Elisa sighed contentedly as she sat in the moonlight, her head cradled in Tom's lap. He was just a lowly worker for the circus and she was a member of Fuller's collection of freaks, but while there had certainly been a few raised eyebrows, the rest of the circus folk did not seem to have any particular opinion on their relationship.
"It's so beautiful out here at night," her beau said. He caressed her cheek.
"Tom, why are you with me?" she asked.
"Because I love you, Elisa." He sounded sincerely baffled by her question.
"But why? Look at me, there is very little for you to love."
"There's more than enough to love," he said and picked up the disembodied head in his lap. He slowly turned it towards him, and looked her in the eye for a moment before kissing her.
Elisa closed her eyes and savored the warmth of his lips on hers. After breaking the kiss, Tom leant back and cleared his throat.
"Elisa, can I talk to you about something?"
"Sure. What's on your mind, handsome?"
"Don't you ever grow tired of life in the circus?"
"Tired? How would I get tired? I'm just a head." Elisa said giggling.
"I'm being serious," Tom said.
"Fine, you're being serious. No, I don't get tired of the circus life. Why?"
"Because we can never settle down. Every time I think to myself 'hey, I like this town', off we go to the next place and the next show."
"And I don't like that at all, Elisa. I'd like to settle down with you somewhere," Tom said, aware that his love didn't seem as enthusiastic as he'd hoped.
"I really don't know what to say. I didn't take you for a hopeless romantic. Or an idiot, for that matter."
"ELISA!" Tom exclaimed, "Why would you say that?" He put her down in the grass.
"Seriously Tom. You might not have noticed this, but I am just a head. How exactly did you figure us settling down?"
Tom looked angry.
"Well, I'm sorry for believing that if people just got to know you, they'd accept you and we could live together in-"
She finished his sentence for him: "-some nice little cottage somewhere in the country. Picket fence? Couple of kids? I'M A HEAD, TOM."
"I had noticed that, yes," Tom muttered.
Elise relented a bit. "Look, honey, I get it. You like me, I very much like you, but there's a reason I'm with the circus," she said. "Pick me up, please."
Tom huffed, but he did so anyway. They looked into each other's eyes.
"What do you want from me?" he asked, "What do you want from this relationship."
Elisa sighed. "I want to be with you, Tom. But I want to be with you here, with the circus."
"And what if I don't want to live this life anymore, Elisa? What if I'm tired of not having a real home."
"But you do have a real home. It's just not fixed to the ground like some whitewashed coffin with four walls," Elisa exclaimed in frustration, "Don't you get that? There's nothing out there for you that you don't already have here."
"Well, I don't agree. And you know what? I think you'll agree with me once we're safely away."
"What do you mean, 'once we're safely away'?" Elisa said and raised an eyebrow.
"I mean that I'm done talking about this. We're leaving tonight. I've got my bags packed, and I'm sure I can get some of your stuff too before Manny notices."
Elisa closed her eyes and gritted her teeth.
"Tom, did you ever ask me how I feel about my life at the circus?"
"No, but…" Tom began, before she interrupted him.
"No, you didn't. The Circus is my home. You may believe my life to be horrible, but I think I'm the only one who gets to judge that. Besides, Manny would never let me leave."
"I can take him."
"No you can't, Tom. And besides, you're not listening. I don't want to go. Not with you, not with anyone. The circus is my family."
Tom huffed. "Some family; they put you on a shelf in some dusty wooden wagon every night."
She'd really hoped he was different, that he'd be the one to get it.
"There is more of me, Tom."
"I know you're more than the girl without a body," he replied.
"No Tom, I said more of me, not more to me. I do have a body," she said.
"Wait, what? You do? Where is it? It's not in your wagon."
"Yes, I do, Tom. I just don't feel the need to tell everybody and their dog about it. It invites…shenanigans. And no, it isn't in my wagon. Manny holds it for me. It's better that way."
Tom put her down in the soft grass underneath the tree.
"HOW? How is that better? He's holding it hostage, Elisa! He's holding you hostage!" he exclaimed and started pacing.
"No, he's not, Tom. My body's not important; I'm the attraction, not it. By keeping it for me, Manny makes sure nothing happens to it."
"Well, I'm going to find Manny and get your body back. And then we're going to…"
"You'll do nothing of the sort, Tom Brenneman, if only because I was very serious when I said you couldn't take Manny, and I love you enough to want to you to stay in one piece."
The sound of breaking branches cut the conversation short.
"You know, Tom, I did notice," the Man With The Upside-Down Face said as he stepped into the moonlight. Behind him stood the Circus' clowns. The juxtaposition of their unsmiling faces and their cheery facepaint was unsettling.
"Two things. One, Tom, you should really choose a better hiding place when you take Elisa here out on a date. And two, you really shouldn't confide in your fellow freaks about your plans to abscond with one of my star attractions," Manny said before turning to the head in Tom's hands. "Hello Elisa."
She hesitated, unsure how this would play out.
"Hi Manny. Tom's just being silly. You weren't really planning to take me and run, right Tom?" she said, a note of desperation in her voice.
Tom'd frozen when Manny showed up, but he snapped out of it now.
"We weren't running, no," he said, somewhat unsure of how to react.
The Man with the Upside-Down Face smiled. "Ah, but you were, Tom. I appreciate your attempt at backpedaling though - it's definitely an A for effort, but I'm afraid the evidence's stacked against you."
With an almost imperceptible nod from Manny, the clowns swarmed forward, pinning Tom to the ground. He dropped Elisa as he went down and she cried out in pain when she hit the earth. Manny stepped forward to pick her up. "Don't worry, Elisa. He wasn't going to get far anyway."
Elisa shuddered. She'd meant it when she'd said the circus was family, but that didn't mean she always liked the way it operated.
"We don't take kindly to abduction, Tom," Manny said.
"Abduction!?" Tom said as he struggled, "Admit it, you can't stand the idea that she wants to be with me. You want her for yourself."
Manny cocked his head.
"I really didn't take you for an idiot, Tom. It's not about Elisa, it's about the Circus. What happens when you remove a brick from a building, Tom? Do you know?" he asked, but didn't wait for an answer, "It gets weaker, Tom. The Circus is that building, MY building, and Elisa is that brick-no offense, Elisa."
Elisa didn't answer.
"LET ME GO, YOU DAMN CHUCKLEHEADS!" Tom yelled at the top of his lungs, but the clowns didn't react. Instead they smiled, exposing a set of perfect, shiny white teeth. Somehow that was far more disturbing than the scraggly collection of pointy dentures he'd expected. One of them seemed to be salivating.
The Man with the Upside-Down Face approached Tom's prone form and knelt beside him.
"Tom, you're a good lad; you love Elisa, I can see that. But you chose to turn your back to the Circus when you made plans to run off with her. I can't let that slide. If I did, where would that leave our little family?"
Tom didn't answer, he just struggled furiously against the vice-like grips of the clowns. The strange odor of talcum powder, cotton candy and rotting moss they carried with them almost made him gag.
"Come on, guys. Let me go, the fun's over."
The clowns stared at him with their lifeless eyes. He could see the moon reflected in them.
"Manny! Hey, look, I get the point, okay? Nobody leaves the circus. I get it! MANNY!"
As the Man with the Upside-Down face turned his back to Tom, he raised his hand in salute and said: "Oh, they do, Tom. They just don't go anywhere. Adios!"
"What'll happen to him, Manny?" Elisa asked as they made their way back to the clearing where the circus had pitched its tent.
"The clowns are just going to have a little talk with him-look, I realize all this may seem a bit drastic, Elisa, but we're family," Manny said, smiling that strange upside-down smile of his, "And family stays together."
Behind them a tortured scream rang out and Elisa's eyes filled with tears.