Chapter Twenty-Four

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            There was a moment of silence on the other end of the line, and it seemed to go on forever.

            I lay frozen on the bed, hardly daring to move a muscle, as if this would somehow jinx the outcome. What felt like an eternity must’ve crawled by before I finally heard the voice speak again, like my words had taken a long time to make the journey. And when it did, I didn’t exactly get the reply I’d been holding out for.

            “What?”

            I wondered if I hadn’t made myself clear enough. “It’s Corey.”

            Another pause, and some rustling in the background. “No, no, I got that part. I just… What are you talking about?”

            “What else would I be talking about?” I asked. A frown had slipped onto my face; in my head, I’d imagined this to go a whole lot better. “This place, of course. And the circus. I want to come back.”

            He laughed then, though I couldn’t see the humor in the situation. “Yeah. Right. You know, you really need to work on your prank calls, Corey. Maybe look up some fresh ideas on the internet, or something?”

            “This isn’t a prank call,” I told him. “I’m serious. I don’t want to be here anymore. I’m coming back to the circus.”

            Maybe he sensed I was serious then, because his laughter dried up pretty quickly. “Whoa, whoa, whoa. What’s going on?”

            I took a deep breath, pulling myself into a sitting position with my knees against my chest. I would have to recount the situation, go over everything I’d gone through in the painful mess of today. Every impulse in my body was fighting to forget it, but I forced myself to swallow over it. Regardless of how difficult it may have been, the words had to come out.

            “The kids at school found out.”

            All at once, the recollection of Landon’s stinging words came back to me, with as much impact as the first time around. Fucking circus freak. It felt as if the label had been plastered on my forehead, with the permanence of a tattoo, plain for everybody to see.

            The other end of the line was quiet, so I took it as my cue to continue.

            “There was a misunderstanding between some people and I. Word got out and, well… gossip spread.”

            More silence. I felt the need to explain myself further.

            “This town’s different. It’s not as… forgiving as some of the others. They hate me.”

            “Corey…” There was something in his tone I couldn’t quite work out: something, even over the phone, I was sure I hadn’t heard before. Mine and Dave’s opinions overlapped more often than not, whether it was through coincidence or a choice on his end. Consequently, disagreements were few and far between. I’d grown used to the reassurance on his end; perhaps the only reason I’d let myself feel so settled in Sherwood was the passive knowledge that Dave would come back for me if it didn’t work out. Or so I’d assumed. “You can’t be telling me that everybody at school hates you.”

            “Maybe not,” I said, “but they’re all too scared of the ones that do to say otherwise.”

            There was another pause on his end; I was beginning to take each one as a bad sign. The conversation was definitely not swinging the way I’d been hoping for, and part of me was beginning to wonder if Dave had been the right person to turn to after all. I’d been seeking reassurance, comfort. The one person I’d thought guaranteed to give it was proving different.

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