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- Story Listed as: Fiction For Kids
- Theme: Stories about Friendship & Family
- Subject: Friends / Friendship
- Published: 07/14/2019
Ever Looking UpAdult, F, from Salem, MA, United States
I run to the back of the school bus to get the three empty seats in the last row. I’m down the aisle first, so I get the seat by the window. This way I can check out my reflection—perfect!
Claire, good friend, sixth man/woman off-the-bench basketball team player, sits down next to me. She puts her backpack on the seat next to her, seat number 3.
“Saved for Amanda or she will be pissed. Oops, sorry I mean mad.”
“You’re forgiven,” I tell Claire and pat her shoulder. Claire has a swear jar in her not-so-new home. Her grandmother put it on the kitchen counter as soon as Claire’s family moved in with them. Claire told us it would only be for a couple months, but that was a year ago.
“The bus I ride to school is never this crowded. You’re so lucky your mom takes you guys to school every day,” says Claire.
“Yeah, I am.” There is something tacky on the floor. “Yuk.” I tap my foot. “I see what you mean. This bus is gross.”
Amanda is the last one on the bus. At the top of the stairs, she surveys the crowd. She walks slowly down the aisle, acknowledging everyone’s greetings.
“Can you believe I almost missed this trip?” says Amanda as she sits down next to Claire. “My mom is such a ditz. She forgot the trip was today.” Amanda shakes her head. “And she drove me to school in her pajamas. I’m so embarrassed.” She shakes her head back, gathers her hair, twirls it, then lets it drop. She fluffs out her pale green tank top. “I think I’m sweating. Gross.”
I press my back against the padded seat and sit up as tall as I can. Wow, my nose is even with Claire’s chin. But now my feet don’t touch the floor. Got it! I’ll put my back against the window, right foot on the floor, and push my left knee against the seat so I don’t fall over. There, that’s better. How do kids ride this stupid bus every day? Thanks again, Mom, for driving me to school and home.
“Sit down, everyone. No standing up on the bus.” Principal Martinez cups his hands around his mouth. “The bus isn’t leaving until you are all seated. I know everyone is excited about going to the Big Kahuna Amusement Park, but we won’t get there if school bus rules are not followed.”
“Sit down, Ever.” Claire tugs on my sleeve. “You know Principal Martinez sees everything.”
I sit on the edge of the seat. I don’t want my legs to dangle.
Some kids cheer as the school bus driver starts the engine. The teachers and chaperones instruct us to “Quiet down, people” as the bus pulls away from James Longfellow Middle School. T minus one hour and counting.
“Oh my gosh, I am so excited. I don’t think I slept at all last night.” I have to stop giggling like a second grader.
“Me neither,” says Claire. “My cat had gas and wouldn’t stop, well, you know.”
“Claire, you are so gross,” says Amanda.
“Not me, my cat,” answers Claire.
“This conversation is stupid,” says Amanda, shaking her head. She catches Robby Matthews looking at her; she smiles while swinging her blond hair over her shoulder.
“Claire, going to the Big Kahuna is like the best way to end fifth grade. You know how much I love Fridays before a holiday break, and this is so much better,” I say.
“Yeah, even better than a surprise assembly instead of a stupid social studies test,” laughs Claire.
“Way better.” We all agree with a high five.
The bus speeds up to pass a truck towing a horse trailer as I’m standing with my right arm resting on the seatback in front of me. I catch myself before I fall.
“You know this is my first time going there, right?” I say
“Yes, Ever,” remarks Amanda. She’s finished talking to Robby for now. “You’ve been saying that for weeks. No, make that months. Relax.”
“It’s a good thing I banked my caught-being-good points. When the principal said we could use them toward a free ticket to the park, that was so awesome.”
Claire and Amanda make “whatever” faces.
“You’re too organized, Ever. Not me,” says Claire. “Earn points, cash them in.”
Amanda scowls. “You and your good points. Mrs. Crowley hates me. I never get points. Seventh grade will be so much better.” Amanda’s face brightens. “So much more grown up. I can’t wait to share lunch and specials with the eighth graders.”
“How much more time until we get to the park?” I ask.
Claire looks at her watch. She’s the only girl in sixth grade who wears one. “About 30 minutes.”
Principal Martinez is standing near the middle of the bus talking to Mrs. Kwan, one of the sixth-grade teachers, when the bus goes over a bump in the road. Mr. Martinez nearly falls into Mrs. Kwan’s lap.
“Whoa—did you see that?” says Robby to Amanda, pointing and laughing.
“He’s so cute,” mouths Amanda to us and then turns to talk to Robby
We sit silently for a while, each in our own thoughts.
“Ever, seriously, I can’t believe this is your first time at the Big Kahuna. I mean, I know it is, but it’s kind of weird in a way.”
“Claire, you know my mom doesn’t like all the screaming and stuff. And she says the rides make her nauseated.”
“Your parents are Amish,” says Amanda, returning to our conversation. She turns her head away and runs her fingers through her long blond hair.
I turn to look out the window because I don’t want her to see that what she just said is hurtful. I hate when Amanda says that about my family. I could say bad things about her mom, too.
“Ever, don’t be mad,” says Amanda. “Deep down you know it’s true,” she continues as Claire nods her head. “They tell you what you can and can’t eat or wear. And how you have to check in with them all the time.”
“My parents aren’t Amish,” I say as my brow wrinkles. “They just like to know where I am and who I’m with.” I thought that was okay for parents to do that; I must be clueless.
“Whatever,” says Amanda as she rolls her eyes.
Amanda and Claire start to play Candy Crush on Claire’s phone.
I’m feeling defensive, and I don’t want to—I’m not a baby. I’m like I am because I have that Turner Syndrome thing, which makes me super short—and other stuff. You guys can’t know—not yet—not from me, anyway. I guess my parents hover sometimes, but all the time? I don’t know. Who cares? Maybe I like it. Maybe I don’t. Maybe I shouldn’t. So it’s my fault?
I look down at my feet and retie my left sneaker. I feel crappy, and this is supposed to be the best day of the whole school year.
So other kids’ parents don’t grab their hand when they cross the street. That’s ’cause they’ve all got normal parents and they are normal kids.
My eyes sweep over my classmates. All these kids think I can’t think for myself, too? A scared feeling washes over me and settles in my stomach_. And the award for The Super-Short Girl with a Crazy Family Who Rules Her Life goes to ME._
“Ten minutes,” calls out Principal Martinez like a train conductor. “Arriving at the Big Kahuna in ten minutes.”
“Ever! Hey Ever! Over here!”
I recognize Andrew’s voice. It’s loud, his hand is waving, and everyone is looking at us, the Shorty and the Nerd. Everyone in my head, just shut up.
Okay, I confess. I like Andrew. He’s my across-the-street and two-houses-down neighbor. His mom and my mom are friends from college. Andrew is my STEM buddy and super smart in everything math and science, which is great because I stink at math and science. But sometimes he can act kind of odd. No, make that all the time. Last year he told me not to tell anyone he takes meds for his brain. He’s the only one who knows my meds secret, too.
“Ever! Hi, Ever!” says Andrew for all to hear. “What rides are you going on? Want to go on rides with me? My mom gave me extra money; she said I can buy anything I want.”
“Hi, Andrew,” I say. “Yeah, that’s great.” I don’t like doing it, but I pretend to look at a message on my phone. I don’t want to ignore Andrew—he gets hurt enough at school—but this day has to be perfect. It must be perfect. And nothing and no one will stop that.
“Big Kahuna Amusement Park, this exit,” says the bus driver. The whole bus erupts in the school chant: “Tigers rock!” Clap! Clap! Stomp! Stomp! “Tigers rock!” Clap! Clap! Stomp! Stomp! In unison to the beat, we sit down, stand up, sit down, stand up.
At last the bus pulls into the parking lot and the driver shuts off the engine. All the kids stand at once, and it’s a mass exodus off the bus. After what seems like forever, I step off that stinky old school bus. I made it!
“Doesn’t it smell great?” says Claire, grabbing my arm and leading me to the other students. “I love the smell of this place.”
I close my eyes and inhale deeply.
“Am I right? Huh?” says Claire, nodding.
“It smells like that fried chicken place on River Street. Times 100. I am going to eat so much bad food today.”
Laughter replaces tension. After all the bus drama, it’s like it never happened.
The chaperones are busy handing out yellow wristbands for rides, green tickets for lunch, and repeating the time all students must be back at the buses. I check my phone for the time.
Five and a half hours. It doesn’t sound like much time. I made a list of the rides I want to go on. I got a map of the park off the website and researched all the rides.
“Kettle corn,” Claire squeals as she interrupts my thoughts. “You’ve got to eat this stuff, Ever. It’s so awesome. Just don’t tell your mom.”
“Totally. Don’t you say anything, either.” It feels good to say that. I pull the green food ticket from my jeans pocket. Out from my backpack comes the Whole Foods organic lunch Mom made. And into the trash it goes. No way—not today—as I brush my hands clean. “So yesterday,” I say, finding a new voice.
“You are right. No way. You need to eat real food. Where to first?” asks Claire through a mouthful of kettle corn.
I shove a handful of the sticky goodness in my mouth. “Sugar rush. Sugar rush.” Every inside part of my body starts to shiver.
“Eat more,” advises Claire as she stuffs kettle corn in my hand. “That helps make it go away.”
“Let’s just walk around and check out the park,” says Amanda. “My mom didn’t give me all that much money. Today is her day to get her nails done.”
“Good idea,” says Claire. “No money means no fun.”
As Amanda and Claire walk ahead and check out the jewelry booths, I gaze up and around the park. Where is the Red Spiral Archway? When I got off the bus it was on my left. I don’t want to take out the map and look like a tourist.
“Hey, watch where you’re going!” shout a group of kids.
“What? Sorry.” This is worse than the mall at Christmas. I think I’m getting dizzy. Still looking for the Red Spiral— “There it is,” I say to no one in particular and point to the sky. “The Woolly Mammoth. The Ride of All Rides. Ever Marie Richards, you lucky girl. You get to go on it. Yes!” I pump my elbow like the hockey player who just scored the winning goal.
“Ever, come on,” says Amanda, waving her arm for me to come where she and Claire are standing.
“I found The Woolly Mammoth,” I say, out of breath. “That has got to be our first ride.”
“Okay, okay. Wait,” Amanda says, arms folded. “Remember, we all agreed we’d go on rides together, right?”
“We did? When? I don’t remember we decided that. What if I don’t want to go on something?” says Claire.
“What about you, Ever? You agreed to all go on the rides together, didn’t you?” says Amanda.
“I guess I did. Sure, um, okay?”
“Great. It’s settled,” says Amanda. She and Claire talk about the rides and where to go next. My head is filling up again.
Wouldn’t it be funny if my head could spin around 360 degrees like an owl? So many booths and mouth-watering food. Everyone is eating and having such a good time. Huge slices of pizzas over there, cotton candy that way, soda, ice cream, lemonade everywhere. And that lady will tell your fortune for $10.00. Is that stuff even real?
“Great,” Amanda says. “Okay Ever, first ride is The Woolly Mammoth. Let’s go.”
“Ever! Hey Ever, wait!” All three of us turn to see Andrew running toward our group, out of breath.
“Is he following us? What a dork. Ever, do something,” says Amanda, motioning to Claire to step away.
“Hey, Ever,” says Andrew.
“Hey, Andrew.” I move to stand between Andrew and my friends; he doesn’t notice.
Andrew puts his hands on his knees and catches his breath. His backpack is stuffed. “Have you guys gone on any rides yet?”
“We’re checking them out first,” I say.
Amanda and Claire are talking and shaking their heads. Andrew is peering over my shoulder. I fidget. I’m not sure what to do or even say.
“Hey Ever, we’re going,” says Amanda. She’s tapping her wrist, pretending she’s wearing a watch and rolling her eyes. She and Claire turn and head toward the Midway.
“Well, um, gotta go.” My eyes dart around. “See ya.” I think I might puke.
“You didn’t invite him to tag along, did you?” says Amanda once I catch up to them.
“No, I didn’t,” I say, not liking myself.
“What a nerd,” Claire says.
I want to tell them to shut up—Andrew’s not so bad. So what if he tags along? We can still go on rides and have fun, okay? But you guys are my friends, too. And we should stick together, pinky swear.
As we get closer to the Midway, there is this sound of ocean waves crashing on the beach. With each step closer, the sound gets louder, almost deafening.
“Do you hear that?” I yell over the din.
“Ever, that’s the sound the rides make,” says Amanda, rolling her eyes at me as she turns her head and mouths, “Duh.”
“You’re too funny, sweetie,” Claire says to me. She uses “sweetie” a lot now since she’s been living with her grandparents.
“I know what that sound is.” It takes all my will power not to put my hands over my ears.
As I get closer to the Midway, the scene is dizzying. We follow the cacophony. I can hardly hear what Amanda, Claire, or anyone is saying. I am ready to jump out of my skin! I’m here—at the end of the line—but I’m finally here.
The Woolly Mammoth
Ever since we heard that the Big Kahuna Amusement Park was picked as the final sixth-grade field trip, I just couldn’t shut up about it. It became the whole reason for earning extra volunteer points, doing all that extra credit, and getting caught-in-the-act points for being good. The resulting free bus ride and free pass to the Big Kahuna Amusement Park were “the icing on the cake,” my dad said. I got new jeans, a new t-shirt, and brought all my allowance money.
Andrew and I researched roller coaster designs on the internet. We learned they are built by structural and mechanical engineers. Andrew could understand the pictures and diagrams really well, and he tried really hard to explain all the physics stuff. But when it comes to that stuff, I get so lost. I couldn’t tell where the ride started or ended or which way was up or down. When he turned the pictures sideways, I was done and majorly frustrated. Andrew understood and was cool with it, unlike some other kids I know.
Anyway, I still watched tons of YouTube videos about rides just like The Woolly Mammoth. No, nothing is like The Woolly Mammoth. Let me explain why.
First you strap into a seat two by two either facing forward, or if you are brave enough, facing backward. The ride starts out slowly, then moves fast, faster, and fastest—like a rocket headed to outer space. This ride goes upside down and sideways!
The end is the best—you are so high up! Suddenly you begin to go down like you’re diving at this crazy angle. Everyone is screaming and hanging on for dear life! Just as you think you are about to crash head first into the ground, the ride evens out and you slowly come to a stop. What can I say? BEST . . . EXPERIENCE . . . EVER.
Wait for this: There is a rumor that a high school junior from Oakdale let go on purpose, you know, like to show off. And the other kids in his seat bucket had to grab him by his pants because he started to fall out. Wow! He must have been scared crazy!
Back to real life and this slow-moving line. I check my phone. It’s only been 15 minutes; it feels like forever.
“Come on, people, move,” says Claire, raising her heels up and down. “I need to go on this ride now,” she continues in an almost pleading voice. Claire stands on her tiptoes and puts her fingertips to the side of her head. As she lifts her head to the sky, she closes her eyes.
“Claire, you okay?” I ask.
“Shh, I’m sending commands to the ride operator so he’ll stop the ride and let new people get on. The faster the line moves, the faster we get on.”
“What cartoon did you see that on, ‘The Nerds Who Invade Earth’?” says Amanda. “You’ve got to stop watching your little brother’s Disney cartoons. We’re in middle school now.”
“Disney cartoon?” says Claire. “ ‘The Mind Benders from Planet 5’ was on the Syfy channel. I watched it with my dad.”
“Oooh, was it scary?” says Amanda, using a ghost voice and moving her arms as if to grab Claire.
“Gross,” says Claire, her hands moving to her face.
“Did it work?” I ask.
“What?” says Amanda to me in disbelief.
“I’m asking Claire if it worked. Did the monsters get the people to do what they wanted?”
“Oh, you guys can’t be serious,” says Amanda, imitating our school librarian who peers down over her half-glasses and shakes her head when students get noisy.
“No, they tried, but the villagers made a cone-shaped hat thingy and OH MY GOSH—we’re moving. I’m a genius. Forward!” says Claire, her fist held high triumphantly.
Excitement glitters in my eyes. With just the slightest movement, I lean my head back and open my ears to the rumbling noises, kids’ screams, and the earthy aromas of the Midway. The roar of The Woolly Mammoth as it cycles downward toward the waiting platform is nearly deafening.
The loud bang of balloons breaking makes me shake. I look over my shoulder to see where it came from. Just above the Midway grounds where the deflated cluster of bright orange balloons hangs is a funny-looking faded poster of a smiling pink elephant standing on its hind legs with a big speech bubble next to its mouth.
That’s the entrance to The Pendulum, what’s it saying? Lines form on my brow and I tilt my head. I can’t read what it says from here. The sign’s too faded. I peer even more intently, squinting my eyes in the high noon sunshine, but it’s futile.
It’s the exact same faded poster—a smiling pink elephant, dancing, wearing a purple
tutu. It’s at the entrance to The Pendulum, Ranger, and Tilt-a-Whirl. I tick off the names
of the rides on my fingers. Is it at the entrance to every ride?
“Hold my place,” I say. I push through to the end of the line and weave through the throng of kids on the blacktop path and the ride’s entrance.
There it is, the smiling pink elephant in the purple tutu. She’s holding a ruler. Inside the speech bubble are the words in faded bold type: “You have to be THIS TALL to ride.”
“No, no, no!” I say out loud. I slap a hand over my mouth. “Oh no! I saw the posters as we walked. I thought it was an ‘enter here’ poster.”
“Ever, Ever,” says Claire over the clamor of the crowd. “Come back; we’re going to miss our turn.”
“Excuse me, excuse me.” I rush back through the line to my place, which is now closer to the wooden gate that blocks the new riders from the ones getting off the ride.
“What are you doing?” says Amanda. “Come on.”
“We’re next!” says Claire, bursting with excitement.
I quickly pile my ponytail on top of my head and stretch up as tall as I can. My left foot taps the ground.
The ride stops. Two boys get out of their seats and throw their fists in the air. “Yeah, goin’ again, dude!”
More kids pile off the ride.
“Awesome ride!” yells the boy in the Captain America t-shirt. Another one holds his
head and weaves as he pretends to stumble down the exit ramp. I hear fist bump explosions and
howling laughter as they’re swept up in the throngs of kids walking the Midway.
Four groups of riders walk to their seat buckets, either handing over their individual ride tickets or showing their yellow wristbands. Yellow wristbands mean you’ve paid for unlimited rides for today.
Now it’s our turn.
“Okay, okay, okay,” says the ticket/wristband checker as they walk past him to their seat bucket.
Oh no. It’s the elephant poster behind the wristband checker. Stop looking at me. I command the elephant. I hope Claire’s mind control technique works on tutu-wearing elephants.
As I raise my foot to step into the seat bucket, I freeze. We all freeze.
“Hey, girl in the pink t-shirt—hey you,” says the deep booming voice with a drawl.
Everyone seated in the ride stops and looks at the girl in the pink t-shirt: ME. Even the kids waiting in line hush and look from the man to the girl in the pink t-shirt and back at the man.
As before, I stretch up my body as far as it can go, turn in the direction of the voice, and innocently point to myself. I’m acting falsely calm. The ride operator is staring at me. Amanda ties the safety strap and pulls the safety bar in place. Claire looks unsure of what to do.
“Wait, you can’t go on.” He’s crooking his finger and calling me back.
I put on the biggest grin as I walk confidently toward the ride operator.
“What, sir. Is something wrong? I showed my wristband to the other man. He never said anything,” I say innocently, stretching up even more.
I look the ride operator in the eyes. It’s so hard not to look at the elephant poster. I don’t want to give the ride operator any indication I know why he called me over.
The ride operator frowns as he blots the dripping sweat from his brow with his dirty handkerchief.
“Yeah, but it don’t matter,” he says as he tucks his handkerchief into the back pocket of his overalls. “You’re too short to ride.” He’s smiling now. His front tooth is missing. “Looky here, young lady,” the ride operator continues, his voice rising over the din of the Midway. “You gotta be taller than this here red line to ride the Mammoth.” He smacks the faded poster of the tutu-wearing elephant with what appears to be a sawed-off, dirty pool cue. “Don’t matter what Roy says. I’m in charge here, and I ain’t losing my job today.”
Claire unbuckles her seatbelt and leans forward to exit the ride.
“No, stay, stay,” I say to Claire’s gesture.
“You be more careful, Roy, or next time—,” says the ride operator, who then returns to his seat by the controls.
“I will, Sam, sir. There won’t be no next time. Promise.”
“Next! Who’s next? Come on, let’s keep the line going.”
I’m shrinking in body and in spirit. As the kids push past me to show their tickets or wristbands, I turn and walk toward the on-ramp.
The faster I walk, the faster I disappear. Stop looking, you idiots. I hate you. My brain instructs me as I fight back the burning in my eyes. But if I run, then I’ll really look embarrassed, and I can’t do that. I can’t. I won’t.
“Darn—hey, young lady,” calls the ride operator. “The exit’s thataway.”
I’m numb. Is somebody talking to me? I never felt like this before. It’s so done. It’s so over. I lost.
Still waiting their turn, the kids on the entrance ramp quickly move back, like the parting of the sea, to let me pass.
“Didn’t she know she wasn’t tall enough?” whispers the girl.
“How tall is she?” whispers another.
“She looks like a third grader,” says the boy, his hand covering his mouth.
“Hey shrimp, better luck next time,” laughs the one with green hair.
“Shut up, Aiden. She can hear you,” chides the girl in the ripped jeans.
If I can just get to the bench and sit down, I’ll be okay. Oh gosh, my legs are shaking. Now my hands feel funny. That’s not good.
“I need to sit down,” I whisper to no one.
I focus on the bench across the walkway, but two people eating ice cream just sat down. They look like chaperones. I stand in front of them. They give me a puzzled look, and the woman opens her mouth to say something. The man tugs her sleeve and they walk away. I must look really bad.
My breath is coming rapidly; I’m breathing in and out of my mouth and feeling weak and shaky. I force myself to take deep breaths slowly through my nose and slowly out of my mouth, in and out like Mrs. Layton taught us in gym class when we covered yoga. I picture her in her leotard, tights, and large patterned scarf tied around her hips. I can hear her voice.
After a few slow, deep breaths in and out, my senses come back to normal. I begin to swing my legs as I grip the edge of the bench near the outside of my knees. Why me? Why me? I never hurt anyone. Why do they treat me like this? I’m a failure. I hate my life. I wish I never came here.
Tears are burning the rims of my eyes. Why did I have to be born like this? I look up in the direction of the screams and laughter coming from the riders on The Woolly Mammoth, but instead I see Andrew. I pretend to fumble with something in my pocket as I wipe away a tear with my shoulder.
“Hey, Ever, why are you sitting by yourself?” says Andrew. “Are you okay? How come you’re not on the ride. I saw Amanda and Claire get on the ride. Why didn’t you?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I guess I—I chickened out.”
“Yeah, I don’t see what’s so great about it, either. I heard earlier in the day a kid threw up and they hosed off the seat and it was still wet and they started the ride again.” Andrew sits next to me. “Don’t be sad, Ever. Please don’t cry.”
I look at him, smile, and swing my legs. “Thanks.”
A minute later, Amanda and Claire bounce up to us, arm in arm, all giggles and laughter.
“Awesome ride!” says Amanda. “Too bad you couldn’t go on.”
“Like, really too bad. Sorry, Ever,” says Claire, nodding her head in agreement.
“That’s okay. You know I could totally hear you guys screaming all the way down here,” I say, trying to sound cheery and bright and glad for my friends.
“You could?” says Claire. “That’s so awesome!”
“Let’s go on more rides,” says Amanda as she looks around the Midway.
Claire looks at me. “No, wait, how about games? Yeah, let’s play some games,” she says, looking from me to Amanda.
“Sure, whatever you guys want,” I say and breathe deeply once more.
“Well, I want to go on more rides,” says Amanda. “That’s why we’re here, right? Not to play stupid games.” Amanda steps forward and looks at me. “You don’t mind, do you? Besides, there’s got to be some rides you can go on. You can’t be that short that you can’t go on anything. C’mon.”
“But . . .” says Claire. “Uh, okay.”
I, too, take a step forward. “Andrew,” I say.
Andrew looks at me in anticipation. “What?” he says.
I turn from Andrew back to Amanda and Claire, then back to Andrew. “I’ll see you later,” I say to him.
I can’t believe I just said that. He is always so nice to me. Why did I say that to him? Oh gosh, here comes that puke feeling again.
This day can’t be a total disaster. I’m here to have fun. It’s what I want, right? my inner voice repeats. No matter. He’ll get over it. He’ll be okay. He’s always okay. I look back to see if he’s okay. I shouldn’t, but I do. Andrew’s gone.
The rest of the day doesn’t go any better. No matter how hard I stretch my neck or pile my hair on top of my head, I just cannot pass that stupid red line height requirement of four feet ten inches. Stupid, dumb, dancing pink elephant in the purple tutu. I hate you. I’m so tired of holding their stuff and being happy for them and their stupid rides.
Finally it’s lunchtime.
“I’m a million, bazillion times hungrier than all of you,” says Claire. She puts her hands to her head and pretends to faint. “Soda, french fries—I need food, food,” she says, laughing, then bows and says, “Thank you, thank you.”
I clap at Claire’s performance. “Bravo! Bravo! You are the star of Ms. Evans’ Spring Play.”
“I accept this award,” continues Claire.
“There’s Livie and Maude,” says Amanda, interrupting Claire’s dramatics. “Hey guys, we’re going to lunch. Want to join us?” Amanda waves her arms in their direction.
Little did I know we would be standing in line for 20 minutes to hand in our green lunch tickets to get our preordered burger, fries, and a drink.
“Get a Coke. It’s going to taste so good,” says Claire as she fans her face with a napkin. We join other classmates at a round picnic table in the shade. Everyone is talking about the rides they went on, giving each other friendly jabs, and bragging how brave they are.
As soon as I put my tray on the table, Amanda picks up a ketchup squeeze bottle.
“Hey, what are you doing?” I say.
“I’m just showing you the right way to eat french fries. I’m sure you don’t eat them at home, so you don’t know you’re supposed to put ketchup on your fries before you eat them,” says Amanda.
“Amanda,” whispers Livie.
I pick up a french fry covered in the thick red liquid, but it falls over in my hand like a limp flower.
“Well, what do you think?” says Amanda as I chew the greasy fry.
“Not bad. No, it’s really good,” I say. Everyone’s eyes are on me.
My stomach lets out a big growl. Thankfully, with all the chatter, no one else pays attention.
“Here goes.” I pick up my hamburger to take a bite.
“It’s got lettuce and tomato and pickles on it. Your mom would be okay with that, right?” says Claire.
“Oooh, what’s that dripping off my burger?” I drop the sandwich in a puddle of wet.
“Oh,” says Claire. “That just ‘the goodness.’ Well, that’s what my dad calls it. My mom calls it ‘the fat.’ It’s supposed to make the burger taste good.”
I take a big bite of the burger. By now the bun is wet, too.
A spinach wrap with hummus and tofu sounds great right now, I think betweenchews of the mushy burger. I’ve got to thank Mom and Dad tonight. They’re not so bad after all.”
Lettuce and tomato sit on the other kids’ plates that are now drenched in ketchup. Robby Matthews is chasing Amanda around the table holding a piece of tomato and pretending to throw it at her.
“Run, Amanda, run!” says Maude.
“Robby don’t you dare!” says Amanda, smiling.
He laughs, eats the tomato, then spits it out. “Gross. Ewww.”
Everyone is having such a good time.
“Didn’t you like your burger and fries?” says Claire. “Did you drink your Coke? Burgers taste better with a Coke.”
I take a big sip of my carbonated drink and immediately cough. Gosh, now my head is pounding from the sugar. “It’s great,” I tell Claire between coughs.
I can’t just sit here and keep coughing, so I leave the picnic table and head toward the trashcan to toss the soda. I look up through some flowering shrubs and see Andrew eating lunch, alone, under a maple tree. He’s not really eating his burger and fries, either. I shake my head. I don’t know what to do. Could this day get any worse?
“Ever, Ever, come on. We’re going,” says Amanda.
The three of us check out the rest of the amusement park and eventually find our way over to the games area.
“Water pistols. It’s so much fun.” I say. “I’ve only played this on the computer. Now it’s the real thing.”
I run ahead of Amanda and Claire, put a dollar on the counter of the Clown Water Pistol game, and pick a spot. I close my left eye and aim the end of the water pistol at the clown’s mouth. This time I don’t care if I’m on my toes.
“Hey, looky who’s ready to play,” says the carnival worker as he brings a stepstool and places it between the counter and me. “Here you go, honey,” he says. “Step right up.”
I look from the stepstool back to the worker and back again to the stepstool.
The carnival worker smiles proudly and gestures for me to take my place on the stepstool. He’s almost bowing. My cheeks are hot.
Mom always says to say thank you even when I don’t like the gift. So here I go. “Thank you.” I’m smiling and aching at the same time.
I step onto the stool. The other kids’ eyes are on me. The auburn-haired boy in the Easton Middle School t-shirt mouths, “Good luck!”
“Thanks. You too.”
Focus and block out whatever my opponents are thinking of me, this stupid stool, and concentrate on the game. Deep breath in and out and aim the water pistol at the clown’s mouth.
“Ready, set, go!” says the carnival worker. The buzzer goes off, the water starts to flow, and a bell begins to clang the whole time the kids are shooting water at the targets. My aim is steady, and I fixate so hard the tip of my tongue pushes its way out between my lips. Within seconds of the game starting, the red ball ejects from the top of the clown’s head in front of me. The bell stops and the buzzer goes off again. Game over.
“You won!” says Claire, who was standing to the right behind me. We share a fist bump.
“Yeah,” says Amanda, stepping up to me. “Congratulations.”
“That’s no fair; she stood on a stool,” says the boy wearing the Easton Middle School t-shirt.
“Never you mind, young fella,” says the man behind the counter with the chewed cigar. “She’s a good shot. She won fair and square.”
“Here you go, honey. You win the Prize of the Day,” says the worker who brought over the stepstool. His smile is bigger than before.
“Thanks,” I say, and return his high five.
The Prize of the Day is a skinny blue monkey with long arms and long legs. I wrap the long arms around my neck, then attach the Velcro palms so the monkey hangs down my back.
“Gross—there’s Andrew,” says Amanda. “I can’t believe he’s still following us.”
“Ugh! So true, Amanda,” says Claire.
I look first at Amanda, then to Claire.
I can’t believe you, Claire. Why are you so mean to him? You work together in study group. I’m different, too. What do you say about me when I’m not with you?
I shake my head so slightly and purse my lips. “I should have done this so much earlier.”
“What?” says Amanda.
“Ever,” says Claire. “What’s wrong?”
“Hey Andrew,” I say loudly, unmistakably. “Want to go on a ride?”
“Huh?” says Andrew. His face is all smiles and dimples. “Sure,” says Andrew. “I sure do!”
Amanda crosses her arms and frowns. Claire opens her mouth to say something, but her voice is frozen. She looks from Amanda to Andrew to me, speechless for once.
I grab Andrew’s hand, and we race to the Ferris Wheel with the gondola seats.
“No dancing pink elephant in a purple tutu. No one telling me I can’t go on this ride.”
“What?” says Andrew. “Slow down!”
I drop Andrew’s hand and run as fast as I can to the Ferris Wheel. Andrew huffs and puffs to keep up.
“Excuse me, excuse me,” I say as I weave in and out of the crowd in front of the homemade lemonade stand. I reach the ride and jump 180 degrees to face a panting Andrew. We show our wristbands to the ride operator and jump in the waiting gondola.
“You kids are lucky ’cause you got the last seats for this turn,” says the operator as he closes the gondola door.
I sit across from Andrew.
“Want a bite?” says Andrew as he pulls out a candy bar from his pocket.
“No.” I shake my head and give him a small smile.
The gondola sways as the ride moves forward.
With a deep breath in and out, I lean my head back and close my eyes. I’m Cinderella riding to the ball in my beautiful chariot. My two mean stepsisters are nowhere in sight.
With my eyes still closed, I remove the elastic hair tie and run my fingers through my long brown hair. It’s as free as I am.
Now I’m on The Woolly Mammoth ride, hair whipping in my face. Without a care, I throw my arms in the air and scream as loudly as I can. I’m soaring over the whole Big Kahuna Amusement Park, free of elephants in tutus, stepstools, ride operators, dripping burgers, and limp french fries. And no snarky remarks from Amanda and Claire. Done.
I don’t open my eyes until the ride slows down.
Andrew’s mouth is open and he’s staring at me. He’s still holding the last bit of his candy bar.
“Are you okay? Your hair is all messed up. Are you sick? The first aid office is right there,” says Andrew as he points to the low red building.
“I’m fine, Andrew. Really fine.”
The ride operator steadies the gondola and opens the door. I skip down the exit ramp.
“Where to next, Andrew?”
“The buses. It’s time to get to the buses. You know what will happen if we’re late,” says Andrew.
We walk and laugh about the ride. Finally I see a food truck with no line.
“My treat.” I buy the biggest piece of fried dough and drown it in powdered sugar. “To us,” I say as I present it to Andrew. He pulls off a big piece. The sugar wafts everywhere.
“My dinner is already spoiled,” he says and licks his fingertips.
I’m so hungry. The mixture of sugar, oil, and dough tastes and smells so good. There is powdered sugar in my hair. I feel so, so happy.
“Thanks for being my friend, Andrew.”
“And I’m sorry.” I shake my head. “I’m sorry for not treating you like my friend.”
“It’s really okay,” says Andrew as he wipes his hands on his t-shirt.
“Friends forever.” I hug him.
“Wow, we’re gonna be late,” says Andrew, checking his watch. “You know how Mr. B. gets mad when kids are late. Remember how he—”
I tap Andrew on the shoulder. “Race you to the buses!”
“You won’t win this time,” says Andrew.