S&C 22WALKING WAS ONE OF LeeLee’s favorite things to do. When she had been younger, far too young to understand that her mother’s bouts of anger and violence had nothing to do with her and everything to do with an inherent mental instability made worse by a childhood in an unforgiving China, LeeLee’s only means of escape had been her own two feet. Inside everyplace they had ever lived—every cramped apartment with water stains on the ceiling and worse on the carpet, every rat-infested tenement project, every boyfriend’s crappy house with window shades that didn’t close and the smell of stale, beer-soaked sweat permeating the couches and chairs—was rage and tears and smoldering danger, all set to a soundtrack of fear that rang in her ears like heartbreak. But outside, she was free. She was unwalled, out-of-body, and gloriously alone. It didn’t matter if she was walking down the center of rival gang territory or through a rundown trailer park in the midwest or, as she was now, along a carefree Southern California beach. Outside was safe. Outside was sane. Walking, she soon discovered, could take her almost anywhere she wanted to go. And ever since she had joined the Circus, she wanted to go nowhere but where she was.

Six months dark, she thought, doing some quick calculations in her head. Numbers helped to calm her, like a hard training session or a sold-out night at the circus. Six months was more than 180 days. 4,320 hours. 259,200 minutes. She tried to multiply it into seconds, but her mind refused to carry the right number and instead kept slipping back to the image of the blueprint on Gabriel’s desk. So she gave up, switching from numbers to images as a way to tamp down the panic of six months dark. In her mind’s eye, she focused on the blueprint, recreating it bit by bit until she could see the entirety of the permanent Big Top, the things that had to be amazing enough to make up for six months dark.

LeeLee had always, as long as she could remember, been able to tease from her subconscious not just the exact image of what she had seen, but also, somehow, those things she hadn’t consciously noticed but had been there nonetheless. It was like her brain let her pull the photo out and study it at will, each time noticing a new detail. This ability to recreate was part of what made her so good at reading cards. When she was stuck—which wasn’t often—she could close her eyes and see every careful symbol the artist had rendered into each tarot card, every last zodiac sign or brush stroke or color shift that offered up deeper layers of meaning. The more she pulled these into her readings, the more often her clients left glassy-eyed and amazed. She loved when people left her tent with that look. It meant she had done something worthwhile.

The sun had burned through the Venice springtime marine layer, and the warmth on her shoulder was a welcome counterpoint to the brisk sea on her ankles. She kicked as she walked, sliding her feet through the wet sand and sending globlets of salty spray up around her calves. A few gulls circled above, crying for her attention, but she waved them on. She couldn’t listen to them just now. In her mind, the new Circus of Lost and Found unfurled.

She remembered distinctly that there had been three smaller circus tops attached to one large one in the middle, like hydrogen atoms clinging to oxygen. The big one was, obviously, the Big One, where the show took place. One of the smaller ones was probably for concessions. Another might be backstage, the thought of which made her ridiculously excited. To be able to change without worrying about bonking your elbow or knee on the person next to you was an unheard-of luxury. Once, two contortionists had both leaned over at the same time to put on their costumes, which consisted partially of gold-spangled tights that were unusually stiff and difficult to pull up, and they had smashed heads so hard they gave each other concussions. The show that night had featured two aerial acts instead of one, and a much longer-than-usual clown act. The contortionists both had headaches for a week after that.

But what would the third room be? LeeLee stopped walking. There had been writing around the edges of each of the smaller rooms. What had it said? She squinted with concentration, gazing out to sea, her vision blurred. Out near the horizon, a whole gaggle of teeny sailboats tacked and bobbed around one larger sailboat. It was adorable in a slightly disturbing way. Why were those boats so small? What were they good for? It reminded LeeLee of ducklings with their mothers, as though the sailboat had had babies and was now keeping a sharp eye on them during their first solo sail.

Oh.

Ducklings.

The writing came into sharp focus in her mind, and without meaning to, LeeLee gasped. It was a different gasp from the one she had made over Jenna’s reading. That one had been part shock, part worry, and more than a little bit of theatrics. This one, though, was a gasp of understanding. For the writing was spelling out where to place carpets and cots and toy boxes and safety doors and even a small playground.

The Circus of Lost and Found was opening a day care.

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