I cried out in surprise and Hunter snapped his head around. “Bones!” he said sternly. “Get down!”
Bones froze for a second, then scurried away. Shaking my head, I went back to the dishes.
After a little while, I noticed Hunter watching me. “Is something wrong?” I asked, turning to him.
He stuck his lower lip out and shook his head. “Nope. Was just looking to see if I think you might wanna go out tonight. I’m starting to think you’re getting a little stir-crazy.”
I bit my lip and thought about it. He was kind of right. The trip with my uncle to the mall had been the only time I’d been out other than therapy since I’d come back from Studsen.
Still, though, how would my aunt and uncle feel about us going out? They said they wanted whatever was best for my happiness, but I didn’t want to disrespect them.
“We could go out,” I said tentatively. “But I don’t think we should go anywhere that involves drinking. Beyond the problems with driving drunk, I don’t think my aunt and uncle would like it.”
“No problem,” Hunter said. “I have something in mind I think you’ll like.”
I thought about asking him if he was sure he was up for it, but stopped myself. That would make him feel like I was treating him as a patient. He could be responsible for his own limits.
“Okay,” I said. “Where is it?”
He smiled. “It’s a surprise.”
I pursed my lips, but the look on his face brought a grin to my face. “Sounds good.”
We finished up the dishes, told my aunt and uncle we were going out—they asked us not to be out too late—and soon we were in Hunter’s car, on the way to his surprise destination.
A smile played on my lips as we got close. I knew my way around Eltingville well enough to know where we were headed.
Hunter noticed my expression. “Have you guessed where we’re going?”
“You’re taking me to the carnival!” I said happily.
He laughed. “I guess it was ambitious to try to surprise you in a town you know better than I do.”
“No, it’s perfect. Thank you for thinking of this.”
We pulled into the parking lot a minute later. “You’re gonna love this next bit. Close your eyes.”
I obeyed, still excited with the prospect of the carnival. Hunter reached noisily behind him to the back seat, retrieved what he had been looking for, and then sat forward again.
“Alright,” he said. “Open your eyes.”
When I saw what it was, I squealed in delight. He had brought the bag of art supplies I had left at school. A sketchbook and several pens were contained inside. He even brought the portfolio I had been working on for the art competition.
“How did you get these?” I asked.
“Daniela helped me out. I asked her if there was anything important you might’ve left behind and she gave me this.”
I couldn’t believe she had managed to keep the secret from me. A stupid grin on my face, I scooped up the bag into my lap.
“Thank you so much!” I said. “This was really thoughtful.”
I leaned over and gave him a quick kiss. He smiled and looked generally satisfied with himself. “Glad you’re happy with them. You know, you can still mail in your portfolio to enter the competition.”
“But I’m not on campus anymore.”
“You’re on leave right? If you can still submit it, I think you should give it a shot.”
Maybe that would be good. Aunt Caroline had suggested that focusing on something would help me recover. This could be just what I needed.
“Yeah. I think I might do that.” I smiled at Hunter. He was so encouraging.
“Alright, ready to go? We gotta find you some things to draw.”
I nodded happily. We got out of the car and went into the carnival, my art supplies in hand. Unlike when Hunter had taken me to the abandoned amusement park, this carnival was brightly lit and full of life.
The place wasn’t overcrowded, but it definitely seemed like the most popular attraction in town. Most of the people there were either high school students or couples like us. The mix of screams, music, and loud conversation made it very noisy.
We walked around the grounds hand in hand, playing a few games and eating sweets. I was on the lookout for something fun to sketch.
A familiar voice came from my right. “I hope you are recovering well.”
I stopped in my tracks and turned, a chill running down my spine. Marco.
But he was nowhere to be seen. I sucked in deep breaths and turned back to Hunter, who looked at me worriedly.
“You alright?” he asked.
I didn’t want to bring our evening down by talking about Marco. It wasn’t a big deal anyway, it was probably just because this was the first time I’d been out of the house in a while. I looked around the area for something to talk about so we could change the subject. When I saw a game that measured the player’s strength punching a bag, I had just the ticket.
I motioned to the game with my free hand as we walked near it. “Think you can win top prize on that game?” I asked, trying to keep my voice steady.
Hunter flashed me a suspicious look, but his expression changed when he saw what I was talking about. “Come on. I’ll break the game.”
“Wow,” I said, grateful for my quick thinking. “You sound confident.”
“I am,” Hunter said with a smirk as we walked over to the tent.
A crowd of high schoolers were gathered around watching the biggest guy in their group take his shot at the game. After some encouragement from his friends, he wound up and took a big, wild swing. The bag shot back with a loud thwack and a digital score appeared on the board.
“Seventy-two hundred!” the operator boomed. “Ya need ten thousand to get Bernie. Wanna try again?”
I looked around the booth to see who “Bernie” was and found the answer in a pile of giant stuffed St. Bernard dogs. They were easily four feet long and super cute. Maybe I never had a pet dog when I was younger, but a stuffed one would make me happy now.
“If you’re so confident, then I want one of those dogs,” I said, pointing at the prizes.
Hunter looked over at me and flashed a grin. “No problem, babe.”
The operator, a balding man with a thin, gray mustache and black wireframe glasses that sat a little too low on his nose, was already scanning for his next customer. He knew before the high schoolers had even left that they weren’t going to use any more of their tickets on this game.