There were lots of mountain meadows like this one. Hidden by banks of trees or on the edges of riverbanks. Only the initiated knew where to find them. This one was the biggest. In the spring the ground is saturated with melted snow and you can’t do anything with it for months except look at it and admire it from the road. Now that Fall was on its way the grass had grown thick and long, and the ground dry enough to sleep on.
The three of them lay out in the grass in a pinwheel of friendship with their heads creating the hub of the wheel, their legs as the spokes, shooting off into different directions from each other. If one of them got animated they would bump heads with the person next to them. They stared up into the sky waiting for falling stars. Bobby was the best at spotting satellites. As they watched one careen across the sky in its unnatural path Bobby would try to imagine the device itself speeding through space, running into things. Well it never did that of course ‘cause then it would crash, but maybe one day if they watched long enough they would get the chance to see and then they could be only ones in town to say they saw it happen. Sort of.
“Just think, a few days from now and this whole place will be transformed.” Rebecca waved her hand over the plain of grass.
“Why do you always have to do that?” Bobby rolled his head back to see the top of hers.
“Always do what?”
“I don’t know what you call it… keep time. You make an anniversary out of everything.”
“Whatta you talkin’ about?”
“’Remember two weeks ago at this time we were doing such and such. When I was five this exact thing was happening on the other side of the world, three years from now we’ll look back on this day in history’ blah, blah, blah.”
“Hey! Just because I like to think about things and how they’re connected doesn’t mean you have to be a jerk about it.” She reached back, her hand smacking him in the eye.
“Hey!” Bobby sat up. “Watch it,” he put his hand over the injured eye and squinted at her with the good one. Rebecca had folded her hands over her stomach again and was smiling contently.
He looked over at Amanda, she had not said anything in a while and her breathing was slow and deep. Still holding his hand over the assaulted eye Bobby leaned over Rebecca and whispered. “Hey, I think Mandy’s asleep.”
“No.” Amanda declared. “Just waiting for you to do something stupid.”
“Well you’ll be waiting a long time,” he laid back and rejoined the circle.
“So as I was saying,” Rebecca resumed. “It just always amazes me that this place goes from this, total wilderness to total weirdness in just a matter of minutes.”
“Minutes!” Bobby snorted. “Try hours.”
“Hours are made of minutes, Bobby.”
“I take it you’re on the set up crew,” Amanda asked.
“Yeah, my mom signed me up. Makes her look good when a council member’s family is participating.”
“What a load of crap, we all help.” Amanda snickered.
“I know that. I’m just saying that’s just the way she thinks.”
“How ‘bout you Mands, whatta you doin’?”
Amanda shrugged her shoulders. “Same as every year, ticket taker.”
“I’m hoping to get the Kentucky Derby booth this year. I think I have a real shot at it.” Bobby waited. “’Shot.’ Get it?”
Rebecca raspberried, “Yeah, Bobby we got, it just wasn’t funny.”
Amanda tapped Rebecca with her arm, “Better than being a carni,” both the girls giggled.
“Oh yeah well what do you get to do?”
Rebecca giggled again. “I get to assist all those cute forest service guys. You know get them water, show where stuff is?”
“A roadie for the forest service,” Bobby said incredulously. “Those guys aren’t cute, they’re old.”
Rebecca shrugged, “Some of them older maybe. But they always bring along the interns that clean up the trails all summer.” The smile in her voice was evident.
“You really think you’re gonna meet your true love that way, huh?” Bobby pulled on a hand full of grass.”
“Maybe,” she shrugged her shoulders again.
“Jealous,” Amanda threw a clod of dirt at him.
Bobby sat up again. “I don’t need to take this kind of abuse from you guys. I got all kinds of people waiting to abuse me.”
“Oh calm down,” Amanda grabbed his sleeve. “We do it out of love, those other people do it for sport.”
Bobby huffed and collapsed into the grass again.
The rumble of the river echoed across the canyon. An occasional car drove by, but otherwise the three of them listened to the silence.
“What’s your favorite part of the fair,” Rebecca asked. “I like seeing all the people.”
“You mean all the boys,” Bobby corrected her.
“Like you don’t go because of the girls.”
“I like the rides,” Amanda said, “The ones that go really high or really fast. But not in a circle. Those make me sick.”
“But that’s the best part,” Bobby laughed.
“Ulck.” Rebecca frowned. “Besides the girls, what are you looking forward to, Bobby.”
“I like the haunted house, the fun house, and midway. Oh, and the food.”
They agreed with a collective “mmm.” Between the chili cook off, the, baking competitions, funnel cake and fried Twinkies, popcorn, cotton candy, white corn on the cob cooked in the husk nobody ate for a week after the festival.
All the towns in the area came to work together to put this event on. It had become quite important for drawing in tourists to the area to show off their cooking skill, classic cars, or artwork. It was also that last of the season for any outdoor activities. Once the snow started the road would be closed and no one would be back until the spring melt.
This was Amanda’s favorite time of year. It was a time between times. Up here the seasons were different than in a lot of places. There was snow and no snow. That was one way of looking at it, the snow stayed around for so long usually. But there was the color of the leaves near the streams, the number of Birch trees was minimal compared to Pine, but they were so beautiful with their yellow leaves wading in the sea of green. Summer was over, the tourists would stop coming after the festival and a pleasant calm would descend over the town. It would snow just in time to give everyone something to complain about.
This year seemed different. She thought maybe it was because she would be twenty soon. No longer being a teenager meant new responsibilities. Or so it seemed. One day you are excused and the next now you have to somehow answer for and explain every action. No more goofing off. She liked the idea of not having to answer for her thoughts or actions. They were her own and if she didn’t want to explain them it was her choice, the choice of an adult. At the same time intimidating, so many choices and decisions to make for herself. Chances were she would still be at the café living in her parent’s house until something better came along. How likely was that going to be?
“She’s asleep for sure, this time,” Bobby whispered.
“No.” Amanda corrected him again. “What are hoping to do, put my hand in warm water so I’ll pee my pants?”
“Na, we’ll have to do that one when we get back to my house to watch a movie. But first—”
“Go Grizzlys!” Amanda and Rebecca shouted in unison.
There was not much to do so the high school sports events were the one thing everyone in town did, besides the festival that is, that was only once a year. The football and basketball teams gave them something to write about in the paper. This game was the official start of the week of festivities that meant everyone would be there.
Rebecca shivered. “You brought the hot chocolate, right?”
“Of course.” Bobby stood up. “What am I, a barbarian of some kind?”
He helped both of them to their feet and they tromped back to the car. When no longer in school every night felt like a weekend. There was still plenty of time left in the evening.
The football field was a large patch of dull green grass with brown spots and faded chalk lines, surrounded by wood bleachers that had weathered to a hideous brown, gray color and sank in the middle. Nobody cared, rather, everyone cared. This was the community meeting grounds where everyone came together for that one all meaningful touch down and game. Amanda, Rebecca, and Bobby had their usual spot on the very top level, closest to the snack stand. The cheering, the stomping, and the really bright lights. For them it was something to do. The high school almost never made it to the state championships, but that was okay, they were still the home town heroes every fall rescuing the towns folk from summer tourism and ushering in the change of seasons. Amanda, Rebecca, and Bobby were no longer any stake to which team won the game since they were had been out of high school a few years. It was just nice to be out of the house and away from the parental units.
Amanda got up to get a refill of her soda, leaving Bobby and Rebecca on their own. Waiting in line she noticed a man standing next to the snack shack. He wore dark blue jeans and a brown sports jacket. He had a micro recorder and a pocket notebook. His eyes jumped around before speaking into the recorder. His eyes landed on Amanda. Quickly she turned away, she had been caught. She had never seen the guy before and probably never would see him again. He was definitely an outsider. She got her refill and a box of Red Hots and turned around to start back to her seat.
Crunch! With a rattle of red candy and the cracking of plastic she found herself covered in soda, staring at the man’s shirt.
“Hey!” The stranger jumped back and glared at her. “If you wanted to say hi, just do it.”
Amanda blinked up at him. Cold soda soaking into all her clothes, she shivered slightly.
“You know, like Nike, ‘Just Do It.’” He smiled down at her.
She frowned. He was much older than her. She didn’t really know, it’s not like he was wearing a badge or anything that stated his age, he just seemed like a thirty- something or at the very least not twenty or under.
“I’m Brian,” he held out his dripping hand. “I’m just visiting, thought I would check out the game.”
Amanda reluctantly took what was offered with no effort to impress him, she made contact and quickly retracted her hand. “Welcome to our town,” she said looking around for Rebecca or Bobby to rescue her. The two them sat with their back to her, leaning against each other taking turns to talk in each other’s ear. They suck, she thought.
“Yeah it’s been great,” he reached over and grabbed a hand full of napkins, he took her hand suddenly, patting it dry. “You are?”
Amanda yanked her hand back like it had been burned and held to her chest. She looked at him with shock and bewilderment.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean—“
She stepped back, “It’s fine,” she reached for her own napkins. “I, uh, I’m Amanda.”
“Amanda,” he repeated with a playful tone.
“I really have to get back to—“
“How you like the game so far, Mandy? It’s pretty cool—“
“Don’t call me that. Where did you hear that?” She looked around again this time for someone from the police station, Charlie, William, Henry, any of them, where the hell were they? She backed away and quickly turned away at a halfhearted around.
“Okay, well nice meeting you Amanda,” Brian shouted after her. “See you around.”
Amanda heard him call after her but she had already decided to put him in her mental Pandora’s box, let’s not go there again. She went down several sections and then weaved her way back across. Looking up and back she could see Rebecca and Bobby watching the game. She could see the snack shack too, the weirdo was gone. She checked the bleachers in case he had decided to follow her, but she could not see him anywhere. Stomping her way back to the top she dumped a few Red Hots into her hands and chucked the tiny hard candies violently at the both of them upon her arrival.
The two of them looked up at her, “What gives,” Bobby picked the sweet from his chest and tossed it back at her.
“What happened,” Rebecca asked noticing her browned hoodie.
“Thanks a lot Musketeers, I am practically molested by some tourist and you two sit her laughing it up.” She pushed her way past them and sat down.
“Molested?” Rebecca grabbed her arm.
“Forget it,” Amanda stared at the players on the field running back and forth. “Who’s winning?”