Chapter Five

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            She lived in Sherwood.

            It seemed strange that I hadn’t known, but then again, it wasn’t like I had a reason to. Aunt Shelby had told me years ago that I’d spent the first two years of my life – pre-Mystique – in California, but through fifteen years of travelling, this knowledge had hardly been of a significance. I’d always known my roots were planted somewhere, but nothing more specific. After all, I was a circus performer. I wasn’t at home with stable ground beneath my feet.

            The address was 42 Umber Court. It had been printed in Aunt Shelby’s neat handwriting on a slip of paper, which I’d folded four times and slid into my back pocket. Every so often I’d take it out, running my eyes over the lines again, as if the letters might’ve rearranged themselves in the time I hadn’t been watching. But no matter how many times I went back to check, the ink remained in its original position, clinging to the fibers of the paper with strange permanence.

            For somebody who formed the sole reason for my existence, the few words seemed an oddly little amount to know. A name and address: that was all I had to go on.

            The conversation with Aunt Shelby, now five days ago, had been far from smooth. Naturally, I’d adamantly protested against the idea of being separated from the circus, and with that, my entire livelihood. I couldn’t imagine living in anything other than a trailer, to wake up every morning for anything but a training session and three rehearsals. I couldn’t visualize not being able to walk a few yards and end up on the doorstep of anybody I wanted. And above all, it was unbearable to think of spending each day doing anything other than coiling myself around a trapeze.

            I’d done my best, but her decision was firm. While Mystique’s future lay tainted by uncertainty, mine was not going to be. She was not leaving me amongst it all, she’d said. And with my mother already having set up residence years ago in that very town, my argument had soon run thin.

            As much as it scared me, I knew it too well: there was no changing her plans. No matter how fiery my argument might’ve been, or how loudly I kicked and screamed about not leaving, it wouldn’t have made any difference. A week later, and I’d still find myself here: halfway down Umber Court and drawing to a reluctant halt outside number forty-two.

            Aunt Shelby had wanted to come with me. She’d insisted – so much so that it seemed likely she’d tail me the entire journey there, regardless. But, as strange as it sounded, this was something I knew I had to do alone. Coming face to face with my mother after fifteen years was going to be a turning point in my life, however it turned out, and I felt the inexplicable need to prove to myself I could handle it.

            She gave in eventually. The goodbye, minutes ago now, as she’d dropped me off in the car several streets away, had been tearful. I’d promised myself I wouldn’t cry, mostly because I needed to convince myself that this arrangement was only short-term. It was temporary: a quick-fix solution that would last only until Mystique could get back on its feet.

            Which it would. There was no question about it; this, here, wouldn’t be the end. Or so I kept telling myself.

            My lack of tears weren’t a problem; Aunt Shelby cried enough for the both of us. She told me over and over that she was sorry, that she was only doing this for the best. She didn’t seem to be listening when I told her I was going to be fine, and wouldn’t let me go for at least two minutes when we finally leaned in for a hug.

            Only in that one moment did I let myself cling to her – to let a sliver of emotion break through my outer shell. I took a deep breath, inhaling the mixed scent of detergent and perfume that I’d grown used to over the years. It was, perhaps, the only thing more familiar than the feel of wood and rope in my palms.

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