Chapter 18 – Fairgrounds

“What was that about?” Rhett asked.

“I ran into them once and they needed money so I felt like helping them. They were just repaying me from the last time,” Ambri said.

Grant’s perceptive yellow eyes peered into Ambri as her eyes darted back and forth. This didn’t make sense, who gives money to a stranger? And who expects to even get their money back from a first time interaction with someone?

“You gave them money from the first time you met?” Grant couldn’t hold back, there was no way he would ever do that for someone.

Ambri paused for a moment. “Yeah… I know, pretty stupid right. But, it managed to work out in the end.” Her body still trembled as she looked towards the door.

“Didn’t you have something you were going to buy?” Rhett asked, changing the subject. “We already picked up the things we needed while we were waiting for you to come back.”

“Yeah, the things I need are down that way.” She pointed and walked ahead, Grant and Rhett following.

Every new section of the store offered giant promotions on display. Colorful lights, animated signs, even music played along with them, trying to rob people of their money for something they didn’t really need. Ambri and Rhett both fell victim to the flashy ads, throwing things into the cart they originally didn’t plan to buy. Grant, however, had seen enough of these practices back at Zenallnot quite to this extravagant level—and knew to avoid them.

After gathering almost everything they needed, the group made their way to the entertainment section. Movies and books filled the section up; books had an overall larger area.

“Saraiya said a new book was released today and she wanted me to pick it up,” Ambri said as she scanned the new releases section.

“What kind of book,” Grant asked, also scanning the book shelf.

“I’m not sure from the name, but it seems like some kind of mystery story. I didn’t ask her too much about it. Are you into reading too?”

“Not so much into reading novels, I just keep up with one comic series.” Grant walked around the corner searching for the newest volume of Bloodline Beasts. “Ah, here it is.” He picked it up and walked back towards Ambri and Rhett.

“I haven’t read that in forever,” Rhett said, looking at the comic in Grant’s hands.

Ambri smiled. “I can’t believe that story is still going. Kale was introduced to it eight years ago and he keeps up with every new volume too. Who knows, maybe you two could bond over it.”

Doubtful, Grant thought. He still occasionally would catch Kale watching him, but it wasn’t enough to scare him anymore. It was nothing like his first few days in Lyros. Grant preferred avoiding him if he could, the only time he really saw him was during their occasional bonfires, and even then he didn’t stay for long. He would come and sit with Zair in his lap, observe everyone, say a few things, and make his exit.

“Here it is!” Ambri took the last copy of the book from the shelf. “All right that wraps up our shopping, now let’s get to the best part of the day.”

After paying, they walked out into the hot air. The cart rattled against the pavement of the parking lot, cracks and dips lined the concrete. Faded parking lines splotched out over the gray ground. Cheers from excitement bounced around them as they unloaded their purchases into Ambri’s car.

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Grant’s mental state shook. His eyes scattered across the area, frantically darting back and forth.

“Okay, who is ready for some unhealthy food and rides?!” Ambri shouted.

“Hell yeah!” Rhett said.

Grant stood and gave a fake smile, his lips quivering.

I swear, it’s not my fault.

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——

Eight Years Ago

Crowds clamored around colorful striped tents with people in turquoise uniform.

“Come right up for your chance to win a stuffed monster from Bloodline Beasts!” The man beside one of the tents held up a plushie, showing it off to the audience before him. Children cheered as parents sighed and pulled out their wallets.

“Grant! They have a Shuraek! Do you have money!? I want to win!” Elijah turned and pulled at his older brother’s arm.

Grant looked into his almost empty wallet, enough money for a snack, or rather, a carnival game. He sighed.

He had been saving the rest of his money for the vanilla cola flavored ice cream cubes that only came around once a year during the fair. The thought of the miniature cubes equally proportioned half cola and half vanilla made his mouth water. He stared into Elijah’s pleading eyes and began hesitating on his options.

“Why don’t we go find mom and dad? They said they were going to relax and listen to the musicians. I don’t know if Uncle Mori has had his turn to perform yet, maybe we can watch him too.”

“I don’t want to! There won’t be another chance Grant! This is the only time I have ever seen Shuraek’s second form as a plushie! If we come back later maybe it will be gone! And we always hear Uncle Mori playing his music! I don’t need to see him now!”

Grant sighed again. “You don’t even know if you will win it though…”

“I will! I have to!”

“…Fine.” Grant reached into his wallet and pulled out ten ramas, an outrageous amount for a chance to win such a poorly made stuffed toy. He handed the money to Elijah and he sprinted ten feet ahead to the counter.

Guess I can always ask Mom and Dad to buy me vanilla cola cubes, but they’ll only buy me the small size. Why is everything so expensive here? Grant thought to himself.

“All right! Time’s up everyone! Let’s start the round!”

Ten water guns lined the countertops, each with a hole in front of them. Whoever could fill the gauge completely with water first would be the winner. Grant hesitated on running up to him and offering to help aim, but he knew that Elijah would have refused, claiming as always, that he was able to do everything on his own. 

A bell chimed through the crowd and water began emitting from the guns. Elijah had a tough start, missing the hole for the first few seconds, but quickly got a hold on his aim. 

The target moved around every few seconds, and every time it switched positions, Elijah was a bit slow keeping up. His lips protruded and eyebrows furrowed as he looked at the other contestants gauges. His grip tightened on the gun as a few gauges looked close to being full.

DING!

“Thank you all for playing! Contestant number six is the winner!”

Grant looked to the counter, and nodded. Yeah, maybe I should have helped. Oh well.

Elijah dragged his feet as he came back to Grant. “I didn’t win…”

“It’s okay, those games are tough.”

“Yeah… ”

“I promise we’ll find you a plushie of Shuraek’s second form someday, but I can’t promise it will be that big.” Grant patted him on the back. “Well, let’s go find mom and dad now. I’m getting hungry and have no money.”

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