“Don’t lose that,” Zed tells me for about the billionth time as he glances over at the tiny ultrasound picture in my hand. His eyes return straight to the road as it curves along the river back into the city.
“I’m not going to lose it,” I promise, resisting the urge to tease him as I fold up the picture and slip it into my wallet. I drop my purse on the ground between my feet and lean back, watching the sun dance off the river. “Besides, we’re going to have a lot of those pictures.”
“The first one is special,” he insists.
I can’t argue with that, and I don’t want to argue. At the doctor’s office, he asked almost all the questions because I couldn’t stop staring at that tiny little picture. My whole life I’ve built palaces and stories and music with my body, but now, inside me, I am building a person. I understand the science, but not the miracle.
“So I should call my parents soon,” he says quietly, his hands gripping the steering wheel until his knuckles turn white.
I study him, noting the furrow in his brow and the way his mouth turns into a thin, tense line, the way a toe draws an arc on the marley floor. “Will it help or hurt if I’m there?”
He glances at me, then back to the road. “To be honest, I don’t know.”
I’m not sure what Zed’s parents think about me. They’re as close to estranged as a family can get and still send each other Christmas cards. Zed has done almost all his holidays with my family since we were thirteen. I’ve met his parents twice but only in passing. They’re deeply religious and hate that this is what Zed does with his life. Knocking me up out of wedlock will pretty much confirm the evil of ballet in their minds.
“Think about it,” I say, leaning my head against the window. “Whatever is better. There’s no rush.”
He relaxes a little bit, his thumbs drumming on the wheel. “Yeah. Okay.”
He flashes me a quick smile, just before I see his eyes widen and him wrench the wheel, hard, at the same time the glass around me shatters. The air’s punched out of my lungs and the world goes upside down, grass into the sky, sky into the grass, until there’s a sickening crunch of metal. I exhale, and everything goes black.
* * *
I’ve spun down, a top wobbling to a stop, and then two hands touch my heart, and I’m sent spinning off across the glossy floor. One day, I want to dance on mirrors. I’ve seen my body from every angle except from my feet. I’ll never be as good as my feet are. They’ve carried me across rooms, studios, stages, cities, and countries. I’ve only learned to love them in pointe shoes, but then the other night, Zed studied my body like I carried all the answers to the universe on my skin. He ran his fingers over the scars of my adolescence and kissed my stomach, my shins, the crooks of my elbows, my ankle bones.
He said, “I love the parts of you that you forget to love.”
I’ve loved him for so long that sometimes I forget how to love him. Sometimes I forget why I love him. Loving him is like breathing. It comes naturally. I don’t have to think about it. I never worried, before, about the day when I would not have him to love.
I never worried about breathing before, either.
Now, when I breathe, every part of my body splinters apart, slashed open with a cold knife. A soft, warm hand holds my cheek and whispers, “Shhh, shhh, darling.”
“Zed.” My voice comes out raspy, like I inhaled thousands of shards of glass.
“It’s Mom,” says the voice after a pause. “Alyona, can you open your eyes?”
When I do, no one in the room calls me Aly. I am Alyona to everyone, and there’s a hollow where my heart should be. My mother, with her dark hair and deep-set eyes full of tears, grips my hand tightly. She starts to speak but cries instead. My dad scoots a chair closer and leans forward, kissing my forehead.
“Baby girl,” he whispers. “It’s going to be okay. We’re going to figure this out.”
We’ll figure this out. Zed told me that.
“Zed,” I say again, trying to sit up. Something sticky’s attached to my chest. My right hand stings. I’m tethered to an IV line and a heart monitor. I scream and kick my feet, gasping, as the ceiling rolls above me in the aftershocks of pain.
“Alyona, Alyona,” cries my mother, holding my arms. “He’s okay. He’s okay.”
A nurse comes in and says the doctor will be right by, but my dad smooths my hair off my forehead and says, “Do you remember what happened?”
I don’t, and when the doctor comes in, they tell me the broken fragments of a life shattered and gone. A car blew a red light and hit us going so fast that we rolled down an embankment into a guardrail that went through the side of our rental car. Zed and I both ended up in intensive care. They tell me they’ll have to do a procedure to remove the tiny lifeless body from me. I couldn’t hold on to it.
“I don’t know,” Mom says, her shoulders dropping when I ask if I can see Zed. She wipes tears off her face. “His family came in last night and they won’t talk to us.”
I need him, I think and then shrink into myself, guilt filling empty spaces in my body. He needs me. We can’t do this alone.
It’s three days before I convince a nurse to take me in a wheelchair up to the ICU, where Zed’s recovering. I wheel myself into his room and his dad springs off the chair, looking around anxiously.
“You shouldn’t be here,” he whispers. “Mrs. Harrow—she doesn’t want to see you.”
I can’t pay attention to his words. Zed’s face is as bruised as my entire body, and there’s a tube down his throat. The left side of his jaw is wired shut, the metal poking through bandages. Machines beep next to him the way Johan would stand next to us and count off the beats for variations. I roll up next to Zed, slip my fingers into his cold hand and touch his cheek like we used to do.
“Zed,” I whisper.
“Alyona,” says his dad nervously. “You can’t be in here. He’s recovering.”
For years, Zed was safe and I was safe and nothing bad ever happened. On a bridge in Amsterdam, I danced with him from one island to another. I asked him to stay with me, and he did. He never broke a promise to me, even when he asked me to let him lead that dance. I grip his hand too tightly, but he’s not letting go either. Though the machines continue to beep like a metronome next to him, his fingers lace with mine.
I take a deep breath and lay my head on his arm. I run my fingers over his hospital gown and close my eyes. His heart beats against my palm. Steady. Strong. Quiet. Somewhere beneath the bruises and the bleeding, Zed’s still telling me to trust him. He’s still telling me to let go. He’ll catch my hand. Whatever’s to come, he’ll catch my hand.
We’re still dancing.