Carny Ch. 01byvelvetpie©
"Look at her."
Lance clapped me on the back and drew my attention to the front stage of the carnival's freak show. I'd only come here with my younger brother because of his obsession with Jim Rose, but the moment I saw Lacey. I was hooked.
She was sitting on a barstool on the stage next to a woman with a better beard than I'd been able to grow in my twenty years of life and she didn't look like the other participants. Their faces wore a mixture of sadness, anger, confusion and boredom but Lacey … she was beaming. When the barker came down to her, her smile widened and she swung her waist-length flaming red hair, her green eyes twinkling at the audience.
"Last, but not lease, let me introduce you to the most beautiful woman in our show. Let's hear a warm welcome for Lacey, the Legless Lady." She raised her arms in recognition and polite applause filled the air. The barker continued his spiel about the upcoming show and the curtain swung closed, just as our eyes met.
"Steven, let's buy a ticket."
"Okay." I herded Lance over to the ticket booth, bought two tickets and let my brother precede me inside the tent. The show began a few minutes later and I sat through the performances of the other sideshow entertainers before it was Lacey's turn.
"And now to mystify you with feats of superior strength, here's our beauty, Lacey, the Legless Lady."
The red curtains parted and Lacey came out, her toned and trim body now clad in a sequin-and-rhinestone suit that hugged her torso like a glove. I could have sworn that she was looking for me because when her eyes caught mine, her smile made heat torch my cheeks. She bowed to the audience but I returned her bow, wishing that it was just the two of us in the tent. Maybe I'd get a chance later.
Lacey began her routine, easily using her arms to propel her legless torso up the rope. She paused for effect at the top, then swung to the next rope, just barely catching it. People around us gasped and Lance grabbed my arm, his mouth hanging open.
"Did you see that?"
I nodded, unable to speak because I was afraid for her. If she missed the next rope, it was a long way down. Using the momentum from the rope she was swinging on, she arched her hips, let ho and sailed through the air. She caught the third rope and beamed, her gorgeous hair fanning out behind her.
"Oh, my gosh!"
I would have echoed my brother's words but I was holding my breath. The barker said something about the next trick and all eyes went skyward as the music changed, becoming dark and mysterious. She clung to the rope, her smile bright and cheery, as if she was trying to convince us that she was not facing death. She began to swing, stretching her hips back and forth to gain speed. Lance tightened his grip, his mouth still hanging open and I swallowed against the lump my throat, barely breathing.
When the rope was swaying back and forth so high that she was near the rafters, she let go and stretched her arms out in a legless swan dive. It was so beautiful that it was absolutely breathtaking. Just as she neared mid-air, still in a graceful free-fall, a rope swung out of nowhere and wrapped around her middle. Her hands caught fast and the end unwrapped, winging free and she slid down to the bottom, slapping just as she reached the motorized cart that she'd driven onstage. With a salute, she released the rope and landed safely in the cart's cushioned seat.
Riotous applause rent the air and Lance and I hugged each other, clapping like crazed, rabid fans. I breathed a sigh of relief, placing my hand over my heart when her eyes landed on mine. She smiled and pointed at the rear of the tent. I nodded, hoping that I was reading her motions correctly, that she wanted me to meet her at the back.
"Come on, Lance."
"We've got to go to the back?"
"They're not done yet!"
"Fine. You stay here and finish watching the show. I'll meet you at the car."
Lance turned away from me and we both watched as Lacey left the stage, smiling and waving and I excused my way through the crowd, heading for the curtained rear door and the huge man that gave me an evil eye.
"Excuse me, sir, I'm here to see Lacey."
"You and half the men in this room." He folded his massive arms across his equally as massive chest. "What the fuck makes you so special?"
"It's okay, Brutus. Let him back." The sound of her voice made a cold shiver run through me and I smiled at her. "He's all right."
"Okay, Lacey." She released the edge of the curtain, disappearing from sight but Brutus took a few long minutes to move, glaring at me. "You're only getting back there because she wants you back there but let me warn you, if you hurt her … "
"I won't, Brutus. Believe me, harming Lacey is the farthest thing from my mind."