Jessica Thompson as That Girl

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XXVI. From Grinch to Chipmunk

Jessica’s POV:

“I don’t know,” I responded. I noticed how Krista was staring at the place everyone left. I turned my head, and Francis was looking at Krista. He definitely notices. Our eyes met, and I looked away.

“Hey!” Shannon screams, with Ivan behind her. She expels a sharp breath. “What’s wrong? Did we miss something?”

Krista, Francis, and I exchange looks. “Nothing,” we all concluded that it’s better not to talk about Victoria’s breakdown. Either she had a breakdown, or she’s an outstanding actress.

While strolling through the festival, I let my eyes roam around. It’s the same as every year with its countless booth of local food, games, and souvenirs. Screams are scattering in the air from teenagers and children on the rides—guardians standing on the sidelines with cameras in their hands and strollers beside them.

In the distance, I caught my parents chattering away. Dad was at the benches having a beer with the guys, and retired pageant contestants surrounded mom.

I let my eyes rest on the autumn tree, feeling the excitement of the festival, and taking in the sweet aroma. But, the longer I stood there, the more distant all the happiness seemed to be. Emotions. Sometimes, it’s difficult for me to feel emotions.

Krista grasps my wrist, “Let’s go for a few rides before we hit the booths,” she said with a broad smile.

First, we went on the rides made for groups. Then, we went on the rides made for singles. Everyone is purposely avoiding the rides made for couples. There are five of us.

I released a deep breath, “Let’s go on that one,” I said. It was a ride made for two people. There was hesitation lingering in the air, but I saw how much Krista was looking at it earlier. It’s her favorite ride.

“You two go together,” Francis said. “I’ll sit in the back.” Same as always, Francis Weber chooses to be the knight in shining armor. Of course, he does, he wants to look good in front of the girl he likes.

Krista grasps my arm and nods eagerly.

After all the chaotic rides for a duo, it was time to face the couple rides.

Shannon had been looking at a couple’s ride then towards Ivan for quite a while. It was so apparent that even Krista and Francis noticed it.

“You four should go on that one,” I said. I know I’m not supposed to intervene, but I can’t eat peacefully while watching Shannon fidgeting around.

“Go on that one?” Shannon laughs, “The only couple around here are Krista and Francis.”

So, she wants to play hardball, eh. “Why don’t you two go?” I was referring to Shannon and Ivan.

“What about you?” Krista asks me. She’s been worrying that I would get left out. The whole time Krista and Francis had been clinging onto me to make sure I’m comfortable. The more Krista clings on, the more aware Francis understood my level of importance, and the more he made sure I didn’t dislike him.

“I’ll sit here and finish my food.”

“We’ll stay here with you,” Ivan said. He cannot read the atmosphere I set up for everyone.

“No. I’m just feeling kind of tired from-” I look at Krista. She would understand what I’m trying to say.

“Alright, but we’ll be back,” Krista replies. She drags everyone towards the ride.

Sometimes, I would feel tired from socializing, and Krista understood that. At the time, it wasn’t a lie. I am exhausted from the constant rides and words around me. I scoot the food away and rest my head.

“I want to go home and sleep,” I grumbled.

“So, why don’t you?” I lift my head to see Jax. I didn’t respond to his question, instead blinked a few times. I look around to make sure none of our classmates are around. “What? Embarrass to be seen with me in public?”

I shook my head, “That’s not it.”

“Then, you should properly talk to me instead of looking around for people that know us.”

I stared at Jax. Today, he looks different. More casual. “Why are you here? You don’t seem like a festival kind of person.” I just want to ask why he’s here. After the last odd interaction in my bedroom, he hasn’t returned, so I assumed he was kind of sick of me.

“Blunt as always, are you Grinch?” He took my hot dog and ate it all with one bite. It’s both impressive and disgusting. He swallows, “Go light on the ketchup next time.”

Next time? “What? Did you come here just to eat my food?”

He picks up a fry, “You were sharing your food with friends. Am I not considered a friend?”

“When were we ever friends?”

“Now.” He took another fry. “We’re good friends now.” Another fry.

“Are you hungry?”

He nods, “Was it not obvious?”

“Why aren’t you with your friends?”

“What is this? The fifty questions game show.”

I snarl, “You’re eating my food. The least you can do is answer a few questions.”

Jax swallows the food and rests his chin on his palm. He grins, “I am here with a friend.” He points at me.

“That’s sad.”

Jax rolled his eyes, “I’m here with a few other friends too. Is that less sad?”

“A little. Why aren’t you with them?”

Silence.

“Did they lose you?”

Jax scoff, “I lost them.”

What difference does it make? “So, you lost them. Then, you saw me. You got hungry. You sat down. You ate my food.”

He nods, “Sounds like the whole story.”

I took a fry and silently munched it.

“Did your friends ditch you?” Jax question.

“No. They went on a ride.”

“Which one?”

I point at the couples’ ride parallel from us. The couples waiting in line seem excited, well the girls anyways. But, sometimes, when a couple exits, neither was happy. How worrisome.

“Ah, fifth wheel.”

I shrug, “I guess.”

When I look back towards the guy in front of me, Jax rests his head against his knuckles. Even with his baby fat from his youthful years, his appearance seemingly appears seductive. In no doubt, after the aftermath of youth, he’ll become someone who catches many people’s eyes.

He smirks, “Feeling like the luckiest girl in the world, Grinch?”

I dip the fry in ketchup, “Yeah. My heart grew three sizes today.”

Jax points the last fry at me. “You’re no fun.” He took a bite and shoved the other half in front of my face.

“What do you want me to do with that?”

He grins, “Eat it. We’re sharing the last piece.” He laughs, “I know. I’m generous, aren’t I?”

I cannot believe a guy like him exists. I took the last fry into my mouth. His fingers scrape against my lip and toward my cheek. I chew the food and swallow it. “Your hand,” I said.

He rests his chin against the bench and smiles. His hand was still on my face. Then, I saw it, the biggest smile I’ve ever seen from him. “You look like a chipmunk.”

At that moment, I felt like I forgot how to do the most natural thing. I forgot how to breathe. My mouth parted, and I hope some rebuttal words will exit.

“Do you wanna get outta here?”

“What?” I ask. I must be mishearing things. Yes. That’s it. There’s no way Jax said that.

“Wanna get outta here...with me?”

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