The old carousel still sat in the fairground as it had for more years than Evangeline could fully remember. She knew that the stunning thing had come to town when she was just two, but only because the old timers made mention of it on a fairly regular basis. There was not a memory in her head of a year without the lullaby strains humming her to sleep in the summer. Good times, whispered seductive nostalgia. But she wouldn't give in.
Or so she said as she let her fingers trail in the dusty manes of frozen horses. They pranced proudly still, though their paint and glitter had been worn away by too many years of neglect. She was shocked by the lack of graffiti and trash littering the grounds. As if the carousel had been marked as too scared for such scarring. Her feet did stumble trough the shattered bulbs that had once covered the wonderful artifice, but that was to be expected. Any hooligans with free time would soon find a game out of throwing things at the delicate bulbs. Still, it added a certain magnificence, a mock-up of stars covering the floor.
There was the sound of footsteps treading the other side of the platform that made her start as they tripped over the step up from the ground. Muttered cursing, the smack of hands against denim as the intruder into her nostalgic sanctuary dusted himself off. The whispers were hauntingly familiar, but too distorted by the distance and wind to be sure. Evangeline held her breath, watching expectantly over her shoulder as the steps came closer.
"Evie?" asked that desired voice as he stood squinting in the darkness of the fairgrounds.
"What are you slinking around here for, Donnie?" she quipped, weaving through the immobile beasts toward his silhouetted figure. The yellow streetlight cast a dirty glow behind him, but seemed too impure to trespass the childhood sanctity of the carousel.
She threw her arms around him, and he lifted her from her feet to swing her about in the cramped quarters. "You're mom said you had wandered out here. She can get you to visit, but no one can make you actually visit with anyone, if I remember her words."
"Oh, shut up you oaf." She punched him lightly on the shoulder, then studied his changed figure. He was slightly heavier than last time she had seen him, but in a good way. His hair was longer, perhaps dyed one shade lighter. Then again, maybe it was just not having seen him in four months. College could do that, she reasoned.
But he was still the Donnie she remembered. Same old black-rimmed glasses, same torn jeans and t-shirt, same mud brown eyes.
"Why didn't they sell this thing off too?" she asked as she wandered away among the menagerie. She quietly leapt onto an ostrich, sitting sidesaddle to face the approaching Donnie.
"There were hopes of keeping it running to bring in a little revenue, then they wanted to sell it. It was run down, and no one really seemed interested. Who wants a carousel when you could get some electronic wonder? So, it sits here. I don't guess it works anymore. Rats have probably chewed through the wires by now." He had stopped in front of her, letting his sentences trail off. Evie's attention shifted from his explanation to his hand on her knee.
"Donnie?" she asked pointedly.
"What? You know you like it," he whispered as he stepped closer, a jokingly seductive smile playing over his face. It wasn't long before the mask cracked and he started laughing. He pulled her off the ostrich and towards one of the few actual seats on the carousel, falling into the seat and draping his arm around her in a purely friendly way.
"Do you remember the summer of freshmen year?" he asked, knowing she was completely positive of the summer in question.
"You mean me and," she paused, sighing deeply, "Avery Matthews?"
"You and who?" he asked with a start. It was her turn to laugh as she patted him softly on the shoulder.
"I'm kidding. I'm guessing you're talking about when we dated?"
"You're cruel. A grade-A, stone cold, bi-"
"You know what I mean. But yeah, when we dated. Our first kiss…" He lead her thoughts back to that time, his eyes twinkling like the shattered glass that littered the floor.
"Yeah. If I remember, you were pretty awful."
"Well, if you'll remember, think of what I had to work with."
She shot him a frosty glare, one he wasn't sure whether or not to take seriously or not. And she offered no help on interpretation. He smiled, hoping she wouldn't take offense. Hoping she saw the wonderful humor. After all, if you couldn't laugh at yourself…
She turned away from him, looking towards the stars, but leaned back up against his arm nonetheless as her way of showing no hard feelings. It was all in fun. For the most part.
"So, you say this thing doesn't work?"
He shrugged, watching the delicate line of her neck moving ever so slightly to take it all in. Her eyes were carefully memorizing the scene, just as they had that night so many years ago when he fell in love. As they had the night she told him she was leaving town. As they had the first time she came back broken and scared, confused by the world she had met outside her old bubble.
But she had grown and forgotten the coldness of the outside world. The spinning society outside the carousel.
"Could you try?" she asked him. Her eyes flickered back to him and they looked watery. Was she crying? Thinking about crying? Donnie couldn't bear the thought, so he pulled himself away to satisfy her heart's desire. Maybe, just maybe, the behemoth would work.
He found the controls, dusty and covered in years' worth of nature's refuse, but still there. The cover was rusty and protested to being opened, unwilling to reveal the treasures inside. A few buttons, a lever, things that really didn't make sense. Donnie realized he really didn't know what he was doing, so he just started fiddling with everything. The lights came on, many of the little bulbs having been long ago broken by malevolent shots from miscreant kids. But there were still enough to illumine the scene. She was crying, but her eyes were looking into a far different world than Donnie was currently in. There was a discordant groan as the music began to slowly come to life with the soft spinning of the wheel.
Donnie left his station at the controls and caught a ride, just like they had used to do when he was much younger and had no greater joy than fiddling days away running around town. He slipped back into his seat beside her.
"Evie, what's wrong?" She didn't respond, but merely shook her head softly. "That ain't going to cut it. You don't cry for nothing. Tell me."
She looked at him with wavering eyes, then just tucked herself into his arms.
"Do you ever wish we could just sink back into the past? It was so much easier then," she sighed cryptically as she rested there. "That we could just flip a few switches and find ourselves back in our high school summers. That this carousel could carry us all the way back there." She trailed off with a sigh, burrowing down against his shoulder.
And he didn't tell her, but if there had been any way for him to make that possible, he would have, right then and there.