Home > Freeks(9)

Author: Amanda Hocking

We’d made out for a while, but I’d stopped things before they got too heated. I liked having fun, but last night just hadn’t felt like the right time to take things further. Gabe hadn’t seemed to mind when I put the brakes on, and we ended up just talking for a long time.

I’d told him about my mom and offered a few stories about my life, being as vague as possible when it came to the who, what, and where. I’d intentionally left out anything that might connect me to a traveling circus, dodging his questions as artfully as I could.

It’d gotten so late that I’d begun to fall asleep, and Gabe suggested I spend the night. I considered going home, but it was a bit of a walk, and honestly, every chance I had to sleep in a real house on a real bed, I took it. I’d said that I didn’t mind sharing a bed with Gabe as long as it was just for sleeping, but he’d insisted on taking the floor.

I slid out of bed slowly to avoid any creaking or sound. I thought about waking Gabe up, so he could take the bed, but I didn’t want to have that awkward morning-after conversation. Even though we’d both been sober last night and hadn’t done that much, in the harsh light of morning, everything always felt so much more uncomfortable.

I waited until I was downstairs to slip my shoes and jean jacket back on, and then I snuck out the front door without waking anyone. The walk back to camp was a little confusing, even in a town as small as Caudry, and I nearly got lost.

I made it back just as people were waking up. Betty Bates had already done a load of laundry and was hanging it out on the line to dry. A voluptuous woman in her forties, she would’ve been considered a real beauty by most if it weren’t for the thick beard below her lipsticked smile.

Her husband, Damon, was well over six feet tall and as pale as a ghost, but that’s not why he’d joined the sideshow. It was the fully developed third leg he had, that looked particularly odd as he carried a basket of clothes over to Betty.

As I made my way in through trailers, I saw that the tiger run was being set up for Zeke Desmond’s two tigers, Safēda and Mahilā. It had been six years since Zeke and his tigers had joined our little band of travelers, but I still hadn’t stopped being amazed by the giant cats.

Safēda was a rare white Siberian tiger, with gray stripes so light, they were barely visible. When I approached the cage, Safēda rubbed her head up against the metal bars. The cage was on wheels, making it easier to slide on and off a trailer, and it sat a few feet off the ground, so I reached through, stroking her thick fur as she walked past.

Her sister Mahilā was much younger, and she had the light golden-and-white color of the offspring of a white tiger. Zeke had rescued her from a circus that hadn’t been as kind, and her beautiful fur was broken by jagged scars from being beaten. She was much more leery of people, and stayed hidden at the back of the cage.

“Good morning, pretty girl,” I said as I ran my hands through Safēda’s lush fur.

“Well, well, look at what the cat dragged in,” Seth snickered, and I looked away from the tiger to see him carrying a heavy metal gate over his head as he walked past me.

“Funny,” I said dryly.

I quit petting Safēda, and when I stepped away from the cage to follow Seth, the tiger reached her giant paw out through the bars, trying to stop me, and I had to duck out of the way.

“So did you stay out all night again?” Seth asked me.

“It seems that way,” I replied coyly.

Seth set the gate down next to the other fencing he’d been putting up for the tigers’ outdoor pen next to their traveling cage. It had been built to withstand two charging 600-pound tigers, and yet he moved it with ease. He was well-muscled, but his strength surpassed that.

Like many of us in the traveling sideshow, he’d been born with something that made him different. Some were more human conditions, like Betty’s beard, but others came from something supernatural. Seth possessed a strength beyond reason, and I’d seen him lift a pickup truck off the ground with his bare hands before.

“Where’s Blossom?” Seth asked, glancing over at me as he walked back to the trailer to get more pieces of the fencing.

“What do you mean?” I looked around, as if expecting my occasional roommate to be standing behind me.

“She wasn’t with you?” Seth paused and turned back to face me.

Sometimes Blossom went out with me to explore the town, but most of the time, I went on my own. Since we lived on the road in a traveling show with fifty other people, I enjoyed the solitude that the long walks provided.

I shook my head. “No, she wasn’t with me last night. She probably crashed at my trailer.”

“I don’t think so.” Seth’s brow furrowed in concern. “Your mom was going around looking for the both of you. Gideon calmed her down by telling her that you guys must be together, so you’d be safe.”

“Crap,” I whispered. “Thanks for giving me the heads-up. I should go make sure my mom’s fine, and see if Blossom made it back yet.”

As I rushed through the campsite, I told myself that I shouldn’t be worried. Blossom was sixteen and a runaway. Sometimes she went off on her own, and she could handle herself.

But I felt that strange chill growing inside me again, the one that I’d felt when we’d arrived at Caudry.

I opened the battered screen door to the Winnebago and my eyes immediately darted to the small bench where Blossom slept. It was empty, and though I wasn’t really surprised, my heart sank to my stomach.

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