“I don’t think we have time for that,” Patrick said. “The movie starts at nine.”
“Sure we do!” Her brown eyes gleamed. “There’s always time for Ferris Wheels!”
His hands were shoved inside his sweatshirt. He hadn’t seen her in a year and three months. In that time she’d gotten more piercings than the digits of her phone number and the heavy handed make-up was a new touch, along with the streaks of blue in her hair. That shine of freedom in her eyes, though, that would never change.
“Okay. Fine, fine, we’ll go on the Ferris Wheel.”
“Woo!” She fist-pumped the air.
“I don’t even like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” he muttered, but they ambled up to the line anyway. He kept pushing down the feeling that there was something he was supposed to say. How’s school going? Does mom still tell you that you can’t eat bags of marshmallows anymore like they’re candy? Did learning to drive scare you? Or was it the prospect of being seen at the helm of the 1992 mini-van?
He’d already asked all those things, and they’d settled into habits of conversation like a favorite old sweater. They laughed about cavities and the nicknames of stuffed animals. But there was a big bubble in his chest, some pocket of air between them that he couldn’t blow away that said, everything is different now. Going into the military tended to have that effect on people, he supposed. He just never thought it would be between him and Teresa. She was his little sister in a big world that he had felt the calling to explore and protect. Everything would be the same when he came back home, even if it was just for leave.
“How many?” said the man taking tickets. His hairline was receding and his tall, reedy frame filled the booth like he was born for this job.
“Two sir,” Patrick said, and shelled out the ten dollar fare.
“Sir? Sir? Who are you, Patty?” Teresa dragged hum into the swaying seat and for a second it felt like someone had let out the air in the balloon – normal.
“How safe is this thing?” Patrick said as they got on.
His feet dangled off the ground and he grabbed the pole next to him, his knuckles slowly turning white.
“Afghanistan – it’s not scary! But get him four feet off the ground and he almost tosses his cookies -”
“Hey, hey, no fair, Afghanistan is not a big revolving hunk of metal that – woah!”
Teresa buried her laugh in her hands as the ride began.
It was buoyant, smooth, and scared him a lot more than it should. But so did a lot of things. Are there any guys in your life? He wouldn’t have even said that before. How are Dad and Mom doing together these days?
“See, not bad, is it?”
They had floated halfway up the world, and the city he grew up in sprawled across the background, clouds hanging onto mountaintop in the starlit sky. The outdoor mall sparkled at their feet and he guessed he could understand why people went on these things.
He wondered briefly where the ground was – after all, wasn’t the ground just something to stand on?
People below him were standing on the gum-spotted concrete, and his feet rested on the metal plank of the swing seat. And this was different than the steel cabin of an airplane. This was just you and the air pressed against your sides, the winking signs of the storefronts below. The people walking a casual pace, strolling with plastic neon bags in hand. The theater columns rose brightly next to the shoe store and the pretzel stand.
Teresa looked at it all with her head tilted to the side, black-blue hair spilling over her shoulder, content in silence.
“This is the preview,” she said.
The bubble in his chest grew almost to bursting. Can a year really turn a sugar addicted, punk-rock listening, high school attending sixteen year old into someone who wraps their viewpoints around the world like she did? She was his little sister who wasn’t that little anymore.
“What does it make you think about?”
They were at the height of the wheel coming down, and could see the tops of people’s heads beneath them.
He realized how tightly he was gripping the seat pole and folded his hands back into the pockets of his sweater. “There’s nothing like this, over there. I think about that sometimes.”
She looked up at the sky instead of at the people shopping. “I think about that sometimes, too.”
The ride was over and both their feet swung gently onto the ground.
He checked his watch. “9:01. We’re definitely missing the previews.” He pushed her shoulder playfully – she was right. This was better than the previews.
They walked to the theater, exaggeratedly avoiding the cracks in the ground so they didn’t break their mother’s back. They chose a seat in the very middle, the undisputed seating arrangement for optimal viewing.
“Popcorn?” he asked, as she was always the designated snack provider.
“Sure,” she said, then handed him a handful of something she’d sneaked in through the entrance in her purse.
He laughed when he looked down. Mini marshmallows.
“Your teeth are gonna fall out of your head,” he joked but she shhhed him because the movie had started.
She even still got the green and pink ones. He thought about how no matter how people changed, there was still so much about them that was the same, too – what’s on the outside is just a preview.