“Shut up.” He turns up the music, so look out the window, hoping things don’t ever get screwed up enough with Charlotte that we can’t be friends.
It doesn’t take us long to get there, because Lakeland Village is so damn small. I’m shocked to see how many people are here though. The biggest group I’ve seen in the past two years is at the bash Charlotte’s family throws at the beginning of the summer and it’s nothing compared to this.
We park the car and buy wristbands before going inside. Brandon pulls out his phone and texts. It’s only a few seconds later he gets a reply and says, “Everyone’s over by the Ferris Wheel. They’re waiting.”
“Why do you want to hang out with them so much since you and Sadie don’t get along?”
Brandon shrugs. “Because the only alternative is only hanging out with my brother or parents all summer and that makes me feel like a loser. Plus, Alec’s cool. He’s a kickass running back.”
“He’s pretty good at being a prick too.”
Brandon just shakes his head at me as though I’m being stupid.
There’s a big group of people waiting right where Alec told Brandon they’d be. Sadie with her boyfriend, Alec, Charlotte, and a few more girls and guys that I’ve seen around a lot since last year.
“Hey,” I say to everyone as we approach. Brandon fist bumps the guys and I nod at them. Charlotte is off to the side, behind Alec, and I look over at her, but her eyes are steering clear of me. What a way to put me in a shitty mood.
“We’re going to play some games,” Alec says.
“Yeah, Brice promised to win me a stuffed animal.” Sadie grabs her boyfriend’s arm, and I’m pretty sure it’s obvious to everyone but Brice that she’s doing it because of Brandon.
As the group begins migrating through the carnival, I notice Charlotte sort of hangs back from Alec. I step up to her because I only have about six weeks left here and I don’t want to spend them being all weird with her like we have been.
“Want me to win you a teddy bear too?” I tease.
She gets it just like I knew she would and nudges my arm with hers.
“You done ignoring me now?” I ask.
“I haven’t been ignoring you.”
“Yeah, you have, and we both know it.”
Last year I knew she liked me. More than a friend, I mean. I told myself it didn’t matter and she knew we were just friends. We couldn’t really be more, but now I find myself looking for it. Wondering if that went away, but then I tell myself to chill the hell out because nothing has changed. She’s here, Alec is here, and most of the time…I’m not.
Doesn’t stop me from wanting to knock him out, though.
“It’s hard,” she whispers. I want to ask her why, but don’t know if I should—want to make it easier on her because I care too much to see her hurt. I’d do anything to make it easier on her. I wish more people did, but then the thought of Alec helping her pops into my head and I’m pissed again.
“I know,” come out of my mouth and I realize I get it more than I thought. It’s hard for me, too. It’s been like that since the beginning. She’s cool and I like spending time with her. Hell, I remember the feel of her lips and wish I could do it again, but then…she’s like a friend too. I can tell her anything and I want to know everything about her. Maybe I already do. “I wish we lived closer.”
She doesn’t reply to that. Looking up, I see we have fallen pretty far behind the rest of the group. Everyone’s standing there waiting for us. Brandon’s giving me this stupid ass smile that means he’s thinking all the wrong things about what is going on. Alec is next to him and I don’t see the anger. Not as much. It’s almost like he’s confused.
“You guys coming or what?” Alec shouts.
“We’re coming,” Charlotte calls before jogging to catch up. It’s déjà vu. We never really get anywhere when we talk and she’s always running to him.
We play tons of games. I beat Charlotte in a basketball shootout and she takes me at flipping coins into fish bowls. She’s the only person I’ve ever seen really do it, so we’re walking around with a betta fish in a bag. We’ve stopped to eat and ridden a few rides. We will have about forty-five minutes until the fireworks start at ten.
Looking up, I see a ride that looks like it was designed for ten year olds. It’s not very big or anything, with one big cart where people ride in, but it has a huge shooting star on it. All the thing does is go back and forth, like a shooting star would, but still, I grab Charlotte’s hand and nod toward it.
She’s quiet and she gets this sad look on her face. I wonder if I said something wrong or how I screwed up, because she’s still not speaking and she’s just looking at me.
“We don’t have to… I just thought…”
“I do. Want to, I mean,” rushes out of her mouth.
“What are you guys doing? You’re always the ones lagging behind. Need me to carry you so you can keep up, little bro?” Brandon teases.
“Fuck off,” I call back. “We’re going on this one.” I point to the shooting star. Someone laughs. A few people grumble.
“Dude, that’s lame,” Alec sneers.
“Dude, no one asked you,” I shoot right back at him.
He takes a step like he’s about to come at me and I do the same. No way am I backing down to him. It’s been a long time coming with us, but Brandon grabs his arm and shakes his head.
“I don’t need you to fight my fights for me.”
“Whatever. I’m not fighting you,” Brandon says before Alec pulls free of him. “We’ll catch you guys later.”
I face Charlotte, not giving a shit about him, or if they’re leaving or not. “What the f**k is his problem? One of these days there’s not going to be someone there to stop us.”
“Alec and I have always been best friends. He’s been pretty much the only person I care about. He’s protective of me.”
I back away from her, an unexpected pain piercing through me.
“I mean, he’s pretty much been the only person I really hang out with. It’s been us and he’s never really cared to be friends with people who stayed here before. It’s always been a job.”
I close my eyes, not able to believe she’s defending him to me.
“I don’t want to fight with you anymore. You know that’s not how I see you. Can’t we just…I don’t know, just forget about everything else and have fun. Last summer…”
Without her continuing, I get what she’s saying. Last year we just had fun. It wasn’t always perfect, but it wasn’t like this.
I want that, too. Want to wipe away the past seven months and all of our fights. I just want to be with her.
“Yeah…yeah, we can.” I grab her hand, feeling it fit inside mine. “Come ride a shooting star with me.”
She gives me another smile, and I’m already riding high.
We ride the shooting star twice and Charlotte laughs more than I’ve ever heard her laugh. When we’re done, we grab her fish from the worker before going to buy a drink. I glance at my cell phone and see it’s almost time for the fireworks to start.
“Do you wanna find everyone else before the show kicks off?” I hope like hell she says no.
Charlotte shakes her head. She has her fish in one of her hands. “Nope. I have a secret place to watch them. I go up there alone every year.”
Crossing my arms, I look at her. Not mad or anything, but wondering if that means she wants me to leave her alone.
“Do I get to go see this special spot?”
“You already know all my secrets anyway.”
It doesn’t matter if I should or not. That I’m leaving soon or that she thinks one day she’ll be with Alec. We have now. I want some piece of Charlotte, and to let her have some of me. This time when I grab her hand it’s not because I’m pulling her away from Alec or because it’s easier to weave through a crowd that way. When she grabs mine back, I hope it’s not because she only wants to comfort me, but because she wants the contact.
Her palm is a little sweaty, but it doesn’t bother me. I think she’s nervous which makes my pulse race because whatever it is that I think she’s feeling; I’m feeling it, too. Or maybe I’m hoping like hell she shares the same heat bursting through my veins.
We weave our way through the crowd to the far end of the carnival and sneak through a sizeable storage building before halting in front of a fence.
“We have to go over,” she says, and I smile thinking it’s really f**king cool that this girl climbs fences to sneak in and out of carnivals.
“Hey.” I grab her shoulder, right before she’s about to begin to climb. “Thank you.”
Her eyebrows come together. “For what?”
“Being you, I guess. And for this. Showing me your secrets.”
She bites her lip shyly but then says, “You know, the first time I saw you, I thought you were a pretty boy. I didn’t think you would do stuff like climb fences or win night games with me.”
Ouch. That kind of sucks. I remember her saying something like that before. “And now?”
“Now I know who you are.”
Who, I want to ask her. I always thought I knew who I was but now I’m not sure.
“Come on. We need to hurry.”
“Let me go first. I’ll help you on the other side.” I know she doesn’t need my help, but I want to give it to her. Maybe I’m just selfish and want my hands on her. It’s like I don’t know my own head anymore.
After taking the fish from her, I scale the fence and drop down on the other side. Charlotte comes up right behind me. When she gets to the top, she slides down a little. I reach up and grasp her waist and she slips right down into my arms. We’re standing there, without any space between us, the bag still clutched in my hand. I feel her stomach and her br**sts up against my chest and I’m not letting go. God, I totally don’t want to let go of this girl right now.
She licks her lips and I’m leaning forward and I’m eager, like I’ve never kissed her girl. Like I need to know how she tastes again.
The sky lights up in reds and blues. Charlotte pulls away and grabs my hand again. “Come on. We’re going to miss the show.”
Right now I don’t care about anything except her, but it seems to be important to her so I follow. We run up this grassy hill right behind the building. Trees stand all around us and I wonder how we’re supposed to see around them. A few more pops take off, the colors so bright we have no trouble seeing. It’s not a huge hill and only takes a couple minutes to get to the top. The trees are thick behind us, but there’s a perfect clearing up here. A circle, with an open sky above it. When another firework goes off, they look like they’re right above us—like they could fall right on top of us, the only two people in the world.