As we moved deeper and deeper into the crowd, the noise level around us increased tenfold. A group of kids whizzed by us, leaving bursts of laughter in their wake.
The carnival workers shouted the names of their games and advertised how easy it was to win one of the big stuffed animal prizes they held up.
King stopped at a game where the goal was to shoot water from a gun into a hippo’s mouth in order to move the baby hippo up the ladder. Whoever shot their gun the steadiest and moved their baby hippo to the top the fastest was the winner.
“I’m so in,” I answered, barely able to contain my excitement. I bounced up on the balls of my feet.
“Two,” King said He removed a money clip from his pocket and plucked out a few bills, handing it to the man controlling the game. King took a seat on one of the ripped leather stools, and I took a seat a few stools down.
“Afraid to sit next to me?” King asked.
“No, but you’re huge and these stools are small. I don’t want to bump into your arm and lose just because you haven’t missed a workout in three years.” I closed one eye and readied my water gun.
King shook his head, “That mouth of yours,” he said. There are several ways I could have taken that statement, but I didn’t have time to think about it because I had a game to win.
“I’m warning you. I’m really good at this game,” King said to me.
Was he being playful?
“Competitive, are we?” I asked, keeping my focus straight ahead at the bulls-eye.
“Oh, pup. You have no idea.”
The bell rang, and the carnie shouted, “GO!”
I squeezed the trigger. Water sprayed out of my gun and directly onto the target. My little hippo shot up the ladder, and just as quickly as it had started, the game was over. I looked over to King who was sitting back smiling. What was he smiling over? I was the one who won.
“Winner! Winner!” the Carni shouted He unclipped a huge stuffed deer from the top of the tent and handed it to King, who received the prize and then started to walk away.
He’d won? How was that possible?
“Hey!” I shouted, chasing after him. “Why did you get the prize? I won. My hippo was so far ahead of yours that I didn’t even see yours move.” King stopped.
“Pup, you didn’t see my hippo move because I was done before you even began.” He was smiling. A genuine, real–life, swoon-worthy smile that reached his eyes. It was a good look on him.
No, it was a GREAT look on him.
“You’ve got to be kidding me!” I shouted.
“Competitive, are we?” King asked, mocking me. “I told you I was good at that game.”
King seemed like any other young man who was taking a girl out on a date. Well, any other six-foot-something tattooed wall of muscle who looked like he could be an underwear model.
I liked playful King.
I liked him a lot.
“You must have played that game before,” I pouted. “Unfair advantage.”
“Yeah, I’ll give you that. This carnival has come here every year since I was a kid. Preppy and I used to sneak in the back. Over there.” King pointed toward a gate in a chain-link fence with a huge padlock keeping it shut. “We’d steal corn dogs from the food stands, right out of the fryer. Although the padlock happened only after they found out how we were getting in.”
I knew Preppy and King were best friends, but this was the first time I’d ever heard any stories from their childhood together.
“I tell you what,” King started. “Since this is a date and all, and guys usually give their dates their prizes, I will let you have my deer.” He held out the stuffed animal.
I didn’t know if he was toying with me. If I didn’t know how to handle ornery King, I certainly didn’t know how to handle nice and playful King.
I snatched it out of his hands like he was going to reconsider his offer, and I tucked it tightly under my arm. King laughed.
“What’s so funny now?” I asked.
“Doe…holding a doe.” Okay, he’d got me on that one. I held my hand over my mouth to contain my laughter.
For the next few hours, we played every single game the place had to offer.
I won none of them.
King made a point of handing me each of his prizes. Soon, I ran out of arm space to carry them all.
“I don’t think we can play anymore,” I told him, gesturing to the huge stack of cheap toys up to my chin.
The bell sounded for one of the games, and I was just about to walk away when King stopped me. “No, wait a sec.”