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“Can we go on, Alexa?”
I looked down at Ariane. I had to think. How could I reject a four-year-old girl with the biggest, deepest brown eyes, two perfect pigtails and a hot-pink shirt that read “Love is All You Need”?
But I would need a lot more than love to stomach an amusement park ride in the sky. Oh sure, the little airplanes looked cute enough, but they didn’t have me fooled.
The planes were flying higher and the shrieking from above grew in decibels by the second. I searched Ariane’s face for any register of panic or, at the very least, discouragement, but her eyes only widened as she tugged on my arm.
The last time I had gone to an amusement park I was 16. I had endured what can only be described as three minutes of hell, during which I was convinced the little door that was keeping me secured into whatever little box I had been strapped into was going to open up and transform me into amusement-park roadkill. Then I threw up in a Porta Potti.
So what on Earth was I doing here?
I was hard at work on the task of winning over a four-year-old-girl whose father I was dating. And since I didn’t have biology on my side, there was only one thing I could be: a boatload of fun.
I forced a smile. “Okay.”
Stéphane, my boyfriend, reached out and touched my arm. “I can go with her.”
Ariane shook her head, those pigtails whipping across her cheeks. “No more rides with Papa.”
He pointed to the rusted sign. “The ride is called Sky Fun. You’ll be fine.”
I didn’t say anything. Stéphane was a genius most of the time, but what did he know about trying out for the role of stepmom?
The line began moving, and Ariane skipped ahead. When she didn’t see me beside her, she glanced back, rolling her eyes. “Come on.”
She was disappointed in me. Already.
I quickened my pace, which, in this case, meant I dragged my feet. I didn’t know how many planes were on this ride, but I prayed there wouldn’t be enough, and that we’d have to wait another round. Maybe Ariane would start feeling hot or smell the popcorn from the food stand just a few feet away. Or she’d have to go to the bathroom. Just maybe.
But there was one last plane just for us. Yay.
Ariane climbed in and crossed her arms. “I want the pink plane.”
“Yeah, well,” I thought. "I don’t want any plane, but you don’t see me complaining.”
Then I patted her knee and said: “There are a lot of nice things that are white. Like lambs and clouds.”
A teenager came around and checked our seat belts. My life was in the hands of someone with purple hair and dragon tattoos crawling out of his black T-shirt. Awesome.
Ariane’s seat belt looked loose, but there was no way I was going to let go of whatever it was I hanging onto in order to adjust it. Putting my own needs before a child’s – was I really stepmom material?
Mr. Tattoo sauntered back to the remote controls, pushed some purple strands of hair out of his face and pressed some buttons.
Our plane jerked and the girls in the blue plane ahead of us started cheering. They looked to be about 8 and 10.
I pictured their parents, with their feet firmly planted on the ground. They were probably waving at their children without a shred of guilt for letting them board their blue plane alone, while I and other poor step-parents-in-training were being forced into the role of reluctant – read: petrified – pilots.
Ariane’s excitement grew as we picked up speed. “Here we go!”
“Alexa, we’re so high, look!”
I realized that my feet was the only view I need, thank you very much.
“This is so much fun!”
Playing Barbies is fun. Putting princess puzzles together is fun. Even watching Shrek for the millionth time is fun. This was not.
“I can touch the trees!”
I looked up. Nothing but a swirl of blue sky, white clouds and Ariane’s brown pigtails. Nobody was touching trees, but Ariane’s hands were definitely hanging over the plane.
“Ariane, keep your hands inside, please.”
“We’re going faster, Alexa!”
Holy crap. Hang on. Breathe. Holy crap.
“Papa! Up here!”
Oh my God, I think I’m going to puke. Or die. Maybe both.
The wind was less intense now. Could this almost be over?
Ariane giggled as our plane touched the ground. “Can we do this ride again?”
Does the look on my face tell you that I want to do this ride again?
Ariane jumped off the plane and ran to Stéphane, while my shaking hands fought to undo my seat belt. It looked like I’d need Mr. Tattoo’s help to get me off this thing. The price we stepmoms-in-training had to pay.
When I was finally freed, I couldn’t feel my legs and scraped my arm against the exit gate. I still somehow managed to join Ariane and Stéphane. Ariane’s hands were waving around everywhere, and she was jumping.
Stéphane looked over at me and smiled.
“How did it go?”
All I could do was nod.
Ariane grabbed my hand. “Wasn’t it fun, Alexa?”
I wondered if she could feel my hand tremor in hers.
With her other hand, she tugged on Stéphane’s arm. “Papa, can I go with you this time? I want the pink plane.”
“We’ll see.” Stéphane stroked one of her pigtails.
Ariane skipped along, then suddenly stopped, leaning in toward her father. “Papa? What does ‘holy shit’ mean?"
Alexa Nazzaro lives in Montréal.