I stepped out of the train and shuddered as soon as the air hit me.
Here I was, back in the one place I'd sworn never to return to.
My fingers took to playing with the handle on my suitcase, jabbing into it with my nails to stifle my nerves. It would be a miracle if I managed to perform tonight without losing my grip on both the trapeze and my sanity.
"Hey, you alright?"
"What kind of question is that, Eli? I'm totally fine, actually I'm feeling...better than ever!"
Okay, so the enthusiasm wasn't really working to my advantage.
"Great, then you'll be fine with an extra-long practice starting in the half an hour it takes for the crew to set things up after the buses get to the site. Wiseacre wants us to up the ante in our routine, so we've got to cook up a few new ideas."
Ugh. What was Wiseacre thinking, exactly? Our trapeze act was already at its maximum ante. If it went any higher we'd be bound to make a mistake and turn into sawdust pizza.
As much as I hated him sometimes, I couldn't wish something like that on Eli either.
"Fine," I muttered, "But we better not be breaking any more safety regulations than we already are."
I doubted he'd listen to that but climbed onto a bus before he could say otherwise.
"What the hell-"
Eli continued swinging on the trapeze high above me as if on a children's playground, interrupting in a way that made his voice echo through the tent.
"Now, just hear me out. I know we usually do our act differently-"
"You mean we always do our act differently!" I yelled up, kicking off my flats and starting to shimmy up one of the two ropes hanging by his perch, glad that I was in my black practice leotard already.
"I realize that, but this is taking it to the next level. Can you imagine the amount of stunts we can do on this piece of equipment?"
I rolled my eyes and, sticking a leg out, slid on the trapeze so that I was situated like I would be on a horse, holding the bar in my hands and glaring at Eli as he propelled our seat back and forth.
"Sure, the bar's extra wide, but do you seriously think the both of us can manage on one trapeze?!"
The tricks were no issue, we could manage that with enough coordination. But with egos the size of ours, sharing the lone swing that was set up seemed near impossible.
Eli probably told the crew to do this in advance for our practice shift. Idiot.
"How about we try it out for today and see if it can work? Just give it a chance!"
We had a bit of a staring match, which Eli won within about two seconds. Maybe the slight scabs running along that scratch were making me a softie.
"Whatever," I grumbled, taking the hairtie from around my wrist and making up a high ponytail.
Eli nimbly pushed off of the bar as his hands gripped it and put his legs up over the swing so that he could free his arms while hanging from his calves, making the muscle in his upper body ripple a bit
God, he had to stop practicing shirtless.
"Now what?" I demanded, hopping down myself but swinging from my arms aimlessly.
"Now, you give me your feet."
I craned my neck especially so that I could give him another cynical glare as he looked up at me, before losing yet another staring match and giving in.
Man, I stank at this.
My lips muttered a silent prayer to any celestial being kind enough to be listening and soon after I swung my legs slowly and cautiously towards him until I felt his iron grip around my ankles.
My ears didn't need to hear the next, obvious instructions. I let go of the trapeze and swung back, feeling blood rush to my head as the world rushed by, the only thing keeping me from a twenty-foot drop a British creep with no soul.
I quickly understood Eli's simple command and waited until a specific moment in our movement before arching my body up and grabbing hold of his wrists so that he could free my feet and then move to grip my fingers properly.
My eyes were literally looking icy daggers up at him, despite the simplicity of what we had just done. Our act had loads of grips and transitions like this. It was just the lack of a flying start, starting on a shared trapeze that had me feeling off.
No, that wasn't it.
I was only terrified because I was on the trapeze, in Louisiana. Without them, for the first time.
Eli seemed to have some kind of unspoken understanding of this, despite the fact that I never shared my past with him.
Maybe he had his own, similar demons. Not that he'd ever admit that.
And Eli smiled back.