Counterbalance, Excerpt

Chapter One

John added another note to his schematics and then stretched, back cracking, before he glanced at the time. It was getting late, and most of the crew had already gone home. There were some new cast members still milling around the base, popping in and out of rooms, learning the layout. A few had stuck their heads into the operations room, taken one look at John, and ducked right back out again.

John was pretty used to that with the newbies, especially the foreign ones who had language barriers on top of fear of the unknown. Then again, it wasn’t like Montreal was all that much better where the latter was concerned anyway. And he didn’t really care. His job was to make sure the performers stayed safe and that everything worked properly. He didn’t much need to talk to them, past explaining the rigging and talking about stage layout.

He was making his final notes on the rigging plan for tomorrow, when the door opened yet again. John glanced up to check who it was, maybe scare ’em away. Shorter guy, lean build but well muscled, Asian. One of the new performers, then. But he’d take off after catching sight of John, just like the others had.

Except he was coming in.

“Hello!” he said brightly, hand extended. “I am Baolin Li. Please excuse my English.”

“Evenin’.” John hesitated before putting out his own hand to shake. “John. Nice to meet you.”

Baolin pumped his hand enthusiastically, grip firm. “I am saying nice to meet you to everyone. Very important to learn the whole team. You are last one I find!”

“Oh,” John said, a little nonplussed. “Well, uh, I’m part of the stage crew. Setup, rigging, that sort of stuff.”

“Ah, you are keeping us safe.” Baolinlin grinned. “Very, very good to meet you. Thank you for your hard work.”

“No, uh, no problem. Just doing my job.”

Baolin nodded and kept smiling and didn’t seem all that inclined to leave, so John added, “You a new acrobat, then?”

“Yes! I’m hand balancer and gymnast. This first time I will be performing outside China. Very exciting!”

“Oh. Good. Glad you’re excited. Welcome to Montreal.”

“Thank you!” Baolin said enthusiastically, staying where he was.

John wasn’t all that used to engaging in a lot of small talk, but Baolin seemed expectant. He tucked his hands into his pockets. “You, uh, liking it here?”

“Very much.” Baolin nodded. “Very interesting. Very busy. I am very lucky Cirque chose to take me.”

“Yeah,” John said. He knew as well as anyone that the audition process for Cirque was brutal. They only took the best. This was a new show being created from the ground up, and they’d brought in a whole new cast for it from all over the world. “Congrats. That’s a big deal.”

Baolin nodded again, bouncing on the balls of his feet. “It is getting late. I see you have work still. Have a good night. It was very good to meet you, John.” He stuck his hand out again.

John tamped down the sigh and shook. Baolin clearly meant well. “Good to meet you too. Have a good night. Don’t get lost on the way back to the apartments.” That was kind of a joke—the Montreal studio base and the apartments that housed the in-training cast were all on the same property; Baolin could walk it, if he was really so inclined. It was easier to set up an in-training cast in subsidized housing, especially when so many were from out of the country, since they’d be here for six months to make a new show. After that, it would be time for touring.

John, being a permanent crew member and working on whatever shows Cirque offered him, had his own little apartment not too far from the studio. It wasn’t much, but it was enough for one guy. A place to keep his things and unwind alone.

“I will not get lost,” Baolin said earnestly. “They are very close, and there is a bus.”

“Right,” John said. “Have a good night, now.”

“You as well!” And then he was out the door again.

John shook his head. Cirque got all types. Baolin seemed nice enough, if excitable. From China, huh? Yeah, he remembered the other crew members saying something about a lot of Asian influence in this new show. Something about the natural elements and yin and yang, with a lot of aerial work, pyrotechnics, even some aquatic effects.

It was going to be interesting to figure out all the details as the show got created, though the waterworks were gonna be the usual nightmare. At least all the fancy stuff wouldn’t come until later. For the first two months, rigging was just making sure mats were placed properly, lines and counterbalances were set, and nets were where they needed to be.

He was less looking forward to walking around the studio and prepping while the new cast gazed at him in horror, but what could you do? They always got used to him after a couple of weeks.



John looked up from where he was laying mats for the morning warm-ups. Baolin was running across the room toward him.

“Good morning,” Baolin said, beaming. He was just as cheerful as he’d been last night. “How are you?”

“Fine,” John replied, trying not to sound too confused. He had excused Baolin’s lack of reaction yesterday as darkness or shadows, along with the fact that the guy was probably exhausted. But today, in broad daylight, there wasn’t even a flinch. It certainly wasn’t something John minded, god no, but it was very unexpected. “You’re up early.”

“I very much want to begin,” Baolin said seriously. “Also, I was told that if I get up with the sun, I will better adjust to the time.”

“That’s good advice,” John said, finishing the last mat and then standing up.

“I hope so.” Baolin smiled, pushing up onto his toes before settling down again. “I am very tired already, so I will make my body work even harder.”

Lord, how was he supposed to respond to that? “Sounds good.”

More acrobats started to trickle into the room, ready for morning warm-up, and Baolin went over to greet almost everyone, calling to people by name or merely nodding when someone looked particularly grumpy. Half of them were probably still jet-lagged.

John checked over the last mat and then stepped to the side, nodding to Anastasia, the other rigger in today. She’d been on his team for a couple of years now, and was great. Smart, reliable, all that good stuff. And her being trilingual helped a ton, even though most of the cast and crew spoke at least passable English. It was just two of them today, and would be for the next while at least. No point bringing in a full rigging crew for what was essentially playtime.

Hard-core, exhausting playtime that would leave most of the performers bloody, but yeah. It didn’t hold a candle to when they started on the legit choreography.

“It’s an interesting group,” Anastasia said, watching the cast as they started warming up. “I think they’ll make a good show.”

John shrugged. “They always make a good show. Best of the best, remember?”

She waved a hand. “More heart in this group, I think.”

He chuckled. “You say that every time.”

“Mmm. Maybe this time, we will find someone for you, yes?”

He snorted. That was the other thing about Anastasia. She liked to, well, take advantage of the atmosphere. Cirque was long, exhausting days and nights, and you became close with your group. Hookups and relationships among the members were more than just common. Her last three boyfriends had been cast members. Last year she’d gotten it into her head that it was John’s turn.

She bumped his shoulder. “Don’t scoff, you’ll see. We’ll find you a nice boy, once they all get used to you.”

He snorted again. “What,” he drawled, scrubbing his left hand over the top of his head and down his cheek, the scar tissue there catching on the rough skin of his fingers. “You don’t think they’ll be drawn in by my pretty face?”

Anastasia clicked her tongue at him and went back to watching the performers appreciatively. John glanced over too. He picked out Baolin immediately. The man was doing stretches in a circle with five other performers, three men and two women, and they were all talking back and forth about something. He felt his lips quirk. The guy certainly wasted no time, that was for sure. It looked like Baolin had made it his mission to get to know everyone as quickly as possible.

“I see a smile!” Anastasia immediately looked around. “Who for? Which one?”

John shrugged and tried to point to Baolin without making it obvious he was singling him out. “He found me in Operations last night. Introduced himself. Excitable guy.”

“Ah.” She nodded. “I just met him today. He said hello while we were setting the mats.” She looked over at John. “He mentioned you, you know.”

Ah, there it was. “Yeah?”

“Mm. He said he had met John, another rigger, last night, and asked if we were friends.”

“Oh,” John said, nonplussed.

“I told him we were, of course.”

John huffed a laugh. “Thanks.”

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