Dedicated to anyone who stuck with this story all the way through.
SIX MONTHS LATER
This was it.
The glare of the spotlight danced across my face: not only the light, but blazing heat too, a hot wash over my skin. Every muscle in my body ached in protest. Sweat pooled at the back of my neck, a sticky patch right at the base of my ponytail, but I kept going.
As if my heart didn’t feel ready to burst right out of my chest. As if my arms weren’t trembling under the strain of my entire body weight.
I wouldn’t stop. I couldn’t stop. Because, in that moment, I’d never felt more alive.
I swung myself under the trapeze, hands gripping the wooden bar, with enough strength for the momentum to leave me vertical. Two seconds of perfect balance, toes pointed in the air. And then it was time to move on: a moment to right myself again, before my legs were curling themselves in the rope, my torso bending with them. I could hear nothing but the raw beat of the music, with none of its instrumental embellishments: just the pulsing rhythm that had to match my exact movements.
The track was swelling, my pace increasing with the knowledge that the end of the routine was approaching. Silver may have changed some elements over the past few months, but our big finish remained the same as ever. I uncoiled my legs from the rope, my feet landing on the bar. Then, I rolled forward, until I was beneath it all again.
A kick of the legs, perfect timing, and I was launched into the air. For a brief moment, I was soaring, before the time came to tuck myself into the tight somersault I now had down to a T.
As I landed on my feet, arms stretched above my head, the applause was deafening. It was almost like I could feel it working its way into my body, fighting off the fatigue already seeping into my muscles, filling my head with a euphoric sensation nothing else could induce.
It continued long after the lights were shut off, plunging the ring into darkness. As I made my exit, I felt as if I were riding on it: a tangible mass that carried me all the way backstage.
“You were incredible out there!”
I heard the voice before I could determine where it was coming from. Seconds later, emerging from behind a crowd of people congregated near my spot, I saw Silver rushing toward me. It may have been a show night, but for once she wasn’t in costume; instead, the first hints of a baby bump were visible beneath her T-shirt. I’d barely got to my feet before she threw herself at me, pulling my stiff form into a bone-crushing hug that rendered us both motionless.
When I was finally released, a breathy laugh escaped me. “Thanks, Silv.”
“God, you two make me wish I was still up there with you,” she said, sighing a little wistfully.
Silver may have had a hard time stepping down from her spot on the trapeze, but I knew she was far more excited for the baby due in months to come. Initially, we’d considered finding a replacement to preserve the act that always been a trio, but she soon made other plans. We didn’t even need her, Silver decided – before setting down to re-choreograph the entire piece for two. Kendra and I had been skeptical at first, but a few shows in, and we came to realize it actually worked.
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For seventeen-year-old Corey Ryder, life on the road is all she's ever known. A trainee trapeze artist in her aunt's circus, she's never found herself in one place for more than a few weeks at a time. For her, it's a way of life. But when a tragic a...