S&C_main_illus_FeatImg2“THIS PLACE IS COOL,” said Youssef, sliding his hands into the pockets of his perfectly-fitted jeans and nodding appreciatively. “Very cool.”

“Just look out for the bird guy.” Jenna had been jumpy since they first walked through the gates to The Circus of Lost and Found. “Last time I was here he practically dropped out of the sky right in front of me. Scared me half to death.”

“You mean him?” asked Youssef, pointing.

Across the pavement, the Winged Man was giving a pantomime flying lesson to a little boy, who was nodding seriously and flapping his arms.

“At least he’s bothering someone else this time,” said Jenna, although her lips curved up. From afar, she had to admit the Winged Man had one of the best bodies she’d ever seen. And the way he moved! Like water, she thought. Flowing.

Florencia only half-listened. It was taking all of her attention to calm Iris. It was like having a baby-shaped paddle ball game in her stomach. Iris’s enthusiasm was making her woozy.

“Don’t be so sure,” said Youssef.

Jenna giggled.

Florencia looked up. The Winged Man was staring at Jenna. Then he looked away, bent down, and with a flourish produced a tiny pair of red wings from somewhere in his costume. The little boy bit it in half.

“Spun sugar,” said Jenna to Florencia. “Like the rose he gave me.”

“Where does he hide it?” asked Florencia wonderingly.

Jenna grinned a surprisingly wicked grin. “Good question,” she said.

The Winged Man rose, tilted his head as though he could hear them, and without warning lifted into the air, making a group of teenagers shriek and then burst into laughter. He touched down in front of Jenna, the wire on his back barely visible.

He was even more other-wordly than Jenna remembered. His wings were wider, his face more chiseled and stone-like. His costume and feathers glistened, blood and snow. Now she could see that the muscle definition was not only his own but was drawn into his outfit, contoured and shadowed in fabric, accentuating the dip and swell of his body. He said something in whistles and clicks, the circus language Jenna remember from the last time she had come. Then he moved his back in a way that made his wings open and close and rose to hover in front of them.

Jenna giggled again. Even Youssef looked amused.

Iris squealed with joy.

Florencia placed one hand on her stomach to calm her daughter and looked up. Where was the wire attached? There was nothing above the Winged Man but open sky; when she tried to follow the wire with her eyes, she kept losing it in the glare of the lights.

The Winged Man reached up and wrapped his hands around the wire. Then, slowly, he lifted into the air and used the wire to help him tumble over and over, a graceful swirl of feather and skin, man and bird. A crowd began to gather around them, every head craned to watch.

“That is some serious muscle control,” said Youssef admiringly.

The Winged Man spread his arms. Red and white feathers rained down around them. So this was where they had come, thought Florencia, back in her bedroom in Rose. Circus feathers. No wonder Iris had loved them so.

 “Are you watching this?” Jenna asked, nudging Florencia in the ribs.

“Ow,” said Florencia. “And yes.”

The Winged Man halted in his spinning, head down, his legs wrapped around the wire. He drew his wings around his body like a human bat and began to spin. As he spun, he lowered.

The crowd backed up, giving him space to unfurl his wings. Youssef backed up too, but Jenna didn’t, so Florencia stayed. Besides, Iris wanted a better view.

Inches from Jenna’s head, The Winged Man stopped with a final, slow spin. For a long moment, he and Jenna looked at each other.

If Florencia hadn’t been standing so close, she wouldn’t have heard the Winged Man’s words, whispered in soft, accented English.

“I have been waiting for you,” he said.

“That might be a little creepy,” said Jenna, deadpan. “Depending on how you mean it.”

Florencia looked at her friend with some surprise. Jenna didn’t flirt. Sure, she had dated plenty since moving to LA, but Florencia knew they were all just a way to forget about Billy. None of them stuck. Of course Jenna had told her about the Winged Man and the sugar spun rose, but she hadn’t implied anything other than vague embarrassment at being singled out.

What had changed?

Inside Florencia, Iris kicked. Hard.

Oh.

Jenna must have talked to Billy, and it must not have gone well.

A wave of love washed over Florencia, and on impulse she reached out and took Jenna’s hand and squeezed it.

The Winged Man saw, and his expression changed.

“I am sorry,” he said, equally quietly. “You are spoken for.”

“What?” Jenna looked at her hand in Florencia’s and then laughed delightedly. “Oh. No! This is my best friend. Plus, she’s pregnant. With my ex’s baby.”

Florencia glanced back at Youssef, glad he hadn’t seemed to hear. Even though it was true, she didn’t really like how it sounded said like that, and she’d rather tell him in her own way.

The Winged Man’s eye’s widened.

“It’s not as soap opera as it sounds,” said Jenna. “Trust me. Anyway, I’m single.”

The Winged Man reached into his costume—where was that magic space?—and pulled out not a piece of spun sugar but a pen. It was disconcerting, him hanging upside down like that. He took Jenna’s arm and, in quick, sure strokes, drew a flock of birds down her arm.

“You are beautiful,” he said softly. “I would like the honor of taking you to dinner.”

Then he dropped her arm, spun upright in the air, and spread his wings as he shot away over their heads.

“Nice,” said Youssef as the crowd dispersed. “An original Winged Man circus piece.”

“It’s cool, isn’t it?” asked Jenna happily.

Florencia reached into her purse, pulled out a pen and paper, and wrote down the phone number she saw hidden in the inked lines of birds.

Across the circus yard, LeeLee carefully wiped the tears from her eyes, making sure not to smear the kohl. This was what she got for bending the will of the cards. She would tell Danil the truth about his reading first thing tomorrow.

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