As “On the Bridge” opens, two teenagers, Adam Lockwood and Seth Dawson, loiter on a stone bridge over a busy highway. They watch cars speed by below them, and Adam brags that he beat up an older, bigger boy at the mall just because that boy had bothered him. Seth is impressed and wants to hear more, but Adam provides scant details. He concludes by saying that he left the scene because an employee at the pizza place had called the police. Adam claims that he’s already in trouble with the police. When Seth asks why, Adam says they just don’t like him.

Seth admires Adam’s tough-guy image. He smokes, and Seth tries to fit in by smoking his first cigarette. Adam had shown him how to buy cigarettes from a vending machine outside a diner they had walked to after school. Now, however, Seth does not inhale; he’s afraid that Adam might realize that he is inexperienced. Seth also wears a new denim jacket with torn-off sleeves to impress Adam, who wears a well-worn leather jacket. Having tried to make his denim jacket look old and worn, Seth feels like a fraud. He’s just not as cool as Adam.

Adam waves to two girls who pass under the bridge in a red convertible. One of them waves back. Seth’s only intimate experience with girls has been a few kisses during party games, so he feels a sense of awe when Adam tells him that he makes out with older girls all the time. Adam then gets a semi-truck driver to blare his horn for them. Seth fails when he tries to get another driver to honk. Asked how he does it, Adam says it’s an inborn skill.

As rush-hour traffic increases, Adam begins to antagonize the passing drivers. He feigns throwing a rock down, almost causing an accident. Seth feels uneasy about this reckless behavior. He worries about hurting people or getting in trouble with the police. Adam, by contrast, merely laughs it off.

When Seth finishes his cigarette, he awkwardly crushes it under his shoe. Adam insists on showing him the cool way to do it. He flicks his cigarette butt off the bridge and onto the windshield of a black car below. Rather than impressing Seth, Adam’s actions deepen his discomfort. The teens fail to notice that the black car takes the next exit and circles back to the bridge. Three rough, older “guys” exit the car and surround Adam and Seth, cutting off their possibility of escape. Seth begins to feel a sense of panic and notices that Adam looks pale and may be trembling.

The husky driver confronts the boys, demanding that they reveal who threw the cigarette. Seth stays silent, determined not to betray Adam. All three bullies, however, stare at him. He looks at Adam and sees that he is pointing a finger at him. The driver picks Seth up and painfully forces the boy’s face against the car. He tells Seth to lick clean the mark the cigarette butt has left on the car’s windshield. Nauseated at the thought and trying to maintain his dignity, Seth refuses. He wonders why Adam has not come to his defense.

The driver punishes Seth’s defiance by bashing his face against the car. Seth crumples to the ground, feeling certain that his nose and some of his teeth are broken. Laughing, the three bullies climb back into the car and race away, the car’s tires leaving rubber on the road.

Adam approaches Seth and stands looking down at him. Seth sees that his own hands are covered in blood, and he checks his nose and teeth. Nothing is broken or loose. Adam helps him up, and Seth stands shakily, noticing that his new denim jacket is covered in blood. Adam immediately says that he tried to help. He claims that he couldn’t because one of the bullies held a knife on him. He then says that the knife was small, as if “he didn’t want anyone to see it.”

Seth asks Adam why he had pointed at him, blaming him for the cigarette butt. Adam tells him that it was a ruse. He intended to attack the bullies if they did anything. He then says that he couldn’t have known they would have knives.

Seth shakes his head but says nothing in reply. He doesn’t believe what Adam has said. Adam walks away, swearing that he’ll get revenge on the bullies for Seth’s sake. Seth nods, without speaking, and doesn’t watch Adam go. When he nears home, Seth drops his bloodied jacket into the neighbor’s trash can.