GABRIEL ZICARTE, creator of and mastermind behind The Circus of Lost and Found, stood by the circular stage of his circus and watched the crowd for the Grand Finale filter to their seats. Venice Beach had been good to them; full houses every night and a kind of atmosphere that exactly fit the circus. It felt very right to land here permanently. And though he hated to admit it, he was also looking forward to the time away from the constant touring. It was a young man’s game, and while he was not, he knew, truly old, he had noticed a definite slowing of his ambitions and desires. Honestly, it was somewhat of a relief. After a lifetime of intensity, softening the edges didn’t seem to bad.
Behind him, since he knew what he was listening for, he could hear the performers getting into place, discussing last-minute thoughts or ideas. He used to worry about even these minuscule changes—he liked to know everything that could possibly happen, down to the exact angle of a bent elbow—but as the years went on and he learned more what kind of people were the right kind for his circus, he found he could trust his cast implicitly. Sometimes a small turn of the head or a slight change in makeup delighted even him. Once his aerialists had added a new trick, no small change but rather a gigantic one, without his consent. It had been so breathtaking, he hadn’t slept for days afterwards. He had wanted to be angry with them for not clearing it with him first, but the sheer audacity and spectacle of the trick itself had warranted him speechless. By the time he had found his voice, he could no longer find any emotion but awe for something so well executed.
Tonight, though, his attention was on three seats in the VIP section. He knew his guests were here; he had seen them outside while he was walking the lot, as was his custom before shows. Not for the first time, he wondered about the baby’s father. He had no sense of the man, no feel for whether the circus so apparent in the unborn Iris had come from Florencia or the missing parent.
A couple made their way into the VIP section, the stunning woman he had seen with LeeLee and a tall, rugged man of indiscriminate ethnicity—Arabic? Latino? Italian?—but unmistakable masculinity who walked with crutches more complex than Gabriel’s own. The woman, he noticed now, was pregnant, something he had missed in the dim light of the fortune teller’s tent. As they sat down, just two rows in front of the reserved seats for his guest, something surprising happened, something that hadn’t happened in years: his missing leg tingled. At the same moment, the woman put her hand on her belly and said something to her husband, who smiled and placed his hand on top of hers.
Gabriel had to hold onto the stage edge to steady himself. There couldn’t possibly be two, could there? He wasn’t prepared for two. Surely, he decided, it was just a coincidence of timing. An odd synchronicity. Nothing more.
Iris knew nothing about the other baby-in-utero nearby. Nor did she care. She couldn’t understand why they weren’t already inside, why people were taking their time to find their seats, why they were walking instead of running.
You need to calm down, baby, thought Florencia as they wove their way to the VIP section.
Iris bounced with impatience.
“You okay?” asked Jenna.
“Iris is a little overexcited,” said Florencia quietly, so Youssef didn’t hear. It seemed too complicated to explain.
“This is us.” Jenna paused at the row. “Earth to Youssef!”
Youssef was staring at a couple sitting two rows up. Florencia could see only the side of the woman’s face, but even from that it was clear she and Youssef were related.
“That must be your sister,” said Florencia.
Youssef flattened his lips. “Yes.”
Jenna followed his gaze. “Wait. I’ve seen her before! She’s a model.”
“She is indeed,” said Youssef.
“Cool! Can we meet her?”
Youssef expelled a gust of breath. “Trixie!” he called.
“Oh, no way,” Trixie said under her breath. The voice coming from behind her was unmistakable.
“Is that Youssef?” asked Ralph, turning to look and then waving. “Did you know he was coming?”
“Of course not.” Trixie Franklin tried to twist around to say hello to the unexpected surprise of her brother. Unfortunately, twisting around wasn’t as easy as it had been pre-belly.
Who’s he with?” asked Ralph.
“Uh…” No matter how she turned, Trixie couldn’t get her body to go that way, not anymore and not in such a small space. By the time she conceded defeat and stood up, the house lights were dimming. She waved at Youssef,, mouthed “meet you at intermission,” and struggled sit back down, but not before she noticed that the blonde woman next to Youssef was the one Danil, the Winged Man, had been hitting on.
This was going to be interesting.