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“Sapphire! Get up, get up! Let’s go!” Sophie Wilson yelled as she ran down the hall of the Henderson’s one-story house. The echo of her voice vibrated off the walls, waking Sapphire from her deep sleep.
“So-phie! Why do you have to do that every morning?” Sapphire growled at her best friend, crawling from the soft, cotton sheets. The small, petite, blonde girl grabbed a clean t-shirt from her closet and pulled on a pair of jean shorts.
“Don’t you know what day it is?” Sophie, a tall, thin, brunette asked, her emerald green eyes gleaming eagerly. “It’s the first day of the fair!”
Sapphire’s head popped up, “Oh, yeah. Let’s go!”
The girls ran through the house, searching for lost shoes and bottles of sunscreen.
“Dad! We’re ready to go!” Sapphire called.
“Okay! Do you have everything you need for the day?” Sapphire’s father, Paul Henderson, asked the girls.
“Yes, Dad! We can take care of ourselves!” Sapphire sighed, pulling her Barbie backpack over her shoulder.
The trio left the house, walking in the direction of the Harris County Fairgrounds. The Henderson’s lived so close to the fairgrounds that they didn’t have to drive the car to get there. After they had obtained their week-long passes, they walked through the large metal gates of the fair. To the eight-year-old girls it looked like a wonderland, with something different in every corner.
“Okay, girls,” Paul Henderson said. “I need to go to my booth. I’m going to give you my cell phone, but it is only for emergencies. I want you to come to the booth to check in with me every hour on the hour. If I don’t hear from you I’m going to be very worried. Here’s some money. That’s all I’m going to give you today, so spend it wisely. At noon we’ll get something for lunch.” With that he handed Sophie his cell phone and Sapphire the money, and with a goodbye walked off in the direction of his elephant ear booth.
As soon as the tall man was out of sight the girls ran for a picnic table. They had to decide what they were going to do first.
“Let’s go see the animals!”
“No, let’s go get an ice cream cone!”
“No, no, I’ve got it! Let’s go on the rides! You know, the Scrambler and the Ferris Wheel!”
This was Sophie’s suggestion. Sapphire’s smile dimmed, and her gaze slowly came to rest on the spinning circle of the Ferris Wheel.
“No,” she said, her voice slightly trembling. “Let’s go see the animals.”
After nearly an hour of petting bunnies and giggling at the antics of the baby pigs the girls walked over to the elephant ear booth.
“Hello, girls! Are you having a good time?” Sapphire’s father asked.
“Yeah, Mr. H! We’re having a super time! We saw cows, sheep, bunnies, and baby pigs!” Sophie bubbled excitedly.
“Really? That’s great. Here,” he handed Sophie an elephant ear cut down the middle.
“Oh, thanks, Daddy.” Sapphire smiled, taking a bite of her half of the sugar and cinnamon covered pastry.
So, where do you want to go next?” Sapphire asked, her mouth full of elephant ear.
Sophie answered eagerly, “The Ferris Wheel, of course!”
“No, let’s not. We can ride it sometime later this week.”
“Fine. Then let’s go watch the dance competition.”
That was how the remainder of the day was spent. They would check in with Sapphire’s dad every hour and debate over where to go next. Finally it was five o’clock.
“C’mon, girls, let’s go home,” Paul Henderson prodded.
As they walked down the street, Sophie quietly questioned, “Mr. H? What’s the matter with Sapphire? She didn’t want to go on the rides with me. All day she kept putting it off.”
Sapphire’s father gave a quick glance back at Sapphire, who was lagging behind, then answered gently, “Sophie you have to respect what Sapphire wants to do. Nobody is going to force her to go on the rides.”
“I know, but I don’t want to ride them alone! It would be so much fun with Sapphire!” Sophie whined.
Mr. Henderson stated firmly, “Sophie, that’s enough. You can go on the rides, but you can’t make Sapphire do anything she doesn’t want to do.”
The conversation lapsed into silence. What Sophie Wilson and Paul Henderson didn’t notice was the fact that the subject of their discussion hadn’t uttered a word throughout the entire exchange. The only sound that night was the gentle whisper of a cool breeze and the occasional bark of a neighbor dog. And neither had noticed the steady stream of tears down Sapphire’s cheeks.
The next morning dawned early and bright. The second day of the fair was beautiful, sunny, and scorching hot. The pavements seemed to glisten in the heat, and the familiar landscape had a golden, rosy hue to it. In the same fashion as the day before, the girls would check in every hour with Sapphire’s dad and then continue exploring the fair. Throughout the day Sophie suggested that they try the rides, but the idea was always greeted with a shake of a head and an abrupt refusal. Sapphire was increasingly quiet and reserved, something that was uncharacteristic of her. Her companion found this immensely boring and annoying.
As the days rolled by, even Sapphire’s father noticed the change in Sapphire. She continued to become more and more withdrawn and sad until he finally pulled her aside to speak to her in private.
“Sweetie, what’s wrong?” He asked his young daughter patiently.
She paused, and then glanced up. Avoiding the question, she answered, “Can Sophie go home?”
“What?” Her father asked, a look of surprise on his face. “No, you know that she has to stay. Her parents are in San Francisco for the week and we told them that we’d look after her. Remember how excited you were to have her here?”
Sapphire sighed, “I know, but she keeps pushing me to go on the rides with her. Especially the Ferris Wheel.”
“Oh, that again. Why don’t you want to go, honey?” He wanted to know, wondering how his daughter could be so afraid of a three minute ride.
She avoided his eyes, looking everywhere but up at him. She didn’t answer.
“Are you scared of heights?”
She shrugged, “No.”
He tried again, “Then what are you afraid of? Why don’t you want to go?”
All of the sudden she swung her blue eyes up at him and they filled with tears. In a trembling voice she answered, “Because the last time I went on the Ferris Wheel was with Mama.”
He jerked back, shocked that she could remember that night. But as he thought about it, he realized that he should have known it all along. The pieces of the puzzle were quickly coming together. Sapphire, like himself, was still grieving her. Grace; his wife, Sapphire’s mother. They never spoke of her. It was still too painful.
It had been a little over a year ago, but that night was still fresh in his mind. In Sapphire’s mind, too, he guessed. They had driven separately that day and met at the amusement park after work. They had ridden all the rides with Sapphire, and the last thing they did that night was ride the Ferris Wheel. He himself had stayed on the ground to take pictures while Grace and Sapphire soared high above the ground in the small, colorful seats. The sun was setting in the background, and his two favorite girls in the world were having the time of their lives, their identical golden blonde hair blowing crazily in the wind. That was the last time the three of them were together. They parted ways in the parking lot that night. Sapphire had gone with him in his car, and Grace had driven her car back home. They had waved at Grace from their windows, and then she was gone. She had been hit by another driver, in just one night she vanished from their lives.
His attention snapped back to his daughter as she said, “Why did she have to die, Daddy? Why that night?”
He exhaled slowly and then replied gravely, “I don’t know, honey. There are crazy people out there, and she was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. But just because she’s not here doesn’t mean that she still doesn’t love you. You can still miss her, but you have to move on.”
“But I don’t want to!” Sapphire sobbed.
After a pause he responded, “You don’t have to ride the Ferris Wheel if you don’t want to. You have to make that decision, not anyone else.”
The remainder of the week zoomed by, and suddenly it was the final day of the fair. After dropping Sapphire’s father off at the elephant ear booth the girls explored the fairgrounds one last time. They checked in every hour as before with Sapphire’s father, and saw all of their favorite exhibits one more time.
As they wandered through the crowds, the smell of hamburgers frying and funnel cakes cooking in the air, Sapphire asked timidly, “Sophie?”
Sophie replied distractedly, “Yeah?”
“There’s something we need to do.”
She had Sophie’s attention. With her friend watching her with interest, Sapphire took a deep breath and said, “We need to ride the Ferris Wheel.”
Sophie’s jaw dropped. “Really?” she asked. “Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
“Then let’s go!” Sophie grabbed Sapphire’s hand and pulled her around picnic tables and people waiting in lines for their food, across lawns and concrete sidewalks. There wasn’t much of a wait for the Ferris Wheel. The girls were seated on the ride in less then five minutes.
Sophie glanced at Sapphire, whose eyes were beginning to tear up.
“Are you okay?” Sophie asked.
Sapphire paused, and then answered, “Yeah.”
There was a sudden jerk and then they were up in the air!
Sapphire’s eyes were squeezed shut, but as the moments passed she slowly opened them to gaze out at the miniature-looking Harris County Fair. Amazingly enough, she even had a small smile on her face!
“See, this isn’t so bad. I can’t believe you got over your fear! You aren’t afraid of heights anymore!” Sophie exclaimed, truly happy for her best friend.
Sapphire answered, “Yeah, I guess I’m not afraid anymore.”
They spent the rest of their ride in comfortable silence. Sapphire was lost in thought. This evening was almost identical to that night with her mother. The sun was just beginning to set, and the sky was a beautiful mixture of pink, red, and orange. The people below them seemed like dolls, so tiny and inconsequential. Sapphire could think of no better place to spend that summer dusk.
Their three minute ride was over in a flash. As soon as possible, Sapphire jumped out of her seat and ran through the fairgrounds, leaving Sophie far behind. She ran to the elephant ear booth and yelled, “Daddy, daddy!”
His head popped up, a grin wide across his face, and he came out from behind the table.
“Daddy, I did it! I rode the Ferris Wheel with Sophie!” Sapphire told him proudly, her eyes lit up with a glow that seemed to come from inside.
At that moment Sophie bounded up, breathless and smiling, but neither of her companions seemed to notice.
Mr. Henderson exclaimed, “Really? Sapphire, I’m so proud of you! And you know what? You mom is proud of you, too.”