I don’t know who first decided that humans should cross oceans in giant metal capsules hurtling through the air, but I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t be friends. The seat belt light clicking off doesn’t ease my nerves at all. Next to me, Aly kicks off her shoes and stretches, her back arching a little bit. She offers me one of the bags of pretzels she bought before we boarded and I shake my head. I’ll need one of those puke bags if I eat anything. And if I smell puke, I won’t stop puking, making this the longest flight over the Atlantic in the history of mankind. We won’t land in Amsterdam for seven more hours, and I can’t even imagine getting through the next ten minutes.
Aly still smells like chlorine from our swim this morning when she leans sideways and elbows me hard right in the ribs. “You’re white as a ghost.”
“Put the pretzels away,” I mutter. “They’re making me nauseous.”
The plane hits a patch of turbulence and I grip my armrests tightly. Aly reaches over and peels my hand off, one finger at a time, and lets me grip her hand instead. She smiles at me, her face clear of all that confusion from last night. I can’t tell if she’s getting better at clearing her mind of anxiety or whether she was, in fact, just talking about dance all along.
“Once we’re cruising,” she says softly, “it’ll stop being so shaky. I promise.”
“Don’t make a promise you can’t keep.” I lean my head back on the seat and her cheek presses into my shoulder. Her thumb glides across the back of my hand. Today, she’s the one offering comfort. The more she touches me, the more I think I’m losing my mind. I can’t shake the look on her face last night out of my head. The way she scooted away from me so she could breathe.
“Tell me a story,” she says. “It’ll distract you.”
I don’t open my eyes but I smile. When we were younger, we’d invent wild stories about what we had already accomplished. Being prodigies wasn’t enough. In our imaginations, we saved tigers and created world peace with ballet slippers on our feet.
We are dancers. Even our feet dream big.
No wonder we look at each other and see both anchors and wings.
“What’s wrong?” Adrian asks, leaning over from his seat next to Aly. “I brought Twizzlers.”
“Don’t,” Aly says. “He’s going to throw up.”
“Oh, dude, gross. Don’t puke. That’s not cool.”
Like I can stop motion sickness and anxiety with sheer willpower. I’m good, but there’s only so much I can do. “Trying.”
“I didn’t know you were scared of flying,” Adrian says and then presses a water bottle against my arm. I yank away from the sudden chill. “Stay hydrated. It’ll help when we get there.”
I lean my head sideways, against Aly’s. “We should learn to apparate.”
“When you get into Hogwarts, I better be the first to know,” she says. “Until then, maybe you should stop hating Dramamine so much and just take it.”
“You’d be bored without me to harass,” I tell her. I hate Dramamine because I hate feeling sluggish. It takes days for me to feel right after taking it and we don’t have the luxury of time. Land and dance is the name of the game on this tour.
“I used to get stage fright,” Adrian says, popping his gum. “Like real, hard-core stage fright, you know? Where you just see the casting list and you start sweating? I passed out once.”
“No way,” Aly whispers, in awe, like dancers who can fight stage fright are unicorns. I understand stage fright. I usually have to psych myself up for a performance, but once I’m out there, my time in front of an audience is the best dancing I’ll do all week. “Seriously?”
“Yeah.” He laughs. “I know, you can’t believe it because you’ve never known what stage fright is—”
“I have this irrational fear that my pointe shoes are going to come off in the middle of a variation,” Aly bursts out, and then sucks in a breath so hard, it takes her off my shoulder. Her blue eyes quiver, bouncing between Adrian and me, like she’s revealed this deep-seated secret.
“So what do you do? Superglue them to your feet?” Adrian leans forward, actually interested in hearing about Aly’s neuroses. Next she’s going to talk about how she can’t be on the end during a class but she likes to have a straight path to the emergency exit.
“I usually have a double elastic in my shoes for performances,” she admits. She glances at me. “You used to think I was crazy to do that.”
“I think the superglue isn’t a bad idea, to be honest,” I tell her with a straight face.
She smacks my arm. “See? You do think I’m crazy.”
“If I didn’t love your crazy, I would have left years ago.” I close my eyes and settle back against the seat again. “Your crazy doesn’t scare me.”
“So superglue for our pas de deux?” she teases, and when Adrian and I tell her to do it, she says, “I’m not. Because then what happens if I’m allergic to the Dutch version of superglue?”
“That’s the most toxic and paralyzing phrase in all of human language,” Adrian says, elbowing me. “‘Because what if.’”
“Evaluating a situation and knowing the possible outcomes is kind of how people survive,” I point out.
“Yeah, but some risk is necessary, right? I mean, as artists, isn’t that what we do?”
I turn to him as he repeats my words from last night back to me. Aly’s frozen like a deer in headlights. Realizing that we’re both gaping at him, I clear my throat and say, “Yeah, of course. And I get that, as a dancer. But sometimes it feels like—” I hesitate, and then pick my words carefully, “—sometimes it feels like I use up all my risk on stage and in class. Then I have nothing in reserve for the rest of my life.”
Adrian stares at me so hard I’m convinced he knows exactly what I’m playing at and he’s trying to figure out how to play along. His reply is so slow it’s obvious that he’s picking his words with caution. “Yeah, sure. That makes sense. Putting yourself out there takes something out of you. It can be exhausting. Our job is putting ourselves out there for eight hours a day every day, maybe more. That’s draining. You gotta recharge the batteries, you know what I mean?”
Now I’m lost. I nod. “Sure.”
The seat belt light switches off and the pilot tells us that we can move about the cabin freely, which sounds like a terrible idea. So, naturally, Aly unbuckles her seat belt immediately, kisses my cheek and scurries down the aisle toward the bathroom—and to Sakura, I’m sure.
Adrian kicks me. “I do not speak in code. What the fuck is going on?”
I shouldn’t say anything, because even I don’t know what’s going on, but I check around us and we’re the only dancers in this section, so I sigh and say, “Aly.”
“Duh,” he says. “So did you and Alyona do it or something?”
“That sounds so weird.” I rub at my face. “No, we didn’t do it. But I stayed at her place last night—shut up, we stay over all the time. Move past it, McKinley. Anyway, we had this late night talk, about In the Middle, and at some point, I think we stopped talking about dance. Started talking about us.”
“The us that is not an us, but is always an us,” Adrian says with a straight face.
I roll my eyes. “Yeah. That.”
“This is why we’re talking about taking risks right now?” He glances down the rows of navy blue seats. Aly’s still way back by the bathrooms, waiting in line and chatting with Sakura. “Dude, if you’re bringing me into your head game with her, you have to brief me beforehand. What if I say something that fucks it up?”
“You can’t fuck up something that doesn’t exist,” I remind him.
“That is not true,” he says, pointing his finger at me. “Besides, don’t lie. It’s not that it doesn’t exist. It’s that it doesn’t have a name.”
“It’s not a thing. We’re friends,” I insist.
“Okay, clearly I need to break something to you. Yeah, you and Alyona are friends. But you’re not just friends.” He drops his voice even lower. “Whether you two are sleeping together or not has nothing to do with it.”
I watch Aly tilt her head back and laugh at something Sakura says, the long line of her throat, the broadness of her smile, her blond hair swinging. How she’s walking around a death trap of a plane without fear. In the least sexual way possible, I want to climb inside her skin just for a day, to see what it’s like to be so fearless. Okay, and maybe in a sexual way, too, but with different goals and outcomes. “Maybe. But I am not compromising our friendship to put a name to it.”
“That’s the risk, though,” he says. “You’re going to have to roll the dice on that at some point, my friend. That’s exactly the risk for you.”
I blink at him. “Is there a different risk for her?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.” He nods. “Here she comes.”
Aly sinks into the seat next to me and tucks her feet beneath her. “Sakura asked Johan for us. Our first company dinner is at a sushi place near the hotel. We’ll have time to go to the studio if we want.”
“Alright,” I say, watching her closely. I always thought she also feared losing what we had now. But maybe it ran deeper than that. Maybe I’ve been wrong this whole time. “Let’s see how we feel.”
She leans against me, closing her eyes. “I already know what I feel.”
I can hear my heartbeat. “Yeah?”
“I feel like dancing,” she whispers, and falls asleep with a smile on her face.