By the time he realized how stupid he had been, she was already in love with him. Not because of anything he had actually done, but because of the circumstances. Because they talked in the rain until their bus almost left them behind. Because she fell asleep against him on the bus; and he could have moved- woken her up as he went to sit with his best friend instead, but that would have been rude. Right? In hindsight that would have been kinder, easier, simpler. She would have gotten the message. But he was exhausted and shortsighted and he hesitated, until he fell asleep too.
Because they sat in his car out of the cold and the rain until her dad came. And when she asked for his number he didn’t just say, “I would, but I have to hurry up and get home.” She would have gotten the message.
Because they watched a movie at her house with two of their best friends, who as it turned out were a couple. Four people. One couch. A three-hour movie.
But for all that he really did do everything he could think of- save telling her to her face he didn’t like her back- to try to lose her interest. It would seem that whole saying that ‘love is blind’ wasn’t just the nonsensical child of some romantic’s right-side brain. That’s usually how he wrote off most aphorisms. Not that he could talk; if ever he couldn’t find his heart on his sleeve he started worrying it was missing.
What really cemented her affection, however, was their experience at the Carnival.
The Carnival is the biggest race known to the solar system. Runners from the most obscure corners of the earth converge on Tiffin’s Hedges Boyer Park in the anticipation of a great miscellany of stampeding teenagers and obscenely-priced but delicious hotdogs. So great is the scope and prestige of the Carnival that even Canadians emerge from their cold and icy crags in order to compete. Canadians! They never go anywhere not within walking distance. The two youths had seen racing officials come within a hairsbreadth of their grisly demise at the Carnival as hordes of maddened runners rushed towards them at the sound of the gunshot.
The most infamous incident in the history of the Carnival must be the ‘Slice of 1972′. The just of it is this: somebody tripped. What ensued was a gory, writhing melee as the seven-thousand competitors behind her, wearing studded running spikes, attempted to stop or jump or otherwise dodge the helpless fool laying terrified on the soon-to-be-upturned loam. The mass of runners crashed together in a fray rivaled only by the stampede at Mecca. There were thirty-seven casualties, and fifty souls remain unaccounted for.
It was nearly as insane at the Carnival the year our story takes place. What occurred was treasonous and incomprehensible. It went like this: Westlake High, as a sub-par team, always held Keystone in disdain. They coveted the Keystone runners’ prowess and skill, and wanted their secrets above all else. And so Westlake sent their best spy to infiltrate Keystone’s tent in order to learn what made them so great. Westlake chose their most proficient saboteur for the job.
They called her the Hurst. No one knew her real name, or where she came from. All her team knew of her was that she joined them to throw off suspicion stemming from her former life as an international assassin. She now served as a sort of guided weapon during races, sent by her coach to disable rival competitors with a swift spike to the Achilles’. She was unassuming, with a dark complexion and a most dishonest air of innocence surrounding her, which made her wetwork jobs all the easier. Her brown, trusting eyes masked the cold capability concealed behind them.
The Hurst slinked through the Carnival’s maze of tents and caution tape until she had made her way to the Keystone tent. Slyly, she slipped inside, stepping over and around the heaps of dozing runners huddled in mounds under blankets and sleeping bags. The snoring of the anorexic rednecks masked her light footsteps that crinkled ever so slightly on the brown tarp beneath them. She wasn’t entirely sure what she was looking for, but she knew she’d know it when she knew it. In one corner of the tent she saw the edge of a leather-bound journal lying on the ground. Their secret has to be inside, she thought. She made her way over.
Fortunately, the two youths had anticipated some sort of Westlake trickery, and were merely pretending to sleep. Abruptly they sprang up and tackled the Hurst. The Hurst landed heavily, kicking and punching, holding the other two at bay. Hearing the Hurst’s distress, the rest of the Westlake team rushed to her aid. As more and more runners either were woken up or arrived at the tent, the small space became an all-out brawl. The two youths finally overpowered the Hurst just as Keystone’s runners drove Westlake out of the tent. With a furious hiss, the Hurst was hurled from the tent, bloodied.
In that moment of triumph, the two youths high-fived. It was a high-five unlike the world had ever seen; so precise and well-calculated that every single one of their fingers aligned perfectly, down to the seams within the quarks within the atoms within the molecules within the cells of their hands, which connected with an impeccably satisfying clap! Their jaws dropped at the existentiality of that high-five. Instantly the girl knew, This is the one for me.