Defining Us (Book 2 of Discovering Me Series)

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Chapter 47: Dream - Imagine Dragons

{Isabella}

flashback

I traced his jawline with my fingertips as he napped. I took his unconsciousness as an opportunity to study his features. His expressive eyebrows were relaxed. Though jet black in color, neither they nor his hair overwhelmed his face; his olive skin kept them balanced. His triangular and symmetrical nose separated high cheekbones. His kissable lips were set in a soft line. I pressed my lips to them, unable to resist.

“Nap time is over?” His voice was husky. His eyes slowly fluttered open.

I nodded. “We need to practice.” I pushed back his hair.

“I am resting because we did it way too early this morning.”

“I need to get this lift. The knowledge that I can’t is eating me alive.”

“You are obsessing. That is not the way to go about it. You were just explaining this to me the other day.”

“I was explaining the plot of Moby Dick. I’m not going to let you use one of my books against me.”

“I will only cooperate if you promise not to push yourself too hard. I hate enabling you to beat yourself raw.”

“I won’t. I promise.” I put my hand on my chest.

He sat up slowly and put on his glasses. He gestured me closer. I moved and in and he put his hand on the side of my face. He leaned forward and kissed me. A couple of skilled smooches lowered my anxiety level.

“I still want to practice.” I rubbed my nose against his once we parted.

“You would not be true to yourself otherwise. I love who you are.”

“I hope your arms are up for the task of lifting me repeatedly.” I rubbed his biceps.

“You need not worry about me. Do you need to exchange garments?”

“Nope, I did it before waking you. Let’s go.” I bounced out of bed.

We bundled up to combat the cold and we were off to the dance studio. I put on my pointe shoes and stretched as he changed his entire outfit in the men’s dressing room.

“You need to be willing to listen to me this time.” He emerged minutes later in black track pants and a fitted white t-shirt. His confident stride made me smile in the mirror.

“I was last time.” I leaned further into my leg.

“You wouldn’t relax.”

“Word of advice: telling someone to relax repeatedly in increasingly urgent tones makes them more tense.” I lowered my leg from the barre.

He breathed in and out, his chest raising and lowering. “I am well rested and properly fed. I will be patient. You need to have complete faith in me.”

“I do.” I turned around to face him.

“We would not be having this conversation if that were the case.” His hazel eyes bore into my brown ones. My breathing picked up when he moved in close.

“I don’t want to get hurt.” I admitted without a filter.

“You safety is of the upmost importance to me. I would never tell you to leap if I had no intention of catching you.”

“Tell me when this is no longer the case, when I’m too much for you to –“

He held both of my hands and maintained eye contact. “Where are you looking right now?”

“Wh-I?”

He raised an eyebrow and dipped his head down, coaxing me to recall one of our running lines.

Doing so forced me to get out of my head. “The gutter.” I was finally able to answer.

“You mean to tell me I’m the only one looking at the stars?” A little smirk tugged on his lips.

His strategy of utilizing one of my favorite quotes to calm me down made my heart swell. I blushed as I struggled not to smile as hard as I wanted to.

“Will you turn on music before you show me the sky? I don’t want to hear myself breathe.” I requested, nerves still unfortunately present.

“That can easily be arranged. “ He kissed my forehead and left me to remedy my request.

I shook out my hands and took deep breaths as I walked to the right side of the room. He went to the center of the dancefloor after selecting an appropriate dance mix.

“Ready?” I mentally prepared myself, eyeing my target.

“Whenever you are.” He maintained his started stance.

I ran towards him. He caught me when I launched myself at him in a seated position and promptly placed me on the ground.

“Too tense.” Was his simple critique.

I sighed and walked back to my started spot. I narrowed my eyes and tried again, utilizing complete focus. I was once again deposited onto the ground after initial impact. “Get out of your head. We’re to become one.”

I huffed and walked away.

“You can be your most vulnerable with me. I will always protect you.” He vowed, holding his arm out to receive me.

Looking into his eyes gave me the push I needed. I ran towards him and leapt. He enabled me to seamlessly transition from cradle position to a vertical split. Tightening my abs and stifling my limbs enabled him to momentarily remove one of his arms. I was rotated around in a circle, my arms completely removed at one point, and safely placed onto the ground in an arabesque. I lowered my leg and was stunned breathless.

“We did it.” He breathed into my ear, kissing the side of my face afterward.

I laughed in exhilaration. “Again.”


Everett drove and I was his sole passenger; it was our third day on set, the second day that involved filming, and the first one that revolved around me. Headphones were in my ears and my legs were bent and pinned to my chest, my arms wrapped around them.

“—vous?” Everett’s voice was barely audible over his song I was playing on repeat.

“Huh?” I removed one of my earbuds.

“Nervous?”

“That obvious?” I paused the music player on my phone.

“A little.” He sent me a quick smile. “But that’s good. It means it holds significance.“ His eyes were placed back onto the road.

“Will you be filming today?”

“A few pick up shots, perhaps, but we’re just on call as of now.”

“Will you watch me dance?”

“I will stop whatever I am doing to be there. You have my word.”

I smiled. “Thanks, Ev.”

“And I love that you don’t think you’re too old to tug my arm and ask me to watch you perform.”

“I’ve never been one to play it cool. You have always been in my cheering section. Why on earth would I stop inviting you back?”

He chuckled. “I hope Em takes after her Aunt Iz in that respect.”

He escorted me onto set and enabled me to have the VIP treatment he was afforded. He was seen as the boss, the main man in charge, though I assumed that role would be the director’s before the start of filming. Ev explained that he conceives all of their videos and he was personally in charge of hiring a director who would work hand and hand with him. The system, though hidden from the public, proved successful and lucrative. Fleeting Moment’s music videos always won awards.

Everett fended off the makeup artists, wardrobe assistant, and hairdresser to give me the opportunity to eat breakfast. I kept my meal light – avocado toast with a sunny side egg and a cup of hot tea.

“Would you like more to eat? There is no rush. We are doing great on time.” Ev sipped coffee as he went over his blocking notes.

“I can’t dance on a full stomach. This was plenty.” I rose from the table.

“Are you sure?” He looked up at me.

“Yes. See you later.” I grabbed a bottle of water before walking away from craft services. A woman in her early twenties approached me as I was putting my water bottle in my dance bag.

“Good Morning, Izzie. My name is Lena. I will be assisting you for the day.” She offered her hand to me.

I awkwardly maneuvered my bag around, wiped the condensation from the cold bottle onto my sweatpants pants and put my hand into hers. “Thanks for helping me out. It’s 4am and I’m still disoriented.” I shook her hand with a smile.

“Today will be a long one. Our first stop is prep. When was the last time you showered?”

“This morning. I didn’t wash my hair, though. I didn’t have enough time to dry it.” I held onto the strap of my bag and observed the buzzing technicians who were bringing the set to life. “Please say prep does not entail more waxing. I will not be forgetting yesterday any time soon.”

“Waxing is not on the agenda. Changing into costume appropriate undergarments, skin moisturizing, and a manicure are listed.”

“A manicure could be beneficial.” I examined my nails.

“You need it. It was noted.” She keyed into the dressing room with my name on the door.

I wanted to ask what else was written about my appearance, but I knew myself and obsessing would not get me anywhere.

My room was large enough to accommodate a ballet barre, bathroom, full-length mirror, couch, and a large vanity counter, complete with an illuminated mirror and a chair. A fruit basket, bottles of water, apple juice, and all of my favorite snacks were waiting on the coffee table beside the couch.

I put my bag on top of the vanity and started unpacking.

“Here are your bra, underwear, and robe. The skin and nail technicians will be in shortly.” Lena presented me with a hanger and an attached garment bag.

“Thank you.” I accepted them and excused myself to the bathroom, my toiletry bag in my other hand.

I went to the bathroom, brushed my teeth, and changed. Upon returning to the room, I folded my clothes and put them in my dance bag. I went to the barre and stretched as I waited for the specialists to come into the room.

“Are you still dating that prince?” Lena sparked a conversation.

“Who?” I transitioned into third position.

“His Royal Highness Milo Ferdinando Giovanni De Luca, Crowned Prince of Listonenia.”

She showed me her phone.

I glanced at it for show. “Oh, yes. He is still my boyfriend. Sorry, I didn’t recognize the title.” I resumed stretching.

“Is it true he’s worth over $4 billion because his father’s a king and his mother is an heiress?”

“I have no idea.” It was the truth. I lacked the audacity to ask him such a thing and I did not care to know. It was none of my business.

“What was your first date like? Did he like fly you to Paris on a private jet?”

I breathed a laugh as I thought about what we actually did in comparison to what she presumed. “Our school screens movies in a field every couple of weeks when it’s warm enough to be outside. We went to see the film they were showing; it happened to be my favorite. He laid out a simple picnic composed of our favorite snacks. It was nice.”

“That’s it?”

“Mhmm. We loved it.” I was in fifth position at that point.

“What are your other dates like?”

“We don’t go on them often. We are very casual. We typically go on picnics when we do. We find being outside to be relaxing. We went to a petting zoo once. That was really fun. I love small animals.”

“Does he buy you a lot of expensive stuff, like diamonds and furs?”

“No. I have no use for any of that. Besides, he knows I’d cry if he gave me an animal pelt. They like to go for the young ones because they are softer.”

“So nothing? No trips, cars, jewelry, clothes – none of it? You just sit outside together?” She questioned incredulously, unable to believe my true statements.

“I flew to visit him this summer. We went to New York for a school trip. That’s the extent of our travels. We dance, hangout with our friends, and watch movies and television together too. We have a thing for zombie shows and baking ones.”

“What a waste. If I were dating him –“ I blocked her out and put all my focus on properly warming my muscles.

He was my best friend. He could make me laugh harder than anyone and would console me when I cried. He’d argued back with passion when we got into fights and ensured we were quick to make up afterward though he was just as stubborn as I was. His voice was my favorite one to hear. And he was easy to talk to, a fantastic listener. Each time he looked into my eyes and smiled, my heart beat out of my chest and I flew to cloud nine. He made me feel understood, beautiful, important – he was my other half, my left hand and I was his right; we could make it alone, but everything was easier and better with each other.

I had just about completed my routine when the prep crew came into the room. I was asked to disrobe and stand shoulder width apart to have my skin lathered in lotion.

“I would KILL for your body.” Lena stopped texting long enough to get a good look at me.

“I spend 25 hours a week training, not including strength exercises. I only do it because it enables me to do what I love. Your body’s fine just the way it is; love it.” I addressing her statement happened without thought; it was my mind’s automated response to comparisons. Wanting someone else’s body almost killed me. I couldn’t stand the thought of someone wanting to kill for mine.

“What’s your diet like?” She ignored me.

“I don’t feel comfortable talking about this.” I would’ve bitten my nails to relieve my anxiety if it weren’t for the fact that my arms needed to be out.

“Oh, come on. It’s just between us girls.” She pressed.

“I had an eating disorder for three years. I eat all that I need to now, but I hate talking about my food intake with people. It still makes me feel violated.” I looked down at the ground after my explanation. When I caught sight of the skin specialist watching me with pity, I looked to the side, fighting the tears that begged to be released.

I put on my bee necklace and charm bracelet before my manicure was administered. I inserted one of my earbuds into my ear and listened to Innocence Lost on repeat to mentally walk through my dance. I was able to relax in my own little world with tokens of Audrey and Milo’s support to remind me of my new reality as I recalled my old one.

I was escorted to the hair studio by Lena. Traveling with my headphones in gave me an excuse not to speak to her.

My hair had been dyed back to its original dark brown color the first day of filming. The ends were trimmed and balayage highlights in a honey brown color were painted throughout my head for dimension. I liked what the stylist did with my hair; it made me feel beautiful.

“Good morning, Jen.” I gave the stylist a hug.

Her warm embrace comforted me. “Hello to you too, Sweetheart.”

“I brought you one of my mom’s muffins. It’s lemon poppyseed.” I offered it to her.

“This more than makes up for the extra work you’ve given me.” She put it on the back counter beside her belongings.

“It’s cold out. I showered this morning and it takes my hair a while to dry on its own.”

“Yeah, yeah. That’s what they all say.” She draped a black cape around my neck.

“Let me tell ya, her mom makes the best muffins I’ve ever had.” Jen told Lena as she got to work on my hair.

“Did you know each other previously?” She sat down in an empty chair.

“I brought baked goods to set the first day to thank the people that helped me. Jen loved it so much that I’ve been bringing her one every day since.” I explained.

“No one else has done that on any of the sets on which I worked. Like I said, she’s a sweetheart.”

My hair was washed and blow-dried. I expected the next step to be straightening, but Jen started applying curl defining products instead.

“We’re keeping the curls?”

“Yes, Everett insisted they stay. He wants you to be yourself and you, my dear, have beautiful curls.” She smiled at me in the mirror.

She pulled it back into a ponytail, leaving out a tendril in front of both of my ears. She used another hair elastic and bobby pins to secure a bun to the top of my head. She sprayed it with hairspray and made a few last minute tweaks. Lastly, a Vintage Filigree Ballet Headpiece was placed on the crown of my head. The silver prongs and band beneath had white and pale pink crystals embedded within them. She secured it to my head with bobby pins.

“You’re all done.”

I turned my head to the side to check out her work. “Ugh, It looks so beautiful. I never want to take down my hair. Thank you.”

“You are very welcome, Sweetheart.” She removed my cape.

I turned around and hugged her. “I really appreciate it.”

“Stay sweet.”

“Enjoy your muffin.”

I was led out by Lena.

“Time for makeup.”

“Before we get started, I need to take a picture of you to get a freckle reference.” The makeup artist explained to me as soon as I sat down in the chair.

“Sure, but may I ask why?”

“Your natural freckles will be covered with foundation and concealer to combat the lights. Everett wants them to be present. To accommodate both his request and filming needs, I am drawing freckles on top of your foundation using pictures as a guide.” He snapped the necessary pictures as he answered.

He handed the camera off to his assistant and started applying my makeup. I closed my eyes and allowed him to paint me, doing my best to forget the last time I was done up by a make up artist in New York. I put my hand on my bracelet and ran my fingers over the charms. His assistant came back with printed photographs of me and the two of them drew on each of my freckles. I looked like a stage ready version of myself, not an ideal one.

Upon returning to your dressing room, a white leotard, romantic tutu, and translucent tights were waiting for me on a rolling dressing rack. The wardrobe assistant was steaming the wrinkles out of the white tights.

We grew acquainted as I took a quick espresso shot and ate a banana to keep my energy up. I brushed my teeth and went to the bathroom before finally putting on my all white outfit. I laced up my pointe shoes and did some light stretching before putting on my robe and being escorted to set.

“I heard you made many requests on my behalf.” I stood beside Everett as he was seated in his production chair.

He looked over at me and smiled. “I’d never change you. You’re amazing just the way you are.”

I crouched down and hugged him. “You’re the best big brother.”

“Because I love you.” He kissed the top of my head. “Leslie might be here later. She wants to watch you dance.”

“Do you think you could discourage her?”

“Are you upset with her? Has she done something?” He switched to a quieter and more serious tone of voice.

“No, but there are things I need to think about in order to have an impactful performance. I don’t know how long it will take to transition back and I don’t want to hurt her.”

“Tell me if this is too much for you. I have a plan B.”

“I’ll be okay.” I put my hand on top of the one he had on the chair’s armrest.

“I’m serious. I do not want to push you to do anything that hurts you.”

“This song is my story. Parts are painful, but the end is happy. I’m dancing it.”

“Where is your bee necklace?”

I patted the pocket of my robe. “My charm bracelet too. I told you, I’ll be fine.”

“I’ll have Aud busy her with something else. We start filming in ten.” He attempted to stand up and notify the crew.

“Can you take pictures of me really quick? I need to send them Elle and Milo.”

“Quickly.” He held his hand out to receive my phone.

“So quick that you won’t realize you’re doing it.” I fumbled giving it to him.

I removed my robe and draped it on the back his chair, careful to ensure my jewelry remained in its temporary home.

I posed near a light. He took a picture of me from the front. I turned around and looked over my shoulder for the other, showing off the cross detailing on the back of my leotard.

“Send them to Elle with the caption, ‘I feel like a princess’. And then send them to Milo.”

He typed quickly and sent them off.

“Get on your mark. You can put your things on this chair. It is yours.” He instructed, handing my phone back to me. He pointed to the chair beside his. I accepted my phone and looked at the back of my chair. My name was embroidered on the back. It brought a smile to my face. I had every intention of stealing it at the end of the shoot.

I put my bag on my chair and shifted my robe onto the back of the chair. I took my bracelet and necklace out of my pocket and kissed them for good luck, just as I always did before performances. I put them into my bag for safer keeping. I drank some water, careful not to smear my lipstick and went out to the sound stage.

The stage itself was stripped down. The ground was black and the backdrop was a green screen. My music box was a large replica of a wooden music box. The black velvet inside had a hydrolic platform for me to stand on and green stairs that allowed me to get out of it. They would be edited out in postproduction.

I walked onto the set and stood on my mark, waiting for the director’s instructions.

“Alrighty, Izzie, let’s get this show on the road.” The director clapped his hands together. “Are you ready to be lowered down into the box?”

“Yep, I’m ready to rock.” I put my hands on my hips.

He pointed to the person in charge of controlling the music box’s functions. I slowly moved downward, looking around in awe as I did it.

“You need to be bent over when the lid is on the box. Slowly rise into a standing position as the platform is rising and freeze.” The director called out as he sat down beside the camera.

The last thing I saw before the lid was closed was everyone on set’s eyes’ on me. I took a deep breath and settled into my first position. My face was blank when I reappeared at the top of the box with the lid open, just as I was told to in rehearsal.

“Good, very good. We’re going to do it a couple more times for safe measure.” The director praised when the music was paused.

I went down again. I was a master at it by the fifth time I had to do it.

I was more than ready to dance by the time he gave me the okay to do so. I hit every move with technical proficiency, mindful of my facial expressions. My face needed to get increasingly sad as the song rose to the climax. I paid attention to each word, channeling all that I went through before I found myself. I was on the verge of tears when I purposely fell to the ground. I faintly narrowed my eyes with determination and spun my way to a standing position. I fought through my pain, just as I had in real life. By the end, I was both emotionally drained and exhilarated having filtered through a wide spectrum of emotions.

The music was stopped, the lid of the music box was once again lifted, and I was greeted by the residents of the real world with thunderous applause.

“Mind-blown. That was incredible, Izzie.” The director gave me a thumbs up.

I smiled and bowed.

“Take fifteen, everyone.” The stage manager announced.

I went to my assigned seat and immediately grabbed my bottle of water.

“I am very proud to call you my little sister.” Everett removed his headset.

“Was it really that good?” I wiped off my mouth.

“Watch the playback. It was flawless. How are you feeling?”

“Raw, but good. It is allowing me to confront a lot of things. My therapist approved of me doing this.” I dabbed my neck with a towel.

“Let us know if you need a break. You come first.”

“I know. You’ve told me like a million times.” I put my towel aside and picked up my phone.

There was a message from Milo that read, ’Call me”.

“Excuse me.” I hopped out of my seat.

I stood by a propped exit door for fresh air as I dialed his number. I wrapped my arm around myself and patiently waited for him to answer.

“You look like one too.” He said upon answering.

“What?”

“A princess. You look positively radiant -- like yourself, freckles and all.”

I blushed and looked down at my pointe shoes. “Everett was not supposed to send you that caption. It was meant for Elle. You were just supposed to get the pictures.”

“I stand by my statements.”

“There’s a connotation.”

“I am well aware. Does that worry you?”

“No.” I spoke from my heart without consulting my rationale.

“Even after the incident with Sal?”

I nodded, forgetting he couldn’t see me. “You walked away with my feelings in mind.”

“I would never hurt you like that. It would be far from worth it.” He solemnly vowed.

“I know.” I smiled softly.

“Have you started filming?”

“Yes, I will tell you more about it later. I need to get back to work. Is there a specific reason you wanted me to call you?”

“I wanted to hear your voice. Seeing your face was not enough.”

I nibbled on my bottom lip. “I love you.”

“I love you too, Beautiful. Have a good day.”

“I’ll see what I can do.” I made kissy noises and hung up the phone, missing him the moment I did.

As I started to walk away, realized what I said – I was willing to marry him.

I flipped my phone over. Just as I was about to click on his name, I was called back to set. I sighed, as I was forced to let my admission linger. The scariest part was I meant it. He was then aware of just how far I was willing to go with him. I was completely vulnerable.

I went to my starting position, ready for my next take.

The music was paused the moment I surfaced. “You look frightened.” The director told me.

“I’m sorry. Let’s start again.”

I was lowered back into my box.

“You are still too expressive. I need you to void everything, just like the first time.” He commented once again.

“Can I take a moment to clear my head? I’m sorry.” I wiped my forehead, feeling the lights more than I had before.

Everett whispered something to him.

“Will ten minutes suffice? That is all the time we have.” The director returned his attention to me.

“Yes, I’ll be quicker than that.” I hopped out of my box and scurried off set. I picked up my phone and speed walked to my secluded corner.

I clicked on his name and wrapped my arm around myself.

“Don’t hurt me.” I blurted as soon as he answered.

“I’m baffled.”

“I thought I was broken, unable able to do this, but you proved me wrong. I’ve lost the ability to hide my feelings. I don’t know when or how, but I know it was because of you and I hate knowing that. It took you a second to see me, but since then you have never stopped. I don’t want you to and that terrifies me.”

“I apologize, Beautiful, but I’m still very much confused.”

“Not now, not next year, but eventually, I would love to walk down the aisle to you.”

“You’re willing to do it all? Be my wife and a queen?”

“For you? Yes.” My heart pounded and my voice was faint.

“Not next week or two years from now, but I will be waiting for you at the alter one day. Try not to be late.”

“I am trusting you with everything.”

“I will treat your confidence with care.”

My hands ceased trembling when I registered his response.

“I love you too much.”

He breathed a laugh. “Me too, but I still do not believe in such a thing.”

“I need to get back to work, but I couldn’t leave this in the balance. It was reading all over my face and the director kept stopping in a very you-like manner.”

“Listen to them.”

“I will. Be good for your mommy.”

“Knock them dead on set.”

“I’ll make you proud.”

“You already have and always do.”

I kissed him goodbye and hung up the phone.

I went back to the set with a new outlook, one of hesitance but also hope. My makeup was touched up and I returned to my box with total focus.

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