Louis prodded, “Come on Hank. It’s just a roller coaster.”
Laura smiled and put her arm around Hank. Her soft auburn hair gently brushed across his face as she leaned in and whispered, “I’ll give you something special if you go with us.” He could smell Chanel no. 5 emanating from her neck, and fresh mint from her breath. Hank could feel his body tremble from the temptation of her presence, but he did not want to ride the coaster.
Louis chimed in again. “Come on, it’s just a stupid roller coaster. You’ve ridden on it a thousand times before. Why are you chickening out now?”
Stupid Louis, thought Hank, He is always the third wheel. If I gave him half a chance, he’d try to steal Laura away from me.
Louis kept harassing Hank. “You know, Hank, if I didn’t know better, I would think you don’t care enough about Laura to go on one simple ride with her. Don’t worry Laura. I’m more than happy to go.”
Laura gave Louis a disgusted look and said, “Thanks anyway. If Hank doesn’t want to go, I can ride alone. I don’t mind.”
Hank felt Laura’s soft hair and intoxicating smell leave his vicinity. The fear he felt inside immediately gave way to the love he felt for Laura. “Look, guys, I don’t know how to explain it. Call it a premonition if you want. Say I’m getting soft, whatever. I only know that if we get on that coaster something bad is going to happen.”
Louis slid up next to Laura and said, “Do you want to be with that guy? I mean, Hank and I have been buddies a long time, and I’m telling you, he may be losing it in the head. Ever since Charley died in that car wreck two weeks ago, Hank’s been mister gloom and doom. ”
Laura took a step away from Louis and took Hank’s hand. Her long graceful fingers felt good between his. Her soft palm pressed against his, and a thrill traveled up his arm. Her other hand wrapped partway around his bicep and gave him a reassuring squeeze. “Charley was like a brother to us. I’m glad Hank cares so deeply for his loss.”
Louis shrugged, “I’m not saying he shouldn’t miss him, but he needs to quit second guessing everything just because he gets a weird feeling. You need to man up, Hank.”
Louis could be annoying, but Hank knew he had a point. He sighed and told the group, “Okay, to the roller coaster, guys.”
Louis congratulated Hank and smacked him on the back like he had won a significant victory. The three of them got in the short line for the roller coaster. Hank stayed focused on Laura’s head leaning against his shoulder and how good she smelled. It seemed no time at all until they were at the front of the line.
The attendant motioned Hank and Laura to one end of the train, and Louis to the other. When it pulled into the station, Hank was a bit surprised to find he and Laura in the very front, and Louis in the very back. That same fearful feeling came creeping into his heart and mind. He almost stepped back when Laura bumped her body against his. That was the only encouragement Hank needed.
Ignoring his fears, he and Laura were locked into place by the safety bar. Compared to many modern roller coasters, this one was very tame. After the train left the station the cars connected to the familiar chain that started their climb up the one hundred foot hill. The train jerked and lurched as the familiar click clank rattled from below. Hank closed his eyes until he felt Laura squeeze his hand. He turned and looked into her bright blue eyes. Everything in the world faded away from him except her beautiful face. He auburn hair framed her high cheekbones and full lips.
Then the cars suddenly dropped and began their accelerated descent. Laura laughed and turned to watch them plummet towards earth. Hank closed his eyes and started to laugh nervously. He counted the first two hills and began to breathe. Hank knew that they had another climbing chain next. The front car lurched as it made contact. Hank looked over at Laura, and they both began to laugh.
Laura stopped laughing and said, “Halfway there my love.”
Hank nodded his head.
This time he was watching as the train plummeted down and around the spiraling turn that went just inside the earth. Hank could feel the strain on the cars and people laughing and hollering. Caught up in the moment, he and Laura raised their arms, knowing everyone in the cars behind had done the same.
The roller coaster straightened and the train followed the tracks quickly up towards the tunnel entrance to the station. At the last second, the cars suddenly dropped, missing the top of the tunnel and then the track leveled out. The train car lurched to a stop just short of the station. Laura patted Hank’s arm, “You see, everything is okay.”
A scream began to emanate from far behind them. Other voices joined in and continued to grow towards the front of the train. People cried, “He’s dead!” and “He lost his head!” The lock bars quickly released and people scrambled to get away. Hank and Laura got out and looked for Louis.
Laura went towards the crowd in her search, but Hank started to move slowly towards the rear of the train. Somebody grabbed his arm, and he turned around. A park employee had a firm grip. “I’m sorry sir, you can’t go that way.”
Hank jerked his arm free, “I think that man was with our group.” He took another five steps. There in the car sat what was left of Louis. It appeared his safety bar had broken way at the tunnel entrance. His decapitated body hung awkwardly halfway out the back of the train car. Hank shook his head. He had been right after all.
A policeman walked up, and Hank followed him to where Laura was waiting. Hank shook his head, still in shock. Laura put her arms around his waist and held Hank tightly. Her perfume and soft hair helped Hank forget the horror he had just seen. Then she spoke softly into his ear.
“Nobody should ever doubt you. I know you have a gift, a special gift. I will make sure you stay safe as long as you are with me. Don’t ever forget that.”