“Today we gather in the town square around our beloved gazebo to celebrate the anniversary of the date when the founders of our town settled together and decide to make this spot their home. As per our tradition, we will once again spend the day enjoying our booths of fun, food, and activities and then after the sun sets, we will light paper lanterns and let them float off into the sky with our thanks and our hopes and wishes for the future. Thank you, good citizens, and have fun!”
The mayor of Crosswood stepped down from the podium and melted away into the crowd. Kat Drexel rolled her eyes from her spot under the big oak tree in the corner of the square. It was always so annoying to her the way the entire town got involved in these ridiculous events. She was counting down the days until her eighteenth birthday and she could move away to somewhere exciting like California or New York City and finally start her life. She only had six months to go and if she stayed in Crosswood any longer than that, it was going to be the death of her.
“Do you think it’s against the law if we don’t have fun if it is a formal decree from the mayor?”
Kat turned around to find a strange boy leaning against the side of the big oak tree. He was slouching in a way that somehow made him look taller in his expensive jeans and black t-shirt. He couldn’t be from Crosswood. The town had less than two hundred residents and everyone knew everyone. There was no way that someone who looked like him would manage to walk through the streets without being noticed.
“Um, I think it’s still safe as long as it’s not in writing. But it’s a small town so who knows.” She reached up and put her hair behind her ear without realizing it. “Speaking of small towns, you’re clearly not from around here. So what’s your story?”
He pushed himself off of the tree with just the shrug of his shoulder. “I don’t know yet. It’s still being written. I was passing through and saw the entire town gathered in one spot and figured it was something worth stopping for. Do you guys do this sort of thing every weekend?”
Kat rolled her eyes. “Very funny.”
He gestured toward the food and beverage booths. “Then we should probably take advantage of it. Be my guide?”
Kat shrugged. Suddenly the annual festival held a lot more appeal. “I could do that. But I’m going to need a name first.”
He laughed and put his hand out. “Charlie. My name is Charlie.”
She took his hand and shook it. “Nice to meet you Charlie. Let’s start with the funnel cakes. Agnes makes them and they sell out every year. Then we can make our way to the lavender lemonade, the fried pickles, and the giant pretzels. If you are still hungry, we can hit up the fajitas and roasted corn.”
Charlie rubbed his stomach. “Oh, game on, little girl. Let’s do this.”
The rest of the crowd had started with the carnival rides to take advantage of the daylight so the food lines were short and it wasn’t long before they had their bounty. They laughed at each other trying to balance their plates and eat at the same time. They ate and drank as much as they could and then tossed the rest.
Charlie let out a burp and then his cheeks reddened. “Sorry about that. I think I hit the maximum overload. That food was really good though. I guess it’s true what they say about small towns and home cooking.”
Kat smiled. “Where are you from then?”
He drank the rest of his lavender lemonade and tossed it in with the rest of the trash. “I’m from Chicago. The windy city.”
Kat tried not to look impressed. He was living the life she wanted to have. He was from a big city and he was independent enough to drive across the country alone even though he appeared to be only slightly older than Kat. “Oh. That’s cool.”
He gave her a small smile. “It’s something. What do you say we check out the ferris wheel next? I don’t have much more time and I would love to see the rest of your town before it gets dark and I have to head out.”
She nodded and they walked over to where the rides were set up. She told him to wait in line for the ferris wheel while she ran over to the ticket booth to buy them each a ticket. She was surprised that the line hadn’t moved by the time that she jogged back over but was secretly glad that it meant more time with Charlie. Surprises like this never happened in a sleepy little town like Crosswood.
When it was their turn to ride their ferris wheel, Charlie let her enter the car first. As they rode up slowly to the top, Charlie reached over and laced his fingers through hers to hold her hand. Kat felt a thrill rush through her at his touch. She wanted to look over at him but didn’t want him to just think of her as the small town girl who had never been touched or kissed before.
They finally reached the top of the ferris wheel and Charlie leaned forward slightly, careful not to tip the car. “Wow. Your town is so picturesque. It’s beautiful. I would have loved to grow up in a town like this. Growing up in Chicago was so impersonal. We never knew our neighbors or had any sort of town events like this. Instead we were afraid to knock on the door of the apartment next to us because we had no idea if the person living next door was a teacher or just out of prison. I would love to live somewhere just like this one day.”
Kat opened her mouth and then closed it again. She had no idea what to say. She couldn’t imagine coming from that sort of background. She looked around her same town with new eyes. Instead of feeling desperation to leave Crosswood, she felt safety and belonging. She realized that she was lucky to grow up in a place where she had been free to discover who she was and what she wanted to be.
Before she knew it, the ferris wheel had completed its cycle and it was time for them to get out of their car. Charlie got out first and then offered Kat his hand to help her jump out. She smiled at him as she took it and joined him on the ground. “That was fun. What would you like to do next?”
Charlie looked sad as he shook his head. “Unfortunately, it’s dark now and I need to get back on the road so I can reach my hotel. But thank you. This was fun.”
Kat felt her heart sink. “Oh. Okay. Well, should we exchange numbers or something?”
Charlie moved forward and gave her a kiss. Her first real kiss. “Don’t worry, Kat. If we are meant to find a way together again, it will happen. I’ll never forget this.”
Kat watched as he walked away. She knew that she should feel sad that he was leaving but the elation of her first true kiss refused to let her feel down. She realized that it was almost time for the paper lanterns and she walked over to the town square and found her parents.
Her mom smiled as she joined them. “Did you have fun today, Kat?”
Kat nodded. “I did. I met a boy, Charlie, from out of town and we spent the day eating the food and riding the ferris wheel.”
Her mom and dad exchanged a strange look as they assembled their paper lanterns. Her mom stepped forward. “Are you feeling okay, honey?”
Kat smiled. “Of course. Why?” Her mom reached out and touched her shoulder. “Kat, we watched you all day. You were alone the whole time.”