One evening Cynthia�s boyfriend, Rick, agrees to take her to the carnival. On the way there, she presses her mouth against the window and draws heart-shaped figures in the steam. The heat pushes down on her so hard that when they get out of the car, her exposed skin sticks to the vinyl and feels like she�s pulling apart a just-licked envelope. Cynthia wants to ride the Ferris wheel so Rick hands her enough cash while he buys a pretzel. She loves being lifted into the cool air above the ground, looking at the way the lights necklace around the booths below. The couple above her is rocking their chair back and forth feverishly, moaning and laughing. When she spots Rick in the crowd below, they stare at each other, forcing a smile one thinks the other made first.
Cynthia first met Rick at a literature festival when she was an arts and entertainment reporter for her college newspaper. She was assigned to cover a panel he was moderating about the latest trends in fiction. Cynthia impressed him with her knowledge of the panel guests and talked so long that she missed her bus. He flashed his toothy grin and offered her a ride home, covering the empty groove on his finger where the ring used to be.
It is agreed that they will move out of their tiny one-bedroom apartment into a house with a backyard and garden once Cynthia knows where she will be attending graduate school. Rick looked over her portfolio, praising her use of language and strong thematic ties. This is the one, he said on her story about the jaded lovers, cupping her knee with his open palm. She hasn�t told him about the rejection letters, that the schools of her choice decided her stories were too romantic and unrealistic. Her characters were flat, the story fantastical and the plot quick and undeserved.
Their plans for the wedding have been on hold since Cynthia wanted to attain her �wedding dress body.� Rick bought an elliptical trainer now rusting underneath their bed.
Rick�s old college friends are equally impressed and astonished by Cynthia, who is young enough to be his daughter. �You dog!� they always exclaim when he tells them about the twenty-year-old he�s found and flashes the glamour shot he keeps of her in his wallet. Cynthia�s friends are worried and suspicious. Every conversation about him ends with the question, �Are you okay? Are you sure you�re okay?� She has phone numbers from co-workers and classmates who offer her a place to stay if she needs it.
On the drive home, Cynthia says, �You should have been up there with me. It was really beautiful.�
�It�s just the same view I had, only smaller.�
Cynthia sucks in her breath and sighs hard. �Why are we taking the long way?� Cynthia hates it when he chose the back roads over the freeway. This means they would pass by Rick�s old home, the one his ex-wife got in the divorce. Cynthia is certain he still thinks of the woman who lives there, the one aging spectacularly. She rolls down the window and shuts her eyes, imagining the route she would take.
�This is the only way I know.� He says sheepishly before drowning her voice in sports radio.
Rick focuses on the game. It�s the last one of the playoffs and the score is 67-63 in favor of the visitors. The home team is using their last time out, huddling around the coach famous for final plays that are grand and unsuccessful. Rick thinks of the team�s faces. They are older and exhausted, moving like an uphill train. When they take the field, their fumbled hopes empty into the stands.