Authors: Melody Grace
“So that leaves three...” I glance around the bus at the
other members, making sure to keep my voice low. “Julia had
that sprain,” I murmur hopefully, seeing one of the other best
dancers chat with some friends up front.
“But she’s better now,” Karla gives me a
sympathetic smile. “I saw her in rehearsal before we left. The
Director said she was promising.”
I inhale a breath. Coming from the Director, that’s lavish
We both fall silent for the rest of the journey, all our earlier
joking forgotten. When it comes to ballet, there’s no room to
play around. Out of the full company of eighty dancers, we all know,
only a small handful will ever graduate to be principals, dancing the
big roles, and of them, maybe one or two in a generation will become
, the best of the best, praised and adored by
My mom’s words echo again. She’s right, when she was
nineteen, she was already a rising star in the company, wowing
audiences with her solos and perfect form. Sometimes I feel lucky,
having a mother who can understand my passion so well. She doesn’t
ask why I spend three hours a night practicing my
lines, or tell me they looked fine to her, like some of the other
dancers’ families. They just shrug and smile in a bemused way,
and applaud everything their kids do, but Mom will stay up with me in
our converted home studio, critiquing me again and again until I’m
But then, other times, the weight of her legacy feels like it’s
crushing me, bearing down so heavily I can barely breathe. How am I
ever supposed to live up to her? To even match her skill and talent,
let alone find some way to develop my own style?
I used to be certain, so sure I would succeed, but more and more, I
hear the whispers rising, taunting me with my own limitations. The
fact is, a dancer’s professional life is short. Most peak in
their late teens or early twenties, and by the time they’re
over twenty-five, their bodies can’t keep it up any longer.
It’s a short window and I’m already into mine, with
barely anything to show for it.
“Hey, you’ll be OK.”
My worries must show, because Karla squeezes my arm. “Julia has
no musicality, and Lucia can do the leaps, but her toe-work gets
sloppy after a while. You’ve got a solo locked.”
“Thanks.” I manage a weak smile. “But enough of
that. This is our day off, we shouldn’t be obsessing about
Karla looks at me, and then we both burst out laughing. “Fine,”
I correct myself, giggling. “We should
not to obsess
“I can think of the perfect distraction.” Karla points
out the window, to where a group of Italian guys are waiting to cross
at the lights. “I love the local scenery!”
Our next stop is the Pantheon, a huge old cathedral with a domed roof
and elaborate columns.
“Oh, look at the square!” I breathe, stepping off the
bus. The church is set on a small
, the buildings all
faded terra cotta and dark green shutters, glowing gold in the
afternoon sun. “Isn’t it beautiful?”
“Delicious,” Karla murmurs, and when I turn, she’s
gazing at our latest guide, a twenty-something man chatting with
I roll my eyes, amused. “Down, girl.”
“Hey, I’m allowed to look.” Karla snaps a
surreptitious photo of him. “It’s not like I’ll get
to do anything else with this curfew they’ve got us on.
Honestly,” she sighs, “I feel like I’m back in
school with all Mademoiselle’s rules.”
I nod, even though I never went to a real high school. Mom enrolled
me at a special performing arts academy so my ballet training
wouldn’t be interrupted. I got my GED and then joined the
academy two years ago, without even a graduation ceremony. “It
would be nice to have some free time,” I agree. “I
thought we’d get to explore, but she’s planned out every
minute of the day, down to the bathroom breaks!”
“Still, we get to see it all,” Karla points out. “I
mean, it’s not like we’ll have time to go look at all
this stuff once rehearsals get going. They’ve taken it easy on
us this week!”
She heads inside with the others, but I linger in the square, turning
my face up to the sun. A chatter of foreign accents washes over me,
and I feel strangely adrift. Our first day off since we arrived, and
I haven’t heard a single Italian accent: every major tourist
site is crammed with sightseers, just like us.
“Excuse me, would you mind taking our photo?” an American
couple asks, holding out their camera to me.
“Sure.” I line up the viewfinder to catch the church
behind them. They look so happy with their arms around each other, so
carefree. Snap. “There you go.”
“Thanks, honey. Isn’t it incredible?” she says,
beaming. “So Italian!”
I smile and nod, but I can’t help but feel a pang of regret.
We’ve been shuffled on and off the bus so fast on
Mademoiselle’s whistle-stop tour, I haven’t had a chance
to catch my breath and just
the city. The statues
and monuments are beautiful, sure, but part of me itches to get away
from the crowds for a moment and experience the real Rome.
I’m walking to join the others inside the great cathedral when
I hear a faint burst of music, drifting down from one of the side
I pause. The sound is faint, but I can make out a deep bass beat, and
some classical strings playing. The odd blend of old and new styles
catches me by surprise, a wild, staccato rhythm, and I find myself
wandering closer before I even realize where my feet are taking me. I
glance back to my group, but they’re already inside, out of
sight. We just arrived, I reason with myself. I’ve got a little
time. As long as I make it back before the bus leaves, nobody will
even notice I’m gone.
, a rebellious voice adds.
Karla was right: you’re
not on some school trip. You’re nineteen, almost an adult.
Break the rules for once in your life.
Carefully checking the name of the street, carved up on a stone
placard, I duck down the narrow, winding passageway and head in the
direction of the music. It gets louder as I follow the cobblestone
street, until I emerge in another beautiful, old
square. This one is long, oblong-shaped, edged with quaint curbside
cafes and flowers trailing from the window boxes above. It’s so
charming, like a picture postcard come to life, bustling with a hum
of activity under the cloudless autumn skies. The music is louder
here, and I see a crowd of people circled around something, so I make
my way over, and edge my way through the crowd to see what’s
It’s a group of street performers, putting on a show. They’ve
marked out an area in the midst of the crowd, rigged speakers from
someone’s iPod, and now, as I watch, three guys finish a
hip-hop style routine, turning backflips to the applause of the
I laugh, surprised. It seems weird, watching them dance such modern
steps in the shadow of a half-century-old classical fountain, but I
can’t help being swept up in their enthusiasm. They’re
good, too; I’m no expert on this kind of dance, but I can see
the crisp movements in their routine, how the flashy tricks are
grounded in real technique and skill. Choreography like this could be
in a music video, or some movie, not just out here on the street
busking for a few Euros.
The song ends and I burst into applause, cheering along with the rest
of the crowd. The three guys take a bow, and then clear the makeshift
dance floor for the next routine. I check my watch, wondering if I
have time to stay for another dance. Maybe I should be getting back
Then a new burst of music sounds, pulsating and wild, and suddenly,
my thoughts fade clear away, blotted out as completely as the sun
during an eclipse.
Standing, poised, waiting for his intro, his body proud and arched,
arms raised. There’s a girl waiting beside him, his partner,
but I only have eyes for him.
God, he’s gorgeous. Dark curly hair, tanned skin, and piercing
blue eyes that seem to shimmer against the gold of his skin. He’s
dressed in a starched white shirt and tuxedo pants that fit him like
a glove. The breath is sucked from my lungs, and I feel a thrill
ripple through me, a sensation I’ve never known before:
anticipation, as if I know something important is about to happen.
And then he starts to dance.
Dear Lord ...
I swear, time stops as I watch him move. It’s like nothing I’ve
ever seen: part Latin ballroom, part street, part modern
contemporary. And all of it totally devastating.
I stare, awestruck, as he plays out a wicked game with his partner:
bringing her in, sending her away, lifting her as effortlessly as if
she was made of air. His movements are bold, dominating.
Sexy as hell.
There’s no cheap grinding, or tacky thrusts, but somehow, every
step oozes sensuality. It’s so intimate, I blush, feeling my
body respond to the scene playing out in front of me. His hands slide
over her body, and I imagine them on me instead; gripping tight at my
waist, then softly brushing along my arm as I spin away.
My breath gets shallow. I shiver, feeling my nipples tighten. My
thighs clench in my jeans.
I can’t believe it, but I’m getting turned on: watching
them dance in the middle of a crowded square.
What are you doing?
I scold myself, trying to snap out of it.
But I can’t look away. I stay, watching, caught up in the story
of love and betrayal they’re telling with their bodies until at
last, he whirls her out one more time and then pulls her back;
dipping her so low her hair grazes the ground.
They freeze there, holding the pose. There’s silence, so pure
you could hear a pin drop, and in that moment, he lifts his head and
looks out across the square.
Our eyes lock.
It’s only a split second, those piercing blue eyes on mine, but
I feel the moment stretch for an eternity. His gaze crashes through
me, setting every nerve and sense alight, as if I’m touchpaper
and he’s a molten spark, dancing through my bloodstream.
Desire flares, so strong I lose my breath.
And then the thunder of applause breaks the spell, and I realize I’m
digging my nails into my palms, gasping for air.
Who is this man?
I snap back to reality and realize the crowd is dispersing. Some of
the dancers are collecting coins, so I find a ten-Euro note and press
it into the hat as it passes me by: it’s a lot, but they
I’m tucking my wallet back into my purse when I hear the sound
of church bells ring out across the square. Crap! I’ve been
here twenty minutes. Everyone will back at the bus—if they
haven’t left already!
Suddenly someone jostles me hard. I nearly lose my balance, and as I
struggle to recover, I feel a sharp tug on my purse strap. Then it’s
“Wait!” I yell, looking wildly around. There, I see him:
a guy in a baseball cap, sprinting through the crowd clutching my
“My bag!” I cry. “He stole my purse!”
Dread crashes through me. Everything is in that purse: my money,
credit cards, passport.
Oh God, my passport!
I start after him, trying to duck through the throngs of people, but
he’s racing away from me too fast. “Thief!” I cry
angrily, “Stop, thief!”
Then there’s a flash of motion: someone else racing through the
crowd. As the thief reaches the edge of the
, his new
pursuer tackles him hard, down to the ground.
I catch up with them, breathless, just as my savior drags the guy
over and snatches my bag back.
“I believe this is yours.” The voice is low, edged with
an Italian accent. Then he turns, and I find a pair of familiar
devastating blue eyes blazing into mine.
The dancer from before, the man who took my breath away. He’s
the one who came to my rescue.
I take the purse back, clutching it to my chest, wordless. Up close I
can see he’s in his mid-twenties, maybe, with a hint of sexy
dark stubble on the chiseled line of his jaw. He’s wearing the
same white shirt and tuxedo pants from his performance, and up close,
his body is broad-shouldered and muscular.
I feel another surge of desire snake through me. There’s
something overwhelming about him, a raw physical presence that can’t
be denied. I’m used to lithe dancer’s bodies, not this
taut muscle and obvious strength.
He could lift me easily.
Or pin you down…
I realize that he’s still talking. “What do you wish to
do with him?” he asks, nodding to the thief. “I can call
I look down. The thief’s cap has fallen off in the tussle,
revealing his face. I move closer. It’s just a boy, fifteen at
most, cringing now on the ground.
“No, it’s OK.” I’m suddenly hit with
sympathy. The poor kid looks scared to death, waiting for his fate.
“As long as he doesn’t do it again.”
The man drags the kid to his feet, speaking to him in a stream of
harsh Italian. The kid stutters and nods emphatically. Then he’s
released, and scurries away into the crowd.
“My apologies,” my rescuer turns back to me. “Many
pickpockets use the show as a cover to steal, when attention is
“I know why,” I find myself babbling. “You were
amazing ... I mean, I’ve never seen anything like it. What was
Stop it, Annalise!
Stop sounding like an idiot!
The man’s beautiful lips curl with amusement. “All
things. Some flamenco, tango, modern ... I see where the music takes
I blink, dazed at the sight of his smile. Dear God, this man could
stop time with just one look. “Well, thank you,” I say
breathlessly. “For saving me. I mean, my purse. I don’t
know what I would have done without you. It, I mean,” I correct