Sylvia re-read the letter and sighed. She didn’t want to go. But her father’s family insisted. She wanted to stay here, forever, with her Pierette, ‘Tonia. Well, Antonia, but she called her that in case she ever slipped when they were performing, and she could pretend she’d said Tony. For ‘Tonia was in disguise, a woman playing a male role in their carnival act. Not to mention Sylvia’s dearest friend.
Friend and more. They spent every night together in their small caravan, kissing and touching. They’d learned to keep the noise down after Harley (their Harlequin) had heard them one night and teased them.
But now, for Sylvia, the carnival was over. She had to go to school.
“I’m sixteen,” she’d protested. “Surely too old, and I do know how to read and write.”
“Two years at the school your aunt attended,” her grandmother had said. “Then, if you wish to come back to this,” which she had not exactly sounded like she was disapproving of, but more like she was sure time away would change Sylvia’s mind. It wouldn’t.
Sylvia had reluctantly agreed. Only because, as Harley said, it would be a good experience for her to see what things were like on the outside. That part was actually a little exciting. If she hadn’t fallen in love with her ‘Tonia, Sylvia would be excitedly anticipating.
But a few months ago, one of their stage kisses had lingered. Sylvia had felt her entire body heat up from the kiss, and from ‘Tonia’s touch.
“I tried not to,” ‘Tonia whispered in her ear. “You’re so young. But I love kissing you.”
“I love kissing you, too,” Sylvia had answered, breathlessly. All too soon, about a month later, it had turned into “I love you,” for them both. It didn’t seem like Sylvia’s age mattered when she could make ‘Tonia tremble under her kisses. When they could love each other, and be together in their work. Sylvia’s world was perfect.
She’d often visited her father’s family, sometimes with him, and always when they came to this harbourside city, their home. Sylvia loved the big house they lived in – and admittedly, being able to live there was a big part of why she really wanted to try the school. She’d at least be there for weekends.
“I don’t want to leave you,” she whispered against ‘Tonia’s neck. “What if you fall in love with someone else?”
“What if you do?” ‘Tonia returned. “You are young,” which Sylvia knew was a defence mechanism on ‘Tonia’s part. “You could meet a nice young man.”
“I don’t want a nice young man,” Sylvia said. “I want you, forever.”
“I think,” ‘Tonia said, thoughtfully, looking into Sylvia’s eyes, “that this is our last goodbye.”
“Really? I won’t go then,” Sylvia said, determinedly.”
“No, you go. If... if you still feel the same in two years, when you can come back, we can talk. I won’t fall in love with anyone else, but I can’t help thinking you might,” ‘Tonia said. “I know what it’s like in that world,” for she had been brought up well, too, outside of the carnival part of the year. Two years older than Sylvia, she knew a little more of the ways of the world.
Sylvia was in denial, but she also knew that if this would last, two years wasn’t enough to tear them apart. Well, she hoped it wasn’t, and that nothing else would.
The night before she left, she took ‘Tonia for a picnic, on a cliff. She had wine and food and they kissed a lot, under the cover of darkness, because they knew the outside world wasn’t as tolerant as the carnival people.
“The harbour lights are beautiful,” Sylvia said, watching them.
“You’ll be able to see them every night,” ‘Tonia said.
“I’ll think of you when I see them,” Sylvia said softly. “Always.”
“I hope so,” ‘Tonia murmured, and Sylvia took her home for one last night together.
It was easier than Sylvia had thought to adjust to school. Her father and grandparents were very supportive, which helped a lot, and she made a few friends immediately, even if there were a few girls who thought they were too good to associate with her. But Sylvia ignored them, even as she thought of how ‘Tonia would giggle at them or even throw an insult or two their way, because ‘Tonia was always faster than she was about thinking of things like that.
Not all her thoughts of ‘Tonia were like that. She lay in bed each night, cold and aching for ‘Tonia’s kisses and touches. She didn’t cry, except for the first night, but she ached every night for ‘Tonia.
When Sylvia wasn’t alone, she found it easier to keep her mind off ‘Tonia, or at least to keep ‘Tonia in the back of her mind and enjoy her life. But at night, when she was alone in her bed, that was when she would let the memories run through her mind.
She did try to date, some of her male friends asked her out, but they all figured out friendship was where their hearts lay. She even went on a couple of blind dates, but nothing more than adding new friends to her bow happened. She knew deep down that ‘Tonia had claimed her heart long ago. She enjoyed herself, but never let any of her dates do more than kiss her cheek.
Christmas passed, twice, and she sent cards and gifts to the carnival, and received them as well. ‘Tonia sent her books, and Sylvia smiled, putting them aside. She’d take them with her and they’d read them together. She knew the second time that she was heading back.
Her grandparents approved. They could see she had made an attempt, and she would visit them whenever she could. They would go to her, as well.
Her father was almost as anxious as she was to return, and the last two weeks, she marked down the days.
Then, two years to the day after their picnic by the harbour, Sylvia returned to the carnival. She hugged Harley, who said their replacement Columbine had been awful, which Sylvia knew from more objective sources wasn’t entirely true, but she had been promised the job if she wanted it, so she could walk back in.
She then saw her, ‘Tonia, or Pierette, performing as Pierrot. She was in her costume, and immediately fell back into character, walking towards her love.
They clung to each other, and ‘Tonia kissed her. Sylvia responded, eagerly. “I told you I’d be back,” she said, softly, and ‘Tonia laughed, holding her close.
All was right with Sylvia’s world now. She had the best of both worlds, the carnival and the world outside, and most important, she had ‘Tonia in her arms.