Authors: Emma Hart
Bianca turns, her lips twisting on one side. “Of course.”
“What happens then?”
“Then you leave my studio, because there is someone out there in this city who does deserve to be here. I only teach the best, know that, and I haven’t yet had a student who didn’t get into Juilliard after attending this class. There’s a reason I only teach two classes a week. You are one, and the others are currently seven year olds, and the majority have been with me since they could walk at the age of one. If seven year olds can hack it, I expect young adults such as yourselves to do so.”
“Have you ever asked anyone to leave?”
“Every time I start a new class,” she responds sharply. “Now
warm up before you become the first.”
I fight my smile, training my features into a plain mask, and start my warm up. I remember hearing the same speech when Bianca walked into the gym hall, and I remember asking her the exact same questions and getting the same answers. It’s what endeared me to her so much – unlike most people who know my past, she didn’t look at me any differently. To her I was – and am – a girl with a dream, everything else be damned.
The movements of the warm up are so familiar, and the main door opens as I begin to drop into a
. The feeling of being watched crawls over my skin, prickling at the back of my neck and down my spine. I don’t want to, I don’t even need to, but I glance upwards and in that direction.
His straight-backed posture and precise steps announce him as a dancer – and a late one – as Bianca approaches him. His dark hair is short but messy, and a, distinct British accent floats across the sound of the piano
faintly. My eyes roam over his body from his broad shoulders to his defined arms. Dancer’s arms; strong yet gentle. The touch from his large hands would be hard yet soft.
You wouldn’t know he’s a dancer unless you are. His build is closer to that of a football player, but he’s far too pretty to do that.
Did I really just call him pretty?
What am I even doing?
I shouldn’t be standing here trying not to undress the Hot British Guy with my eyes.
He nods once and turns his face toward me. Or the class, but it’s me his eyes fall on. Our gazes lock for a fleeting moment, and I almost falter in my warm up. Even across the studio there’s no mistaking the green in his eyes. There’s no mistaking the way he looks me over, interest sparking in them as he does so.
And there’s no mistaking the apprehension in my chest … Or the fluttering inside my tummy when his eyes find mine again. I swallow and look away, telling myself I’m imagining the interest in his eyes and the intensity that kept me looking at him for as long as I did.
I’m not here to eye up Hot British Guy.
I’m here to dance, and nothing else.
The dream, Abbi. Juilliard.
“Shit, shit, shit, shit!” I mutter the curse words under my breath as I climb out of one of the bright yellow taxis that seem to be bloody everywhere in this city. I thought it was all put on for films and stuff, but apparently it isn’t.
The strap of my bag catches on the door handle, and I almost trip as I yank it off. Being late to the first dance class is not how I planned on starting my new life in New York. Actually, I never planned on being in a damn class unless it was at Juilliard, but that’s not something to think about right now. I can’t think about her – if I do I’ll get that stupid canary car back here, get in, and go back to my overpriced apartment.
I hoist my bag onto my shoulder and look up at the building in front of me. It’s old school and doesn’t look right in Manhattan. Instead of the sky high, glass buildings that seem to be the norm, this building is red brick with just a small sign proclaiming, “Bianca’s Dance Studio”. I ruffle my hair with my fingers, sighing deeply, wondering if I’ve made the right decision. For the millionth time.
But I am late,
so there’s no damn time left to worry about that. I tuck it into the back of my mind for later – for now I need my head on the dance floor and not in the clouds.
I push the door open and follow the small hallway to a large open room. A
is against the far mirrored wall, and both guys and girls are lined up against it, running through the five positions in time with the gentle music playing. My eyes scan them, noting they all look about twenty or so, except the girl at the end.
Her dark hair is tucked into a pristine bun on top of
her head and her eyes are lowered as she bends her knees and moves into a
. She’s utterly graceful, and it’s plain to see she’s completely at peace.
“Blake Smith?” a voice with a strong New York accent says quietly to my side. I turn to face the auburn haired woman staring at me and nod.
“Yes, ma’am. That’s me.”
She smiles. “I’m Bianca.”
We shake hands. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“And you. You’re a little late, but I’d say London is quite different to here.”
I think of the twenty minutes it took me to get a taxi. “Yeah, you’re right there. Sorry – I’m still learning how to get around.”
Her laugh is gentle. “Yes, I’d imagine it would be tough. Well, if you have any questions feel free to come to me and I’ll do my best to answer them. If you put your bag over there in the corner and warm up, we’ll get started.”
She silently pads back to her spot, and I look back to the girl at the end of the
Our eyes meet.
She almost hesitates in her warm up, but then carries on as if we’re not staring at each other. As if I’m not trying to work out what color her eyes are. They’re framed by long, thick lashes that curl toward her eyebrows, and her cheeks pink lightly. I run my eyes down her body, and I can’t help but admire the way her leotard and leggings hug her body. She blinks when my eyes lock onto hers again.
Shit. They don’t make girls like her in England. And if they do, my mother never introduced me to them.
She pulls her gaze from mine and looks to the front. Something … Something tells me I need to know this girl – and it isn’t even something in my dick.
I run through the warm up, half listening to Bianca
talking to the class, half watching the girl with the dark brown hair. She’s standing slightly back from everyone else, her hands tucked into her sleeves and her head hanging slightly, yet her poise is perfect. Her back is straight and her feet are in position.
Slowly, she moves into the basic positions and moves
to Bianca’s orders with the elegance of a swan floating along a river in the spring. Every move is perfectly precise – both in positioning and timing. She continues working through the moves at the barre, from
, oblivious to my eyes following her. Oblivious to my eyes following every curve of her body and every stretch of her limbs. Oblivious to the fact I’ve never been so attracted to a girl whose name I don’t know.
I switch from the warm up to the basic steps. I know full well Bianca is putting us all through our paces since just over half the class are new
. Her eyes flick to each of us, lingering for a second or two as they examine our positioning and posture, but I’m barely concentrating. My thoughts are purely for the girl in front of me; my body is moving fluidly through the instructed steps.
For me, dancing is as natural as breathing. It always has been.
Bianca instructs us to pair off, male and female, and I move toward the brown-haired girl. How could I go to anyone else? As cliché as it sounds, she’s the only person in this room I’m really aware of.
I tap her on the shoulder. “Do you want to
A pair of startlingly light blue eyes crash into mine.
Blue. That’s what color they are.
It’s the kind of blue that makes you stop dead and instantly makes you think of a crisp summer’s day, complete with beer and a barbecue. It’s also the kind of blue that shows everything – the hue too pale to hide shadows lurking beneath – it’s the flicker of darkness that makes me pause and stare at her.
I’ve seen those shadows before.
I know how they linger, barely scratching the surface before pulling you under. And I know the climb is always harder than the fall … If you’re lucky enough to get a grip on the climb.
…?” she questions shyly, raising her hand to her face then dropping it again.
“Um.” I cough and scratch the back of my neck. Her hesitant smile reminds me what I’ve actually approached her for. “Do you want to dance together? Since we have to pair off. You know. Yeah.”
Shit. I sound like an awkward teen boy who has no idea how to speak to a girl.
Her smile stretches a little and her eyes flit around the dance hall. Everyone is paired off and talking to each other quietly.
“I … Sure,” she replies.
“Great. I’m Blake. Blake Smith.”
“Abbi Jenkins.” Abbi’s hand slips into my outstretched one. My fingers curl around her smaller ones, but my focus isn’t on the silky smooth skin against mine; it’s on the gentleness of her tone and the way her lips moved when she said her name.
“Abbi,” I repeat. “Have you danced long?”
“Since I was eight.” She takes her hand from mine and clasps both of hers in front of her stomach protectively. “We all need a little something to escape in, right?”
Three sharp claps draw us both from the conversation, and we turn to Bianca. As she instructs us on what we need to do, my eyes trace the line of Abbi’s
profile. It’s dainty and cute – from the way her button nose curves, to the obvious plumpness of her lips. I don’t notice I’m smiling until her eyes meet mine again and she raises a questioning eyebrow. I shrug one of my shoulders, and her lips quirk.
“Uh, sure.” Shall we what?
Abbi lets the smile break across her face. “Dance,” she responds with a twinkle in her eyes.
Right. Dance. What we’re here for.
Shit. I come thousands of miles to achieve my dream, and what do I do? I get distracted by a pretty face. I n
eed to be thinking with my feet not my damn dick.
For the second time since I walked into this studio, I offer her my hand, and for the second time, she takes it. She moves onto
seemingly without thinking and closes her eyes. Once again I’m struck by the ease of her movements as I fall into my own … With her. It’s not until you dance with someone you can truly appreciate the beauty of it.
And it’s been only a few seconds, a fleeting moment in the grand scheme of things, but seeing Abbi Jenkins give herself over to the music is to see true beauty.
One moment – one I’ll never forget.
Until she opens her eyes as we begin to move, and I’m reminded that even shadows can fall over true beauty.
Abbi looks at me, but I can tell she’s not really seeing me. There’s a gloss over her eyes, brightening the blue hue of her iris through the pain lingering there. She’s somewhere else, somewhere far away, but her steps never falter. She never falls out of time, never makes a wrong move. Even her breathing doesn’t change.
Despite the chopping and changing of the music and movements
, combined with Bianca’s never-ending comments and instructions on arm positioning and timing, my blood is rushing through my body as we move together. I can hear it pounding in my ears and drowning out the music. And I’m mesmerized. I’m mesmerized by the fluidity of her movements, the ease of our dance together. It’s like we’ve always danced together.
The music stops
, and Abbi closes her eyes as we come to a standstill. When they open they’re clear again, and she smiles shyly. My arms fall from her and she steps back, her fingers lightly brushing across mine. She tugs her sleeves down over her hands, clasping her fingers in front of her stomach again.
“Thank you,” she says, her eyes meeting mine.
My lips curve on one side. “What for?”
“For the dance.” She smiles as softly as she speaks, turning back to the
. I watch her go. Watch the gentle pad of her feet across the floor, the sway of her hips with each step …
“No,” I mutter, never taking
my eyes from her. “Thank you.”
“Coffee?” Mom asks, eyeing the Starbucks at the end of the street.
I roll my eyes but I should have guessed she’d ask eventually. I’m sure coffee runs through her veins instead of blood.
“Would I deny you that?” My lips twitch as I look at her. She grins.
“You’ve tried, honey. You’ve tried!”
“Only because Dad made me hide all the coffee. I either did it, or he threatened he wouldn’t buy Barbie’s convertible. I was eight. I
that car, Mom.” I laugh. “It was a life or death situation, y’know.”
She shakes her head, laughing silently, and grabs the door of Starbucks. “Life or death was me not getting my coffee that morning, Abbi. Do you want one?”
I look through the tall windows into the coffee shop and shake my head. Most of the tables are full since it’s just after lunch, and after making small talk with the manicurist and hairdresser for two hours, I need some quiet.
“No, I’m okay. I’ll wait out here.”
I smile uneasily at her, my eyes darting between her and the windows. Mom follows my gaze and nods understandingly.
“I’ll only be a minute.” She hesitates, sucking the corner of her lip into her mouth, before pushing the door open and disappearing inside.
I sit down on the bench on the opposite sidewalk and sigh. My fingers run through my soft hair, and I realize how tired I am. I can barely believe something as simple as getting my hair and nails done has made me so exhausted. But that’s the thing with depression. You never know how or when it’s going to strike and it nearly always knocks you off your feet.
It brings a whole new meaning to the phrase “always expect the unexpected.”
I press the heels of my hands into my eyes and stifle a yawn. The sooner Mom gets her coffee the better.
“Didn’t expect to see you anytime soon.”
I haven’t heard that voice for a year – maybe more. I can’t think of a time when I’ve wanted to hear that voice again. Jake Johnson.
Pearce’s best friend and h
alf of the reason Pearce ended up a drug addict.
“I can’t say I
to see you anytime soon,” I reply, crossing my ankles and staring stonily at Starbucks.
Of course he didn’t expect to see me anytime soon. As far as he – and everyone else – knew, I’m still at St. Morris’s. The loony bin. The nuthouse. The funny farm. Because I’m
Like they know anything at all.
Crazy is hysterical giggles after an hour long pillow fight. It isn’t depression.
“Ouch.” Jake laughs huskily, eight years of
chain smoking starting to take its toll on his voice. “I don’t remember you having this much fight in you before you went loopy.”
I didn’t,” I say honestly.
You can’t have fight for something you don’t respect or care about.
“Aren’t you worried about talking to me in public? I mean, what if someone sees you talking to Pearce’s crazy ex-girlfriend? Wouldn’t that tarnish your perfect bad boy image?”
He laughs again, and it crawls across my skin like slime. I try and fail to repress a shiver. I never liked Jake
, and he never liked me; we were civil to each other for Pearce’s sake. A lot of things were for Pearce’s sake, and not one of them meant anything to him.
“Don’t worry, Abbi. There’s no chance of Pearce running into us. You don’t have to worry about seeing him.”
“I’m not worried about seeing him,” I lie. My throat is dry at the mere thought of it. I swallow hard. I don’t want to think about seeing him.
I’m not sure anything scares me more than that.
A third laugh comes from Jake. “You won’t see him for the next fifteen years, girl.”
My head snaps round
, and I look at him for the first time. To look at him, you wouldn’t think he was as addicted to heroin as Pearce. You wouldn’t think it was what he lived for, the only thing that kept him living. In fact, you’d probably walk past him in the street, look at his gelled brown hair, his clear skin, and his muscular build and it wouldn’t even cross your mind.
But I know. I know the devil that lives beneath the surface, and I’ve met him many, many times.
“Fifteen years.” Jake leans against the wall casually, as if he’s not talking about the guy he grew up with. “He lost his job about a month after you went nuts and couldn’t afford to keep up with it. He owed money to a lot of people – more than you know, Abbi. A lot of people that wouldn’t think twice about breaking his neck, so the jackass made a deal. Said he’d be their runner and deliver the shit to their customers. His dealers got to sit on their asses, and he paid off so much debt that way. He paid less than he would have, because he took some home at the end of the night. It was a win-win for him.”
“And he got sloppy. Too confident. He got drunk one night out on his run and the cops got hold of him.” Jake smirks. “Everyone knows if you’re running junk you don’t get drunk on the job. No need to draw attention to yourself, y’know? Anyway, he was loaded with shit and had a couple thousand dollars stashed in his back pocket. Took him straight down to the NYPD and had him on possession with intent to supply. He was in court last month. Asshole bagged himself fifteen years in the slammer for a rookie mistake.”
I can’t deny the part inside of me that relaxes. I can’t fight the relief that floods through me at that news.
I don’t have to see Pearce. Maybe ever.
“Well.” I look back toward the door of Starbucks in time to see Mom walking out, her coffee in her hands, and I stand. “It’s nothing less than he deserves.”
I walk away without saying another word. I don’t need to.
My actions speak louder than my words ever could.
I kept my eyes on the floor and wondered why I didn’t give in to the screaming voice in my head telling me to grab the door handle and run. Wondered why I was standing here, yet again, while he destroyed himself.
flinched with every sound he made as he prepared the drug and took it. No part of me wanted to know anything about how he took it. I waited for the inevitable happy sigh that would come as the drug spread through his body.
Still, I kept my eyes on the floor. As if not looking meant it wasn’t happening. As if not looking
meant I wasn’t standing idly by and letting him do it.
But I knew why I was standing there. Fear. Fear of the anger that could erupt from him at any minute, even as he enjoyed his rush. Fear of another bruise or mark to explain away.
The sigh came.
I looked up.
I looked up but away from anything that had anything to do with the drug. His lips twitched into a gentle smile. A satisfied smile. My fingers curled into my palm, my nails cutting into my skin, but I swallowed the urge to speak. I learned early on not to say a word when he was getting that first rush. Don’t speak. Don’t move. Don’t make a single damn sound.
I stepped back, breaking the second golden rule. Luckily, the thick plush carpet masked my footsteps as I backed
toward the wall. I reached a hand out behind me, barely glancing over my shoulder.
And I hit
a chest of drawers.
I froze, my eyes darting to
him. His head snapped up, his blue-green eyes as cold and hard as ice as they met mine across the room. I took a sharp breath as he stared at me, and even as I dropped my eyes and screwed them shut, I could still feel his eyes cutting through me.
The bed creaked as he stood, and my teeth clamped down on my bottom lip. His silent footsteps as he approached were almost more daunting than loud ones. I couldn’t see him. I couldn’t hear him. I had no idea how close he was until his hand gripped my chin.
Pearce ran his thumb down my jaw almost lovingly before he tightened his grip and yanked my face up to his, forcing my eyes onto his.
“What have I told you, Abbi?”
I jolt, and the
bath water splashes with the force of my awakening. I grip the sides of the tub so tightly my knuckles are white, and try to steady my breathing. My eyes dart from side to side, taking in the room, as I work to ground myself.
Home. I’m home, in my bathroom. Not at a party. Not with Pearce.
“I’m safe,” I whisper.
“I’m safe. I’m safe. I. Am. Safe.”
I keep whispering those words, over and over, over and over. Reminding myself of what I know as I struggle to erase the flashback from my mind.
I don’t need to ride it out – I remember what happened too well. I remember the bruise on the side of my head from hitting the drawers after he shoved me aside and I remember “slipping on some black ice on my way home.”
I let go of the tu
b and rub my hands down my face. The water is freezing cold. A quick glance at the clock on the wall tells me I’ve been in the bath longer than I thought. Much, much longer. I climb out and wrap my body and hair in towels with shaky hands. Adrenaline is still pumping through my blood from the memory, roaring through my body, and it makes me want to forget.
My eyes dart to the cabinet but it’s pointless. I know there’s nothing in this house that isn’t carefully hidden that would hurt me. No razors, no scissors, and the broken mirror in here has been replaced lest I slice my finger along it. There’s even a lock on the knife drawer in the kitchen – that’s how much my parents trust and believe in me.
But somehow I feel safer this way. Knowing I can’t get anything that would hurt me almost makes me feel a little stronger because I have to cope. Right now I have to cope with the memories because my chosen way out isn’t an option anymore. I can’t escape into the pain or lose myself in my blood swirling down the plug.
I have to feel. I have to remember. I have to live.
Yet it doesn’t stop my nails digging harshly into my palms. Even that, the small sting of pain, takes off the edge of the past. It clears my head long enough to make me realize I haven’t danced today.
Long enough to realize, I
I change into some yoga pants and a tank top, clip my
wet hair on top of my head and grab my ballet shoes. The TV buzzes as I pass the front room, and I open the door in the kitchen that leads to the garage.
Dad converted half of the double g
arage into a mini dance studio when we found out I’d be leaving St. Morris’s. There are mirrors on the wall and a brass banister that doubles as a
. I’d laughed at him when he showed me it for the first time, but it works surprisingly well.
I take the cold metal in my hand, moving into position, and can’t help but think about the last time I danced
… With Blake.
When Bianca had ordered us to partner off, I was ready to run there and then. Or shout at her for not telling me – either one. I know now she deliberately didn’t tell me. And after all, I’d have to dance with someone at Juilliard, so it’s better to get that hurdle cleared now. And it was cleared easier than I thought it would be.
When we danced together, I felt nothing but free. I felt like I could take any steps to any music on any stage in the world and I would get it perfectly right.
The art involved in ballet is like a movie. If the two lead characters don’t have chemistry, it doesn’t work. If two dancers don’t have chemistry, if th
ey don’t click, the dance won’t work.
with more people than I can count, both male and female, and I’ve never connected with anyone the way I did with Blake. I’ve never felt so comfortable in someone else’s arms as we danced together, and I’ve definitely never trusted a partner that way. I’ve also never been as attracted to a partner as I am to him.
The day I walked out of St. Morris’
s for the last time I built walls a hundred feet high around every part of me. I topped them with barbed wire and guarded any crack with wolves. I was – am – determined not to feel. I’m determined not to let anyone in. Not until I know I can keep myself up.
Dance is the one thing that keeps me up. It’s the one thing I let myself feel; it’s the one thing that is truly real to me. It’s the only thing that’s allowed to get past the wolves and climb my walls. Yesterday, Blake and dance were synonymous. They were one.
Where the dance went, he went, too.
I slowly lower from
and breathe out. Instead of being at the
, I’m in the middle of the garage. I danced without realizing. Lost in my head, I could have done any dance, any steps, any positions, and I’ll never know.
But I did what matters.
I fought the impulse to hurt.
And I danced.