For week #39 of the Fiction in a Flash Challenge, Suzanne Burke came up with this inspirational photo. Let your imagination take flight and join in here.
I gazed longingly at the hussle and bussle of the crowd at the county fair. Momma had warned me to stay away, but I couldn’t resist the bright lights and laughter.
Long time since I’d heard laughter in my house.
People wandered past the place where I hid, carrying bags overflowing with popcorn, or hot dogs darn near as long as my arm, filled with sauerkraut and onions, ketchup and relish.
My mouth watered.
The McDougall brothers stood in line for the carousel, their ill-fitting clothes making them stand out from the rest. Jeb glanced in my direction as though he could feel me looking at him, and I ducked further into the shadows.
He had a habit of singling me out at school; doing things like leaving a sandwich, carefully wrapped in waxed paper, on my desk so I wouldn’t have to sit there with nothing while the others ate their lunches. If kids bugged me in the hallway- which happened pretty much every day- he’d appear out of nowhere and they would disappear like magic.
Momma said boys only want one thing and to stay away from them unless I wanted to end up the same as her. I wasn’t sure what she meant by that, but took heed, anyway. Boys- Jeb- made me feel weird inside. Kind of like how I felt watching that carousel go round-and-round. Excited and scared at the same time.
“Jessie, is that you hiding back there?” The sheriff had sneaked up on me while I was looking the other way, and now stood over me with his baton at his hip.
“Y… yes, sir,” I stammered, feeling like a giant spotlight was on me, though it was only his flashlight.
He waved the thing around like the disco ball I’d seen getting set up in the gym for the fall dance- not that I’d be going.
“Well, come on out and explain what you’re doing here. Pretty sure your momma wants you at home while all these strangers are in town.”
People were starting to gawk. I could feel their stares and hated it. Maybe I could run… but even as the thought passed through my mind, the sheriff grabbed my arm and held me still.
“What should we do about this, huh?” He made a big production of shaking his head as though I’d committed some atrocious crime. The sin of wanting what I couldn’t have.
“If you let me go, I’ll head straight home,” I whispered, hanging my head in shame.
“She’s with me.”
A voice I knew within the deepest recesses of my heart interrupted the sheriff’s spiel. Shock rang through the gathered onlookers as Jeb McDougall stepped into the light and reached for my hand.
“Sorry, Sheriff. Jessie wanted candy apples for our ride on the carousel. I thought she’d be okay grabbing them while I saved our spots in the lineup. Everyone wants a ride on that thing.” Jeb chuckled as though he didn’t have a worry in the world.
My eyes had to be bugging out of my head. Jeb had just claimed me as his date in front of God and everybody. There was no way the sheriff was going to believe his tale. He was going to get us arrested and then I’d go to jail and have to wash clothes and clean toilets…
I was hyperventilating. Jeb squeezed my hand and started to lead me away on wobbly feet. “We better get going, Sheriff. The carousel is about to load up. You have a nice night, now.”
“Hold up there,” the sheriff called, stopping us in our tracks. “Give me one good reason why I should believe you. I know for a fact young Jessie here has no money for candy apples or carousel rides. Are you trying to pull a fast one, kid?”
Jeb looked down at me with midnight dark eyes that seemed to see right down inside of me, and smiled. He turned our meshed hands so mine faced up and slowly let go. A ten dollar bill lay folded neatly on my palm.
I gazed up at him in stunned wonder, my heart banging like a trip hammer. “Jeb,” I whispered, shocked that he would do this for me.
“When I ask a girl out on a date, she’s not expected to pay,” he said, as much for me as the sheriff.
“Hmmm,” the sheriff hummed, staring at the two of us. “Well, you better get going then. That ride isn’t going to wait all night. And mind you see her safely home after, young man.” He grinned and waved us off.
“Yes, sir,” we called, laughing as we ran toward our future.
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