I lose track of how many hours later it is, how many streets we’ve wandered, how many canals we crossed, how many times people smiled with affection at my arm linked through Zed’s. He’s oblivious to all of it, tilting toward tipsiness, either staring at me or lifting his face to the sky. No matter where he’s looking, the only word for his expression is wonder. Uncontained wonder.
After the second bar, he runs his fingers down my cheek. His brow furrows and he says, his voice hoarse from whiskey, “What’s happening?”
Our bodies are trashed after three days of performances, but we can’t stop moving. I catch his wrist with my hand, turn my mouth to kiss his palm. “Does it matter?”
He laughs and ducks his head to touch his nose and mouth to the corner of my jaw. All these years, and here we are. He kisses the edge of my mouth, like a warning, and then kisses me again fully, his mouth confident and sure, steady and soft.
He pulls back and whispers, “You know it does. And that’s not an answer. You can’t dance away from this question, Aly.”
I don’t know how to tell him that I’m afraid of losing him if this goes south, whatever this is, and I don’t know how to tell him that I know. I can feel it, here, in the dark of the bar, beads of sweat sliding down the glasses sitting on the worn wood table. I tore open my chest three nights in a row with him—in front of an audience—and let myself be as vulnerable as I was defiant. This is real. It’s standing on the cliff, hand in hand. It’s the start of a new ballet. It’s improvising. It’s terrifying, but there’s no one else I can imagine doing this with.
I dance around the words, even in my mind.
Zed leans forward, hesitates and then whispers, “Want to go home?”
We wander from the bar down the main street full of honking cars and noise, even hours after the performance. I don’t know what time it is, but it doesn’t matter. My body hums with aliveness, anticipation. The light drizzle that began earlier in the evening is a steady light rain now, and it tempers the heat on my skin. The cold is irrelevant. My hands and feet could be freezing. How would I know?
Zed runs his hands along a wall, his fingers open and loose so raindrops slide between them, and that’s when I decide that tonight, nothing matters but us. Everything else can fall away, carried down the storm drains and rushed away with the splashes left behind by footsteps. No tomorrows or next weeks or when we get homes. No yesterdays or past boyfriends and past girlfriends. There’s no ballet and nothing hurts. Just him, and me, and everything how it should have gone, if we were a fairy tale. If fairy tales were real life.
Here is the cliff, and here we are.
A crack of thunder jolts me and Zed yanks his hand off the wall and grabs my hand, tugging me hard. We break into a run just as the rain turns from a soft patter into a torrential downpour, fat, heavy drops beating against us, sure to leave bruises like fingertips. Needy, wanting fingertips.
In the hotel elevator, he pulls me against him, shielding me like I’m not already soaked to the bone. His hair sticks to my forehead as he fishes out the key and unlocks the door. I start to laugh because I am tipsy, and he is wonderful, and it’s raining in February in a city made of water and wandering streets and bridges that twist against the sky.
“Is anyone here?” I whisper, realizing we are in his room.
“I told them to get the fuck out,” Zed says, shutting the door behind him with a solid click.
“Oh my God, everyone knows.” Of course they did. They’ve seen the way we’ve danced the last three days. They probably didn’t miss the way he kissed me before each performance and held me after, different from the way we used to lean against each other. The post-performance high used to be enough for me. Not anymore. I lean against the wall, covering my mouth and smothering the laughter threatening to bubble from my chest. I twist my ponytail, watching the water splash on the carpet.
“Is that bad?” The anxiety in his voice tugs me from the reverie, and I look up at him.
I don’t have to think when I say, “Not at all.”
From here, I can’t see his pupils but I know they are wide, swallowing me, eating me up. He used to be so curious and careful. And in the wings of the stage, the darkness hid his expression. In the harsh light of the hotel room, the lust fills his face.
“You’re staring,” I say, smiling.
Sometimes, it can bring me to my knees how vulnerable he can look. How vulnerable he isn’t afraid to look. His head rolls a bit against the door and then he says, “I can’t help it.”
A part of me can still hold back. A part of me knows that this is the point of no return. But when I let go of my hair, I know without a doubt that even if I could go back, I don’t want to. I want this. I want it to be us alone without the world tonight. I can’t walk away, because if I have one chance to make this work between us, I have to seize this moment. Right here. Carpe momentum. I’m making up Latin.
So of course, the dumbest question, the one that’s always been there, as much as this feeling’s always been there, slips out. “Why?”
His laugh is harsh, almost startling, and he turns his face away from me, fingers sliding through his hair. He shakes raindrops off his head. “God, Aly, that’s the wrong question.” His voice hungers for the answer.
“What’s a better one?”
I am in love with the way his head lifts up, the way his lips part. I am in love with the way he steps toward me, backing me up and against the wall. I am in love with his height, the way he towers above me, and I am in love with his hand, slipping up the side of my neck, holding me steady. Holding me. He smells like whiskey and rain and I am in love for the first time since I found ballet.
We’ve walked a fine line for so many years that here, with his thumb pressing into my hairline, my equilibrium is tossed out the window. I settle my hand on his hip, feeling the fierce muscle beneath my fingers, and I’m not sure if I’m tempering his movement toward me, or encouraging it. He steps close enough that the knuckle of my thumb brushes back against my side. The last time we stood this close, we were interrupted. There’d be no interrupting tonight. Not now. It’s just him and me, and nothing. It’s glorious.
“When.” His voice breaks through the mist in my mind. “When, is the question. Aly—” and I shiver at his voice, dropping lower, like his hand traveling knuckles-first down my neck, “—yes or no?”
“Yes,” I say without any hesitation. Yes.
* * *
He takes the lead like he’s been waiting for my invitation all this time. I’ve barely finished the word before his mouth closes against mine and his hips press me against the wall. He kisses me with the force of a storm, catching me off guard. One of his hands slides up my side and his fingers leave traces of fire on my skin. His tongue slides against mine, and when I gasp, he grins ferociously. My fingers find the edge of his shirt and I barely know what I’m asking for when I grip it, pull at it, but he lets me go, lets me take a breath just long enough for him to strip the wet shirt from his body and toss it somewhere behind him, for someone else to find.
My mind mentally catalogs the room: the couch, the kitchen counter, the two doors into separate bedrooms. Stark and plain, like a stage. The shirt I don’t mind someone finding. We, on the other hand, can’t stay here.
I’ve seen him shirtless almost every day of the week for the last six and a half years, but this is different. I press my hands flat against his stomach and he hums against my throat. He kisses me again, rocking his hips against me as my fingers slide from patches of damp skin to dry, starting and stopping, like my heart and my lungs. His tongue slides into my mouth and my hips tilt up toward his, making both of us groan and then press smiles into each other, embarrassed. Like losing yourself in the dance only to land at the end and find yourself in awe that the audience is clapping for you.
His hands slide up my sides, like they have so many times before when I’m covered in spandex and tulle and satin, but this time, they carry my shirt with them, as well. His thumbs count my ribs, his mouth runs down my sternum and I am his, his, his. I’ve seen what his fingers can do on a piano, on a violin. I know the power in his body from watching him in the mirrors and feeling him lift me into the air.
This is what I want, to feel wanted and loved and vulnerable and seen. Without losing myself. I once thought this was impossible, but in his hands, I am strong and fragile, wanted and wanting, seen and revered.
His thumb brushes over the cup of my bra and we both stop for a moment, breathing in deeply, our lips bruised and full. I can’t look at him but he brushes his lips against mine, so painfully sweet, so wonderfully anxious, and my fingers curl into his back. Don’t leave, I want to say, but he doesn’t move, and maybe he isn’t leaving me. To be sure, I hook a finger through his belt loop and pull him flush against me. He groans, ducking his head to my shoulder under the veil of my wet hair.
“What are we doing?”
I don’t like lying to Zed, but I think he knows it’s a lie when I say, “Don’t know, don’t care.” I palm him through his jeans, just to make sure he gets the point. I don’t want words for this. I just want you.
“Aly.” He whispers my name. It isn’t my name, it’s his name for me and suddenly that’s made all the difference. It’s what I needed, right now, a reminder that at least right now, it’s only me. His voice tightens as his hips rock against my hand. “I don’t have any—”
He is my best friend and he’s my other half and he’s the only one I’d ever want in my bed, in me, and still, it’s hard to say the words. It’s hard to tell him that my body’s given up on this particular aspect of what makes me a woman. “It doesn’t matter. I can’t.” I breathe out, inhale his strength. “Zed. I want you.”
“Alyona Miller,” he says, and his voice cracks. He shakes his head, his lips brushing back and forth against mine. He kisses me again, so slowly I think this is the only way he knows how to dismantle me, lay me out with all my parts so he can learn how I tick.
I wait for him to say something else but he doesn’t, just slides his hands down the backs of my thighs, and I take the hint. He carries me back to his room, lays me down on the bed and then asks once more if I am sure.
* * *
I wake to fingers marching down my spine, kisses pressed to the back of my head where my hairline meets soft skin. I stretch, pointing my toes, testing my arches, rolling my shoulders, the same way I do every morning when I take immediate stock of what will hurt when I dance that day. I close my eyes, memories digging through my hungover mind and pulling at my skin. Zed, sucking one of my breasts. Zed, his head between my legs. Zed, on top of me. Zed, holding me when I fell fell fell from so high. So high.
I am frequently sore when I wake up. I am not frequently sore in the places and ways I am sore this morning.
I roll over and immediately have to bite back a grin. I am unprepared for how adorable Zed is in the morning when he’s worried and anxious and rumpled. His dark hair sticks every which way and his eyes brim with worry. He’s been chewing on his lower lip. Or I was last night.
“So that’s why I’m sore,” I tell him, even though I remember.
Some of the anxiety slips from his eyes and his shoulders drop a little bit. “If I didn’t have to take a cold shower before, I do now.”
I smile and lean forward, slipping a hand through his hair. It’s impossible to tame it like this, dried all wild from the rain and the sex. “Unfair that you look like this after a night like that.” I imagine I look like an albino yeti.
“Because I won’t get this out of my head now.” I mean it honestly. We’re going to have to get out of bed at some point and the rest of the world will come back into focus. We might never get this moment again. I don’t want to lose it, but the inevitable presses down on me, making it hard to breathe.
His voice stumbles drunkenly into the space between us. “Aly…”
I wiggle closer to him on the bed and his eyes flutter closed when I kiss him. I want to stay there, naked and pressed against him, finding all the curves of our bodies and the variations in which we fit together.
“Zed,” I say in return.
He runs his fingers down my ribs and I almost, almost combust against his chest. “I’m going to shower. We’ll talk.”
This is what it’d mean to be with him, I think to myself. To be vulnerable, all the time, day in and day out, and to find ways to be strong when I’m not on the stage. To be strong, despite feeling constantly open, constantly understood. There’d be no more safety in being an enigma.
He rolls out of bed and tugs on pants, starting for the bathroom door. Halfway there, he spins around. He comes back to the bed, blushing, and leans over, brushing his lips against mine. My heart in my mouth is now on his tongue.
“Stop thinking so much,” he whispers. “We’ll figure this out. We have three more weeks of the tour. Let’s just enjoy it.”
I’ve never been good at letting go, at letting myself just enjoy something without feeling I needed to earn it. And I haven’t earned Zed. I might never earn Zed. But I don’t want to lose this, so I nod and promise myself I’ll try.