“I’m twenty-one exactly.”
I knew it. He’s definitely more of a man than a boy. Even more so than the calendar says. His eyes are even older than twenty-one. He’s seen a lot. I can tell. Just how much though, is the question.
As we eat, I watch him easily maneuver the crab legs and eat without making a mess. He eats four in the time it takes me to eat two.
“Do you like lobster, too?” I ask him after a few minutes. “You seem to like crab.”
Dare smiles a blindingly white smile. “I love lobster. Pretty much any shellfish, really.”
“Me too,” I tell him.
We continue eating with the sounds of cracking and dipping and chewing.
Finally, I glance at my father. “Is Finn all right?”
My father nods slowly. “Yeah. I’m sure.”
Suddenly, the quietness of this house, which is actually a mausoleum, my father’s tension, Finn’s strange absence…all of it smothers me and I suck in a deep breath.
Dare glances at me, his eyes so freaking dark. “You ok?”
I nod. “Yeah. I just…I’m restless. You know how you didn’t believe that I know someplace creepier than here?”
He nods slowly, interested, his eyes gleaming. “Yeah.”
I smile. “Want to see it tonight?”
My dad coughs a little. “Calla, I’m not sure that tonight is the best night for that. It’s dark, you could get hurt.”
I roll my eyes. “Dad, Finn and I have been there a hundred times over the years. It’s fine.”
I look at Dare. “You up for it?”
He grins. “I never say no to an adventure.”
From my window, I watch them go and the darkness from outside seems to bleed into my room, into my heart, into my blood.
I swallow back the hateful words as I watch my sister get into our car with him. Bile rises in my throat because my sister is mine and distancing myself is the last thing I want to do, but at the same time, it’s the only thing I can do.
That’s my voice. Finally. Breaking through the crazy, through the voices, through the words.
I’ve got to do what is right.
What is right.
What is right.
The other voices come back, hissing, reminding.
That’s what it comes back to now.
No matter what.
Dare sprawls on the passenger side seat, taking up every inch of space as I drive us carefully down the mountain. I don’t even glance at my mother’s cross as we pass, and although I’m sure Dare has seen it and wondered about it, he doesn’t mention it.
“So where exactly are we going?” he asks in his sexy as hell accent as we turn onto the highway at the bottom of the mountain.
I glance at him and smile.
“Are you scared?”
He shakes his head, rolling his dark eyes.
“Not hardly. I’ve got you to protect me.”
I laugh at that because the idea of little me protecting huge him is laughable. But then I shake my head. “You’re going to have to wait.”
So he waits while I drive. Into the night, along the quiet highway, until we turn off and head into a quiet part of town, then out onto the edge, where it’s darkened and only a few city lights twinkle in the night.
We drive beneath the old burned out sign, the words that form a rickety neon arch, faded purple and created back when neon signs were cutting edge. The bulbs have long ago been broken, a glaring reminder that this place is sad and abandoned.
JOYLAND, the letters spell out.
Even the letters look spooky, all darkened and jagged. There’s nothing joyful about this place anymore, other than the memories that it contains, memories of riding the old train with Finn, laughing with him on the bumper cars, running through the haunted house. But that was all before they closed this place, of course. Afterward, Finn and I came here to be alone, to huddle together and talk amongst the creepy buildings because we found it amusing to scare ourselves. But we haven’t been here since mom died. I guess real life is scary enough.
I pull into an abandoned parking spot, between faded orange lines, among a sea of other empty slots.
“My parents used to bring Finn and I here when we were little,” I explain. “But the owner apparently got into tax trouble and overnight, this place was locked up and abandoned.”
Dare looks around, at the black parking lot, the darkened gates, and at the rickety Ferris wheel looming above the gated horizon, it’s spindly bars a haunting white against the blackness of night.
“So you just come here and sit in the parking lot or what?” he speculates, his face blank. I chuckle.
“No. We figured out a way in a long time ago.”
Dare grins now, as realization spreads across his face. “Ohhhh. Breaking and Entering. Always a crowd favorite.”
I chuckle again. “Somehow I’m guessing this will be a first for you.”
I open my door and the creak echoes through the night because there are no other noises here to mask it. It feels like we’re on the edge of the world, all alone, and if we take one wrong step, we’ll vault over the side.
“It’s all right,” I call over my shoulder as I head for the park. “The owner is long gone. We heard he’s overseas now so I’m sure he doesn’t care who pokes around. We’re not the first, and we won’t be the last.”
I feel Dare behind me, so close that I can smell his cologne, as I lead him along the fence. Finally, I see what I’m looking for… the jagged hole that someone cut away years ago. It’s just the size for a person to crawl through.
I duck through it, and Dare doesn’t hesitate to follow. The idea that he trusts me enough to follow without question makes my belly warm. He barely knows me.
But as I turn and pause, staring up at his handsome face, the look in his eyes melts my insides. Because he wants to know me. That much is clear.
I swallow hard, then turn back around, surveying the scene in front of me.
The Midway is empty, completely abandoned and dark, like something out of a horror movie. The carnival games line each side, with grotesque clown faces and peeling race cars, and the gleaming paint of a beaver as it watches me from afar.