I did my best to make my train car homey. There were family photos, pictures with my fans, and autographs from bands I’d seen perform plastered next to my window. I spent the majority of my time on the train bent over my sewing machine trying to integrate the latest fashions into my stage costumes. There was a little record player near my bed that was almost always blasting opera so even when I slept, theatrics were never far from my subconscious. Usually my happy place was right here, travelling to some new city with the beat of beauty in my ears and some sparkly masterpiece at my fingers, but I’d seen the inside of these walls for way too long this season and I was growing restless.
It was an immense relief when the train slowed into the Baton Rouge station.
“Same game, different city,” I mumbled to myself as I locked the lid of my trunk and prepared to exit the train.
Once outside I hung back to make sure the stagehands were taking care while loading the cats onto the semi truck. They were disgusting men who would cut corners if a stern eye wasn’t kept on them at all times. I nodded at the man who locked the truck doors tight when I caught sight of Aaron exiting his train car and walking towards me. I started to smile but my face immediately fell when I noticed he was walking with a limp and the right side of his face seemed to be swollen.
“Aaron, what the hell happened to you?” I said, running up to him and taking his face gently in my hands.
He tried to shake me off. “Stop it, it’s nothing,” he said gruffly, attempting in vain to clear his throat.
“It’s not nothing, have you looked in the mirror lately?” I poked the inflamed side of his face gingerly and he winced. “Your face looks like mincemeat. Did your father do this to you?”
A fleeting expression of terror touched his eyes. “You know, I thought maybe I could escape all the shitty bits of this world by working here but it turns out not even the circus is safe. I’m leaving, Nixie, and I want you to come with me. This setup is no place for a sweet girl with a heart like yours.”
I was completely taken off guard. I thought back to my first day on the circuit and the way Aaron’s eyes had gleamed when he handed the guests their tickets and welcomed them to the show. All signs of that starry-eyed guy were gone now, and it broke my heart.
“I can’t just leave, Aaron, I’ve got responsibilities,” I said sadly. “Where would Kaveh and Ensi go? I’m all they’ve got. Maybe you could just stay…wait until season is over and we could go from there?”
He shook his head and broke away from me. “No, I can’t stay here with him anymore. If you don’t run, then you need to be prepared for what’s to come. I’m not sure on the specifics I just know that when it hits, it’s going to hit you all hard. Are you sure I can’t convince you to come with me?”
His words were starting to scare me, but I my resolve couldn’t be shaken and I shook my head.
“Then take care of yourself, beautiful.” He leaned in to kiss me and when his lips touched mine I felt the cold metal of a gun be slipped into the waistband of my jeans. “I remember you telling me your cousins took you shooting a few times—let’s hope all that stayed with you.”
I opened my mouth to object but he silenced me with a thumb over my lips. “I can’t in good conscience leave you here unprotected. I’ve gotta go now, this is for you.”
He flashed me a crooked half-smile and handed me a letter before walking away from me. The thought that maybe this was the last time I would ever see Aaron was just as scary as the idea that I might have to fire a gun for my protection. With trembling fingers I opened the letter and recognized Admiral Wiseacre’s handwriting at once.
My son has brought it to my attention that you have a complaint on the season schedule. I’m afraid I must draw your attention to the contract which you signed. Paragraph III Subsection H states that the season schedule isn’t set in stone and can be changed any time the Ringleader (that’s me, in case you’ve forgotten) sees fit. Now you may break the contract if that is truly what you wish, but I will personally make sure that if you do, no other circus in North America will take you on. It is extremely unprofessional to go back on a contractual obligation of course. If you still wish to disband the contract, I’m sure I can conceive of alternative ways to convince you.
Yours in good faith,
Admiral Sebastian Wiseacre
Enraged, I crumpled the letter in my fist. I looked up and saw the Admiral leaning on the hood of his limo, smiling like the cat that caught the canary. I made sure he saw me throw the crumpled paper on the floor and spit on it before turning around and making for the bus. As uncomfortable as carrying a concealed weapon made me, I was grateful for it since it seemed that now threats were going to be the main attraction.
The worst part was that now I was truly alone, right when my little circus dream had turned into a nightmare.