Twenty minutes before our first performance, I find Aly outside of her dressing room, stretching in her red leotard and black tights, her hair sticky with hair spray and her makeup turning her into a creature of the stage instead of the girl I know. When I sit down next to her, her mouth tilts into a smile though she keeps her earbuds in and stays bent over, her feet flexing in her pointe shoes.
“Ready?” I ask her, holding my toes. My lower back aches from the rehearsal this morning. Adrian and I spent most of our time this afternoon lying on our backs watching Dutch news even though we can’t follow a single word. It looked intense, though. Now I’m regretting not doing something low impact like yoga to keep limber.
Her head rolls to the side to look at me. “Yes. Am I ever not ready?”
Excellent. We’re in extreme, all the guards down, full-on prima ballerina mode.
“Let me do the work,” I remind her, keeping my voice low. She managed to work through the pain in her knees and shins this morning and afternoon, but she spent the last two hours icing them in her own hotel room with a cool cloth over her eyes. The hyperextension in this pas de deux really took its toll on her.
She ducks her head back behind her arm so I almost miss her words. “It’s my ballet too.”
I know this but I don’t know how to explain what I meant so I don’t reply at all, just stretch quietly next to her before Johan tells us he wants us by the curtains. Standing in the wings and watching the rest of the company finish up the variation from Sleeping Beauty, Aly leans into me and I slip an arm around her. We haven’t talked since our walk yesterday, but maybe we don’t need to. Maybe we just need this, to dance. We’re meant to be dancers as much as we’re meant to be together.
I believe that.
The curtains fall and the audience applauds. While we wait for the cast to take their bows, Aly rises on pointe, finally as tall as me, and bounces a little bit on her toes, rolling her shoulders.
The other dancers brush by us, but it’s already like we’re out on stage by ourselves, standing in our own spotlight like we’ve always wanted. We’ve shared a stage before, but nothing like this, not since we were at school. Our first professional pas de deux together, and God, I want it to be perfect.
“Ready?” It’s her turn to ask me.
And it’s stupid to keep pretending we’re not hurtling toward what’s inevitable the same way we’re hurtling toward the stage. I press my hand against her face and bend my head, kissing her once, swiftly and surely. At first, she’s stiff, but then she softens, kissing me back the same way she dances: defiant, sure, determined to be in charge.
“Merde,” I whisper to her, so she has to brush the smile from her face before she slips out behind the curtain and the music starts.
* * *
I’d like to give credit to the kiss, but all I know is that this time, we’re different. I stepped out onto the stage and offered her my hand, and we turn this pas de deux into something extraordinary. Aly offers me her hand the way she’d throw a match into gasoline. We turn the stage to tinder.
This ballet isn’t about intrigue or whimsy, and it’s not about false promises or mistaken intents. It’s different from all the romantic ballets I’ve always loved because it leaves everything out there on the stage. There are no metaphors. There are only the dancers ripping open their chests and saying we all want to be the best, above all the rest, and even when we’re together, we want to be better.
Even when we’re together, we want to be better.
And I want to be better with her. With her, with her, with her, with her. The music gives and takes, just like our hands, the angles of our bodies, the lift of Aly’s chin, the ferocity I’m no longer afraid to show her in my eyes. And when my hand presses against her stomach, our hips sliding out to the side, I can feel her heart falling into the same rhythm as mine.
The curtain falls and my forehead falls with it against the back of her head. She is gravity. I am always falling back to her.
When the curtain rises, we pull our sweaty bodies apart and step forward with stage smiles, bowing and curtsying to the applauding audience. The deafening noise of hands colliding numbs my mind but her sweaty hand is still in mine, and she never lets go of it, not even when I try to let her go forward for her solo curtsy.
We retreat into the stage wings and the comfort of the dark shadows and our company. We weave our way through the dancers and stage crew, smiling as people brush their fingers against our shoulders, saying it’s the best they’ve seen us dance the pas de deux, better than any rehearsal.
In an unoccupied corner, I turn to her and I don’t even care about half the company and Johan watching us. Not right now. The adrenaline slipping from my body in beads of sweat is no longer masking the pain in my legs, the ache in my back or the way my heart splattered all over that stage. I don’t even have to pull her against me. She steps willingly into the quiet, calm space we’ve made here. She says nothing as I start to tug the bobby pins from her hair, dropping them on the floor. I want to see my Aly again. The ballet dancer in her is on the same page as me, and right now I need to know the rest of her is too.
We are both made of thousands of edges, and ballet is all of our seams. I want to be the stitching that keeps her all together.
“What’d you leave out there?” It’s an easier question to ask her than, Was that you? Was that a yes?
She pulls my hands from her hair down to her sweat-streaked throat and presses my fingers against her pulse. It pounds, not any slower than the pulse I felt in her wrists and her stomach on stage.
“Let me take you somewhere. Just us,” I whisper, letting my lips brush her earlobe, just to test. She shudders, her hips pressing closer. I don’t dare kiss her right now, as open and fragile as she feels in my arms.
“We can’t,” she says, finally finding her voice. Then, when I freeze, she tilts her head up. “We have class in the morning, then rehearsal, then a performance.”
It’s not the no I thought was coming. I hate when she’s responsible, but she’s right. I turn her hair around in my fingers, closing my fist around it. “Tuesday night. After the last performance. I promise we won’t miss the flight to Prague.”
Her smile is everything. “Okay.”