The tour’s a blur, but our pas de deux isn’t. Every city we land in, we get better and better. Our lines are more electric, our chemistry more palpable, our ferocious hearts left on each stage, beating for the audience to see. We’re left breathless and aching, and we’ve found the cure for that in each other. Sure, the first time that Adrian walked in on us made Aly turn as red as her leotard, but she got over it. It’s nothing the company wasn’t expecting anyway.
I remain enthralled by the way Aly comes to bed. Sex is another stage for her. She leaves her secrets and her walls on the floor with her clothing. She’s demanding and needy, intense and emotional, captivating and elusive. And each time I come back from the bathroom and she’s still there, naked, her hair tousled and knotted, kicking her feet lazily in the air as she checks her phone or reads the ballet blogs, I’m floored.
I wake still smelling like sex, sweat and her. It’s the only way I know this isn’t a dream.
At breakfast before our flight home, Aly slips around the table and sinks into my lap with a sigh, one thin cool arm around my neck and her legs tucked beneath her.
“Hi,” I say, wrapping an arm around her. She’s wearing flip-flops, which means her feet hurt too much to slip into her flats. “You’re cold.”
“And you’re warm,” she says, sounding sleepy. She slept in her own room last night so at least I can’t blame myself for that. I offer her a piece of toast that she takes and munches slowly, getting crumbs all over and down my shirt.
It’s like how we always were, but more. Maybe it was always like this and I never noticed. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Now when I touch her, she’s entirely mine. I always knew I was hers.
A part of me worries as we fly home that we’ll land and she’ll step away, retreat back behind the façade she’s carefully manufactured over the years, where we’re just friends and nothing more. But she doesn’t even go back to her apartment from the airport. She comes home with me that night, and pretty much every night after that. I don’t know why I worried. We’re Aly and Zed. We’re A to Z and everything in between. We’re still each other’s, more than we’re ever going to be anyone else’s.
She takes a few days off for her shins and her knee, and then another week because she gets the flu. I must have an immune system of steel because after dancing six days a week again, I return home to her—God, that’s just so fucking brilliant to say—and never get sick.
Now, asleep next to me in bed, she looks washed out and tinier, more so than normal. She spent half the night tossing and turning and bitching at me.
“Aly,” I say, sitting up. “Come on, we have to get up.”
Our morning company class starts in an hour and we’ve been grabbing breakfast at this little place around the corner from me on our way up to the studio. Aly sighs and opens her eyes, glaring at the clock on her side of the bed. There’s a pile of clothing on that side of the room too. Her side of the room.
It’s funny how quickly something shy and unfamiliar turns into something close to normal.
“I’ll make it for pointe class,” she murmurs, closing her eyes again.
I raise my eyes doubtfully but shrug. She’s still bouncing back and the company isn’t technically mandatory. Just highly recommended. She hasn’t missed one before, but she doesn’t look like I’m going to convince her to come this morning. “Alright. Want me to grab you anything?”
She shakes her head against the pillow and by the time I get dressed and grab my bag, she’s out like a light again. I press a kiss to her forehead and head uptown.
The rehearsal space in Philly feels like home, with all the glass windows overlooking South Street, the sound of trucks, the beep-beep-beep-beep of a bus stopping and letting passengers on and off, the way the floor shakes a little bit when the subway rattles deep beneath us. It’s good to be home. There’s something reassuring about knowing exactly where you need to go to clear your mind, to recharge, to take a deep breath.
Some days, I love class. Other days, class is something you get through because you know that excellent technique isn’t born, it’s made and drilled and pressed into the veins and bones of your body until it’s second memory. This morning it’s sunny and warm after two days of a late snow, so the concrete outside glimmers and our street shoes are wet, but we’re all delirious with spring fever. We’re a little too lazy with our arms and legs behind us and our necks and mouths too loose, but we hit all the heights in our jumps and nail all our turns. Those of us who show up for class anyway. At the break, I rehydrate in the corner and text Aly.
She doesn’t text me back until just before I go off to a rehearsal for a modern ballet I’ve been cast in, where she’d normally go off to pointe class before her rehearsals, and then it’s a simple, short
be there soon ☹
At the end of my rehearsal, I head over to the pointe class, leaning on the doorway, above all the younger girls watching the advanced dancers. Aly’s there, and I breathe a sigh of relief. Her blond hair is pulled back in a tight bun, her body arching backward in midair, defying gravity. Her long legs, protected by light purple leg warmers, move like the fluttering wings of a hummingbird as she and the rest of the girls cross the room.
“God, look at her feet,” whispers a girl on the floor below me. “I bet Alyona Miller was born with perfect turnout.”
“Have you ever seen her walk down the hallway?” whispers another girl. “She walks like a duck. Do you think that’s how we’ll be when we’re her age? That it’ll feel weird to point our toes forward?”
“Probably,” says the first girl.
I smile and Aly catches my eye as she reaches my corner. She smiles back at me over her shoulder and gets scolded for being distracted. Grinning, I step away from the doorway.
I’m halfway through my book when she slides onto the bench next to me and leans her head on my shoulder. Her leotard peeks out beneath her old Phillies sweatshirt and her hair’s in a low ponytail. It’s that easy to transform from a prima ballerina into just your average girl. I lean my cheek against her head and wait for her to speak. Sometimes it takes us a few minutes to get ourselves together again, shed the protective skin we wear here, turn from professionals back into kids.
“How was class?”
I shrug. “Good, actually. I think we’ve all got spring fever.”
“Is that Adrian’s excuse?” she asks as Adrian tries, clumsily, to flirt with one of the other corps dancers on her way out the door.
“I’ll have to give him some pointers,” I say with a grin.
“Oh, so now you’re the king of flirting?” She laughs and sits up. “I taught you everything you know.”
“No, you just gave me a reason to compete,” I tell her.
She rolls her eyes at me and then gets to her feet, offering me her hand. When I take it, I’m surprised by how clammy it is, like she’s nervous. “Can we walk?”
“Yeah.” I get to my feet and try to calm myself. “Want to hit up the halal food truck on the way? Chicken and rice?”
No matter how much you remind this girl she needs fuel in order to dance, she’s never had a positive relationship with food. I think in the real world, they’d probably say she had an eating disorder, and maybe she does. I don’t know. She eats because she has to, and as long as she’s eating, I don’t complain. But I’m used to needling and harassing, poking and prodding, and offering about seven thousand options before she reluctantly picks one.
Today, her eyes light up. “Yes. That sounds good. Can we take it to the park?”
I’ll say yes to anything if it means she’ll look this bright for the rest of the afternoon. She hasn’t even mentioned missing company class, or being late. Add it to the list of things I’ll ignore because it’s Aly and she’s happy. I think. We walk down Walnut Street, hand in hand, dodging the dirty water splashes from the buses and tourists and shoppers milling on the sidewalks.
“You’re quiet,” she says when we stop at the truck on Sixteenth Street and wait for our food. She chews on her bottom lip.
“Is there something you’d like me to say?” I tease her, and then touch her chin. When she glances up, I kiss her softly. She tastes like toothpaste still, like she barely rolled out of bed when she arrived at work. She slips her hand into my back pocket and tucks her chin onto my shoulder. We sway, like we’re dancing, until they call our order and we pick up our barely stable Styrofoam plates for the final few blocks to the park.
The benches are still wet, but the park’s bustling. We sit on the ground by the fountain instead, watching a swing dance club’s lessons next to us.
Aly stabs at the chicken in her plate with her plastic fork and then takes the tiniest bite. So not everything’s changed. She glances over to me, her gaze careful beneath her half-lowered lashes. She smiles around the bite of chicken. “You’re staring.”
The last time she told me that, I nearly fucked her against a wall. I have to look away from her for a minute before I shrug. “Yeah.”
She smiles a bit, color lifting up her cheeks. “King of flirting?”
“Can’t say this is my A game today, to be honest.” My lamb gyro’s fallen apart and I pick at it with my fingers. It’s picnic style. What do I care?
“Okay. I need to talk to you. Can you stay calm for a minute and hear me out?” The words spill from her in a single breath and my head jerks up. She’s looking at the swing dancers. My mind blinks off and I force it to come back online. She’s breaking up with me. This is it. I want to say that I’d be okay with it, that I could go back to being friends to avoid losing her. Because I can’t imagine her not in my life, that’s true. But I’m not sure if I can be just friends anymore. I don’t know if I can rewind to the way we were before Amsterdam.
“You look panicked already,” she says, and then she squeezes my hand, turning to face me, crossing her legs. “We’ve known each other for how long now? Almost seven years?”
“Seven years in June,” I say, trying to focus on her words.
“My favorite thing about us,” she says softly, “is that we’ve seen each other’s dark secrets and we’re still here, right?”
“Aly,” I manage to say, “if you want to go back to how this used to be, just spit it out.”
She blinks and then shakes her head hard. Our hands tremble in the space between us. “What? Oh, God, no, Zed. That’s not what I wanted to talk about. I want this.”
“Then what?” My voice cracks, just on this side of sounding harsh.
The funny thing about parks is how absolutely absurdly bright they are at midday. Even when you’re under those giant trees and surrounded by buildings tall enough to block out the sun, it still seems so bright to be sitting there in the middle of the park. Maybe it’s because we spend so much time indoors.
“You said—” I begin quietly, unsure of where my eyes are supposed to go. What I should be looking at. Anywhere but her right now. I try to pull up that first night, when neither of us were concerned with protection, when she said that she couldn’t get pregnant. At least, that’s what I thought she meant and that’s certainly what we’ve been operating on since then. That particular part of the conversation isn’t usually the part I’m seeking from my memory.
“I know,” she says, and I can’t help but look at her because she chokes up. She swipes at her eyes. Tears. She’s crying. I try to think of the last time I’ve seen Aly cry from something other than physical pain. She shakes her head a bit. “I haven’t gotten my period in years but apparently that doesn’t necessarily mean I wasn’t ovulating. And—I’m so sorry, Zed. I’m so sorry.”
“Stop,” I manage to say. I close the lid to my food and push it to the side, feeling sick to my stomach.
She turned twenty on the flight home. I turned twenty a few weeks later. We’re young. We’re so young still. And here we are, knocked up and oblivious to our bodies. What the fuck happened to better safe than sorry? And if not the first time, every time since then? We can’t handle real life or adulthood. And now she’s pregnant.
We fucked up. I know. We were both so fucking naïve and desperate. And in love. The thought pops up unbidden to my mind. We haven’t said it, but it’s there and it’s been there longer than the twelve weeks since we flew to Europe.
“Okay,” I whisper. I swallow, say it again, just to reassure myself. “Okay. We can handle this.”
“It could destroy my career,” she says, turning her fork around in the rice. “I mean, I’m young. I could bounce back. I know that. There have been others who have done it before. I—I didn’t want to—this is a joint decision, if you want it to be.”
I take a deep breath. I don’t know what I’m agreeing to, but she’s right. This is a joint decision, no matter what we choose. “I’m in, if you’re in.”
“You were in, that’s why we’re in this predicament,” she mutters, and at my shocked face, bursts into laughter. Loud, wild laughter that turns heads. She doubles over, forehead brushing her knees, and when she sits back up, there’s color in her cheeks and a brightness in her eyes.
“Aly Miller,” I say, grinning despite myself. “You just made a dirty joke.”
“I know,” she says, and then laughs again. She brushes her hair back and glances at me, the side of her mouth still tilting up. “So yeah? I mean—I know this is weird, for where we are right now.”
“We’ll figure it out,” I say, thinking that’s becoming the theme of our relationship, and then lean back, suddenly realizing something. “This is why you’ve felt like shit.”
“I should have realized it sooner,” she admits. She looks at the swing dancers again as the music shifts to a new song, one I kind of know. “It’s not like I get sick that often. I just feel run-down right now.”
I don’t want to sit still because if I stay here, I’m going to throw up. Like Aly probably did this morning. I’m twenty. I still have to give my roommates cash to buy me beer when we host anything at the house. I can barely make it to class on time and remember to do laundry.
I need to move. If I’m moving, if I’m dancing, I’m not thinking. The song playing catches in my ear again and I know it. It’s “De-Lovely.” I get to my feet and offer Aly my hand. She accepts it, and it takes us a few steps and a spin to join the other dancers swing dancing by the boom box and the fountain, kids jumping up and down in their version of dancing between each couple. We dance the whole song without saying anything else, because there’s not much else to say at this point. When the song ends, though, reality crashes back through me. The song only held it at bay, like a dam. When my feet stop moving, my mind starts spinning.
She’s pregnant. We are fucked.
And she is way, way too calm. This is Aly. She spins out if there’s a shrimp in her chicken lo mein or if she loses a hair tie. If she’s calm, it’s only the calm before the stormy meltdown. I’m the calm and steady one in this relationship. I have to get myself together. For her.
I take a shaky breath. “What’s next?”
“I have a doctor’s appointment next week,” she says, almost shy. Aly, shy. Too many new things for one day. Too many changes. “If you want to come. You’ll have to skip class for a day.”
“Okay,” I agree immediately and she laughs, leaning back against my arms. I spin her, just to see her eyes light up again. “And then what?”
“One week at a time. I don’t want to tell Johan until I absolutely have to,” she says, gripping my arms tightly. “So it’s a secret.”
“Okay.” Ask me for the moon, Aly, I’d give it to you.
She takes my hand and squeezes it. “You aren’t fooling me, Zedekiah. You’re freaking out. Would you believe me if I tell you it’ll be okay?”
I snort. “I should be telling you that, shouldn’t I?”
Her smile’s like the sun in the park. Unexpected. “We’ll reassure each other, then.”
It’s brutal, how beautiful the day is, how beautiful she is, and how desperately I want to be happy right now. I’m spinning between happy and afraid enough to puke and I can barely keep the park in focus. It’s almost impossible to imagine going back to the studio for rehearsal because this feeling, right there in the sun with our hands linked together, this is exactly the feeling I seek every time I step onto the stage. It feels like waking up.