Opening by @zeldacroft
“Carl, I’m not telling you again. No.” The teen shook his head emphatically as he shut his locker. John started to walk away, with Carl close behind. Most of the students had already escaped after the release of the final bell, leaving the two teens mostly alone as they exited the grimy public school halls.
“Aw c’mon, man, my first shift starts tomorrow and I promised you’d be there,” Carl begged.
“I don’t understand, why did you even take the job if you knew you needed another person?”
“Because I knew I could count on you. My oldest, most bestest friend. Buddy, Old Pal?” He nudged John in the ribs, who rolled his eyes and started walking faster out of the building. John could feel his resistance waning under the shallow arguments and incessant prodding. Saturdays were valuable, but it was almost summer and getting a job wouldn’t be so bad if he could do it with a friend. He could still make Carl work for it though.
“I don’t know, I’m not liking all this peer pressure,” he teased. “Mrs. Campbell would be very disappointed in you.”
“Peer pressure doesn’t include perks like Coaster Town has,” Carl clarified.
“What perks?” John questioned.
Carl stopped and faced him, taking a dramatic, deep breath.
“Fifteen percent off park entry!” He exclaimed, inciting an amused eyebrow raise from John and a chuckle from a passing teacher. “Plus a free pass for the Twister of Doom and free hamburgers from the café!”
“Oh, I’m sure unlimited hamburgers won’t get old fast.”
“They pay over minimum wage, too. Seriously, this could be our big opportunity for some cash before summer hits.”
They were nearly outside, the fresh late-spring air drifting in through the open door. It was a nice change from the mustiness and body spray overdoses, and it made John almost look forward to working at a theme park. He felt the call of freedom in the form of sunlight breaching through the school windows. Stepping outside, the afternoon warmth of the sidewalk between the brick institution and the emptying parking lot won him over.
“Did you say we get to work outside?” John asked. Carl’s face lit up with optimism.
“Yep, at least most of the time.” John stepped next to his bike, one of the last few chained nearby. He ignored the eager inquisitiveness emanating from Carl as he unshackled the bicycle and stood up.
“Well, I suppose I could give it a try, anyway,” he conceded. Carl did a strange sort of clapping dance motion as his grin grew its customary vastness.
“Thanks John, you won’t be sorry,” he promised as he proceeded to unhook his own bike. “And don’t worry, they provide our costume and everything.” John halted.
“Wait, our costume? Singular?” John could have sworn he heard the job description as entertainers, plural.
“Yeah, the mascot costume. I haven’t seen it yet but I’m sure we’ll fit.” Carl climbed onto his bike as John filled with horrific regret.
The memories lingered, as clear it had happened, well-worn over the tellings since. That hazy summer; those shifts buffooning around Coaster Town. John as the front end of a horizontal hot dog costume he very nearly walked out after seeing. Dancing in the thing; swinging his hips side to side next to Carl, Carl’s floppy, blonde hair exaggerating every move. The days off at the cabin. Swimming in the lake, the sunlight dappling through the big tree catching that same rope swing that’s there now.
John had to admit Carl had been right, it was easy money. The little kids couldn’t care less about teenagers promoting the café. They dragged exhausted mum's by sticky palms from queue to queue without giving Carl and John a second glance.
John always joked they should’ve got fat, all those hamburgers, the mega sized sodas, but they never did. As the weekends trickled into summer the sun dusted streaks through Carl’s hair, drawing out his freckles, washing John a darker shade of bronze, but the hamburgers never did get old, and between the swimming and that ridiculous hot dog dance, neither gained a pound.
It took weeks for Carl to convince John to ride the Twister of Doom though.
Carl had been so excited in the queue, they’d got season fast passes for the whole park, it wasn’t a long wait, but it was long enough. John hadn't registered the familiar jitters of Carl excitedly clapping his hands together, all too aware of the sweaty sheen creeping over his own skin, anxiety snatching his breath, while he tried his hardest not to let it show.
The carriages were tiny, shooting up and down, racing round the tracks, the passengers squeezed together. By the time they got to the front of the line, John’s heart was at his rib cage, demanding he see it through, or turn back. He hadn’t been able to tell what he wanted more at that point.
His knees had been jelly, padded in the wobbly, fresh scent of doughnuts filling the park.
John had held his breath, the restraint lowering over his head, pressing him next to Carl. It was too late to back out then. John was always glad he didn’t.
With a slow juddering, the cart took off, rising up the track; lifting them both away from the theme park, the town, the world they knew.
Somewhere up there, the fear that had rattled around John’s chest like a loose bike chain was replaced with something else. A fear of coming back down, of reality, of it being over, of missing a chance.
His fingers let go of the plastic handle, edging over the harness. The electric that drove him on equally repelled him. The tip of his forefinger, finding sudden, uncertain skin contact, sparked with the sensation. The roller coaster had been lost in the background of that feeling.
John smiled at the recollection. The fear had melted into a happy fizzing tablet of that awful Berocca Carl insisted they both had with breakfast these days.
John sank back on the deck chair. Carl’s hair had thinned, the grey strands still held the luminosity of their former blonde as the summer rays caught them, sun coaxed freckles hiding the years of adventures etched on his skin. Beneath the heavy foliage, in the shifting light, John still saw the teenager who tentatively held his hand atop the twister. Carl didn’t notice John's wistful gaze, he was preoccupied, re-knotting the branch at the end of rope swing down by the lake, it would see a lot of use this year.
We do love a challenge, having an opening like this, that sets a strong direction hit me with a whole host of ideas of ways to take it in unexpected detours, but then coming up with ones that stayed 100% positive was a lot harder, which we didn’t have to do, but seemed like a fun thing to try for, and I ended up with this idea. I also ended up skilfully smashing the word count so this entry won't count for the top three spots, can’t have it all. There is still plenty of time on this round, and this is one of those openings that as soon as you start to play with, really could go a lot of ways. For an extra challenge, you can write a positive ending, but any ending is welcome, and with something like this, where so very much could happen, before, during, after - or even instead of, what's been set up, it's an enticing pool of potential.
This is an entry to @bananafish's #finishthestory contest which is out every week! This week, @ntowl is hosting and judging for us, and our opening has been provided by her wonderful daughter @zeldacroft! Check out the latest round for all the details on how to join in!Venno