All the World’s a Fair
In Elizabethan England every town square came equipped with stocks and pillory and every castle had a torture chamber. Not that Petra seriously considered stringing Zoe up in a dungeon, but the stocks she could have used.
“I saw Mylan Reynolds near the corral,” Zoe said, calculation lacing her squeaky voice. “Looking all smarmy and swagger in those stupid glasses he wears.”
These torturous thoughts were her parents fault, of course. Petra would never have included Zoe in a sentence with a rack of pain or thumbscrews if the seven year old stepsister from Hades hadn’t interfered with her Mylan time at the faire.
Robyn raised her eyebrows but Petra shook her head and Robyn dutifully pressed her lips together. Petra and Robyn called themselves tella-buddies, because they could read each other’s thoughts. Robyn cocked her head, which meant, we should at least look.
Sighing, Petra took Zoe’s hand and gazed up and down the dusty tent lined streets. She saw women wearing laced up bodices, men in tights and knee high boots, horses covered in bright cloths, even a snowy white owl on a perch, but not Mylan
As they wandered the sawdust strewn paths of the Arroyo Oaks High School annual Renaissance Faire, Petra straightened her tiara. She and Robyn were the only two dressed as princesses. Even Zoe in her cut up pillowcase and drapery tassel belt fit in better with the faire crowd. Dust gathered on the hem of Petra’s baby blue gown and she had to hold her skirts to keep them from being trampled by the other fair goers. Children in makeshift tunics and tights pushed from one booth to the other like an erratic tide while Zoe bobbed, her hand tucked into Petra’s, like a balloon trying to escape a string. Petra wondered what would happen if she let her go.
Zoe cast the funnel cake stand a soulful look as they trooped towards the horse corral.
From the stands surrounding the jousting arena came the cheering and huzzahs of the crowd. Petra heard the horses’ hooves thundering and the clanging of lances hitting shields and armor. She smelled the odors of roasted turkey legs, the fires from the pottery kilns and dung. She did not see Mylan.
Robyn stopped in front of the corral. “Giddy-up,” she said, her gaze riveted on the guy leading a horse. He had brown shoulder length hair tied back with a leather thong and wore soft, fawn colored breeches and knee high boots of the same color. His white shirt billowed around a wide leather belt that hung about his hips. Three simultaneous thoughts struck Petra with equal force. The first: everyone else, including herself, wore costumes, but this guy looked at ease, at home, in the breeches and boots. The second: as their eyes met and held and a small smile curved his generous lips, was that although she knew they’d never met, an immediate recognition jolted her. The third: she was quite sure this guy could never be told what color his vest needed to be.
“Isn’t he awesome,” Zoe breathed. “He’s so huge.”
Robyn gave Zoe a funny look and Petra laughed, shaking her head as she watched the Arabian toss his mane and pull at the reins held by the guy with long brown hair. The stallion fought the bit, rose up on his hind legs and scissored the air with lightning speed hooves. “You can’t ride him,” she said. “He’s not one of the ponies they lead through rink.”
Zoe turned down her lips, sending her freckles south. “I’m sure he’d rather be with me on the trail than in that silly jousting place.” Moments ago they’d tried watching the jousting competitions, but Zoe, unconcerned for the knights being thwacked about by lances, had wailed in concern for the sweat dripping horses.
“I’m sure you’re right, Zo, but I’m pretty sure I’m right, too,” Petra said. “They’d never let you take him out of their sight. Besides, he looks fast, barely tame.”
“I like them fast and barely tame,” Robyn said under her breath, smoothing down the pink chiffon skirt of her prom dress.
Petra grabbed Robyn’s arm and Zoe’s hand to lead them away, but as she did, the guy with the horse caught her eye and winked.
Puzzled by the zinging up her spine and the skin-pricking sensation of deja vu, Petra turned away and shepherded her sister and friend back to the fortune teller’s booth.
“Just sit.” Petra scowled at Zoe, sending a facial warning not to budge and pointed at a well placed stump. She wished for perhaps the zillionth time that Zoe would take lessons from Frosty, her standard poodle. Frosty greeted all instructions with a lolling tongue and wagging tail. Zoe received instructions with a stamping of her pink tasseled flip flop, a jutted chin, and a threat. “If you leave me here --”
Petra silenced her by holding up a finger. “If you can be quiet, sit here and not say a word, I’ll buy you a funnel cake.”
She raised her eyebrows to see if Zoe would take the bribe or would if she needed to up the ante. Having lived for nearly sixteen years as an only child, Petra was just beginning to learn the art of sibling manipulation. She knew that Zoe, who had lived seven years as an only child, had been raised by a health food nut single mom who’d managed a shoe string budget and a dance studio. Laurel hadn’t money for brand name raisin bran, let alone funnel cakes. Years of lean frugality coupled with an abundance of soy based food products had made Zoe a sucker for sweets.
She put her hands on her hips and addressed Zoe in the same tone she usually reserved for Frosty. “If anyone bugs you, just call a yellow jacket.” Arroyo Oaks High School had its own sentinels: trollish security guards riding golf carts and carrying blow horns that blasted at any hapless soul engaged in unseemly behavior, such as walking through flower beds or taking short cuts through the staff parking lot.
Zoe sat with a humph and picked at the hem of her pillowcase tunic.
“Sit, be quiet and a funnel cake will soon be yours,” Petra promised.
Zoe looked up at her, smiled and said in voice as sweet as a funnel cake, “I want to ride that horse.”
Petra exhaled. “I can’t promise you a ride on that horse!”
Zoe’s gaze cut to the corral and lingered on the stallion. “But, you can ask.”
Robyn nodded in agreement, a flirty smile on her lips. “We can ask.”
Petra shot her look that said, traitor.
“Horse guy with hotitude,” Robyn mouthed at her over Zoe’s head, while she shot a wide eyed smile at the corral and flipped her brown curls over her shoulder. Robyn had a puppy dog cuteness that always reminded Petra of a brown eyed, curly haired spaniel.
“And offer him money,” Zoe put in. Covered in freckles, cursed with orange hair, Zoe wasn’t puppy dog cute or even lizard interesting. She was more rodent cunning and conniving.
“How much money?” Petra nearly growled. Since Laurel’s arrival she’d been given an allowance “to help her find her own financial feet in the real world.” Petra’s real world wouldn’t begin until after college and until then she hadn’t any misgivings of standing on and sharing her father’s financial feet with her friends. He had very big feet and an equally sized wallet.
Laurel, on the other hand, wore size six fitness footwear and she wasn’t any more generous with Zoe than she was with Petra. She was unselectively stingy.
“I saw him wink at you.” Zoe looked scheming, and for a moment Petra imagined she saw the future Zoe business shark. If Zoe had been a cartoon character she’d have dollar signs flashing in her eyes. “Maybe you wouldn’t need to pay him.”
“We’ll ask him right after we visit the fortune teller,” Robyn promised Zoe, sending a pleased to meet you smile at horse guy.
Zoe looked cross, folded her arms and watched the horses parading in the corral.
Convinced that Zoe would stay parked, Petra took Robyn’s hand and pulled her to the tent and out of Zoe’s earshot. The tent, held up by large wooden poles had brightly woven damask walls. A bare-chested man wearing a red pair of what could only be called pantaloons and nothing else besides gold chains and large rings guarded a money jar. A hand printed sign propped by the jar read Fiorella Foretells your Fate.
“It’s after two,” Petra whispered. “Let’s just go and chat up Fiorella.”
“I think the fortune teller’s tent is romantic,” Robyn said, defending tardy Mylan.
“He’s not here,” Petra said, pushing her towards the gaudy tent and Fiorella.
“Yet,” Robyn added.
The frustration of being denail settled between Petra’s shoulder blades like an unreachable itch. She was used to getting what she wanted when she wanted it and the prom was only three weeks away. She had assumed Mylan would ask her; they’d been going out since Valentine’s Day. He needed to answer some questions. Could he find a vest to match her shoes? Was he willing to pay for his share of the limousine and for the price of the ticket -- and dinner, too, of course? She now had more questions, and although she didn’t believe in fortunes, fate or fairy tales, it never hurt to ask.
“But, what if he doesn’t come inside?” Robyn asked. “He could be standing out here for eons while some old hag predicts I don’t get into a good school and I end up selling shoes for the rest of my life,”
“You love shoes.”
“And you love Mylan, right?”
Petra didn’t answer but she wondered, not for the first time, why Robyn always seemed to be in Mylan’s orbit. If Robyn hadn’t been her best friend, her tele-buddy, she might have worried. Some girls dissolved into giggles and gush around Mylan. Petra liked to think that he’d been attracted to her because she didn’t succumb to his hotitude. She didn’t sigh or melt, but she’d grown tired of waiting for Mylan. He’d had every opportunity to ask. All of her friends had been asked days, even weeks, ago.
She stood on her toes, searching. Beyond the gaudy tents, jousters, and court jesters, she saw the white steeple of the church she attended with her family pointing heavenward, the gates of Bear Ranch, an enclave of California’s wealthiest, patrolled by security guards who were polite to residents, but fierce to intruders, and the yellow jackets zipping around in their golf carts, yelling at the clueless who dared to tread in the teacher’s parking lot. She did not see Mylan.
But as she pushed back the curtains of the fortune teller’s tent, Petra was no longer thinking of Mylan and the prom.
Her thoughts had turned to a stallion and the guy who held the reins.