Look at him, acting like he doesn’t have a care in the world.”

Beside Madison, her best friend, Harper, shook her head. “Just ignore him.”

Madison sighed and sucked on her strawberry milkshake.

Over the noise of the crowds out to enjoy the last night of the Iowa State Fair, she could barely hear the Switchfoot song in the background. The multi-colored carnival lights glowed bright against the dark sky, and the thick night air smelled of hot dogs and popcorn.CarterScott

Madison continued walking, but her eyes stayed fixed on Carter, who stood at a booth throwing baseballs at targets.

His laugh rose above the crowd, and Madison grimaced. How well she remembered that laugh. His back was to her, so she could only see the reverse side of his Iowa Barnstormers t-shirt and neatly trimmed blonde hair. But in her mind, she could picture the beaming grin and blue-eyed twinkle. That expression once set a storm of butterflies loose in her stomach. The memory grated.

Madison used to think of Carter as an intelligent, funny, and compassionate person.

Then she saw him on a date with another girl. Spotting them through a restaurant window, she couldn’t see the girl’s face, but she didn’t need to. Her image of Carter shattered to pieces like a broken mirror.

Carter won his prize and turned to high five his friends in celebration of his victory. When he saw her, their eyes locked.

Madison looked away.

Harper took her by the arm and tugged her toward the Ferris wheel. “Come on.”

When a seat opened up, Madison handed the operator three tickets.

“Hey, Harper!”

Madison took her seat on the Ferris wheel, but Jackson Miller intercepted Harper. In a flash, Carter jumped the barrier. He thrust a couple tickets at the operator and plunked down beside Madison, making the seat wobble back and forth on squeaky hinges. The operator frowned, then shrugged, pulled down the safety bar in front of them, and set the wheel moving again.

She speared Carter with a glare. “You’re such a jerk.”

She speared Carter with a glare. “You’re such a jerk.”

“I’m not.” He looked out at the distant stars pricking through the darkness of the night sky.

Madison blew out a scoffing breath. “Right. Explain to me how you’re not a jerk for cheating on me with—”

“My cousin.”

He cut her off and she stared at him, dumbfounded.

“Not another girl. My cousin, Sophie.” He fingered the blue paint chipping off the metal seat beneath them. “My aunt home schools her because she has Down syndrome. I wanted to take her to our prom, but my aunt didn’t think it was a good idea.”

Madison tucked a stray lock of brown hair behind her ear and felt embarrassment burning her cheeks.

“Sophie didn’t know any better until last week when she saw that picture of us my mom took before the dance. She was upset, so I decided to give her a special night of her own. That’s when you saw us out together.”

Madison swallowed hard. When she finally looked up, she hoped he saw her shame. “Looks like I’m the jerk.”

Carter laughed and shook his head. “No, you’re not. You didn’t know.”

“No, I didn’t. Carter, I had no idea. I’m so sorry. If I’d known, I…” Her words trailed off and she let out a sigh. “You really are the sweetest guy I’ve ever known.”

Now Carter blushed. Looking down, he laughed nervously. Then he smiled and held out the stuffed bear he’d won.

She smiled in return and accepted the gift, a warm joy bubbling up in her heart.

She just couldn’t help loving Carter Scott.

Meet the Author

Whitney L. Schwartz Headshot 1Whitney L. Schwartz is the author of Grace Like Rain and Mona Lisa: Carlingford Chronicles Book 1. Her work has appeared in Evangel, The Cresset, and Time of Singing magazine. She has been a five-time guest judge for Christian Flash Weekly and her short story “Remember Where Your Home Is” was chosen as a semi-finalist for The 2014 William Van Dyke Short Story Prize. You can follow Whitney via Facebook and Twitter or check in at her website whitneylschwartz.com.