It feels as if a million butterflies have been let loose in my stomach by the time I reach the entrance. I don’t see Asher anywhere, so I find an empty spot on the bench and wait. Maybe he’ll do me a favor and just not show up.
I recognize many of the families that walk past. If anyone is surprised to actually see me here, no one acts like it. One little girl walks up to me and reaches a hand full of sticky cotton candy in my direction. “No, thank you,” I say, smiling as her mom comes up behind her and apologizes. I would love to be that young again; things were so much simpler.
“So you can smile,” a deep masculine voice says from behind me. I look over my shoulder; Asher is standing there, grinning at me. He looks tired, but good in his khaki shorts and light blue t-shirt.
“Everyone can smile,” I reply hesitantly, standing to face him.
“Yeah, but not everyone does.” When I’m about to tell him that everyone without a smile has a reason for it, I realize that’s the one thing I don’t need him to dig any deeper into.
“So, what do you want to see first?” I ask, nervously biting my lower lip.
He points his thumb behind his shoulder. “Do you want to try the rides?”
“Aren’t we a little old for that?” I ask, shifting my weight to one side. It then dawns on me that I have absolutely no idea how old he is. It’s never come up, but how could it have come up when I’ve spent no more than ten minutes with him?
“No one is ever too old for fun,” he says, reaching for my hand. I pull both arms across my chest to avoid his touch and he pulls back, running his hand through his hair. “You’re not easy to get to know, are you?”
Shrugging, I ask, “How old are you anyway?”
“Answering my questions with questions?” he says, shaking his head. Maybe I’ll just piss him off enough that he’ll end this whole thing. “I’m twenty-three. How old are you?”
“See, that wasn’t so hard. A fact for a fact, let’s try that once a day and maybe after a week or two, we’ll be more comfortable with each other. Now, let’s get on one of these rides,” he says, grabbing for my hand again. This time I hesitantly let him take it. It feels odd at first, but after several seconds, I relax, letting him lead the way.
Most of the carnival rides are more suited for young children, but Asher insists that we ride the Ferris wheel. I compromise and tell him I will go on it with him if we can head over to the food stands right after. I can smell the warm cinnamon from the donuts, and it’s making my stomach growl.
When we’re secured into the car, Asher rests his arm behind me. To my surprise, I don’t freak out from the contact. There’s an honesty to him that makes me want to know him a little bit more. But I know better than to trust too easily . . . it can get me in trouble if I’m not careful.
Every time we go up to the top of the Ferris wheel, I can see the whole town of Carrington. I can see where almost every memory I’ve ever had took place from up here. There’s my old elementary school and the high school as well as my house and the diner. Up here, I feel above it all, like the world can’t touch me. But it’s only going to last for about three minutes before it all ends and my feet are back on the ground.
When the ride stops, Asher pushes his fingers through the front of my hair. I instantly close my eyes, trying not to draw back. “You had a few pieces of hair out of place,” he whispers, tapping the end of my nose with his fingertip.
“Thanks,” I say, opening my eyes again.
“So, what do you want to do now?” he asks as we climb out of our seat.
“Donuts,” I reply, grabbing for his hand and pulling him toward the food stands. His skin is slightly calloused, and I notice how perfectly his hand fits in mine. It’s comfortable.
He laughs before quickly catching up to me. It’s turning out to be a pretty good day, and I’m actually glad that I came. Beau’s the only person who I usually feel comfortable around, but it’s nice to know I haven’t completely forgotten how to make friends.
“Have you lived here all your life?” Asher asks. I look in his direction and notice how the corners of his eyes crinkle up against the sunlight. My grandma always said how fine lines were a sign of wisdom. Maybe she was on to something.
“Since I was five,” I reply, glancing at the small craft booths as we walk by. There’s everything from quilts to flower arrangements, but nothing that peaks my interest.
“Do you ever travel?”
“No, we never had the money to do much of that. Sometimes we go into the city. You?”
“My family usually takes two trips a year. I’ve been to Europe, Mexico, Costa Rica and over half of the fifty states,” he says, squeezing my hand in his. “Carrington might be one of my favorites, though. It has certain things that other places can’t offer.”
My whole body stiffens. He’s moving way too fast; somewhere I’m not ready to go. “It’s so peaceful here. Something about it makes me feel untouchable,” he continues. I let out the air I’ve been holding in my lungs and relax back into just enjoying his company.
“What do you like to do for fun? I mean before you decided to enjoy the peace of small town life.”
“Up until last year, my life was all about drinking and having a good time. This past year, I’ve been trying to figure out where my life’s actually going,” he says, looking over at me with one of the saddest expressions I’ve ever seen. I want to tell him he doesn’t have to pretend for me because I certainly won’t be doing it for him.
“And did you get it all figured out?” I ask.
He reaches his hand up to rub the back of his neck. “No, sometimes we don’t get to decide our future. Let’s just say I’m taking a little break from it all.”
I know exactly what he means. One night, one moment, one decision can change the whole path that our future takes. This is one thing I can relate with.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
He shakes his head. “No, let’s just have fun today. That’s what we came here for, isn’t it?” he asks, stopping in front of the donut stand.
“I guess it is,” I say, trying to bite back a smile.
The line is long, but it’s worth the wait when we finally get to the front and I have the warm bag in my hand. Words can’t even express how amazing these donuts taste. I haven’t had one in two years, so I’m going to savor every bite today.
We’ve just started eating our donuts when I notice Morgan and her posse moving in our direction. I drop the donut into the bag and watch them in silence. Asher must have sensed my sudden change in mood because he looks from me to the girls approaching us.
Morgan’s eyes stay on me, while the two girls behind her have theirs set on Asher. “Hey, Kate, who’s your new friend?” I already want to throw-up on her black wedge sandals. She hasn’t paid much attention to me in two years, and now she wants to act like we’re friends so that I’ll introduce her to Asher?
“If you want to know, why don’t you ask him yourself?” I say, surprised that I’m actually standing up to them.
“Geez, Kate, you don’t have to be such a bitch,” Jenna says from behind Morgan. I can feel my face reddening. I feel a hand press against my lower back and look up to see Asher standing right next to me.
“Wait, are you guys on some kind of date?” Morgan asks, her eyes going wide. She’s probably thinking that Asher looks way too good for me.
“Look, why don’t you girls move along,” Asher says, taking one step forward. His tone scares me, but it doesn’t seem to affect them in the slightest.
Morgan steps up, standing so that her br**sts almost rub against his chest. “When you’re ready to have fun, which you certainly won’t have with Kate here, come find us,” she purrs. I don’t know what happened to her, but she’s sure changed from the girl I used to know.
“Not likely,” Asher says as he grabs my hand and pulls me away.
As soon as we are away from the crowd, I pull my hand from his and feel the tears collecting in my eyes. Maybe I’m not meant to have any sense of normalcy around here.
I turn and start walking to my car. I’ve had enough of today; it’s just a reminder of why I don’t let myself do these kinds of things anymore. The memories always flash back, and the people who knew me before always measure me against the girl I used to be. I’m not her anymore, and I’m not sure if I even liked her when I was. She was naïve and stupid, and her actions are what got me here.
“Kate,” I hear behind me. I don’t turn around. I don’t slow my pace. I just keep going. “Kate, come on, don’t be like this.”
He eventually catches up to me but he’s winded, bending to catch his breath. “Where are you going?”
“Home,” I say, unlocking the door.
“Why?” he asks, throwing his arms in the air.
“You saw what happened back there. You shouldn’t be wasting your time on me. I just want to go home.” My lip quivers as I reach for the handle of the car door and pull it open.
“Running isn’t going to solve your problems, you know,” he says, leaning against the side of my car.
“No, but it certainly gets me far away from them,” I cry, sitting in my driver’s seat and pulling the door shut. I just want to go home.
“Kate!“ he yells. I pull the car out of park and wait for him to step back.
He slams his hand against the hood of my car, hard enough to make me jump but not to leave a dent. “Fuck,” he says under his breath. I don’t know if he intended for me to hear it, but I did.
I’m not even out of the parking lot before I feel warm tears roll down my cheeks. I should have never agreed to come here.
This isn’t my place anymore.
Neither my mom nor I work on Sundays. I’m not sure how I feel about that today. I need the distraction that work provides, but I don’t want to run the risk of seeing Asher. What happened yesterday had nothing to do with him; I realized that while I was lying in bed last night. It had everything to do with my issues, and I wish I could go back and change the way I handled it.