The Story of Gabriel: A Novel

Chapter 2: Publisher Please

 

The next morning came with the rise of the sun peeking from beneath the window awning in the East. At the same moment my eyes opened, I could smell an array of bacon, eggs , and something sweet rising from beneath, traveling up the staircase. As I grabbed my bearing I noticed Dave was slunked over on the floor with only a quilt. I could hear Mike snoring from the other end of the upstairs, near the stairs where the aroma was coming from. I had no bearing on what time it might be, but I knew if Mom's horn didn't reveal me she would give the money to Aunita. I rustled around on the single bed enough to seem to break into Dave's sleep. He began to rustle himself as I realized we were both fighting the reality of waking up.

I said the only thing I knew to say to make Dave jump into action. “Ashley's waiting Romeo.” His eyes flew open as he realized the importance of the day.

Dave was stripped down to his ridiculous long-johns and camo t-shirt. I wore a pair of my Ohio State shorts that I had left there since I couldn't remember when.

“You boys are burning daylight,” a husky voice said from down stairs. I knew Dale's voice all too well, and when he spoke we listened. Dale was a mountain of a man, probably six-foot-six and thick. His hands looked like they could crush our heads if he ever wished to try, and we knew better than to ever tempt him.

This was not my house and I knew all too well the routine of chores we would have to accomplish before we could even consider asking about going to the festival. We were not burning daylight we were burning the amount of time we could spend at the festival.

“We'd better get busy Dave.” Dave had to do these chores daily so it was a little easier for me to get motivated. “I know. After breakfast we will have to run to the horse barn and feed the horses then – ” “I will run to the red cattle barn and throw down the hay, you know how the horses and I get along. That will be much faster, plus it is closer so I can get back in time to feed the dogs. If we split them up we can do them way faster,” I interjected. “Good idea, I knew I kept you around for some reason.”

We both would have skipped breakfast but that was not an option. It was impolite to let Aunita sit over a hot stove to make breakfast and then not eat it –and this was not the day to get off on the wrong foot with our parents.

When we got down the stairs it was about eight-thirty and I could see Aunita had already loaded our plates with scrambled eggs, sausage patties, and on a separate platter the sweet smelling pancakes. The aroma of a country breakfast had no match – especially Aunita's.

“You want milk or juice boys?” Aunita asked. I had no idea how she even knew I was here, maybe my shoes in the coat room gave it away?

Aunita had a husky voice for a women, it sounded almost like Dave's with a touch of a feminine softness. She was hard woman and didn't shy away from men's work on the farm. If ever there was a match for Dale in a woman's form she was definitely it. Aunita was built for farm work and looked out of place in a kitchen even though the taste of the food argued differently.

“Milk,” Dave and I replied simultaneously, as Mike waddled loudly down the stairs. It is hard to tell what time he got home last night. He is eighteen now and doesn't have a curfew except for school nights. Mike would be glad to learn Dave and I will have the chores done before he would even have the inclination to start them. It was too much of a bother to ask him to take a share of our load, he did things at his own pace usually, so Dave and I would do them for him.

Dave and I had inhaled our breakfast before Mike's zombified body even found his chair. In a blur we were up the stairs to find an old pair of jeans then raced to the coat room where we each grabbed one of the many heavy-duty work coats hanging on the wall and slipped on our sluggish rubber boots.

As we sprung out the door to the cool morning frost Dave said, “bet I can beat you.” “No way.” Not only was my destination closer, but I was faster than Dave and he knew it –he didn't have a chance.

But boys will be boys and his first stride into a run sounded the gun and we were off in opposite directions. I had to go across the state route and through just one pasture to get the the “red barn” – as with much of country life everything was a little simpler even the names of our barns – aptly called so because it was the only red barn on the whole place.

The barn was visible from Dave's house, maybe 800 meters away at the furthest. It was large, bigger than the hay loft that sat parallel to my driveway, and it was only one of two functioning barns left on the farm. I think Grandpa had it built, it wasn't like one of the ancient structures that lined our yard at home.

The pasture was cut low for grazing which made for easy running, I could see Dave running in the adjacent field across the road, it seemed we were at a dead tie so far but I was already half way to the red barn.

As I flew into one of the huge openings in the front of the barn the cows were right behind me, and the last I could see Dave was still keeping pace.

I made it up the ladder to the mountain of hay bales awaiting me. I could remember stacking them there this Summer, and it didn't even seem like we had dented the pile yet this early into Fall. I climbed to the top of the stack where Dave's corn knife awaited stuck into one of the bales. I was at least thirty feet from the floor. The open slots in the boards below to the awaiting cattle would be a challenge to hit from up here, it was roughly three feet wide, but I had plenty of practice.

I hacked the strings binding the hay with the knife then launched half at a time downward to the open slot along the wall. Most of it fell down and hung in the angled slats that was the cattle's dinner plate. I continued hacking and tossing until I counted thirty bales than cleaned up my errant throws with the pitch fork that was there for that very reason.

As I threw down the last clump of hay on the floor I could see out the loft opening that Dave was already running back across the field. I placed the pitch fork back against the wall, and hung up the loose twine, that was dangling from my back pocket, on the rusty nail along with all the years of built up twine that was stockpiled there just in case Dale ever needed it.

Only one maneuver could get me back to the house quicker than Dave but by all rights he had already won the race –I forgot how time consuming the cattle chore really was – and I didn't even have the beagles fed yet.

Out the loft I leaped to the closing ground. It was almost ten feet off the ground but this is a stunt I had performed many times –a little tuck and roll would absorb the blow without injury. My landing was a blur of floundering body parts flying over top of one another but as soon as I could tell where my feet where I had them on the ground in motion. I could hear Dave's laugh echo clear across the hundred meters of space between us. He had me beat, but I didn't quit running.

I caught up with Dave already heading back to the dogs with a bucket in hand. I guess a half-an-hour had passed since our race began, and the fatigue had set in. I was still breathing heavy. I wanted to bend over to catch my breath but instead I just kept walking beside Dave. “What's a matter Gabe?” Dave said with a cocky smirk. “I forgot you had five animals to feed and I had thirty,” I chopped out from under my breathing. “We are still on record pace though. Dale probably won't believe we are finished already. He'll probably drive around to check before he takes us to the festival.” “That's fine because we have to get showers anyway. Somebodies got a date.” “Yeah right Gabe she'll probably ignore me all day.” “That is what girls do. She threw out the bait, now she'll expect you to come to her.” We continued to flop back to the dog houses, our knee-high rubber boots scuffing the ground with each step. Dave was in thought now and so was I so we continued the chore in silence. I was wondering what I was suppose to do if Ashley decided to hang out with Dave, I didn't want to be the third wheel, I wouldn't do that to him. But it might help if I were there to ease his nervousness, and Ashley's? I knew both of them well enough to know that this was knew territory for the two of them, not that I was an expert, but I could referee any awkward moments until they got comfortable around one another.

Before I was finished coming up with a strategy we had made our way all the way back to the coat room. We kicked off our boots and hung the coats back where they were before our race began. I glanced at the clock on the stove revealing that it was nine-fifteen. I didn't have to tell Dave his eyes had already glanced in that direction.

“You better get in the shower first Dave, you take longer to fix your hair than a woman anymore.” “Funny, at least I fix my hair, we could probably double date if you would ever comb that mop,” Dave said jokingly.

Something occurred to me in that instance. We had never even talked about us dating anyone before this week, the idea always seemed foreign to us. We were soaking up the last bit of boyhood we could before we dared to enter that game –plus it was too much fun watching those who thought they were ready for it struggle. Dave had just cracked the invisible shield we stood behind to observe those around us, without ever partaking in what they did. Our safety net was gone. There was no more hanging out and just making fun of all of the teenage games, now we are playing – with all the chips in.

I took a seat on the couch across from Dale sitting on the other side of the room taking up the entirety of the recliner. “You boys get all the chores done?” Just then his voice reminded me of the cowboys he was watching on television. It had a twang that could have been mistaken for John Wayne himself. “We sure did, all of them mister,” I said trying to mock the show's cadence as well. Dale caught the joke as a smile raised his mustache closer to his glasses. “Mike help?” I wasn't going to tell on him, but I couldn't lie outright, too much was riding on the day. “We told him we would do them.” “I bet he didn't even offer to help,” Dale gruffed. My ploy was going down hill for Mike, but we didn't really give him a chance to help. “No he offered, but we told him he would just slow us down.” I was going to have to back-brief Mike now I am sure. He might walk into the trap I accidentally set. “Driving you to the barns would slow you down?” “Dave thought he could out run me so we decided to race instead of having Mike drive us.” “Thanks for helping – ” Then his voice went into some rant about Mike under his breathe that I couldn't make out. Seems no answer I had would've helped Mike's case. Things in this house were earned with hard work, and Mike hasn't been pulling his weight and Dale knew it. “Boys getting too big for his britches,” was the last audible phrase and seemed to end Dale's aggravation on the subject for now. He was lulled back into his western, and I relieved myself upstairs to wait on Dave and to talk to Mike.

“I know brother, I heard the whole thing,” Mike said as soon as I got up the stairs. Mike always called me brother more so than my own name. I knew he thought of me as one too. The farm work that carved his large frame made him a formidable figure in school, and most everyone knew Dave and I were off limits for getting beat-on by anyone other than him. “So you're not going to kill me?” Mike laughed as he playfully kicked at my legs from his bed. “You're fine, he has been on my case since football started.”

I could hear Dave coming up the stairs. He arrived wearing only a towel, that Mike couldn't resist the temptation to tug on as soon as he got within reach. “What's wrong little brother,” Mike shouted as Dave escaped to his room barely holding the towel in place.

Before Mike could direct his attention to me, I went and sorted through my clothes. I had my own dresser here it was in the unoccupied middle bedroom – no one had occupied it since the Shoemaker's lived here. Then, with the best outfit I could find, I made my way to the shower.

I scrubbed myself as thoroughly as possible. I brushed my dark curly hair with my hands into something resembling a part. I would not dare and try to get a comb through it – it was way too thick for that. I looked in the mirror and examined myself. I realized I must try to use my boyish charm if I had any shot at helping Dave today. My features had not yet chiseled into manhood as did Dave's. My curly mop – down to my collar and barely retained behind the ears – and my rounded features resembled something my Mother would adore rather than something a teenage girl would desire.

I made my way back towards Dave's room. Mom had already dropped off my money and Aunita had it laying out on the coffee table where I would be sure to see it. The fact that it was twenty dollars was a true testament that I was getting older, that is double of what I usually got for the festival.

Dave was in the last stages of adjusting every last hair into perfect position –something mine was incapable of doing. Dave glanced me over once as I came in the room. “You aren't wearing that shirt are you?” “What's wrong with it?” I squinted my eyes at him in a glare – this girl stuff was getting complicated. “You look like a hillbilly, girls don't like flannel shirts.” It never bothered him before, but I resisted the temptation to say anything that would make an issue out of this. I could tell his nerves were making him edgy –the frustration he was illustrating with the last disobeying piece of hair was evidence of that. “Go in my closet. There are some nice striped button-up shirts in there. But don't button it up all the way, and leave the sleeves undone. And put some of this in your hair so it won't be so frizzy,” as he tossed me a bottle of green hair gel.

I followed Dave's orders. It didn't anger me. I knew nothing about appealing to girls and obviously he was doing something right. I couldn't be a burden to my best friend, if he would've felt better had I worn a clown costume I suppose I would've done it.

This girl business was hard. But finally our primping and prepping was done and we were loaded into Dale's truck headed for the festival. I looked up and Dave had his teeth clenched the whole ride it seemed. Ashley meant more to him than I had ever dreamed.

The truck came to a halt just on the edge of town. Dale pulled into the restaurant parking lot just off the side of U.S. Route Fiftty. “This is as far as the train is going boys. I am not driving into that mess” Dale said. “You boys meet me right here at eight.” Dave started to open his mouth in response – “and you can thank Mike because he's got all of the chores tonight.”

Dave didn't even finish his original thought as he slammed the door behind us. We both knew that being able to stay until eight was as close as Dale would ever come to saying “good job” to either of us.

We arrived at the festival near eleven o' clock. It was a unseasonably warm day and thankfully so, because both Dave and I were committed now to braving the elements in our reasonably thin button-up shirts. – the idea of vanity over functionality had succumbed us.

The smell of carnival food instantly struck the senses upon our first steps down the sidewalk. A mixture of deep fried delights, cotton candy, french fries, hamburger, pizza, and many other foods combined for a smell that made me hungry like nothing else in the World. The combination of the many smells of food booths, combined with the cool air of Fall, and the leaves resting on the ground seemed to drudge up many childhood memories which permeated excitement within me.

Dave and I walked silently straight and upright, not too slow not too fast. We were not shopping as we passed the many booths that seemed to appeal to either younger kids or older adults; nor were we being food connoisseurs. And riding the seemingly juvenile rides were out of the question. It was as if Dave had constructed an image of what our first encounter of the day with Ashley would be like and we were not breaking stride until that image revealed itself. I was catching on to stealthy art of being alert without looking alert. We knew which girls we had passed, which ones payed attention, and which ones didn't. But most importantly we knew who we had not passed.

We wondered through the two blocks of crafts and arts on the south side of Main Street first. These booths were obviously designed to appeal to older women, and occasionally there would be an antique tool booth. I thought to myself they must have been placed every so often to allow their male counterparts to escape the monotony of sifting through the crafts. I have no idea why we started on this side of Main Street. The odds of seeing Ashley here were slim to none. Why would a teenage girl be interested in house decorations? But Dave seemed to have a plan, and I just followed. The best I could guess Dave was testing his image as he assessed the faces of the poor girls shackled to their Mother's side. Not all teenage girls were allowed to roam free, especially, it seemed, the ones from the small outside communities. I recognized none of the girls that looked our age on this side of Main Street.

Dave must have liked his assessment because we cut across Main Street and headed by the Grandstand. The rides and games were on this side of the street, but back the way we had originally came –Dave was saving this area for last.

We cut down an alley heading towards the rides. I used this opportunity to slouch for a minute and rest my posture. Dave and I had said fewer than three words to each other since we started this journey. Dave would nudge me occasionally at the sight of a girl looking our direction, as if he were teaching me how to be aware, but that was the limit of our communication. I hadn't thought much about my freak vision incident with my bow, but as we approached the sounds of the carnival games I couldn't help but wonder if my new vision would work all the time, or if it had something to do with the bow or some primitive hunting sense.

“So you think we will see Ashley up here?” I said. “I doubt it. It is too early for her to be here.” “How do you know that?” “Girls like her are always fashionably late for these kind of things.” Dave's observations of the aquarium we pretended to be looking into at school were obviously more attuned than mine. I had never payed attention to when girls appeared at social events or festivals for that matter. “What are you going to say to her.” “I don't know Gabe, probably nothing.” All of our effort and his plan was to say nothing. Being in the aquarium made no sense.

“So you think she will talk to you?” I asked with a curious face. “Probably not.” I am utterly confused. “This is complicated Gabriel.” “What is so complicated about going up and talking to a girl that wants you to talk to her?” My confusion was growing by the minute. “That just isn't the way that it works Gabe.” Dave had a hint of frustration in his voice. I could only guess it was caused by my confusion coupled with the fact that we had to perform some complicated charade just to get this over with. I thought of the exotic birds in the Tropics doing their log dances in a full headdress filled with color in an attempt to attract a mate. We were going to do a log dance, and going South through the crafts was our practice.

“So how does it work?” I asked, by this time we were close to the end of the alley and to the main flow of traffic. “I don't know Gabe, I don't know ...” Dave seemed lost in thought as we both arched our back and straightened our posture as we entered the high traffic area.

We had cut below the food booths and came out about in the middle of the main flow of teenagers. As soon as traffic opened up in front of the isle of games lining the street, I could see Dave tense up. He had spotted something I knew from our earlier practice, but I didn't know what. I searched through the faces in the crowd, looking near and far. Dave paused in the middle of the street and turned his back to the direction we were originally headed.

“There she is, by the dart game on the very end.” I looked hard but I couldn't see above the crowd as he could. Then it opened up and I caught a glimpse of her laughing with her friends, “Don't look.” “What do you mean don't look?” I thought. I obeyed and we just stood there for a few moments, just pretending to have a conversation I suppose.

A group of boys from our class had passed giving a small greeting. Then another. As I looked around I realized most of our class was in this tiny cluster of the festival, clumped in front of the games, and surrounded by the rides on the outer perimeter.

Dave still looked frozen. Had he aborted his plan or was this his plan? Maybe we weren't dancing on the log like the exotic birds, we might be buried in like spiders waiting for her to pass? I had to interject.

“We look kind of stupid just standing here Dave.” “Give me a minute.” “Is she coming this way?” I could barely peer over his shoulder. “No she looks like she is going to play again. No wait, she is coming this way with Amy I think.” Dave had about one hundred feet of space to make up his mind unless she got side-tracked again. “You think she sees us?” Dave asked slightly panicked. “No, she is just looking at the games.”

Dave's brain must have overloaded and I took it upon myself to save the day. “Let's go over to the arcade, she won't go in there.” There was no end destination that would justify walking down towards Ashley, unless it was the unthinkable –to actually talk to her.

Dave's decision was delayed too long and before he knew it she was upon us “Uh, forget it there she is, coming up on your right, over by the ticket booth.” “She sees us now Dave.” “Please come talk to us”, I thought, but I failed in willing her over to end this pathetic game. “She is passing us now look over your right shoulder.” She walked far enough away that she couldn't hear our conversation, but her sweet laugh echoed loud enough for us to hear. She was leaning in towards Amy, who was closest to us, smiling. She broke her conversation long enough to make eye contact with me and smiled large enough for me to know it was in my direction. I noticed how doll-like her face was as she passed. She had very small features and the cool air was just enough to make her cheeks blush. Both girls were sporting their black and gold cheer leading jackets, and simple but stylish snug jeans. Their hair was also prepped as if they were cheer leading, their bangs were pulled straight back and their curls dangled off to the sides to their shoulders. It was a very pretty, but also feasible look. They looked very similar in dress and fashion, but undeniably Ashley was the prettiest of the two –even though both were very attractive.

“So that wasn't so bad,” I said as I assessed Dave's face for clues. “Not exactly according to plan, but not bad.” “She is only with one friend that is a good sign.” “How so?” I poked. “That means it will be easy to hang out with them.” “Don't we have to talk to them first.” I laughed as did Dave. The tension of the moment was over.

“Let's go to my Grandma's house, we can get a bite to eat and save some money.” “Good idea.” We headed back down the alley we had just came from. Dave's grandma lived on the South border of town out of reach of most of the festival goers. It would give us time to come up with another plan, if that was indeed what we had for the first encounter.

It was a couple of small village blocks to his Grandma's house and I had some time to think. Why did Ashley look at me and not Dave? Was it because I knew her secret? Was she asking for confirmation that I had told him in my reply gesture?

All of these games were new to me and I had none of the answers.

“So did you see Amy?” Dave asked. “I saw her but I was paying too much attention to Ashley to know what she was doing when they went past us.” “She was looking at you.” So was Ashley I thought. Were they ignoring Dave? “Oh, really,” I replied unassuredly.

“What do you think of her?” Dave pressed. “She is pretty I suppose but she is always dating older guys. I doubt she is here for nothing more than a favor to Ashley.” “I don't know you look pretty good today Gabe,” Dave said mockingly with a punch to the shoulder. “What do you think of her then?” I mused. “I used to like her a long time ago.” “Really you never told me that.” “Well it wasn't that big of a deal really, I never told anyone.” “Oh...” “A little boyhood crush you know how they are.” After today how could I not.

“When did you start liking Ashley then?” “The minute you told me she liked me. Just the thought that a rich pretty cheerleader would want anything to do with a farm boy --” “She is hardly rich Dave, her Dad has a very good job, but other than that...” “Well the fact that any girl like that liked me – ” “Made you like her.” I concluded. “Not just that. She is very pretty and popular.” “What does popular have to do with anything.” “I know plenty of popular girls that are stupid.” Ashley was not. “It is just nice to think a girl like that would like me. It is impossible not to like her back,” Dave said. I couldn't argue with that point.

We finished the trip in silence. His Grandma's house was empty except for her. I plopped down in the kitchen, where we entered, and let him go do all the formal visiting required for such a visit in the living room. We raided the kitchen of some oatmeal crèame pies, bologna sandwiches, and some soda – which she seemed to only stock for such a visit. The visit was brief but purposeful, our bellies were full and we didn't spend a dime. I am sure we both held on to our limited funds just in case the need arrived to court some girls –well not just any girls. Before we even finished the last bite of our sandwiches we were back out the sliding back door that we had came in.

“So what's the plan now?” I asked, as we walked in a little more briskly fashion back towards the action. It was almost two now and we were running out of our precious minutes before the girls would have to leave for the football game.

“We hang out and wait.” “Wait for what?” “We wait for a good time to approach them.” “And then watch you hide from her again. I see the advantage of having perfect timing for that.” My sarcastic smile was daring him to act. “Something will give Gabe, it has to.” “Why can't it be you then.” “Because if she likes me she will come talk to us.” “I don't know much about anything Dave, but I think that is our job.” I could see in Dave's eyes that his mind had spiraled into thought.

“I guess you are right but I don't know if I can. Plus I don't want to make a scene. If she embarrasses me in front of our whole class I may never date again.” “I know her well enough to know she wouldn't embarrass anyone on purpose, Amy on the other hand...” “Exactly.” Dave said. “I suppose there is some risk involved, but there isn't any reward without risk.” My words spoke a sharp truth, and by the look on Dave' face, it was a truth he wasn't going to accept. “It is too early to tell yet. She hasn't even given me an inviting smile or made eye contact. We have to play the game a little longer. I am willing to risk the last few feet of the journey, but she has to give some indication that she wants to talk to me. The only one she has said anything to is you. She could have changed her mind by now.” “In one day Dave, seriously?” “I am just not convinced and until I am I am not going go up and talk to her. If they want to talk to us we'll make ourselves available, but that is as far as I am going.” “Fair enough,” I said. Our conversation faded into another quiet walk.

My mind had drifted, and we arrived before I even realized much time had passed. We started down towards the games again. Dave must have felt a little better. The first brush-in with Ashley didn't have a fairy-tale ending, but it was not a disaster by any stretch of the imagination.

We got no further than we were before, towards the games, when Mike appeared with his friend Chad. They were wearing their football jerseys as was customary for most Friday's this time of year. “What's up little brothers,” Mike said has he made our course impassible. Dave didn't answer so I broke the awkward silence. “Not much just walking around.” “What are you two dressed up for? Homecoming dance isn't until tomorrow.” Mike hadn't seen us before we left, and he was probably more surprised with my outfit than Dave's. “You never know who you might see here.” I continued to speak for both of us. Dave kept a watchful eye towards the passing crowd.

After some playful attempts to mess up my hair, Mike turned his attention to the congregation of football players we seemed to be drawing. Before I knew it we were surrounded in the center of a jersey clad gathering.

“Why didn't you two play football,” Chad asked. He was seemingly out of the other conversations, stuck in the center of the mingling with us. “I might play next year,” I said in an attempt to end the probing. “What about you little Mike, you gonna play?” Dave rolled his eyes at the association with his brother, and didn't even grant Chad a response. Chad turned away unimpressed with our conversation I assume.

I listened to all of the conversation going on around me, but began to scan for the girls with Dave. The football talk seemed pretty juvenile to me, who was going to smash who, and how much they would win by, who killed who last week, how many sacks Mike had, the list continued but never ventured from the subject of football.

Dave was locked into a stare as I looked up at him. Following his eyes I realized that Ashley and Amy had joined the crowd, they were talking to some of the Seniors on the outside of our gaggle. There was no way to make our way to them without making it obvious we were doing so. Dave looked over the crowd more easily than I did, hopefully he was making the necessary eye contact that would allow this cat and mouse game to end. I could barely catch a glimpse of Ashley occasionally. She was shorter than the majority of the crowd. I stretched my five-foot-nine frame as far as I could to see what Dave saw. It appeared Mike was working the crowd, as only he could do, and was making his way to the only two girls to bless this Neanderthal grouping. I couldn't hear exactly what he was saying but I could see that he was talking to them now. The path that Mike had created was still open and Dave seemed to follow it to get past him in our only chance to retreat. I could tell he was just as curious as I was to hear what little of the conversation we might be able to gather as we passed them. Dave sleeked behind Mike to gain his freedom. I made it a point to bump his shoulder hard enough to get his attention. I wasn't letting Dave get this close without getting a chance for “the look.”

Mike looked at me, and I paused, making Dave stop his retreat just five feet from Ashley. Mike finished what he was saying to Amy. As he spoke Ashley looked out of place over his shoulder. And why not? Amy was talking to Dave's older brother, and I had just stranded her and Dave on their own island behind the crowd. If ever there was a moment, this was it.

“Where you guys going?”Mike said. “I think we are going to walk around again, see what we might find.” I shot wide eyes to Ashley as the words came out. “Am I suppose to take you guys home?” “No, Dale is coming to get us later.” I wasn't about to give away our curfew in front of the girls.

Ashley continued to look at me, then Amy gave me a glance and a smile before she returned it to Mike's eyes. Their conversation started back, but I blocked it out –I think she was pretending to be interested in his football gibberish. When I was certain Ashley's eyes and mine were the only two in contact, I turned mine gesturing towards Dave, she smiled and gestured hers towards Amy. Dave continued to stand like a model frozen in time, not looking at any one thing, but definitely not looking at Ashley. I stepped slightly behind Mike where only Ashley could see and shrugged with a crooked smile. She finally took her chances and looked at Dave, but he wasn't looking directly at anything. Dave must have caught the movement out of the corner of his eyes, their eyes met for what only could have been a fraction of a second before she returned hers to the safety of mine, and he turned his back to oblivion. This was as close as I might get them for now but maybe the awkward moment would foster the ability for them to actually speak eventually.

“Bye Gabriel,” Amy said as I made my way past Mike. Her voice had the tone of syrup –sweet and manufactured. “Bye Gabriel,” Ashley spoke softly. Dave was already moving towards the arcade. My movement seemed to initiate his. As the distance grew between them, Ashley's nerves must have grown as well. “Bye Dave” she said with a wave as I passed her. Dave could not restrain his smile, as he turned and waved, no words made it to the surface but it seemed to ease the waving arm of Ashley. “Bye Ash,” I said laughing at the awkwardness of the two, loud enough for her to hear.

Dave didn't slow his pace as he headed towards the safety of the arcade. I had to run to catch up.

“What was that?” What do you mean?” he defended. “I mean you were five feet away from her and you didn't say a word.” “Thanks for reminding me...I just couldn't get them out. I didn't know what to say to her. What does a farm boy say to a girl like that?” “I don't know 'Hi' always seems to work.” “Why do you think she is that shallow? Maybe she likes that you work on the farm. She obviously likes something. She is as scared of you as you are of her.”

“Something isn't quite right about it Gabe. Maybe you took it all wrong at school.” “I don't know what I can do to convince you I am certain she likes you Dave. But I do know telling the story again isn't going to do it. If you don't believe me by now then you never are.” Dave seemed unconvinced. “Whatever, let's go kill some monsters or something, this girl stuff is too complicated.” Dave smiled as the mood seemed to swing to the not-so-serious.

We both got a couple of dollars in quarters and headed our separate ways within the make shift trailor that made the arcade. I didn't want to spend much so I watched people play more than I played myself. Time went by quickly. I could see out the openings that the sun was starting to give way to the oncoming dark. I felt a certain somber as I felt my spirits go down with the sun. Another festival day gone fairly uneventful, it did not live up to the promise of the morning. I remembered my excitement as I was running through the field earlier today in a race to get here.

I decided to play a race car arcade game. I sat down in the make shift car, and inserted my quarters. I shifted through the gears and my make shift race was on. I was lost in my own concentration.

“Scoot over,” a voice said. The booth was barely big enough for me, this was going to be a challenge without wrecking. I knew the voice was either Amy's or Ashley's but I had not yet looked. I scooted over as much as I could. The touch of her as she sat down sent tingles down my leg. It felt good, but the goodness of the feeling startled me a bit, silently.

“You guys should come ride the Ferris Wheel with us before we have to leave for the game.” “I could tell this was Amy now, and I couldn't remember the last time I had ever touched her in any manner, let alone her almost sitting on top of me. Amy was a bit of a flirt and I knew her touching my leg was more awkward for me than it was her – she probably thought nothing of it. She might not even realize she was touching my leg.

I crashed on purpose, it seemed my new focus extended to many different faucets of life.

“Where is Ashley?” “She is waiting for us outside.” “Amy looked more beautiful up close. I had never allowed myself to admire her, but her face glowing in the color of the screen was virtually flawless. Her nose was wider than Ashley's and more rounded, as were the rest of her features. I tried to avoid eye contact in this close proximity, but her gaze really left me no choice. I stared blankly in her eyes until I realized I was doing so. “I guess I should find Dave then.” The words that I thought would move her did not. Amy stayed right there holding her focus on my face. I was feeling intimidated by her unwavering confidence. “Amy.” “Yes Gabriel.” “I am going to have to get up to do that.” Her eyes fixed. “I know.” I was left speechless. I had no other words that would render me free of the situation.

Amy laughingly exited the small confines of the game. “I like to make boys quiver.” I had not noticed myself quivering, but I wasn't denying it to myself either. “You are going to be fun.” I am almost certain my jaw was to its lowest point by this time. “You find Dave and I'll catch up to Ashley. Meet us by the Ferris Wheel.” I was already starting to search with my eyes before my feet were set in motion. “Oh, and Gabe.” I wasn't sure if my mouth was working yet, so I just turned to acknowledge. “We hate being stood up.” I didn't know if she meant her and Ashley or women in general. The whole event felt more like a lesson than it did anything else I could comprehend. But I did know we would not stand them up if I had to drag Dave there.

I didn't have to search long to find Dave in the tiny arcade. It was only two rows wide and she would've almost had to have dodged him to come in unnoticed.

“Dave we have to go.” He wouldn't break his stare from the video game. He ignored me. “Dave, Amy and Ashley are waiting for us by the Ferris Wheel. They want us to ride before they have to go to the game.” He never questioned the believability of my word as I may have. He walked away from his game as if he had not even had a quarter in the machine.

“We need tickets,” I reminded him. “Actually we need four tickets.” I wasn't good at being a gentleman for I had no practice, but I remembered that much.

Dave still hadn't spoken. His mind must have been racing as was his feet. It took no time at all to make it to the ticket both and we both bought two. Through the games we traveled, ignoring the sales pitches from every Carney on the way. Dave let up his pace ever so slightly and gave me a look as if a clog had just fell into place in the grinding gears in his head. “How do you know they will be waiting for us?” “Amy came to the arcade and told me.” “Are you sure?” “She is pretty convincing.” Maybe the understatement of the Century, but he got the point.

Sure enough, as we broke past the games there they stood loitering near the end of the line. We slowed our gate, and raised our posture. Their hands were placed safely in the pockets of their cheer leading jackets. As we closed the distance, the moment became more unknown. Amy smiled, showing her bright white teeth. Ashley looked more nervous, showing only the slightest hint of her dimples.

“Oh, you guys decided to hang out with us finally,” Amy said. My mouth curled as did Dave's. We were venturing into unknown territory and I was almost certain Amy is the only one of us who knew how anything worked beyond this point.

We moved in behind them, and we all silently assumed our positions in the line. They positioned themselves side-by-side. Dave and I followed suit, directly behind them. As we all came to a halt Amy shot Ashley a set of widening eyes, and she mimicked them back. Dave was not paying attention, so I pulled the same gimmick. He just smiled back at me with a nervous smile.

Finally the moment came when we were the next in line. The ride operator was scroungy enough to make me nervous for all new reasons for a brief second. The seats emptied in the waiting carriage. “Next,” he said with a hint of frustration in his voice. I am guessing because we were still looking at each other not knowing who would go first, or even who should go second. Amy started towards the waiting seat, Ashley was looking at the ground so I went past her to catch Amy before she could use her own ticket.

Amy squealed slightly as the machine moved into motion lifting us off the ground. We only went far enough to let Dave and Ashley fumble through getting on the ride together. The ride continued to load in this manner until I found myself at the top of the ride. I could see most of our tiny town. The sun was showing just enough to break the lines of the purple haze that was decorating the horizon. It was almost a perfect moment. I took a deep breathe, hoping I would catch a scent that I might someday catch again to remind me of this exact minute.

The ride finally broke its jerky movements and began to run fluidly in circles. The Ferris Wheel had made a couple of loops before I realized the silence between us. I tried to keep an eye on Ashley and Dave to see if any progress was being made, but I could never catch a good look.

“Do you think they are talking?” “I don't know,” Amy said. “Dave is kind of shy.” “So is Ashley.” “So what does Ashley think about Dave?” “She thinks he is handsome,” Amy replied. “That's good, I kind of thought so. I could tell something was going on, she has been asking about him at school.” “Yeah, she told me about it.” “Go figure, Dave grows three inches and finds some muscles and I lose my best friend out of the deal.” “You're very cute too Gabriel.” She gave me a very convincing look under her long lashes. “There is a big difference between cute and handsome.” I was almost certain by this time that Amy was here for my entertainment, she had no interest in me. She was trying to catch a look at Dave and Ashley just as much as I was. It was almost a relieving experience when I realized I was a pawn in this game. I could speak much easier now. We rode silently again until the ride ground to a halt, seizing us at the top of the ride again.

“Like what?” Amy said to break the silence. It had been just long enough for me to forget the conversation. “What?” “What is the difference between cute and handsome?” she followed. It took me almost as long to remember the conversation as it did for me to think of an angle for my response. “Handsome means girls like you and Ashley want you, cute means my mother loves me.” She laughed harder than I had ever heard her, but it was still very controlled.

It was almost our turn to exit the ride, Dave and Ashley were above us. They had at least made it to the point of making conversation from what I could tell. “You are going to be very fun.” “That means we are going to be hanging out a lot I take it?” “Let us hope so,” she said. We were moving towards our last stop when she began laughing to herself out loud again. “What is wrong with you.” “You just don't get it do you Gabriel.” Get what, I thought, and my eyes must have said the same. “I like handsome, but Ashley likes cute.”

I stumbled off the ride following her smiling gaze to the safety of the street. I was stunned and she knew it. This was just her favorite thing to do – “make boys quiver.” My mind went into shock, there is no way I mis-perceived all of this. Ashley liked Dave. I wondered aimlessly to the side and away from Amy. If a hole would have been available I might have climbed in it. I felt excited underneath a deep concern for Dave.

I looked back at Dave and Ashley exiting the ride. They both seemed to be in good spirits. I felt a complication I had never felt before. This must have been how Dave felt when I told him the false news. My aquarium was shattered. Dave said it best, “it is impossible not like her back.”

I tried to keep my focus on Dave but failed. I made eye contact with Ashley, I had to see in her deep green eyes if there was truth to this accusation. Her half smile convinced me, and that is all the information she would allow. Her gaze met Amy's and they were off. “You guys coming to the game.” “I doubt it,” now Dave was doing the talking for the two of us. They waived and just like that they were out of sight, leaving Dave and I there with spinning heads.

I looked at Dave, but his smile did not reveal much about what I had just heard. We began heading through the games again. I didn't even hear the pleads for us to play the carnival games this time through the gauntlet. There was not much left to look forward to in our last hour of the festival, the girls were gone and I am not sure I could take much more drama today.

“You look like you have seen a ghost, Gabriel” “I am not sure what I just saw.” I had to be very careful with my words. Dave snickered. “That was interesting to say the least.” “Yes very.”

It was getting colder now and our vanity decision was starting to have consequences. I dug my hands deep in my pockets and fought off the goosebumps.

“So what did you and Amy talk about?” This was a more complicated question than it was meant to be. “Um, just about hanging out and stuff. How about you guys?” “Ashley wanted to apologize to me.” “For not talking to you?” “No, for not talking to you.” “What!”I gasped. “She explained to me how you put her on the spot at school and that she couldn't get to you to explain herself, or that she couldn't explain herself if she did get to you. She was confused by the situation and didn't know how to tell you that she was asking about our weekend because of Amy.” This answer still had layers of ambiguity – probably because I couldn't believe that Ashley McGregor might actually like me. “Amy?” My confused expression begged for more information, just as his did the night before. “Yes, Amy.” “You don't get it do you Gabe?” “I've been hearing that a lot lately.” “Ashley has liked you this whole time, and Amy likes me, we had it completely backwards.” “Not really, I don't remember us ever mentioning that anyone liked me.” “Well Ashley does, she talked about your cute little curls and how your little muscles are filling out, she really digs you man.” Dave's nudge barely moved my body as I let a smile creep across my face. This was going to take some getting used to.

“Let's go wait on Dale. There is nothing left for us to do now.”

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