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Family Circle 2009 Fiction Contest: "On the Wire"

Stella is fourteen and wants to be a trapeze artist like Mom, but both my mom and dad said no.

So that's how she got in trouble, because she had to do it behind their backs.

Stella told Mom and Dad that she was taking a college-credit English course at Walker Community College. They were proud, because it showed initiative, that she was thinking about her future. But really, every Tuesday and Thursday night that they were dropping her off at the college, she was going to the gym instead of the classroom, and Ivan Mennahoff was teaching her to be an acrobat. She had the body for it. She took ballet and gymnastics until she was my age.

"You're getting so thin," Mom would say to Stella sometimes, because she didn't know the training Stella was going through. And I know Mom was confused because Stella was eating like a horse.

But I knew that Stella was running miles and miles, and lifting weights in the basement when she wasn't at the college. And sometimes I would catch her sitting quietly by the pond with her eyes closed, and when I asked her what she was doing, she would say, "Shut up. I'm visualizing my routine."

Stella's secret training with Ivan served two purposes: She got to do what Mom and Dad didn't want her to, even though she felt it was her destiny deep within her heart, and it got her closer to getting a job as a performer and earning some money to buy a car. I know all this because Stella finally admitted her secret to me one night because she was desperate for me to rub her shoulder and right arm. It was cramping, she said, from overuse, and she needed a massage.

I was excited. I was someone my sister trusted. I was complicit. I never thought that it could be dangerous.

My mother never talked about the times she fell.