The annual All Saints Church Carnival and Lawn Fete had arrived in Aberdeen. It was the event every kid in Aberdeen looked forward to from the minute the carnival ended to the minute it returned. A full three hundred sixty-five days, give or take a day or two, of building anticipation.
This year, the carnival couldn’t have arrived on a better weekend. Especially for the month of May. It had been dicey right up to the last week. A cold front had shot down from the northern climes of Canada and nearly froze the town in its winter grasp. But now, a mere seven days later, the war that raged between Old Man Winter and Mother Nature, was over.
Warm spring sun brushed across the city park and only a few piles of snow remained. By the time the last carnival truck pulled out of the parking lot on Monday, what little snow was left, would be trampled into mud. The residents of Aberdeen sensing spring had finally arrived, emerged from their cocoon of heavy winter parkas and fur-lined boots, and replaced them with a colorful array of tank tops and shorts.
Maybelline was in whole-hearted agreement. The minute she heard the weather forecast for the upcoming week, she had dug through Mrs. Tidrow’s attic until she spotted her boxes of summer clothing. Four boxes later, and not a clear spot in her apartment, Maybelline happily pulled out her summer shorts, tank tops and dresses. She washed and ironed them, and when she finished, she shoved all her winter clothing into the now empty boxes and returned them to the attic. Winter was officially over for a good five months.
And not too soon in Maybelline’s opinion.
She had also done some shopping at Tyed and Dyed for some summer clothing. She found a perfect summer outfit. A swanky purple, lime green and yellow tied-dyed tube top and neon orange mini-shorts. She could just envision herself wearing them at the All Saints beer tent.
Unfortunately, she didn’t get to christen them at either place.
Instead of standing in a crowded beer tent with a hundred or so of her new-found best friends, she was stuck at the park packed with people who were milling about like they’d just been dropped from outer-space.
Not that she could even go to the beer tent. No, that wouldn’t be open for a good two or so hours. Which meant she was stuck here, at the carnival, holding the sticky hand of her two -year-old nephew Little Charlie.
So much for the start of spring.
Of course, it had been her idea to take Little Charlie to the carnival, so she really couldn’t complain. Plus, she practically had to beg her sister Janet, to let her have Little Charlie for the afternoon. For some unknown reason, Janet was hesitant to let Maybelline spend the day with her nephew.
“Why can’t I take Little Charlie?” Maybelline had demanded.
“Because, you won’t know how to handle him,” Janet told her, just as their mother Marney had walked into the room.
Maybelline turned to her mother. “Tell Janet, I’m capable of watching Little Charlie.”
Marney burst out laughing. “Honey, I don’t think even Janet’s capable of watching Little Charlie. He’s a handful.”
“Oh come on! How bad could be possibly be? He’s two, for goodness sake,” Maybelline argued. “Besides, this will be the perfect opportunity to test out my idea of becoming a mommy.”
Maybelline was highly offended when both her mother and Janet had burst out laughing. “You? A mom? Shouldn’t you have a husband first?” Marney had asked.
“Or even a boyfriend?” Janet quipped.
Oh sure, they would have to point out that little detail to her. Sure, she didn’t have a husband. And the last boyfriend she had, she’d tried to run over with her car. But that didn’t mean she couldn’t have a baby. She would just to do it in a slightly unconventional manner. Which meant, any future kid, would be just a number at the sperm bank colliding with her egg.
Definitely not romantic but totally doable.
“You think you are ready to be a mom?” Janet laughed. “Well, I’m looking forward to see this. You take Little Charlie to the carnival. And when you bring him back later, you can tell me if you still want a kid.”
Now, four hours later, Maybelline was seriously reconsidering the whole baby-mommy thing. The fact of the matter was, Little Charlie was a pain in the ass.
Maybelline could point out a number of things to prove that too. For one, when the kid when into a full-on tantrum, it was enough to strike the fear of God into most of the residents of Aberdeen. It wasn’t his crying that was the issue. No, it was the screaming. Honest to goodness, Maybelline would almost swear when Little Charlie let out a scream, it was like an air raid siren going off. Whaaa ahhhhh! Whaaa ahhhh! On and on it would go until Little Charlie got his way.
You couldn’t say Little Charlie wasn’t smart, because it took him less than half a day to figure out exactly what annoying sound to use to get his way. Once he locked onto its effects, there was no turning back. Little Charlie had a signature sound.
If that wasn’t annoying enough, Little Charlie had little to no patience. It didn’t take his wailing siren sound to help you figure that out. No, you pretty much had that idea when his face turned bright red, his eyes got all tiny, and his hands turned into tight little fists. If the kid didn’t get his way, he’d start that face and you knew it was only a matter of seconds before the siren blast would occur.
He was good at deception too. It wasn’t his words, but the looks he threw at you. From his carrot-top curly hair that stood on end, to his little designer glasses that were always askew to his chubby cheeks, Little Charlie looked like the perfect little angel.
It was all a lie. There was no angel inside of Little Charlie. Heck, Maybelline wasn’t even certain there was a little cherub hidden in there. And Maybelline was thoroughly convinced the hair that stood on end, hid his devil horns.
Four and half hours with Little Charlie and Maybelline was exhausted. And she still had a good hour to go before she could get rid of the little urchin . . . um nephew.
Little Charlie tugged on Maybelline’s hand. “What, Charlie?”
“Round! Round! Round!” Little Charlie chanted jabbing his finger in the air.
Maybelline let out a sigh. That was another annoying thing about Little Charlie. He had an inordinate fascination with anything round. Tires, circles, tubes, hoola-hoops, earrings. If it was round, Little Charlie loved it.
This was the third round thing Little Charlie had pointed to today. The first just happened to be when Little Charlie had spotted MarySue’s daughter eating a large, round, chocolate chip cookie. Little Charlie just had to have one. In an attempt to avert a near crisis, Maybelline had relented and gotten Little Charlie a chocolate chip cookie. And seeing as she was there, she got herself an oatmeal raisin, because everyone knew oatmeal raisin had virtually no calories. Or at least less calories than a chocolate chip cookie.
The chocolate chip cookie satisfied Little Charlie for a good hour. That is, until he spotted Little Tucker Jones eating the largest candy apple Maybelline had ever seen. Of course, as soon as Little Charlie’s eyes clapped onto the candy apple, he just had to have one. Not wanting to be the mean aunt, Maybelline acquiesced, and found the truck that sold candy apples. She bought Little Charlie one and while she was there, she got herself a caramel apple with chocolate toppings.
While they wandered around the area looking at all the rides and games, Little Charlie pointed out every round thing he spotted. From the garbage cans to the spinning wheel game to ring toss, Little Charlie just had to see it. It was enough to drive Maybelline nuts.
Now, Maybelline was standing in a line, twenty people deep waiting to get an ice cream cone because Little Charlie just had to have one them. The kid was a bottomless pit of round food. His stomach was getting round too, Maybelline noticed.
Maybelline frowned down at him when he tugged on her shorts for the umpteenth time. She looked down at him. Little Charlie was once again pointing upward.
“I know, Charlie. You want an ice cream. I want one too,” Maybelline told him, using the most patient, motherly tone she possessed. “But you see all these people in front of us? We have to wait until they get theirs first.”
“Round! Round! Round!”
Little Charlie’s chant became louder and more persistent as his finger jabbed at the air overhead. Maybelline’s frown deepened. She wasn’t feeling very motherly or patient at the moment. She wagged a finger at him. “Listen! You need to be patient. I told you, we have to wait in line for the ice cream.”
In response, Little Charlie opened his mouth to let out an ear-piercing scream. Maybelline looked around in panic. No help in sight. Desperate, Maybelline took hold of Little Charlie’s hand and virtually dragged him out of the line.
“Excuse us please . . .” she told the people waiting in line. “Just a little problem here . . . nothing to see. Just a kid starving. You know how they are. You’ve got to feed them when they’re hungry,” she told them as she hurried past them.
She took Little Charlie to a picnic table adjacent to the ice cream truck. She scooped him up, letting out a loud groan, as she set him on the bench. Maybelline bent down so they were eye to eye.
“Now listen Charlie, I know you want an ice cream,” Maybelline began. “So, if you sit right here and don’t move, I’ll get you one lickety split.”
This caused Little Charlie to laugh. “Lickety shit. Lickety shit. Lickety shit.”
Maybelline whipped her head around to make certain no one heard her nephew. The last thing she needed was for someone to tell her mom or her sister she was teaching her nephew how to swear. No one seemed to be paying them any attention.
She turned back to Charlie. “Not lickety shit. Lickety split.”
Apparently, along with lack of patience, Little Charlie had a hearing issue because he started to chant “Lickety shit. Lickety shit. Lickety shit,” at the top of his lungs.
“You know, you’re not making this easy,” Maybelline grumbled. She pointed a warning finger at him. “Now you stay right here! Or you won’t get an ice cream.” She stormed away with Little Charlie’s words, “Lickety shit. Lickety shit . . .” echoing behind her.
She started to walk to the ice cream stand when she spotted her cousin through the crowds of people. “Oh thank God, you’re here!” Maybelline rushed out as Ellen came up to her.
“Why is Little Charlie swearing?” Ellen asked.
Maybelline shot Little Charlie a disgruntled look as she and Ellen walked to the ice cream stand. It did nothing to deter his chanting. In fact, if anything, it only caused him to chant “lickety shit,” louder.
“He’s got hearing issues,” Maybelline grumbled.
“Where’s Janet?” Ellen asked as she gaze at the ice cream board.
“She’s home,” Maybelline replied. “I wanted to spend the day with Little Charlie,” she said before she placed her order with the ice cream attendant.
“Now why would you want to do that?” Ellen asked. “Little Charlie’s a terror.”
Secretly Maybelline agreed. However, she couldn’t very well admit that. “He’s not a terror. Just . . .creative.”
She knew it was a lame response but at the moment she was too tired to come up with anything more logical. She handed the ice cream attendant some money. She started to head back to the table when she realized something very important. Little Charlie wasn’t sitting where she left him.
Panic swelled inside Maybelline. “Where’s Little Charlie?”
Ellen looked around. “I have no idea. Maybe Wyatt knows.”
Maybelline hurried over to Wyatt Westerman, who was sitting in the exact spot she’d left Little Charlie not three minutes ago. “Have you seen Little Charlie?”
A frown creased Wyatt’s face. “Do I look like I’ve seen that devil?”
In Maybelline’s opinion, it was hard to tell. There was a frown on Wyatt’s face and a dark look in his eyes. After an encounter with Little Charlie, most people looked the very same as Wyatt. However, in the case of Wyatt Westerman, his face was always creased in a frown.
“Great! Now look at what happened. I’ve lost my nephew,” Maybelline grumbled as she marched away from Wyatt. Ellen was quick to follow behind her.
“Then if I were you, I’d stop searching right now,” Wyatt called after her.
Maybelline thought that wasn’t a bad idea. Only, it wouldn’t prove that she was very good at the whole mommy thing.
She turned to Ellen. “Come on. Help me find him.”
“Where do we start?”
“Let’s go to all the stands that sell round food.”
“What?” Ellen asked.
“Round food,” Maybelline replied. “Little Charlie has a thing for round stuff.”
“I thought he had a thing about stuffed animals,” Ellen returned.
“No. He had a thing about stuffed animals. But that fixation left a few months ago. Since then, he’s been into toy cars, striped clothing and baseball hats,” Maybelline told her. “Oh, and lip gloss.”
Maybelline shrugged. “What can I tell you? Little Charlie’s eclectic,” Maybelline said. “You know, if you lived up here, you’d know all this.”
“Don’t start,” Ellen grumbled.
They were just passing through the ride area, right next to the steps of City Hall, across the street from the police station which was probably where she was going to end up if she didn’t find Little Charlie. Or maybe she’d end up there, even if she did find Little Charlie. Right now, the way Maybelline figured it, the balance could go either way.
“I think we need to call your sister,” Ellen said, after they searched ever single food stand in the park.
“Are you crazy? I’m not going to call Janet,” Maybelline retorted.
“You’ve got to tell her,” Ellen insisted. “You lost her kid.”
“And I will,” Maybelline told her. “I’m just thinking it might be better to call her after I find Little Charlie. Besides, I don’t want her to think I’m not ready to a baby.”
“A baby? Did I miss something while I was away in Albany? I thought you and John broke up.”
“Oh, I broke up with his sorry ass,” Maybelline agreed. “But there’s more than one way to get a baby. I’m thinking of doing it on my own.”
Ellen burst out laughing. “If you think you can have a kid on your own, then I think you need to go back to sixth grade sex ed.”
“Ha! Ha! Very funny.” Maybelline grumbled. She gave Ellen a look of disgust. “Jeez, you lose one kid and suddenly you’re disqualified from ever having kids? That seems a little harsh.”
“Well, all I know is that it’s getting dark and if we don’t find him soon, there’s going to be trouble.”
Maybelline looked around. Ellen was right. The sun was setting on the carnival just as the lights turned on at the beer tent. The exact spot she had planned to be at this time. Great. Now she lost her nephew and the possibility of a beer and the one thing Maybelline knew she could use right now was a nice cold beer.
Suddenly, the cacophony of noise that had filled the area quieted. “Well now that’s weird,” Maybelline murmured. “I thought the carnival ran until midnight.”
“Me too,” Ellen agreed as she looked at the rides.
Maybelline frowned as the rides stopped moving. She spotted Ben rushing towards the Ferris Wheel. She snapped her attention to Ellen.
“Did you call your brother?”
Ellen rolled her eyes. “Now when would I have a chance to do that?”
“I don’t know but he’s here,” Maybelline replied as the sirens from the fire station sounded. “What the heck is happening?”
“Come on,” Ellen said. “Let’s go ask Ben.”
Maybelline wasn’t exactly thrilled with seeing her cousin. It wasn’t too long ago when Ben had warned her not to cause any more problems. The way Maybelline figured it, losing her nephew was definitely a problem.
Ben was standing next to the Ferris Wheel operator. His hands were on his hips, his legs braced apart and from the look on his face, he didn’t appear happy. Both Ben and the operator were looking upward.
Ellen rushed up to Ben. “What’s going on?”
Ben turned at the sound of his name. His gaze zeroed in on Maybelline. The muscle flexed in his cheek. His mouth pulled back in a frown. “Maybelline . . .”
“What?” Maybelline demanded just as Ben pointed upward.
There, all by himself in a basket, was Little Charlie. He was leaning over the edge of the handle bar as he waved down at the crowds that were forming around them. He wasn’t screaming or crying.
Instead he was yelling at the top of his lungs, “Lickety shit! Lickety shit!”
Maybelline turned to see her mother and Janet rushed up to them. A mixture of shock and disbelief on their faces.
She gave them a sheepish look. “Maybe I should wait to have a baby . . .”