Summer has finally arrived. It may be raining, it may be cold, there may be no ice-cream vans in sight, but my exams are finished and I finally get to indulge all those hobbies that seemed so interesting when I was trying to study (this week: teaching myself bass guitar!). For now, here's the next bit of this story. Enjoy.
They spent the rest of the day in their yard playing obscure card games, yelling at each other and letting stray cats eat scraps on the porch. Ethan especially liked the strays. I watched him watching them and when no one was there he’d reach out and pat them hard between the ears, even if they didn’t like it. Sometimes the boys fought out there too. It was Cameron who mainly ended up fighting; he was real thin, all delicate and narrow, with dark hair and a pretty kind of face. The other boys bullied him when they got bored of playing cards. If he got really beat up and his nose was bleeding, Ethan would tell them to stop. Sometimes he even bought Cameron sweet things in town, ice-cream or nectarines. One night I saw them lying out on the porch and Ethan was petting him like a stray, smoothing tangles through his hair.
They knew all the girls’ names, and whenever they walked down the street they’d say hey, how are you, and sometimes curl a strand of hair around their fingers. Everybody loved them, even the serious girls who didn’t usually have boyfriends. I saw Caroline Dalton in the pick-up truck with Matthew one night, and they had the radio on and she was laughing and laughing, with this little cardigan buttoned up around her throat, and everyone knew she wanted to be a doctor and she never ever went out with boys.
As it happened, the week I first met them was also the week carnival came into town. I watched the Big Dipper being put up from my bedroom window, a couple of blocks away from Three Roses, in the car lot behind the bowling alley. The Dipper was the scary ride that I guess everyone was excited about, but I liked the dumb kids’ stuff more: the Funhouse and the Bumper Cars and the games where you got to win toys. Usually I’d go to the carnival with my parents, but I was too old that year. I just sat inside my room watching the Big Dipper go around and around and sometimes hearing faint screams.
On Wednesday afternoon I lay out in the garden reading the encyclopedia. It was almost too hot to read, and I had to keep rearranging the book on my stomach because it was so heavy. Sometime around two o’clock, Ethan came outside and lay on his porch steps with sunglasses on. I looked up and he was looking over at me. I went back reading for a while, but whenever I looked up, he looked back at me. I started feeling the strangest sensation, as if I was a kid and I could tell that something was going to happen, or was already happening, and no one would believe me. After a while he took his sunglasses off and laughed.
“Hey,” he said.
“You been to the carnival already?”
I was going to tell him I had no one to go with and then suddenly I didn’t want to. “No.”
“We’re gonna go tonight, I think.” He stared into the sky. “You wanna come with?”
“Um – well – are you – would you mind?”
He shrugged and put his sunglasses back on. “We’re leaving at eight.”
I put the book under my arm awkwardly and went inside. My mother was sitting right at the kitchen table, reading out of a recipe book. I crossed my feet and then uncrossed them and then did a little cough.
“You okay, sweetie?”
“Um, I’m going to the carnival with the boys across the street tonight.”
She looked up over her glasses. “Oh?”
“Well, yeah. See, they invited me and I thought it would be rude to say no.”
“Do you want to go?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“Okay.” She looked back down at her book. “Well, if you want to go and they asked you, there’s no problem. Is Ethan going to drive you?”
It felt inexplicably strange to hear my mother saying “Ethan” very casually like that. It was like listening to her explain about where babies come from. I wondered for a second had she ever looked at Ethan and thought he was extremely good looking like all the other girls did.
“I don’t know,” I said. I waited for a second and then ran upstairs and into my room.