I used to write about moments like this. I used to describe every little detail, from the lights, to the smells, to the sounds. It’s just after dusk on a Saturday night. The carnival is in town. You can smell the aroma of zeppoles and cotton candy wafting through the air. The clamor of bells, screams and mechanical grinds drowns out all possible thought. The lights of rides blink in every color of the rainbow, stealing the stars out of the sky and bringing them to Earth. But one ride in particular is the focus of this scene.
It’s the Ferris wheel. Every carnival has one.
There’s a boy and a girl. The wind is blowing through her hair. He’s smiling at her as if she’s beautiful. She’s never felt beautiful, but somehow, in his eyes, she becomes what she’s always wanted to be. He jokes around with her, teasing, and she smiles that smile. They’re playing a game of Truth as the wheel turns. As he answers a question, she looks him in the eye, a smile playing at her lips.
“I’m having a great time,” she says, sighing. “This is my perfect carnival.”
“I’m glad,” he replies. “It makes me happy that you’re having a good time.” She blushes under his gaze.
“Your turn,” she says. He thinks for a moment.
“Is there something that you want to do that we haven’t done?” he asks. She pauses before responding. If she were any other girl, she would tell him the truth. She would tell him how much she wants to kiss him. But she’s not every other girl, and old fears and insecurities well up inside her. She tries not to say anything, and in a way, ends up saying the truth.
“No,” she replies. “I believe everything happens for a reason.” Their cart reaches the bottom of the Ferris wheel and they start to make another round. It’s her turn. “Same question.”
“There’s one thing,” he admits. She looks at him. Her heart starts beating faster. Could he be feeling the same thing? Did he want to close the little space between them, take her hand in his, and place a gentle kiss on her lips? She wonders.
“What?” she asks breathily, wanting to hear him say it. I want to kiss you. But instead, he smiles his trademark grin.
“That’s not fair,” he laughs. It’s against the rules to ask more than one question. They stare into each other’s eyes for a minute, emotions clear. Suddenly, the moment is interrupted by the grinding of wheels. She stiffens. The loud sound horrifies her. She’s terrified of heights.
If I were writing this story, the girl would be terrified, but the boy would assure her that everything’s all right. And safe in his arms, she’d believe him.
But this is reality.
And this is me.
“Oh, my God,” I whisper, my eyes closing. A million thoughts are running through my head. The ride is broken. We’re going to fall. Why did I get on this Godforsaken wheel again? Sweet Jesus, please watch over us. Oh, my God. Oh, my God.
After a while, I will myself to open my eyes and see that although the sound is ominous and deafening, we’re still moving. He and I are still in the cart … that’s almost …
At the top.
I had always wanted to be at the top of a Ferris wheel with a guy, but I never thought I would be. For most of my life I’d written stories about normal boys and normal girls at the top of Ferris wheels and somehow, their cart would get stuck there. They’d be on top of the world, staring down at the blinking, living carnival below them. I’d always been jealous of the creations of my own imagination, because I’d never been a normal girl with a normal boy on the top of a Ferris wheel. Finally, the moment I’d been dreaming of was going to happen.
Earlier that day, the first time he and I had gone on the Ferris wheel, when it was still daylight, we stopped once at the top. I couldn’t believe it. It was better than anything I could have ever written or thought. I’d refused to look down, instead looking around me at the amazing sights. I took pictures of us, of the bustling carnival below. I’d never thought I’d live to see it again. What were the odds of being on top of a Ferris wheel with a boy you liked more with every passing second?
But now, it was happening … again.
My toes curl in anticipation as we get to the highest point of the carnival. I can see the George Washington Bridge in the distance, lit up like a diamond necklace. The rainbow lights of the carnival are blinding below my feet. I can feel him beside me, shivering a bit. It’s exactly as I pictured it in my books, stories and dreams … only I’m living it.
“Oh, my God,” I say again. This time my voice is breathless. All fear has left me and there is only a sense of complete wonder. I have never felt so happy. My head feels light as the breezes of the night whip around me. I look at him and he looks at me. I feel my face flush, despite the cold of the night. I take his hand, feeling his shivering fingers lace with mine. He smiles, laughing a bit. I know exactly what I’d write if this were a story, but it’s too soon and I’m still too scared. I shift the tiniest bit closer to him and place my lips on his cold cheek. I linger for a second, loving the feel and taste of his skin, but I quickly pull back, shy, and rest my head on his shoulder.
“Sorry if that was too forward,” I whisper. I’m always apologizing. I hear him take in a breath. I hear his heart race.
“It’s not,” he says, his voice low. I lift my head up.
“I have a question,” I say. It’s not my turn, but I’m breaking the rules.
“What is it?” he asks.
“Was that along the lines of what you wanted to do?”
“Yes,” he says quietly. My grin nearly stretches off my face. I want to kiss him more than I’ve ever wanted to do anything else. We’re close enough, and his eyes are staring into mine. It would be the perfect moment … but I don’t. I pull back the tiniest bit, putting a little distance between us.
“How’d I guess?” I laugh a little nervously, more to myself than him. I try to ignore the feelings that are pulsing through me.
“How did you guess?” he asks. “That’s my question.”
“I’m not as dumb as I look,” I respond, hiding my emotions, like I always do.
“You don’t look dumb at all,” he replies softly. We look into each other’s eyes again, and then the Ferris wheel starts moving. I move my hand out of his, my fingers lamenting the loss.
The blinking lights of the carnival, the aroma of sugar and frying foods and the screams of children are coming closer. Earth is coming back, rushing the scene. In my books, a moment like this would never end so fast. But this is reality. We reach the bottom and I step out of the cart, my feet wobbling. He comes up behind me, his heat encasing me. I walk down the steps, off the ride, and my feet hit solid asphalt. But when I turn back and see him, smiling that smile at me, I realize that my feet may be on the ground, but I’m still on top of the world.