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Authors: Hannah Roberts McKinnon

Franny Parker (8 page)

BOOK: Franny Parker
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“Ouch!” Pearl yelped.

“Beauty is never pain-free,” Sidda said. She looked at me. “Observe one who has never suffered a day in her life.”

I ignored this. I was too busy counting the Animal Funds donations in my coffee can. Forty-two dollars and seventeen cents!

“Ready to go to the fair?” I asked. I think Pearl nodded, but it was hard to tell. Sidda was tugging her head up and down with all those brushes.

Half an hour later, with bows firmly tied in Pearl's red hair, we were whizzing down back roads as Mrs. Jones navigated her “secret route” to the fair. The Grafton County Fair was the highlight of the summer for every kid in town. The fourth week of July a band of trucks rolled up Main Street and into the town park, pulling trailers of rides, game booths, and attractions. It was the one weekend of the year when every kid in Grafton skipped dinner to stand in line, when bedtimes were overlooked and you made every ticket count, weighing with care the choice of a cotton candy or one more ride on the roller coaster.

Pearl and I leaped out of the car before Mrs. Jones had come to a full stop at the entrance gates.

“Now, Pearl, you may ride the merry-go-round and the Ferris wheel. No spinning teacups, no waterslide, and absolutely no bumper cars.” We stared at Mrs. Jones. This, coming from the most dangerous driver in town.

“Don't talk to strangers—they kidnap you. And no junk food—it makes you barf. Meet me at the Garden Booth by nine o'clock. We have books at home to read.” Mrs. Jones turned her attention to me. “Did Pearl tell you she was on her twelfth book? This could be our summer!” She clapped her pudgy hands together, and in the backseat, baby Mable clapped hers.

“Woof!” barked Mable, as the car spun away from the gates.

“So, which is it?” I asked. “The merry-go-round or the Ferris wheel?”

Pearl straightened Sidda's pink bow in her hair and marched off. “Definitely the bumper cars,” she said.

Frog Hop

ell, well, look what fell off the merry-go-round!” Izzy handed us each a chocolate chip cookie in a red, white, and blue napkin. The ladies were working Grandma Rae's bake stand, famous for its homemade pies and donations to the church.

“Come with us to the frog hop?” I asked them.

Ben had entered George and Martha in the competition. Dad tried to explain that there wasn't much hope of either turtle out-hopping the frogs, but Ben argued that reptiles and amphibians were practically cousins, and finally Mama agreed to enter them. The judges had allowed it with amused chuckles, sensing little objection to two slow turtles being entered in a frog hopping contest.

“Ben's trying to beat the Walker frog,” I explained.

The ladies gasped.

The Walker family lived on the largest pond in town and were known to bring unusually large and odd-looking frogs to the fair each year. In fact, the Walker boys themselves were a little large and odd-looking.

“Let's go!” Izzy said.

“We are not abandoning our Christian baking booth!” Grandma replied.

“Just watch us,” Izzy said, hanging up a Closed sign. “Even God had a rest on the seventh day, Rae. And for all we know, he spent it at the frog hop. Now let's go.”

Grandma Rae sputtered as Izzy yanked the awning over the concession stand and the baking booth disappeared behind it.

Pearl and I led the way for the ladies, down the grassy aisles of game booths, giant prizes, and stuffed animals. Kids tossed rings, fired plastic guns, and threw balls. I scanned the crowd for Lucas. Once, I thought I heard someone call out my name, but the crowd pulled us forward. Past the booths, the field opened up into the rides, a glowing circus against the lateday sun. Little kids sailed by on the merry-go-round, the
painted horses surging up and down on their candy-colored poles. I spotted Sidda and her girlfriends in the bumper car line, giggling and pointing at boys in cars. In the distance, the Ferris wheel rolled into the sky, the top seats tipping gently against the clouds.

“Will you look at that. I always feel young when I see the Ferris wheel,” Izzy said, draping her arm around me.

The frog hop was set up at the north end of the field. It was a small grassy pen with individually roped-off lanes, but the crowd surrounding it was large. Mama and Lindy waved us over to Ben's lane, where Ben and Daddy were positioning the turtles.

“Have you seen the competition?” Mama asked.

He was the ugliest frog any of us had ever laid eyes on. Longer and bumpier than all the rest, the Walker frog towered over his opponents, his bulging eyes half-closed like he'd just finished a big meal. Jeb Walker's own bulging eyes also rested half-closed, but I don't think he could help that. The lane beside the Walker frog was empty.

“I think it ate the competition,” Dotty whispered.

Silence settled over the pen, and the announcer stepped forward. “On your marks, get set, go!”

A horn blew and the crowd went wild. Frogs flew forward and back, zigzagging across lanes, and sometimes into the crowd. Lindy and Mama cheered loudly. Pearl covered her eyes.

“Go, George! Go, Martha!” Ben hollered. As if in response, the turtles pulled their heads into their shells and disappeared.

Before we knew it the horn blew again, and Jeb Walker scooped up his winner at the finish line, waving him around for everyone to see.

“Poor Ben,” Izzy said with a sigh.

“Don't worry, that was just the first heat,” Mama assured her. “There are three more throughout the night.” But the rest of us didn't share her hope.

“We'll check in later,” I promised Mama. “Tell Ben good luck.”

“Back to the booth,” Grandma ordered, rounding up the ladies.

“Did Lucas give you a free try at the ring toss?” Lindy asked me.

Suddenly I remembered hearing my name in the crowd.

“He's here?” I asked her.

“At Harland's ring toss stand. It's their annual booth.”

I fingered the invitation in my pocket. I hadn't seen Lucas since I'd told him about the car. I'd been carrying it around for the last three days, hoping to see him, glad for the excuse to talk to him. I couldn't stand the thought of him still being mad.

“Let's go,” I told Pearl.

Teenagers gathered around the ring toss, mostly girls, I noticed. And there, smack-dab in the middle, was Sidda. I pushed my way to the front.

“Win anything?” I asked her.

She frowned. “These games are for
.” As she said it, Lucas tossed me a ring.

“Hey, Franny! Try your luck.”

I studied his face. He certainly didn't look mad.

“Lucas, are you coming to my party?” Marilee asked him.

My stomach fell.

“What party?” he asked.

“My birthday, tomorrow. Didn't you get the invitation?” She looked at Sidda, who glared at me.

“We sent you an invitation,” Sidda said, her eyes still on me. “I can't understand what could have happened to it.”

I covered my pocket with my hand and looked away. It was too late to offer it now.

“What time do you finish, Lucas?” Sidda asked, turning her attention back to him.

“Eight o'clock,” he said, glancing at the ring still in my hand. “Go on, Franny, give it a shot.”

I aimed and tossed, holding my breath as the ring hurtled through the air like a Frisbee, skimming the top of a blue bottle before it hit the curtain behind it.

“Missed!” yelled Marilee.

I felt my face flush.

“Try again,” Lucas said, handing me two more. The second one bounced off the top of a pink bottle, looped around it twice, then spun off.

“Almost,” Pearl whispered beside me.

I felt braver as I held the last ring.

Sidda hauled her pink purse onto the table next to me. “Here, Lucas, I think I have an extra invite somewhere.” She fished around in her bag and retrieved a purple envelope. “I hope you can make the party, on
such short notice

I could feel her hard stare.

“Thanks,” he said, opening it eagerly. “Sounds like fun.”

My face burned.

“By the way,” Sidda added, “we're all meeting at the Ferris wheel at nine. You should come.”

I felt the baby wolf flick its tail inside me. I think it may have even growled. This time I tossed the ring hard. It hit the back curtain and dropped, right onto a green bottle.

“Fifty points!” yelled Pearl, jumping up and down. I spun around to see Lucas's reaction.

But he wasn't watching. He was reading the invitation, a wide smile on his face.

Ferris Wheel

don't even like corn dogs,” Pearl whined.

It was almost nine o'clock and Pearl and I were in the corn dog line, which just happened to be next to the Ferris wheel. I tossed Sidda's invitation in the trash. What would Lucas think if he knew I'd kept it from him?

“And Mother says they're full of preservatives,” Pearl added with a cringe. “I don't want to stunt my growth.”

“Just eat it,” I said, handing the vendor my money and passing Pearl a dog. Sometimes Pearl was so clueless.

“I know why we're here,” she said, eyeing me over her untouched corn dog. Okay, maybe not clueless, but definitely annoying.

“Pass the ketchup,” a gravelly voice said. Standing beside
me at the condiment table was the pale-faced man from the driveway. I stared as he took the bottle from my hand, emptying all that remained onto his corn dog.

I nudged Pearl, and we moved aside. “I know that man,” I whispered. “He was at Lucas's the other day.”

The man tore off a large bite, staring into the crowd. I shivered. I remembered all the questions Lucas had asked about this man, and how upset he'd been when I couldn't answer them.

“Let's move,” Pearl suggested. “He's creepy.”

She was right, but I couldn't leave. Now was my chance to make it up to Lucas. I turned back to him.

“Excuse me, sir. Do you remember me?” The pale-faced man scowled down at us, saying nothing. I concentrated on his ketchup-smeared lips. “I saw you a few days ago. Outside my neighbor's house.”

He stopped chewing, wiped the arm of his jacket hastily across his mouth. His stare grew colder, not kinder, and I stiffened.

“You were in the Dunns' driveway, in your car,” I reminded him.

His eyes flashed, a quick, crooked smile passing over his face. “The Dunns,” he said and chuckled. “So I did have the right house.”

Suddenly this didn't seem like a good idea anymore. Pearl tugged on my sleeve.

“Well, well, well.” He laughed again, tossing his unfinished corn dog in the garbage can. “Thanks, kid. You just saved me a lot of trouble.”

Pearl tugged harder. I turned to see Lucas heading our way through the crowd.

“Lucas!” I called, pointing frantically to the man behind me. But when I turned back around, the man was already gone.

“So people really eat those things?” Lucas asked, eyeing our corn dogs.

Pearl piped up, “Franny sure does. She suddenly developed quite an appetite for them.”

I elbowed her, searching the crowd. But the man had truly disappeared. Had he seen Lucas? Wasn't that what he'd wanted?

“Want to ride the Ferris wheel?” Lucas asked, interrupting my worries.

I looked over my shoulder once more to where the man had been standing, then back at Lucas's bright smile. I didn't want anything to ruin this moment. What difference would it make if I told him about the man later?

We were almost at the front of the Ferris wheel line when I felt a tap on my shoulder.

“How nice of you to hold our place!” It was Sidda, googlyeyed and grinning, with Marilee and their friend Beth giggling beside her. Honestly, I couldn't imagine what they thought was so secret and so funny all the time. “I'm afraid I'm out of tickets,” she said, pouting dramatically. “Franny, you'll give me yours, won't you?”

I stared at her in disbelief. “But I only have enough for this ride,” I objected.

Sidda shrugged. Clearly, this did not concern her. She held out her hand and waited.

“Take these,” Lucas offered, digging in his pocket. He
placed a crumpled handful of tickets in her open palm. “I get extras for working at the fair.”

“Wow, thanks,” Sidda said, stuffing the tickets in her purse, offering none to the rest of us. We were at the front of the line now. A giant yellow seat swung slowly down, and the Ferris wheel operator steadied it. It was the last empty one.

“Who's next?” the operator called.

“We are!” Sidda shouted, pushing me aside to stand by Lucas. She hopped into the empty seat, and her friends piled in beside her.

My heart sank.

“Oh, Lucas! There's room next to me,” Sidda hollered, shoving Marilee over.

There was a pause, and the ride operator looked impatient.

“Oh, no!” Pearl cried beside me. “It's nine. I have to meet my mother.” She dashed off into the crowd, leaving me alone.
What now?
I wondered.

BOOK: Franny Parker
3.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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