I'm not superstitious, but the only time I ever visited a palm reader, she took one look at my hand and promptly declared that I would die on a roller coaster.
Now maybe, by some sick twist of fate, I decided to visit the only palm reader in existence who doesn't tell customers exactly what they want to hear. Maybe she was having a bad day and decided to mess with the little pink-haired boy. Vindictive palm readers—it's not that hard to believe. But I swear she cradled my hand in hers, and her eyes instantly widened, almost comically because of the massive amount of eyeliner she wore, and she said, in her mysterious, haunting voice, "Your life will end when you enter the capsule of rises and falls, dips and sharp, sharp turns. Be wary, young man."
I remember staring at her. "Huh?"
"A roller coaster, kid. Five bucks." She held out her hand.
And the experience has stayed with me until this very day.
When Eli stormed into my room a week ago and announced that his family was going to Universal Studios in Florida, and that I was going with them—well, of course I was excited. I've never been out of Indiana in my life. I couldn't wait to see Mickey Mouse and watch the themed shows…maybe ride a few of the small rides, like the tilt-a-whirl or those cool spinning cup things. Even the ferris wheel would have been just dandy…if they even had all of those things, because honestly I didn't know what to expect.
After twenty-two hours of driving, we arrived at the hotel, and Eli and I headed to Universal Studios, and we walked down the path lined with restaurants: fabulous, brightly colored restaurants with themes and slogans (I was particularly fascinated by Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville). And then we came to a fork in the path, and Eli ran ahead of me, dodging through the crowd, toward the theme park.
Currently, I'm standing in the middle of that path as families pass by, staring at my pink hair and my confused expression. Where is Mickey Mouse? I would even settle for Goofy right about now, even though I hate that guy. This was not what I expected.
"Eli!" I call. He turns back to me, away from the huge silver rotating planet he had been examining.
"What?" he has to yell to be heard over the buzz of children and adults eager to explore. I can barely see his messy brown hair through the gaps of the people—I catch a flash here and there, through the crook of an elbow, or the small space between two tweens as they pose together for a camera.
"Which way is Mickey Mouse?" I call back.
I wait for his reply, but I receive no answer. Impatiently, I push through the crowd until I reach the rotating planet and the fountain attached to it. I see Eli sitting on the low surrounding wall, his arms wrapped tightly around his stomach as he laughs hysterically—at what, I have no idea.
"Hey, what are you doing?" I ask. He looks up at me.
"Kellen, Mickey Mouse is at Disney World. This is Universal. It's totally different."
I am devastated.
I grip the straps of my backpack, grimacing. "So, what do we do here?"
"Tons of stuff! But right now, let's ride the coasters!"
I sit on a low stone wall surrounding a small garden, licking an ice cream cone, as Eli sits next to me. I am trying very hard not to cry.
"I swear I thought you knew the difference between Disney World and Universal."
I glare at him half-heartedly. It's hard to be mad when eating ice cream. The tonguing humbles, for some reason; it's difficult to lap at something so cold and delicious, delectable, and delightful, and be angry. I dunno why. Being sad is pretty easy, though, I'm finding out.
"There's still tons to do. They have and entire kingdom thing dedicated entirely to Doctor Seuss. That's good enough to satisfy the little kid in you, right?"
I shake my head miserably. No Mickey Mouse! No Goofy, even!
"Come on, Kellen. I don't want to sit here all day. Let's do something."
"We're eating ice cream," I object. I refuse to look at him as he sighs heavily, instead focusing my eyes on a group of kids our age standing a few feet away. They don't look like any people I've ever seen before, especially the tall boy in the center, with his long black hair and spiked jewelry. He stands so confidently…I wish I could do that.
"Hey, Kellen, I'm talking to you; hello!" He waves his hand in front of my face, breaking my concentration. I see that he's finished his cone, and he's standing, waiting for me to follow him.
"Oh, sorry, I was distracted," I mumbled, feeling my face heat up for no reason at all. I push myself off of the wall and take a few steps, before a collision comes out of nowhere.
A quick "sorry" and the boy is racing past me. I look back at him; it looks like he's the one I noticed a few seconds ago, with the long black hair. And he made me drop my treat. I look down at the pitiful remains of my ice cream, bemoaning its fate. It died a valiant death.
Eli says, "Come on, we've sat around all day. Now let's do something that I want to do." He looks at me expectantly, not even sparing my ice cream a glance.
I sigh. "Ok, fine. But no roller coasters."
"I dare you."
"Come on! You're such a chicken shit. It's a coaster. I don't care what that lady told you, these things are specifically designed to be safe."
"You don't understand: she told me this when I was ten years old, and I didn't believe her…and then, a year later, my mom took me to a little amusement park, and we waited in line for an hour to ride the wooden coaster, and then I couldn't ride because I was too short! It was like, fate telling me that I was too young to die!"
"Or too short to die," he remarks flatly.
"No, I know that something would have happened if I had gotten on that roller coaster. I just know it." The guy in front of us, wearing a bright yellow shirt with the ride's name on the breast, motions for us to come forward as the coaster pulls up. The passengers look windswept, and their eyes are bright, exhilarated. There's a blonde girl crying near the back, and I hear her anguished cries of, "I lost my sunglasses!" carry over all of the noise of those waiting in line. Her friend leads her away, trying to console her. I clutch the straps of my backpack tighter.
"Does this coaster turn upside down?" I ask, eying the peculiar straps on the seat—it closes over the shoulders.
"Yep. Nervous?" He grins at me.
"Next!" the man in the yellow shirt calls. The person in front of us eagerly slides into the front seat of the coaster. Oh my god, we're next; and, just to spite me, Eli has placed us in the line for the first row, so that I have an unobstructed view of the ground when my…seat flies off the main body of the coaster and plummets, like those pilots that eject from their planes. I don't know. Is that even possible? Probably.
"Oh my god, I'm going to die! Why do you want me to die?" I demand of Eli.
"Well, I've had my eye on your Playstation…"
I glare at him. "That's not funny. This is serious."
"I'm not joking!"
My reply is interrupted when the man in the yellow shirt steps up, just beyond the metal turnstile and calls out to our line, "Single rider?" He looks at me, right in front, and I shake my head furiously.
"No, um, actually, I'm not…"
"I will go!" I hear a voice call from behind me, and I hear noise as people are pushed out of the way.
"No, actually, I'll go," Eli declares, and steps through the metal turnstile. The yellow man locks it behind him.
"What? Eli, where are you going? You can't just leave me here!" I cry desperately. He turns back to grin at me.
"I'll wait for you at the end! Maybe you'll be braver if I'm not around to see you burst into tears!" he yells back, and before I can even think, the yellow man has checked to make sure his harness thing is secured, and the coaster rolls away with a swoosh; the next car immediately pulls forward, filled with a new set of windswept, exhilarated passengers who can't wait to get off so that they can look at their collective picture.
I can't believe he just did that.
The people in the yellow shirts swarm the platform once more, detaching the belts of those who are too excited or lacking dexterity. Once all of the seats have been emptied, the same yellow man steps up to the metal gate at the front of our line and calls, "Next two." He looks at me. "That's you, kid." He holds the gate open for me. Feeling nauseous and acutely fatalistic, I step onto the platform, as the yellow man calls for another single rider. I sit in the front seat.
I wish I would have said goodbye to my grandmother before I left.
When I die, I hope Eli feels…really bad about it. I hope he cries. Because this is totally his fault, and although later I won't be around to say "I told you so," I'm sure it will occur to him. Heck, maybe I can even haunt him; that'd be neat.
I might as well get it over with: it's not as if I was doing anything important with my life, anyway.
I only realize that my eyes are squeezed tightly shut when I feel someone sit in the seat next to me and I open them. I glance to the side to see a familiar face, and blurt, "I remember you!" before it occurs to my brain that he's not someone I should be remembering, since I never actually talked to him, and he probably has no idea who I am or what I'm talking about.
But he smiles. "Yes, the ice cream cone. You got another one?" His voice is smooth and accented, and I decide instantly that I like it.
"Ah, no…I…didn't get the chance." And now I'll never have another ice cream cone ever again.
"Oh," he says, and I think that's the end of the conversation. I nervously rotate my ankle—my feet only touch the ground if I stretch my foot, and even then, only the toe of my shoe makes contact. Someone in the back is having issues: they're too hefty to fit in the seat. There is much rearranging and complaining going on. I just want this over with.
"I am André," he says. I look up at him.
"Kellen." My voice is so strained it's barely a whisper.
"You are okay, Kellen?" he asks concernedly, with an accent I now recognize as French.
I blush. "Uh…well, yeah. Sort of."
He grins. "Nervous?"
"No," I say indignantly. "Just, I've never actually ridden a roller coaster before." And I'm going to die.
"Seriously? You are 'ow old?"
"Fifteen." His eyebrows rise at that.
"I know, I'm short." I briefly relate the story of when I was eleven and couldn't ride because I was too short and my mom forgot to check the height requirement before we stood in line…leaving out the part about me dying, because he'll see that soon enough, and if by some miracle I survive this dangerous foray onto the roller coaster track, I don't want him to think I'm melodramatic or anything. Which I'm not. It just so happens that these are my last few minutes on earth. It's okay, though, because I'm not sure he understands everything I say, anyway.
"That is unfortunate," he says when I finish, thankfully not laughing at me. But then he ruins it by saying, "You are tall enough for this ride? Maybe they make a mistake. You will not want to fall out."
"That's not funny!" I hiss.
"Aww, poor baby. I need to 'old your 'and?"
"Yeah, sure." I grab it before he can protest—serves him right, really. I hear his sharp intake of breath.
I just want some form of comfort while I'm being sped to my death, okies? Even if it's some random stranger's hand.
"Come with me," he says, suddenly, "we are not riding."
"But…yes we are." The coaster is about to go any second…the yellow people are taking a last check of the belts.
He grins again. "No." He wrenches his hand free.
Geez, I've never had someone that desperate to get away from me.
But wait! WHY am I disappointed? No riding means no dying.
I'm enthused now; "Okay, let's get off!"
When the yellow guy comes to us, André says, "Unbuckle us. We do not ride now."
"A little late for that, kid," he says unsympathetically.
"We do not ride."
"Just sit still. It will be over in two minutes." He pulls the strap on my seat tighter and I can't help the strangled whimper that rips from my throat.
I almost think André is going to let it go, but just as the man reaches for his strap, he says, "I will vomit now. It is 'ose job to clean that?" His tone is challenging.
The guy snorts, "Not me. I don't care. Go ahead, kid." He reaches for André's strap again.
"I will vomit on you, then?" He makes as if to shove his finger down his throat, and the guy jumps out of the way. It looks like he definitely cares now.
"Fine," he snaps. "Exit that way." He points to the door Eli showed me earlier, the last minute ditch for chickens, and motions the guy in the window to release the locking mechanism on the seat. I hurriedly extricate myself from the seat and run to the door—I can hear a few people laughing behind me as I pick up my backpack and push through the door and run down the metal steps, eager to get back on the flat ground. I wait for André at the bottom.
He appears a few seconds later—he didn't run, like me. There's a huge grin on his face, and it only widens when he sees me waiting for him.
"Were you really going to throw up on him?" is the first thing that pops out of my mouth.
"It would not work. I 'ave no gag reflex." He grins at me, and I just sort of raise my eyebrows, shocked. I mean, what is that supposed to mean? He doesn't have a gag reflex? It seems crude the way he said it, but why would it even matter for a guy? A girl, maybe…that would be deliciously vulgar, because of…well.
Unless he's gay. But no way. I mean, I know he's French and everything, but gay guys are feminine and they have lisps and limp wrists. He looks very tough. Gay guys look more wimpy, like…well, like me, actually. Oh my god, did I really just think that?
"Well, um…thanks. You saved my life," I mumble.
He laughs at that, unaware of how serious I am.
"Pas de problem," he says, and just as I'm about to say goodbye, his hand reaches down and intertwines through mine, and he starts walking, pulling me along.
I stare in disbelief at his hand, not knowing what to do except follow.
"Hey, the exit for the ride is this way." It sounds like a question coming from my mouth.
"We are going this way."
"But my friend is waiting this way." I point pathetically.
"Your friend leaves you, then you leave him. It is…" he searches for the right word, then finally settles on "logic? How do you say…" He looks at me, clearly hoping that I understand him.
"Uh, yeah." His warm grip on my hand is making it difficult to be logical.
He tows me along after him, and I look back helplessly at the end of the roller coaster where I know Eli will be waiting for me. But for some reason I just can't tell André no.
It's mesmerizing. He offered to reimburse me an ice cream cone then he decided that he wanted one too, and he's now moving his tongue all over it. I remember what he said earlier about his lack of a gag flex and I find that I have a difficult time swallowing. Is that why I can't look away? What is wrong with me? He laughs when he looks up and sees me staring.
"You 'ave some…but let me." He leans forward and licks it off. It seems like something I should expect—haven't I heard of this somewhere before?—but it takes me completely by surprise, and all I can do is stare at him, while he grins mischievously.
"You licked me," I state, somewhat unnecessarily.
"That I did. You are upset?"
"No!" I mutter, embarrassed. Why am I denying it? I have every right to be upset. This doesn't make sense.
He doesn't seem to realize this, though, because he leans forward and presses his lips to mine. They're cold, I notice. It's weird. But then he opens his mouth against mine, and it's so hot. Unbearably, deliciously hot. Better than ice cream. I make a protesting sound in the back of my throat—at least, I mean for it to be discouraging, but it doesn't exactly come out that way. I also mean for my hands to push him away when I rest them on his shoulders, but instead, as if they traitorously decided, "Hell, why not?" they reach up to bury themselves in his luxurious hair.
"What the fuck?!" The familiar, angry voice jerks me from my daze and I look to the side to see Eli fuming, his face red and his eyes blazing. "I've been looking for you for the past hour! What the hell are you doing? Hey, get off of him."
I'm reminded of his face as he volunteered himself for the ride and left me there, certain that I would cry and uncaring of my impending doom.
My mouth, like my hands, seems to function separately from my brain. It says: "Go find a coaster or something, Eli. In case you haven't noticed, I'm busy." Then I pull André back down on top of me. This is so much better than ice cream, and roller coasters, and dying.
That palm reader was right: my life did end. I traded it in for a better one.
AN: One of those unbearably cute one-shots, done for a contest hosted by xanthofile in which we had to choose a couple characters and write a story using them. What did you think? I tried to go for like a minimalist style of writing, but it totally didn't work.