“I am not a piece of property,” I said, lifting my finger at Sawyer. “I am not yours,” I said, before turning around and meeting Jude’s eyes. “And I am not yours.”
Saying that the first time around was infinitely easier, and that pissed the hell out of my parental I-know-what’s-best-for-you psyche. “Now both of you leave me the hell alone.”
I shouldered past Sawyer, shoving the mocha back into his hands—I didn’t want anything from him—before weaving through the crowded hall, trying to calm my heart. For the first time this week, it felt warm.
And I didn’t want to accept the reason why it was because I could feel his eyes on me the entire journey down the hall, and even after I rounded the corner, I could still feel his watchful gaze upon me.
I was tempted to skip first period, I was more tempted to skip the whole day, but I didn’t. I picked myself up by my bootstraps and reminded myself I wasn’t going to let two boys, mainly one boy, reduce me to one of those girls who flushed her life down the toilet. I was strong, I knew how to overcome, and damn it, I was better than that. However, for where my mind was, I might as well have skipped first period. By the time the bomb siren bell went off, I hadn’t scratched down a single line of notes on Oliver Twist. Oh well, I’d read it two years ago and gotten an A on my synopsis then.
As I gathered up my books, I noticed every other student glancing back at me as they headed out the door. It was enough to put me on alert and more than enough to not want to find out what waited for me on the other side of that doorway.
The classroom had emptied, even Mrs. Peters had left, before I’d worked up the courage to shoulder my bag.
“Hey, Luce.” Jude took a couple steps inside the room, closing the door behind him.
I hated myself for wanting him to come wrap his arms around me and tell me everything was fine, that there was nothing we couldn’t overcome, and that last weekend had been some terrible misunderstanding.
I was a dreamer.
“I’m not talking to you,” I said, trying to walk by him, but he stepped in front of the door.
“And why’s that?”
Glaring up at him, I crossed my arms. “Don’t you pretend like nothing happened. You know why I’m not talking to you now or why I won’t talk to you ever again.”
“Eh, Luce,” he said, leaning against the door, “you’re kind of talking to me right now.”
I wasn’t in the mood to be trifled with, not even by Jude. “I’m not talking, I’m a note below screaming, and I’m only not-quite-shouting at you long enough to let you know I’m finished with whatever that thing was we had,” I said, having no designation to assign what had been ours. “I’m finished.”
Looking down, he searched the ground, stalling. “You’re finished?”
“Yep,” I said, trying to sound like I couldn’t care less.
“Does this have something to do with Diamond?” Fury etched its way into his face.
“No,” I said, trying to shove him away from the door. “It has to do with you.”
“Let me explain,” he said, gripping my arms.
I snapped away from him. “You could explain yourself until you’re blue in the face and there’s nothing you could say that would make me change my mind.”
The muscles in his neck clenched and unclenched. “So you’ve finally decided to take my advice and keep the hell away from me?”
“Finally,” I said, my throat clenching around the word.
He nodded his head, sliding his beanie down over his eyebrows. “Good,” he said. “It’s for the best anyways.”
Just as I was starting to believe my hurt couldn’t ache any more.
“Then I guess there’s nothing else to say,” I said, waving him away from the door.
He didn’t budge. “Yes. Yes, there is,” he said, looking up at me, his eyes the color of pewter. “I still owe you an explanation.”
“Thanks, but no thanks,” I said, trying to slide past him. “I’ll be on my merry way.”
Jude’s hand flexed over the door handle. “Not before I explain what happened on Saturday.”
I was close to breaking, close to letting him back in. I wasn’t sure if it had something to do with the way his eyes looked lost or the way I felt lost, but I was sure I couldn’t let him back in.
“I don’t need an explanation, Jude!” I said, shouting up at him. “I was there. I got to see the whole thing first hand. As far as I’m concerned, whatever our relationship was is over, and I’m done talking, screaming, and listening to you, so save your breath because I’m done wasting mine on you.” This time when I shoved past him, he didn’t stop me. And still, some part of me wished he would.
Jude shadowed me all day, which meant everyone stared like I was some circus freak and everyone steered clear of me and my six foot two, two hundred pound shadow. He didn’t say anything else, but it was clear he wanted to and it was also clear he was waiting for me to make the first move. I hoped he enjoyed waiting a lifetime.
I snuck out of sixth a few minutes early, racing to my car, exhaling only once I was out of the parking lot and no towering shadow appeared in my rearview mirror. An impossible mountain of things needed to be sorted out, requiring my attention so I could wake up tomorrow with a plan, but I couldn’t sort through that yet.
Only one thing was capable of drowning everything from my mind and, lucky for me, the dance studio was empty when I arrived. It was the same place I’d learned to dance. I’d gone from a tutu twirling toddler to a competent dancer with her sights set on Juilliard all thanks to the work ethic I’d picked up from my father, the grace my mom swore I got from her side of the family, and the saint-like patience of Madame Fontaine.
She opened the studio thirty years ago, turning a condemned building in the historic district into the most celebrated studio in the area. It wasn’t anything fancy, nor did she take on a lot of students, but Madame Fontaine had turned out more prima donnas than all of eastern Europe. She was a legend in the dance world, well known for her chew ‘em up and spit ‘em out attitude, but to me, she was a saint.
She was the only person I could talk to during a time in my life when no one else was capable of talking. She helped me find the light in any dark and threatened me with life and limb when I told her I was contemplating quitting dance. Only because I feared she was serious, I stuck with it, working through the pain, and soon found dance was not only masking the pain, but healing it. Dance saved me in ways my parents, doctors, and even I couldn’t.
Since dance became my heaven, Madame Fontaine became my angel.
Sticking my head in the office, I found it, like the rest of the studio, dark and empty. A tray of oatmeal cookies was Saran wrapped on her desk, topped off by a pale pink note teepee’ed over it that read Lucy.
Sliding a cookie under the wrap, I grabbed the note. Since I know you forget to eat, here’s an attempt at nutrition. Don’t tell anyone I’ve gone soft in my old age. Work hard and dance harder.
And there was the Matilda Fontaine who was the legend. Cookies topped by a work your toes ‘til they’re raw threat.
Working my toes, feet, legs, and mind until they were raw was exactly what I needed. I didn’t bother to change out of my leggings and cashmere tunic; I just bobbypinned my hair back and tied on my pointes. Sliding Tchaikovsky into the stereo, I cranked up the volume and was mid grand jete before the first note vibrated the mirrors in the studio.
As a rule you didn’t screw with, dancers always warm up pre setting-the-dance-floor-on-fire, but my heart had been doing double time since nine o’clock this morning. I wasn’t only warmed up, I was warmed out.
I danced until the sun set and the sky grew dark. I danced until I tore through the same CD three times. I danced until I’d chugged down two liters of water. But no matter how hard I danced, or how intensely I concentrated on perfecting each and every movement, I never stopped thinking about Jude.
The room went silent for the fourth time as Tchaikovsky’s finale to Swan Lake drew to a close. I was drenched, out of breath, and sore from my neck to my toes. It was a good day of dancing.
Reaching for another liter of water, a low whistle echoed across the room. Even in a whistle, I knew his voice.
“God, you’re beautiful,” he said as I turned to face him. “A man could live a full life watching you dance like that.”
“I was wondering how long it would take you to find me,” I said as Jude came out of the shadows of the office. He’d aged a decade in six hours. The hollows under his eyes were a shade shy of black, his olive skin had gone sallow, but it was his eyes that had aged the most.
“Only about as long as it took me to walk from school to here,” he answered, straddling the doorway.
“I’ve been here for a good six hours.” I took a long drink, then let myself collapse on the floor, settling my back against the mirror wall.
“I’ve been here almost as long,” he said, motioning behind him where Madame Fontaine’s office looked out into the parking lot. “But I didn’t want to interrupt you, so I just made like a good peeping tom and checked you out through the window.” He grinned, scuffing his boot into the door jam. “Plus I was a little frightened of what you might say or do if I did interrupt you.”
“Ah,” I said, folding my upper half across my legs to stretch muscles that were about to snap. “There’s the truth. Finally,” I muttered just loud enough that he could hear me.
“I need to tell you a lot more truth, Luce,” he said, looking the most lost I’d seen him. That look appealed to my already Jude friendly heartstrings, and before I knew what I was doing, I patted the patch of wood beside me.
“I need to stretch, and it sounds like you need to talk,” I said, forcing myself to stretch so far it felt like I was about to break. “Let’s get this over with.”
He crossed the room, his body looking relieved, but his face looked wary. “I meant what I said. That was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” he said, sliding down beside me. “I didn’t know you were so damn talented. You’re going to be the star of some big-wig ballet production where millionaires pay like a thousand bucks for a front row seat,” he said, while I tried not to smile at his obvious ignorance for ballet lingo, “or some crazy shit like that.”
I laughed as I straightened and crossed my left arm in front of me. “I think you’re right. I’m quite certain my life is destined for plenty of crazy shit,” I quoted, elbowing him with my other arm.
“You and me both, kiddo,” he said, tilting his head up. “But me for real and you just as a figure of speech. Your name’s going to end up in lights and mine’s going to be replaced by a number on some warden’s list.”
Stretching the other arm, I inhaled, trying to muster up all the anger I had for him just hours ago. I couldn’t do it. “Haven’t you ever heard the saying that your past doesn’t have to dictate your future?”