S&C 21“HANG ON, BABE. I just gotta…” Trixie wobbled off to the side, held onto the fencing with one hand, and whipped off her heel, momentarily freeing her aching foot. What had she been thinking, wearing stilettos to a circus? Or anywhere she actually had to walk—or stand, for that matter? Not only was her balance all wacked from being pregnant and having her center of gravity suddenly shift to her stomach, but the extra weight was making her ankles hurt. All the time.

“I am not making good choices,” she announced to Ralph as he maneuvered up next to her. She had been dying to come to this circus for months. Everyone she found even remotely interesting in her business was talking about it, and tonight was the last night, the Grand Finale. She had been lucky to score tickets; if it hadn’t been for a friend of a friend who knew someone who did lighting, it probably never would have happened. And, to top it off,  they were sitting in the VIP section, which included wine with the performers after the show. She didn’t care so much about that, since she wasn’t drinking, but their seats were front and center. Which meant she’d be able to see the faces of the performers, which was what it was all about. Faces. Expression. Humanity. Connection. Faces meant all of that, and make-up was just another way to hide or enhance it. It was one of the things she loved about modeling, although the only person she had ever even tried to explain that to was Ralph, who thought she should come speak at the university, an idea which made her laugh so hard they had never gotten past the part where he said, “You should come talk about that at school.”

She couldn’t wait to see the make-up in this show, see the faces, see how they played into the story. She had read everything she could find about The Circus of Lost and Found, had a good idea what to expect, but the pictures in the paper were too small to really make out the details and nuances. Their tickets were only three rows back. Trixie couldn’t wait.

She slipped her shoe back on and, wincing, took Ralph’s arm just above the elbow, where it didn’t make it hard for him to use his crutches. They had had to come up with a whole new way of walking together when his MS got worse and he started using the crutches regularly, and now it was second nature. He looked so handsome, his suit just the right amount of rumpled. She loved that he wore suits everywhere, even when no one else did. There was something so elegant and grown-up about it. She also loved that he was so tall, she had to tilt her head to look at him, even while wearing stupid stilettos.

“Ooh, babe, look,” she said. “Fortune telling! Let’s go!”

“You want your fortune?” said Ralph, raising his eyebrows suggestively. “I’ll tell you your fortune.”

“Does it involve getting knocked up by a dashing academic?” asked Trixie.

“Indeed it does,” said Ralph.

It didn’t, though. In fact, the fortune teller was so distracted, looking over their heads at something behind them, that Trixie couldn’t even keep track of what the cards were supposed to be telling her. Beware this and happy that, it seemed. Finally, she twisted around to see what was so interesting. A very ripped man in a very tight winged costume was flirting with some blonde woman.

“Is that your boyfriend?” Trixie asked the fortune teller, who honestly looked about eight, but Trixie knew lovelorn when she saw it.

“Trixie,” said Ralph reprovingly. “That’s none of your business.”

“Oh, hush,” said Trixie. “Maybe our girl here needs a little advice. You shouldn’t ever listen to me about shoes, though,” she said to the girl.

The fortune teller flushed, the color visible even though her heavy make up—which, Trixie couldn’t help but notice, matched her lovely Asian skin tone exactly. What was wrong with people who made makeup for darker skin? Was it really that hard?

“He’s not my boyfriend,” the girl said, almost a whisper.

“Oh, girl,” said Trixie sympathetically. “You’ve got it bad, don’t you?”

LeeLee stared at the gorgeous woman before her. How did she know? Was it really that obvious? The fortune teller wiped her eyes, carefully. She’d have to reapply her eyeliner at this rate.

She wasn’t even sure why she was so upset. Danil, the Winged Man, barely even knew she existed. In fact, no man ever had really known she existed. Sure, they liked her when she was the exotic fortune teller, the woman-child, but as soon as she was herself, LeeLee, they got bored, looked away, wandered off. She had never had a boyfriend. She was still a virgin. Some part of her clearly didn’t understand how this whole thing worked, this whole thing that seemed so very easy and natural for everyone but her.

“Would you excuse me?” she said, blinking rapidly.

The gorgeous woman studied her for a moment. “Nope,” she said finally. “I’m coming with you. You clearly need some girl time.”

“Trixie!” the woman’s husband said, clearly embarrassed.

LeeLee was shocked. Why would someone she didn’t know want to be with her now, when she was acting as she was, shamefully emotional? But the woman didn’t look angry. She didn’t look horrified.

What she looked was nice.

LeeLee could use nice.

“Okay,” she said. “Thanks.”

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