Another free-write. I really like this one. Don’t know why.

She could hear the crowd, chattering and cheering, through the flapping walls of the striped tent. The elephants trumpeted, parading around the ring. She watched it in her mind’s eye, following every step of the routine she knew so well. There; the elephant stood on its hind legs, and the audience clapped. Then; another elephant balanced itself on a ball, and the clamoring crowds applauded appropriately. She recited it in her head the way that some people mentally replay films. The girl had the better experience, however: her mental movies were matched with real sound.

The crowd was good tonight, she noticed. They wanted to have a good time, to laugh, and to be awed. It varied from night to night. Sometimes, the crowds were only looking for enjoyment, and they found it under the big top, more than they could have possibly imagined. Other times, audiences took their seats skeptical, with preconceived notions that muddied their experiences. Some came in angry, unwilling to chuckle or even smile. Others arrived in varying stages of heartbreak and depression. They told themselves they wouldn’t find any fun in the circus, predictions that tended to be self-fulfilling. You get what you expect, she told herself, unless you open your mind.

Involuntarily, she sighed. Open minds were growing harder and harder to find, not just inside the tent, but in her entire world. It seemed that everywhere she looked, there were pundits spouting barbed condemnations. People from the Middle East were terrorists. People of faith were opinionated fundamentalists. Homosexuals were bizarre contortions of nature, and if you didn’t vote, you were a communist.

It wasn’t only adults spewing hatred, either. The children of the closed-minded often grew with visions as narrow as those of their parents. This was obvious in no place more than high school, where bigoted teens were quick to cast their judgments upon classmates that were even the merest bit unusual. A friend of hers had been singled out for tucking his shirt in. Wary of this, she and Nat had tried to keep their love discreet, but the ever-sniffing nose of society found them, and exposed how different they were from the rest.

Though an autumn gust nipping at her bare arms and legs caused the girl to shiver in her costume, the thought of Natalie warmed her insides. Natalie had made her understand the feeling of love, not the petty high school drama of relationships around them. With Nat standing beside her the entire time, she had broken down the walls that had contained her and restrained her for so long. Natalie had helped set her free.

The tent roared with thunderous cheering as the ringmaster narrated the elephants’ exit. Poised, the girl stood waiting for her cue. From within, the ringmaster’s deep silky voice wove the girl’s welcome, and she stepped into the humid tent to the gaze of a spotlight and the gracious applause of two thousand hands clapping.

Adrenaline, the nectar of courage and confidence, flooded her veins once again, and she boldly strode to the ladder.

The ringmaster’s booming tone lent to the audience tales of the girl’s achievements, grandly exaggerated in the traditional manner of the big top. His resounding bass voice painted pictures of death-defying leaps from canyon walls and mountain faces. The crowd, stupefied, listened with awe. They had no clue that the esteemed girl of these yarns, who was currently scaling the skyscraper of a ladder, had a home in the very city they were in.

Being with Natalie had brought the girl more in touch with herself. Soon, she found within herself talents, passions, and dreams she had never imagined she could have. She began playing the harp, something that she would not have been caught dead with a year ago. The local theatre troupe found itself visited by an eager, talented young woman. It was as if Natalie had unlocked a door the girl had never known existed. The summer of that year, the circus came to town. It set up in an abandoned industrial parking lot by the river, and everyone crossing the bridges saw it. The girl went to watch the first weekend it was performing, and was captivated. She found a magic world beneath the behemoth canvas tent, where gaiety was the norm and the impossible was regularly proved otherwise. After the final show, the girl, thanks to Nat’s gentle persuasion, approached the ringmaster and asked if she could audition for a role. He had declined originally, but slowly gave in. The girl auditioned fantastically, and left with the circus for a year.

She reached the platform at the top of the ladder, towering so high above that she could barely discern faces in the audience. Slowly, she reached for and gripped the trapeze, with a silent acknowledgment that this could be the last time she ever did what she was about to do. She stepped to the edge of the platform.

Tomorrow, she would go back to school. Her senior year. She would face the taunting masses, and she would stand tall, proud of who she was and what she had done. The words of the narrow-minded were only that, words, and she was no longer afraid. She was who she was, and no one could take that from her.

She looked down at them. They gazed back up at her, ready to be blown away. All of the women, the men, the children, the elderly; all the blacks, the whites, the Hispanics and the Asians; all the lovers and the fighters; all the believers and the skeptics sat on the edges of their seats, elated, waiting for her to astonish them with the impossible. And there, in a corner, her beautiful face watching the girl’s every move, radiating a warmth she could feel at the top of the ladder, was Natalie, waiting softly and patiently.

The girl took a breath, and flew.