*Knock Knock Knock*
What the hell? Kevin wrinkled his nose. He didn’t want to get up and see who was at the door. No one was home but him, and no one would be knocking on the door for him. He assumed it was probably an adult, and one who would want to speak to the tenant of their apartment. Kevin was only a kid, and obviously not the man in charge of the place.
Gale, his older brother, had been telling him not to answer the door when no one was home for as long as he could remember, especially in this neighbourhood. There were all kinds of crazies here. And Kevin being home without his older brother meant just that – no one was home. Kevin and his older brother by twice his age had been living together on their own for quite some time, and they were lucky enough to be able to afford living where they had been for the past few years, even though it was a rough neighbourhood, and even though the apartment itself was pretty shabby. Not one where you’d be excited inviting someone over for dinner. Kevin had roughened up some too. His language, both verbal and body, weren’t the most gentle, and they weren’t always polite. After all, he was a kid, and an emotional one. He got mad easily, and sad easily, too.
He didn’t think it would do any harm to see through the peephole who might be on the other side. They rarely got visitors knocking on their door and so Kevin felt surprised and a little curious.
*Knock Knock Knock*
Oh my gosh, okay, okay! Sounds like this person really wants in. Maybe they’re one of those crazies. Kevin let out a frustrated sigh. He hit the pause button on the TV remote and lazily pulled himself off of the worn out couch, heading toward the door. When he got there, he put an eye at the glass peephole and saw a fisheye-lens view of a boy his age – a dark haired boy with tanned skin in navy blue shorts and a white t-shirt. It was a boy he knew.
Henry? What’s he doing here? Kevin wrinkled his nose again, not knowing what to think. He felt his face lose some of its colour. He felt a little nervous.
*Knock Knock Knock*
“Okay, okay, jeez! Calm down!” Kevin hissed sharply under his breath as he undid the door chain and unlocked the door, pulling it in toward him.
“Took ya long enough.” Henry said. “You kept me waiting.”
“Well…I was taking my time. I was a little ‘preoccupied’,” Kevin said unenthusiastically, attempting to appear uninterested and bored.
“Too ‘preoccupied’ for your friend?” Henry grinned. Kevin didn’t return it. He simply stood there, staring with dead eyes at Henry.
Henry’s grin slowly faded, his eyes losing a bit of the energy he’d had only seconds ago.
“What do you want Henry?” Kevin asked flatly.
“Oh. Well, I can see how welcome I am. Okay, I get it. If you don’t want me around, I’ll go.”
“Henry, wait,” Kevin called out. He was surprised to hear himself do so. He raised his hands and then dropped them back to his sides as he tried to find the right words to say. “I…I wasn’t expecting you. I mean, it’s not like you come around like you used to, right?” Kevin shrugged, this time looking back at Henry with some animation in his face.
Henry let out a long, defeated sigh. He knew why Kevin was acting as he was, even though his friend wasn’t being explicit. Changing his tone, he said, “C’mon Kev, please. I just want to talk to you. Pushing me away isn’t gonna help anything.”
Kevin took in a deep breath. He was about to respond but then pinched his lips shut. “Fine. You can come inside.”
“You sure?” Henry asked stiffly, his body not moving an inch. Both his verbal and body language were equally stiff. He didn’t feel welcomed and it was obvious.
“Yeah.” Kevin nodded a few times, his face softening up. He was looking tired. “Yeah I’m sure.” Kevin pulled the door even wider and stepped back to let Henry in. Henry slowly entered onto the old and stained parquet flooring with stained and peeling white walls around him.
“How exactly did you get in?” Kevin asked Henry.
“Old man Graham at the security desk recognized me and buzzed me in,” Henry said. “He’s a nice man. Maybe too nice for his job sometimes.” Looking around the small apartment, seeing the messy kitchen and living room, he said, “You said you were preoccupied. I can see now that it wasn’t cleaning the place up any that you were preoccupied with.”
“As I said, I was taking my time,” Kevin said with a drawl.
“TV? Oh, cartoons…” Henry smirked as he walked toward the screen. On it was a cartoon image on pause of a large woman with white hair and an expression that was not too happy. “So that’s what you were ‘preoccupied’ with.”
“Drop it, Henry. And it’s not a TV show I was watching. It was a movie. An animated movie,” Kevin said with a hint of irritation in his voice.
“What of?” Henry asked. Kevin took the DVD box of the movie by his seat on the couch and handed it to his friend. Henry looked at the glossy cover and grinned.
“Ah…this movie was good. I watched it a while ago though, so I don’t remember much.”
“Yup,” Kevin said. “Loved the old animated TV series, too,” he added.
“Yeah, I remember watching those as a kid. You still like it?”
“Yeah. And they’re just as good now that I’m a teenager,” Kevin said with a hint of a challenge in his voice, as though daring Henry to argue the point.
“Well, yeah,” Henry said with a little shrug in his shoulders. “Teenagers. And then, after the next two months…we’ll be in high school.” Henry looked over at Kevin. Kevin shifted his gaze away, feeling uncomfortable.
“So…did you wanna do something?” Kevin said, changing the topic. “We could watch a movie…play a video game…board game…do the dishes…just talk?”
“I was thinking of the fair,” Henry said, looking hopeful. “It’s not that late right now and anyway, they close late so we’ve got plenty of time to have some fun.”
Kevin turned his head and looked back at Henry. “We? Have some fun?” He let out a laugh of disbelief. “You know, it’s been a while since we’ve had some of that.”
Henry frowned. “Yeah, well…now’s our chance, Kev. C’mon, we’ll get back before your brother gets off from work. We won’t get into trouble. Promise.”
“Trouble?” Kevin let out a dry laugh. “You’re joking, right? That’s about the only thing we’ve ever gotten into. Trouble. With you around, that shit’s bound to happen.”
“Yeah, but it was always worth it, right?” Henry grinned, a look of excitement coming back into his eyes. He knew what his friend was thinking.
Kevin let out a sigh. His friend was slowly winning him over. “Yeah, all the time,” he said softly, nodding.
Henry laughed. “You got that right. But hey, this time…let’s just have a good time together, yeah?”
Kevin sighed, then shrugged, feeling some of the emotions he’d had when he’d open the door returning. “Henry…we need to talk.”
Henry frowned. “Yeah, I know.” Taking a deep breath, he continued. “I have some things I need to tell you. I don’t know if you’re ready to hear them, but…okay, let’s just…” Henry let out a frustrated sighed as he scratched the back of his head. “C’mon, you’ve gotta see what’s at the fair. It’ll be awesome. We could talk there. What’dya say?” Henry felt nervous, hoping his friend wouldn’t back out. Kevin stood quietly, weighing his options. “Look, I know you’re still pissed off at me,” Henry finally said.
“I’m just…sad. Kinda mad too but…mostly just sad,” Kevin muttered quietly, suddenly looking very tired. Henry’s face fell and he opened his mouth to say something, but Kevin quickly changed the topic, having now made up his mind. Henry was, after all, the only friend he had ever truly had. They had been friends for as long as he could remember, and although things had gone south, he knew deep down that he didn’t want to lose him. “Look, if I go with you…I’ll have to at least get the dishes washed. Otherwise Gale will give me a hard time when he gets off from work tonight,” he said, walking over to the kitchen.
“Okay, I can help you.” Henry quickly followed him.
Kevin furrowed his brow. He knew Henry didn’t like doing chores, especially dish
washing. “You sure you don’t wanna just crash on the couch and watch
“Nah. C’mon. Soap, bubbles, water, and a good friend to fool around with? Who could resist?”
Kevin grinned, knowing that his friend was doing this for their sake. “Jeez, Henry, you sure that’s the best way to put it?”
“What better way to put it? Sounds, uh…pretty…clean to me. Clean and fun,” he said sarcastically as he put on the dishwashing gloves.
Kevin rolled his eyes, “Washing the dishes is fun?”
“With the right person, hell yeah, it could be fun. Loads of it,” Henry said with false excitement.
“You of all people know that’s bullshit,” Kevin said, shaking his head.
Henry ignored it. “Here, have some white stuff,” he said, blowing a thick wad of bubbles he made from the soap in his cupped hand.
“Ugh! Hey, quit it, Henry!” Kevin ducked, shrinking his head back and away as his friend cackled. Some soap had gotten on his face and shirt, and Kevin was not too happy about it. “Fuck, that’s nasty! Now I’m going to have to change,” Kevin whined. Henry continued cackling.
“Oh, lighten up, Kev! Live a little.”
There weren’t many dishes to wash, and with the two of them they cut down the time it would’ve taken Kevin working alone to get the dishes done by half. Kevin washed his face and then walked into his room to change into a pair of faded jeans and an old t-shirt. He slung on a backpack and put two water bottles into it in case they got thirsty, and checked he had a bit of money in his pocket. Stepping out into the living room, he saw Henry over by the portfolio of their grade 8 class graduation photos lying open on the table.
“I won’t be forgetting all of this anytime soon, even if I do have to leave it all behind,” Henry said, turning back from the picture and looking at Kevin. “I have a lot of memories.”
Kevin smiled sadly. “Yeah. Yeah, me too. But I really couldn’t care less for most of the other kids. Or teachers.”
“Same,” Henry said, pausing for a moment. “Hey, you ready to go? I’ve got my ticket they gave us along with our report card.”
“Yeah, I’ve got mine, too. Let’s go.”
“Damn! Now that was one hell of a lineup!” Henry exclaimed after they finally got through the gate and into the fair. The entire place as far as one could see was bustling with people – kids with their parents, groups of young and older teens together, and couples both young and old. There were babies in strollers and tired mothers, summer camp groups of kids all wearing matching shirts – some yellow, some green. The fair was run by adults and high school or college students trying to make some money. Although the sun was still up, the lights were blinking by all of the booths, tents, game stations, rides, various street vendors, and food trucks, providing an air of fun and excitement.
The fairground was alive and noisy, and the air was hot and humid. Some people were actively engaged in and having fun with the activities and their friends. Others were exhausted, slick and glossy with sweat, more than ready to go home. Kevin and Henry stopped by a station to pay for some tickets.
“Hey, look over there,” Henry pointed to a group of three kids their age several meters ahead getting themselves some ice cream waffles. “I didn’t know those guys were going to the fair today,” he remarked. They shared some of the classes that both Henry and Kevin were in at school, and although Kevin knew them, he didn’t really talk to them. They were Tom, a tall and lanky boy in a tank top with short, short hair; Donald, a short and heavyset boy who appeared delighted to have two ice cream waffles, one in each hand; and Ron, who had curly hair and never seemed to be dressed for the weather. “Might’ve been nice going in a group together.”
Kevin gave a little shrug. “Maybe.”
“We’re not really friends. Might be nice going with a group, depending on the company. But since I don’t talk to them much I’d be the odd one out.”
“Oh?” Henry responded, raising his eyebrows. “I thought they were your friends. Sort of, anyway. I mean, out of all the other kids at school, they’re the only ones I see you sometimes talking to.”
“That’s really only when you’re around. They’re your friends.”
“Well…” Henry sighed, giving a small shrug of his own. “I mean I guess I hang out with them but…”
They continued walking, now entering the aisles between rows of booths and stations. Kevin noted that Henry had stopped mid-sentence, not much wanting or knowing how to continue. They slowed down and stopped in front of a Watergun game station. The walls and roof of the game booth were completely covered with a ridiculous number of plush toys, of every size and colour, and of assorted animals and objects. There was nearly no empty wall space. In front of the booth were five red stools for the players to sit on. A man in a red shirt ran the game, and he was looking around for new players as he shouted a come-on spiel into a microphone.
“But?” Kevin asked, prompting his friend to continue.
“I don’t think they were who I really needed,” Henry finished. Kevin looked at him quietly for a moment. Henry diverted his eyes and over the noise of the crowds and the voice of the man at the game booth on the microphone, he said, “Hey, do you wanna play this; try our hand at winning something?” Upon seeing that they had stopped in front of the booth, the man working the game started blaring into the microphone, encouraging them to come, have some fun, and win something. He seemed almost more forceful than encouraging. The whole place was loud and buzzing with bells, whistles, chatter, and the annoying loud voices of the other people running their games over the mic.
“Um…” Kevin thought, contemplating if he really wanted to play.
“C’mon, it’ll be fun. I’ll beat you.”
“What’s the fun in that?”
“I get to see the look of defeat on your face.” By then, three other people had taken their seats on the stools next to them.
“You sure you’re gonna win now with more competition?” Kevin asked with a smirk, seeing the other people who had joined the game.
“Of course, of course,” Henry said, appearing confident with a smile.
“Okay. Whatever you say,” Kevin grinned as the two of them took their seats.
The man blared on his mic once again and upon the sound of the horn, all five people shot their water guns into a hole with a flap covering it to try to keep it open so that on the wall facing them, their horseman could move to the finish line as fast as they could.
To Kevin’s amazement, out of the five horsemen, Henry’s was in the lead, while his was in fourth place.
“Betcha five bucks I win this race!” Henry hollered to his friend next to him over the noise.
“Hell no!” Kevin yelled back, his mind now concentrating on shooting the water through the hole. “This game ain’t even worth that much.”
“Woot woot, here I come!” Henry shouted excitedly. And when the horns and blinking lights went off as he got to the finish line, he raised his fists into the air. “I told you so! Beat your ass big time,” he said, feeling proud.
“Aw shit,” Kevin frowned.
“And player 1 wins!” the announcer whooped as the other three players reacted appropriately. The man turned around, reached up on the wall for a prize. Henry was given a little pig plush toy.
“Aw, you got a pig,” Kevin laughed.
“Oink oink!” Henry squealed, squeezing the nose of his new pink friend.
“Haha, c’mon, let’s walk around and see what else there is to do,” Kevin said. The two of them got off the stools and continued down in the direction they previously were headed in.
As they weaved through the crowds, staying close to each other, they saw a variety of other game booths – games of both chance and skill. There was a long lineup of people wanting to play ‘Ring the Bell’ or ‘High Striker’, where players had to hit a lever system with a mallet to send a puck up and ring the bell.
“Gather ‘round everybody! Test your strength! Let’s see who are the men, who are the boys!”
“Pssh, that’s how they get the guys to play,” Kevin rolled his eyes.
“Especially the high schoolers,” Henry added. “Every guy wants to be an alpha male. Best o’ da boys and best wid da girls,” he laughed.
“Yeah…isn’t that something,” Kevin murmured absent-mindedly.
“Think they’ve rigged any of these games?” Henry asked.
“Maybe. Probably. No idea. Wouldn’t be surprised if some of them were,” Kevin replied.
They passed by an animal pen having sheep, goats, llamas, and ostriches; some food places either selling something greasy and juicy like burgers and hotdogs, or sweet like ice cream and blue and pink cotton candy. They saw a few children’s rides, such as dragon themed carts, spinning rides in various carriages – some of which were styled after fruits such as apples and strawberries – and other games involving groups of people shooting basketballs, or machines for a solo player wanting to try his hand at using the crane and claw to pick up a toy, stuffed animal, or other prize.
And then there was the fun house. In previous years there was the same older fun house at every annual fair, but this year it had been decided to get rid of the old in favour of a newly structured one with new tricks and surprises. Kevin and Henry found themselves looking up at a giant clown face with an enormous open smile. It stood three floors up as showcased by three levels of flamboyantly stylized balconies, and was covered in every bright colour imaginable. There seemed to be no empty spaces, spaces without decorations of some kind covering them. Where there were no decorations, there was something painted, something carnival-themed and almost vibrating with bright, fun-fair spirited colours. A long line-up of people stood at the entrance, waiting excitedly for their chance at getting to see what was in store for them on the inside.
“Oh man, we’ve gotta go in there!” Henry exclaimed excitedly. “I heard it was a total upgrade from the old one and is at least twice the size.”
“But damn, that’s a long line,” Kevin groaned. “It’d be so awesome to go in there, though.”
At that moment a group of people were let into the gate as another group exited the fun house. Seeing the line had shortened a bit, Henry saw their chance to start lining up now rather than later.
“C’mon, let’s get in line now before it gets even longer. If there’s one thing I want to leave here with, it’s that I got to go in there,” Henry said, his energy up high as his feet bounced. Kevin had to smile and appreciate his friend’s enthusiasm, and so he quickly led the two of them to the end of the line. Within five minutes, the line doubled behind them. The heat was starting to feel oppressive as the crowded bodies started getting tighter and tighter.
“Shit, that’s a lot of people!” Kevin observed as he turned his head to look behind him.
“Hey, stay close, Kev,” Henry said, pulling his friend closer by the arm. “Wouldn’t want to lose you in a crowd like this.”
Kevin gave a small smile. “Thanks, Henry,” he said.
It was a long time before the line moved again, and a longer time after that. They both started feeling the burning heat from the sun overhead, especially on their necks. The sky started turning a bright orange. “Damn. Should’ve put on some sunblock,” Kevin remarked.
“Yuck, I hate that shit,” Henry said in disgust.
“Yeah, me too. But the stuff works,” said Kevin.
“Makes me look really white when I put it on, ‘specially on my face. It’s like I got powdered or something,” Henry chuckled.
Kevin grinned. “Remember that time we had to do that stupid drama performance and we had to get our faces powdered in grade 7?”
“Oh yeah! Shit I looked god awful!” Henry laughed.
“And you had to put freaky black lip stick on?” Kevin snickered.
“Yeah, but at least I didn’t look half as bad as Ben with red lips and blush. He looked like a sweating pig. And he was sweating and having trouble breathing!”
“Aw man, don’t go making fun of him,” Kevin said.
“But man, it’s true! Hey, you were the lucky one out of the rest of us. You actually looked good with that fancy suit on.”
“Nah! I think I looked awkward, like a fucking genie or something. More awkward than I already was.”
“Pssh! You looked good. You did. Take it from a guy who knows.”
“I am right.”
Kevin groaned, but then started grinning as his friend cracked up. “Well, speaking of pig, wanna put yours in my backpack? It’ll keep you from losing it.”
“Yeah, sure,” Henry said. After he did that, they took out the water bottles and had a few gulps to rehydrate themselves. “Thanks.”
“Yeah, no problem.”
The line slowly crawled forward once again. They were almost at the entrance, and they would be among the next group to be let in.
“Oh jeez,” Kevin said, fanning himself with the front of his shirt, “I’m going to be sweating buckets if they don’t let us in soon.”
“We’re almost there. Besides, there’s no betting that it’ll be any cooler on the inside.”
“Yeah, but it’ll give us some shade at least. And hopefully we wouldn’t be squished as we practically are right now in this line,” Kevin said, wiping his forehead with the back of his hand.
“It’s getting really hot right now.”
“We should’ve put on some sunblock, dammit.”
“Yeah, well a little sunburn isn’t that bad.”
“Hah, look who’s talking,” Kevin smirked as he recalled a memory. “You got a pretty bad sunburn on your neck that one time and you were bitching about it for a week, remember?”
“Can’t forget it. I got you into trouble that day in class. Our doofus teacher put you into detention. Least I could do was wait outside below the window ‘til you got out. I even offered to switch places or wait inside for you but he wouldn’t let that happen. Still don’t know why that bastard kept you in so long, ‘cause I got a damn awful sunburn just waiting outside feeling like shit,” Henry said, briefly recounting the story.
“Yeah, I was so mad at you,” Kevin muttered almost to himself, being reminded of that day.
“I know, I fucked up bad,” Henry said.
“Yeah, but you fucked up even more the next day during lunch break outside. I still can’t believe you did that!” Kevin couldn’t help but laugh at the thought.
“So what? Something’s bound to happen when you’re taking your sweet time walking by the soccer field. Just sayin’,” Henry grinned.
“You aimed it at Mr. Ham, everyone saw,” Kevin laughed.
“Well, he deserved it! At least then you weren’t mad at me anymore,” Henry smiled sheepishly, shrugging his shoulders.
“Yeah…” Kevin sighed. He suddenly grew quiet, appearing deep in thought as a hint of a frown settled in.
“So…” Henry said slowly, sensing his friend had something on his mind.
“So…” Kevin repeated, feeling particularly uneasy.
“Something on your mind?”
“Mmm…” Kevin looked at him, his expression solemn. “Henry…why did you bring me here? Why did you come for me, by my place?”
Henry gave Kevin a confused look. “What do you mean?”
“You know…” Kevin shrugged. “I thought you’d be spending the day with ‘your friends’.” The way he said ‘your friends’ made it very clear how he felt about them. “I was kinda surprised seeing them here with you not knowing or hanging out with them or anything.”
Henry looked sad, and hurt even, when he heard that. “Hey, you’re my friend too, Kev. I just wanted to hang out with you. I can’t do that anymore?”
Kevin shook his head. “It’s not like that. You’ve just stopped hanging around or noticing me for the past few months and now suddenly you decide to come back.”
Henry was not sure how to say what needed to be said, “Kevin…I tried. But you were just…not being yourself,” he sighed. “I didn’t get it. You weren’t really there anymore. You didn’t really want to hang out, either. You seemed upset, and whenever I came by you didn’t want to say anything.”
“I was…I was pissed. You suddenly got yourself a bunch of new friends and I felt like you left me for them,” Kevin said, shaking his head. “It also felt like they just came in and stole you away or something. It wasn’t fair.”
“Shit, Kev,” Henry said with realization, wiping the sweat on his brow with the back of his hand as he looked at Kevin. “I had no idea. I tried for the both of us to join in. I guess I should’ve realized then that you didn’t quite like them too much.”
“You’re right. I didn’t; still don’t.”
“Well…I guess they don’t really matter anymore ‘cause–”
Henry was cut off as the line started moving again. They slowly made their way through the gate before having it closed behind them by one of the men in charge. The few people in front of them quickly made their way up the ramp into the entrance, and they followed suit, picking up their walking speed.
“Kev…I never left you for them. I never meant for things to turn out that way either…I just…well, I fucked up. I’m trying to undo some of that. C’mon, let’s have some fun. I have a feeling this is going to be awesome.”
Kevin pouted, his eyes looking somewhere else. He wanted some kind of an apology, and he felt he was right for showing that he was still a little upset.
“Kevin…Kev, I’m sorry,” Henry responded sadly. “If I had figured it out earlier, none of that would have happened.”
Kevin shrugged, not yet wanting to admit to himself that he felt a bit of satisfaction from hearing that. But he knew it wasn’t fair for him to continue acting the way he was with his friend who he knew was trying to mend things between them. “I guess…I shouldn’t have let it get to me so much that I acted the way I did. I’m sorry, too. There are some things you can’t exactly figure out on your own. I should have just told you instead of acting distant.”
Henry let out a sigh, “No, it’s alright. No more apologies. But now it makes sense. I didn’t know I was making you feel that way, and I wish I could take that back. There’s something else I need to tell you, too, but right now,” he said as they entered the funhouse, “let’s have some fun inside this house.”
The interior was bigger than they had expected, and every section seemed to have a particular colour scheme. The two boys soon found themselves grinning ear to ear as they, along with the rest of the group, listened to a voice over some speakers as they traversed the first room containing various obstacles, including floor tricks with areas tipping up and down, some of which tipped and rocked when you stepped on them. A few air jets were blown, startling and sending a few people screaming, and others laughing, like Henry. One blew and lifted a woman’s skirt up as she screamed, and she tried to push it back down as she hopped away, her face a deep blush of embarrassment. Kevin grinned, and then had a jet of air blow up, disheveling his hair as he stumbled out of the way. Henry laughed at him as he tried with frustration to comb and smooth his hair back into place with his hands. There were a few illusions on the floor, confusing some people into thinking they might step onto a trapdoor.
A walkway led to the next room and Kevin was not the only one who had trouble standing up as the spinning tunnel wall created confusion in his sense of balance. The dark tunnel was lit with various shades of blue. There was laughter and chatter echoing off the walls from the crowd. Henry tripped but caught himself, looking totally goofy in the process as he reflexively let out a shriek, and that sent Kevin trying to catch his breath from laughing so hard.
“Oh, that was too much, I think I’m dying!” Kevin managed through breaths, a hand clutched on his stomach.
“Damn, I can’t even stand up straight here. Shit!” Henry gasped.
Keeping with the tone set up from it, the next few rooms were optical illusions. There was one where individuals appeared tall at one end of the room and shorter at the other end. A large hallway followed after, having checkerboard flooring with clown portraits and disorienting windows placed on the ground, upside down on the walls, or of peculiar sizes, as well as stairs snaking along the walls or going into ceilings. There were doors in out-of-reach places, placed in odd angles, and the walls were painted so as to give off the illusion of depth and create a perception of more rooms. They seemed to be walking up the hallway at an incline, and the hallway seemed to get narrower with every step. Kevin’s jaw dropped in amazement. Henry enthusiastically slung his arm across Kevin’s shoulders and the two chatted away excitedly as they slowly walked onward.
The next were two rooms opposites of each other. The kids made their way to the ball pit, while the rest of the group walked over to the tilted room. There wasn’t a lack of laughs there.
“Oh my gosh, this is sooo weird!” Kevin laughed.
“Shit, I totally forgot!” Henry said as his fished out a phone from his pocket. “Dad got me this on my birthday. I haven’t tried it out much ‘cause I haven’t had it for long, but let me take a picture of you.”
“No, I’ll look silly!”
“But you’re supposed to. It’s fun!”
“Oh alright, fine,” Kevin said, feeling a little embarrassed. Henry snapped a picture and then decided to get a picture of the two of them together.
“Hey, I’ll join you,” Henry said, “That way we’re both in the picture.”
They stood side by side, and Henry put on a goofy face. Kevin stuck his tongue out as Henry snapped a picture of the two of them standing on a tilt. One of the ladies in the group noticed and she offered to take a picture of them at a distance to get a better image as they stood tilted on a flight of stairs, and they thanked her for it.
“This. Is. Fucking. Awesome!” Kevin said in whispered awe.
They eventually made their way forward and there were a few attendants ahead by a steep set of slides for safety reasons. There were stairs if you wanted to opt out and walk down to the next floor, but most people took the slides, yelling and hooting as they descended. They were not your ordinary playground slides however, thanks to their steepness and odd curves.
“Come on, Kev!” Henry said, hopping on his feet as he got into one of the slides. Kevin was not far behind him.
When they got to the bottom, they came to a short room lit with a pink glow that was a large revolving barrel lying in the horizontal position. A few people fell as they unsuccessfully tried to maintain their balance as they walked through it. A banner was posted on top of the entrance which read, “Barrel of Love”. Quite appropriately, Kevin thought, as he saw quite a few couples falling on top of each other. There was also the option of a safer route around the barrel, though most people tried walking through the barrel. Kevin and Henry stayed back just a bit to keep it from being too crowded, and after a short moment they were the last to walk through.
“I’ll bet I can beat you crossing this without falling,” Kevin grinned.
“Oh, I wouldn’t bet on it if I were you,” Henry said, his eyes wide as he cautiously walked the first few steps.
Henry jabbed his elbow into his friend, and Kevin responded in kind. They wobbled back and forth trying to stay upright, but it wasn’t long before Kevin yelled out as he lost his balance. He reached out to hold onto something for support, and ended up pulling Henry down on top of him.
“Hahaha!” Henry laughed. “See, I told you so,” he said, rolling off of Kevin.
“Dammit!” Kevin said.
The two boys were on their backs in the slowly rotating barrel. It would take them up the side as it spun, and when they were high enough up the side, gravity would cause them to slide back down. They found it easy to simply allow that to happen as they continued talking to each other.
“Well…looks like you lost the bet. You owe me something.” Henry was leering at Kevin.
“Um…what do I owe you?”
“Um…” Henry shifted his weight and had his arms planted beside Kevin.
“Um?” Kevin’s breath quickly slowed as he looked up at Henry.
“Uh…” Henry’s mind blanked.
They looked quietly at each other for just a few seconds, then decided it was time to leave the barrel. Henry shifted onto his feet and offered his hand. Kevin took it and pulled himself up.
“Are you okay?” Henry asked.
“Yeah. Yeah, I’m okay,” Kevin responded.
“Okay.” Henry’s face calmed some. “Did I hurt you anywhere?”
“No.” Kevin suddenly felt very quiet. “No, you didn’t.”
“Okay.” Henry kept his eyes on his friend. “Cool. Let’s catch up, keep going forward.”
“Yeah. Right,” Kevin nodded. Henry offered a little smile and the two of them cautiously made their way out of the room.
Bright light hit them in the following room, as well as distorted images of themselves. The walls were lined with distorting mirrors. Kevin stopped to look at a skinny and very tall version of himself for a moment, and then suddenly a reflection of a huge grotesque clown face jumped up right beside him.
“Ahh! What the?” Kevin jumped, startled. Henry bent over with laughter before pulling the mask off.
“That was perfect! Oh my gosh if you could see yourself jump like that!”
“Shit, Henry! And where the hell did you get that?” Kevin exclaimed, trying to slow his heartbeat.
“Look here,” Henry said, walking over to a coat rack of assorted hats, masks, scarves, and other flamboyant items to wear. “Isn’t it neat?”
“Yeah, I guess. And fuck you for scaring me like that,” Kevin said, a cross look on his face but with a betraying smile.
“Aw, c’mon, lighten up, Kev! Here.” Henry picked a large nose attached with a pair of glasses and moustache. “Put this one on.”
“No way,” Kevin shook his head.
“Oh c’mon, you’ll look great.”
“C’mon, for me. You owe me.”
“Ugh!” Kevin groaned. “Fine, fine, I will,” Kevin took it and put it on.
“Now step right by this mirror here,” Henry said, directing his friend. Kevin stepped forward and looked at himself. In the mirror, his body was small, but his head was huge.
“Haha, very funny,” Kevin said sarcastically. Henry popped up behind him and threw a wig of blue curly hair onto Kevin’s head and a pink furry scarf over his neck.
“There we go!” Henry nodded with approval. He quickly snapped a picture before Kevin pulled it off with embarrassment.
“Man, that just makes me look duuumb!” Kevin whined. Henry giggled at his friend’s reaction.
“C’mon Henry,” Kevin said as he walked onward after hanging the assorted items back where they belonged.
“I’m right behind ya,” Henry said as he jogged to catch up.
After a bit of walking and oogling at their reflections, they found the group they’d been with and entered the mirror maze. It was fun and confusing with the added but deceptive depth perception. There appeared to be numerous false hallways that seemed to endlessly go on and on. They had to find the way out of the room. A few people bumped into the mirrors, and there were sections where the mirrors gave inverted images. As they were trying to find their way out, Kevin noticed that Henry’s reflection on the mirrors disappeared.
“Henry? Hey, where are you?” he called out. Kevin started looking around but Henry seemed to be gone. He chose a direction and started walking before he noticed a flash of Henry across the mirrors.
“Think you can catch me?” Henry called out.
“Hell yeah!” Kevin grinned ear to ear. He took a left turn and saw nothing but his own reflection, then he went back and took the other turn and saw Henry looking at him, but he wasn’t in the room.
“Hey, what the?” Kevin smiled, delightedly confused as he raced towards it and saw another corner. Henry’s reflection laughed and then dashed off as Kevin turned down the hallway.
“Where are you at now, Henry?” he said as he dashed around. The same reflection came up again and this time Kevin was fast enough to race down to where he predicted Henry to be. He reached out and grabbed his friend’s arm.
“There, I gotcha!” Kevin panted, smiling to himself.
“Aw man, you’re too good at this. But that was fun,” Henry laughed. Kevin tugged on Henry’s arm and they smiled at each other before trying to find the exit of the mirror maze into whatever else awaited them.
“That was sooo cool!” Henry cheered when they got out of the funhouse. Kevin’s grin hadn’t faded a bit, either. When they took the ramp down and out, they noticed that the sky had darkened considerably. The lights decorating the various rides and games brightly lit up the fairground under the night sky, and there seemed to be fewer people around than there had been just a few hours ago.
“That was awesome. So awesome,” Kevin laughed. He finally felt the energy up in his chest and the skip in his feet that had been missing for some time, and he knew it was because Henry was back.
“I told ya. I had a feeling it was gonna be good. I’m glad we got to see it.”
“Yeah. I’m glad we did, too,” Kevin said, stopping in his tracks. Henry noticed he had stopped and so he himself stopped and turned around to meet his friend’s eyes.
“Thanks, Henry. For coming back.” Kevin paused, not knowing what else or how else to say what he felt.
“Yeah. Anything for you,” Henry said, except he did so with a wan smile. Kevin looked at him, and when he noticed Henry’s expression, he reacted with more than a hint of concern.
“Henry? What’s wrong? Is everything okay?” Henry’s face became difficult to read, but Kevin was able to tell that he seemed stressed and uncertain. Henry opened his mouth but then closed it, not sure if it was the right time for him to say what he needed to say.
“Henry, what’s going on?” Kevin’s tone softened, his own sense of worry creeping up slowly.
Henry took a deep breath of air before chewing on his lips. “I…”
“Henry! Kevin!” a voice came from behind them. The group of three kids they had seen earlier at the ice-cream waffle stand quickly came up to them. Henry turned around, his expression changing to surprise.
“Oh, hey guys!” Henry said, caught off guard.
“Hey man!” one of the guys said. Kevin saw it was Tom, the tallest of the three. “You at the fair today?”
“Yeah, just like you guys are,” Henry grinned. They looked at Kevin and he nodded back with a small smile.
“Dude, check it, Donald’s rich with all of the stuff he won,” Tom said, waving his hand at the shorter, heavy set boy, who then lifted a bag of prizes and started going on about how they should’ve been there to see him beat every game.
“Dude, I felt like I was robbing every game place, one by one. Hah! And Ron was the total loser at every game.”
“Hey, shut it man!” the third boy, Ron, said in annoyed response.
“Wish I could’ve got the electric scooter though. Bet those cheap shits rigged those games so you can’t win it,” Donald continued.
Kevin stood by feeling ignored as they continued to talk and boast. He zoned out most of the banter, his mind wandering, but then had his attention caught when they started saying their goodbyes.
“Last day here, huh?” Tom said.
“Yeah…” Henry stated quietly. “Last day here.”
Last day here…? What is he saying? Kevin felt stunned and confused. Last day here. The boys started shaking Henry’s hand and waved as they walked away. Kevin barely registered that they waved to him as well. Eventually, when their backs were turned away and they had headed to the gates at the fair, Henry turned around and came face to face with a worried and confused look on Kevin’s face.
“Last day here?” Kevin asked. “What’s…what’s that supposed to mean?”
Henry shook his head, not having wanted him to have found out about it this way. “I’ll be leaving. Tomorrow.”
Kevin blinked a few times, trying to understand. “What? What do you mean, leaving? You mean, like, a vacation or something?”
Henry bit his lips as he shook his head. “No…I’m moving away, Kevin.”
There was a brief silence as Kevin tried to process what he had just heard. “What?” Kevin felt a wave of panic and dread wash over him. “Since when? Why? …Where will you be going?” Kevin swallowed hard, his throat feeling dry.
“Seoul. We have to move there. It’s with the company my dad works at. They need him there.” Kevin’s eyes widened slightly. He felt hit with another stun. “He wouldn’t listen to me. I wanted us to stay,” Henry added.
“That’s…pretty far from here.” Kevin became speechless. He didn’t know what to think, didn’t know what to say. All he did was stand there in disbelief. Slowly, he started feeling the beginning of a rippling and chilling ache of loss.
“Yeah. I know.” Henry, seeing Kevin’s reaction, felt a weakness in the pit of his stomach that seemed to churn and twist.
“For how long?” Kevin asked.
“I dunno, Kevin. We might end up living there. I…I dunno.”
“Henry…you can’t. I mean…we just…” Kevin was at a loss for words.
“I know. But Kevin, I have no choice…”
“Whuh…When were you going to tell me this?” Kevin asked, his voice growing weak. He took a step back. He shook his head, not understanding why all of this was happening; why this was all happening right now. “I could’ve at least had some early warning or something…”
“Kev…I was going to tell you…” Henry started.
“You told ‘them’, but you didn’t care to tell me? I don’t understand,” Kevin said with hurt and disbelief colouring his voice.
“Kevin…look, hear me out for a sec, ‘K? There was no way you were going to hear me out or give me a chance unless I tried patching up some things first. That’s what I’ve been trying to do here. Today. All of today. But then…you were happy, and I didn’t want to be screwing everything up by telling you.”
Kevin blinked a few times as he listened to what Henry had just said. “Well…either way, everything’s screwed up now, isn’t it?” Kevin’s eyes fell and he suddenly felt very small and cold. He could feel his heart thump in his chest, but it was slow.
“I didn’t want you to find out this way, Kev. I didn’t want any of this to happen,” Henry said, his eyes pleading. “I was going to tell you, you know that. But I didn’t want you to push me away when I did.”
Kevin tried suppressing a frown. “Okay…” he sighed with an inflection as if asking a question. A question of what they should do now. His eyes shifted back and forth, feeling lost. “I never thought this would happen…I mean…” Kevin found himself struggling with words. “I thought…I thought you’d be here all summer, like always. And then after that too… I didn’t know you’d be leaving. I didn’t know we were…running out of time.”
Henry shook his head. “I wish I got to you sooner. Told you earlier. You were mad at me and I was afraid you didn’t want to see or talk to me anymore. But I decided to get to you one last time before it was too late to try. Today was my last shot. I may be sorry it was today. But I’m not sorry for today.” Henry looked at Kevin and soon their eyes met. “I just hope you aren’t either.”
Kevin felt too weak, too tired to even sigh. It was as if the air felt clogged inside, not wanting to leave. “Henry… Today was a good day and…I’m not…I’m not mad or pissed off at you. Not anymore.”
“But…?” Henry felt there might be something more Kevin wanted to say or was holding back.
“I…I don’t know. I just…I just wish things didn’t have to be this way,” Kevin felt it hard to talk. He just didn’t have any more energy in him. He became upset at himself, realizing that he would have known earlier and prevented the unexpected shock of the news had he tried to get back with Henry before things started falling apart over the last few months. “I wish we had more time. Maybe if I had known…”
“Kev…you don’t have to blame yourself. It’s my fault I didn’t tell you sooner. I’m sorry,” Henry said, almost whispering.
Kevin finally took a breath, his chest wanting to collapse from the weight he was feeling. “It’s…it’s alright. I’ll be alright,” he lied. “Let’s just…let’s go home now.”
Henry quietly nodded his agreement, not knowing what else to say or what else to do. There really wasn’t anything else he could do to make things better, and there was no way he could change things. The two of them slowly walked side by side, reluctant footsteps one after the other as they weaved through the quieting but still boisterous noise between the aisles of game stations, booths, and tents; between the thinning crowds laughing and talking away without a care in the world. They passed through the rides and hot dog stands, the water stations and street vendors.
There was one ride left that they saw as the gate appeared in view. Henry paused, and Kevin stopped to look back at him.
“Hey Kev,” Henry said, his head tilting as he looked up. “Wanna go on the Ferris Wheel? Me and you?”
“I dunno Henry. It’s getting late…” Kevin started. His emotions had gone where he didn’t know how to handle them, and he was trying to keep it together. He felt drained and tired. Kevin was usually a tough kid, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t emotional. He felt something start to give away inside of him, thinning, growing fragile. He sensed something welling up, and he was afraid of not being able to hold it back.
“C’mon Kevin,” Henry pleaded, trying his best to put on a smile. “It’ll be fun. You’ll be home before your brother gets back and he won’t even know what happened. Trust me.”
“I…we should get going…”
“Kev…c’mon. Just…one more, ‘K? Please?”
“This is the only time I have left with you. And I don’t wanna let that go.”
Kevin sighed, feeling a tugging inside of him. It was going to come out, and it wasn’t going to look pretty unless he got himself under control. He started taking deep breaths.
“Kevin?” Henry pleaded once more.
Kevin let out a shaky sigh, sniffing as he pretended to rub and take an imaginary speck from his eye. He looked at Henry for a moment before tilting his head upward to gaze at the wheel. He remembered a fact about Henry and managed a grin. “I thought you were afraid of heights.”
“Yeah, well…there’ve been a few things I’ve tried not being afraid of anymore.”
“Maybe,” Henry said cryptically, shrugging.
“Okay…mystery man,” Henry said, shuffling his feet as he nodded to himself. He bit down on his lips to keep himself steady and calm as he made up his mind. “Sure. Last ride, huh?” Kevin said, a sad smile on his face.
“I guess you could say that. One more adventure. Can’t be that bad,” Henry said with an upturned corner on his lips.
Kevin took a few steps toward Henry. “Can’t be that bad,” Kevin echoed, muttering softly to himself. He didn’t think anything with Henry had ever been truly bad at all. “Okay. Let’s do this,” he said, this time with a real smile. Henry responded in kind, wearing a small smile of happiness and relief, and they made their way over to the ride’s gate keeper. In just a moment they and a few others were let in and they took their seats, the Ferris wheel turning once each carrier was filled to let the next person or pair go on. Henry and Kevin waited in line and soon they got on, buckling up and pulling down the safety bar.
“Ever been on a Ferris Wheel before?” Henry asked.
“Nope. Never.” Kevin said as he looked around. “You?”
“Fear of heights?”
Henry chuckled softly, but didn’t say anything more. Their cart suddenly jolted a little bit and then moved backwards. “Whoa,” Henry said, having been caught by surprise as the wheel turned to let the next pair go on. The wheel turned a few more times, and then with another jolt, the ride began.
“Wow,” Henry said, looking down. “We’re goin’ up.”
A smile started broadening on Kevin’s face as he looked forward, observing the lights of the fairground as they ascended slowly. The landscape seemed to open up and his view grew wider and deeper with every foot the wheel turned, the lights a sharp and undying glow in the night. “This is pretty damn awesome,” he said smiling.
Henry looked ahead and quickly realized what Kevin was talking about, and he came to agree. “Holy shit, we can see everything up here.” He looked at the people still playing and strolling down below. “People sure look small from up here. Heck, everything looks smaller, don’t it?”
“Yeah, but it looks…expansive, you know? Like the entire thing is just…huge.”
“Kinda like that time we found our way to the roof of the school and looked down on the soccer field.”
“Oh yeah,” Kevin grinned. “I remember that. And the time we sneaked up there to drop water balloons on those jerks.”
“Yeah!” Henry laughed. “Shit, we got into so much trouble. But it was worth it just to get back at those guys. They were such bullies, and the teachers just didn’t care to do anything about it.”
As they slowly rose to the top, Henry sat back with a warm smile and hugged himself with his arms. No more words were spoken for a moment, but there still seemed to be a tension between them, and one that needed to be acknowledged and dealt with. Kevin decided to say something.
“Do you think we’ll get to do something like this together again?” Kevin asked softly.
Henry’s smiled slowly faded. The reality was settling back in. He turned to Kevin, looking at him, his gaze slightly deeper than usual. “I dunno. I really don’t know, Kev.”
Kevin sank a little in his seat, looking out and seeing that the world was a big place, knowing and feeling how he was so small in it, occupying so little room. “I don’t want you to go, Henry,” he whispered.
“I don’t either.” Henry didn’t know what to say. “But I don’t have a choice.”
“I know,” Kevin said, feeling defeated, lost, and helpless. He knew he had to accept it. There was a silence between them, each lost in his own thoughts, not knowing what to say to the other. The wheel continued spinning, and they both knew their time together was slowly coming to an end. Henry started feeling a pressure build inside of him. There was something he had been wanting to say for a while now.
“Kev…” Henry started. “Earlier I said there was something I needed to tell you.”
Kevin’s forehead creased a little. “What do you mean?” he asked, looking back at Henry. “I thought it was about how you’d be moving tomorrow.”
“Yeah. That was only one of the things I needed to tell you.”
Kevin felt confused. “What else did you want to say?”
“It’s…” Henry looked up into the night sky and took a deep breath. Then he exhaled it all out. “Something I don’t want to be afraid of anymore,” he said, his voice shaky. He sounded scared.
“It’s not heights, is it?” Kevin grinned. Henry didn’t seem to react, and so Kevin quickly lost his smile and frowned a little with worry. “Henry, what is it?”
“I don’t know if it’s too late to tell you. I’m not sure how you’ll take it.” Henry looked very tired. He looked nervous, and Kevin saw that.
Kevin shifted in his seat, moving closer to his friend, “I’m listening, and I’m not going anywhere.” He had his head close to Henry’s as he reassured him.
They looked at each other for a moment. Henry didn’t say anything else. He decided not to say anything. He had changed his mind. Without speaking a word or taking a breath, Henry leaned in and gently kissed Kevin’s lips.
Kevin didn’t say a word. He blinked a few times, staring almost blankly at Henry. He was dead silent. He froze.
“Kev…I’m sorry,” Henry whispered, pulling back. He gulped as a stricken look came over his face. He was afraid he had made a mistake.
Kevin let out a breath. “No more apologies,” he said, repeating his friend’s words from earlier. And he smiled. Then his smile quivered, and he took in a sharp breath. He didn’t bother to wipe his eyes as he saw the emotions reflecting on Henry’s face. “Thanks…for letting me know,” Kevin said.
“I…I was afraid you’d push me away. You didn’t,” Henry said with a look of relief.
Relieved as well, Kevin let out a nervous chuckle, and it felt amazing. “I wouldn’t.” He paused for a short moment, not knowing what else to say. They were past the top of the wheel now, slowly descending. “Henry…thank you. For today. All of today.”
“I should be thanking you. For giving me a chance,” Henry smiled sadly. Kevin raised his hand to wipe his eyes and cheeks.
“So…what do we do now? How do we go on from here?” Kevin asked quietly, knowing there really was no answer.
Henry shook his head. “I dunno.”
After a brief silence, Kevin spoke his thoughts out loud. “We were going to go to the same high school together. We had it all figured out. I thought we had it all figured out. And…I was still trying to find a way to tell you…about how I felt… Now you’ve beaten me to the chase,” he said, feeling his face growing hot. From the lights around them he could see that Henry’s ears had turned a dark shade of red. “But…everything’s changed now too,” Kevin continued sadly.
“Yeah,” Henry sighed. “But I’ll call you. I’ll write to you. And if I do come back, I’ll know where to find you.” Kevin smiled a quivering smile again, and he gently leaned into Henry’s side, his heart sending small but powerful quakes throughout his body. Henry welcomed the warm contact of Kevin’s body and shifted himself so that their sides molded into each other.
Would Henry ever come back for him again? Kevin didn’t know. Would they still feel the same way about each other next year, the year after, and the year after that? Kevin didn’t know either. Would the distance be too much and they’d forget or give up, leave each other behind for other people? Kevin had no idea. All he knew was that this was their moment, and he wouldn’t give it up for anything in the world.
The wheel completed its revolution upon descending, and repeated it twice more. They stayed together like this, listening to the other’s heartbeat and every breath the other took as they engraved this moment into their memories. Kevin felt it so unfair that they could know and be this close only now. He felt excited by the strong feelings, yet he was hanging onto this moment desperately, hoping it would never end. There was no longer any reason at all to try and hold anything back, and he turned his head in and held onto Henry as his cheeks dampened. Eventually, the ride ended, and as they got off and headed toward the gates, Henry slipped his hand into Kevin’s. There was no one else he wanted to spend his last moments here with than Kevin.
“Can I walk you home?”