivered slightly under his weight, but stayed upright and after a few deep breaths, T.J. managed to keep going. He thought it would be a good idea to wear all black, to make it seem more secretive, but against the white of the water tower, it stuck out like a huge shadow, and they could probably see him from the block party below.
As he climbed, I dug my nails into the dirt, not caring how it stuck beneath my nails and left dirty marks across my palms. I didn’t want to watch this, I couldn’t watch this. Instead, I stared toward the top, the huge white circle. Again and again, I traced the purple letters that Jessie had left. MIRA—MIRA—MIRA. Below, everyone was whispering, “do you think he’ll do it?” “He won’t do it, no one can.” Anna gasped once or twice, when it looked like T.J. was going to slip, and sighed in relief when he remained clinging to the ladder. I closed my eyes, but that didn’t help because I could hear the anxious chatter of everyone around me, and I could see the outline of the words through my closed eyelids.
T.J. was a little more than halfway when we heard the sirens and saw the red and blue flashes against the dark sky. Needless to say, we all ditched T.J. and ran. Even Miranda— she blew T.J. a careless kiss and then sprinted off into the night. I felt bad for T.J., just standing there on the edge of the water tower, but there was no way I was getting caught here.
It ended up okay for T.J., though. He didn’t get arrested, at least. He might have actually enjoyed it, because no freshman at our school had ever been in the back of a police car before, and he became sort of a celebrity for it. The rest of us were still glad that we split when we did, because then the police didn’t think to question us about the next incident that happened at the water tower.
After T.J.’s climb attempt, the police were going to wash Jessie’s letters off the water tower anyway, but that night, someone else got to it. Anna and Dave and I were walking to school the next morning when we looked over at the water tower and saw that someone had finally done it. The ending of Miranda’s name had been added in the same shade of purple spray paint, and underneath that, it read LOVE, JESSIE.
Miranda furiously questioned everyone in the entire school, demanding to know who did it, but no one knew. No one would admit to doing it, and no one seemed to know who did. There wasn’t anyone who had the guts to climb up there, and after Dave and T.J., it had been declared impossible. Some people thought the police might have done it, as a joke or revenge on us, but we all later agreed that something like that was just too cruel for an adult to think up.
Everything was scrubbed off the tower than afternoon, and when we walked out of the school after final bell, the tower was clean and white, like nothing had been there in the first place. The water tower became a legend after that, something we could whisper about around the new kids in town to freak them out. “You had to be there when it happened,” we would tell them, because that was true. If you didn’t know the story, you could look up and just see the water tower and not think anything of it. But those of who knew still saw the purple spray painted letters and knew that somewhere out there, Miranda had her perfect boy.