"Carnival"

October 21, 2009
The smell of popcorn filled my nostrils as I stepped under the balloon archway. Sweet fumes carried the taste of cotton candy and funnel cake; my mouth watered. The excitement was almost tangible in the hot July air. Eagerly, I meandered forward, but someone’s spilt soda sucked my shoe to the ground. The rubber sole sounded like Velcro as it tore itself free from the sticky shackle.

My girls and I waited all year for this, and we were not disappointed. With blood racing in my veins, my speed picked up until finally I was running toward the Cyclone. Three pairs of sneakers pounded on the pavement behind me; they belonged to my best friends: Kelly, Mickey, and Dannie. We all lived in Greenwich and had attended the same schools since fourth grade. That was when we discovered the similarity in our names: the double ‘l’ that Kelly, Michelle, Danielle, and Isabelle share. True to our age, we called ourselves the Lovely Ladies or L.L.’s for short.
Now that we’re all juniors at Greenwich High School and slightly more mature, we’d dropped the group name. Instead we were known by the numbers assigned by our various athletic endeavors. Kelly was the track star; Danielle, the co-captain of the girls’ basketball team; Michelle was the county’s top softball pitcher, and I had managed to land the captain’s position for Greenwich’s volleyball team. Though these sound like impressive feats, in a county as small as Lyron, it would be an embarrassment if we hadn’t all made varsity; only five schools make up our district: Greenwich, Clear Oaks, Melview, Overbrook, and Elms Valley High. We still train hard and are excellent athletes, but it’s not as if we’re going on to the pros.
Laughter trilled above the sirens, bells, and whistles that echoed from the booths where scores of children fought for stuffed dogs, dolls, and other priceless treasures. Kelly, Michelle, Dannie, and I waded through the throng of people, making our way to the ride. Reaching our destination, we saw the long line that separated us from our fun, but we would not be deterred. We decided to take turns between standing in line and grabbing snacks. The Cyclone, God bless it, could seat thirty thrill-seekers at a time, so though the line seemed to stretch on forever, that beautiful spinning machine was never out of sight.
Although the wait wasn’t too much of a bother, the harassment was. None of us girls were hideous. Our sports kept us in shape, so we were actually fairly pretty girls. Unfortunately this meant that we couldn’t really go anywhere without being hounded by hormone-high boys from ours or a surrounding school. Today was no exception.
“Hey, ladies. What are you up to?” a blonde boy with blue eyes and freckles, accompanied by a thick-skinned brunette greeted us. I recognized them from the Melview Mares’ various sports teams; Gary Turcott, basketball, # 37, starting power forward, and Lyle Morris, football, #58, second-string defensive lineman. The girls and I regularly attended games to show support for our fellow Greenbacks as they did for us- there wasn’t much else to do in Greenwich.
I rolled my eyes at the intruders, but Kelly, natural flirt that she was, responded, “Not much, just gonna go for a spin.” She smiled playfully and nodded to the Cyclone.
The boys guffawed; Gary theatrically braced himself against the nearby fence to catch his breath. He was definitely overdoing it, but of course, sweet, naïve Kelly didn’t see that his over-the-top behavior was because he was bewitched by her lean, runner’s body and generous curves, no matter how obvious, and pathetic his advances were. He was practically drooling on her sneakers.
I ignored the uncomfortable gawking from the football player, and supervised Kelly’s conversation- the blonde had yet to make eye contact.
“You like the Cyclone, huh?” Gary asked only Kelly.

She beamed a thousand-watt smile that was wasted on the arrogant power forward. Gary was so entranced by her body that he hadn’t even noticed her beautiful face.
My hands clenched into fists as I fought the anger brought on by his chauvinistic insolence. I was always trying to protect my friends from the scum of the male cess pool. When I was younger, I was constantly picked on and jeered at, especially by boys, so I couldn’t help trying to be the knight in shining armor for the first people to defend me.
“Yeah, but not as much as Izzy. It’s her favorite.”
“Oh, really?” Lyle piped up enthusiastically, “It’s mine, too.”
Seeing his opportunity, Gary quickly pounced, “You two should sit together.”
Lyle beamed, “Yeah, definit-”
The lineman’s voice was happily drowned out by the calls of Michelle and Dannie as the approached, loaded down with food and drinks.
“A little help, please!” Mickey pleaded, fighting to keep the lid on a near-overflowing soda.
I hurriedly extracted Kelly’s Diet Pepsi and my regular from Michelle’s arms. Forgetting the boys, Kelly took her drink from my outstretched hand as I removed a bag of cotton candy, pink as always- my girls knew I wouldn’t eat anything else, and a box of popcorn.
“Thanks,” Michelle sighed gratefully. She pulled out four straws from her back pocket while Dannie dished out our hot dogs and handed Michelle her Fresca. A chorus of “Thanks” and “Thank you” echoed as we distributed the goods. I chuckled to myself as the boys’ eyes popped out of their heads while we devoured the enormous mounds of food.

We shuffled forward periodically as the Cyclone admitted her rounds. We were licking the last crumbs of food from our lips when Gary cleared his throat, “So, um- ” He paused, finally realizing he’d forgotten to get our names.
“Kelly,” she introduced patiently.
“Who are these losers?” Dannie asked Mickey quietly.
She whispered back, “I have no idea, though they do look kind of familiar…”
“Right, Kelly. Do you wanna- I’m Gary by the way- sit next to me on the ride?”

“Sure, why not,” Kelly responded energetically; she was like a cat with a mouse when she played with boys.

“Uh, um, Izzy,” Lyle began.

“Isabelle,” I corrected sharply.

He gulped, “I’m, uh, Lyle, Lyle Morris.”

“I know who you are, Lyle. I’ve seen you at Greenwich-Melville games,” I said, losing my patience.

Perking up, Lyle continued, “Isabelle, since Gary’s sitting with Kelly, why don’t you ride with me?”

I stared blankly, jaw dropped back at Lyle. Dannie and Michelle giggled, knowing that I, always dense when it came to boys, was caught completely off guard by his advance.

“First off,” a smooth, irritated male voice interjected from behind me, “It’s the Cyclone, not the Ferris wheel; you stand.”
Lyle shrank back; I beamed, “Connor!”
“More importantly, she’s riding with me, so run along, second-string,” he finished bitingly.

Turning away from her suitor, Kelly squeaked excitedly, “Is Chuck here?”

Connor nodded, still glaring at Lyle. “Yay!” She faced the stunned Gary, “Sorry, Jeremy, but my boyfriend’s here, so I’ll be riding with him.” As she spoke, Chuck walked up in all his 6’2” glory.

“Hey, babe,” Tom greeted as he wound his arms around Dannie’s waist.

“Hey, Tom,” she responded, kissing his cheek, but still watching the humorous scene unfold as our boyfriends appeared.

“Sorry we’re late. Traffic was worse than we thought. Not to mention Brady…”

Michelle’s eyes grew as wide as saucers, “What is Brady doing this-?”

“Oh, Mickey you’re so fine; you don’t understand! You take me by the heart when you take me by the hand!!!” Brady serenaded over the loudspeaker.

“He didn’t!” the meek Michelle exclaimed, clasping her hand over her mouth.

Brady’s public announcement continued, “Michelle? Hey, where are you? Oh, wait, Cyclone, duh. Okay, I’ll be right over. I wonder if the cord stretches that far…”

Michelle gasped, “He’ll seriously do it! I have to go stop him!” Brady’s version of Hey, Mickey! continued as Michelle darted into the crowd.

The Cyclone’s attendee shouted instructions as he waved from Kelly to Connor, “Okay, you six, last group.” Kelly, Chuck, Dannie, Tom, Connor and I filed up the paint-chipped aluminum stairs after handing the man our tickets.
“You know,” I admonished, “That wasn’t very nice what you said to Lyle.”
His dark eyes narrowed as I said the boy’s name, “Well, it wasn’t very nice of you to flirt with him.”
“Flirt with him?!” I denied as I slid into my stall, “I did not!”
Connor rolled his eyes as he checked the chain meant to keep me locked in the ride, “I know you didn’t mean to lead him on; you’re so naïve you can barely tell when someone likes you. Jeez, it took you two years to realize I did.” He bent his forehead to mine. “But what was I supposed to do? Let him ride with you?” He shook his head remembering our first date nearly a year ago. “No way; this is our spot.”
“The whole carnival?” I challenged.
He chuckled, “Yep, and gave me a brief, gentle peck on the forehead before climbing over into his stall. He grinned at me and stuck his arm through the bars to grab my chin; Connor leaned over and kissed me deeply until the attendee yelled at him so we could start the ride. He laughed and unwillingly pulled back, taking my hand as a consolation. Connor didn’t let go until he helped me out of the restraints and led me out to the rest of the fair.





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