“It won’t take long,” Aaron said, “I’ll catch up. You can have a look around.”
“Better hurry if you want any of the fruit cups. They always sell out.” Louis, Aaron’s childhood friend with early-stage dad bod, points down the sidewalk lined with tables. “Don’t forget about the auction in the parking lot of the medical center. That’s the parking lot opposite where the stage is.”
Annie waves as Louis and Aaron cross the street. Aaron and Louis will help the band get set up for their performance. The stage is a flatbed trailer normally attached to a semi hauling pallets with only straps holding everything in place. Annie always feels nervous passing them on the highway.
Abandoned in a strange town on their second date. Doesn’t feel like a great start to a relationship, if there is to be a relationship. Too soon to think in terms of relationship. Annie shakes her head, clearing her brain like an Etch A Sketch. Her first date with Aaron was supposed to be dinner and a movie. They started talking over dinner and didn’t stop until they were at the front door of Annie’s apartment building. Conversation came easy, flowed like they’ve known each other for months, years, their whole lives. A good relationship should feel easy, right?
Annie has only had two relationships before she was set up on a date with Aaron. Annie thought both relationships were going fine, she even moved in with one of them. A few months after Annie started thinking maybe they were headed for marriage she got dumped. Within six months of Annie getting dropped both of her former boyfriends were walking down the aisle with someone else.
It was Arron’s idea to come to the street fair, neglected to mention it is in his hometown or what had been his hometown. Aaron, youngest of the family, last to leave the nest, only reason his parents waited to sell the family home and move into a retirement community. They were ready for the next chapter in their lives. They became parents young; they were ready to have some fun without all the responsibility of owning a home, or the prospect of one of their three boys moving back home.
Aaron moved into a small studio. After sharing a bedroom his entire life, he just wanted a place to call his own, where he made the rules, and he didn’t have to share with anyone. He had looked forward to eating in bed watching TV if he wanted to. Found himself following a lot of the rules from back home because now he could see why his parents had the rules, sure sign he had grown up.
Now Annie finds herself in a strange town without a guide. Still, won’t hurt to have a look around. It’s not like she is the only out-of-towner walking the street today. Maybe she can find a present for her sister’s birthday next month.
Annie strolls along the sidewalk looking at what’s for sale on the tables filled with either food or wares. Most of the food is in large roasters but there are signs indicating what’s for sale. One table is selling roast beef sandwiches, another perogies, the next kielbasa or hot dogs that can be topped with sauerkraut made with pork. Seems sauerkraut being made with pork is important in this town since everyone who walks up to make a purchase asks if there is pork in the sauerkraut. A few even want pork on their hot dog or kielbasa.
The stall next to the sauerkraut is draped with quilted purses and wallets, most of which match a purse. Annie makes a mental note to stop on the way back. A purse and matching wallet in either a light blue or yellow will make a perfect present for her sister.
A side street is next with a food trailer selling funnel cakes. You have a choice of toppings, powdered sugar for the traditionalist, powdered cinnamon sugar, or cinnamon apple pie filling for the toppings. The last funnel cake Annie had was at the county fair her dad took her to when she was six when she was still enjoying her childhood. A few weeks later Annie would grow up quick when the thunderstorms moved through, blew down trees all over the town. One of the trees landed on her dad’s car killing him.
“One funnel cake, powdered sugar please.” Annie digs a crisp twenty-dollar bill out of her purse, hands it over and gets the change while her funnel cake sizzles in a vat of oil. The warm funnel cake dressed in powdered sugar needs to cool before Annie can dive in. The side street continues another half block before it wraps around the bank parking lot. Booths of games dot the otherwise vacant parking lot.
The first booth is decorated with an array of stuffed animals, all shapes, and sizes. Pieces of paper with numbers ending in either a double zero or fifty are pinned to each one. A sign says one dollar will get you three tickets or for five dollars you can get twenty tickets. If your number ends in double zero or fifty you win the corresponding stuffed animal. Annie watches as someone hand over what must have been five dollars because they then pull from a jar the size of a small barrel twenty tickets. A girl in a calico sundress bounces on her toes beside him in anticipation of a winning ticket.
Next is a booth with rubber ducks floating in a child’s swimming pool. For fifty cents a child can pull a rubber duck. If the rubber duck has a number on it the child wins a prize. There are baskets with numbers on them filled with magic squares, slap bracelets, sticky hands, and other sorts of prizes.
Finally, a dunking booth takes up one side of the parking lot. One ball for five dollars or three for ten. A small girl is at the throwing line. Her first two throws fall short of the target. A man picks her up and carries her over to the target for her third throw so she can push the target sending the clown into the tank of water. She delights in the cheers of the crowd.
What sounds like carnival rides catches Annie’s attention. A line of parents with children in tow are making their way over the earthen mound where the side street curves to the right. Annie follows carefully breaking off bite size portions of her funnel cake, a smile plays on her sugar-coated lips.
When Annie reaches the top of the mound, she sees the carnival rides set up in a field beside a small park. Annie’s father had let her ride similar rides at the county fair. She road every ride three times and begged to ride more but her dad said it was time to head home. They needed to pack up her stuff. Annie had to be at her grandmother’s house no later than eight.
Annie’s mom was a stickler when it came to the custody agreement even though Annie spent more time in the care of her grandmother than her mom. After Annie’s dad died her grandmother raised her, Annie’s mom would come by on Christmas every couple of years. She never brought any Christmas presents, she claimed to have forgotten them, and the day always ended in a fight. The fight was always instigated by her mom who picked, and picked, and picked at everyone until someone would bite at the bait and the argument would start. They always ended with Annie’s mom storming out of the house, slamming the door behind her.
Annie’s mouth waters at the scent of sausages. Annie’s dad had let her try a bite of his sausage with onions and peppers that last time they were together. The cement block building standing by itself on the edge of the field has a crowd gathered by it. Maybe that is where the sausages are. Annie wondered if the building had been put there for use during festivals, something she would have to ask Aaron when he catches up with her.
Annie looks towards Main Street to see if Aaron had caught up with her. The thought of enjoying a sausage sandwich without worrying about the impression she is making with Aaron coaxed Annie down the steep mound to the field. Only after descending the mound does Annie realize how tall it is and that it stretches as far as she can see. There looks like a road over at the park on the other side of the field. She would stop by the building that smells better and better with each step on her way to that road.
Annie drops the empty paper plate in a trash barrel. She licks the remaining sugar from her fingers before she digs more money out of her purse. She joins the line that is moving along and decides she will get a can of soda along with the sausage sandwich.
A tent is set up, tables and chairs set out with an open aisle in the middle. Numbers for bingo are being called inside the tent. Annie’s grandmother took Annie to her weekly bingo game at the local firehall. Sometimes there were other children Annie could play with but usually Annie’s grandmother would purchase Annie her own card to play along. Annie preferred the paper bingos when she could mark the numbers with ink instead of a chip.
Annie walks into the tent and sees it is just a dollar per card for each game. She can pay for a game or two while she eats her sausage. Maybe she will have a lucky day and win a game as well.
Annie no sooner crumples the napkin no longer holding the sandwich when a strong wind whips through the tent. Thunder cracks above them, a line of dark clouds advance across the sky. Everyone runs towards the street leading from the park.
Annie follows up the side street wondering where she can find cover. Aaron parked above Main Street in an area he said used to be a tipple though he didn’t remember it. Annie had no idea how far she was from the car. If she managed to find the car would Aaron be there to let her in?
“Hurry!” Someone yells, large drops of rain crash into the crowd, another crack of thunder echos through the valley. Part of the crowd surges in the direction of a church. Annie sees the basement door is open and people stream though the opening to shelter.
Annie is halfway through the basement before she can stop, catch her breath, decide on a plan of action or inaction until the storm passes. Annie wipes rain from her bare arms, goosebumps rising in the chill of air conditioning. Her dress polka dotted from rain. Long tables are lined up end-to-end along the walls on either side of the basement. One side holds a selection of homemade cupcakes, cakes, and cookies the other jars of varying sizes filled with what Annie hopes is soup. An assembly line is setting up folding chairs in the space between the tables like they are setting up for an assembly or sermon.
“Don’t get a drop of rain in two weeks.” The woman behind the table with a cash box said.
“Such a shame. Today of all days. The weatherman faithfully predicted a bright, sunny day today.” A woman says to her husband. They are wearing matching t-shirts and hats.
“I told you it was going to rain today Mildred. My knee always knows.” The husband said. “Might as well find a seat. We’re going to be here awhile.”
Annie shivers like a duck shaking water off.
“You the girl Aaron Gonzales brought to town?” A woman about Annie’s mom’s age but not working as hard to hold on to her youth asks. Streaks of gray flow through her hair pulled back into a messy bun.
“Yes, I guess.” Goosebumps on Annie’s arms grow bigger. Annie scans the crowd for Aaron. He must be here somewhere if a stranger is asking Annie questions about him. She grew up in a small town. News travels, the juicier the story the faster it travels but only Aaron and Louis know she is there with Aaron.
“I’m Louis’ mom, Janice, Janice Davis.” Janice takes her measure of Annie from head to toe. “You better put this on.” A cardigan the color of buttercups is thrust at Annie. “The boys will be busy getting the band’s equipment to safety. In a way the rain is a blessing since they were having trouble getting set up.”
“Oh, no. I’m fine.” Annie hands the cardigan back.
“Nonsense. You get that on before you catch a chill in this air conditioning. Ain’t natural to be this cold in the middle of summer.”
Annie smiles, slips into the cardigan welcoming its embrace and warmth.
“They keep the air conditioning turned up like they are trying to keep ice froze.” Janice taps the chair beside her. Annie sits down. Janice drapes two cardigans, one mint the other sky blue, over her lap. “I keep telling them no one is going to faint if they set the air conditioning a few degrees warmer. We got along well enough without air conditioning until the new pastor demanded it be installed.”
Janice scans the crowd looking for someone. “Heather!” Janice waves at someone over by what looks like a kitchen. “Heather, come over and meet Aaron’s new girlfriend.”
“I’m not his new girlfriend, not exactly.” Annie stares at the back of the chair in front of her. It’s too soon to think in terms of a relationship. Annie’s skin turns pink. At least the sweater is warming her. She is aware strangers are evaluating her, comparing notes. Annie’s pink skin deepens in tone.
“Not exactly? Why’s he bringing you home if you’re not his girlfriend?”
“Hi, I’m Heather.” A dark hared woman about Annie’s age interrupts. Annie strains to come up with a response. “Mom, you haven’t been interrogating Aaron’s date, have you?”
“Here, you sit down. We don’t need you going into labor today.” Janice stands and motions for Heather to take the vacated seat beside Annie. Heather obeys, rolling her eyes at Annie. Janice disappears into the crowd, the room now standing room only.
“I should tell you I dated Aaron all through high school.” Heather said more to the room than to Annie. Several people avert their stares becoming engrossed in their conversations with their neighbor. Heather leans towards Annie, “You are the first girl Aaron has brought home. I probably shouldn’t tell you this, Aaron is one of the good ones if you are looking for a relationship.”
“Your first?” Annie asks desperate to change the subject.
“No, second and God willing last. My first is spending the day with her other granny.” Heather adjusted in the seat and caresses her sizeable baby bump. “You can’t get comfortable in the last couple of weeks. It only gets more uncomfortable each day you go past your due date.”
“When are you due?”
“Eight days ago.” Heather smiles. “Don’t worry, we have a doctor and a couple of nurses here. I won’t deliver until Tuesday night. That is the full moon. I had my first during a full moon, a little boy named Aaron. He’s named after his grandfather, not your Aaron.”
Annie’s cheeks begin to burn. Silly reaction since Aaron isn’t her Aaron. They have barely spent any time together today, on their second date. Does it count as a date if you don’t spend it together?
“Rain stopped.” Someone yells. The crowd begins moving, some out the basement door while others make their way to the tables looking at the sweets on offer.
“I better give you this.” Annie slips out of the cardigan, hands it to Heather. The row of chairs beside Annie are empty. Heather can continue to sit while Annie makes her way out and tries to figure out where she is and how she can get to Aaron.
“I thought that looked like one of mine, not that I can wear it now.” Heather smiles, drapes the cardigan over her baby bump.
“I guess I should go find Aaron. He went off with Louis to help set up for the band.”
“He’s probably still there. Those two lose track of time when together.” Heather adjusts her position in the chair. “When you go out the door turn left. You can cross the street before turning left again. About six blocks down you will see the stage area on the right.”
Annie nods, running the directions through her head. Her plan of escape.
“It was nice meeting you.” Heather says. “Tell Aaron I said hi and I approve.”
Heather smiles and gives Annie a wink.
“It was nice to meet you too.” Annie feels heat flowing through her body. She wonders if the air conditioning was turned off during the storm. Maybe it’s cooler outside.