I helped Shawn wash the splattered vomit off his shoes while Mrs. Whipple hurried to sweep up the broken glass.
I bought Shawn a Sprite from the vending machine, which he said helped his stomach, but I had to hurry him out of the locker room before the cheerleaders arrived.
By now everyone who had been watching the football game was passing through the parking lot on their way to the fair. No one seemed to have a clue about what had just happened. My sister was there with Haley, waiting for Tyler to finish showering.
"They won! Tyler scored!" Danielle waved to us. She had no idea what had just happened. "What are you guys doing here? I thought Ian was taking you straight to the beer garden."
"He got called to the hospital on the way, so he dropped us here."
Technically I wasn't lying. I wasn't sure what Ian did or didn't want me to say, even to my sister.
Haley skipped over to me, obviously totally hopped up on excitement for the fair. I remembered feeling the same way when I was a kid.
"Aunt Ashley!" She slammed into me and gave me a hug. I hugged her back tentatively. I'd washed my hands and arms three times in the locker room, but I was still hesitant to touch my niece after what I'd just done. "Are you going with me to the carnival tonight?" she pleaded.
"Tomorrow!" I said.
It was so hard to say no to Haley. Over the last couple of years my niece had turned into this blonde-haired, wide-eyed kid, kind of small for her age, just like I'd been at nine. I got to play the role of the fun, slightly reckless aunt when I was with her. Last year at the fair we'd spent hours playing the same pin-ball horse racing carnival game I used to be addicted to as a kid, and I'd taught her how to cheat by tipping the machine.
But there was no way I was going to do anything tonight other than have a drink as soon as possible—an even stiffer one than I'd planned on earlier.
"But I want to play the horses!" Haley whined.
Danielle cut in, saving me. "Aunt Ashley and Uncle Shawn are having an adults' night tonight," she announced. "Grandma and Grandpa will take you to the horses."
Haley looked up at me, pouting, which was annoying but still I felt guilty for letting her down.
"Tomorrow we'll play the horses," I promised. "Just you and me."
"You guys want a ride over?" Danielle asked. "Tyler's still gonna be a while."
"I feel like a walk," I said. "Maybe I'll see you over there."
It felt weird just traipsing off to the fair after everything that had happened. Someone had just died, and I'd just helped carry his body in my hands. It all felt completely unreal. I guess the right thing to do would have been to just go home, have a sober, contemplative evening, and try to make sense of what had happened. But I couldn't imagine anything worse than being stuck alone with Shawn way out there in our quiet little house. I needed to be around people, a lot of them. I needed to get rid of the image of the mutilated body. I could still feel its weight in my arms. I was also really hoping to catch up with Ian later and find out if he'd learned anything about who the guy was, or what had happened to him before falling into the locker room, or why we'd had to rush the body away so fast.
Shawn and I joined the crowd making its way to the fairgrounds. I kept expecting him to object to continuing on to the fair, but he just walked along beside me silently, still pretty pale in the face.
"How are you?" I asked, folding my arms against the September evening air.
"Fine," he said. "I'm fine."
He didn't really look at me.
I knew he was embarrassed that I'd had to be the one to help Ian. This is why he wasn't saying anything. He would have been too ashamed to insist on running home now if I wasn't going to suggest it first. Or maybe he also just really wanted a drink.
When we reached the beer garden, Morgan wasn't even there yet. She was always late. I should have known.
I texted her, and she replied right back.
"b ther soon wait 4 me."
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Please VOTE 🌟 before continuing! Thanks! ;) xxBailey
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