A Ticket to the Circus (Excerpt)

There’s a clink of chains coming loose, and the car door rattles open.

“Mornin’,” says Billy. As if I didn’t know.

The sunlight stings. It stains the whole lot in orange — tents, wagons, even Billy’s bald head. It’s the kind of early light that feels like a dream. I rub my eyes, hoping I can wipe away the awful colors of the circus and wake up someplace else. Somewhere without Billy’s ugly face. But when I open them again, the strongman’s still standing there, orange skin and all.

“Sakes Billy—what time is it?”

“Time for breakfast,” he grumbles.

My stomach tightens, but not on account of my appetite. It’s what Mr. Tubbs told me last night, while he was locking me in. He said he’d be here first thing in the morning. He said he was the only one who could turn me over.

“Where’s Tubbs?” I ask.

“It’s Mr. Tubbs,” says Billy, but he doesn’t answer my question.

“He was supposed to wake me.” The night air hasn’t cleared yet and my hands are cold, so I stuff them inside my overalls and stumble into the sunlight. “Daddy will be waiting for me.”

“Here?” says Billy. The sun is over his shoulder, but for some reason he squints like he can’t see me. “We’re not in Baker anymore.”

“I know that. So,” I say, pushing some straw around with my shoe, “where are we?”

“Springer.”

“Where’s that?”

“It’s where we are,” moans Billy. “C’mon, it’s time for—”

“I ain’t hungry.”

Billy loosens the chain between his fists. “You wanna spend all day in here?”

I consider it.

If I believe Mr. Tubbs–and I don’t know that I do–our ride into town was no more than fifty miles. Now, Daddy’s not an early riser, but if Andy gets him up before breakfast, and they keep from getting lost, I imagine they’ll be here by lunch and not a second later.

I can wait.

“Daddy won’t be long then,” I say, chewing a piece of straw that sticks to my face. I lean it back to my eyebrows, like I’m thinking real hard. “You let Tubbs know I’m fine where I am. I’ll wait right—hey—put me down!”

It doesn’t take much for him to seize me, and the next second I’m over his shoulder, being carried away from the train.

“It’s Mr. Tubbs,” says Billy, “and we’re goin’ to breakfast.” Judging by his pace, Billy doesn’t miss a lot of meals.

I stretch out, digging my feet into Billy’s chest. From up on his shoulders, I can see the top of almost every tent in the circus. Between the stripes, I spot the clowns, a group of horses, a woman with big earrings, the twins, and the rest of the sideshow. Everyone’s headed for the cookhouse — everyone but Mr. Tubbs.

“Sendin’ you don’t change a thing,” I say. “I’m still kidnapped, and he’s still the one that took me. There’s no changin’ that!” I stoop down into Billy’s arms. “He ought to have the decency to take me to breakfast himself.”

Billy loosens his grip. “Who?”

Tubbs.”

My bottom hits the ground, followed by the rest of me.

Billy doesn’t pick me up again, but he doesn’t let me go, either. Grabbing me by the collar, he drags me the rest of the way. At least he has the manners to loosen his grip.

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