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La vie en rose

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Angela was sitting cross-legged on her bunk, reading a book, when a quick flash of light caught her eye. She put down the book and pressed her face to the small window next to her bed, holding her breath so as not to fog the glass. A few seconds later the light returned, a slightly longer flash coming from somewhere near the genny. The men had already finished setting up the rides hours ago, so there shouldn't have been anyone still working on that side of the fairground.

She closed her book, carefully marking the place, and then returned to the window. Sometimes local kids came to hang out on the edges of the fairground after dark, and she liked to slip out and go talk to them. Besides her and Danny, the only other kid with the show was Mister Jane's son, Patrick, and so it was a nice change to sometimes be able to spend time with other people of her own age.

She waited for the third flash of light and then jumped down from her bunk. Her mother was sitting by the table, a pile of coins, dollar bills, and ride tokens spread in front of her as she counted the money.

"I'm going to see the elephants," Angela said, pulling on her shoes.

"Take your brother with you." Her mother replied without taking her eyes off the money.

Angela crossed her arms, resisting the urge to stomp her foot. "Mom!"

Her mother counted another ten one dollar bills on the table before answering. "Take your brother, or stay and do the dishes. Your choice."

She glared at her mother, and then at Danny, who had put down the comic book he'd been reading and was already tying his shoelaces. She grabbed his sleeve, almost knocking him off balance, and pulled him after her as she stomped out the door.

As they headed towards the area where the animals were kept, she cast a longing glance at the direction of the genny. She couldn't go there, not with Danny - he'd just tell, and then she'd never be allowed outside after dark again. If she'd been alone, she could have asked Patrick to come along too. Sometimes he'd steal a bottle of some cheap liquor from his father's stash, and they'd share it with the locals, who might otherwise be wary of hanging out with carnies. They didn't usually have any trouble, but sometimes Patrick would get into arguments with some of the boys. He wasn't the kind to start fights, but he was sometimes a little too arrogant and quick with his words.

When they reached the pens, Angela half-heartedly gave the elephants an armful of hay and then let Danny play with Daisy, the new baby elephant, for a few minutes before telling him to come with her.

They were just crossing the bone yard on their way back when Angela heard the sound of shouting coming from the Janes' trailer. She stopped, gesturing at Danny to be quiet.

Mister Jane and Patrick weren't really carnies. Her father had told her they'd been kicked out of their last show after Mister Jane had hit the manager's son, but Mister Valentini had let them come along because they had a good act. Mister Jane was nothing but a regular con man, her father had said, but Patrick was something different. Patrick had a gift. He was so good you almost believed he really could read your mind, better than some people who'd done their act for decades. A natural.

The shouting went on for a few more minutes until the door of the trailer burst open and Patrick ran out. He was clutching his arm to his chest, and didn't even notice Angela and Danny when he ran past them and disappeared into the darkness between the trailers. Angela stared after him for a few seconds and then started to follow him, having forgotten that Danny was with her until she heard a sing-song voice from behind her.

"Paddy and Annie sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G."

She turned around to see Danny grinning at her.

"Shut up!" she hissed, and when he kept on singing, she took a quick step forward and shoved him. His voice was cut off abruptly when he lost his balance, falling down on the dirt.

Danny rubbed his eyes and then looked up at her, his face screwed up in an expression of misery.

"I'm telling mom!"

"If you tell mom, I'll tell her that you were the one who took that money from the kitty."

Danny blanched. "You wouldn't."

Angela crossed her arms, jutting out her chin as she stared him down. "Try me."

Danny glared at her for a few more seconds and then stood up, giving her a quick shove when he passed her. She watched him disappear into the darkness, and then headed to the direction where Patrick had gone.

It was stupid, the whole thing. She hated what the carnival did to people, made them see others as nothing but marks and rubes. Danny had started stealing things and she knew he was going to get into trouble sooner or later. And when he did, no-one would even care. All that mattered was that you were with it.

She made her way across the empty midway between the towering skeletons of the big metal before stopping in front of the ferris wheel. There was a small crawl space underneath the machinery, too low for a grown-up get into, but just big enough for a kid to hide in. She'd shown it to Patrick soon after he'd joined the show, and they'd sometimes hid there together to avoid having to work during the jump. The lights were still on on the big wheel, so it was easy for her to find the hidden entrance and slip inside.

She found Patrick in the furthest corner of the crawl space. He was sitting on the floor with his back against the wall, one arm wrapped around his knees and the other cradled in his lap. His head was bowed because he was already too tall to sit up straight in the crawl space, but he looked up when he heard her approach. When he saw that it was her, he looked away, rubbing his eyes with the palm of his hand.

She crawled the rest of the way on her hands and knees and sat down next to him. "Are you okay?"

He still didn't look at her, but he gave her a small nod. "Yeah."

She pulled her knees up and wrapped her arms around them, unsure what to do or say.

"Can I look at your arm?" She finally asked.

He didn't say anything, and just gingerly held out his hand. She took it, careful not to hurt him. There was an angry bruise forming on his forearm, a dark line that looked like he'd fallen against a table or some other sharp edge. "Can you move your fingers?"

He winced from the pain as he wiggled his fingers, and she reluctantly let go of his arm. "I don't think it's broken," she said. "Dad broke his arm last year when he fell off the carousel and it swelled so much that his fingers looked like sausages."

There was a sudden sound of laughter from outside, and they both went completely still, holding their breath. When the voices got closer, Angela recognised them as the sideshow boys heading to the bone yard for their weekly poker night. She waited for them to pass before talking again.

"When I turn eighteen, I'm gonna leave."

She never said it out loud before, but now that the words were out, she suddenly realised just how much she meant it. She wanted to live in a house that didn't have wheels, wanted to go to a proper school, wanted to have friends, wanted to live in a place where the world wasn't divided into people who were with it and people who weren't. She'd already started to save money, small change and whatever tips she got while working joints or running the rides. She knew that leaving would mean turning her back on her family, the whole world she'd grown up in, and as much as she wanted to leave, she was also terrified by the thought of it.

When she turned to Patrick, she saw that he was staring at her like she'd spoken in a foreign language.

"You can come with me." She felt a blush rise on her cheeks when she realised what she'd said. "I mean, if you want."

He was still watching her, in that same way that he looked at the marks before he told them their future, but there was something nervous about his features as well. She was about to ask him he was all right, when he suddenly leaned forward and kissed her.

She'd never kissed a boy before, and the touch of his lips on hers was nothing like kissing her hand or her mirror image. It made her feel strange, like there were parts of her body that had always been asleep and she hadn't even known about them until they'd now woken up. She closed her eyes, and for a moment she could imagine that they were somewhere else. Anywhere else.

She only opened her eyes when Patrick pulled away and broke the kiss. For a second she was afraid he might have regretted kissing her, but then she saw that he was smiling - a small hesitant quirk of his lips that widened into a bright grin when she returned the smile.

She wasn't sure how long they just sat there, holding hands and smiling at each other.

"I gotta go," she said, finally. "Danny's gonna rat me out if I don't get back soon."

Patrick nodded, and reluctantly let go of her hand. "Dad's probably left for the poker game already, too."

She leaned forward and quickly kissed him on the cheek before turning away. She was already at the end of the crawlspace when Patrick suddenly called after her.

"Did you really mean it? About leaving?"

She stopped and turned her head to look at him over her shoulder. He was still sitting at the other end of the room, watching her.

"Yeah," she said, and it was easier to say it now, the idea of it no longer quite as terrifying as it had been just moments before.

"Then I'll come with you," he said, and followed her outside.