The House That Ivy Built - Book 3

Excerpt 2

(from The House That Ivy Built #3, © 1997-2017)

Excerpt 1
Excerpt 2
Excerpt 3

[NOTE on this excerpt: Ivy is at a fair with Ruben. Ruben is a grad student who writes plays, and at this point he has recently hired Ivy to do "special effects" (heh) in one of his plays. He needs a stuffed dragon to be an imaginary friend to one of his play characters, which is why he tries to win one in this excerpt. Also, Ivy mentions someone named Miki in passing—that's just one of her many roommates.]


Book 3, Chapter 27, Begin excerpt

       “Let’s get a soda,” Ruben suggested, catching up with me. We waited in a line, and he dug change out of his jeans pockets.

       “Here,” he said, giving me a handful of change and a couple bills. “Get us a drink. I’ll be right back.” He rushed off in some direction and disappeared from view. I sighed and waited my turn.

       Taking my big drink of soda in the direction Ruben had gone, I eventually came to a bunch of game booths. Ruben’s hair was easy to spot in the crowd, and I found him at one of the booths.

       “What’re you doing?” I asked.

       “Look at the prizes!” I looked at the big stuffed animals hanging from the ceiling. Some of them were green dragons. “One of those would be perfect for the dragon in my play, don’cha think?”

       “Yeah!” I looked around at the other people who were trying to win stuffed animals. They were throwing plastic balls at a sea of plastic goblets. A sign in the booth explained that a ball in the only red cup was the grand prize winner. Ruben had a ball in his hand.

       “How much money have you wasted on this already?” I asked.

       “Four dollars,” he admitted.

       “Give me that,” I snapped, grabbing the ball out of his hand.

       “What’re you doing?” he asked blankly.

       “I don’t want you to waste your money,” I explained. I tossed the ball into the winning cup, halfway bothering to make it look natural.

       Ruben breathed a sigh of relief. “Thanks. I woulda been trying forever.” He told the lady which animal he wanted, then we began to walk into the plaza. “I hate these stupid games. They’re such a rip-off. By the time you win, you’ve paid for the damn prize.”

       “I guess that’s the point.”

       Ruben got a wicked look on his face. “I got an idea. You want to help me rip them off for a change?”

       “Ohh, I dunno,” I said, smiling at the idea despite myself. “What do you want me to do?”

       “Anything you can.”

       “Just let me know.”

       Ruben was silent for a moment while I drank more of the soda. He looked around.

       “Oh my God,” he said.

       “What?” I said, concerned since he looked so serious.

       “I don’t think there’s a game here you couldn’t rig for us to win.”

       “Yeah, so?”

       “So?!” Ruben hugged his new dragon. “Jeez, you act so matter-of-fact about it. You totally don’t understand what this means.”

       “Then tell me.”

       “Have you ever considered going to Las Vegas?”

       “Um, no. Come on, give me a break!”

       “Why the hell are you working for me when you could be making all kinds of money?”

       “Ruben, all the ways I could use telekinesis to make money are illegal or too risky.”

       “Not Las Vegas. Gambling’s legal there.”

       “But if I won big they’d pay me too much attention.”

       “You’re just making excuses. This whole world is set up for normal people who have to live inside the system, but you can beat the system! What you did over there at that booth was so easy for you, but it’s impossible for anyone else, so they don’t have safeguards against it. You could really milk this world for all it’s worth!”

       “All right, listen. I can’t do shit like that on a big scale. I don’t have a Social Security number or anything, so I’m not a registered person anywhere—”

       “I still don’t understand how you slipped through the system like that.”

       “Whatever.”

       “I dunno. It’s just such an extraordinary thing that you should be able to use it for something less commonplace than special effects designing my show.”

       I gave him a look. “Do you not want me to do the show?”

       “No, no, I do want you! I just don’t get how come you settle for me.”

       “Well, I’m fine with it if you are.”

       Ruben grabbed my hand that wasn’t holding the soda cup.

       “Let’s go have some fun.”

       People started to look at us weird after we’d collected a few exceptionally large prizes. I won a stuffed tiger by pitching a quarter onto a small tabletop. I helped Ruben win a big frog by knocking over some heavy cans with a baseball. We won a bear and a stuffed clown by shooting hoops. We stayed away from games with tiny prizes and played for the big stuff, mostly because Ruben was interested in putting the plush animals in his bed of pillows. After I’d won a lion by rigging a cube to land on a certain color, we left the booths because we couldn’t carry any more animals—or rather, I couldn’t continue to make doing so look convincing. Ruben stopped me at the “fool the guesser” stand.

       “Ivy, ask the guy to guess your age. You look young,” he suggested.

       “What for?”

       “A prize.”

       “Don’t we have enough?”

       “It’ll be something little.”

       “I’ll ask him to guess my weight . . . I don’t even know my age, so how could I prove it?”

       I waited until the guesser was finished dealing for two kids.

       “Hello, young lady, what can I guess for you today?” the guy asked, talking into his strange microphone thing.

       “My weight, please.”

       “Put those animals down and let me get a look at you.”

       I let the guy’s slimy gaze crawl up and down my body a couple times before I got impatient.

       “Well?” I demanded.

       “Looks like about ninety-five pounds,” he replied. I frowned. “Step on the scale, missy.”

       I hopped on and cheated by lightening myself considerably. Looking at the needle, I pretended to be surprised and excited.

       “All right!” I squealed.

       “Help yourself,” he said, not seeming disappointed at all. Ruben was already digging around in the box of available prizes.

       “Kick ass!” said Ruben, unearthing something in a plastic wrap. “Here ya go.”

       It was a beaded necklace, and I grinned and unwrapped it.

       “Thanks,” I said.

       “Hey, you won it.”

       “You paid for it.”

       We walked off after I’d donned the necklace and rounded up my other prizes.

       “You hungry yet?” he asked.

       “Nope.” I shook my head.

       “You’re never hungry. Probably why you only weigh eighty-five pounds.”

       “Huh? Oh, no, I weigh ninety-five.”

       “Then you moved the needle?”

       “Uh, no. I just made myself lighter.”

       “Oh, nifty.” He paused. “Shit, still ninety-five is light for your height. I think you need a hot dog.”

       “I really don’t want one.”

       “Well, I do.”

       Ruben was silent as we walked back to the food places. He clutched his stuffed animals and looked troubled.

       “Something wrong, Ruben?” I prodded his arm with my elbow.

       “Not really. I . . . just want to ask you something.”

       “What is it?”

       “You don’t feel like I used you, do you?”

       “For what?”

       “Just, like, to exploit you to win prizes or feel like a badass.”

       “Oh, Ruben, no way! It’s not like you bullied me or anything. . . . ”

       “Well, that’s a relief.”

       “You mean you really felt like you might be using me?”

       “Kinda. I just . . . I realized how awfully boring it must get for you sometimes, with all these people asking you for favors and getting freaked out by you and taking advantage—”

       “Forget it, Ruben. I’m serious. It was fun for me too. And . . . you should feel like you can ask me for favors. If it gets to be too much I’ll tell you. My services are at your disposal.” I curtsied awkwardly with my load of prizes. He sighed, still looking troubled. I didn’t know what his problem could possibly be, but I decided it was his problem, not mine.

       “We’re getting these things dirty putting them down everywhere, ya know,” he said, indicating his white bear and its slightly dirty bottom. “Do you think there’s lockers we can put them in or something so we can go on more rides?”

       “I dunno.”

       We found a fairground directory and looked for a place. If what we were looking for existed, it wasn’t labeled.

       “This sucks,” he complained.

       “I got an idea,” I said. When we got to the food places, I hid all of our prizes on top of the hot dog building. No one would even know they were there.

       “That was pretty nifty,” he said, squeezing ketchup on his hot dog. “How’d ya think of that?”

       I shrugged. “It’s been my understanding that most humans think the world is about ten feet tall. I figured if we put our animals above that, they wouldn’t exist to anyone but us.”

       “That’s a good point,” he said. He finished putting mustard on his hot dog and began adding mayonnaise. I stared. “It’s weird, though,” he continued. “Now I feel like a closed-minded jerk.”

       “Why?” I asked, mystified.

       “’Cause when you said humans think the world is ten feet tall, my first thought was that there basically is nothing above ten feet.”

       “You know that’s not true, right?” I asked, frowning.

       “Well . . . that was my second thought.”

       “I’ll show you. . . . ” I pointed over at a man who was selling balloons. “Watch this.” I extricated one of the balloons from its mates, invisibly, and set it free. “Watch it go, Ruben, you’ll get an idea of how much space is up there. . . . ”

       Ruben watched the balloon climb. It went higher and higher, and still higher. I smiled, watching it get smaller and smaller.

       “Wow,” said Ruben finally.

       “It’s not gone yet,” I said, pointing at the little green dot in the blue sky.

       “Well, I can’t see it anymore.”

       I kept watching it until I couldn’t see it either. Then I looked back at him. He looked sad.

       “Why are you so bummed out?” I hit him on the shoulder lightly.

       “I hate thinking like a human,” he said. “You make me realize how retarded I am.”

       “Oh, come on, now, Ruben, why would you say that?”

       “Because even as I was watching that balloon go up there, I thought that was an awful lot of space, but that there wasn’t anything up there. I never wondered about what it was like up there, I just . . . assumed it was nothing because it never applied to me. For as wide as I think, I sure don’t think too high, huh?”

       “Ruben?”

       “Yeah?”

       “Eat your hot dog.”

       He took a bite, perplexed, and I wrinkled up my nose.

       “How can you eat that thing with all that gook on it?”

       He swallowed and licked his lips. “I like all that gook.”

       “That’s pretty gross.” I thought about the weird stuff Zeke liked to eat. “Boys eat the funkiest things.”

       “Yeah, whatever.” We started backing away from the hot dog stand, with Ruben looking worriedly at the top of it. “Are you sure they’ll be safe up there?”

       “I’m not positive, but I doubt anyone could find them.” I cocked my head. “I mean, can you see them?”

       “Not at all.”

       “Well then.”

       We walked past a ticket booth and a video arcade.

       “So what else is there to do?” I asked.

       “I dunno,” he said.

       “Well, maybe after you finish your hot dog—”

       “What hot dog?” He spread his hands.

       I stared. “You ate it all already?”

       “Yeah, ’course I did.”

       “It took you longer to put all that crap on it!”

       “I eat fast.”

       “I noticed!”

       “So, you were saying?”

       “Um . . . oh yeah. Well, I was going to suggest we ride more rides, but I’m kind of pooped, actually.” I resisted the temptation to sit down in the air. I wasn’t used to being on my feet for long periods of time.

       “I’ll give you a ride you’ll like,” he said, with a wicked smile. Before I knew what was happening, he picked me up in his strong arms and held me like a baby. I cackled and wiggled around, a bit uncomfortable being so close to him but liking the feeling of being held all the same.

       “Jeez, you’re really strong,” I commented, grinning.

       “Are you kidding? You’re just light.”

       He spun around with me in his arms, and I shrieked as he went so fast my hair flew out like a fan. It felt a little bit like flying, except more fun in a way because I wasn’t in control of it. I wrapped my arms around his neck so I wouldn’t fall.

       When he put me down, giggling, I had to hold onto him so I wouldn’t topple onto the ground. I laughed, feeling delirious as if someone had been tickling me for a straight hour. He chuckled quietly at my dizziness and held me until my brain found which way was up.

       Some stupid kids had been watching our fun. I noticed them when I pulled away from Ruben.

       “Hey, why don’t you guys get a room or something?” one of the kids yelled.

       Since I couldn’t figure out what he meant by that, my response was to stare blankly. However, Ruben responded with words.

       “Aw, be quiet. It’s not like we were sucking face.”

       “Is that next?” asked the other little boy with a grimace.

       “Know what? None of your business! Now piss off, you little rugrats!”

       They looked at each other. “Piss off?”

       “Yeah. Scram!”

       Ruben grabbed my hand and pulled me in another direction.

       “Little punks,” he muttered.

       “I thought that was kinda funny,” I offered.

       “Yeah, well, me too, but I also think it’s stupid. I mean, we were just having fun, it wasn’t like we were engaged in PDA or anything.”

       “What’s PDA?”

       “Public display of affection,” he answered.

       I frowned. “Well, we weren’t being disgusting, but I guess it was a public display of affection.”

       “Huh?”

       “I do like you,” I told him. “If I like you, isn’t that affection?”

       “I . . . yeah.” He laughed and ran his hand through his hair. “Ivy, you’re so innocent.”

       “Innocent?”

       “Yeah. You just don’t think of things like—”

       “A human?” I offered.

       “I was going to say an adult,” he replied, “but that fits too. You just . . . you think just differently enough to make you into something else. Ya know?”

       “Yes.” I laughed. “We’re still holding hands.”

       “Oh! Sorry.” Ruben let go of my hand.

       I shrugged. It wasn’t like it had been such a bad thing.

       “What do you want to do? We could go get you some cotton candy or something—”

       “Nah. I’m not hungry. Is there anything else we can do here that doesn’t involve eating or getting sick?”

       “I dunno. We could ride the Sky-ride and see the whole fair, and then we could decide if anything looks interesting.”

       “Sky-ride, huh?”

       “Yeah.” He pointed to a large metal bubble that was going up a pole. It was visible from anywhere in the park because it went so high.

       “Sky-ride, my ass,” I said. “Want me to take you on a real sky-ride, Ruben? It would serve the same purpose.”

       “Hey, yeah!” His eyes lit up.

       “Are you scared of heights?”

       “Nah.” He looked at me. “How do we do this?”

       I laughed. “It’s not like it’s hard.”

       “It’s not like it’s hard,” he mimicked me in a falsetto.

       “Come on.” I grabbed his hand for emotional support purposes and dove up into the sky.

       “Whoa!” He grabbed my hand reflexively with both of his, looking down. When we were at a good height, I leveled off and let go of him, trying to let him get used to it.

       “Son of a bitch!” he said. “This kicks ass!”

       “Yeah?” I giggled. “Welcome to my kingdom, Ruben. Glad you like it.” I grinned real big.

       “This is so . . . agh, I can’t even explain it.”

       I just blinked at him.

       “I feel like . . . I don’t know, like I’m swimming or something. I . . . there’s nothing holding me up.”

       “Yeah. Is it weird to you, I guess?”

       “Well, sure, but it’s not bad. I really like it.” He looked around. “How far up are we?”

       “I dunno,” I replied, shrugging. “Let’s go.”

       “Go where?”

       “Here.” I started flying us slowly, angling us upwards so I could show the clouds to Ruben.

       “Ivy?” he called over the minimal wind.

       “Yeah?”

       “I . . . how do I. . . . ” He started laughing.

       “What?”

       “How am I supposed to . . . hold myself? I feel really weird just letting you float me through the air like that. I can’t really find a comfortable position.”

       “Hm. Well, I guess it’s different for everybody—”

       He burst out laughing.

       “What now?”

       “It’s different for everybody,” he mimicked me again. “Nobody else flies, Ivy. I don’t think there’s any kind of standard for this, so that’s why I’m asking you.”

       “I just mean, I guess there’s different positions for different people. Find something that’s comfortable and stick with it.”

       “The first thing I think of is Superman,” he said, chortling.

       “And how exactly does Superman fly?”

       “Oh, you know. . . . ”

       “Nope.”

       “Kinda . . . like this.” Ruben stuck his arms out in front of him almost like a diver, and his whole body stiffened up. “Up, up, and away!” he cried.

       “That’s ridiculous,” I said.

       “Yeah. It didn’t look ridiculous on TV or the comics, but it sure feels stupid.” I nodded. “So what do you do?”

       “Mostly like this, I like to kind of fold myself up, sort of.” I was flying with my feet crossed as usual, and my hands folded in front of my body, underneath me.

       “Why do you do that?”

       “I dunno. Feels the most natural.”

       Ruben tried rearranging himself, and I could practically feel his awkwardness as he moved inside my energy field.

       “Yeah!” he exclaimed. “This is perfect.” He giggled. “Flying 101 with your instructor, Ivy. God, I feel like such a goofball.”

       “Loosen up, enjoy yourself,” I said. “You can relax.”

       “I am relaxed.”

       “No you’re not,” I said pointedly. I could feel how stiff he was and I wasn’t even trying, and the tiny edge in his voice was noticeable.

       “How can you tell anyway? What, can you read my mind too?”

       “No way, Ruben. I am holding you, ya know. I can tell.”

       “What do you mean?”

       I didn’t look at him. He knew what I meant.

       He laughed nervously. “I guess you can tell because your energy can feel how I’m kinda tensing up, huh?”

       I looked at him and didn’t answer.

       “So is that it?” he prodded.

       “Yes, Ruben, that’s it.”

       “That is so weird.”

       “Would you rather I didn’t hold onto you?”

       “Hey, no!”

       “Then don’t complain. If I’m going to hold you, I can’t help but know how you hold yourself. Okay?”

       “It’s not a problem. But it is weird.”

       “Well, I just don’t think it’s weird.” I squinted into the fast-moving air. “Ready to go into the clouds?”

       He looked up. “Whoa, shit!”

       “Yeah. Ready?”

       “I guess.”

       We dove into the steamy air.

       “Jeez, this doesn’t even look like a cloud. It just looks like smoke.”

       “Surprise! They’re not made out of cotton!”

       “I knew that. I guess I don’t know what I was expecting.”

       He didn’t say anything for a while but I thought I felt him relaxing. We drifted up and up until we were through the cloud. We rubbed our eyes in the sudden sunlight and I watched Ruben take in the sight.

       “Holy shit!”

       “You okay?” I asked.

       “Yeah, I’m okay. . . . ”

       “Is your breathing all right?”

       “Sure. Wow, this is. . . . ” He looked at the “blanket” under us and started to laugh.

       “Ruben?” I touched his arm.

       “I’m okay!” he said, holding up his hands. “It’s just hard to believe any of this is real.”

       I smiled. “Now you know what I meant when I said the world isn’t ten feet tall?”

       “Absolutely.” Ruben grabbed his notebook out of his pocket and started writing. “Gives me an idea,” he explained.

       “Oh yeah? What?”

       “I want the fantasy land in my play to be above the clouds, like here,” he said. “It’s kind of a cliché, but now that I’ve actually seen it, like, not in a plane or anything . . . I’ve just got to use it.”

       “That’s great, Ruben!”

       “You mind if I use what you said about the world being ten feet tall?” he asked, still scribbling.

       “Oh, sure. . . . ”

       “This is great!” he said. “I wish I could fly.” I was silent as he put his notebook away in his pocket and looked down at the sky. “I bet this is really fun at night.”

       “Oh, you bet.”

       “Will you take me sometime?”

       “’Course I will. I don’t mind.”

       “Really?”

       “Sure. I love to fly too, ya know.” I spun around a couple times. “So,” I said, “you want to go back down some so we can see what’s down there?”

       “No, let’s just stay up here for a while.”

       “And do what?”

       “I dunno, talk?”

       “What about?”

       “I want to know about your family,” he said.

       “Me too.”

       “You don’t know your parents, right?”

       “Nope.”

       “Ever wonder if they looked like you?”

       “I guess. Maybe. But I’ve thought I probably didn’t look like them, and that’s why they . . . gave me up. Ya know?”

       “Maybe. That’s sad, though.”

       I sighed. Ruben put his fingers under my chin and tilted my head toward him so he could look at me.

       “You look like maybe one of your parents was Asian,” he said.

       “Really?” Miki was Japanese and I looked absolutely nothing like her. “I don’t have black hair, though, it’s naturally blonde.”

       “It’s just your eyes. They’re very Asian.”

       “But they’re green,” I protested.

       “Yeah. But I’m talking about the way your eyelids are, not the color.”

       I’d never really thought about it, but as I looked at Ruben’s eyes, I did have to admit mine had a different shape. I could still see most of his eyelids even though his eyes were pretty wide open. Most people I knew had eyes like that. I’d never thought much about my eyes being different than the “standard,” except that I was aware of their unusual size.

       “I never thought I looked Asian, but I know what you mean,” I said.

       “Overall, you really don’t,” he said. “It’s mostly your eyes, maybe a couple other things I can’t put my finger on. It looks kinda cool since the rest of your face is . . . ” he paused, “something else.”

       “So what are you?” I asked, changing the subject.

       “Human,” he quipped.

       “Aw, shut up,” I replied. “I mean, do you know any nationalities?”

       “Let’s see. I have Spanish blood, and I think Polish, and I’m pretty sure my mom’s side has some Scottish/Irish genes. As for me . . . I’m American.”

       “Neat.” I wished I knew all the different bloods that were inside me.

       “So, if you don’t know your family, who raised you?”

       I embarked on a long tale of where, how, and with whom I’d lived, getting caught up in my story. He listened, interested, and didn’t interrupt me at all. Encouraged by his interest, I told him more about myself; more personal things, like how I felt about Bailey’s beating me to puberty even though she was years younger, and how I considered myself non-sexual.

       “Funny you should say that,” he said, finally interrupting me.

       “Why?”

       “’Cause it’s almost the same way for me.”

       “Whoa, really? Everyone else thinks I’m crazy.”

       “Nah. When I was in high school, all the way through, I never really looked at women and thought ‘hey, I’d really like to screw her.’ And it seemed like all the other guys wanted to.” He shrugged. “I never really found women all that attractive. I guess sometimes I’d feel interested, but nothing I really wanted to act on. Ya know?”

       “Not really,” I said, “but keep going.”

       “Well . . . a lot of people thought I must be gay. I thought so too, since I have a lot of feminine tendencies, like all this art-fag stuff, and my obsession with my hair and jewelry, and the whole theater thing, and of course how I like to dance and how I decorate—”

       “Yeah, I get the idea. . . . ”

       “But I realized I was no more gay than I was straight. Those things didn’t make me gay. The only thing that makes you homosexual is finding the same sex sexually attractive. And to me, guys weren’t any prettier than girls.”

       I laughed.

       “Well, it’s true. So . . . I decided I was just a person with no sexual orientation.”

       “Wow. Like me.”

       “Kind of. But . . . I was a late bloomer. I started getting interested in girls for the first time when I hit twenty.”

       “Oh.” I felt disappointed.

       “Even then it wasn’t all that strong. It still isn’t. I just looked at women sometimes and realized I wanted to do things I hadn’t thought about before. . . . ”

       “I’m not gonna like this, am I?”

       “Oh, hush. I’m just saying that I thought about being close to them, maybe kissing them, sometimes more. And it didn’t have anything to do with what I thought of their minds. That’s what I hate about it.”

       “Yeah. Sometimes guys are like animals.”

       “Oh, so you’ve experienced that, too?”

       “Uh-huh.” I told him a little about Zeke and his whole interest in kissing me.

       “Yeah. So . . . did he ever get you to kiss him?”

       “Uh-huh,” I admitted.

       “More than once?”

       I nodded.

       “Why’d you let him do that?”

       I looked at him. “I don’t know. It just happened. I didn’t really let him . . . I guess I just wanted to find out what it was like, because everyone else seemed to think it was so great. I probably wouldn’t have if he hadn’t kept trying, but if I was totally opposed to it, a dozen guys couldn’t force me into it.”

       “Ah. I see.” He looked down at his feet, swinging them back and forth. “Did he get you to go any farther than kissing?”

       “Define ‘farther.’”

       “I don’t know. Necking and stuff, maybe. . . . ” He grinned. “I hate to sound crude, but getting naked together?”

       “Uh . . . that’s different with me. At home I sometimes ‘get naked’ for no good reason at all.”

       He laughed. “Really?”

       “Sure. I’m not very modest.”

       “I just meant, did you ever get naked to be intimate or anything?”

       “No. Never. But he has seen me naked, lots of times.”

       “Have you ever seen him?”

       “Well, once, but it was an accident.”

       “What, you walked in on him or something?” He laughed.

       “Oh, no. I was taking a bath . . . he came and tried to take one at the same time, but I flew away.”

       “What? He came into the bathroom and tried to get in the tub with you?”

       “No . . . I always bathed outside, in a freshwater pool, there’s a lot of them around my place. Zeke just happened to pick the same one and thought it would be perfectly fine to get in with me. But he called it ‘skinny-dipping’ when I was just taking a bath.” I shook my head vigorously. “I wasn’t going to take that, so I left.”

       “Ah. I see.” He paused and looked at me. “Hey, I promise I’m not being disgusting here, but let me ask you something.”

       “Sure.”

       “If you want, just as an experiment, you could try kissing me.” When he saw my face he held up his hands. “I promise I’m not trying to get into your pants! I probably want to kiss you as much as you want to kiss me. But I thought it might be nice to let you broaden your horizons and kiss more than one person before you make a total judgment that kissing sucks.”

       “You really want to?”

       “I want to know if you want to. It’s just an offer.”

       I was curious, which surprised me. “Well, okay. It sounds all right.”

       “Great.”

       I waited for him to come and put his arms around me or something, and then I realized he was stuck where he was, immobile in the air. I’d have to make the first move.

       More curious than anything else, I drifted closer to him and took his hands, then I looked up at him, trying to see something in his eyes. All I saw was the playful guy I was getting to know, and I didn’t detect any kind of weird half-sleeping hunger that I sometimes saw in guys’ eyes. That encouraged me greatly.

       I floated up and kissed his mouth, holding my eyes closed in case there was something I’d rather not see. Nothing really happened, so I opened my mouth just a little bit like Zeke had taught me. When he didn’t do anything, I thought maybe I was supposed to since technically I had initiated it, so even though I really didn’t feel like doing it, I licked his bottom lip. He responded by doing the same thing back, and then I just closed my mouth and gave him a quick peck on the lips again. I pulled back and saw his slightly amused brown eyes, and I wiped off my lips with my hand.

       “How was that for you?” he asked.

       “Not that great,” I replied.

       “Yeah, me neither.” He shrugged.

       “Really?”

       “Huh? Yeah.”

       “You don’t understand how much that makes me like you,” I said.

       “Makes me like you too.” He squeezed my hand. “We don’t have to worry about stupid things like dating. It’ll never be there for you and me so we can just be friends.”

       “Yes!” I agreed emphatically.

       “That’s a real relief,” he added.

       “Definitely.” I tugged on his elbow. “Come on.”

       “Um, I don’t have much of a choice,” he observed as he started to follow me.

       “Well, sometimes I pretend other people can fly by themselves. It’s cooler that way.”

       “Up, up, and away,” he joked. It didn’t make much sense since we were going down.

       Once we broke through the clouds again, we browsed the fair from our place in the sky.

       “Anything you want to do?” I asked Ruben.

       “Unless you’re interested in playing some video games or looking at the animals, not really.”

       “I suck at video games,” I replied.

       “Well, then, you know what I want to do?”

       “What?”

       “I want to collect our animals and get home, and start fixing food for the party.”

       “Oh, right. . . . ” I’d almost forgotten.

       “Too bad I brought my car,” he pondered. “It woulda been fun to just fly home.” He looked at me. “How come I didn’t think of asking you for this before, Ivy?”

       “You probably didn’t realize I could,” I suggested.

       “I think you’re right. I just didn’t think of it.”

       I scanned the ground and scowled.

       “What’s wrong?”

       “There’s no place to land.”

       “Huh?”

       “Landing is trickier than going up. For some reason people notice it more.”

       “Why?”

       “I have no clue.” I looked at him. “I’m gonna have to pull one of my old tricks.”

       “Like?”

       “I have to land really fast. It gives people less time to notice people falling from the sky, so it’s less noticeable.”

       “Okay. . . . ”

       “You might want to hang onto me. It’s a hard drop.”

       “I’ll be all right.”

       “If you say so.” I searched out the largest food booth and aimed us toward the back of it, crashing down. I stopped about a meter above the ground. Then I felt something disturbing: Ruben was trembling beside me, pretty badly. I put him on the ground but he couldn’t stand up. I let him slide down to the ground and plopped myself next to him.

       “You look like shit,” I said.

       “I think I’m going to throw up.”

       “Please don’t.”

       “That was much worse than a free-fall ride.”

       “Huh?”

       He shook his head and didn’t answer.

       “You hungry?” I joked.

       “Don’t, Ivy.” He looked serious.

       “Come on,” I said, offering my hand. He took it and I helped him stand up. Putting my energy around him again in case he needed support, I realized he was still pretty shaky. “Jeez,” I whispered. He wrapped his arms around himself and took a deep breath, then made a valiant attempt to keep up with me.

       “I warned you,” I reminded him.

       “Yeah, I know. Next time I’ll listen.”

       “It’s not that bad, once you get used to it.”

       “Used to what, falling long distances?”

       “Sort of. I fall three times that distance for fun.”

       “No wonder you’re not scared of roller coasters.”

       We walked back to the hot dog stand and collected our prize animals, then went through the gates to the parking lot.

       “Lucky day, huh?” questioned the guard lady as we refused her offer to stamp our hands for re-entry.

       “Yup,” we replied in unison. We lugged our animals to Ruben’s car and put them in the back seat. He put a seat belt on the dragon and laughed.


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