The first day of summer school was on the 6th of July, a Monday. As dreadful as I predicted it to be, it ended up not being even half bad. Many people I knew were there, and the atmosphere was just overall.
As extra credit, they offered us a chance to set up for the fest on the Fourth of July. My best friend Jessa wanted no part in the setup, but I eventually convinced her as they would provide us with free food and admission if we did.
The setup time was somewhere around 10:30am, and by the time we got there, the stereos and DJ booth were the first thing up. Generic bull was already on a reasonable volume while everyone did their own thing. Jessa and I wanted to recuperate before starting, so we grabbed the free lemonade being ”sold” and took a seat by the lake area.
That afternoon, toward the beginning of the festival, there was a sports competition between teens and young adults on one side of the park which Jessa and I went to, mostly because that’s where the refreshing drinks and treats would be.
I shook myself out of a daydream and looked back up at the current game of egg toss. One of the guys sitting near us held up a camera to his face and snapped a picture as a cheerleader from the cheer camp twirled in the air, her mini skirt puffing around her, underwear in full view. It was a jackpot for pervs this time of year.
A loud whistle bounced off my eardrum causing me to flinch. I turned around, ready to give whoever impaired my hearing only to be greeted by a whooping and hollering Brexton and his cronies.
I scoffed and threw my empty water bottle at him. “Tone down your sex drive, perv.”
He tossed it back at me. “Lighten up.”
I motion to Jessa that I’d be right back to which she answers with a nod as she taps away at her phone.
I make some of the boys scoot over so I can sit by Brex. “When were you going to tell me you were here?”
“When were you going to tell me you were coming?”
“Touché.” I snatch his snow cone from his sticky hands.
From Jessa’s phone, I see the time is fifteen past 1pm, and feel myself begin to panic. Shit. I totally forgot.
I lean close to the edge of the bleacher seat ready to get up. It takes a while for the boys to turn their attention to anything else, but when they finally do I sneak off to the side of the bleachers and away into the foresty lake behind the crowd of “sports” fans.
The section of the festival specializing in children is on the other side of the park and, thankfully, is packed with families with their little tykes.
Impromptu rides and stands litter the area along with several group activities and concessions. I help myself to free samples given out by the local food shop as I search the fairgrounds for Cade. When I do finally find him, he’s at the sidelines by himself, solemnly looking at the residents enjoying themselves.
“Hey!” I hop in view of his gaze.
His face lights up from its previous forlorn stature. “Oh, hey. I was starting to think you bailed.”
“Of course not,” I take his wrist and pull him off the small ledge in front of a tree. “Come grab some free samples before everyone takes them.”
Our plans for the day were based on wherever the wind took us, and it was quite a fun time. Carnival games and rides, samples and summer fun; the time it took us was far more than how it felt.
Our last stop was the ferris wheel that stayed up year-round, most infamously used as one giant reef during Christmastime decorates with fairy lights and holly. Where the city got those items remained a mystery no one felt it was meant to be solved.
At the top, the scene amazed me, the dark blue atmosphere enhancing the experience. In my eyes it was the perfect time for the fireworks. It was about 7pm, so the lampposts and other light sources were beginning to turn on, complimenting the setting around them. People looked small, the music was barely audible, the overview of the festival in bird’s eye. It was truly a memory I enjoyed being in at the moment.
My prediction for the show was correct; everyone was gathering in their own little corners to look up at the now exploding sky. Patriotic colors filled the darkening skies along with other primary colors. Below us people were waving around sparklers and having an overall good time listening to the satisfying pops.
Unfortunately all good things must come to an end. At the foot of the ride was Cade’s creepy father, with from what I could tell a beer bottle gripped in his hands. He was looping around and seemingly babbling incoherent things to passing festival-goers.
From my right, Cade let out a sigh rather close to my ear. Poor thing. He must’ve dealt with this kind of nonsense daily.
“Is that...” My voice trailed off, already knowing the answer.
“Yes,” Cade rested his face in his hands. His voice came out muffled. “Just one day. I asked for just one day.”
I placed a sympathetic hand on his back, which was bony. It was obvious that the samples were his best meal in who knows how long.
“Is this a normal thing?” I didn’t know if referring to his dad’s behavior as ′normal′ was the way to go.
“Basically.” Cade shrugged. “I just thought he’d be clean by now.”
Should I interject? “Well, what do you think his weaknesses are? Besides beer and underaged girls.”
He let out a chuckle. “I guess when he doesn’t have control over us.”
Cade appeared as though he said something he wasn’t supposed to. “Yeah... I have two brothers and two sisters. None live with us full-time, so I’m his puppet for the majority.”
Full-time? “What does he do?”
He was hesitant at first. But I could tell he found something somewhat close to confidence in me. “The usual sob story stuff. Beats sometimes when drunk. Neglect. Druggie. Whatever the movies say.”
“I’m so sorry.” And I was.
"Aiden!" A voice boomed so loudly we could hear it over the music up there.
“Confuses his kids.”
Daring to look down my eyes caught sight of Cade’s dad being hauled away by two burley men. Cade was relieved.
“I’ll enjoy myself while I can.” His eyes found mine and he smiled.
I smiled back, finding comfort in his demeanor.
Back on the ground, Cade checked his phone nervously for any indication his father was looking for him. From the expression on his face I knew he was in the clear. For now.
We took a stroll down the path leading to the main area of the festival, taking our time instead of power walking like everyone else who passed us had, eager to get place to place in an instant before shutting down for the night.
To my dismay, I spotted Brex and the boys coming our way.
“Uhm, I have to use the bathroom.” I grabbed Cade’s forearm in a panic, turning him around.
“Whoa, that bad?” He laughed at my sudden outburst.
“Mhm. Too much water.”
I thought we’d gotten away unseen but sadly Brexton’s voice called out to me before we could reach the kiddie fair.
“Where the hell you been for the whole day, Ellis?” Brexton raised his arms.
For some reason I cringed prior to answering him. “I... We.... Couldn’t find the bathroom.”
“There was one near the field.” Brex suspiciously eyed Cade. “What’s up?”
“Hello.” Cade gave a small wave.
The uncomfortable silence following made me uneasy. The way Brex was inspecting Cade, the boys awkwardly looking for something else to focus on, Cade shyly looking at his faded-white-and-blue Oxfords.
“He was just trying to direct me to the toilets but got lost himself,” I laughed. “Coincidence, right?”
“Yeah,” Brex licked his lips, Cade presumably his prey. “Coincidence.”
“Well, I better head out home,” I waved in Brexton’s face. “I’ll see ’ya when I see ’ya.”
“Yeah.” Brexton nodded curiously.
Cade, probably not knowing what else to do, followed closely behind me. It was eerie at how Brexton observed Cade’s every move in the small exchange they had. Something didn’t sit right with me.
As we passed the entry gates, the sight of something caught my eye.
Standing. Watching. An indescribable look on his face.
I quickly guided Cade out of the festival and into the nearby city square with lots of people and places. We recuperated in a Wendy’s closeby.
I ordered us both a Frosty as to not seem like loiterers in the establishment. While eating mine I noticed Cade just holding onto his like a cup of hot chocolate on a snowy night. He just stared with empty eyes at his frozen treat.
“You gonna eat that?” I asked in a voice that made it obvious I was poking fun at him.
He nodded. “Yeah. Just a little worn out. I wanna get to bed soon.”
“That sounds good.” I swirled the plastic spoon provided in my mouth with a glob of chocolate ice cream on it.
We ate our snack in silence while I combed my mind for something to talk about, anything to break the tension in the air despite there not being a current trigger.
“We should get going,” I suggest, rising from our spot in the booth.
Cade followed along. “Definitely.”
We walked a few blocks down before either of us said anything.
“You okay?” I finally brought myself to ask. “You’ve been quiet for the past few minutes.”
“Just tired.” Bull. “My place is nearby here. I can still take you home.”
“That’d be cool.”
We passed a pastel green house with a decent garden that Cade mentioned was his. I was impressed. How his father managed to keep things so tidy from the outside surprised me. Maybe the inside would reflect on his real personality?
At home, Cade stopped at the gate shielding the lawn from outsiders.
“Thanks for today.” He mumbled.
“No seriously,” He took my hand in his. “Thank you. I haven’t had a real friend in a really long time.”
I felt my heart wrench and a pang of guilt hit me hard. How could anyone not want anything to do with such a sweet person? I knew from the get-go he’d be an absolute angel. Whatever it was he was going through, it wasn’t easy, I knew that much.
“I’ll always be here.” I smile reassuringly.
To my slight surprise he hugs me. I return the gesture, holding onto him a little longer than usual. His embrace was sweet and he smelled of citrus shampoo. I could feel some bones as I squeezed but it didn’t take away from the warmth of the moment.
“Goodnight.” I open the front gates.
I swore I heard him say something else as I locked the fence, but didn’t bother asking him to repeat himself. Whatever it was, he’s probably tell me again soon.