7th day of May in the year 2140
Today was the first day of the weekend-long event at the halfway house, and we ended up having to cancel after a few hours…
“Alright,” Mona huffed, having just emerged from the walk-in freezer after hoisting the last container of dough inside. “That’s the last box.”
“Awesome!” Lizzie gushed. She wore an apron over her black t-shirt and denim shorts, protecting her clothing from the grease and flour. She swiped the back of her hand across her forehead, preventing sweat from trailing into her eyes as well as unknowingly marking her skin with white powder. Natalie had stopped by the previous evening to twist her hair into box braids, and she had the numerous beaded strands pulled back in a bun and protected within a hairnet.
Lizzie nodded to Gabby, Freya, Alden, and Reed–their café staff for the next few hours. “You guys are doing great with prep! Gab, can you switch the sign to ‘open’?”
“On it!” The freshman dusted off her apron and rushed to the front of the café. Lizzie heard her greet someone as the door opened.
“Hey! She’s in the back,” Gabby had said. Lizzie frowned. Are they looking for me, or Mona? And who could it be?
Her mind went blank when she heard him respond: “Cool, I’ll just wait out here. Thanks, Gabby.”
“No problem, Monty!”
Monty’s here?! She felt her face flush with heat as she tossed the last tray of pastries into the remaining oven and set the timer. “Frey, Al, you’re in charge of keeping the display filled so we have plenty to give out. Reed, you’re up front with Gab.”
“On it!” He ran to the nearest sink and washed his hands.
“Okay, guys,” Lizzie began, her voice raised so the entire kitchen could hear her. “Mona’s gonna be here for the first shift. I’ll bring the next shift before noon. Make sure you take breaks one at a time, and don’t forget to smile at everyone who walks in.”
“Yes’m!” The kids called out.
Mona bumped her hip against Lizzie’s playfully. “Go wipe your forehead and suck face with my brother.”
Lizzie’s cheeks flushed pink. “What?! I don’t–we never–”
Then she turned to the hand-washing sink and stared at her reflection. Her eyes widened at the white flour smeared across her forehead. “Oh.”
The kitchen filled with giggles. “Go on, wash up,” Mona insisted, smirking. “Have fun!”
Lizzie was already scrubbing the flour from her face with a damp rag and pulling off her hair net when she called out, “Thanks!” Then she patted her face dry, took off the apron, and undid the bun so that her braids fell behind her. Natalie had parted Lizzie’s hair down the middle, so the thin, tight braids framed her face in a way that gave her a sense of symmetry. This was thrown off by the tiny beauty mark adjacent to her left eye, but she didn’t want to keep Monty waiting any longer.
I don’t want to wait any longer.
“You look beautiful.”
Lizzie lowered her gaze and busied her hands by running them through a handful of braids that she had pulled over her left shoulder. “Thank you.”
Then she met his eyes confidently and returned his sweet smile. “You look beautiful, too.”
He wore a plain grey t-shirt and tan cargo shorts. His arms were covered in tattoos of various animals, each one a participant in the collage of colors lined with black ink. His wavy coal black hair had only grown in recent months; the top had always been longer than the sides, which were previously shaved short, so to see his hair longer than usual reminded Lizzie of when they first met.
Pink spread across the angel’s cheeks as he ran his fingers through his hair. “Thank you,” he said sheepishly.
“Just kiss already!” shouted Chris and Gordon, who had just met them outside the busy café with Alexa and Cassidy. Cassie swatted at her soul mate and cousin playfully, while the psychic simply shook her head and smiled.
The human and the prince were red in the face as they averted their eyes. Monty cleared his throat.
“What took you guys? I thought the point of teleportation was to avoid being late.”
“Nah,” Chris countered. “The point of teleportation is to be fashionably late and arrive with style.”
Lizzie glanced around, scanning the faces of the colonists. “What about Nat and Ricky? Or Frankie and Carmen?”
The angels all exchanged confused glances. “Uh, Liz?” Cassie began. “Nat and Ricky broke up, like, a month ago.”
“Wait, really?” she frowned. “I just saw Nat last night. She said she’d be here but didn’t say anything about Ricky. I guess I just assumed they were still together and that he would come with her.”
“They’re fine,” Gordon explained. “No bad blood between them or anything. They both just liked each other for a while, so when they started dating and didn’t undergo the soul mate bond… It discouraged both of them. So they called it quits.”
“Oh, wow.” Lizzie’s mind was racing. So liking someone isn’t enough for a soul mate bond. I mean, that makes sense, but…
“They’ll both be at the carnival,” Alexa assured her. She must have read my mind. “You’ll see–they’re back to being just friends now, so there’s nothing to worry about.”
“Carmen is helping Micaela with the baby while Sal and Frankie meet with the council on my behalf,” Monty explained. The group stepped away from the café and began making their way toward the attractions. “After the meeting, Aunt Desi and Uncle Remi will watch Rafaello so Micaela and Sal can come by in a couple of hours. It’s their first date since the little guy was born.”
Lizzie pouted. “I was kind of hoping to see the baby. I haven’t met him yet.”
The fingers of Monty’s right hand ran through his hair again as he offered, “I can talk to Sal about us babysitting for them in the next couple of weeks. I’m sure they’d both appreciate another break.”
Impulsively, Lizzie reached out and took the angel’s free hand in her own. “Okay!”
He squeezed her hand gently in turn. “Okay.”
The event was a success with the colony. Lizzie and the tenants of the halfway house had spread the news of the weekend-long attraction throughout the entire colonial school until parents and other adults got word of the carnival. Mona even handed out flyers to the other laundry attendants that were designed by Brook, one of their talented artists, and were scanned and turned into multiple copies by a device Dallas called a photocopier.
The idea came from young Anthony, who had come across the topic of fairs and circuses during his research of the twentieth century. He looked into various attractions and discussed each one at length with Lizzie, Mona, and the other tenants. While they didn’t have the ability to create the massive rides from before the apocalypse, they were able to create their own attractions and entertain the colony. Mona had even posited that, if the halfway house could organize an event like this for a few weekends out of the summer, then the entire colony would feel at ease about a group of “trouble-making” teens living together on the outskirts of town.
The carnival itself looked great; Brook and Luke had decorated the booths built by Ruben, Kaine, and Gavin, and the five teens had also banded together to create silly standing caricatures of animals and clowns with the faces cut out. Anthony had shown them an example and told them they were called “stand-ins” or “carnival cut-outs.”
The two lots beside their complex were empty, so the teens had begun building their carnival there. Stalls and cut-outs were the first things built, and while the art duo was tackling their designs, the building team went ahead and built a bowl and a couple of ramps for the tenants who had been practicing their tricks.
The cut-outs were definitely silly; Chris was loving the clowns, even making funny faces for the group. Alexa’s serene expression seemed even more out of place as a clown, bringing Cassidy to tears with laughter. Lizzie and Monty had the other two couples rolling on the floor when they stuck their heads through the next cut-out; Lizzie had unknowingly chosen the farmer, and Monty went along with it and stood beside her as the wife. He leaned into his Southern accent and went on a monologue about working with his “husband” on the farm; the cut-out shook so hard from Lizzie’s cackles that they nearly toppled the structure over.
“Are you makin’ fun of my accent?!” she asked, her own drawl returning. “I don’t even talk like that anymore!”
“You’re doing it right now!” Monty teased. “And it comes out whenever you’re pissed or being authoritative. Besides, I like it.”
“So Monty likes girls who can take charge,” Chris noted to Alexa. “Shit, I can’t blame ‘im–”
Alexa’s eyes flashed violet as she cocked an eyebrow in his direction, only for the porter to chuckle. “Yes’m.”
“Hey, look! There’s some sort of game at that stall,” Cassidy pointed at the nearest stand manned by Casey, another young tenant. The attraction itself was a wooden wall with a giant target painted on it. Balloons were taped against the wall at various points along the target; darts pierced the wall at other points, some of which contained the shredded remains of a popped balloon. Baskets of stuffed plush animals and toys lined either side of the wall, each labelled with large numbers.
“Oh, that one was Kiley’s idea!” Lizzie gushed as she and Monty emerged from behind the cut-out. “Each ring of color has a different amount of points, and popping a balloon is how you earn those points. You get three tries to accumulate points; those points are then added up, and you win a prize depending on how many points you earned. The bullseye is worth one hundred points, so hitting it three times gets you three hundred points.”
“So you don’t have to hit a balloon to get points?” Gordon asked, puzzled. His brown eyes were on the sole balloon that was positioned at the center of the large target.
“Only for the bullseye, since there’s only one balloon there,” Lizzie explained. “All the other rings have at least three balloons, giving the players three chances to hit the same ring. The bullseye is the only one with one balloon, so if you pop it the first time and get the second and third darts in the same area, you get to triple your points.”
The guys all exchanged cocky grins. “Bet you I can get a perfect score!” Gordon clapped his hands together and rubbed them excitedly.
Chris scoffed and followed Gordon to the stall. “Your super strength means nothing in this challenge, dude. It’s all about accuracy.”
“Yeah, as if you have any of that!” Monty called out to the teens. He took Lizzie by the hand out of reflex and smiled. “Let’s go, babe.”
The butterflies returned as she squeezed his hand and nodded. “ ‘Kay.”