Chapter Eighteen

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Heading across the field, a paper carton of fries clutched in my hand, I spotted Luke lounging on the grass a few yards away. With his legs spread out before him, he’d chosen a spot some distance away from the main attractions. At least the ground was considerably less churned here, so sitting down didn’t feel like sinking into some sort of bog. My sneakers had already been caked in mud – a sight I was sure would recur in my mother’s nightmares if I tried to enter the house – but I was more than used to trampled fields, having spent most of my life living on them.

            I settled down beside him, waving the fries in his direction. “You want any?”

            Turning his head away, he pulled a face. “No, thanks. My stomach still hasn’t recovered from that Gravitron.”

            “Oh, come on,” I said, already digging in. I glanced over to what he was referring to, thinking back to the couple of minutes we’d spent on it earlier that evening. While I’d been joking in offering Luke my hand to hold, he’d actually taken me up on it, and I’d come off the ride with fingers that felt like the bones had been pulverized. “That ride was nothing. Wasn’t even scary in the slightest.”

            “Well, of course you’d say that! You’re a trapeze artist. You’ve spent your whole life dangling at stupid heights from a little bit of rope. I, on the other hand, prefer to keep my feet a little closer to the ground.”

            Just over an hour after we’d arrived, we’d managed to ride everything at least once over. By now, the night was beginning to take hold of the evening, the sky turning an inky shade only penetrated by the wispy rim of the moon. Neon lights of the fairground stood a sharp contrast to this backdrop; the flashing lights of the Ferris wheel were perhaps the most striking of them all. The air was electric with the fair’s atmosphere, and yet an undeniable feeling of peace had descended upon Luke and I, as if this had been all we needed to unwind.

            “Gravitron? Easy. Heights altogether? Piece of cake.”

            “Alright, Miss Invincible,” he muttered jokingly.

            “See, now there’s a nickname I’m a fan of,” I said, pointing a finger in his direction.

            “Don’t let it go to your head.”

            I grinned. “Too late.”

            His attention drifted toward the carton in my hand, inspecting its contents with real scrutiny. “Any good?”

            “Obviously not a patch on Joe’s,” I said, “but I can live with them.”

            At this, he leaned over to snatch a handful from the top of the pile, his fingers swiping before I had a chance to protest. I tried to move them away, but he’d already made the snatch. “Sorry,” he said, though it didn’t sound as if he was sorry at all. “Couldn’t resist.”

            “What happened to your recovering stomach?”

            He shrugged, stuffing a fry into his mouth. “I got over it. Just consider it my birthday present, okay?”

            “Oh! That reminds me.” I passed the carton over to him, freeing up my hand to dig around in the pocket of my jacket. “I did actually get you something better than fries.”

            It was almost like he hadn’t been expecting it. What had he thought I was going to do? Go through all the trouble of discovering it was his birthday and sloping off with him to the fair only to come up empty-handed on the gift front? Of course I’d thought of something. Granted, it had taken more effort than discovering the newspaper ad for the fairground, but two weeks’ thought and a split-second decision in the store had left me with at least something. It wasn’t much, but I hoped Luke would appreciate it all the same.

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