Penny Day, Former Winter Carnival Snow Queen
Greenville's Annual Winter Carnival used to be an enjoyable family event for Benjamin Daye but now that he was a divorced Dad with two kids hitting their terrible teens he wasn't so sure that the Carnival could offer family fun.
It so happened that it was his turn to have the kids for the festive weekend celebration and he asked the girls if they were interested in attending the carnival events.
"If we can hang with our friends," fourteen year old Emily, the oldest, replied.
"Can we compromise some?" Benjamin asked hopefully. "Maybe eat at the Spaghetti Dinner together?"
"Sure, Dad," Cassie agreed. She was the younger daughter, still loyal to her father despite the peer pressure. "But after that, can you maybe not know us so much?"
Benjamin tried not to reflect on past pleasures too much when he picked up the girls on the last Friday of January, a cold and raw evening. He understood that the past was gone, times had changed, the girls were growing, and his marriage was long over. No use pining about the good old days. His job as a single Dad was to be there for the kids as best he could in the present reality, meeting them where they were in their lives and being a good Dad without selling out his own morals, ethics, or parental responsibilities.
Benjamin avoided going to the door of his ex Alisa's new home with her new partner, texting Emily that he was waiting outside in the car. It was just easier not to have awkward interactions with Alisa and her partner when he could elude it.
He watched as the two girls came out the front door with their overnight bags. Benjamin felt bad about the two-household scenario but at least Alisa stayed in Greenville after the split and the girls were certainly accustomed to his place, having lived the first decade of their lives there.
"Hey, Dad," Cassie greeted as she got into the backseat of his car.
"Hi!" Benjamin said with overdramatic enthusiasm. "Hi to you too, Emily," he said to the oldest as she got into her earned front seat position.
"Whatever," she said with a groan as she put her bag between her feet on the floorboard.
"Are we going straight to the carnival?" Cassie asked from the dark back.
"We can check out the ice sculptures on our way to the spaghetti dinner," Benjamin said.
"Okay," Cassie agreed but Emily remained quiet as they drove downtown.
They saw the impressive and creative ice sculpture as they drove down the main street and they walked by others after Benjamin parked the car in one of the town lots and they strolled to the Second Congregational Church where the spaghetti dinner was being held.
Even if the kids didn't want to be seen in public with him, there were other familiar faces to schmooze with while they stood in line with their paper plates and plastic utensils. As a teacher at the high school, a longtime member of the Greenville Giants of the Serguci League, and a former assistant basketball coach, Benjamin was well known and easily recognizable in the community.
One of the reasons why Emily loathed to be seen in public with him, of course, was that she was now a freshman at the high school where her Dad taught. She thought about going to the Catholic High School but with her divorced mother living in an intimate relationship with another woman, that didn't make a whole lot of sense either so Benjamin was forced to endure most of his daughter's resentment.
As a seventh grader, Cassie didn't have to worry about her Dad the teacher yet because she was still in the separate middle school building.
The trio managed to get through the dinner without much drama. Benjamin was proud of his two girls – both of who looked a lot alike (and a lot like their mother) – dark haired, thin, and tall. Emily had cut her hair shorter for high school but Cassie still wore hers half-way down her back.
Cassie gave her Dad the update since their last time together while Emily mentioned the upcoming Valentine Day dance and how Kyle Mathey had asked her to the dance. Benjamin knew who Kyle was, of course, being a teacher, but he refrained from offering his opinion on the kid and he congratulated Emily, wishing her a good time.
The Winter Festival Parade was on the schedule and the girls asked if they could go look for friends instead of watching the parade with their Dad.
"Just be sure to answer my texts, stay together, and don't go anywhere else except the parade route," he replied. "I'll meet you at the Crowning of The King and Queen at the Bandstand in Decker Park."
"King and Queen?" Emily groaned. "That's so lame."
The two girls disappeared into the crowd and Benjamin let out a sigh. He didn't blame his daughters for wanting their freedom and independence but it made for a lonely evening without having his wife by his side as in years past.
Benjamin made his way to the main street and he stood watching as the parade passed by with the fire engines, police, sheriff's department, high school bands, horses, dancers, boy scouts, some of the winter sports teams from the local schools, local dignitaries, organizations, businesses, community groups and, of course, floats.
He bundled himself against the night cold and watched as last year's reigning Winter Carnival Snow King and Queen drove by sitting in an open convertible about to give up their crowns to the newly elected court.
Several past alumni king and queens marched behind the current King and Queen, laughing and waving as they strolled along the parade route and Benjamin squinted at one particular queen who he thought he recognized but wasn't sure.
"Hey! Penny!" Benjamin yelled.
A woman with long golden brown hair sticking out from underneath a white wool winter hat turned in his direction and her eyes went wide and when she saw Benjamin giving her a smile and a wave.
"Oh My God! Benjamin! Hello!" But the flow of the parade didn't allow her to slow down or leave ranks. She laughed and waved again. "Two ships passing in the night!" She yelled.
Benjamin watched as Penny disappeared along the route, surprised to have caught a glimpse of her after so many years. He tried to remember the last time he saw Penny – the summer of their high school graduation, perhaps?
Penny joined the service while Benjamin attended Green College, married Alisa – also from high school – and settled down to raise his family and pursue his career as a teacher.
Now, twenty years later, he was divorced and there went a former Greenville Winter Carnival Snow Queen whom he had once known and always admired.
For the first time since the divorce, Benjamin felt a rush of adrenaline and excitement blast through his veins. Could it be? Was there hope? Should he try to find Penny in the sea of people once they got to the parade's end point – Dexter Park?
Benjamin broke out in a much needed and welcomed spontaneous grin as he started following others at the end of the parade toward Dexter Park.