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I looked around, everything was hazy, fuzzy, as if my eyes weren't coming completely into focus. It was a bright summer day, flowers all around, blue skies. My brother, Alex, was playing a few feet away from me, and my older sister Claire was climbing a tree. It was everything childhood should look like, happy and carefree.

I looked up just in time to see her fall. Then a second later she was laying on the grass beneath, not moving. I screamed, and my brother dashed into the house. My mom came running. She bent over Claire and I saw the tears streaming down her face.

"Tyler! Tyler honey, call 911, hurry!" She screamed.

I stood there frozen, eyes wide, unable to make my body do what she told. It was as if another person was in control of my body, forcing me to stay there.

She continued to scream at me. I just sat there, unmoving. After what seemed like an eternity, she ran to call the number herself. I stayed there, eyes locked on my lifeless sister. I thought of what she had said to me the night before, how she had promised to take me to the aquarium for my birthday. Sitting there, I knew somehow she would never be able to keep that promise. I couldn't accept it, I never would.

All of the sudden everything went black. I couldn't see anything, and I felt sick; it was as if I was falling. It was complete and utter darkness, loneliness. When I could see again, I was at my sister's funeral service. My parents were huddled together, my mom crying in my dad's arms. I could feel part of my world slipping away and an empty spot inside, eating away that innate sense of happiness that comes with childhood. My brother stood by himself, weeping, not crying, weeping was a better word. And obviously trying not to, but unsuccessfully. I stood alone, a cold hard lump of loss and depression forming in my throat. I didn't cry; I was too sad to cry anymore. Funny that sorrow can cut so deep you can't shed any more tears.

The world crumbled around me, the air swallowed everything, and again, there was nothing but darkness. The unfeeling blackness surrounding me. A deep voice cut through and screamed, "Why didn't you call 911 Tyler? It's all your fault! They would have gotten there sooner and saved her! It's your fault boy…your fault." It was my father's voice. He had blamed me; he needed a scapegoat for his grief and anger. I was it.

I woke up in a cold sweat. It was only a dream, it was only a damn dream. I told myself that over and over again in my mind. But no, it wasn't just a dream, it was a memory. An indentation on my mind. I hugged my arms and rocked back and forth. I kept my best memories on my mind and forced away the bad.

I shoved away the sheets and put my foot on the floor. 5:00pm, argh, I slept in. I stretched and went to the bathroom to get ready for another night at the circus where I worked. My apartment was dark, only a little bit of light leaked in through the blinds. I lived in an apartment in New York City. It was roomy, big enough for a small family. I was single.

A loud yell told me that my neighbor, Mrs. Johnson, was watching a baseball game. She was old as sin, and could barely hear, but she never missed a game. Her cat, Orion, was pawing at my door. He was a mangy little thing, but he loved me. Then again, maybe he just loved my food. I walked into the living room and opened the door. He scrambled in and went straight to the kitchen. Smart cat.

I walked in and opened the refrigerator, grabbing the milk and some chicken from last night's dinner. Orion watched me like a hawk, his eyes the only part of him that moved. As soon as I put it down he was there, gobbling it down as if he hadn't eaten in days. Though I knew he had.

My kitchen was rather small; it had a table with two chairs, an oven, and a refrigerator. There was a small crack in the wall where a knife had been shoved into it. Thinking about it, I shuddered. A man had broken in once, tried to kill me and take my money. He had shoved the knife into the wall accidentally; he'd been aiming for my head. I had gotten another lock on my door after that

I walked back into the living room, yawning. It had been a long night, two shows. The circus was my home away from home, no worries, no problems, no complaints, "hakuna matata" at it's best. The people of the circus were my family, the only family I had left. My best friend Cassandra worked as a trapeze artist, she was my closest friend, she knew all about me and she didn't judge me for it. She listened. I had been attracted to her once upon a time, not because she's drop dead gorgeous, but because she is so loving, and understanding. A harder person might have called it a weakness in her character. I disagreed

I got a shower, and got dressed. Nothing too nice, I would be changing as soon as I got there. My boss, Vince, picked out our costumes, said he knew what the people wanted. Yeah, he knew alright. It was usually something so tight it had it had to be peeled off after the show, or it was black, sadistic. Vince and I didn't get along too well. We made money for each other, so we put up with each other. Call it free enterprise.

My shirt had the name of some new club on it. A knife thrower, Abby, had given it to me. She was a sweet girl, dated one of the bartenders there. I decided I'd wear it to make her happy. Other than that I had no clue as to what it was. It seemed dark, gothic. It was black, and in strange gray letters it said "The Underworld" plain and simple. I had a pair of faded jeans on along with it. Hey, fashion wasn't my thing, so shoot me.

I grabbed my bag of "circus stuff" as I liked to call it (I'm just so darn original), and went to the door, whistling for Orion as I got there. He came bounding out and clawed my ankle until the door opened. I let him out and locked the door behind me. I glanced down. Oh, great, I'm bleeding. I ignored it and went down the steps to the parking lot.

A group of guys-loiters as the police would have said-were standing around in the corner near me. One of them, a tall black man, looked at me, and let out a string of words that would have made his mother blanch, if she'd been there to hear them. I opened my mouth to say "colorful" but clamped it shut. I knew better than to anger them. They milled around, checking me out, looking for something to bother me about. They didn't seem to find anything, and got back to whatever they were doing before I came. I got to my car and unlocked the door. It was a Jeep, great for roughing it out in the wilderness, which I never did.

I drove to the circus, letting my mind wander idly. Why was I still dreaming of my sister's death? Did I still blame myself? I guess I did, whenever I thought of it that same rush of guilt washed over me again. God Ty, look at yourself. You're 24 years old and still stuck on something that happened 14 years ago. It wasn't your fault, dad was just grieving, and it was an accident. There was nothing you could do to stop it, and ruining your life over it now is not going to bring her back. She's gone…

I zoned out for a minute, lost in thought. I came out it when an old lady flipped me off (what's the world coming to?); I had just run a red light. Oops.

I brought the jeep to a halt in the parking lot. I looked in the mirror and realized I still looked a mess. I ran my fingers through my auburn hair, trying to get it a little more reasonable. When it looked half decent I climbed out the door. The security guard waved at me as I went by, recognizing me. I opened the door. There was a lot of confusion, people rushing around to prepare. A black haired girl nearly bowled me over. She straightened up and smiled at me.

"Sorry Ty, I'm in a big rush, have you seen what Vince wants is to wear tonight?" Cassandra sounded like Vince had probably picked out something bad. Goody.

"It's ok Cass, I just got here. So, can the costumes be that bad tonight?"

"Yes, and they can be worse. You know how Vince is, if isn't tight, it's not fashionable. He just doesn't know when to draw the line. One of these days I'm just going to refuse to put on what he gives us."

Oh yay, another lovely costume. I sighed. "Well I guess I better go find out for myself. Sometimes I wonder where he finds this stuff. Other times, I just don't think I want to know."

She grinned. "Tonight, I don't think you want to know. See you in a few minutes, I just have to get my makeup on, then I'm going to attempt to put on the costume. The keyword there is "attempt."

She went back to her dressing room, and I went to mine. It had my name on it. Gee, another way for Vince to kiss up to me. I unlocked it and flipped the light on. There was a box on the dressing table. My costume. Hurray. I opened it and rolled my eyes. Typical. There was a soft black shirt in there that was so small Cassandra could have worn it. It was sleeveless, and had silver sequins lining it. The pants were identical, sequin lined and so small I was afraid I'd rip it, in spite of the stretchy material. I sighed. I guess he'd given us worse before. I wasn't looking forward to packing myself into it, but I had no choice. I could barely imagine what Cassandra had to fit into. It made me grateful I was male.

Oh well. Here goes nothing. I put it on, and looked in the mirror. Hmm, I had worn worse, I guess. I combed my hair and ran some gel through it. Then went for makeup. Vince insisted we do our own makeup, and that we wear tons of it. He supplied small rhinestones, which went around our eyes. I put a few around the outside of my eyes and applied some deep gray eye shadow. That was all I did, Vince wanted me to wear all of it, but I only did eye makeup, anything else and I would have looked more like a clown than an acrobat. Makeup, on guys. Colorful. No, scratch that. Fruity.

I walked out, fully ready. A small crowd of performers milled around in the corridor. I went straight for a small room where I liked to wait before shows. Cassandra and Matt, and a few other trapeze artists, sat on a small couch. Cassandra gave me a half smile; she seemed pretty uncomfortable. I didn't blame her; Vince had done it again. She had on a tank top, tight as possible, that was shortened to reveal her bellybutton and lower stomach. There were matching shorts that came to her upper thigh. Where the shorts ended, straps took over, wrapping around her legs. Everything was black, with silver sequins at the seams.

Matt's clothes were identical to mine. He didn't seem too happy, but hey, it's hard to complain when the girl next to you isn't wearing enough cloth to cover a small doll.

"And I was coming to complain about my clothes," I said.

"Don't even start." Cass said, coldly.

Matt just laughed, a deep rich sound that seemed all too welcome in his football player body. He was about 6'3" and muscular. He had been the star athlete in his school not too long ago. Then afterwards, reality hit. That popularity wouldn't get him a job or a home. So he went to the circus. Where have I heard that one before?

I sat down next to Cass and her a big "trying-not-to-laugh" smile. She didn't seem too amused, which made it all the harder.

"Hey, look at it this way," I said, "He could make us perform nude…"

Cass and Matt laughed; it was strange to hear his deep masculine laugh intertwined with her delicate feminine one.

"Don't give him any ideas." Cass grinned. At first I wasn't so sure she was joking. Silly me.

Matt leaned back in the couch and put his hands over his eyes. He looked strangely tired. I wondered what was wrong. Late night possibly? I didn't know, and it was none of my business, so I didn't ask. I could ask Cass about it later. Matt got up just then. He walked to the mirror and played around with his makeup.

"Stupid crap." He growled. "I don't know why he insists we wear it. I can understand Cassandra having to wear it, but why Tyler and me? I'm gonna have a talk with Vince, I'm beginning to get sick of his ridiculous "conditions" around here. Why can't we dress like normal acrobats?"

I was puzzled. Why was Matt acting so strange all of a sudden? He rarely talked, much less complained. And he looked different too. He was pale, his eyes slightly sunken in. His muscles rippled under his skin when he clenched his hands on the chair. Muscles I hadn't even known were there before now. And why the formal talk? "Cassandra," and, "Tyler." Whatever happened to Cass and Ty? And why so angry with Vince? I understood the normal annoyance directed at him, but there was deep anger in his eyes. It was frightening. Cass seemed to notice it too. She cocked her head to one side at me in confusion.

The door opened just then, and Natasha peeked in.

"You guys are up in two minutes." She winked at me, and I did all I could to keep from groaning aloud. Natasha had had a crush on me since I came here. Twenty-three years old, she was the magician's assistant (i.e. the girl in skimpy clothes who disappears or gets sawed in half). Vince picked out her clothes too; the difference was that she liked them. Tonight she had on a black jumpsuit with holes strategically placed to reveal her skin, without revealing anything the kiddies aren't supposed to see. Her black hair was done in some sort of post-modern do that would have looked more suitable on the head of some big movie star, or in a fashion show, rather than a circus. The magician, a forty-five year old man, seemed all too happy to have her around.

"Better hurry!" She said. She closed the door and walked down the hall giggling. I kid you not, the girl giggled.

We stood up and went to the door together. The excitement of the performance rushing through our veins. It was the same every show, that same feeling of excitement, even though we had been in the circus together for years.

We met with Vince in the hallway. "Good luck guys, I know you won't let me down." He gave us his big customer-charming smile. But there was something different; a tension to his shoulders that wasn't normal.

"What's up Vince? You never greet us before the show. And you only reserve that smile for customers." I asked.

His jaw clenched and unclenched and he wiped his forehead nervously. "Nothing's up! What could I be planning that I wouldn't tell you about?" He exclaimed with the vein in his neck slightly visible.

"Give it up Vince, you couldn't act if your life depended on it."

"Would I keep anything from you?" Vince's voice was uneven. Something was up. The trick was finding out just what it was.

Matt stepped up. "Cut the crap and tell us what you're planning." He grabbed Vince's collar and yanked it a little. "We know you're up to something, and I don't want to hafta drag it outta you, not when there's a show to be done."

Vince looked startled. Frankly, I was startled myself. Matt had never been known for that macho shit.

Vince gulped visibly and gave in. "Alright! I did some extra work for tonight's show…there's a huge agent in the audience, looking for new talent and such. If he finds one…the circus will be getting some mucho bucks…"

"What does that have to do with us?" Matt growled.

"I…I…" He stuttered.


"You're performing without a net tonight." Vince sighed, and his words were barely audible, but the effect was the same.

"You WHAT?" Cassandra shrieked. "Vince, our contracts clearly state that we can withdraw ourselves from this circus, if we find conditions to be unfavorable. We have never performed without a net before, EVER. I'm sorry but, we can walk right now, because that trapeze without a net seems pretty damn unfavorable to me."

"You can do it! You guys have been performing together for years! I have no reason to believe you'll be injured!"

"You better hope we don't," Matt hissed, "cause if anything, ANYTHING, happens to us, you're the one who's gonna pay. And I don't just mean outta your wallet."

Vince smiled nervously, and backed up, adjusting his collar and ugly tie where they'd been jerked out of place. "You'll be just fine, really, now go make me…er…the circus, look good." He graced us with another cheesy not-real smile and dashed off.

"God." Cass said, "That bastard's going to hear what I have to say about this later. Right now, we have a show to do."

We walked grimly to the entrance. I was rather peeved myself. I had joined, believing I was perfectly safe. Hah, I should have known something would happen. Vince was money hungry, and if some danger made a good show, he'd risk it. Well, only if he wasn't involved in the dangerous part. My mind was racing with snide comments I'd have liked to have made, but in the back of my mind, something was still bothering me. What was with Matt? He had always seemed harmless as a fly; now, I wasn't so sure. He had used his size to intimidate Vince. That just felt wrong. The image I had had of him for so long somehow went from Boy Scout to bully in the blink of an eye.

My chain of thought was broken when we reached the door. The crowd was waiting impatiently. Cassandra peeked in and I caught a glimpse. The ringmaster was in the middle of the floor with a microphone in his hand. He was about to introduce us. I looked up and saw the trapeze. Oh…God. It was so high. Higher than the tree my sister fell from, died from. Higher than I ever noticed. I took deep breaths and closed my eyes. Why was I nervous? It was just like any other night…. Any other night that there's a chance I could fall and die. Yeah. Just like any other night all right. I glanced at Cass, she looked how I felt: scared.

* * *

"I'm telling ya Vince! It's Vahn in the third, Lucy in the fourth, and Goldie in the sixth! It's the perfect trifecta! So whaddaya say? Comin with me?" Stan, the ringmaster, was leaning over Vince's desk, pointing wildly at horse's stats.

"Now Stan, you know I bet my share last night, I can't empty my pockets two nights in a row. My wife would murder me," Vince whined. Yes, I kid you not, he whined, like a five year old who wants candy.

Stan looked like he'd jump out of his own skin; his eyes had a greedy twinkle in them.

"Come on Vince my boy! It's a shoe in! You won't regret it! I'm tellin' ya!"

I cleared my throat impatiently, waiting for them to realize I was waiting. I was accustomed to the usual discussions over the racetrack. I rolled my eyes and hummed to myself.

It's not that Stan is a bad person, not at all. He was in fact very kind-hearted. But he was an alcoholic, and spent his wages at the racetrack. His wife threatened to leave him, but she still hadn't. I don't think she could even if she tried, she loved him too much.

"Well...ah…err…" Vince made a gravelly noise deep in this throat and gave in. "Ok Stan, I'll come, but I won't be comin for a while after this, my wife is gonna make me sleep on the couch as is." He smiled (another fake, but hey, practice makes perfect), and looked at me. The smile faded and his eyes widened slightly. He couldn't hide his feelings if he wore a mask. "Ahh…Stan…can you excuse me? I'll meet ya at the tracks, usual time." He ran a grubby hand over his closely shaven head and waved to Stan. Stan snickered and left with a bounce in his step.

Vince was, by no means, an attractive man. His eyes were the color of mud, his hair a blonde that was almost white, and it was so closely shaven you could see scalp. He smiled and waved me to the seat in front of his desk. His eyes twinkled, and with eyes the color of mud, twinkling had to be a real challenge. He was trying to butter me up. How sweet.
"So Ty, you need something?" He folded his hands and leaned in a bit. His face was attempting to convey congeniality. It made me sick.

"Yeah." I made that one word as cold and slicing as possible.

It seemed to have had the right effect. Vince blanched for a split second then went into a completely empty face. Or as empty as he could force it. I preened inwardly. Hah, I can make him nervous. It was immensely satisfying. I planned on having a nice chat about his stunt with the net. Everything had gone just fine, in fact it went perfectly. Matt had even added extra flair. But that was beside the point. The point was that he had violated our agreements.

"So Vince, how's it goin?" The sudden change from anger to everyday chitchat made him a fumble a bit, and he answered with a nervous twinge in his voice.

"Ah…just fine Ty, just fine…just handling some of the finances and stuff. I ah…listen I'm kinda busy, is there some other time we could discuss this…?"

"Funny, you didn't seem busy oooh-" I glanced at my watch "-50 seconds ago." I leaned back and fed him one of his own fake smiles. It never became a full smile, it lingered at the mouth but the eyes and other features were still as cold as possible. He fidgeted nervously in a way that would have annoyed the heck out of most people. He tried to smile back, but he couldn't meet my eyes and ended up staring at my chest.

"Oh, that, just making plans with Stan, ya know, nothing big, I really am rather busy and if you could just catch me later I could talk as long as you want about anything really," he said to my left shoulder. He was babbling. I just sat back comfortably and let him ramble.

"Yeah. Of course. Racetracks are the best place to go after a hard nights work, go blow the circus money eh ol' pal?" I said rather amusedly.

Vince looked like he'd just swallowed a very slimy worm. "Now Ty, you know I would never spend the circus money at the tracks. I…" The phone cut him off. He picked it up and his eyes screamed "SWEET SALVATION!" He put his hand over the receiver and turned back to me. "Ty, I'm sorry. I have to take this call, come back later, I'd really like to continue this conversation, really."

"Save it. That won't be necessary Vince. I think you caught my drift. I was very pissed about what you did tonight. Remember that next time you get any crazy ideas." I walked out the door, leaving Vince more than a little frazzled. I knew he'd caught my point. He may act stupid, but he wasn't ignorant. I left the circus with a gratifying feeling. I went out to my car and stopped. There was a small letter on my windshield…

Oi! Didja like it? Come on, pleeeeeeeeease review? i wuv you o.o;;;; Okie anyhoo, tell me if you like it and/or if i should continue on.