We Told Six Lies(9)

It was empty.

Once again, you reached into your purse as if searching for cash, or a credit card, in a daze—your eyes staring at nothing—before turning to go.

The man called out to you.

Held out two wristbands and nodded toward the buzzing lights and rattling Zipper cages and crackling speakers that filled the fairgrounds with pulsing music.

You smiled at him and nodded. Clutched the bracelets to your chest with such gratitude that the man swelled with pride. You strode toward me, a painted smile on your face. You held your hand out, and a thrill shot up my spine as I took your fingers in mine.

“What did you tell him?” I asked.

“To him?” you said with a smile I wanted to lick clean. “I didn’t say anything at all. Not a word.”

But you had changed him somehow. Maybe you’d pretended your grandmother was sick, or that your dog had cancer after all. Whatever it was, he bent to your will. I could tell, though, that to do it didn’t make you happy. The truth was in the shape of your shoulders—rounded when they were normally square.

We walked around as men called out to us, holding out balls to knock down milk jugs or darts to pop swollen balloons. Smells wafted from vendors selling pink cotton candy and sugar-dusted funnel cakes and caramel-dipped green apples. My stomach rumbled as we passed the food. I was hungry. I was always hungry.

I couldn’t afford the forty-dollar bracelets we now wore, but I still had a few bucks from when Dad gave me a ten spot. With my dad’s shitty paychecks and my mom insisting on volunteering her time, the best I could ever manage was pocket change, but I couldn’t imagine spending the last four dollars I had on anything better than a red and white carton of nachos drowning in cheese sauce.

You squealed when I offered it to you, and ate far more than I expected. It filled me up—doing that for you. Providing. It made me want to give you more. To make sure my wallet was never empty if it meant you would keep smiling like that.

When we’d finished eating, you tugged on my hand, a grin on your face. I captured that moment in my mind—the Tilt-a-Whirl cars whipping past behind you, your hair over your shoulders, your lips glossed pink. Your eyes were too far apart, I realized then, making you appear otherworldly.

“Follow me,” you said, and I recognized that you were about to do something you shouldn’t. It was your favorite pastime, and you knew I’d do it beside you without question. Would I have been as attracted to you if you followed the rules? If you wanted to watch a movie instead of climbing a water tower or breaking into a graveyard or stealing a Butterfinger from a convenience store?

I knew the answer.

You led me to the haunted house with a line of red cars squatting on a track. People waited in line, ready to jump inside—two to a car—and experience false fear. What better way to get into the Halloween spirit?

I figured you wanted to ride.

I should have known better.

You led me to the back of the building and motioned toward an unlocked door. We slipped inside, and—with your hand still holding mine—we lurched into the darkness. The rusted red cars clicked over the rails, and as they turned corners, scenes meant to frighten riders lit up and buzzed. Girls screamed, and I imagined guys draped their arms over their girls’ shoulders, thrilled to feel like men.

“Follow my lead,” you whispered in my ear. And then you bit me there, on the lobe, quickly, and my body reacted instantly.

You snuck closer to the tracks, your body hidden by the dark but not from me. When the next car chugged by, you were waiting. On your knees, hand raised, you brushed the guy on his neck.

“The fuck?” he yelled, and I had to bite down to keep from losing my shit.

The couple rolled by, and the dude swiped at his neck until they were out of view.

“My turn,” I said, and you backed away, your devious eyes sparkling.

Another couple came by, two girls this time. I waited until they’d passed by before leaning between them and whispering, “I see you.”

The girls’ giddy squeals turned to silence.

“What was that?” one asked.

“There’s someone in here,” the other said.

I dashed behind the wall before they saw me. Sure enough, the next horror scene that lit up made them scream twice as loud as it should have.

You hooked your finger into my belt loop and hauled me backward. Still laughing, I grabbed you around the waist and pulled you close. My pulse stilled as I moved one hand onto your cheek, fingers slipping into your hair.

“What are you going to do to me?” you whispered.

Kiss you, I thought, but that didn’t seem to be enough for Molly Bates. So I said, “Scare you.”

“How?” you asked, leaning closer.

I lowered my head, my lips dangerously close to yours. It seemed fitting, I thought, to kiss you for the first time to a soundtrack of screams, as images of dismemberment and mayhem were illuminated by dusty bulbs needing replacing.

I raised my opposite hand to cup your face, to keep you from running. Because you always felt so close to fluttering off like a butterfly you could only watch for so long before it flew away.

I couldn’t let you fly away.

“Cobain,” you said, so quietly that it rippled through me.

I brought my lips closer.

You lifted a hand to my face, and that’s all it took.

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