“Stop looking at your feet,” her father yelled from the ring below.
Sheryl jerked her chin up. She reached out with her toes and found only air. Before she had time to correct she was falling. Her father wanted her to work without a net, but she refused.
“Concentrate,” he father growled. He was standing next to the net. She turned her head when she stopped bouncing and caught his eye. He threw a hand up in the air and walked away.
“You told me to look up. I can’t see the rope when I look up,” she said to his retreating back.
Everyone in the ring stopped. Sheryl listened to her breathing, still rapid from the terror of her fall. Her father froze a dozen steps away.
Without turning, he said, “do it again. Ten laps on the rope with your head up. If you fall start again at one.”
When he strode away she let out the breath she’d been holding. The noise level in the ring slowly increased. Pedro started juggling again. Her cousin spun her hoop. The knife thrower and his wife went back to arguing.
Sheryl let out a sigh and headed over to the ladder to get back to her tightrope.
When she finished her tenth lap Pedro was sitting on the platform waiting for her. She knew the ring was empty, but she glanced around before sinking into his lap. “You waited for me.”
“You knew I would.”
She pulled him closer by his lapels and kissed him. “I have to go before he sees me.”
The next day she joined her father at his table for breakfast.
“I am not going to say yes to college,” her father said.
Sheryl rolled her eyes. “I want more than this life.”
“I am the ringmaster now. How would it look if my only daughter left? Go get changed. You need more practice in your performance clothes.”
“They itch. I want to go to college.”
He frowned at her. In his ringmaster voice instead of his father voice he said, “now.”
She walked past Pedro and for the first time let her father see her eyes were drawn to the juggler. Pedro didn’t move. She smiled at him, and he smiled back.
“Work, not boys,” her father said.
“I‘ve seen you looking at Pedro,” her father said a few nights later as they helped the others take down the tent.
Sheryl turned to face her father. “You won’t let me go to college, you won’t let me do something other than tightrope, and you won’t let me date a circus guy.”
“Your mother wants you to stay. I need you to stay.”
“I will stay for him,” she said. She looked across the field at Pedro and her cousin helping some of the others load one of the trucks.
“Pedro,” her father yelled.
Pedro turned and started toward them. Before he was halfway across the field Sheryl was in his arms kissing him hard on the mouth.