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The County Fair
It was a hot, late spring night when I realized that I was in love.
I remember the night very clearly. The sky was scattered with stars, and the buzz of conversation rang through the air like church bells at the County Fair. The colorful lights and whimsical whirs and whistles of rides lit the black sky, and the air smelled sweet with cotton candy, caramel apples, and funnel cake. People of all ages wandered around the fair grounds—families, teens, college students, and even some old couples. Everyone was enjoying the fair. Except for me.
All right, so my life wasn’t that bad. But it was pretty close. The only great thing I had outside of home and school was my friends; more specifically my 3 best friends: Michelle, Anastasia, and Matt. The four of us were crazy close—like family. Michelle, with her curly blonde hair and pretty brown eyes was the girl everyone had a crush on. Anastasia (usually called Ana) had fiery red hair and freckles all over her face, and you almost always caught her with a book in her hand. I could go to them for everything. They were definitely my sisters from another mister.
But Matt was different. He had chocolate brown hair with mesmerizing topaz eyes and a huge smile. I had known Michelle and Ana since I was really little, but Matt had only joined our circle a few years ago, in seventh grade. I remember the first day of school, when he sat all by himself for lunch and tried to look like he was too busy doing something on his iPod for everyone else. Even though every girl in the school wanted to hang out with him (they all thought that he was ‘super hot’), Michelle, Ana and I were the only ones to actually go up and ask him if he wanted to sit with us. Not surprisingly, we had been inseparable since.
Earlier that day during lunch, while Matt, Ana, Michelle and I were sitting under our favorite tree right in front of the science room of Macentire High, Ana had asked, “So, you goin’ to the fair tonight?”
I had shrugged, considering the idea but then only to have it shot down by my thoughts of my parent’s idea of a Friday night. The last time my parents had made an ‘attempt’ to make a Friday at home fun was when they brought out the chess board and we had a tournament. After twenty minutes I spent the rest of the night IMing Michelle and Matt when my parents thought I was sleeping. I shuddered.
“I’ll certainly ask, but you guys know how my parents are,” I replied doubtfully, and as soon as the words left my mouth I regretted them. I always had to be more cautious about what exactly I said when it came to my parents when I was around Ana. Both of her parents had died in a fire when she was little, so she always scolded me when I complained about Mom and Dad.
I was snapped out of my thoughts when I heard a voice call my name.
“Emma!” I turned around to see Matt bounding toward me. I smiled and sighed with relief.
“Hey!” I yelled over the loud sounds of chatter and activity, “Where’s Michelle and Ana?”
Matt shrugged and said, “Texted me last minute and said they couldn’t come.” I felt my stomach sink with disappointment. The one night that I had planned a stakeout, they had abandoned me. I sighed.
“That’s okay. We can still hang out, right?” I asked, trying to sound reassuring rather than like a downer. I didn’t want Matt to feel like a third wheel. He nodded, smiling apologetically, and I felt terrible. I knew that he felt awkward. The truth is, I did too, suddenly. It had occurred to me that Matt and I had barely ever hung out alone. It was mostly always Michelle, Ana, Matt and I. In fact, I couldn’t think of a time where Matt hung out with any of us alone. My stomach did a back flip.
After standing there awkwardly for a few seconds, letting the fair sounds fill the silence, we decided to get some tickets and go on some rides. Every few minutes I looked over my shoulder and around me, searching for my parents, and every time they weren’t in my sight, the tension inside of my seemed to lessen. After a half hour of not seeing my parents anywhere, I stopped looking. So what if I got caught? I thought, ‘It couldn’t be much worse than life at home already is if they grounded me’.
For a little while Matt and I went on some rides, laughing at the little kids who had terrified looks on their faces when we went on the spinning swings, and wincing together at the sight of some parents making out while their kids were off doing something else. After that, we got hungry and so we got some cotton candy and funnel cake. Matt seemed to swallow the whole stick of cotton candy.
“Do you always eat like that?” I was able to choke out after laughing so hard my stomach had started to hurt. I still hadn’t finished the funnel cake I was holding on a plate in my hand.
Matt laughed and said through his last mouthfuls of the cotton candy, “You know it.” He reached for some of the funnel cake on the plate, and I quickly pulled it away before he could grab it, and laughed as he stumbled forward. A sudden swell of adrenaline flowed through my veins, and so I ran away, giggling as Matt chased me on my heels. I was trying not to go too fast as to lose the powdered sugar sprinkled on top, but I certainly didn’t want this game of tag to end. And so, as I ran through the crowd, the sugar began to fly off in little spurts that passed me.
I looked behind me to find that Matt had stopped, looking around for me, confused. I laughed and turned towards the Ferris wheel line. I got in line behind a group of college teens, and my height helped me fit right in. I saw Matt walk over towards the Ferris wheel line and get in line a few people back. I bit my tongue, ready to keel over laughing at that he was oblivious to the fact that I was only a few feet in front of him.
The line moved quickly, and soon I was only a few people behind before I got in a basket for the Ferris wheel. I needed to get out of this line. Now. If there was one thing I didn’t do, it was Ferris Wheels. But as soon as I turned around to get out of line, I came face to face with my worst nightmare.
She was a tenth grader (like me) with emerald green eyes and golden blond hair. Freckles were generously spread all over her cheeks, and she seemed to radiate confidence. Too much confidence. Way too much.
“Nice legs, Cannon. I could fit 20 hot dogs just in your left thigh,” she smirked, her eyes like daggers. I looked down, my face getting hot. My legs surely weren’t that fat, were they? Surely she was just messing with my head. I tried moving past her, but she moved so quickly that she was in the way of me even before I got to the next spot. My heart was pounding. I wanted to throw up. I wanted to go home. I wanted to—
“Emma! There you are,” I felt someone put a hand on my shoulder. A chill went down my spine. I turned my head, and my body relaxed. It was Matt. I exhaled with relief. Julie stood there, her mouth gaping, as Matt reached across me to break off a piece of funnel cake off of the plate and popped it into his mouth. He eyed Julie suspiciously.
“Hi Julie,” he said, and then turned me around, where an impatient ride operator was waiting with the basket door open, leaving Julie standing there.
“Let’s get out of here,” he murmured, and guided me onto the basket. I was shaking my head, but he didn’t seem to notice. The rest of my body was rigid and stiff. Whether it was from Julie’s comment still stinging or the fact that Matt had just unbeknownst led me to my doom, I had no clue.
“B-but,” I stammered, trying to stop from being forced into the basket, but I looked behind me only to find Julie glowering at me. My heart was in my throat as I stepped into the wobbly basket. I had to keep from squeaking. Matt climbed in after me, and the operator shut the door with a clang. I tried concentrating on my breathing, but either way I knew I probably sounded like a hyperventilating cow with bronchitis. It was never good when I freaked out.
Before I could frantically find a way to jump out of the basket, it lurched forward and my stomach went with it. I let out a little groan and squeezed my eyes shut.
“Are you okay, Emma?” I heard Matt’s voice over the machinery’s grinding filled with concern. I slowly shook my head. I looked up. My face was probably snow white.
“I-I don’t do heights,” I was able to croak as the basket lurched to a sudden stop. I watched Matt’s eyes widen in surprise.
“I’m really sorry,” Matt said, and I felt his weight shift from the opposite seat to next to me, “it’ll be over soon. I shouldn’t have made you come on. I had no idea.”
I shook my head and risked the nausea to look up at him and whisper, “I know you didn’t know. It’s okay.”
We sat in silence for a few minutes. The basket wasn’t moving. A night breeze had started to blow, and I was suddenly freezing in my tank top. What was taking so long? I shivered at the thought of being stuck up here.
“Are you cold?” Matt asked incredulously. I nodded. I guess it was only cold to me. Suddenly I felt Matt’s arms around me. My heart stopped. He was trying to get me warm. At least, that was what I thought he was doing. Was he hugging me? I wasn’t sure. My heart was beating faster than before, and I tried to slow it by looking at the view of the fair from the basket.
That didn’t help. My stomach felt another wave of nausea, and I quickly looked away from the high, dizzying view. My eyes met Matt’s. His topaz eyes hypnotized me, and suddenly I felt a magnetic pull as Matt’s face began to come dangerously close to touching mine. And then that’s when our lips met.
At first I was surprised when his mouth touched mine, and my first thought was to pull back. After all, who kissed their best friend? But it was so cold, and Matt’s arms around mine felt comforting and his soft lips on mine were enough to keep me occupied until the a sudden lurch made both of us jump and break apart. The Ferris wheel was moving.
It seemed to move a lot faster when it reached the bottom. Matt and I didn’t speak as we made our way down and got out after the operator apologized profusely for an apparent ‘technical difficulty’. So that’s why we’d been up there for so long. I checked my watch.
“Ohmigod!” I shouted, and Matt jumped, startled at my sudden outburst. He looked at me with concern.
“What?” he asked, having to yell. The fair was still in full swing.
“It’s midnight!” I shrieked, “I gotta get home!” Matt nodded vigorously and followed me as I quickly made my way towards the entrance of the fair. Out of breath, I faced the dark night and the short way home.
“Want me to come?” Matt asked, coming up behind me.
I shrugged. “Sure,” I said uneasily. My hands and knees were still shaking from the kiss. Matt was perfectly calm as we started down the sidewalk towards my neighborhood. My thoughts were racing. What had made him do that? Did he like me? Or was it just an impulse he had randomly decided to go with? My values of right and wrong had been turned upside down.
Matt, Ana, Michelle, and I had been friends for years. If Matt and I started going out, would it ruin our friendship? My stomach whirled, and I shook my head to see clearly. No, that couldn’t happen. Matt was my best friend. Nothing more.
Time seemed to speed up, and before long Matt and I were standing outside my garage. My house was dark. I sighed with relief. So far, I was in the clear. I turned to Matt. I had to ask him. I just had to.
“Matt?” I squeaked, and he turned to look at me.
I gulped and continued, “About that kiss--” but before I could even finish, something bright caught my eye.
It was my parents’ bedroom light.
We both gasped, and Matt, with wide eyes, pushed me towards my front door. I fumbled for the key in my pocket and jammed it in the door. As quickly and quietly as possible, I pulled open the door and shut it behind me. The hallway was still dark. Maybe they had gone back to bed. I let out a small sigh of relief.
I groped in the dark through the hallway until I reached the kitchen and flicked on the dimmed light. I was really thirsty. Silently I pulled a glass out of the cabinet and pulled open the fridge.
I froze. I slowly turned around to find my mother standing there. She was in her green satin nightgown and her bronze hair was in a low bun, and her eyebrows were raised like she knew something was up.
“Hi mom,” I said, trying to sound groggy like I’d been sleeping for the past three and a half hours and not kissing a boy at a fair.
Her eyebrows were still raised as she asked, “Emma Jane, why are you fully clothed?” I couldn’t help but roll my eyes when my mom used my middle name, but inside I was panicking. I had to come up with a reason—fast.
“I—uh,” I mumbled, “I must’ve fallen asleep with them on,” I tried a grin and a nervous laugh, but my mom’s eyebrows would just not come down.
She challenged, “You didn’t wear those before bed though, Emma. And you know your father and I would never let you out of the house with those shorts on. You look like a hooker!”
My mind racing, I stuttered, “Michelle lent ‘em to me. They were too small for her so she wanted me to try them on.” I prayed my mom would let me go. Please, God, let the eyebrows come down to Earth!
She eyed me doubtfully for a minute before murmuring, “Well. I assure you that my daughter will not be caught in those shorts out in public. It’s embarrassing to our family.” My body exhaled a sigh of relief when my mother’s eyes softened.
“Get to bed, Emma. It’s past midnight,” she finished, and then quietly turned on her heel and walked up to the bedroom. I smiled stupidly, alone, silently celebrating my victory.
I had just closed the door to my bedroom when I felt my pocket vibrate. I pulled out my phone, and there was a new message, waiting to be opened. I hesitated. Was it Matt? I decided to take the chance and open it.
‘Hey. Can we tlk?’ It was from Matt.
‘Sure. Y?’ I answered back. I had no clue where this conversation was going.
‘U kno how I kissed u?’ I got Matt’s reply, and my mouth went dry. How could I forget him kissing me?
Cautiously I typed back, ‘yeah....y did u do tht?’ Silly as it is, my heart was pounding. Before I even sent my question-text I already knew my answer.
I got this text back.
Matt texted, ‘because I can’t stand it nymore, em. Iv liked u sinc I came here, and I jst couldn’t hold bck my feelings for u bck thr. Im sorry, but even if you don’t feel the same way, I love you.’
I felt my phone slip out of my hand and fall onto my carpet with a soft bang. I felt a smile pulling at my lips, and my heart was beating way too fast. Thoughts were racing through my mind of Matt and I, holding hands and kissing. But then there were thoughts of Ana and Michelle never speaking to me again.
I wanted to faint. I wanted to scream. I wanted to throw up. Or all three.
What was I going to do?