I started this a few weeks ago, and then I lost my copy of A Separate Peace. So I wanted to finish this off before I forgot all about Finny and Gene. Hopefully you guys will enjoy this, but I love all comments, especially constructive criticism.
It was at the beginning of that Summer Session that Finny's crowning achievement came, in one swooping, smashing idea. No one ever knew about it but he and I; while that was expected for him, I suppose he thought I was the type to tell everyone at Devon. Perhaps at the time I was that sort of person. In any case, the night before we left was spent with Finny anxiously double-checking details and reassuring himself that I was ready.
He lay across from me in the dark, flat on his back on his own bed, his neck crooked so he could stare at me across the dark gap. My eyes were closed, but I imagined I could feel his gaze drilling into my forehead as he spoke in a hushed voice. "I have the money for the tickets in an envelope," he told me. "It's in my right boot, and I hope you'll remember. I suppose I might forget overnight, and if you forgot too, then we couldn't go."
I smiled slightly. He wouldn't forget. Finny might not have been much when it came to studying, but details like this would stick in his brain like cement. "I'll remember," I reassured him sleepily.
"Good," he said, mollified. There was a pause, and he continued. "I think it'll be nice, tomorrow," he said. "I mean, spring's just over, so it's really summer now, and they can't just expect us to stay at school the whole time. And I'm glad you agreed to come with me, because before I asked you I was afraid you wouldn't, and I was going to have to ask Leper."
The idea of Finny dragging poor, shy Leper around behind him for a day was enough to make me smirk. But I really was tired, and Finny was keeping me up far later than I liked. He seemed to sense this. "Night, Gene," he said, and sighed.
"Night, Finny," I echoed back. But he was already asleep, as far as I could tell. Finny had the uncanny ability of drifting in and out of sleep at will, and it generally was almost impossible to tell which state he was in.
As for myself, I listened to his quiet breathing for several minutes before following him into sleep.
I woke the next morning perhaps an hour before dawn, to Finny's hands on my shoulder, shaking me urgently.
"Come on, Gene," he said. "If we're going to make it and still have time, we have to go now."
I yawned, but complied. His hands slipped off me as I sat up, and I felt a vague sense of regret as I slipped fully into consciousness, as though I had been startled out of a pleasant dream. Both Finny and I had decided not to change into pajamas the night before, so all that was left to do was to slip on a pair of shoes.
Finny held up a white envelope. "I remembered where it was," he proclaimed, voice brimming with self-satisfaction. "Of course, I nearly didn't—but when I pulled on my boot, there it was." His eyes were wide at such a strange thought. "It's odd, isn't it?" he marveled. "I guess I didn't need to tell you after all."
I finished lacing my left shoe, and he grabbed my wrist and tugged me to my feet. "Let's go."
It was utterly silent in the hall outside our room, and we were quiet, too. I felt as if I had walked in on some somber ceremony, almost as if someone had died. Outside, there was the same unnatural quiet. I had never seen the grounds this early. The only light was a flush hint of pink from the eastern edge of the sky.
Finny stopped once we were outside and stared towards the horizon, almost in awe. His neck arched back, and he stood stalk still. He looked like a sculpture or painting from some famous museum, Michelangelo, Rafael, Da Vinci. I longed to box him up exactly as he was and keep him hidden away where no eyes but my own could gaze on him.
Suddenly he shook himself, like a dog coming out of the water, and the spell was broken. He was only Finny, after all. "Come on," he murmured. "We have a long walk."
It was a long walk. Almost five miles from the school to the train station, and made longer by the unnatural silence which even Finny seemed unwilling to break. By the time we reached the tracks, our train was just pulling up, and the sun was fully risen. We purchased our tickets hastily, and took seats as far back as we could get them.
Once we were on the train, I became self-conscious. All our fellow passengers were adults, most likely headed to work; whereas we were two boys with nothing more to look forward to than a day full of delights. Finny did not seem to share my inhibitions. He began singing the words to a song from last year, in a voice that for him was quiet. "In a dream the strangest and the oddest things appear, and what insane and silly things we do. Here is what I see before me, vividly and clear: as I recall it, you were in it, too."
To distract him, I spoke of our plans for the day. "Have you ever been to a Carnival before?" I asked him.
He blinked as though being woken from a pleasant sleep. "No," he admitted. "Not properly. But I saw it at a movie once." He paused. "Have you?"
I shifted uncomfortably in my seat. "Never," I said. "I wanted to."
Finny contemplated this in thoughtful silence. "I suppose that makes it even better," he concluded finally. "Two friends setting out on an adventure together." He stared at me intently. "I'm glad you're coming, Gene, and not Leper."
I was happy, too.
I was still happy, though not very awake, when we arrived about thirty minutes later. The carnival had just opened, and we were two of the first people there. We had ten dollars each, minus what we would need for fare back to Devon. And Finny insisted on spending the first twenty-five cents on some pink stuff called cotton candy.
"We'll have to eat something," he said practically. "It might as well be this. Besides, it looks good."
It tasted good, too. It melted into airy nothingness on my tongue, and soon my hands were full of sticky clumps. Finny's entire face had somehow managed to get pink, and I managed to get a bit in my hair. We discarded our empty sticks slowly.
"I'm still hungry," Finny declared, and bought a hotdog at the nearest stand. He insisted on paying for one for me, too, though in all honesty most of the money was rightly his, anyway.
We sat on a bench and watched the crowds go by. It was mostly teens about our age, couples of boys and girls and a few large crowds of friends. Here and there was a mother or father being dragged along by a child, and Finny spotted a lady around sixty years old hobbling along on her own.
There were rides all around us, and once we had finished our hotdogs, Finny immediately wanted to ride all of them. The lights that he had seen in the movie weren't lit yet, which disappointed him, but there was music playing and altogether it really did feel like a carnival. There was a carousel, which Finny derided as being too easy, a sort of pole with swings on the side, a roller coaster, and a Ferris wheel. Finny wanted to start right away on the roller coaster, but I managed to talk him out of it by saying we might be sick. In all honesty, I was slightly intimidated by the roller coaster, and I didn't want to appear scared in front of Finny.
So we started out on the swing type ride. It was one to a swing, so I took the one just behind Finny. He turned around eagerly to talk to me. "Are you read, Gene?" he asked. "Wouldn't it be neat if the rope snapped? You'd probably fly a hundred feet into the air! It would be like you were a bird or something."
"Well, yes," I said mildly. "But you'd kill yourself landing."
He didn't look discouraged. "It'd still be neat," he pressed. But he could go no further; for at that moment, the swings lifted off the ground and began to spin.
I could hardly see him, but I could hear him well enough. He whooped and threw his fists into the air as we spun around the pole. I pictured us as ropes of flowers twisting around a giant Maypole, with the people on the ground the dancers twirling us on.
I closed my eyes and braced my hands tightly against the seat. I was dizzy being this high up, even if I couldn't see anything.
Then, almost as suddenly as we had begun, we were on the ground again. I wobbled as we walked away from the ride, and Finny chatted excitedly.
"That was great," he said. "I don't even care that we didn't break off, I felt like I was flying…I bet that's a little what it's like to be in the Air Force, don't you? I'd like to be in the Air Force after school. We should sign up together, and we'll knock a million Germans right out of the sky." Suddenly he paused and looked at me. His voice turned gentle with concern. "Hey, are you alright?" he asked. "Here, let's sit down."
He guided me to a small green bench, and I sank onto it, relieved. "That wasn't that bad, was it?" Finny worried. "I'm sorry, Gene…we can go back to school, if you like."
I shook my head, and he gripped my shoulder more tightly. "I want to stay," I said.
After that, we went on the carousel to give me a chance to ride. The other riders were mostly small children and their parents, but Finny managed to have fun anyway. He picked a black horse with pink feathers decorating its mane, and whenever the ride operator wasn't looking, he would jump off and try to race all the way around the carousel and grab the horse again before someone else did. I sat on a small stationary bench and watched him, smiling.
After that, Finny assumed I was rested enough to go on the Roller Coaster. I wasn't so sure. All over the park, you could hear people screaming as the coaster dipped into steep dives. I was terrified. And yet, almost without my consent, my feet followed Finny to the end of the line.
The line was short. It was late afternoon by that point, and the Carnival had begun to empty as people went home to eat dinner. We planned to stay for another hour, at least.
We were at the front of the line within twenty minutes, and we managed to get a seat in the same car. The ride operator seemed grim as he strapped us in, and I gripped the handlebar in fear.
Finny nudged me in the side. "Hey," he said. "It'll be okay."
Then we started to make our way up the hill. We tilted back for the climb, and I saw nothing but the bright blue sky. Finny beside me was shaking with anticipation.
We were over the crest of the hill now, and the front car was curving over the hill now. I hear the clack of the lift turn into the easy slide of wheels as we began our tumble to the earth. I felt a scream break forth from my throat, and I turned, terrified, to Finny. He was practically the only one not shaking with fright; both his arms were extended into the air, and his smile was wide. I grabbed his nearest arm with my hand and clenched his hand with both of mine. My knuckles were white. I tilted my head into his shoulder.
The next hill, I managed to look up. Finny was no longer smiling and bright. His arms were both limp, and he looked greenish. His teeth were clenched tightly.
I was surprised he managed to hold on to the end of the ride. I felt older than him, suddenly, as if I were his protector. I put my hand on the small of his back and guided him to the nearest bench, noting our reversed positions. He held his head in his hands, and I rubbed small circles on his shoulder with my hand. A man shot us a dirty look as he walked by, but I was concerned only with Finny.
"Are you alright?" I asked gently.
He shook his head, and threw up into a pile of bushes. I rubbed a sheen of sweat from his forehead, and pushed his hair back from his eyes.
"Sorry," he said hoarsely.
I touched the nape of his neck. "It's fine," I said soothingly, and that was the last thing either of us said for about fifteen minutes. Then Finny stood up abruptly.
"Let's go on the Ferris wheel," he said. I hesitated.
"Are you feeling better?" I asked.
"Almost completely," he declared. "And it's getting dark. We should ride before we go home.
It was getting dark. They had started turning on Finny's carnival lights. The Ferris wheel was completely lit up. The spokes glowed a bright flashing pink, and the rim was a glaring shade of white.
We had four ride tickets left each, and the Ferris wheel cost two tickets to ride. Since this was the last ride we planned to go on, we paid all of our tickets and were guaranteed two revolutions on the wheel.
We were silent the first time around. The little cage we were in was small, and Finny's entire was pressed against mine from shoulder to knee. I could feel every breath he took; slow, the sleepy sounds he usually made right before falling to sleep. And he smelled nice, too, I was surprised to notice; fresh, despite the fact we had been running around all day, as though he had just bathed in a fresh river.
As we neared the top of our next revolution, Finny spoke. "Look at the car in front of us," he said, his voice low and delighted. His voice made my entire body hum, as though the vibrations of the sound bounced around the cage and mixed together to hit into me. "They don't know we can see them."
I looked. It was a boy and girl, about our age, kissing dramatically. I was shocked. "I guess not," I said dumbly.
Finny turned over his shoulder and looked behind us. "There's no one back there," he said, and moved his hand the few inches from his thigh to mine. His fingers covered the back of my palm completely, and I felt my breath quicken. He tilted his head to watch my reaction. I closed my eyes and tilted my head back against the back of the seat.
The pressure of his fingers increased, and I found I could open my eyes. His eyelids were half-closed, he was smiling at me. I smiled back, and we both looked ahead. Suddenly, I felt a pressure on my shoulder. Finny's head was resting there, the top of his head pressing against my neck and his hair brushing my collarbone.
"Finny?" I asked softly, my voice trembling. "Finny?"
He was asleep, of all things.
As we arched over the top of the loop, I looked one more time at the cars in front of us and behind us. The one in back was empty, and in front they were still…occupied.
Gingerly, I tilted my neck to the side, and allowed my head to rest on his. He sighed a little in his sleep, and his fingers squeezed around my hand. I noticed small details: I could feel the pulse of his blood in his wrist, and his hair tickled my ear as I shifted to get more comfortable.
As we reached the bottom, I lifted my head and dug frantically through my pocket. There was still a bit of money left in there. I stuck my arm through the bar of the cage and offered it to the ride operator.
"We'll take one more turn, please," I said.
Well? How was it? Here are some cookies for your trouble! If you did enjoy this, feel free to check out my profile for another Separate Peace fic.