“Juliet, Juliet!” Juliet’s coming out of the ring, horses trooping obediently behind her, as the hiss comes from her left. She looks to the side, behind the curtain that hides the backstage area, and manages not to scream as Shawn, in full makeup, looms out of the darkness. Behind her, Rocky, the most nervy of her stallions, gives a soft whinny as he notices the tension in her body.
“Shawn, could you not do that when you have your face on, you know how I feel about clowns in dark places.” She keeps moving, there’s a string of five horses behind her. Shawn keeps up, eyeing her. He considers her for a second, and Juliet looks at him again, about to say, “What?” Except he’s pasted a truly alarming sociopath’s smile on his face, which combines in an unutterably horrifying way with his white-painted muzzle and big red nose, and she has to shudder and look away again. After a second, when she’s collected herself, she says, “What?”
Shawn ducks ahead to lift the tent-flap for her, with a ridiculous sweeping bow that she ignores. “Jules, have you seen the new high wire artist?”
“No, is he something special?”
Shawn grins, wide and genuine. “Oh, he’s something special, yep.” He leers a little, and Juliet sighs, because she already feels sorry for the new guy.
“Juliet.” The slightly plaintive voice calls her from outside the stables. Juliet sighs, and doesn’t stop brushing Marilyn’s coat. Carlton appears in the stable door, with his face still painted a ghostly white.
“Agh,” Juliet says. “Could you stop looming up on me with your face painted? I’ve told you before.”
“Sorry.” Carlton says. “Spencer’s already drooling over the new high wire artist, have you seen him? It’s just undignified.” His brow is creased with a familiar expression of puzzlement, the mute request to have human emotions explained to him again broadcasting loud and clear.
“I’ve seen Shawn, but not the new artist,” Juliet says. “Is he good-looking?”
Carlton’s face twists with reluctance, but when Juliet keeps looking at him expectantly he says, “If you like obvious.” Juliet stifles a giggle.
Juliet meets Burton Guster herself at the barbecue that night, and she has to admit that Carlton was right, he is very, very obviously good-looking, face smooth and handsome and structured. Shawn is standing next to him, doing the Shawn Spencer version of flirting, which would involve pulling Guster’s pigtails if he had any. Juliet slides through the scattering of people between her and the burgers and, once she has some food in her hand, decides to go and rescue Guster.
“Hi,” she says, coming up next to them.
“Hi, Jules,” Shawn says cheerfully. “This is my new friend, Marmaduke Malamute the third. Marmaduke, this is Juliet.”
Juliet eyes Guster, and sees the moment where something small and amused slips into the line of his polite smile. “Hi,” he says, educated and earnest. “Sorry about the name. My family likes alliteration. Just call me Marmaduke.”
Juliet’s pretty sure she can see the stars sparkling in Shawn’s eyes.
Carlton leans over to her at an artist meeting next week. His mouth is tucked tight with disapproval. “Do you know what Spencer and Guster were doing in your stable earlier?”
“Oh no,” Juliet says. “Not in front of my innocent horses!” She can’t stop the grin on her face.
“This place is going to the dogs,” Carlton says, a slightly rueful curl to his mouth, and he faces forward again. Juliet pinches his bicep affectionately and refocuses on the union speaker.