Authors: Melody Grace
“I thought you wanted to know about last night,” I
interject, changing the subject the only way I can.
“Ooh, yes,” Karla whirls around to me. “Spill!”
I take a breath, trying to find a way to describe the night. “It
“So you did do it!” Karla announces triumphantly.
“Keep it down!” I hush her, panicked. “And no, as I
said, I only just met the guy. We talked,” I add. “And we
danced. And... we kissed.”
I blush, certain she can see through me. But maybe Karla doesn’t
think I’m the kind of girl to stumble back against the wall and
surrender to pleasure, because she doesn’t press me.
“So what now?” Karla asks, biting into her apple. “Are
you going to see him again?”
I deflate. “I don’t know.”
In the bright light of day, reality comes crashing in. I’m here
in Rome for a reason, to dance. To be the best. Sneaking off to meet
Raphael again would risk everything, and besides, where could it
possibly lead? I’m only here for six weeks, then it’s
back to New York and my life filled with classes and rehearsals.
There’s no future for us—even if he wanted there to be
one. Which I don’t know. Because I barely know anything about
him at all.
I realize with a shock that we barely even had a conversation. What
kind of girl does that make me?
Wanton. Wild. Adventurous.
“Don’t look so glum.” Rosalie sends me a comforting
smile. “It sounds like you had a wonderful night. That’s
“Right,” I echo, but it already feels too far away. Just
a dream, a glimpse of something I might never taste again.
The girls take up the conversation, chatting idly about backstage
gossip and dinner plans while I pick at my food, downcast. I try to
remind myself that Raphael would only be a distraction, anyway, but I
can still picture the look in his eyes as we danced together last
night; the expression on his face as he lowered his mouth and claimed
me. I’ve never seen anyone look at me the way he did, with such
intensity and sensual passion.
My phone buzzes loudly, and I look down to see it’s Mom
calling. I feel a prick of guilt, as if she could sense me thinking
about something other than ballet from all the way across the globe.
“I’ll see you at the studio,” I tell Karla, rising
to my feet.
“Don’t be late, we’ve got partnering, and you know
the last one in will get stuck with Andre,” she says, naming
one of the male dancers.
“You’re too mean,” I protest. “He’s a
“Yeah, well he could use a great mouthwash.” Karla
wrinkles her face in disgust.
I answer my phone, weaving my way out of the cafeteria. “Hey,
“Hi, sweetheart, I haven’t heard from you. You were
supposed to call last night.”
“I was?” I flush. The thought of the party and Raphael
sent everything spinning from my mind. “Sorry, I was...
rehearsing late,” I lie. “I forgot.”
I exit the building onto a side street. Rome is awake, traffic noise
sounding along with the distant ring of church bells.
“Good.” Her voice is steely. “You need all the
practice you can get. I talked to Deirdre in the office at the
company, and she says they’ll be casting soon.”
“Next week,” I admit. “But Mom, the competition is
pretty fierce,” I add, scared. “There are a lot of good
“There will always be good dancers.” Mom’s voice is
scathing. “Better dancers, more disciplined. That’s why
you can’t relax, even for a second. I’m counting on you,
Annalise. Don’t let me down.”
I stay silent, guilty. If mom ever found out where I’d really
been last night, I don’t know what she’d do.
“Have you been working on your solos?” Mom demands. “Your
footwork is always sloppy in your Odette routine,” she says,
naming one of the trickiest pieces of all, a dance from Swan Lake
that’s been getting the better of me all year.
“I was thinking,” I start, in a quiet voice, “maybe
I shouldn’t use that for the audition. Maybe I should do
something I know better, the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, perhaps,
“Don’t be a baby,” Mom cuts me off. “If
you’re going to win the solo, you have to dazzle them. Have you
been slacking off?” she demands. “I told you, some of the
girls will be running around, sight-seeing and staying out late. You
can’t let them pull your focus away from what matters. This is
your last chance, remember?”
I stop, my blood running cold.
She’s never said that before. Deep down, I’ve known it
was true ever since she produced my ticket and told me I was coming
here, but it’s different to hear her say it out loud.
My last chance.
If I mess this up, if I don’t win one of those solos, then my
ballet career is as good as over. Sure, they’ll keep me around
another year, in the back of the
corps de ballet
, just another
face in the crowd. But we all know a ballerina has a limited shelf
life, and if you’re not moving up the company ladder, sooner or
later, you’ll be moving out. From there, it’s a slow
slide, to minor companies, touring smaller cities, until finally, you
admit defeat and wind up teaching, or quit ballet entirely, just
another dancer who couldn’t make the cut.
As if she can hear my fears, Mom speaks up again. “For God’s
sake, Annalise, I’ve practically handed this to you on a
platter. Do you realize how lucky you are? I had to fight my way to
the top, and you’re just sitting back and letting it all slide
I stop listening, feeling a sick knot in my chest. I hate it when she
does this, makes me feel so guilty. I know that if she could, she
would trade places with me in a heartbeat. Jump on the next flight,
and come out here, relive her whole career all over again. But she
can’t, all she can do is give me everything she’s
learned, coach me to be the very best I can be.
But what if I don’t want this anymore?
It’s hard to describe what it feels like when I dance.
Last year, a documentary crew came to film the company. Mom pulled
her usual strings and got me time in front of the camera. I remember
sitting there, carefully posed in my leotard and pointe shoes, the
bright lights beaming at my face, everyone waiting for me to speak.
But what could I say?
That’s the thing about dance, it’s beyond words. The
movement, the feeling of getting the steps just right: when the
painstaking choreography fits together so perfectly, I can’t
even feel the individual tiny actions, just the gorgeous flow as I
lose myself completely in the story and the music, falling into
another world until I live and breathe and exist only as a rush of
motion; powerful, focused.
But the truth is, it’s getting harder for me to dance like
that. I can perform a dozen times, and lose myself like that only
once or twice. I try to fall, to surrender, but that only makes it
worse. It’s like I’m trapped in my own mind, too aware of
each and every muscle in my body, and the perfection I need to hit to
make it right. A ballet is like a winding stack of dominos: from the
very first step, everything should unfold as natural and easy as
breathing. But if you miss just one step, a split second, a heartbeat
in time, the whole sequence falls apart.
But those moments it all comes together ... That’s when I feel
it, a power like no other, beating through my body, like I could take
flight, right there on the stage. It’s a drug, a shot of pure
joy, and the longer I go between hits, the more I crave it, need it,
desperately fight to get back there, in that perfect zone, where the
movements roll off my body and my feet are made of stardust, golden
and bright. All the work and the criticism, the pain and
insecurities, they melt away, and I finally feel whole again, like
I’m the person I’m meant to be.
Like I’m worthy.
“Well, you sure ate your Wheaties today.” Karla gives me
a sidelong look as we drag our tired asses down the stairs after
rehearsals. “Where did that come from? I’ve never seen
you leap so high.”
“Do you think Gilbert saw?” I ask eagerly. I could drop
dead from exhaustion, but my whole body is bathed in a warm glow of
achievement, from one of the best rehearsal sessions I’ve had
“Hell yes,” she replies.
“Even I saw you,” Rosalie laughs on my other side. “And
I don’t even know what it was you were doing. I just know it
The other dancers shoot me envious looks as we file out, and Lucia
looks like she wishes I’d drop dead.
“I’m surprised you have the energy,” Lucia says as
she passes me. “You look so… tired. But then, with the
curfew, you would have slept the whole night through.”
I look up, panicked. What does she know?
“Of course, if you did go out, that would be a major
infraction,” Lucia continues. She gives me a pointed look.
“Why, it could even mean they threw you off the residency
My heart is in my throat. Did she see me? Is she going to tell?
“Have a great day!” Lucia coos, and sashays away, leaving
me in a cold sweat. I grab Karla. “Did you hear that? She
“No way.” Karla glares over at Lucia. “She’s
jealous, for sure. If she’d seen you sneak out, she would have
reported it right away.”
Not if she’s waiting to use it against you,
voice murmurs in my head.
Biding her time until it really matters.
“Relax,” Karla orders me. “Revel in your great
I smile. “I haven’t won that solo yet.”
right, I can’t let my fears ruin what was a great rehearsal.
“Hey, you guys want to go somewhere and celebrate?” I
ask. I remember Raphael’s parting words to me last night, about
performing at the
wouldn’t hurt to drop by just to see...“We could find a
cute square and get a drink, people-watch. It’s still early.”
“Sounds good to me,” Karla agrees. “Ros?”
“I don’t know ...” Rosalie checks her phone
anxiously. “Mademoiselle said she might need me later.”
“Might,” Karla emphasizes. “C’mon ... You’ve
been running around all day. We deserve a break!”
Rosalie breaks into a smile. “OK, I’m in.”
We make our way to the square and settle in at a sidewalk table,
ordering cold drinks and taking in the view. The
bustling in the afternoon sun with tourists and locals; the fountains
sending up clear jets of water over the ancient stone statues.
Karla looks around with a grin. “Not too shabby for the girl
voted ‘least likely to be anyone’ in high school,”
“That’s not true!” Rosalie protests. “You’re
Karla rolls her eyes. “Close enough. If those bitches could see
me now...” She leans back in her chair, happily surveying the
I sip my lemonade and keep an eye out for Raphael and his troupe. He
did say this
, didn’t he? I check again, getting
more nervous as the minutes tick past. Just the thought of seeing him
again has set my nerves to life, an anxious, excited jitter in my
God, that kiss.
“... Earth to Annalise!”
I snap back to reality to find Karla waving her arms in front of my
face. “Wow, you really were a million miles away.” She
laughs. “What’s up? Reliving your performance today in
all its envy-inspiring glory?”
“I ... no. Just thinking,” I reply quickly, checking
again. I drum the tabletop, feeling my
anticipation rise, until Karla stops me.
“Seriously, what is with you?” she demands.
Before I can reply, I hear the music start. I can’t stop a huge
smile from spreading across my face. “Come see,” I say
breathlessly, rising to my feet.
“See what?” Rosalie looks confused.
I scramble for my wallet and lay down a note to cover our drinks.
“Trust me, come on!”
I hustle Rosalie and Karla through the crowd already gathering at the
far end of the
. I push our way to the front, just as
Raphael and Francesca step forward in the center of their marked-off
My heart catches at the sight of him.
He’s dressed in a plain black T-shirt that hugs his muscular
torso and tuxedo pants that fit like a glove. He strikes a pose, and
I can tell he’s settling into the role, mentally taking himself
out of this busy square, and into that place in his mind all dancers
go, where nothing matters but the music.
I hear Karla let out a chuckle beside me. “Now I get it,”
she murmurs, but my focus is on him.
The first chords ring out through the
. The crowd is
growing, passers-by drawn in by the sight of him, poised for action,
and Francesca beside him, bent in a low curtseying pose. Even I can
admit she’s show-stopping in a low-cut red dress that spills in
a waterfall of ruffles. Somehow, she makes it look like high fashion,
not some tacky costume, with her dark hair cascading down her back,
and her eyes lined with dark kohl.
The music builds, and with it, my anticipation. Raphael’s face
is a mask of concentration, but then, just as he reaches for
Francesca for the first time, his eyes meet mine across the dance
His expression changes. Just for a split second, but I see it: a rush
of happiness flitting across his face. He sends me a smile, secret
and private. Then the mask comes down again, and he starts to dance.
I lose myself in watching him all over again: the power, the control,
the grace of his movements. But this time, it’s deeper, because
I know what it’s like to be there, pressed against his body,
feeling every step as if it were my own.