Tether

Cal noticed when I walked into the bakery. He wiped his hand on the black sky of his apron, and a shy smile had spread across his face before the doorbell finished chiming. The smears of flour at his hips made me think of sex.

I decided to sit as far from where he was working as possible to test the tether between us. We’d only been dating five weeks, but I found myself wondering if I could resist his gravitational pull?

I placed my laptop on a table and arranged a few sample books for the Fogerty house. But blueprints and furniture catalogs could not compete with the spectacle of Cal in his natural environment. His biceps flexed as he kneaded dough; his large hands shaped and molded small planets of rye bread. His every action seemed risqué. And he knew I was watching him, too. He checked me with his eyes each time he ducked into the back room. He looped his thumbs around his tied apron strings and did a little tap dance while waiting to ring up customers.

After a half hour of this, he came over to my table and whispered, “You gotta stop watching me, dude.” He beamed; his crooked smile, pale eyes, and five-o-clock shadow reminding me again of some action/adventure star I’d seen somewhere. “I can’t concentrate.”

“Can’t help it. There are too many sweet things in this place.” His blush was a trophy. “All right. I’ll get to work.” Sighing, I plugged my ears with headphones and, as much as it pained me, ignored him.

Eventually, I fell into my work. The next time I looked up, about a half hour later, Cal was at the end of the counter talking to a pony-tailed woman with a thin pink scarf looped around her neck. I had to shift in my chair to see her face: the bridge of her nose rounded from brow to tip and her chin was soft. She looked nothing like Cal, whose face was all hard, straight lines.

Taking my headphones off, I heard her say she couldn’t wait for Saturday, then she shyly took both of his hands and stood on her tiptoes to kiss him. Cal’s eyes shot to me as she did it, giving me the answers to all of my questions.

Without thinking, I stood. “What the hell, Cal?”

One of my notebooks slammed on the floor. Everyone in the room was staring. The woman—still holding one of Cal’s hands—moved behind him. We stood like that for what seemed like forever.

“Cal?” the woman finally said. “Is something wrong?”

“I don’t know. Is something wrong, Will?” There was a warning in his words.

Yes.

No?

His lack of shame confounded me. Wasn’t he in the wrong here? This was about the time in the relationship when you’d find out you were with a cheater. It’s a risk you took with online dating—the Netflix and Chill guys, the polys—it’s all fine if that’s what you’re into. But that’s not what I was into. I thought I had been clear.

“I thought…” I didn’t want to admit it. “I just thought I was the only one.”

People in the bakery weren’t staring anymore, but all ears were aimed at us.

“You’re gay, Cal?” the woman gawped, and I realized she was younger than I thought.

“Yeah,” Cal said with a shrug. “Cara, this is my boyfriend, Will. Will, this is Cara Wilson, a friend of the family. ”

Embarrassed, I returned her hello and shook her hand. As we talked, Cara mentioned that Cal was catering her wedding for free. I asked about the wedding and the menu, giving Cal praise for his kindness. Anything to smooth this situation over. Within a few minutes, Cara said she had other errands to do. She hugged Cal, whispered something in his ear, and then she was gone.

Cal put a finger up. “Hold on.” He walked in back and returned with a co-worker to replace him at the counter.

“Follow me,” he said to me. Outside, he turned onto a side street before he spoke.

“I guess I’m out to my family now.”

“Shit. I’m sorry. My big mouth.”

“Nah, I was going to do it soon anyway.” He took my face in his hands. “They should meet you.” He kissed me softly, then put his forehead to mine. We closed our eyes.

Doing something new for the fiction|poetry challenge: two required prompts. This week the prompts were the word “baker” and the sentence “We closed our eyes.” Sound fun? Join us! Click the badge above for more info.

The Perch Act

I was naked and still dripping bath water when my boss fired me from the Sells Floto circus.

* * * * *

Luke and I were in the practice tent, using a mirror to check our opening form. See, after I raise my hands above my head, Luke uses them as a base to lift himself up from behind me—to the audience it looks like he’s on an invisible elevator. But then he pivots his torso so it’s perpendicular, then he swings his hips up quick so they’re over his head. With his arms fully extended, energy zipping through us, he uncurls his legs from the jackknife position he’s in and locks into a beautiful hand stand. His pale feet hover over us a second like seagulls.

That day Luke was favoring his right side and I told him so. He adjusted, then refolded his waist, rounded his shoulders—the pendulum of his legs swung out once above my head—until his feet and nose were both pointing straight ahead. That’s called the Cat’s Cradle. Only, during the last few shows he’d been sagging, toes pointing down toward the ring curb, so that’s what we were checking when Trinka, the gaffer, the boss man, the Pole with the Mole, stormed in.

“Money,” Trinka chuffed. “Tomorrow,” and he flung something white near my feet.

I wobbled, causing Luke to do the same, and the next thing I knew we were coming down. I threw Luke left, asked if he was alright, heard him say he was, and grabbed the litter at my feet: invoices, for our new banners. I anticipated some cost in moving from the kid shows to the ring—new gear, greasing the advance men, that sort of thing—but I didn’t count on paying for advertising. Still, Trinka was known among the troupers as a decent man, so I figured probably everybody paid for their own paper. “Raise your legs higher, Lucas, you look a mess up there.” The rounded esses of Trinka’s accent and the sound of his receding steps softened the barb.

“What’s eating him?” Luke was standing, patting dust off his legs.

“Search me. He’s right though. Let’s try that again.”

The rest of that night was unremarkable. The process of setting up a new site is the same no matter where we go. We were just outside St. Louis, near what they’re calling the Dust Bowl, so, more hatless and haggard townies than usual were wandering through camp asking for jobs. None of them interrupted our dinner. Luke and I ate our fish and succotash in silence, both of us listening to the roars and whinnies of the ring stock being unloaded. Both of us looking forward to bed.

* * * * *

When I came out the next morning, our papers were waiting for an autograph outside our tent. Scarlet and dusty words blazed across the top:

*PASTOR & COLLICKS*

The names were complete pocky, of course, a scheme thought up by Trinka to sell us as the celestial twins come down to Earth. The men performing a perch act underneath the words only slightly resembled Luke and me. It was our second set: the one where I balance one leg of a chair on my head as Luke sits in it, juggling.

We warmed up, then moved on to a few run-throughs of the show. Afterward, I heated up some water and settled into the washtub. Luke had gone to get some food and eventually came in carrying a cooked chicken. Wasn’t long before he was stripped and in the tub with me saying something coy about saving water. I guess we were careless that day, our good fortune clouding our judgment. And that was the second precarious position Trinka stormed in on. No knock. No shout. Just Trinka’s mole punctuating a sneer.

“I expect you out by noon.” His voice was flat.

Forgetting myself, I stood up and ruined any chance of furnishing another explanation. Trinka turned his gaze. “Let us stay,” I said, “and I promise you we’ll make you a very rich man.”

“Out!” he yelled over his shoulder, “both of you.” And he was gone.


This story was written for yeah write’s Focus on Fiction series. Click the badge above to see other submissions.

Another story with these characters is here.

And just so I can find them again:
The video I watched to describe the act accurately.
The circus slang guide I used.
The book notes I read that sparked the idea.