When Tristan Stellan had tapped on my window, I had expected something much more illegal. Nevertheless, I was not disappointed.
“You like it?”
Here we are, dangerously out of breath, bodies heaving on the street, staring upside down at the Spring Festival in all its glory. Perhaps not all of it, lights down and all, but the dark intrigue more than makes up for them. It all stands there, silent and inviting: Rhonda’s funnel cakes, the old spin coaster, a new Ferris wheel, and the tacky dance floor. It emanates Easter eggs and danger and tulips in the ridiculously wholesome Ashbourne Park, Ashbourne, New York State. It’s more beautiful than ever. It blurs when my eyes well.
“It’s something,” I mutter, but my voice betrays me. I thought I’d be pushed away from here forever. But in the dead of night, the dirty looks they pass for town spirit are so far away.
Tristan turns his head to me, watching my lips forming an inconcealable smile. “How many years have you come here?”
“Seventeen.” Coincidentally the same number of years I’ve been alive.
“You really love this thing, eh?” I shrug. “It’s better in the dark.”
I nod my head and turn it to him, my beanie scraping the pavement. When I see Tristan’s eyes, alive and wild and daring, I pull them desperately toward me and press my lips to his. His hand drifts to my hip.
As thrilling as it is to feel a boy’s hands on my body, especially the ones that used to cradle my sister, there are other things waiting. I pull him violently up by the arm and tug him toward the Festival.
We hit the funnel cake booth first. The thrill of watching Tristan jam open the back door for me, just to end up spraying whipped cream at each other, is inexpressible. I kiss the whipped cream off his face while we share a fork at the wild funnel cake we assembled. After all these years, he tastes better than the trademark dessert. But don’t tell him that.
My sister never would have done this with him. When they were together, it was all MissyandTristan. MarissaandTri. The golden ones. Missy with her perfect grades and Tristan with his luster. But when he licks the strawberry on my cheek, he’s all lust.
“You’re a hundred times prettier than her, you know,” Tristan whispers as he does it. “I always knew it.”
I smile ridiculously.
Then he mutters “they should, too,” and stops my heart.
His lips mold to mine and his perfect little fingers slip into the crack in my top. I swipe the rest of the funnel cake into the garbage can and pull his body onto the wooden dance floor. The town would be scandalized.
But then Tristan comes to his senses. “No, no, no, we gotta stay off the dance floor. My dad can see it from his window.”
With Tristan busy pulling me behind the booths, he doesn’t realize until the last second that that was a challenge.
I put on an English accent. “PEOPLE OF ASHBOURNE, YOUR TORN-UP GOLDEN BOY’S CANOODLING WITH THE HORRID UGLY DUCKLING AT THE-”
“Shut up, Tenley,” he laughs, and claps his too-white hand over my mouth.
I laugh so hard I’d double over if Tristan let me. When I don’t follow him, he leans over and I jump on his back. He piggybacks me across the Festival. I hug my arms around his neck and kick my legs around.
“I hope Mrs. Alpin heard you,” Tristan declares.
“I hope I woke her up at her desk and she did that mad little snort.”
“I hope she’s chasing us down with paperwork stuck to her leg.”
I laugh endlessly harder. Hearing Tristan Stellan make fun of a teacher, one of his old worshippers… he puts me down in front of the Ferris wheel. It’s a new one, white and tall and shiny. I can’t wait to paint it red.
And before I know it, after drawing my initials in the control booth and waiting for Tristan to remember how his dad used to work it, we’re on top of the world. Well, really, we’re sitting in a cushy cart thirty-five feet above the park.
Who would’ve known the top of the world would be in this mean little town?
But here we are.
“I wish they didn’t hate us now,” he sighs.
I scoff. “They’ve always hated me.”
“That’s not true!” I give him a look. “Okay, maybe it is.”
“Welcome to the club, loser.”
I tuck my head into the slope in his shoulder and close my eyes.
“Did you feel it?” I whisper into his shoulder.
He doesn’t have to ask what I’m talking about. He nods silently.
“The first time I saw you...”
“Really saw me.” Going to school together didn’t count till age fifteen.
“The first time I really saw you…”
“You were different.”
“You were different.” He rests his chin in my hair.
“You were good.”
“And you were beautiful.”
She was wrong. My sister was so wrong about Tristan. He’s never been bad. And I’m not her. Has Missy ever been wrong before?
“Fate’s a funny thing.”
Tristan chuckles. “I didn’t expect you to appreciate fate, not-so-ugly duckling.”
“Don’t get used to it, not-so-golden boy.”
“I could get used to this.”
Air runs into my lungs and shivers my smile like the twinkling stars. “Here’s to damning Missy.”
After a hundred million years, we reach the ground. Tristan kisses me out of the carriage.
“Come to my place.”
Tristan chuckles again. “I wish.”
“My dad’s gonna realize I left if I stay out any longer.”
“So then they’ll figure out we were here and we’ll both be grounded for life.” He smiles like you don’t want that, do you?
I groan. “Fine. But you’re walking me home.”
He does. Tristan walks me home, hand in mine (thumb stroking mine), legs climbing my wall (up to the false little roof we always sit on), and then lips brushing mine (to say goodbye).
“I’ll see you after school?” I whisper.
“Always,” he whispers.
Just to prove his point, he gives me a final goodnight kiss.
And just to prove her point, Missy creaks open my door at dawn, eyes red and wet, and whispers “Look outside.”
And there’s Tristan, telling the neighbour girl that she’s different.
My sister hugs me.