American Friendship

She tries to wrap her hoodie closer around her as she steps outside, and tries to take the driveway in several long strides to the running car waiting for her. Sitting in the passenger side of the back, Jenna hears the music, previously blasting, be turned down. 

Dale, in the driver's seat, speaks first. “Are you ready for a night of extra fall fun?” He says. 

His girlfriend, her closest friend, rolls her eyes in the passenger seat. “I am so sorry about him. We can kick him out at the gas station if you want.” 

It only makes Jenna laugh. When they had gotten together at long last during their junior year in high school it was a relief to her and all their friends. Who’d all endured years of tentative crushing between the two until they had finally become official with one another. It endeared her to any teasing between them. “Naw. We can live with him. Maybe the festival has some kind of clown event.” She says. It’s Hannah's turn to snicker at that. 

“Hey!” Dale makes a show of pretending to protest while putting the car in gear. 

The car pulls out of the drive and she leans her head back onto the seat and enjoys the music as they make their way to the fairground. It wasn’t something they normally did, but this year the local festival brought in \ a handful of rides to go on and without anything else interesting to do, the county fair seemed a good way to spend the day when Dale had suggested it. Even if the bite of cold was descending on them to welcome fall. 

It is busier than they expect when they park and get out of the car, seeing a good portion of the small town they live in are attending.

As she steps out, her phone buzzes in her pocket, and after fishing it out, she reads the message her mother sent. 

You can always call me if you need me, don’t put too much on yourself. 

With an eye roll, she shoots a text back. I’ll be perfectly fine. Love you, Mom. 

“Didn’t think there’d be this kind of turnout,” Dale says as they walk through the entrance, pulling her back to the present. Hannah nods in agreement. The area couldn’t be more autumn if it tried, with an abundance of hay bales and haystacks, pumpkins, and squash littered around with the backdrop of the old Ferguson barn and the trees deep in their fall colors. The crisp air on the breeze seems to tie the whole scene together with a bow.

Eyes peeled for any sign of the rides, they let their feet carry them through the crunching leaves between the crowds for a moment. 

Jenna sighs and tugs on her friend's hoodie arm, pointing to the line she’s found at the biggest ride. She huffs too. There has to already be a dozen people in line, and more walking up. Dale joins them with a groan. But it’s him who is quick to supply something to alleviate the disappointment. 

“Looks like we’ll be waiting for a bit. Wanna get some grub, I got a nice tip yesterday and can buy.” He offers and they wordlessly nod and go along with it. 

In the end, it isn’t that bad. The candy apples are delicious, and the warm cider feels delightful and cozy against the coolness of fall has put in the air. Dale tries to go to several carnival games to impress Hannah and fails horribly at each one, but still gets the effect of making her smile regardless. The trio are munching on popcorn and enjoying some music the vendors are playing when another friend from their class comes up to them. 

He is breathless when he speaks, and takes off just as soon as he gets the words out. “Hey, the line at the Tornado is only a few people long, if you wanna go for a spin now is your chance!” 

Sharing a look, the course of action is decided quickly. The three of them stand, leaving their popcorn, and begin running.

Descending into laughter as they try to avoid running into others, they cross the whole festival setup slower than they should. They find out that their fellow student was right, and find themselves on the ride as soon as the current group is let off. Sharing a seat, they exhaust themselves with screaming and laughing as they turn themselves with the round table in the middle while being swung in the air till they are dizzy and breathless, and smiles tearing their faces in two. 

Once let off, they are regaining the ability to breathe but still manage to chuckle. 

They are making plans to find another ride when she sees it and stops. 

A correl, set up for a pony ride at the end of their lane. 

The laughter and now the air is stolen out of her chest where she had given it away before. For a moment she gasps. Her blue eyes get blown out wide and her knees tremble enough that she has to lock them to stay upright. Which conflicts with her urge to bend them and to run. Breath somehow is gasped into her lungs again but doesn’t quite feel like enough to sustain her. 

When her head begins to shake, Dale and Hannah are already a few feet away and look back to find her. 

“Jenna, are you alright?” Hannah asks, walking back to her. “Hey, hey calm down what-”

She squeaks just as Hannah sees the pony ride. Everything clicks. Instantly her friend becomes sympathetic. Turning her face to look at her she begins to try and calm her. “Hey hey it’s okay, it’s okay,” 

Dale follows suit and utters under her breath. As Hannah holds her, he looks around. He is the one to spot the hay ride several paces in the other direction. “Hey, come on. Let's go on the hay ride, get out of here, alright Jen?” 

All she can do is nod. Jenna doesn’t miss the way they stand on either side of her and face her away. The sound of the horses' hooves echo in her mind. She doesn’t know if it is the ones in the corral or not, but it keeps her trembling until they are seated in the cart either way. Once there she counts in and out in a fashion more practiced than it should be. The sound of the tractor starting up also helps. 

Once calmer, Jenna wants to berate herself. But Hannah stops. 

“Don’t worry about it, Jenna. Things happen, and we’re here.” 

“Yea, if anything we owe you an apology. We didn’t think there’d be anything like that here.” Dale adds. Looking a little guilty. Jenna takes his hand and gives him a calmer smile to banish any remorse. 

“It’s fine. I’m alive, but how about we get going and find a movie to watch after this, huh?”

That sounds good to all three of them. Jenna resolves to text her mother once they get back to the car, not above being willing to admit when someone was right. 

September 21, 2023 17:56

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