by Jake Christie

a story.

“What are you doing here?” demanded Zuzu, her red nose and rainbow wig quivering in anger.

BeepBeep the Clown looked up from the birthday boy and shrugged. “What do you mean?” he said. He squeezed his trademark nose and it beeped.

Zuzu stomped across the backyard, her giant yellow boots squeaking with each step. What am I talking about? she thought to herself. The nerve of that clown.

“This is my party,” said Zuzu. She poked her glove into one of BeepBeep's suspenders. “I was hired to work this party. Not you.”

“And you're doing a great job,” he said. He ran a hand through his imitation curls and a shiver ran involuntarily down her spine. “I'm surprised I never heard of a clown as talented and entertaining as you.”

Zuzu rolled her eyes and tried – but failed – to keep the blood from rushing to her cheeks. She had heard of BeepBeep, of course. Every clown worth their balloons had heard of BeepBeep. Since he'd appeared on the cover of Modern Clown Monthly last year he'd become something of an icon in the clowning community. The cover had driven up his notoriety, his price, and his ego. There wasn't a clown alive now who hadn't heard of the trail of smiling children – and broken hearts – that he left in his wake.

The self-proclaimed “Bad Boy of Clowning,” BeepBeep had even done a pictorial in the magazine. Zuzu had to admit that she did linger on those pages, wondering what his physique looked like beneath the makeup, but the more she heard about his antics the less she found him attractive. BeepBeep claimed to have the heart of a child, but the more Zuzu learned the more she suspected he kept it in a jar in his refrigerator. There were many clowns who would have jumped at the chance to be one of his conquests, but she promised herself she wouldn't be one of them.

“I want you out of here,” said Zuzu.

“Don't you know who I am?” said BeepBeep. He hooked his gloves in his suspenders. “I could help you bring in some real money for this gig.”

Zuzu turned away. The birthday boy and his friends were gathered around the small, faded pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey game she had brought. One of the pins had fallen off of the fence where she had stuck it, and now one corner of the poster drooped like the donkey was as tired as she was. She could certainly use the kind of money that BeepBeep would bring – and the exposure.

But one look back at him changed her mind. He had adopted that smile from the pictorial, handsome and rugged under his red nose. It was the smile that had gained him fame, lost him so many friends, and gotten him so many girls, and Zuzu knew that if she wasn't careful she'd get caught in it too.

“I know exactly who you are,” said Zuzu. She turned and stomped, squeaking, over to the kids. “And I don't need your kind of 'help.'”

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