PART TWO - Chapter 35

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Brett's request to go to Coney Island annoyed me at first—it's quite a trek from our neighborhood to the southwest part of Brooklyn—but once we got there, I felt my mood change immediately. I hadn't been to a carnival in ages, and even though this one was a far cry from the small, pop-up versions we often saw in the summertime in Minnesota, something about the sights and smells transported me to the same happy place. The Ferris wheel really took me back, made me think about starry July nights with my grandma and grandpa, swinging in the breeze as I stuffed cotton candy in my mouth.

"What do you think?" I asked Brett, though I was pretty sure I knew his answer.

"This is awesome," he said, grinning like a six-year-old. "Can you imagine growing up with something like this in your neighborhood?"

"I know, right? Hey, want to get some cotton candy?" My memories had made me hungry for the real thing.

"I'm more of a funnel cake guy," Brett said. "But yes, let's get us some treats."

We strolled as we ate, and then he spotted the bumper cars and took off running. "We have to ride these, Emma. It's mandatory for the full carnival experience."

I giggled and ran after him. "Oh, is it?"

Minutes later, we were chasing each other around, laughing and hollering and mostly managing to keep the little kids around us out of our bumper war. At first, Brett did most of the chasing and bumping, but before long, my competitive instincts flared, and I went after him instead.

"You're kind of a bumper car badass," he said, as we walked away from the ride.

"Thanks! It's good to know I haven't lost my touch." We walked toward the rows of carnival games and I squealed when I saw an adorable plush in the shape of a frosted donut hanging from one of the booths. Brett smiled when he saw what had caught my eye. "That's definitely an Emma Andrews kind of prize. Want me to win it for you?" he asked, gesturing to the milk bottle toss game.

"That's really nice of you, but there's no need," I said. But Brett pushed up the sleeves of his shirt and strode confidently towards the booth. "Nonsense, a gentleman always wins a lady a prize when he escorts her to the carnival," he announced.

I followed him to the game, shouting words of encouragement as he paid the guy in the booth and took his place, baseball in hand. It took Brett five different rounds and a few choice expletives, but he eventually succeeded in knocking down all the bottles. "I knew all those years of high school baseball would pay off," he said proudly. "One pink-frosted donut, if you please," he said to the guy who was running the game. Brett handed me the stuffed donut, and I smiled.

"It's perfect, thank you." I gave the toy a little squeeze. "What do you want to do next?" I asked. "Maybe we should refuel after your incredible display of athleticism," I teased.

He looked at me, his expression growing excited. "I'm thinking pizza," he said. "I smelled it a bit ago and now I can't think about anything else."

"Sounds good to me."

We each grabbed a slice and sat down at a table with a bright red and yellow umbrella. It felt nice to chill and look out at the water in the distance. Brett was right; this was a pretty awesome place.

"Pizza's nowhere near as good as yours," he murmured after a few bites.

I smiled and pointed out a string of cheese dangling from his chin. "I promise I'll make you some before you head home."

"I was hoping you'd say that." He polished off his last bite and swiped his palms against one another. "Want to hit the aquarium next?"

I nodded and we were off, Brett leading the way to the cool silver building on the boardwalk. We strolled through the dark corridors, pointing out all the weird, beautiful creatures, and it hit me that I was having a really good time. "Why are you being so nice to me?" I asked, without thinking.

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