Lettie had been lounging in her tent, relishing in the post-show quietness that enveloped the circus when she heard the, hushed, urgent whisper.
„Lettie? Lettie, land‘s sakes, you have to see this!“
A second later, no one but Phillip Carlyle stuck his head through the tent flaps, frantically looking around for her. Cheeks flushed, hair mussed, and eyes slightly glazed over, he was either drunk or had just gotten laid.
Upon spotting her, he entered the tent and narrowly avoided walking square into a tentpole.
Phillip’s less than healthy relationship with alcohol was an open secret among the troupe. They all noticed his efforts to cut back on drinking, and he‘d already made tremendous progress. However, years of alcohol dependency weren’t simply overcome in a few months, no matter how willing the spirit, so slip-ups were bound to happen.
„What do I have to see, love?“
Phillip grinned with the exurberance an eager puppy, a look that suited his usually far more somber face, and grabbed her hands, pulling insistently.
„I have to show you! Oh, Lettie, you won’t believe it!“
She couldn’t help smiling herself as Phil continued to pull on her hands, trying to hoist her to her feet. He was determined, so she decided to indulge him, even if that meant he would be dragging her out of her tent and through the cold.
„Come on then,“ she said, and stood up in a swift motion. Phil whirled around and walked ahead, swaying as they left her tent.
He led her across the premise, closer and closer to the main circus tent until they reached the small tent right next to it that hosted their two ringmasters.
Neither Barnum nor Phillip lived at the circus like the rest of the performers and even some of the maintenance staff did, but the tent was still used as an office space and was furnished with two desks, chairs, some blankets, a couch, and a small oven for warmth, as well as their countless letters and documents.
Phillip parted the tent flaps and they slipped through them. It was dark and almost unpleasantly hot inside. The oven had obviously been left burning. Lettie squinted in the dark space while her eyes adjusted to the low lights and Phillip fidgeted with a petroleum lamp. She didn’t know how he managed to light it with his alcohol-numbed fingers, but somehow he did and soon they were engulfed in warm yellow light.
Phillip left the lamp standing on one of the desks, next to two glasses and an almost empty whiskey bottle, and gestured grandly towards the couch hidden in the shadows at the side of the tent.
„Now, look! Isn’t he adorable?!“
Lettie squinted and looked closer, and, sure enough, there was Barnum, curled up on the couch evidently sleeping.
She grinned at the sight. P.T’s borderline insomnia was just as well known as Phillip’s semi-functional alcoholism, so she was glad to see the man resting. He had a tendency to run himself ragged in running the circus, even after stepping down as the circus’ primary owner.
„He is. How long has he been sleeping?“
Phil shrugged, and moved to stand by the side of the couch.
„I don’t know. We were talking, we were drinking, and then he was asleep and I looked at him for a while and then I went to get you because, it would be unfair for only me to see him sleeping! Because…“
„He looks endearing?“
Lettie looked over to Barnum again. He was lying on is back, seemingly completely undisturbed by the quiet conversation taking place next to him, holding a pillow to his chest in his crossed arms with a blanket slung across his lower half.
„Did you tuck him in like that?“ She asked Phillip with a raised eyebrow.
„Yeah. He looked cold, I didn’t want him to be cold.“ Phillip’s so far drunkenly pleased expression morphed into one of worry. „He shouldn’t be cold!“
Sometimes Phillip was so genuinely sweet that it almost hurt her heart a little.
„No, he shouldn’t.“ She agreed „Does Mrs. Barnum know he’s here?“
Phillip shrugged. „ Don’t know. Maybe he sent a telegraph.“
Lettie nodded once. „Right.“ She thought for a moment, eyeing Barnum sleeping soundly on the couch with Phillip leaning over him, watching intently. Watching another person sleep like that probably would have been creepy if it were anyone other than Phillip.
She walked the few steps over to him and put a hand on his shoulder.
„Phil? How about we let P.T. stay here for the night, now that he’s sleeping for once, and we both go to bed too? Charity knows him, she’ll probably guess he’s spending the night here.“
„I suppose“ Phil murmured and cocked his head, lost in thought. „We should…go to bed?“
„Yes. Believe me, love, you’ll thank me tomorrow.“
Phillip blinked once, and, with an unceremonious flomp, let himself fall forward right onto P.T. It was a sheer wonder the man didn‘t wake up as Phillip wiggled around trying to get comfortable, lying half next to and half on top of his fellow ringmaster.
Lettie couldn’t help but to laugh. God, two grown men really shouldn’t have the right to be that sweet.
„I’ll leave you here then?“ She asked with a smile.
Phil made an affirmative noise, his eyes dropping closed.
„Do you need a blanket?“
She threw one over him for good measure anyway, then she turned off the oven. Letting it burn for the entire night would just be an unnecessary fire hazard, and they all knew how that had turned out last time.
She left the tent, walking back to her own while, lost in thought.
Cuddled up like that she really could have sworn that Barnum and Phillip were almost a little more than just friends.