The air began to cool, and the late afternoon clouds came to their resting places on the surrounding peaks. Parking spots and businesses along Main Street stood empty as Sunday evening slid into Raynesville. The theater's orange façade looked harsher in the late day sun. The monotony of the place could choke you like one of those stupid ties you have to wear to a wedding or funeral. But no matter how hard you dragged at your collar, the place sucked the breath out of you. Around the corner, the tall, white water tower threw a shadow across the road. This morning the words save me a place in hell had been scrawled in black paint along the water tank's perimeter. The sight of it had made my morning, but the graffiti had already been covered up. Stuff like that wasn't tolerated in Raynesville. (1.5)
This is what Jake sees when he looks around his hometown—and the whole scene seems pretty suffocating. Jake also realizes that this little town is not going to tolerate anything out of the ordinary.
Drinking beer in the moss covered skeleton of a bus, a relic left behind from a time when hippies lived in the surrounding forests, was not my idea of a good time. But here in Raynesville, the discarded bus was like our night club. (1.22)
This is a pretty weird place to hang out, but the kids in town love it anyway. Well, except for Jake. Without an actual nightclub, the Bus is the perfect place for teenagers to hang out, drink illegally, and generally make bad decisions.
Mr. Dermott, our teacher slash student advisor, shook his head. Dermott was not one of those pathetic teachers who tried to be cool. He was the real thing. In his younger years he'd been part of a rock band, and he'd won a few motocross championships. He had a major set of groupies around school who signed up for boring crap like Comparative Religion just to sit in his front row. (5.56)
Raynesville is exactly the kind of place where a guy like Mr. Dermott would be a rock star. It's a small town and he has a cool backstory, so it's no wonder these kids treat him like he's some kind of teaching god.
A line of royal blue and scarlet red championship banners fluttered as the glass doors shut behind me. Raynesville was a swimming town. There was a football team and a baseball team, but the swim team was the school's claim to fame. Raynesville infants were dropped into one of the public swimming pools before they could crawl. (9.1)
Most schools have football or basketball mania, but Raynesville has swimming. And because the team has always been so darn good, there's a whole lot of pressure on the kids who live in town to keep on bringing home those championships. Just keep swimming, guys.
Danielle "Dani" Spencer
"I don't understand what the big deal is." Dani was truly confounded by Blister's reaction.
"Old man Walker never talks to anyone. He just stands on his porch every morning making sure that no one disturbs his property. Not that anyone would with that beast on patrol." I stared straight ahead as I spoke to her. Her nearness always messed with my head, especially if I was looking at her incredible face.
"How do you know?" she asked.
"How do I know what?" I almost turned to face her, but I fought the urge.
"How do you know he was out keeping an eye on his property? Maybe he's just been waiting all this time for someone to wave to him." (17.13-17)
Dani's new to town, and that means she sees things that other folks in these parts don't. Avoiding Mr. Walker is a time-honored tradition, but Dani has no problem changing things up a bit. Way to be neighborly, Dani.
No one from our generation had jumped from the Ledge yet and for good reason. There was a good chance of painful death waiting for those who tried. Some guy from my dad's graduating class jumped and ended up shattering both his feet on rocks. He was in a wheelchair for two years until he took enough pain killers to take away the agony permanently. Not sure when it'd happened, but somehow I'd been the one chosen to make the jump. It might have even started back in seventh grade when Blister bragged to a group of kids that I was cool enough to try anything, even jumping the Ledge. I was pissed at him for saying it, and he'd been disappointed in me for five years for never jumping. (19.3)
The Ledge is one of those town legends that just never dies. People pass down stories about kids who jumped off the Ledge and survived (as well as those who didn't). In a small town like Raynesville, these local places take on mythical qualities. Jake is the one kid who could conquer the beast and even he won't rise to the challenge. Enter Dani.
"The girls put their names in a bag and each guy pulls out a name. The guy who picks the blank is the emcee. He takes the girls out into the forest, hides them, and ties them to a chair. Their eyes and mouths are covered. The guys then have to go out and find their partner, untie her, and carry her back to the bus. The last couple back loses the Game, and they must face the consequences."
Dani looked around at all the faces including mine. "Who on earth came up with that game?"
"Raynesville High kids have been doing it for years," Katrina piped up. "But then last year we stopped after—"
"Enough Katrina," I snapped. (21.8-11)
Ah yes, more traditions that sound pretty darn dangerous. When you're not drinking in an abandoned bus or jumping off a death cliff, you could be tied up and blindfolded alone in the woods at night. Wow. These kids in Raynesville really know how to have fun.
"Come on, Dude, the first meet means the first bonfire. It's tradition." Dani and Blister walked over just then.
"What's tradition?" Dani asked.
"We always have a bonfire at the bus after the first meet," Alex said.
Dani looked at me. "Sounds fun."
"I guess we don't want to break tradition," I said. (25.28-32)
Swimming = bonfires. It makes sense. You're going to want to dry off after all that time in the pool. While Jake's not much for all these old traditions, Dani is game to get involved. After all, these old town customs are still new to her.
She pulled at a strand of her wavy brown hair. "I don't even have the great hair going for me. Not that I care. I don't want to be popular. I just want to know that it's not a waste of my time spending six hours a day there."
"Sorry, Hannah. For someone with your brains, it will be a waste of time. You've just got to squeeze what you can out of it and wait for college. Then you can show the world how awesome you are." (29.69-71)
And this is high school in a nutshell for a lot of people. Hannah isn't looking to be the coolest girl in school, she just wants to fit in with the other kids. Jake realizes that she's different, and as we all know, Raynesville is allergic to differences.
"I spoke to Chief Moore today. He told me that the boy with the knife has been sent back to California to do some jail time. Seems that woman has only been here a few weeks and she's already brought a lot of trouble with her. It's no wonder Mildred never invited her daughter here to stay."
"It seems to me that Officer Moore is the one who brought the trouble to town by hiring that construction crew to build his shed. He already knew the guy was trouble last year when he hauled him in for being drunk," I said trying to control the anger in my voice. (31.10-11)
Jake's dad isn't too thrilled about the bad element that's moved into the community. He's quick to blame the newcomers in town for the problems, but Jake points out that one of Raynesville's finest is the one who brought the bad guys into town in the first place. People who live in glass houses, eh?