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Warm Sand & Pink Salsa This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category.

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     “I’m thinking a combination of Warm Sand and Pink Salsa, with just a dash of Curled Ebony.”

“No way. The Pink Salsa is way too ... pink.” I’m sitting on a futon going over make-up combinations with my cousin. We’re both 13 and think things like mascara are our key to the future. “What about Mango Tango with Brilliant Beige?”

“Mango Tango? That’s a lip gloss, Sara, you need lipstick.” She pops her lips on the “p” and drops her jaw on the “k,” just like a celebrity, showing off her own combinations of “Glowing Cinnamon” and “Cherry Kiss.” My cousin knows everything about make-up and boys. I know everything about Greek mythology and Spanish verb conjugations. Together we make quite a team.

Kyja and I don’t have much in common when it comes to interests, but we’re going through a lot of the same things. We’ve both just survived our first year at a new school, are both staring down high school, and are both terrified of the future. Other than that, though, we are as different as, well, Summer Tan and Midnight Moon.

“What should we do now that we’re all dolled up?” She raises one plucked eyebrow, fabulously bored. I am about to suggest Scrabble when her mom enters.

“First day of the county fair, girls! Anybody interested?” I shake my head, but Kyja drawls out a butter-smooth, “Whatever,” which means, as she has learned from teen magazines, “That sounds like so much fun! Let’s go!” She elbows me, and I translate with a thumbs-up. Aunt Lynne smiles and tells us to come upstairs whenever we’re ready. We touch up our minute-old make-up and I laugh, remembering the me of just a year before, so young and naive, going out into public in loose shorts and a baggy t-shirt. Silly little eighth-grader! I am older now. I am wiser. I am cool. When I go back to school at the end of the summer, no one will recognize me.

We laze our way upstairs, a pair of languid teenagers with long, pale arms like swans’ necks draped along the banister. We lean into the kitchen counter, each with a glass of lemonade, and sigh for Aunt Lynne to hurry. We are cool. The kitchen is warm. We swig our lemonade. Whatever.

The car starts; the air conditioner is broken, so we roll down the windows. It’s early July, just after parade season, and every once in a while we can still see battered scraps of candies washed up in the gutters. Aunt Lynne peels us off ten dollars each (my parents will pay her back at the end of the week; that’s fine, she says) and dumps us off next to a montage of painted sheets and rusted steel.

Kyja grabs my hand and, breaking character, skips to the nearest grease cart.

“Cotton candy: pink,” she pops the “p” and drops the “k” again - skinny, tan elbows up on the counter edge. Someday, she’s going to be a movie star.

“Cotton candy?” I’ve never been much for sugar. Mom raised me on carrot sticks and spaghetti noodles. Come to think of it, I don’t believe I’ve ever had cotton candy.

“Of course!” She flips her bleach-blond hair: Sun-Day No. 6, spray in and watch as your hair blonds in seconds! I’ve never dyed my hair. I don’t want to dye my hair. I like my hair the color it is: brown. Just brown. No Shimmering Almond or Chocolate Chipper for me. “What’s the point in going on all of these fast rides if we don’t have anything fun to throw up?” She laughs. I nod. She’s so cool.

“Take some,” Kyja commands, jabbing me in the arm with her cotton candy. I extract a fuzzy pink layer. Matching stuffed elephants stare from a booth above. The sticky-sweet is melting all over my hands and in my mouth, but it’s good, it’s really good, and I grab for another piece.

“Are you coming?” She’s off and I’m standing alone, sucking my fingers, trying to figure out how much money I would be willing to waste on one of those stupid pink elephants.

“Wait for me!” There’s a crowd and, suddenly, the world has gotten big again, even though it’s only Thief River Falls, Minnesota - Population: 8,733 and hardly anyone comes to the fair on day one.

“Hurry up!” Kyja’s there again, rolling her eyes. I’m safe, I think, but I realize, too late, that I am wrong. Six dusty feet above our heads is a crooked sign: “The Cyclone.” I shake my head, turning white, despite my many layers of Brilliant Beige, and back away. While carefree ladies like Lynne and Kyja can laugh at rusted rides with names like “Twister” or “The Vortex,” I cower at the sight of their burnt-out bulbs.

“What is it now?” she knits her eyebrows and blows her bangs out of the way.

“How about we try the Tea Cups first?” I giggle nervously. She rolls her eyes and smacks her gum, the cotton candy having been quickly replaced by something “fruity-licious and fun.”

“Grow up, chicken-face.”

I swallow hard but stay in line. I hate fast rides, but I am not a chicken-face. “I just don’t know if we should start on the fastest one here -” The Cyclone revs to life above our heads, its riders screaming and hurdling into the sun.

“Whatever,” she sighs. It’s not her “That-Sounds-Like-Fun Whatever,” it’s her “Grow-Up-Chicken-Face Whatever.” We both stay in line.

“Forty-six miles-per-hour, this one ...” I hear one of the carnies bragging to the older girls in line.

“Forty-six! That’s so fast! Don’t speed it up when I’m on there, punk,” the taller one says, pushing the operator’s shoulder playfully. She pops her lips on the “p” and drops her jaw on the “k.” She thinks she’s so cool, but she’s not. She’s just gross. The riders whip past again, screaming louder as they shoot into the exosphere. I think the operator has forgotten about them. He’s too busy bragging. The scar on his left bicep is from a wrench accident. The one across his abs is from when he crashed his bike.

“Ooh, he’s a biker,” they giggle. I wave from the back of the line.

“I think they’re done now!” I hate to see others suffer. The riders scream back from their final swing. The carny winks at me and I feel sick.

One of the cases has to be cleaned out. Someone threw up. Pink cotton candy.

I want to go home. I want to wipe off all of this silly make-up. I hate Mango Tango. My eyelashes don’t need to curl ebony, and my skin is not Brilliant Beige. Beige isn’t even a brilliant color. I try to tell Kyja, but she rolls her eyes again and, before I can scream, the carny’s got us buckled into his collapsible deathtrap.

“I don’t want to go!” I scream. Everything’s blue. We are being sucked into the sky.

“You don’t have a choice!” she laughs. “Just accept it! Just enjoy it! Have a little fun!” She grabs my sticky hand and squeezes it tight. Up, up, up, we go. Up into the sun and the stars. I can’t stop the ride. The carny’s not listening. I want to get off.

“I’m going to be sick!”

“You’re going to be fine!” Kyja’s laughing. “It’s exciting! Isn’t it all so exciting?” I swallow hard. A thousand miles up and the air is getting thin. “You’re going to be just fine,” she laughs. “No going back now, you might as well enjoy the view.” I look out across the county fair. I look out across the town. I look out across the rest of my life. It’s a beautiful view.

I laugh, and The Cyclone begins to spin.

“I’m going to be sick!” I warn. “I’m going to puke!” I pop my lips on the “p” and drop my jaw on the “k.” Warm Sand. Pink Salsa.


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category. This piece won the May 2007 Teen Ink Nonfiction Contest.




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