THE NEXT MORNING, TOMMY, Alan, and me waited outside the gates for Steve, but there was no sign of him by the time the bell rang for class, so we had to go in.
"I bet he's hiding," Tommy said. "He couldn't get the tickets and now he doesn't want to face us."
"Steve's not like that," I said.
"I hope he brings the flyer back," Alan said. "Even if we can't go, I'd like to have the flyer. I'd stick it up over my bed and..."
"You couldn't stick it up, stupid!" Tommy laughed.
"Why not? "Alan asked.
"Because Tony would see it," I told him.
"Oh yeah," Alan said glumly.
I was miserable in class. We had geography first, and every time Mrs. Quinn asked me a question, I got it wrong. Normally geography's my best subject, because I know so much about it from when I used to collect stamps.
"Had a late night, Darren?" she asked when I got my fifth question wrong.
"No, Mrs. Quinn," I lied.
"I think you did." She smiled. "There are more bags under your eyes than in the local supermarket!" Everybody laughed at that Mrs. Quinn didn't crack jokes very often and I did, too, even though I was the butt of the joke.
The morning dragged, the way it does when you feel let down or disappointed. I spent the time imagining the freak show. I made-believe I was one of the freaks, and the owner of the circus was a nasty guy who whipped everybody, even when they got stuff right. All the freaks hated him, but he was so big and mean, nobody said anything. Until one day he whipped me once too often, and I turned into a wolf and bit his head off! Everybody cheered and I was made the new owner.
It was a pretty good daydream.
Then, a few minutes before lunch, the door opened and guess who walked in? Steve! His mother was behind him and she said something to Mrs. Quinn, who nodded and smiled. Then Mrs. Leonard left and Steve strolled over to his seat and sat down.
"Where were you?" I asked in a furious whisper.
"At the dentist's," he said. "I forgot to tell you I was going."
"That's enough, Darren," Mrs. Quinn said. I shut up instantly.
At recess, Tommy, Alan, and I almost smothered Steve. We were shouting and pulling at him at the same time.
"Did you get the tickets?" I asked.
"Were you really at the dentist's?" Tommy wanted to know.
"Where's my flyer?" Alan asked.
"Patience, boys, patience," Steve said, pushing us away and laughing. "Good things come to those who wait."
"Come on, Steve, don't mess around with us," I told him. "Did you get them or not?"
"Yes and no," he said.
"What does that mean?" Tommy snorted.
"It means I have some good news, some bad news, and some crazy news," he said. "Which do you want to hear first?"
"Crazy news?" I asked, puzzled.
Steve pulled us off to one side of the yard, checked to make sure no one was around, then began speaking in a whisper.
"I got the money," he said, "and sneaked out at seven o'clock, when Mom was on the phone. I hurried across town to the ticket booth, but do you know who was there when I arrived?"
"Who?" we asked.
"Mr. Dalton!" he said. "He was there with a couple of policemen. They were dragging a small guy out of the booth it was only a small shed, really when suddenly there was this huge bang and a big cloud of smoke covered them all. When it cleared, the small guy had disappeared."
"What did Mr. Dalton and the police do?" Alan asked.
"Examined the shed, looked around a bit, then left."
"They didn't see you?" Tommy asked.
"No," Steve said. "I was well hidden."
"So you didn't get the tickets," I said sadly.
"I didn't say that," he contradicted me.
"You got them?" I gasped.
"I turned to leave," he said, "and found the small guy behind me. He was tiny, and dressed in a long cloak that covered him from head to toe. He spotted the flyer in my hand, took it, and held out the tickets. I handed over the money and..."
"You got them!" we roared delightedly.
"Yes," he beamed. Then his face fell. "But there was a catch. I told you there was bad news, remember?"
"What is it?" I asked, thinking he'd lost them.
"He only sold me two," Steve said. "I had the money for four, but he wouldn't take it. He didn't say anything, just tapped the part on the flyer about 'some restrictions, then handed me a card that said the Cirque Du Freak only sold two tickets per flyer. I offered him extra money I had almost a hundred dollars total but he wouldn't accept it."
"He only sold you two tickets?" Tommy asked, dismayed.
"But that means..." Alan began.
"...Only two of us can go," Steve finished. He looked around at us grimly. "Two of us will have to stay at home."