Word had spread quickly that they were to close for six months, with full pay for every employee and a guaranteed job upon reopening. Unlike LeeLee, most of the circus folk couldn’t believe their good luck. The aerial artists laughed as they stretched their long, muscled legs, talking about what they would do with the time off, where they would travel, what new adventures might await. The cello player sat in a corner with the classically-trained opera singer who sang moving and dramatic circus gibberish while gowned in increasingly outrageous and imaginative costumes, going over the score for the closing act. Earlier, to no one’s surprise, they had announced plans to marry over the break and take an extended dive trip around the world as their honeymoon. Gabriel had offered his home in Fiji as the first stop.
“It seems you are not so happy to be away for these months?”
LeeLee glanced up from where she was stitching a new case for her tarot cards. Danil Kazlauskas, the Winged Man, the aerialist, the trapeze master, the most breathtaking of the male acrobats, towered over her in all his six-foot-four glory. He had joined the circus just a year ago, one of many who came from an Eastern European gymnastics background, and he made her nervous. He was older than she was—perhaps around thirty, although he refused to tell anyone—and his body was as sharp and chiseled as his face. His eyes were shockingly pale, the dark green ring around the iris only offsetting an almost-not-there hazel the exact spiced color of expensive bourbon. It was the lightness of his eyes that made the custom contact lenses he wore as the Winged Man seem so other-wordly, so close to erupting into lava and heat and darkness. Gabriel had returned lens after lens until the special effects company finally created exactly what he wanted: the smoldering eyes of a volcanic fallen angel.
“Uh,” said LeeLee. In her fingers, the needle she was using grew slippery. Danil’s hair was naturally a shade darker than his eyes, but it had bleached to an even honey from the sun and salt water since they had been in Venice. Golden hair glistened on his forearms. LeeLee knew he went for a swim in the ocean every morning. She knew he never wore a wetsuit, even though the water temperature hovered around the low sixties. She knew his swim trunks were dark navy blue and of a cut acceptable only on a European with a body like his. She knew all this because, when she was up early enough, she followed him, because he was incredibly beautiful and because he made her stomach clench and her brain freeze.
“May I sit?” he asked, indicating a the chair to her right. His accent made her think of crackling fireplaces and hot cocoa with marshmallows, although she wasn’t sure why.
“Sure,” said LeeLee, happy she had managed to get out at least one unmangled word.
“I cannot decide whether to go home for this dark, or stay,” said Danil. “I like it here, very much, but I have not seen my family for some time. During the dark it would make sense to go home, don’t you think?”
LeeLee wasn’t sure exactly where he was from, and geography wasn’t her strong suit anyway. For a moment she thought he meant that home was one of those places where the sun didn’t rise for months; then she realized he was talking about the dark of the circus closing. She nodded vigorously, not sure what she was agreeing with.
“Yes I should stay, or yes I should go?” Danil cocked his head to one side. Had his mannerisms had been so birdlike before he became the Winged Man?
“Um…yes, you probably have time to do both?” said LeeLee. “Six months is a long time.”
Danil regarded her. “And what will you do, during this long time?”
Was he flirting with her? She was so bad at this. She shot a look at the opera singer, now cuddled in the cellist’s arms, and wondered how they first knew the other was interested. She had never really had a boyfriend in all her 22 years. Her fingers inched toward the cards that sat on the table next to their old, torn case.
“Ah, yes!” cried Danil. “You give me reading, and tell me what should happen next. Excellent.”
It wasn’t what she had meant, but LeeLee was happy to retreat to something safe and familiar. She shuffled the cards, concentrating on Danil’s question. Stay or go home? She placed three cards next to each other, face up, and frowned at the result. The Eight of Wands: Travel and opportunity. The Fool: a new home or beginning. The Knight of Cups: the most heart-centered of all the Knights.
“What?” asked Danil. “Is it not good?”
“It’s perfect,” said LeeLee, sweeping up the cards with one hand. Her heart pounded. She had never before lied about the cards or manipulated meanings to serve herself.
“What do they tell you?” asked Danil.
“Stay,” said LeeLee. She cleared her throat. “You should stay.”