Dancing in the Dark

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Chapter 13


I took a long drag from my cigarette, standing under the lights of the theater. My nerves were on edge and waiting here wasn’t making it any better. Not when I knew Stella was in there, and I was about to see her on stage for the first time in weeks.

My concern for her wellbeing almost overwhelmed the excitement of seeing her perform. While the doctors might have cleared her to go on stage after being pushed down the stairs, I worried about her.

Was her ankle alright? How was her head? Did she eat enough today?

Dragging my hand over my head, I huffed, then looked at the cigarette butt between my fingers. From the corner of my eye, I caught sight of my aunt and uncle getting out of the back of a black escalade. I flicked my smoke down and crushed it under my heel as they approached, and their driver drove away.

“Viktor,” Jameson said, nodding his head in greeting. He didn’t look too pleased to be here. I think he looked more excited two months when we were here to talk the mayor into giving us the deal for our latest club.

My uncle’s reservation was written across his face, starting with the pinch of his brows and deep frown lines. Jameson Novak didn’t approve of my exclusive contract with Stella even though he was the one who connected me to her in the first place. I never would have met Dax if Jameson hadn’t introduced us.

Let’s go buy you a ballerina.

Strange how the thought of that now made the edges of my vision turn red. Stella wasn’t an object to be bought and sold, but I already failed her in thinking that way when we first met.

“This is going to be marvelous, yes?” Annika let go of Jameson and looped her arm through mine instead. “To see the lovely Stella on the stage again. Oh, I really can’t wait!”

“It certainly will be,” I answered. “I can’t wait either. Let’s hurry and get inside.” With my aunt on my arm and my uncle trailing behind, we made our way to the theater entrance.

Jameson had his hands shoved into his pockets, moping even as we walked around the pouring fountain and weaved through the energetic crowd. Everyone besides my uncle was animated. Hands waving and smiles wide as we approached the final showing of Swan Lake for the ballet season.

“You look very good tonight, Viktor.” Annika poked at the fabric of my suit jacket. “Is this new suit?”

“It might be, but I needed a new one, anyway.” I got this new suit just for tonight. Like an excitable teen getting dressed up to go to prom with his crush. After all, this was a big night for Stella, and I wanted to look my best while being here to support her.

We followed the herd, and the crowd thickened as hundreds of people squeezed in through the doors. The night I first laid eyes on Stella, I walked through these doors with a thorn in my side. I hadn’t wanted to be here at all that night, but Jameson wanted me with him to ensure the mayor listened to us.

I sat in my seat, remembering how I’d shifted around against the red cushion as if my legs were restless and trying to get me out of there. When the lights dimmed and the music started, it didn’t make my head throb as it had that night.

So many afternoons I came home to Stella listening to the Swan Lake music and practicing or stretching. I knew every note by now.

Over two months ago, I didn’t give a single shit about ballet, the theater or any of the dancers. All it took was a single moment to change my life. That instant when the loveliest woman in the world appeared on the stage and took the spotlight.

And there she was now. Chills danced up my spine and curled over the back of my neck. Goosebumps pricked almost painfully along my flesh and my chest tightened, stifling my ability to breathe.

Annika gripped my hand tight in the seat to my left. Her opposite hand on her chest and a silent gasp on her lips as the Swan Queen came into view. My aunt was just as awed by Stella as everyone else in that theater.

The fluid way she floated across the stage was otherworldly. Her powerful, lithe form moved in sync with the trill of the orchestral music. It was astounding watching her perform and bring the story to life with her body. Everything faded away and my vision tunneled on Stella. She was an angel come down from the heavens and I was a sinner burning on the inside from her presence alone.

I leaned forward in my seat, holding my breath as I witnessed the agony and pain in Odette’s eyes when her heart breaks. Those expressive crystal blue eyes were glimmering like diamonds and my hand curled into a fist against my thigh with how desperately I wished to wipe those tears from her cheeks. Even if they were for the show, even if they weren’t real, I believed them and I didn’t enjoy seeing her cry.

Those are the tears of Odette, the Swan Queen, not Stella. I had to remind myself and take a steadying breath. But in the end, when Odette dies, my heart rate spiked, and I wanted to snatch her up off that stage.

Stella’s passion and dedication to her art was astounding with the way she could sweep you off your feet and pull you into the story. When the ruby red curtains swept across the stage and blocked Stella from my sight, I wanted to growl and tear them down.

“Well, she’s definitely got talent,” Jameson shrugged out when we were back outside under the night sky.

“Her dancing is sublime,” Annika said. “She’s the Prima for a reason, that’s clear. If someone pushed me down the stairs, you wouldn’t catch me on my feet and moving like that only a few weeks after.”

“She’s amazing,” I agreed, running my hand through my hair. “You guys go on to the after party while Stella gets ready at the house, then we’ll meet you at the restaurant.”

“Sounds good to me. I’m ready for a drink.” Jameson wrapped an arm around his wife’s waist and nodded in my direction. “See you there, my boy.”

Before Jameson could drag her back to their driver waiting at the curb, she put her hand on my arm, leaning in to add, “Tell Stella she did such a good job tonight.”

“You can tell her yourself when you see her, Tetya.” Annika smiled. Then I pulled back and watched my aunt and uncle get in their car. But I couldn’t leave yet.

It would be a while before Stella left the theater. I knew she had to meet with the important people behind the scenes to talk over the season and their success, then change out of their costumes. It was enough time for me to walk around the block, cigarette in hand, looking for the right shop.

Under the lights of the city, even so late in the afternoon, I felt invigorated after seeing Stella’s performance. Her light was better than any shot of espresso I could take, and my eagerness to see her was consuming me.

The myriad colors of the flower shop caught my attention as I sauntered down the sidewalk. Flicking my unfinished smoke into the damp drain, I shook out some of the jittery nerves coursing through me.

A bell dinged overhead as I pushed the door open. The sweet scent of flowers hit me like a wall and the eyes of the young man watering flowers snapped up to me.

“Oh, how can I help you?” He perked up, lowering the watering can in order to give me his undivided attention.

“Yes, I need the largest, most expensive bouquet that a man can carry by himself.”

The young man nodded and let out a brief chuckle. “You’re either in love, or in trouble.”

I stopped dead in my tracks, frozen in stone, but a wide smile was splitting my mouth as my breath slipped out. “Maybe it’s both, kid. Let’s see what you have.”

When I walked out with the largest bouquet that I could carry, I didn’t even care that I wasn’t able to see the ground in front of my feet. This was very unlike me to go this far with any woman I was with. To not only be at her last show, but to go all out with flowers and meet my family for dinner. It was an unprecedented effort that only Stella deserved.

I stood outside under the stars, listening to the ambient noise of the city passing around me. It wasn’t long that I waited until I heard the dancers leaving the back entrance of the theater. A few of them sent me side glances with the massive flower arrangement in my arms, but none of them were important. After they all left, I looked around, not seeing a sign of Stella.

My chest constricted in those moments of waiting, wondering where she was. Everyone else left, and I was on edge as the seconds ticked by. Until the door creaked open, and I saw a head of golden hair peek out.

“Stella!” Her head whipped up at the sound of my voice. Her eyes perked up, and she pushed the door open. Then she saw the flowers and slowed down.

“Viktor. Wow, these are amazing.”

“They’re for you.” I watched as she ran her fingers over pink petals and pressed her face into a cluster of roses. The curve of her smile was beautiful as she accepted the flowers easily half her size.

“This thing is massive, Viktor! I can’t carry this and see!” She giggled. “But I love them.”

The light over the theater back door shone down on her like a golden halo, and the flowers framed her heavenly face. Stella was picturesque and more beautiful than any great painting in the world.

Words formed on the tip of my tongue for her. Something in that moment pushing me to open my mouth and spill the secrets I had buried so deep I didn’t register they were there at all until recently. I had to tell her everything because our time together would be over soon, and I didn’t want it to end.

Clearing my throat, Stella looked back up at me, smiling over crimson red roses. I was ready and willing to drown myself in the pools of her blue eyes. “Stella, I need to tell you something…”

“Oh, sorry,” she interrupted, “my phone keeps buzzing in my pocket, but I can’t reach it. Can you grab it for me so I can see who keeps calling me?”

“Of course,” I agreed, but I deflated. Stella stuck out her hip and I could hear the slight buzzing of her phone in her back pocket. She shifted the enormous bouquet to the side as I dug in her pocket.

The phone stopped buzzing when I got my fingers on it, but not a second later was it going off again. My brow pinched as curiosity swirled around in my head. Who would call Stella this incessantly on a Friday night?

I answered the call and pressed the phone to Stella’s ear. She giggled and smiled at me before lifting her shoulder to hold the phone against her head. Letting go, I took a step back, wondering if I should take the flowers for her.

“Hello?” She kept her eyes locked on mine. “Yes, this is Stella Sokolov.”

Stella was gnawing on her bottom lip as the voice at the other end of the line began speaking. I noticed the slight changes in her body as she listened, the sag of her shoulders and the way she froze. It felt like there was a wall falling around her and a shadow coming to life in her features.

I saw the moment the light in her eyes faded.

“No,” she whimpered. So much agony in that one word, it sent a painful chill down my back. I couldn’t help it when my instincts pushed me to take a step closer, but still I couldn’t hear what was being said through the phone.

Without warning, the flowers dropped from her arms and bounced on the pavement. Her eyes blankly stared at them, and I caught her bottom lip trembling.

“No. you’re wrong. This is a joke. You’re lying!” Stella shouted through the phone, grabbing it with her free hand, knuckles white with the grip she had on it.

“Stella?” My hand reached out for her shoulder, but she whipped around and slapped it away while keeping her focus on the cell.

“No!” She fell to her knees, and a broken sob wretched from her lips. “No, please, no.”

For a moment, I was stunned. I didn’t know what was happening, who she was talking to, or what could upset her to this degree. I completely froze as she slammed a curled fist into the pavement and wailed.

“He can’t be gone. He just can’t be.” The phone dropped from her hand. She threw her head back and screamed at the black sky overhead.

That’s when my body let me jump into action. To comfort her with whatever was wrong, no matter what was wrong.

“It’s alright, Stella. Hey, come here.” I dropped into a crouch and placed my hand on her back.

When she felt my touch, Stella fell back and threw me off. Her head snapped up at me like a cornered wild animal, her face twisted with deep heartache. Her tears on the stage as Odette were nothing compared to the rivers streaming down her cheeks now.

My heart fell through the bottom of my chest as Stella leapt up and stepped away from me, looking through me as if she didn’t recognize me. She set her beautiful mouth in a deep frown and those crystal eyes were dark.

“Don’t touch me,” she snapped, followed by a shaky sob.

My brows shot up at the tone in her voice, feeling as if she were slapping me in the face.

Stella was pushing me away.

“What’s wrong, baby?” Everything in me yearned to go to her. To scoop her up and wipe those tears from her face. So, I reached out for her, trying to hold on to her and ease this sudden pain despite not knowing what caused it.

“No!” The smack of her palm on my cheek stunned me. My head jerked back, and I held my breath. I traced my fingers over the sting on my face, staring at her slack jaw.

Stella’s eyes went round as if she suddenly realized what she had done. She took a step back away from me, crushing the flowers under her feet. Her chest rose and fell quickly, panting as more tears fell from her eyes.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry, but I can’t.” She covered her open mouth with a trembling hand, trying to muffle the sound of her crying.

“Stella, wait!” Pure fear seized me in its claws when I realized she was backing away from me. She was leaving. “Please, wait. Talk to me.”

“No! I can’t do this. There’s no point if he’s gone. I just…. I can’t.” But she hesitated, paused, staring into my eyes for a second that stretched half my life. Yet, the distance between us was still growing, like a chasm splitting the earth and pulling us further apart.

Then my dancer turned away from me. Her feet flew over the sidewalk, and I couldn’t move. I couldn’t breathe. I felt ice in my blood and a stone where my heart had been seconds ago.

A gentle nighttime breeze ruffled my hair, and it drew my eyes to the crushed flowers on the sidewalk, petals skittering away in the wind. At the sound of a slamming car door, my head jerked up to see Stella getting in the back of a cab.

My feet moved under me on their own, something like madness driving me to race after her. I jumped into the street despite the honking horns, my leather shoes smacking over the street as I ran after the back of that yellow cab.

“Stella!” I screamed after her, but she couldn’t hear me. The cab turned around the block and I lost them in a sea of cars and skyscrapers.

It was too late. Stella was gone.


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