The circus is a place for the unusual, a sanctuary for the wanderer. For the circus knife thrower Jake Gallinari, it was the place he stumbled to as a child. He arrived broken in spirit and body, hungering for affection. He found love, acceptance, and a family to call his own.
Blaine Leander needed a sanctuary as well. The lion tamer had no idea that he would one day see his mate in the circus, no less. For seven years he’s watched Jake grow into a man, afraid to take the step to make Jake his own.
It’s summer, and with the bright sun and the blue sky, these two men have a chance for life to change.
Just what will it take to make that happen?
Jake would go on. He had to. He moved quickly, his breathing harsh and ragged. He was tired—tired of running, of stumbling in the dark. He’d waited until they had all gone to sleep to leave. His mom and stepdad Brad had been talking about this camping trip for weeks, eager to rub elbows with the higher-ups, to gain a foothold in their dreams of joining the upper crust. Brad had even stopped drinking the last few days, more excited about the preparation for the trip than chugging down strong-smelling cups of the dark poison that brought out the evil in his stepfather. There’d been no hiding for Jake in the pitch black of his bedroom. He’d been afraid to step outside his door because he knew there was something he’d do to anger the volatile man who didn’t want Jake calling him Dad.
He’d had to struggle to move out of Brad’s spidery touches when they were just a little too much to the left of weird as he gripped Jake and yanked him close, leaving gusts of liquor saturated breath across his skin. He’d tried to tell his mom, but she’d laughed at him and told him to go away. She’d said there was nothing he had that Brad wanted. She’d hissed that he wasn’t Brad’s kid, was barely hers. Yeah, he knew that. He’d never forget it. Every new scar Brad layered into his skin would make sure of it.
The last few days, he’d been fighting hunger. Even that was nothing new. Jake was always hungry except at school. At home, the food he’d scavenged at the back of the almost-empty fridge helped a little. The crackers and packages of trail mix were good, the ones with the fake candy-coated peanuts were the best. He missed them, his stomach rumbling as he scurried beneath tree branches, stumbling along as quickly as he could. Instead of focusing on hunger pains, his mind stayed on getting away. How many chances would he have? He had to take this opportunity, so desperate for freedom, to finally be safe, he was willing to risk dying.
Not making things any better was the discomfort of the new clothes he wore. Jake’s new jeans chafed the skin between his legs. The new hiking shoes bit at his toes, boots his mother had insisted he wear. Before the stupid hiking trip, he’d been cold for so long he could feel the ice in his veins.
Sure, he’d needed a jacket, the one he wore too decorated with holes to be considered fashionable. His jeans were the same. And he wore one of three new t-shirts purchased for him without being asked his opinion. Hell, it wasn’t until Brad realized his rags wouldn’t impress the families sharing the camping trip with them, the people with their nice kids and stellar education, that they’d taken him shopping anyway. The upper crust families wouldn’t be impressed with a kid with haunted eyes and gaunt cheekbones, a kid who wore bruises like tribal tattoos. So, the last few weeks had been devoted to making him look normal. New clothes, food—but never enough to heal the pains in his belly—a weighty canvas jacket and boots so tight they made his eyes water, too small but just the right price.
And shouldn’t he be grateful for them?
“Wipe your eyes, shut your fucking mouth, and put them on before I give you something to cry about,” his mother had threatened.
So he left them on. Had to be better than whatever Brad could and would do to him.
When they’d arrived at the site, the other families moved off to give each other some space. When it was time to bed down for the night, Jake had tried to help. He didn’t know much, had never camped before, but when his efforts only earned him a concealed jab in the ribs, he knew to stay out of the way.
Later, Jake waited in another tent, waited until everyone was asleep, until the quiet from Brad’s grunts and his mother’s moans had settled across the campsite. When he’d heard gentle snores instead of their lovemaking, he’d reached underneath the paper-thin sleeping bag, thrown on his new ill-fitting clothing, pulled back the flimsy opening of the tent, and taken off.
Now he stopped for a breath and listened. Nothing. He gulped in some air and traveled on.
He saw the glow of lights. Lights had to mean warmth, right? He could hear the music of the circus. He’d never been there, but he’d seen pictures in books and on the screen in school. He knew they would be close. He’d asked the kids who’d already been, and they were too happy to tell him of the sights, the smells, of the acrobats, the knife thrower, and the bearded lady. They’d flushed with remembered delight when they gushed about the food, their descriptions so detailed, Jake’s mouth had watered in anticipation. Now, he’d have his chance to see it all and maybe have his belly filled with the savory morsels he’d envisioned.
He could hear the traditional calliope There would be people and places where he could hide. He pulled his jacket closer to his body and headed that way. He was cold, his hands frozen, and it was difficult to see. He missed the fallen branch and realized his error too late, falling like one of those women in a horror movie. He was thrown to the side, his head slamming into the nearest tree. And then everything went dark.