Carnivals were dirty places with middle schoolers making out with cotton candy lips between the tents and college students smoking weed behind the children’s rides.
The reason why Wren wanted to come here was buried in the back of my mind with the electricity bills and memories blurred like pencil smudges. There are things I wanted to forget and I knew this experience was one of them.
“I used to be one of them, you know,” I told Wren, hooking my arm through his protectively. We smelled deep fried goods and saw the hungry looks in people’s eyes that reminded me of the difficulties of triangular plates.
Wren blew out a breath from the left side of his mouth. “I know, Shawn, you used to be high on sugar when you kissed Rachel all over and turned her red from blush and Slurpee dye.”
I elbowed him in the ribs and pursed my lips, “You know that’s not what I meant.”
He giggled like our lawn did when it was freshly cut and tapped his finger against his lips as if in mid-thought. “I just hope our baby isn’t going to make the wrong decisions.”
I stopped abruptly and ripped my arm out of his. “Florence O’Cleary, let that leave your mouth and never say that again.” He gave me a melancholy look and I imagined the specks of brown in his eyes as deer grazing the wisps of tall green grasses.
Our fingers sought each other and our hands merged into one. Our silver rings clashed together and clinked but we didn’t care.
“You’re right, I shouldn’t jinx us like that.” Wren rolled his tongue over his chapped lips and sighed through his teeth.
“Hey,” I said, twisting my head around to spot a certain tent. “Why don’t I go get us some funnel cake and I’ll meet you at the fortune telling stand?”
The side of Wren’s mouth curled up in reply. It was only a half smile with stains of gray doubt and labelless keyboards, but I took it anyways. “I predict a delicious treat in my future,” he announced before backing away.
I chuckled and spun on my heel. If I wanted to beat the unforgiving crowds I had to move fast. As I bustled into the line something vibrated in my pocket. I didn’t know who it was or if they were going to waste my time but I answered it. My cracked phone screen cut me as I pressed it against my cheek.
“Hello?” It seemed like my voice was echoing against red brick walls of silence on their end.
Quick gasps started and my eyebrows scrunched. “Shawn?”
I knew who it was. I was so startled I almost dropped the phone. “Rachel?”
She choked on her words but I still understood them, clear as day. “I need”—hiccup—“to tell you”—hiccup—“something.”
“Are you hurt?” It was my first instinct to ask a simple question like that. Pangs of guilt flew like boomerangs inside my skull and I instantly thought of Wren. He’s your boyfriend now, Rachel isn’t your girlfriend anymore. No matter how many times I reminded myself with headaches like clocks ticking and unsteady heartbeats, my life would continue to get more confusing.
“N-no, I’m pregnant.”
My jaw dropped and the people in line gave me concerned glances. “And—let me guess—Stanley can’t help you take care of it?”
Rachel shuddered and it tiptoed right through the phone and down my back. “You’re the father, Shawn.”
It was then I dropped the phone. Another crack split through it and the lady in front of me apologized for nothing in particular. I wanted to shout but my breath was stuck in my lungs. My phone beeped three times, indicating that Rachel had hung up. Silence was sword fighting in my ears although I couldn’t hear a single thing.
The man at the fortune telling booth had a long braided beard with stripes of silver and yellowing teeth. Atop his head was a twisted maroon hat and his fingers were glittering with plastic jewels. Or at least that’s what he looked like on the sign outside the tent.
When Shawn finally joined me, he was laughing with wrinkles by his eyes and the back of his throat showing. Sometimes I pictured our baby looking just like him with the tips of their hair golden and a smile that could stretch us to China. But I knew that couldn’t happen because we were adopting them and they couldn’t possibly look exactly like us.
“What took you so long?” I asked, clapping him on the back and leading him into the line for fortune telling. “You didn’t even get the funnel cakes?”
Shawn got this weird, defensive look on his face and cleaned the front of his teeth with his tongue. “Sorry, there was a long line so I decided to ditch. We can get them afterwards, though,” he offered, and I nodded, lost in thought. There was a long line, I could see it from here, but it wasn’t like him to quit and try again later. Whatever, I was probably reading too much into it.
A head popped between the curtains, one with naughty strands of mocha hair and a light brushing of a mustache. “Come in,” the fortune teller commanded with the hint of a French accent.
Shawn and I raised our eyebrows at each other and entered.
It was a dark little tent with lit-up snow globes lying on the ground. There was an eerie look to it, especially the seven decks of cards and the large clear ball on the tiny table.
“Five dollars each,” the man said, holding out his palm.
Shawn fumbled with his duct tape wallet and handed the man ten dollars while I studied him. He was very similar to the man on the sign except for he had one gold tooth in replacement of a molar. Another difference was that this man had no twisting beard; his chin was hairless.
“Palmistry, Cartomancy, or Crystallomancy?” the man inquired, and upon our disoriented expressions, he added, “Reading palms, reading cards, or reading the crystal ball?”
“Reading palms,” I interjected before Shawn could say anything. I pushed my hand forward and the fortune telling man grabbed it eagerly.
There was dirt embedded under his fingernails and his hand was shriveled. He closed his eyes and let his fingers sweep over my palm. I was twitching because I was still ticklish in that spot like a child. I wondered if our child would be ticklish there.
After a few moments of excitement building up in me like one of those nice hot baths with lots of bubbles, I blurted, “Does it say I’m going to have a child soon?”
The fortune telling man scowled and made his mouth really small. “No,” he said. His answer was short and simple, but bursting with meaning.
Tears welled in my eyes even though I knew this man was just making it up and getting paid big money for lies. My gaze flicked to Shawn, whose lip had many bite marks in it. He took my other hand and sandwiched it between his.
“Don’t worry,” he muttered, “it’s not real.”
“It’s always real,” the fortune teller declared, and dropped my hand. “You’ll never be married, and I see great devastation lying ahead.”
Shawn paled and looked slightly green but nonetheless offered his hand to the man. He didn’t want to waste a precious five dollars.
The fortune teller’s fingers explored the creases on Shawn’s hand. He was trembling so I nestled my hand through his free one. He smiled carefully but it disappeared in a few seconds.
The man’s eyes flicked to our intertwined hands and he straightened. I was going to comment that Shawn’s hand took way shorter than mine, but instead the man spoke.
“Going to get married, it’ll be an unhappy marriage, and . . . uh, you’ll be rich when you’re fifty-five.”
“Does it say he’s going to have a child soon?” I asked, lightly securing my hand on Shawn’s shoulder.
Without even glancing at the palm, the man answered, “Yes. Soon.”
I slapped my hand onto my forehead. “Man, this is bullshit.”
Shawn shut his eyes and slipped his fortune telling hand around my waist. “Thank you,” he breathed at the man, “we’ll be going now.”
The man smiled with thin lips like a plain red line across his face and turned to face the rest of his tent.
Shawn steered me out and kept pushing me until we were far away from the booth. “Don’t be angry,” he said, stroking my back, “it’s all a lie and I love you.”
“Love you too,” I told him distractedly.
“Now c’mon, let’s go get some funnel cakes to satisfy our hungry tummies.” Shawn tried to deepen his voice but failed. I laughed.
I wondered if our child would like funnel cakes. They were coated in sugar and butter and they practically melted in my mouth. As I daydreamed of sweets while Shawn pulled me over to a stand, I told myself I shouldn’t think about the baby because it’d make me sad. And sadness wasn’t an option.
“You’re the father, Shawn,” I said between sharp inhales. A gasp erupted from the phone and my finger brushed over the red hangup button.
There was a moment of silence and then I burst out laughing. It vibrated through my throat and I felt air rushing against my teeth. Wiping my fake tears off my eyes, I settled my joy into giggles. I was alone in my apartment and officially going crazy.
But, I thought with thoughts that matched circus performances with lots of makeup, crazy is okay because now I can have my true love back—Shawn. Love was such a complicated thing, especially when it involved one boy with two other people chasing after him.
I didn’t even want to think of Shawn’s current boyfriend, Florence, because it always filled my mind with black hate and rusted daggers. I honestly didn’t like these thoughts because I needed my plan to go smoothly and as planned.
The baby, I know, would have Stanley’s muddy eyes and my strawberry blond hair. It was the perfect combination and would convince all relatives and friends that Shawn actually was the father, even though I knew otherwise.
What I also knew was where the parentage document was. It was torn up into nibble-sized pieces in the trash can, red pen scribbled all over it. I treated it like a school paper but thought of it as something more dangerous.
Suddenly my phone rang. It wiggled on the countertop until I frowned and sighed and pressed the answering button.
“Hello again,” I said to the person on the other line. I smiled to no one in particular and sat up straight.
I thought of hunchback lilies with their beautiful faces to the ground, but the image disappeared. No distractions, I reminded myself plainly.