Chapter no 14

If He Had Been with Me

We spend the Fourth of July at the fair in the park. Angie’s Hazelwood boyfriend is with us and we are pleased to be a complete set of four couples. We wander around the scant stalls and booths and listen to the music. Every time we see someone from school we stop so that Angie can introduce Mike. Finny and Sylvie are at the fair too, but we do not stop for them. The fair is small so we pass by them frequently. I knew they would be there, but every time I see them, the image jumps out at me like pictures in a pop-up book. We eat a meal of hot dogs and funnel cakes, and the girls decide we want to go to the petting zoo.

I fall in love with a brown baby goat, and it falls in love with me; when I picked it up, it nuzzled me and laid its head on my chest. I ask Jamie if I can have a baby goat when we get married. He says no, and then says maybe, if it means he doesn’t have to mow the lawn.

I sit on a bale of hay with Augusta, my goat, cradled in my lap like a human baby. She gazes up at me, and either she is mesmerized by the glitter of my tiara, or she thinks I’m her mother. I am singing Augusta a lullaby I have made up for her when I look up and see Finny smiling crookedly at me; Sylvie is crouched next to him looking at the pen of piglets. I stop singing and glare at him. His shoulders shake with silent laughter.

“Oh, Finn, look, it likes me,” Sylvie says. Finny turns away from me and kneels down with her. I’ve matured enough in the past few months to remind myself that I don’t really know her; maybe she’s very nice.

Jamie and the others come to stand around me. They have gotten as much enjoyment as they can out of the fair for now, and they want to go

back to Sasha’s.

“But I don’t want to leave Augusta,” I say. “You named it?” Jamie says. I nod.

“Okay, put down the goat and walk away slowly,” Alex says, both hands held out in front of him.

“That joke doesn’t make any sense,” I say. Jamie tugs on my arm.

“Come on, I’m hot,” he says. I sigh and kiss Augusta on the top of her head and put her down. When I leave, she runs to the end of her tether and bleats.

“Oh,” I say. Jamie takes my hand and keeps walking, pulling me along. I look back once over my shoulder. Finny is bending over and scratching the top of Augusta’s head.

We wait through the heat of the day at Sasha’s, then walk back to the park just before sunset. This is where I will have to leave them. My father said he would leave The Office in time to watch the fireworks with us, so Mother wants us to do it as a family. Family, of course, means Aunt Angelina and Finny too.

“Do you have to go?” Jamie says. I nod and peck his lips.

“I’ll miss you,” I say. He looks so handsome that even waiting to see him until tomorrow kills me.

“Call me when you get home,” he says and kisses me again, for longer. I flush with pride and smile. Before I go, I wave to the others; they wave back and watch me turn away. When I glance back at them, they are all walking away together.


My mother, father, and Aunt Angelina are sitting by the lake where we always watch the fireworks.

“Hi, sweetie,” my mom says. She is smiling and holding hands with my father. He stands up and hugs me.

“Had a good day, Autumn?” he asks. I nod. He steps back and looks at me quizzically. “Your hair?” he says.

“I dyed it brown again,” I say. “Yesterday.” “Yesterday?” he says.

“Yeah,” I say. We smile at each other. We are both pleased that he noticed the subtle difference so quickly.

“Finny told me you made friends with a goat,” Aunt Angelina says.

“Yeah. I want a goat, Mom,” I say, then I look at Aunt Angelina. “Finny was talking about me?” I say.

“He gave a detailed description of you rocking and crooning to a little goat,” she says. Her eyes focus over my shoulder “There he is,” she says. I turn around.

Finny is walking toward us, holding hands with Sylvie.

“Hey, everybody,” he says. Sylvie grins and waves with her fingers. My father stands up.

“And who is this?” he says.

“Uncle Tom, this is Sylvie,” Finny says. “Sylvie, Uncle Tom.” “Hi,” she says and grins again.

“Nice to meet you,” Dad says. “Here,” he adds, stepping to the side, “I’ll move so you girls can sit together.”

It seems my father cannot tell the not-so-subtle difference between Sylvie and me.

I am now sitting between my father and Sylvie. Finny is on the other side of her, and The Mothers are talking together on the other side of Dad.

I stare straight ahead at the patch of sky where the fireworks will be. Finny and Sylvie are holding hands next to me. I have a choice. I can either continue to sit with them in silence, or I can try to be friendly and have one of the shallow conversations Finny and I sometimes have when we are together.

“How much longer do you think it will be?” she asks. Finny looks at his watch.

“Ten minutes,” he says. She sighs.

“Have you ever noticed that time goes slower while you’re waiting for fireworks?” she says.

“Well, time always goes slower whenever you’re waiting for something,” he says.

“I think it’s even slower when you’re waiting for fireworks,” she says.

Finny opens his mouth.

“I agree,” I say. Sylvie looks at me in surprise. “I think it’s because when we’re not looking at our watches, we’re looking at the light fading in the sky. The anticipation never escapes our perception.”

“Huh,” Finny says.

“I guess so,” Sylvie says. She looks like she thinks that there will be a catch to agreeing with me. We’ve never spoken before outside of necessary pleasantries at school or the bus stop: Excuse me. Thank you. Hey, you dropped this.

“So, by your logic, if we look at the lake instead of the sky, time will go faster,” Finny says.

“Well, only as fast as when we’re waiting for something else,” I say. “Okay, well, let’s look at the lake,” he says. I look at the lake. Once, in

that time I call Before, my father decided to take Finny and I fishing. I was bored and climbed a tree overhanging the water. Finny thought that it was thrilling and sat all afternoon, telling me not to shake the branches of the tree because it was scaring the fish. I tried to be still for him. He caught one small fish. Aunt Angelina had no idea how to clean it, so she put it in the freezer where, after she had forgotten it, it froze completely solid. Sometimes Finny and I would take it out and examine it. We ran our fingers over the stiff scales and poked its frozen bubble eye, and talked about what it must be like to die. Months later, when his mother finally remembered to throw it out, we were sad for the loss.

“I went fishing in this lake once,” Finny says to Sylvie. “Really?” she says.

“I was just thinking about that,” I say and laugh. “Our frozen fish?” he says.

“Yeah,” I say.

“I don’t think time is going any faster,” Sylvie says, but just then the fireworks begin.

I’m quiet for the next hour, and let them whisper to each other. Sylvie leans her head on his shoulder. I think about Jamie somewhere in the park watching these fireworks without me. I imagine leaning against him, feeling him breathe next to me, and I ache as if I had not seen him for weeks.

The fireworks leave smoky patches in the sky, and the smell of sulfur drifts down on us. Next to me, Sylvie giggles. I am wishing she were not here. It is not fair; it was supposed to be just us, family.

I want to either be alone with Jamie or be alone with Finny.

The thought startles me, and I glance over at Finny’s handsome face, momentarily lit up by the lights in the sky. I never let myself think about what it is that makes me imagine us together sometimes or if it means anything. I love Jamie.

I look back at the sky.

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