Last scene of previous:
“I just thought I saw S. That’s all.” Her knee was bouncing under the table.
“Hey, how about we get out of here?” V outwardly puts on a calm façade, but her heart is pounding inside.
“Yeah. Yeah that’s a good idea.” E stutters.
V left a tip for the waitress—half what the bill would have been, and then they headed out a side door.
“What about a steak biscuit?” V suggested, once they got in the car, “From Bojangles.”
“Yeah I guess I could do with that.”
V saw the nervousness in E’s eyes that she was trying to hide.
“Alright. We’ll stop by Bojangles after we pack up and check out of the hotel. Then we’ll figure out our next move.”
“I just want out of here.” E said, beginning to feel light-headed.
“Do you want to talk about it?” V was getting nervous. Here it came. The dipping out.
“I don’t know. I just don’t know what to do. …I-” Her resolve cut her off. Or maybe this time, it was morality that did. She wasn’t sure. But this was about more than just S, and she wasn’t sure if V should know that or not.
They were both quiet for a minute, thinking and mulling and presenting option slideshows to themselves within their minds.
“Let’s get something to eat maybe and think it over then.” No… “Well, let’s make it to a hotel at least, and maybe sleep on it?” Not that either…V didn’t really have any viable suggestions.
E didn’t feel hers were very great, either. “I like you and I’m scared of this.” No. Absolutely not. The whole point is not bringing up old shit. …I’ll stay in these mountains; dig out a cave… But I can’t just ditch her… “I don’t know.” E said again, breaking the silence that made it seem to each that the other might have slipped into oblivion. “I really don’t. Let’s just stay in a hotel tonight and think about it tomorrow. I need to eat though…” She barely manages a chuckle.
V smiled, but knew she was going to sleep stressfully that night.
Once they’d gone back to the hotel, packed up all the things that they’d accumulated over these past three weeks, and checked out of their room, they began on their way South, to Georgia.
Stopping by a Bojangle’s Drive-thru, they emerged ten minutes later with hot bags that smelt of biscuits and chicken, and then they went to a gas station to fill up Athena’s tank and buy snacks. (Athena was, of course, their noble steed; er, speed. Their noble speed).
Bad puns aside, they were back on the road again. The trees were so pretty here this time of year, in Western Kentucky. If you looked well, you could even see hawk nests in the high trees.
Aside of two Volkswagens, they were the only ones on the road. Miles and miles of gray asphalt stretched out to the horizon of trees and mountain. This fleeting highway served as some kind of therapy to them.
“This drive reminds me of Virginia.” V said after they’d both taken in the scenery in quiet for a while.
“Does it? It reminds me a little of Tennessee.”
V smiles, “It does look like Tennessee a little bit.”
“Hey, where’s that beef jerky?” E says, realizing she’s beginning to get hungry again. V points to a plastic bag in the backseat, and E takes it and digs to find the packet, tearing into it when she does.
“What kind is this?” she says only 10 seconds later with her mouth full. V chuckles.
“It’s actually really good! This’s my new favorite gas station jerky.” She’s staring at the label and reading it, “’Applewood smoked, honey rubbed, pepper mustard steak jerky.’ Ooh shit, this stuff’s good!” She looks at the leather in her hand as if it were a newfound revelation. Then she digs in the bag again asking what other good stuff V had got, and continues to tear open all the other four bags of jerky to try each one and rate them as though she were a judge in a cooking show. V looks over at her and chuckles.
Once E has had her fill, she groans, “Those were way too good.” and laughs, adding in a sigh at the end. “Hoo, it’s nap time now.” An arm rests over her waist, and the other props against the armrest. She leans her head on her fist and the seatbelt and falls asleep. The five open packets of beef jerky sprinkle her lap and the seat and the console. A little lock of hair bounces on her cheek as Athena makes her way over the rocky asphalt.
An uneventful six-hour drive lands them at an inn in Northeastern Georgia. They checked into the room, just as they’d checked into hundreds of hotels this month, it seemed. And then they took the elevator up to their floor, just as they did a hundred times before.
They tossed their duffel bags on the beds and then realized that was it. They had nothing else they needed to do today.
“I’m tired of sitting, you want to take a walk?” V suggests, noting how bored E seemed, too.
“Yeah, I guess so.”
Back down six floors to the main level, they popped out of the elevators and headed out the double glass doors of the Inn.
“Where to? Nowhere particular?” E asks.
“Nowhere particular.” V says. She begins walking west of the hotel and E follows at her side.
“I love this time of day.” V says softly, breaking the quiet and tilting her head back. E looks at her watch, “five twenty-three?” V laughs.
“Sure, five twenty-three. But particularly the way the sky looks at five twenty-three during this time of year.” V looks at E, her eyes all full of imaginary worlds of cotton candy skies.
E always felt that V seemed so airy, like if you didn’t keep her on a balloon string, she might just float off into the clouds, and she’d probably not even know for a long while, either. Her hair would play with the wind and her feet would graze the clouds. You’d see her flying with the birds and her eyes would just be closed as the wind brushed her cheeks. She could stay that way for hours and hours and hours. She’d probably be old and grey before she ever returned. And when she did come back, she would be beaming, glowing, and unaware that any longer than an hour had passed. not enough! she’d say, and flit away tomorrow, just as she had sixty years before. E smiled and whispered a laugh at that image of V floating off into the sky with her arms outstretched as though she were home with the birds. Wearing some gown or dress, nonetheless. Now she laughs.
“What?” V asks, beaming.
E looks at her, “Oh nothing. I was just off in my own world.” She says. She could never see V actually wearing a dress.
“It’s a wonderful place to be isn’t it? In your own world. Sometimes, at least.”
“Sometimes.” E agreed.
“Ooh, there’s a fair!” V pointed between a grocery store and a clothes outlet to a Ferris Wheel all lit up in purple and slowly rotating to nowhere. “We should go!”
“I wonder if they have funnel cakes!” E said, eager to get a plate of the sweet, steaming dough noodles.
They bought tickets at the stand outside and E caught sight of the funnel cake booth as the attendant was handing V the change. “We have to go there first!”
After a seeming eternal wait of eight minutes, the two stood under an umbrella with their extra-large serving of doughy goodness and surveyed the grounds.
“I want to win a teddy bear over there!” V said, excitedly, pointing to a cart that had colorful stuffed toys hanging about it like ornaments on a Christmas tree.
E’s face lit up and she chuckled, “We can win each other something.”
“Good idea! Which prize do you want?”
“Mmm,” she bobbed her head, looking at all the options, “that ginormous T-rex.” she pointed with a fork in her hand. V laughed, “He’s adorable! T-rex it is.” She couldn’t help but stare at E’s face, trying to stretch seconds into years in her mind. Her grey eyes splashed in warmth from the sunset, her button nose that was just as softly formed as her beautifully chiseled face, her perfect lips stretched into a laughing smile that showed her teeth. She wanted to stare forever, but pulled her gaze away and was suddenly aware of all the sounds of the noisy fair ground again. She hadn’t really known the world had paused that much until it all started back up again like a wind up music box.
She smiled at E finishing up her excited speech about the prize booth. Her voice was smooth like whiskey ice cream, full like the forests of Tennessee or a perfectly buttered home-baked cornbread biscuit, and sweet like sunsets and tea.
“Don’t you think?” She heard E continuing, “I think we should hit a couple game booths and then get on the Ferris wheel, so we’re scrunched between oversized stuffed animals on the seat, like they are in movies. I want a picture like that.”
“I think that’s the most perfect idea.” V said, trying to adjust to acting like a normal person again after being lost in a world of E’s perfect features.
“Hey, what are you distracted by?” E turns to look behind herself.
“Sorry, I was… taking this all in.” V says, slightly blushing. E smiles at her and rolls her eyes.
“Shut up. Let’s go.”
V beams and follows E’s lead through the ever-thickening tourists and locals alike, to the game booth with the T-rex still hanging by the counter.
“Hey, y’all, are you ready to take on the bottle toss?” The lady at the booth enthusiastically says. E and V both nod, “Yes please! We’re here to win a prize!” E says and V hands the lady two tickets.
“Alright, well that’s the spirit! All you gotta do is knock down these little pumpkins with these two bottles. Knock ‘em all for a big prize, or half for a small one.” She finishes, handing E two brown-tinted glass bottles that were probably beer bottles in their prior lifetime. V had wanted a cotton candy colored bear with a bow tied around its neck. It was medium-sized, so E aimed to knock all the pumpkins over.
“How many tickets do we have? Just in case I fail at this.” E says, beginning to feel nervous that she might not get them all.
“Eh, I think we’ve got plenty, no worries. And I have zero doubts in you.”
E nervously chuckles, “Alrighty then, here goes.” She brings a knee up when she tosses it, sending all her body weight with that one tiny bottle. It crashes against the tiny pumpkins right in the middle of the pyramid and half of them bounce to the floor.
“Heyah!!” She cheers. V claps. “Only seven left.” E concentrates and swings the bottle a couple times before releasing it to sweep the table and send six onto the dirt floor and one teetering on the edge.
“Ah phooey!!” E punches the air. The lady laughs and says, “I think that’s close enough. What’s your prize, dear?”
E bows to V in gesture for her to choose. She giggles excitedly, “I want that one.” V points with her whole arm to the lightly colored pink and blue bear. The lady unhooks it and hands it to V who screeches with delight. The lady beams.
“Whose turn is it now? Are you up?” She asks V who is squeezing her bear to her cheek. E blushes watching her and then looks away and scuffs the dirt with her shoe.
“Ooh yes, I am winning that T-rex for this beautiful woman!” V lets E hold Lady Perth while she takes the two bottles. “Wish me luck!”
E holds up her free hand with two fingers crossed, “I have faith in you.”
V leans into her throw, which she aims low in the hopes to sweep the whole table in one go. She knocks the right side and sends it toppling. With a teetering stack waiting for her blow on the left side, she readies herself. “Okay, here goes!” she makes another broad swing and side-swipes the bottom level, sending the gourds toppling. Three from the top roll about on the table, but one drops off the front.
“I think we’ve got another winner!” The lady beams. She must really like V and E, or maybe she’s just really nice. But V felt very appreciative of her grace toward their attempts.
V claps and the lady asks which prize she won. “Mister T-rex for Malady.” E’s eyes brighten as she sees the large reptile lifted and brought over. V takes Lady Perth so that E can hold her prize with both arms.
“Oh my god, this is like a dream come true!” E says holding out the very stuffed dinosaur and laughing. “This was a bucket list dream.”
They thank the lady who still beams and waves and tells them to have a good evening. They return the words of farewell and then turn towards the Ferris Wheel, deciding that it was getting a little dark and their arms were already full.
The Ferris Wheel lit up in alternating colors of Green and blue and purple and red and yellow. They handed the ride operator their tickets and sat on the upholstered metal seat. A bar was lowered in front of them for them to hold onto, and the ride started.
“Ahh! I’ve never been on a Ferris Wheel before, I’m so nervous.” V is giddy with excitement and nerves.
“You’ve not?” E looks at her surprised, “I never would have guessed.”
“Why’s that?” V is curious to know.
“You got so excited when you saw it! I thought for sure that it was like your favorite carnival ride or something.”
“Ohhh, haha no, but it’s always been on my bucket list!”
“I guess we’ve both crossed something off our bucket list.” E says, making sure Sir Fish is secure.
“There’s our hotel!” V points to her right.
E smiles, “Yes it is!” She counts the floors, “And…there’s our room!”
V ducks her head to follow E’s finger, then laughs when she sees her rolling bag in the window. “My bag is watching us. It wanted to come on the Ferris Wheel!” She laughs again.
“Oh hey, look at that, we’re at the top!” E looks down. “We should take our commemorative picture now.”
V considers putting her arm around E, since they sat next to each other and their animals were on the outside, but instead, she holds up her bear and E squishes Sir Fish into the frame and V snapshots them just like that. She looks at the picture.
“It’s perfect.” She says almost in a dreamy whisper. She wished this moment would last forever and never have to end. She closed her eyes and inhaled the air. “Hey, I can still smell the funnel cake stand, even from up here!” She says, opening them again.
E laughs, “You’re probably smelling that.” She points below them where a couple has a plate of the pastry on their laps.
“That probably would be why, yup!” V chortles. She didn’t want this moment to slip away into the past. She didn’t want to ever be years and years from this night at the carnival where she sat next to E stuffed between prize toys. She didn’t want this picture to be an old, stranded memory. The tears pricked at behind her eyes, but she shook them away. This isn’t gone yet, the night isn’t over and neither is this ride. She’d just enjoy it and cherish it and soak it up while it lasted.
“I’ll send it to you.” V finally says. “The picture.”
“Oh, yes. Do you have my number?” E asks, not sure if V would still have it.
“I do. If you’ve not changed it.” V blushes embarrassedly.
“I’ve not.” E whispered. She smiled to herself, but her stomach churned. How did she let V be the one she let slip away? She turned away to look over the carnival and sighed. She’d been to plenty of fairs and carnivals like this with S. She’d been on these rides before and kissed at the top, and taken the selfies. She did all that with S, and lost all this with V. S had made her giddy and the butterflies had been more of armies, but V’s presence was steadying and secure. She felt a part of it, instead of like she was trying to catch up or not get left behind. S never won her a prize before, it was always E playing the games and winning the prizes for her. She looked over at V, there was no S sitting next to her making her a nervous wreck; it was V. This might be the first time that she’d been to a carnival where it didn’t feel like it happened on a fast track. No arguments had happened, no substituting a happy façade to keep peace or try to make amends. It had been purely fun the whole time. And V made it look easy. She’d made it feel easy the whole time. Smooth as a chocolate malt. She felt V would say.
She suddenly felt uneasy and readjusted in her seat.
“You okay?” V felt the tension that hung about her.
“No, I’m- I mean yes I’m good.” E laughed. “Words are hard.” She half-heartedly chuckled again.
V didn’t believe her. E must be bored of having spent the whole day with her. “Are you feeling sick, do you want to get off?” she asked.
“I don’t think it’s the ride.”
“Oh. Okay.” Reality always has to make its way back around eventually, right? Your head can only be up in the clouds for so long before a goose comes and runs into you and reminds you that you don’t belong there. “We can go back to the Inn if you want.” V just wanted to make it better and she wasn’t sure how to. She’d ask if E needed a drink of water, but didn’t want to bother her with so many words or questions, so she stayed quiet.
“Umm, I’m just- I’m just not feeling… well.”
“Is there something that might make you feel better that I can…” her words trailed off.
“You’re sweet.” E smiled at her with glassy eyes.
V knew something was bothering her. But E had told her it wasn’t the ride and she didn’t want to take command and incorrectly assume how to help and instead upset E, so she didn’t flag the operator as they passed by.
The next loop was a quiet one, and when they’d almost gotten to the bottom again, E said that maybe she did want to go back home. So they asked the employee to let them off and they gave some eager kid the rest of their tickets and headed out of the bustling carnival back out onto the quiet street outside.
Continue to Part 5