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Ashley

"You're pretty, you know that?"

The girl blushed, the sun on her face nowhere near as warm as the blood flowing through it.

"Oh yeah, Biggy Man? And why's that?"

"I like your braces."

"Shut up!"

"No really, I do. I think they look good on you. There's nothing wrong with braces. I think they look sexy on you. Well....I shouldn't be saying that."

"Oh? And why not?"

"Because you're really too young to be hearing stuff like that."

"I'm not that young, mister...."

"Oh? And how old are you?"

"How old do you....think I am?"

"Seventeen....maybe eighteen...."

Her cheeks turned the color of apples. She looked down, trying not to let the grin on her lips spread too wide.

"....Well....I'm not....

"Well how old are you?"

"....Thirteen...."

He gasped, a look of disbelief on his face.

"Well I'm almost fourteen...."

"When's your birthday?"

"Two weeks...."

"We should celebrate."

She looked away again, but this time she snapped her head back and looked him right in the face, not trying to hide her smile.

"What else do you like about me?"

"I like your hair. I like the way you've done it up. I like your eyes, and your lips. I just think you're a very pretty girl."

"....sexy....?"

"....Yeah. Yeah, I think you're sexy. You know, when I first saw you, I was convinced you were at least seventeen. You play softball, right?"

"Yeah....over in Blackberry Park....you've seen me play softball?"

"You're number seven, right?"

"*giggle* Yeah!"

"I'm your biggest fan. You know, you're my number seven too."

"Seven what?"

"Seventh pretty girl I've talked to this summer. You're the prettiest though. Tell you what....how 'bout I give you an early birthday present."

He reached into the back of his Biggy's Ice Cream truck and pulled out a bomb pop. "You look a little red in the face. Sunburn, I'm sure. This'll cool you down."

"Why thank you, Biggy Man. You know, you look a little hot yourself. Is your boss gonna get mad you tore the sleeves off your uniform?"

"Don't care if he does. I'm bigger than he is. Stronger too. And I've been to hotter places than this. I like it hot. The warmer the better. Well....sometimes if you get a little too hot, it can get a little hard to think straight. You get crazy. I bet you have that problem....is that why you wear those little shorts?"

"I wear 'em 'cause they look good."

"Yeah, they do. Does your mom like you wearin' those shorts?"

" I don't care what my mom likes. I like it."

"You're pretty cool, Ashley. Too bad you're not as old as you look....carnival's in town tonight. Anybody else as cool as you and I'd take 'em, right tonight."

"I can go! I mean....so what if I'm younger than I look? Everyone says I'm very mature for my age."

"Oh yeah? Who's your favorite band?"

"All of my dopey friends still like The Monkees. I like The Stones."

He smiled.

"Good answer. Maybe you are cool enough to hang with me tonight. Whataya say....you wanna go to the carnival with me? I know a place where we can go where no one would have to see us....no one to dime you out to your mom. I'll get us right up by the ferris wheel, and we can listen to The Stones. Just hang out. Whataya say? Cool?"

"....Cool. Just pick me up by the corner here around nine. I'll tell my ma I'm sleepin' over at my friend Brandi's. It'll be our secret."

"I like secrets. See you at nine, Ashley."

. . . . .

He lay on the cool floor of the Biggy truck, eyes on the ferris wheel. Lit up like Christmas in summer, a thousand laughs and screams of youth hovering around it, echoing through the night. Through the trees, burning in the distant darkness, it was nothing short of magic. Beyond those faded sounds of the carnival, the forest was mostly quiet. Crickets. The breeze.

Fireflies flitted and burst through the darkness, and he thought this was as happy as he'd been in awhile. Different than last time. Less running. Less chasing. Different. Nice. There had been some, of course; and it was exciting, but he put an end to it quick. He wanted something quieter. calmer. She began to freak out when he put on his hood....that was only natural, he understood that, part of him always anticipated it, part of him liked it....but it wasn't screams he wanted tonight. Before she could get out of the truck, one quick heavy bash to the chest with the butt of the saw, and she was down. Broken ribs. Stunned wheezing. Quiet.

He fiddled with his radio antenna, and finally got it in just right. "She's a Rainbow." The Stones. Just like she liked. He brushed he long blonde hair, and propped he head up so she could see the ferris wheel. Her head almost fell off. Would have been off, like the last one, but at the last minute he'd decided he wanted it on. He'd already taken off the arms and legs....he had to....but he didn't feel like laying with pieces tonight. He felt like laying with the girl. Number Seven. Lucky Number Seven. He'd remember this one. There was something about her. A spark.

He couldn't even remember why he'd taken her apart as much as he did....he was having a hard time remembering things like that. It didn't even matter anymore. Something about that thought bothered him, and he held closer to the girl. He left the head. She wasn't parts. She was a girl. And in his way, he'd made it better.

The ferris wheel spun and screamed and laughed, and in the quiet place with the fireflies and the breeze and the crickets, the forest was filled with life.


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