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Chapter 12, Part 1

We ended up starting with the bumper cars, where I somehow convinced a group of children to lead an assault on Joshua’s car, only to have him retaliate by organizing his own gaggle of miniature fighters and handing the carnie enough tickets for everyone to ride again. I could see that the parents standing around watching their children eagerly climb into their bumper cars were a little uncertain about letting their offspring that close to Emilia’s sphere of influence but they seemed to relax when they realized that their kids weren’t the only ones having a great time. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d laughed so much, especially not when I was the target of giggling eight-year-olds in cars way too big for them; I was sure I was going to be bruised in the morning but it was totally worth the laughter that had tears practically running down my cheeks.

When the ride ended a second time, Joshua held up his hands. “Truce!” He called out across the rink around his own laughter, a suggestion that my troops and I agreed on after a brief deliberation.

Joshua crossed the ride and offered me a hand to help me out of the car. “I’ll never underestimate your skills at assembling small armies again.” He laughed.

I grinned back, wishing I could assure him that I was from the South and we knew all about assembling small armies at a moment’s notice. Instead I just shrugged. “It’s a gift. But you weren’t too bad yourself.”

One of the little girls I’d coaxed onto my side suddenly ran up to them and threw her arms around my waist, even though her mother was calling her name from beside the exit. I looked down, surprised but before I could say anything, the girl peeled herself away again, running even faster toward her mother, muttering a shy “thank you” without looking back. I smiled after her and when I looked at her mother, she was smiling too, nodding eagerly as she listened to her daughter retell everything she’d just witnessed.

Joshua nudged me playfully in the side and I saw that he was smiling too. “Hey, I didn’t get any hugs, clearly you came out ahead.” I couldn’t imagine Emilia hating a moment like that or not wanting a hug or attention from an adorable little girl who clearly adored her. “Good idea, by the way, I think you gave those kids the time of their life.”

“Trust me, I had a blast.” I assured him, heading toward the exit when the carnie barked at us to clear the track or hand over more tickets. “I might also have a concussion, but we can worry about that later.”

We had to make a pit stop to buy more tickets, seeing as our stash had quickly been depleted and then Joshua forced me to pick the next ride, even though I would have been more than happy to follow his direction. So we went into the haunted house, which was every bit as cheesy as one could expect from an amusement park, though I have to admit I feigned a few scares just so Joshua would put his arm around me in a gesture of mock protection.

After the haunted house, some of the kids we’d enlisted for the bumper car war drug us over to one of the booths, where all the competitors had a water gun and whoever shot their target and made the water level rise the quickest was the winner. Apparently they needed two more players and Joshua and I were shoe-ins, though in spite of my upbringing with two boys and many a water gun fight, I was definitely not the fastest gun on the beach. I shoved Joshua just as he was about to reach the top so one of the boys who’d invited us to play could win, high-fiving him as he leapt up to claim his prize.

“Cheater!” Joshua teased, shaking his head as we walked away from the booth. “I had no idea you were such a cheater.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about!” I protested, feigning innocence. “Though, does it really count if you’re cheating to help someone else win?”

Joshua frowned, though I could tell he was only teasing. “I guess I can let it slide just this once. Though I am going to have to do something to win back my manly dignity.”

The way for Joshua to do that turned out to continue to play the carnival games, even though some of them were so clearly rigged just to take your money. “Every time we come here, my dad always wins an animal for my mom.” He explained as he handed one of the carnies a few dollars. “Even though she’s like forty-seven she still keeps all the animals, either one her bed or on the couch or somewhere. I always wanted to do that.”

I could feel my cheeks flush with color and my heart bounce around in my chest. “Win an animal for a forty-seven year old woman?” I teased even though I was swooning on the inside.

Joshua rolled his eyes. “So you got jokes, do you Thompson?” He gave me a playful shove. “Fine, I’m sure I can find a woman around here who would appreciate one of these beauties.” He said, gesturing toward the rows of stuffed elephants, tigers, hippos and other assorted animals.

“You gotta actually throw the ball to win pal.” Grumbled the middle-aged man running the booth. He looked at us with disinterest, even though we seemed to be attracting some attention. He fanned himself with his hand and gestured impatiently at the stacked glass bottles.

Despite Joshua’s best efforts, it took him four rounds to finally knock the bottles over, which seemed to cause the carnie some relief. Joshua chose one of the big stuffed tigers and handed it to me with a proud smile. “Since they’re your favorite.”

I felt my body tingle with excitement as I hugged the tiger against my chest. This was like a date, a real live date, which, I’ll confess, I’d never really been on before. Sure, I’d gone out on ‘group dates’ before with guys I kinda liked from school but, let’s face it, ‘group dates’ are basically like the cafeteria crowd but in a different setting. But this was definitely a date and I was definitely sure that things were going well. “I’ll keep it forever.” I promised him, pretty sure this tiger was going to have a prime spot on my bed until the day I died.

After finally conquering the carnival game, Joshua insisted we indulge in a mid-afternoon snack that was sugar posing as food. He ordered both a funnel cake and cotton candy and we finished both of them, even though I was feeling a little sick by the end of it. “It’s all part of the experience.” Joshua assured me, though he looked a little like he was experiencing a sugar high himself.

We decided to stray away from the rides designed to make you throw up everywhere since we already felt like we might throw up everywhere, deciding instead to get on the carousal with some very excited kids. After a few more mundane rides, we felt like we could tackle the tea cups and the pirate ship that swung you from side to side at a dizzying height and some of the more motion oriented rides. I’d never been a fan of rides like that before but something about being squeezed into a small seat beside Joshua with a stuffed tiger wedged against my other side changed my outlook on things.

Before I’d even realized it, the sun was starting to sink toward the horizon, causing the park and it’s rides to be lit by blazing artificial bulbs. I wondered if I should call Linda just to check in but I doubted she was concerned about my absence; she probably figured that I couldn’t be getting into as much trouble as Emilia managed whenever she went AWOL for a couple of hours.

When it seemed like we’d literally ridden every single ride that the amusement park had to offer (except for the one that took you to the very tip top and dropped you really fast, I’d never really trusted those), Joshua finally declared that it was time to ride the Ferris wheel.

“When they stop you at the top, you can see around you for miles.” Joshua said as we waited in line behind several other couples who seemed to have the same idea. “I always like to go right when it’s getting dark because all the buildings in the city are starting to turn on their lights and you can see the sun setting across the ocean.” He paused, considering. “I promise I’m more masculine than all that is leading you to believe.” His cheeks were red with embarrassment.

“Oh, I don’t doubt your masculinity.” I assured him. “I’ve got the proof right here.” I held up the floppy stuffed tiger and Joshua smiled. “It sounds really awesome.”

Joshua nodded, obviously relieved that I hadn’t teased him like he’d clearly been expecting. Maybe that was the price of having an older brother and older band members. “Wait til you see it.”

So, maybe it would have been a good idea to admit to Joshua beforehand that I was afraid of heights, but he seemed so excited to get on the Ferris wheel that didn’t seem like a good time to mention it. But now that we were climbing into what seemed like a very unstable plastic bucket, I was starting to regret that I hadn’t mentioned that little known fact about myself before. I swallowed and tried to mentally psyche myself up; if I could fly across the country in order to impersonate the sister I’d never met in front of the entire world, I was pretty sure I could survive a two-minute-long ride on a Ferris wheel.

When the ride lurched to life, the seat lifting into the air I couldn’t help but cringe, holding onto the stuffed tiger hard enough to strangle the life out of it. I squeezed my eyes shut, then tried to force myself to pry them back open, because, after all, the whole reason we’d come up here was for the view.
“Are you all right?” Joshua questioned, looking over at me in concern. I must have gone white in the face, or maybe my death grip on the tiger and my hardly opened eyes were enough to give away my discomfort. “You’re not…afraid of heights are you?” He raised an eyebrow.

The seat shook, very unstably in my opinion and I couldn’t help but squeeze my eyes shut again, moving closer to Joshua without even realizing what I was doing. I felt like there was nothing beneath me, nothing between me and a very long fall. “I’m fine.” The ride squeezed upward, moving us higher and I felt a shiver of panic go through my stomach. “Well, maybe a little…”

“You should have told me.” Joshua insisted. “We didn’t have to ride this one.”

I managed to open one eye, trying to sit up a little straighter, though the slightly fetal position I was in seemed to be helping my panic ever so slightly. “It’s your favorite.” I protested weakly.

Joshua chuckled slightly, putting his arm around me. “Yeah but not at the risk of giving you a panic attack.”

Finally, our bucket-seat had reached the very top of the ride and I made the mistake of opening both eyes, only to see just how high up we were. Really, really high up. The amusement park looked like a snow globe under my feet, which were dangling over air. I quickly squeezed my eyes shut again and buried my face against Joshua’s shoulder and this time my motive wasn’t even an arm around the shoulder.

“It’s all right.” Joshua promised. “Nothing is going to happen.”

Of course, I knew this was true, that hundreds of people rode this stupid thing every day and nothing happened to them. Children rode this ride. But at the same time…hundreds of people rode this thing on a daily basis, who knew what sort of strain that put on the mechanics.

“It’ll be over before you know it.” Joshua continued, trying, no doubt, to pry me off his chest. “And then we’ll be back on solid ground.”

Some date this was suddenly turning out to be. What could be more couplely than riding the Ferris wheel and looking out over the ocean and I was cringing like a little kid. So much for things going well. I guess there was one thing Linda and Schapelle hadn’t anticipated when they’d thought I could do everything better than Emilia.

Joshua was rubbing my back soothingly. I felt like we’d been at the top for a really freaking long time. What if we were stuck up here? I opened one eye slightly, just to make sure that there weren’t sparks or fire or anything coming from the equipment that was supposed to bring us back down to safety. Instead, I saw the ocean stretching out in front of us, shimmering in the rising moonlight, looking like a slick, black surface, except for when the occasional wave rippled across. It seemed to stretch out forever, until the sky and the ocean met, merging together in the same velvety blackness. I could see light from bonfires scattered across the sand, I could hear people laughing and food sizzling over the open flame. Night birds soared overhead, calling out to one another occasionally as they dove for fish. Joshua was right, it was a very different view indeed from what you saw on the ground.

I lifted my head slightly, momentarily forgetting the fact that I was in a plastic bucket, possibly seconds away from falling to my death. I glanced over my shoulder and saw the city, sparkling with life just like Joshua predicted. The sun might have gone down but that didn’t mean by any stretch of the imagination that it was time to close up shop. In Little Paris, sundown was pretty much the unofficial closing time for every store and door in town but it was clear that Los Angeles was the complete opposite; I could see as many car headlights and brake lights as I’d seen on the way to the beach, blending in with the neon and the streetlamps.

“Not too bad, huh?” Joshua questioned, obviously realizing that I’d put my terror on hold. “It doesn’t look so bad from up here.”

“It’s beautiful.” I said, looking away from the city and back to the ocean, which seemed much more beautiful than the artificial lights and cars behind us. “It really is like you can see everything.”

Joshua was about to say something but whatever it was got cut off when the Ferris wheel started up again, our little seat shaking as we moved backward and I resumed my position pressed against his chest. This was something I’d never live down from Zach and Luke (luckily, they weren’t here) and something Jordan would have teased me for endlessly had she known that I spent a potentially romantic moment hiding my face and trying not to cry. But she didn’t have to know about that either.

If you missed the other parts of You'll Always Find Your Way Back Home see the links below and ENJOY!

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

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The characterization works--the girl feels very real--and her boyfriend/not-quite-boyfriend is good as well, and that's important, because this chapter depends entirely on whether we like these people. I like a slow build and deep character. You did both. Well done.

Tired in the middle. let me have a cup of coffee. will be back.

If you enjoyed this, please check out the next part here.