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Aiden’s eyes widened as he turned in a circle taking in the array of rides and games offered at the Apple Blossom Festival’s carnival. His jaw dropped as the quickly spinning “Round Up” began to tilt. “Dad, why aren’t those people falling off?”
“Centrifugal Force,” Sam replied.
Aiden’s face scrunched up. Typically, he’d ask for a definition, but this afternoon there were too many distractions. Instead he pointed in another direction and said, “That’s the biggest slide in the whole world!” He turned to me. “Papa, can I go down it?”
After spending most of his life growing up on a tiny island where he’d been marooned with me and two other men, Aiden might have been naïve, but he certainly wasn’t faint-hearted.
“Probably. That’ll be up to your grandparents, though.” We were meeting Aiden’s birth families here to pass him over into their care for the weekend. We’d purchased a carnival ride wristband in advance for him, but not for ourselves. We didn’t plan to stay since we didn’t want to intrude on Aiden’s grandparents’ time with him. There was a film festival this weekend as well, and we’d be heading to that this evening. I’d miss experiencing this with Aiden, but we would have him for the Apple Blossom Parade next weekend, instead.
Sam laid a hand on Aiden’s shoulder and pointed at the line of carnival games. “Let’s go win you a prize while we’re waiting for them.”
“Yeah! Let’s do that!”
Sam took the lead, and we passed by a game where some guy dressed like Captain Hook was luring customers to his booth to fire tennis balls out of a plastic cannon in hopes of getting one to not bounce back out of the angled array of bushel baskets. If there was any way short of dumb luck to win that game, I wasn’t sure what it might be.
We settled on a simple booth where Aiden could throw darts at a wall of balloons. The woman gave Aiden three darts. Sam squatted to Aiden’s level. “Look, the darts are dull, and the balloons are underinflated. The key to winning is to not worry about accuracy. Just throw it as hard as you can and hope you hit your target.”
Aiden reared back and threw his first dart with all the strength his thin little arm could muster. He didn’t hit a balloon, he didn’t even hit the board where the balloons were attached. At least he didn’t hit the woman running the booth. His second dart hit the board and bounced off. He took a deep breath, narrowed his eyes in concentration, and hurled the last dart.
“Yay!” Sam and I cheered. That last dart had barely landed inside the board’s frame but had picked off an edge balloon in the process.
The woman checked the prize marker inside the exploded balloon. “Fantastic!” She was all smiles as she showed it to Aiden. “You won the top level prize!”
I knew before he said it which prize Aiden would select. He’d been learning about dinosaurs lately and was utterly fascinated by them. Especially the—
“That one!” Aiden’s ear-to-ear grin was infectious as he pointed to the large stuffed Tyrannosaurus Rex. When the woman handed it to him, he gave it a big hug (because T-Rex’s are so innately cuddly) before turning and jumping up and down and waving. “They’re here! Hi! We’re over here!”
Sure enough, it looked like everyone in each of the clans—Aiden’s maternal and paternal extended birth families—was here to enjoy the festival. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.
Aiden’s paternal Grandmother, Rosa, scooped him up and gave him a big hug and kiss. “We’re going to have so much fun today!”
“I know,” Aiden said. “Look what I just won!”
“I see. That’s wonderful!” Rosa raised an eyebrow in my direction, and I took the hint.
“Aiden,” I said. “How about Dad and I take that home for you. You won’t be able to get on any rides holding it.”
The wide eyes and contorted mouth on his expressive face told us his opinion on that. I quickly added, “It’ll be waiting in your room for you when you get home on Sunday.”
He appealed to Sam. “How come I can’t get on rides with it?”
“It wouldn’t be safe, so it’s a rule.”
His brows came together as he heaved an exaggerated sigh. “Okay.” He handed his precious new dinosaur to me. “Maybe he can guard my dinosaur books while I’m gone.”
“There you go,” I said. “I’ll set him up in front of the bookcase.”
He reached for me, and I took him back for a goodbye hug and kiss, then passed him to Sam for the same. We waved goodbye then stopped by a couple food stands to pick up an early dinner before heading to the film festival.
We settled down by a fountain in Memorial Park to eat the sirloin burgers and curly fries we’d picked up at the Ramblin’ Gourmet, and the chocolate dipped fruit on a stick we’d gotten at Shishkaberry’s (because, you can’t go to a festival and not eat some kind of food on a stick).
“Fancy meeting you here!” Nash, Sam’s former fiancé, plopped down next to him, and Nash’s husband, Emmitt remained standing in front of us.
“Small world.” Sam gave Nash a hug then held out a hand to shake Emmitt’s. “Great seeing you guys here.”
“Yeah, good to see you again, too.” Nash peeked around Sam to flutter a hand at me. “How’s it going, Henry?”
“Life’s good. You guys going to hop on some carnival rides?”
“Nah. Gonna to grab some festival food then check out the Blossoms and Brews. We’re going to see The Secret Garden at the Fifth Avenue Theater tonight.
“We’re seeing that tomorrow night,” I said. We packed a lot into our “free” weekends each month when Aiden’s grandparents took him. Maybe too much.
“Cool.” Nash stood. “Well, I just wanted to say ‘Hi.’ See you around.”
They walked off, hand in hand. I glanced at the time on my phone, and no longer felt like rushing to pack in as many cultural activities as we could. “How bad to you really want to see the Femme Friday screenings?”
Sam quirked an eyebrow. “I thought you wanted to see them.”
“I do, kinda. I really want to see that play tomorrow, but if something’s gotta give so we can get in some quality ‘us-time,’ I’d rather lose the film festival.”
Sam’s Henry-melting grin appeared, and he leaned in so close his warm breath wafted over the sensitive skin by my ear. “We could always rent something very not-child-friendly for our very own private screening at home.”
I shivered deliciously at the thought. “Now you’re talking.”