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A Day at the Carnival
Katherine hadn’t called her best friend Liz chicken since the sixth grade, when she persuaded Liz to steal a thick red tube of watermelon lip gloss from the corner shop by the school. Liz called Katherine up at three in the morning nearly delirious with guilt.
It was Junior year now, and Liz still couldn’t quite withstand the power of a middle-school insult.
From the second car of the fifth tallest rollercoaster in America, Liz turned uncomfortably around her safety bar to glare at Katherine over the shoulder of a rather robust tourist. Katherine shrugged back as a bony finger jabbed her shoulder.
“I said,” continued the blonde parasite talking at eighty miles an hour in the sweaty plastic seat next to her, “I said that if Alice knew who told on you, the least she could do—“
Great. Jane was blabbering about the SATs again.
“—And she does community service in the main office, so if anyone knew—“
Katherine could see the entire amusement park from here; the roller coaster, the crowning glory of the fair, rose even higher than the Ferris Wheel, and they were almost at the top of its tall, unforgiving rise. A few more seconds and the chain of cars would plummet downward. There was the merry-go-round. There was the stall where Sarah lost thirty dollars trying to win a stuffed animal the size of a small horse.
“—So then she said that she saw Liz talking to the principal about it—”
Did she still have enough money for the bumper cars and a funnel cake?
“—And Alice said that Liz was the one who told Mr. Evans that you cheated on the SATs!”
The cars dropped.
Sarah shaded her eyes to see the top of the roller coaster writhing around itself in the center of the park as Liz shook her head.
“No. No way.”
Katherine groaned. “Come on, it’s the only decent ride here.”
“I just ate a thing of cotton candy. I’m gonna barf bright pink if I get on that thing.” Liz laughed.
Sarah watched Katherine’s eyes loose focus as she stared at the Harvard logo on a passing sweatshirt. “Kath?”
“What?” Katherine shook her head and rubbed her eyes. Sarah winced and asked a little too quickly, “Please, Liz? It’ll be so much fun!”
“Fine,” sighed Liz, and followed her friends to the ticket booth where a bored worker with fingernails like hot pink talons took their tickets and waved them vaguely to a chain of cars.
Jane materialized seemingly out of midair, and linked her bony arm in Katherine’s, hugging it to her side tightly. “I’ll ride with Katherine.”
Katherine rolled her eyes at Liz and Sarah as they climbed into their cars. Sarah wondered if Jane would ever outlive her usefulness as a girl with an older sister who didn’t mind buying her beer.
“I can’t believe you guys are actually making me ride this thing.” Liz turned around and narrowed her eyes jokingly at Katherine.
“Hey,” murmured Sarah, “Did you see the way Katherine was looking at that Harvard sweatshirt?”
Liz’s smile vanished. “I think maybe she’s taking this thing a lot harder than she lets on.”
“She seems fine.” Sarah glanced behind her and saw Katherine looking so bored her brains might drip out of her ears and splatter onto the safety bar. Then again, that was normally her expression when Jane was talking to her.
“I don’t know. I don’t think we should be ignoring this. I mean, she was this close to her dream school, and now… I think we need to try and talk to her.” Liz mumbled as the ride started with a groan of metal and a whir of slickly oiled gears, slowly at first as it climbed a mechanical mountain.
“And say what? We’re so sorry you got brought to justice? How could anybody turn you in? It’s totally fair that we went to SAT boot camp while you fluttered your eyelids and got all the answers?”
“Wait, are you happy someone reported her?”
Sarah sighed and pulled out a tube of lip gloss. “I don’t know. I mean, not happy. But she got turned in for a reason, y’know?”
“Yeah. Hey, what flavor lip gloss is that?”
What a weird thing to ask. “Watermelon. Why, wanna borrow it?”
“I’m just glad I didn’t know she was cheating. I couldn’t not say anything, but I don’t know how anyone could just, like, wreck someone’s whole future like that. I can’t decide if whoever did it was a saint in disguise or heartless.”
“What if you knew who it was?”
The cars dropped.
Liz slid out of her car onto legs that felt like seaweed and stumbled towards Jane and Katherine. Katherine looked sick too. Her brow was furrowed and she was chewing her lip. “I knew that was a bad idea. I felt like my stomach melted into my lungs! I don’t feel so—”
“Did you tell the principal I cheated on the SATs?”
Liz turned and violently expelled a hot dog, a stick of cotton candy, and a root beer onto the metal grill below their feet.
Sarah leapt back, crying out in disgust before regaining her composure and handing Liz a bottle of water. Liz rinsed out her mouth slowly and thoroughly before turning to Katherine. Jane’s eyes were bright with excitement and flicked between them eagerly as she slathered on watermelon lip gloss.
“I’m…” started Liz weakly, looking from face to face and watching Katherine growing teary as Sarah looked at her incredulously, “sorry.”
Liz and Katherine had been friends for close to a decade now. If Liz had learned one thing in all that time, it was that Katherine took no prisoners.
That was why Liz couldn’t move for a minute as Katherine turned on her heel and sprinted away. Jane followed, throwing Liz a look of pure glee.
Liz held out the bottle of water for Sarah to take back.
“Keep it.” She walked away.
Liz stood in the shadow of the roller coaster in the shadows of a dozen rides filled with hundreds of people and popcorn and screaming and laughter and felt quite terribly alone.