I looked at her finally, and, Wow! She was breathtaking. Large dark eyes were set in a slender face with high cheekbones, her skin still sun-kissed despite the winter’s chill around us, a smattering of freckles across her nose and cheeks. Her long, dark hair was in a high ponytail, and a fringe of bangs fell across her forehead, longer on the sides, sending sweeping tendrils of all that deep brunette satin to frame her face, like the work of art that it was.
“Just doing my job,” I stammered, and her smile grew, showing straight white teeth.
“Pretty sure you’re off the clock,” she murmured.
I felt an answering smile cross my lips, and it almost felt foreign on my face, it’d been so long since I’d done it genuinely, without it being superficial.
“I’m a medic, I’m never off the clock.”
She laughed and the sound was good.
She raised her perfect sweep of eyebrows and said, “My oranges?”
“Right!” I jumped slightly, startled back into action and realizing I’d been staring like some gob-smacked idiot. I gathered up her fruit into the canvas grocery sack and lowered it over the edge of my boat, onto the bench fixed to the port side.
I went back to Claire and held down my hands, and said, “Easy now, don’t put any weight onto the ankle you’ve hurt until I can get a look at it.”
“Um, okay.” She took my hands and I pulled her up easily onto her one good foot. She let out a little surprised yip and said, “Wow! Okay, you’re pretty strong.”
I gave a nod and said, “Yup, and I’m going to pick you up.”
Too late. I’d already lifted her easily, one arm behind her back, the other beneath her knees, and I swear her thick, stylish wool coat and the sweater dress she wore beneath it weighed almost as much as her. I stepped off the dock and down into my boat while she clung to me, her arms around my neck. I murmured, “Okay, tough part is over, I’m going to put you down. Remember, no weight on that ankle until I can get a look at it.”
“Okay,” she said, breathy, and I carefully set her down. She hopped on one foot, using me to find her balance for a moment and let go once she had it.
“Oh, shit, my purse,” she said.
“I’ll get it, go on down below deck and sit. I’ll be right down to look at that ankle and take care of that hand.”
“Um, okay. Thank you.”
“No problem, it’s what I do.”
“Talk to me,” he murmured. “What is it?”
“I don’t know if I missed my first rehearsal since coming here or not,” I said.
“What was the date?” he asked.
I breathed a sigh of mixed relief and dismay and covered my face with my hands, pressing my fingertips into my eyes.
He sniffed and I lowered my hands back into the water and looked up at him. He smiled down at me and I could tell that he somehow knew, that why I’d tried what I did had to do with the Circus, but it didn’t, really. It had to do with the director more than anything.
I still wasn’t ready to talk about it yet. I loved the Night Circus, I loved my family of performers and I loved performing. No, I lived for performing, and the mere thought that I might have fucked that up had been filling me with a tense anxiety and dread. Especially after Carter…
“I’ve made a mess out of everything,” I said softly, and Angel shook his head.
“Not here,” he said. “Not with me.”
I smiled faintly; it was something to cling to. I couldn’t deny that.
“How long does rehearsal take, and what time do you have to be there?” he asked.
“It takes as long as it takes for Milo to be happy with it, and it’s the Night Circus, so usually we start in the afternoon.”
“I have a shift tomorrow,” he said, hesitantly.
“It’s fine. I can have a car pick me up and take me, and bring me back here.”
“It’s a sixteen hour shift for me tomorrow. I’m pulling a double.”
“When to when?”
“Gotta be at the house at eight in the morning…”
“House?” I asked before he could finish.
“Firehouse. Indigo City runs on kind of a hybrid system. If it’s quiet and there aren’t a bunch of calls, we hang around the firehouse with the hose boys until we get something. It conserves fuel.” I laughed at ‘hose boys’ and he smiled. “I love that laugh,” he said and I couldn’t help but smile, too.
“What time will you be home, then?” I asked and the word ‘home’ felt foreign but nice on my tongue.
“Probably around midnight.”
“Make you a deal,” I said softly.
“What’s that?” he asked.
“First one home makes dinner.”
“That’s fair enough.”
He leaned way over and I met him part-way. We kissed and he kept his hands to himself, even though I ached for him to touch me. I felt like I was dying to feel something pleasant, and the feel of being wrapped in Angel’s arms was really high up there when it came to pleasant things to feel.