I was brought into another house—which I presumed belonged to Molly—where Molly was currently rummaging through a large chest, throwing out random objects as she rambled words I didn’t understand throughout her search.
“Excuse me, Molly,” I said quietly, fiddling again with my fingers.
“Hmmm?” Molly tossed out a ball and it bounced once it hit the floor.
“I’m really not sure about this,” I said. “It’s not proper for me to do. . .this. I’ll be grateful to help with anything else, but this? This is. . . odd. I mean, dancing on an elephant? Or doing anything else that could be risky? I . . .I’m really not sure, but I don’t want to be rude or anything.”
“I understand,” Molly said, finally facing me. “You’re nervous, but once you get the hang of this, you’ll be just fine! Here.” Molly pulled out a white parasol with pink trimmings and tossed it to me. I caught the parasol by its thin handle and opened it up. The canopy sprouted open like the bud of a flower. I twirled it about in my hand and turned back to Molly who exchanged a broad smile.
“It matches you perfectly!” Molly clapped her hands. “Now we must find you a dress!”
“Molly—” I was cut off once again when Molly hurried to a wardrobe and began a new search. I sighed, knowing that I wasn’t going to be heard no matter how much I tried. I dipped my head and closed the parasol. I sat down on a chair and felt tears swelling up in my eyes. I wiped away the tears, but more of them kept coming and I had trouble holding them back.
“Here’s a dress—oh,” Molly pulled out a white, puffy dress, but paused when she saw me. She rushed to my side and kneeled, gently patting my leg.
“Hey, hey, what’s the matter?” Molly asked.
“I want to go home,” I hiccupped at each word. “I want to go home with Suzette, and grandma. I want things to go back to how they used to be.” I covered my face, ready to break down.
“Please don’t cry,” Molly pleaded, rubbing my back, but I didn’t stop. Molly hurried back to the chest, got out a handkerchief and returned to my side. “Here, use this.”
“Th—thank you.” I took the handkerchief and blew my nose into it. Molly took back the handkerchief and tossed it into a bag. She patted my leg some more and gave me a small smile.
“Hey, I know things are hard for you right now,” Molly remarked. “I’m just trying to make you feel better. The circus is a happy place, and no one wants to be sad when the circus is filled with so much joy and wonder, right? So, c’mon, let me see a smile.”
I pulled up a very small smile, but a couple more tears escaped. Nonetheless, Molly kept her smile and she said: “See, there’s a smile. The more you smile, the more the world appears brighter, y’know?”
I nodded, but I said, “I . . . I understand, but smiling won’t help me find my sister or grandma. I can’t pretend to be happy.”
Molly’s smile dropped. “I’m terribly sorry about your situation, but we can’t do anything right now except wait for Aleck. I can’t do much for you, but what I can do is to keep that smile on and make it genuine. Can I show you something?”
My eyes fell to my feet and I held my hands together. I inhaled and exhaled softly before saying: “. . .Alright,” in a broken voice. I wiped off another tear and faced Molly who then wrapped her arms around me, giving me a small hug. After that, Molly took my hand and we stood up.
“We can still make it to the last act of the tonight, let’s go.” Molly said and led me out of the room. We took the elevator this time to get back down to the amphitheater. I preferred that method of transportation better.
As we wandered inside the crowded amphitheater for a while, we fortunately found two empty spots on a bench to sit on. We sat near the front where we got a clear view of the stage. Standing in the center were two new performers: a young man and a woman. The man wore a white suit and mask, while the woman also wore a mask, but wore a sparkling, black dress with long sleeves and a train. They were absolutely handsome, it was if they were going to perform at an opera, or another special event. They were dressed much too formal for a circus.
Molly leaned over to me and whispered: “Those two are Ashton and Naomi. They’re about to do their Ring Dance.”
“Ring Dance?” I questioned.
“Mmm-hmm, look.” Molly pointed upward at a pair of hoops locked onto each other. Several strands of black and white fabric were strung onto the hoops and dripped to the floor. Ashton took the black fabric, while Naomi took the white. They circled around each other while moving their arms and legs together like dancers. It was like they were copies of the same person, doing the same dance on opposite sides of the stage before coming together again.
When they danced near each other again, they almost kissed before flying apart to twirl with the black and white fabrics that fell across the stage. Ashton lifted Naomi up high in the air, and she reached to climb on her piece of fabric towards a silver hoop. Her body curved as she crawled up, making it look like she had no bones in her body. Even her feet almost touched her nose! The crowd clapped before Ashton came to join her on his own piece of fabric.
In the air, they swung like birds in a cage on their shimmering rings as we cheered them on. The couple embraced and slid down their fabrics as black and white twirled together. They landed on the ground softly, and before they kissed, the lights turned off.
A round of applause rang out in the amphitheater when the lights came back on. Ashton and Naomi returned on the stage and bowed to the audience. After a few minutes of applause, the couple left the stage and everyone stood to leave.
“Did you like that?” Molly asked me.
“Yes, it was spectacular!” I exclaimed. “Those two seemed really close, I suppose they’re a couple?”
“They’re engaged,” Molly said. “They plan to get married soon, but they’ve been so busy with the circus, they haven’t chosen a date yet.”
“Would you like to meet them?”
“Yes!” I said with delight. “I would love to congratulate them on their engagement, and certainly tell them how wonderful their performance was.”
“Alright, let’s go!” Molly hopped off the bench and I followed her out of the amphitheater. We soon spotted Naomi and Ashton heading toward an elevator to one of the houses. Molly called for them before they could proceed. “Hey, guys!”
“Oh, Molly,” Naomi said. The couple turned around and they both had taken off their masks. Naomi wore sparkling makeup that made her hazel eyes stand out. Ashton’s eyes were a pale green, and he was starting to grow a beard. The two smiled fondly, much more fondly than Hertha’s.
“Great performance as always!” Molly cheered, clapping her hands, and then nudged my shoulder. “This is my friend, Sophie. She really enjoyed the performance.”
I stood there a bit nervous while Naomi chuckled and said: “Why thank you. Sophie, was it?”
“Yes,” I answered. “I was simply amazed by the performance; I’ve never seen anything like it before. It was beautiful.”
“That’s very kind for you to say,” Naomi said. “I was worried that it wouldn’t have gone so well since I had sprained my foot last week. It’s still aching.”
Molly joined in, “I didn’t notice a thing, you were great, Mi. And you were great too, Ashton.”
“Thank you,” Ashton said and turned to me. “So, you’re Molly’s friend. I don’t believe we met before.”
“Sophie arrived here not too long ago,” Molly said, cutting me off. “She got separated from her sister and is trying to find her, but before that, Aleck has to fix some things since he’s having technical difficulties again, and you know how that is, right? So anyways, Aleck has to do that, and while he’s on it, Sophie’s gonna be staying here for a while because it’s better for her to stay here in one place while Aleck gets this all sorted out.
“So till then, Hertha wants Sophie to be a performer since we could use someone new. We suggested that she should do some dancing on top of one of our elephants, wouldn’t that be cool?” Molly said all this abruptly and ended with a huge exhale.
“That sounds rather dangerous,” Ashton remarked, frowning a bit.
“She’ll be fine,” Molly waved him off. “She’ll have a parasol to keep her balanced. She’ll just be spinning around and looking cute, nothing much.” She shrugged her shoulders and turned to me. “That’s all you’ll be doing.”
“Can’t she do something else?” Naomi asked. “What about juggling?”
“Or pie throwing?” Ashton considered.
“Boring!” Molly exclaimed, sticking out her tongue. “Besides, she needs a partner. And there’s no one available except for the animals.”
“I’m still not sure about this,” Naomi said. “Does she have to perform?”
“Hertha wants her to,” Molly stated. “We have to follow her wishes. She is the Ring Master after all.”
“I’m fully aware, but—”
“Relax, we’ll practice.” Molly said and winked at me.
Naomi sighed. “Ashton and I might just have to have a talk with Hertha about this. . .”
Molly twirled a strand of hair. “If it helps, I’ll accompany Sophie during the performance. Will that be better?”
“Perhaps. . .” Aston and Naomi both said, exchanging glances.
“Hey, this will likely be a one-time thing,” Molly said. “Or who knows, Aleck might get everything fixed by tomorrow and Sophie won’t need to perform. Every show is two times a week, so the next show is Monday. That gives us three days before the next show, three days for practice, and enough time for Aleck to get everything together and get Sophie back to her sis!”
Naomi’s eyebrows came together and she looked at Ashton one more time. They might have even been reading each other’s minds, or they looked like they were, because their faces had the same concerned expression--just like mine.
Finally, Naomi said: “I’m still not sure about this. . .what do you think, Sophie? We haven’t heard from you.”
“Oh.” I was surprised they even asked, but I cleared my throat and said, “Well. . .I do feel rather nervous about all this, but I believe Aleck should be able to get this worked out soon enough. But if not, I guess doing a performance shouldn’t be that bad if Molly is going to help me.”
“See!” Molly exclaimed with pride and slapped a hand onto my back. Her strong hand almost made me fall over. “She’ll be fine! No need to talk to Hertha about this.”
Naomi sighed. “If anything bad happens, we will have a word with Hertha. Anyways, we best be going. It’s been a long night.” She turned back to me. “It was nice meeting you, Sophie.”
“If you ever need anything,” Aston stated and pointed at the house above us,“ Naomi and I live in that house. Drop by whenever you like.”
Molly chimed in, “Aston’s a great baker! You will love his special cinnamon carrot cake! Oh, oh! We gotta have a welcome party for Sophie and invite everyone!”
“Everyone?” I questioned and shook my head. “No, no, you don’t have to.”
“But of course!” Molly sung. “After all, we want you to feel welcome. It’ll be your second home!”
“Of course! Everyone here is one happy family, and so we will treat you like family.”
“That’s very generous of you,” I said. “Thank you.”
“So, when should we have this party?” Molly asked. “How ’bout tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow might be too soo—” Aston got cut off while Molly declared: “Tomorrow it is! Party at my place. Tomorrow night at eight!” she laughed and started skipping backwards. “Okay, we’ll see you tomorrow, goodnight!”
Before I could tell Molly that she was getting ahead of herself, I just remembered the reason why I wanted to meet the couple in the first place. When they stepped into the elevator, I called out:
“Excuse me, I almost forgot!” I exclaimed, just before Molly and I had turned a corner. “Congratulations on the engagement! That’s absolutely splendid!”
“Thank you!” Naomi called back, and waved to me just before the elevator doors closed on them.
“Here are the elephants,” Molly led me through a brightly colored barn marked with hundreds of hand-drawn, and very tiny, grey elephants. This building was much bigger than Jerome’s. It had a high beamed ceiling and a wide space for the elephants to freely roam around. There was about ten of them, with a variety of quilts on their backs to distinguish them from one another.
Molly raised up a finger and named them: “That’s Lilly, Calla, Hazel, Roxanne, Kenneth, Nathan, Bernard, Justin, Rory and Florian. Roxanne’s my favorite.” Molly pointed to the smallest elephant that had a purple quilt on her back. She also wore a crown of daises on her head. “I think you’ll like her too. She might be your best fit, actually.”
I walked up to Roxanne and she waved her trunk up and down, I waved back. I smiled and patted her trunk. “She’s sweet.”
“Yup!” Molly agreed. “Would you like her as your companion?”
“Sure,” I said. Roxanne brushed her trunk over my face and I giggled.
“Good, excellent!” Molly clapped her hands in satisfaction.
“So. . .” I started, staring up at Roxanne, “how exactly am I going to go up on her back?”
“That’s an excellent question.” Molly snapped her fingers. “You will climb up a really, really tall ladder,” she raised her hand up high for emphasis, “and will use your parasol to descend gracefully onto Roxanne’s back.”
“Oh. . .why can’t I just climb on her back and that’s it? Do I really need to drop?” I asked.
“Oh of course, you must! No boring routines here.” Molly wiggled a finger. “Every performance needs to start with a dramatic entrance! We need to get the audience excited, don’t we?”
“It’ll be great! You’ll be like a little angel drifting from heaven on her parasol!”
“But will the parasol be able to hold my weight?”
“Of course, our parasols are super, super strong! Here, we’ll practice now.”
“Yup!” Molly hurried over to grab a ladder from the far side of the room, picked it up and rushed back over to Roxanne. She set the ladder right next to the elephant. The ladder flew up to the very top, leaving some room for me to be able to stand on it without hitting my head on the ceiling. “I’ll hold on to the ladder so you don’t fall off. Oh, and here’s the parasol.” Molly picked up the parasol, handed it to me, and headed back to the ladder.
I looked up at the ladder with some concern. “Is the ladder that I‘m going to use in the show going to be this tall?”
“No,” Molly said. “You’re gonna jump off one of the platforms.”
“You know all those platforms supporting the houses above us? You’ll jump down from one of them!”
“What?” I nearly jumped.
“Yeah, but the shortest platform is forty feet high, so no worries.”
“B—but that’s still quite high!”
“I know, but I’ll be there to support you.”
“I . . .” I started, but knew I was just going to be given some excuse by Molly. I sighed and looked up at the ladder. “Really?”
“Absolutely!” Molly slapped my back and I cringed. “Friends stick together and support each other. You’ll be just fine. Now, let’s get on that ladder.”
“. . .Alright,” I inhaled softly and walked up to the ladder. I slowly climbed up and tried not to think about how high I was going. Molly was following close behind, and even had her own parasol with her. When I got to the top of the ladder, I opened the parasol and raised it in the air before looking down. Roxanne glanced up and waved her trunk, as if beckoning me to jump, but I heisted for a bit. I turned back at Molly who was just a few steps below me.
“Step off the ladder,” Molly insisted.
I gulped and looked back down at Roxanne. I inhaled again, and after giving myself a few seconds, I stepped off the ladder. The parasol lifted me up a little, before drifting me downward. It was if I didn’t weigh anything as I floated toward Roxanne. I wasn’t falling at all, it was if I was a bird and glided down to land. After just seconds of drifting, I landed on Roxanne’s back and looked over at Molly. She followed close behind, and soon she was right beside me on Roxanne.
“See? That wasn’t so bad, was it?” Molly asked.
“No . . .it was quite alright,” I admitted. “I didn’t feel scared at all.”
“Good, good,” Molly said. “So, once you landed, you have to bow to the audience, or do a cute little twirl. Let the audience know what kind of cutie you are!”
“Alright. . .”
“Now the next step is to dance!” Molly exclaimed. “All you need to do is to twirl around, spin your parasol, twirl some more and you’re good. The audience will love it!”
“Of course! They would love something new. You’ll be called ‘Sophie the Elephant Dancer!’
“Elephant Dancer?” I echoed.
“Yup! Cute title, huh?” Molly asked. “Now, let’s practice together. One. . .two. . .” Molly counted as she took a few steps back before spinning around. She waved her parasol about and I followed her movements slowly. I kept my eyes on both her and my feet. I thought about how Naomi and Ashton acted during their dance. It was mesmerizing, I could watch their dance forever. I spun the parasol like the ribbon that the two held.
We continued our dance for a bit, until we heard the building door open. There came an elderly man wearing a really tall top hat that had a funny face painted on it. There was a blue faced monkey on his shoulder, and he also wore a top hat. The monkey carried some daises with his tail.
“I heard we have a new recruit,” the man said, and tipped his hat. “Good evening, my name’s Oscar. This little fella,” he pointed to the monkey “is Bo, my assistant. We are both knife throwers, pleasure to meet you. Sophia, was it?”
“Just Sophie, but yes,” I said, bowing out of courtesy. “It’s a pleasure to meet you too. Your monkey is adorable.”
“Thank you,” Oscar said. “Bo has a present for you, actually.” Once he said that, Bo jumped off Oscar’s shoulder, climbed up Roxanne’s back and handed out the daises. I took the flowers and patted Bo’s head.
“Thank you so much,” I said. Bo nodded his head and jumped back over to Oscar’s shoulder.
Molly giggled. “That’s very sweet you guys. Hey, there’s gonna be a party tomorrow night to celebrate Sophie’s upcoming performance. Are you two in?”
“Bo and I would be happy to join,” Oscar said with a smile. “Where will the party be at?”
“My place of course!” Molly proudly pointed to herself. “I will bake a huuuge cake! What’s your favorite flavor, Sophie?”
“Oh, well, I like chocolate—”
“Chocolate it is!” Molly snapped her fingers. “And Ashton will make his homemade pie!”
“Sounds excellent,” Oscar said. “I’ll bring something too.”
“You don’t have to—”
“Of course! The more the merrier!” Molly cut in.
Oscar laughed and placed the hat back over his balding head. “Well, Bo and I best be going. Have a wonderful night you two.”
“Thank you, you too.” I said, waving the two off before they disappeared out the building.
“Everyone is so nice,” I continued, turning to Molly.
“Mm-hmm!” Molly smiled widely. “This is indeed the land of smiles! We cheer each other up all the time.”
“That’s good,” I said. “I’m glad I came here; it has really brought my mood up.”
“Though, um. . .” I started, wondering if I should mention Hertha. She was the only one who gave me a strange vibe, like something was wrong. I don’t know, there was just something in her eyes and smile that seemed. . .off.
“Were you going to say something?” Molly asked.
“Oh, no, nothing.” I shook my head. “Could we continue tomorrow? It is getting late and I would like to go to bed.”