That Time I Joined the Circus
when it comes to actually talking …”
    I whirled around. “So talk, Eli. Seriously, speak. I mean, you must actually have something to say to me for a change. I’m not really sure why you had to hide a note in my stufftoday and make, like, an appointment to talk to me, but whatever. Go ahead — what’s this interesting thing you have to tell me?”
    “Ask you,” he said, very quietly. “It was something I wanted to ask you. And I didn’t hide that note today. I put it in there yesterday. You didn’t come home until after I had to be home myself. I waited.”
    I sat down then, across from where he sat on the window seat, in my little desk chair. “Oh — I’m sorry. I wondered how long the note had been in there. But, Eli, we just … We used to talk all the time , is the thing …” I stopped, feeling stupid tears pricking my eyes, feeling stupid period.
    “I know, X. And that’s kind of what I wanted to ask you. I mean, I know things have been different, that we don’t see each other as much. This summer —”
    “You were gone.”
    “I was with Bailey, yeah. I remember. That’s not what I wanted. I mean …” Eli stopped, standing up and starting to pace. This was my best friend for almost my whole life, in my room, pacing , like he was working up the nerve to talk to me.
    “Eli, whatever it is, say it. I’m a big girl. I can take it.”
    Eli stopped his pacing and stood in front of me, looking at me but not speaking. Just as it was about to get mega-weird, and I was just going to have to say something to make it stop, he opened his mouth to speak.
    “It’s nothing — forget it. I thought you might be mad atme about this summer. About going away. I felt like I owed you an apology or something.”
    “Oh-kay,” I began slowly. “No, you don’t owe me anything — I’m not upset or mad or anything like that.” Liar!
    “Oh, well, good. I just wanted to make sure. Cool. Well, I’ll see you at school.”
    With that, he was gone, halfway down the fire escape before I could make fun of his whole “cool” situation. Not only had he taken to pacing in front of me, he was talking to me like I was a total stranger. Better and better.
    It wasn’t until about a half an hour later, as I stared without comprehension at the pages of my math textbook, that I remembered the note. I picked it up and read it again, just to be sure. Yep, there it was: I have sort of an interesting question for you. Whatever that question had been, Eli hadn’t asked it.

Orlando, Florida — Saturday, October 30
    “He comes and goes,” Lina said, answering the question I had tried not to let on I was asking. “His mom used to be here, so he would come check on her. And of course he used to work here, too.”
    I tried to sound nonchalant, moving my right foot and presenting Lina with my left; she was painting my toenails a dark metallic blue.
    “What did he do here?”
    “Um, everything. His family’s all performers way back. Mostly acrobats and wire work and stuff. His mother used to fly when she was young. I know he did a bunch of acts when he was a kid. But he also ran a midway show for a while. Like a strongman, with the big hammer? We don’t have it anymore. It takes somebody really strong to make any money at it. And somebody who really knows how to reel in the townies.”
    I smiled. “So how long has he been gone? From Europa, I mean.”
    “Girl of a thousand questions today, aren’t we?” Lina wagged her eyebrows at me. “This sudden curiosity about Nick wouldn’t have anything to do with him being freakishly hot, would it?”
    I blushed. “I told you, he was super rude to me. I was just curious, that’s all. No big deal.”
    “Nope, clearly you don’t care at all.” Lina rolled her eyes. I was paying close attention, but even though she’d called him freakishly hot, there was no weirdness in her like there’d been with Jamie. Jamie, who I was definitely putting behind me, no matter how many

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