When I wake up early the next morning, I roll off of my side and onto my back, stretching my arms. I let out a big yawn and rub the sleep out of my eyes, sitting up. I feel well-rested, but not entirely at ease because I know that Jack is somewhere in my room. He's playing hide-and-seek, like some kind of child.
It's not long before feel something coiling around every inch of me, from my toes to my fingertips to the very top of my neck. I take a sharp breath and it burns all the way down, but before I can even let it out, Jack's smiling face is two inches above my frowning one.
"Turn that frown upside down for your pal Jack, sunshine!" He chirps. "Did you sleep well after I wished you sweet dreams?"
"Will you leave me alone for a few hours if I answer your question?" As rude as I may sound, I'm not in the mood to play silly games this morning, especially with him. I've never been a morning person unless something good is supposed to happen. This isn't one of those times.
"Fair deal." He answers, crossing his thin arms over his chest.
"Yes, I did. Thanks for that." I stand up and walk over to my mirror, groaning as I see that my makeup has dried onto my face. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to pretend you aren't here and carry on with my daily routine. Stay out of trouble - if that's even possible for you." I gather up a cloth to wash my face and an old dress of mine, in the off chance that I find a secret corner to bathe in.
"Come on, Sophie! Don't leave me all alone." He's already completely loosened his grip on me, now just pooling all over the floor like a puddle of thick tar. "We've known each other for less than a day. You should stay here and get to know me better."
"It's not like I asked for you to come here. No matter what you do I'll always think of you as a huge nuisance." Before he can even think of a response I'm already out of the door, slamming it shut behind me, trying to control my seething anger at that obnoxious shadow.
How does he always manage to bring out the ugly side of me? No matter how many times I tell myself not to let him crawl under my skin and fester, every time he utters a word I want to scream at him to be quiet and leave me alone. Chances are I would've done that the moment he told me hello, but he has an air about him that tells me that he'll only take so much nonsense from me until his temper snaps. He even proved it last night when he tightened his grip on my entire body. I'd crossed the line. Even though I keep my own aura that tells him that I'm going to be blunt and honest, I'm not under the delusion that he can't see right past that to the fear buried underneath.
My legs are shaking and my breathing is shallow and quiet, but the air is coming into my lungs and going just as rapidly. Is this what true fear feels like? Being unable to catch your breath and keep your thoughts composed? If so, then I don't want to ever go back into my circus cart. I'll run away from this place and . . . and what? I don't have anywhere else to go.
"Sophie, are you alright?" Claude's calm voice interrupts my panicking, and I look up into his worried gray eyes and shake my head slowly. "What's got the bravest girl I know so frightened?"
"I'm not really that brave." I mumble the words, not in the mood for compliments. "Anyway, I had a terrible nightmare last night." It isn't a lie - I did have a nightmare last night. He has no way of knowing that this isn't what's scaring me. "I fell asleep right away after I got back to my cart. Still in costume, as you can see." I gesture to my slightly wrinkled dress and cracked makeup. "Usually I have nightmares when I don't check around my cart to make sure nothing's crawled into it."
"Well, we can only hope the nightmares won't come back to haunt you again." He gives me a reassuring smile. "How about I help you get that makeup off? It looks pretty caked on there. And maybe conversation will help you chase away the nightmares."
"I-I'd love to do that. Thank you." I honestly didn't expect him to offer help. Usually the unlucky person with the dried-on makeup has to spend hours with a rag and bucket to chip it off.
"It's not a problem. Besides, I'd like to get to know a fellow performer better." He grins, and I'm struck by how white and straight his teeth are. We both begin to walk towards the stream, and I'm already starting to feel better. I find a smile creeping onto my face as we both sit down by the edge of the water. It's a nice, early summer day and the sky is still speckled with the last remains of the sunrise. Claude gets the cloth wet before beginning to dab at my cheeks with it.
"You came from a wealthy family, didn?t you, Claude?" I ask.
"How can you tell?" He asked, keeping the rag pressed to my face for a second too long.
"You've only been here for a month. You're fourteen. If you weren't from money you would have run away earlier."
"You're right, I guess. My father didn't want me to do anything as childish as playing with puppets that wouldn't help fill the family coffers. So I told him that I was going to run off and join the circus. Needless to say, he didn't take me seriously." He looked at me and smiled. "So that's how I ended up becoming a fourteen year old puppet master for this circus. I'm a lost soul without a place besides this traveling circus that will accept me and let me call it my home, just like the rest of you all." He finished wiping the makeup off of my cheeks before telling me to close my eyes as he started gently rubbing at the eye shadow. "So . . . what's your life story?"
"Honestly, childhood's kind of a blur to me. I remember a lot of giggling and happiness up until I was nine years old." I pause, sighing. "The first thing I remember after that is waking up in the middle of a field of corpses. I was cold and hungry, and I was just living off of scraps of food and little bits of water I found here and there until the circus came into town. I followed them for a year until they finally found me sneaking around the big top. They thought I was a thief. I told them, maybe crying a little too much, that I was an orphan. I had nowhere else to go. So I showed them that I knew a few dances. They let me join. I've been with them ever since. It's as much a life as any I've known."
"Sounds rough." He says, frowning. "I'm surprised you're still so upbeat and strong-willed after it all."
"Sometimes life doesn't drop everything in your lap. But it always takes care of you, if you're patient." I say, smiling at him as he finishes wiping off the last vestiges of my makeup. "And even when the bad things comes along, there's always one reason to smile"
He stands and offers me a hand. I grasp it and lift myself.
"Always?" He asks. The wind blows and my hair swirls around me.
"Always." I reply. "No matter what."
Author's Note: I forgot this last time, but special thanks to Alice (sims2girl) for editing this for me.