The Ferris Wheel, always the most impressive thing about the fair, was the first thing Jackie saw as she and Booker came down the road towards the fair. Jackie drew in a sharp breath. "I remember this," she said, looking up at Booker with a smile. "I was always terrified of the wheel."
Booker laughed. "Think you could handle it this year, now that you're all grown up?"
Jackie swatted him. "Maybe, maybe not." She raced ahead of him and Booker suddenly had a flash of Jackie at seventeen. He smiled at the vivid memory and followed her loping run through the gates and into the fair.
They spotted Kayla, Riley, Jett, and J.B. at the midway, locked in a heated four-way basketball contest. J.B. stole the ball from Riley, landing in impressive three-point shot, and Riley went after him, laughing and shrieking at the injustice done to her.
"Joseph Brian Halliburton, I hope you fall on your face next time!" Riley yelled, pounding his arm with her fists. "Never steal a woman's ball!"
J.B. was helpless with laughter as Riley pushed him down right there on the court. "Indignity!" she was giggling. "Complete humiliation! And in public!"
Kayla and Jett were holding on to each other, gasping for air through laughter. J.B. flipped Riley over and started tickling her. "Okay, okay!" Riley gasped, pushing him off her and shoving her light blonde hair out of her eyes. "I surrender! Mercy!"
J.B. held out his hand and helped her up. "Sorry, Riles. Couldn't help it." He brushed imaginary dirt off his shirt. "White men can jump."
"Shut up, man!" Jett laughed, heaving the ball at his best friend. The game resumed, Jackie and Booker watching from the sidelines, vastly amused. "Hey, you four!" Booker called in his best sergeant voice. "No injuries, ya hear?"
The four teenagers looked up, grinned, and ran over. "Hey, Booker. Hey, Jackie," they greeted.
"What's up?" Riley asked, plopping down on the bench beside them.
"Just watching your very impressive WWF-slash-NBA basketball tournament," Jackie answered. "Riles, go easy on the boy. He hasn't had much experience wrestling action stars."
Riley laughed and J.B. turned red. "So who's up for some rides?" Jett asked. "Last I heard the roller coaster was free and it's a hell of a ride this year." He pointed to the looping blue track. "It's one of the ones they used to have at Six Flags."
Jackie shook her head. "No way in hell," she said flatly. "I don't do any loop-the-loops."
Kayla laughed. "Not even one ride?"
"No, Kay, my motto is terra firma. The firma the betta," Jackie said, causing Booker to groan and everyone to laugh.
"Well," Jett stood up. "I do believe I was challenged to a ping-pong match by a very confident young lady."
"As was I, for air hockey." J.B. joined his best friend. "You girls ready to show your stuff?"
"Yeah," Booker said, standing up too. "We'll make it girls against boys."
Jackie, Riley, and Kayla looked at each other, grinned, and got to their feet. "You're on, big man," Jackie said, tweaking Booker's nose and taking off towards the game booths, Riley and Kayla hot on her heels. The boys and Booker followed, each running off respectively to the air hockey, ping-pong, and racing video game machines. Jackie sat down in one of the tall seats and put in three quarters.
"Get ready to be left in the dust, Murray," she said to her boyfriend, who seated himself in the adjacent chair.
"Ha. Fat chance," Booker teased back, and the race started.
"Tell you what," Jackie said a few moments later, her eyes not leaving the screen. "I lose, I go on the Ferris Wheel with you. You lose, you have to enter the dance contest with me."
Booker groaned. "You better lose. I don't dance."
Jackie laughed and rounded the final curve of the track. She sped up as the black and white finish line drew near, and, at the last second, a white sports car drew up level and passed her by a millimeter.
"SECOND PLACE!" flashed in big red letters on her screen. She looked in astonishment at Booker, who was grinning triumphantly at her. The words "FIRST PLACE!" were floating around his screen accompanied by confetti and cheering sounds.
"Ready for the wheel?" Booker asked, and Jackie moaned in defeat.
"I hate you," she said, and Booker scooped her up into his arms.
"No you don't." He planted a kiss on her lips.
"Can we at least go watch Jett and Kayla and Riley and J.B. before I go off to die on a large metal wheel?" Jackie begged. "It's a dying woman's last wish."
"Fine, fine," Booker said, and they made their way to the ping-pong table, where Jett and Kayla were locked in mortal combat.
"Jesus, look at this," Jackie whispered to Booker when he put her down. "Kayla's kicking his ass."
Jett missed another ball and Kayla shrieked in triumph. "What did I tell you, Silverstone?" she laughed. "No one defeats me at ping-pong!"
Jett threw one of the little white balls at his girlfriend and laughed good-naturedly. He put down the paddle and stuck his hand out. "I admit defeat. I know when I'm beaten."
Kayla smiled and kissed him lightly. "Good game."
Booker and Jackie followed them to the air-hockey table, where a competition of no less intensity was going on between Riley and J.B. The score was six-six, and neither of them was giving up. "C'mon, I have three days before school starts," Riley said. "One good win over you, Halliburton, and I could make your senior year miserable." She grinned to show that she was joking, and J.B. stuck his tongue out at her.
"Not a chance," he said as he scored another goal. Riley pulled out the small green disc and knocked it towards his goal. The buzzer sounded just as she made the goal.
"Seven-seven!" Riley crowed. "Tie!"
J.B. wrinkled his nose. "You still didn't beat me."
"You owe me a popcorn." Riley poked him.
"And you owe me a soda." J.B. poked her back.
"Jett, where's your dad?" Booker asked when they had all calmed down.
Jett shrugged. "Dunno. Mom and Dad said they'd be by later, but I'm not sure when. Dad has Spencer here, and you, in case anything happens. So as far as security goes, we're covered."
Booker nodded. "Okay, just checking."
A few more hours on rides and games sent the sun sinking down behind the horizon, and the sky exploded in hundreds of colors, spilling a stained-glass menagerie of light over Wilsted.
Jackie looked up at Booker and led him towards the Ferris Wheel. "I owe you a ride on here, I believe?"
Booker got two tickets and they got on. The booths were open, and they had a spectacular view of the sunset. The ride started, and Jackie covered her eyes with her hands as they glided upward. "Oh, lord."
Booker laughed. "It's okay. Look at the view," he pulled her hands from her eyes and pointed to the sunset. It was glowing gold and crimson on the horizon, tawny gold light illuminating everything.
Jackie smiled. "It's beautiful."
They admired it as they went over and over the top of the wheel. Finally they felt the wheel slowing and stopping just as they reached the very peak of the wheel for the twelfth time.
"Looks like we're gonna be here for a while," Booker said, and felt the small rectangular shape in his pocket. Jackie was absorbed in the sunset, looking stunningly beautiful in the light.
"Mmm," she answered absently.
Booker reached into his pocket and pulled out a small velvet box. "Jackie?"
She turned to him, her eyes still full of the light of the sunset. "Yes?"
"I've been meaning to ask you this for a long time," Booker began. "I've just never found the perfect moment."
Jackie looked at him curiously, a smile half-playing at her lips. "What's wrong?"
"I've always pictured this perfect life, with a family, a home, and happiness. And there is no one... no one, Jackie, who I would rather spend my perfect life with than you."
Jackie gasped as he opened the little box to reveal a single round diamond flocked by two smaller diamonds on either side on a gold band. "Booker..."
"Would you do me the honor of being my wife?" Booker held the ring out to her. "Sorry, I can't get down on one knee..."
Jackie's eyes filled with tears. "Oh, Booker... yes. I mean, yes of course."
Smiling from ear to ear, Booker slid the ring onto her left ring finger and kissed her. With a lurch, the wheel began to move again, and they descended back down to earth.
The fireworks display began as they came back to the dance platform. This was the highlight event of the night, and people gathered from everywhere to see. Jett and Kayla were watching, Kayla in Jett's arms, and Riley and J.B. were standing side by side, looking up.
J.B. looked over at Riley, her face lit up by the fireworks. He was hit by the sudden urge to kiss her. Her hand was achingly close to his, their fingers just touching.
Riley's eyes met his. "What're you looking at?" she asked softly.
"Something more beautiful than the fireworks," J.B. answered, and took the plunge. Their lips met.
Unfortunately, Riley was unprepared for this and fell backwards, making it look like J.B. had pushed her. People catcalled, and Riley pushed J.B. off her. "Whoa, slow down, there, J.B.," she said, sitting up.
"I am so sorry," J.B. gasped, helping her up. "I didn't mean to--"
Riley cut him off with a hand over his mouth. "Be gentle." She placed a soft, light kiss on his lips and pointed up at the sky. "We're missing the fireworks, Halliburton. And I will never forgive you if I don't get to see the finale. Now watch."
J.B. laughed and Riley took his hand.
All in all, Jackie thought as she watched them, not a bad day. Booker leaned down and kissed her, and so ended the Wilsted fair.