"What do you mean?" I ask in confusion.
"I mean you've been acting like the main character in a Disney princess movie. Humming, dancing, singing spontaneously," she pulls out a shirt and tosses it into our already overflowing shopping cart. While we had initially come for jeans, it had turned into a full fledged shopping trip.
"Have I?" Even as I ask it I'm smiling, but in an effort to disprove Hannah's accusation I try and tone it down.
"Yes," Hannah says in exasperation. "And don't think just because I haven't brought it up I forgot last night. You were supposed to text Theo."
My face physically hurts from the effort it takes me to withhold from breaking into an ear splitting grin. "I did."
Hannah stops long enough to give me an impatient look. "Well? What happened?"
Hannah rolls her eyes. "No shit. But what did you talk about?"
"Just about our worst fears and stuff."
"That sounds depressing."
"Was there anything else?" She presses. When I press my lips together her eyes widen.
"There was! Tell me right now! Don't make me force it out of you. I'm not against using violence if necessary."
I laugh. "Alright, chill." Looking around, I make sure no one is lurking nearby before lowering my voice. "We had phone sex."
"What?!" Hannah screeches and I immediately shush her.
"Would you keep your voice down?" I hiss.
"I'm sorry, I thought I just misheard you. It sounded like you said you had phone sex," she whisper yells.
I suck in my lips and smile. "Yes. That's what I just said."
Hannah gapes at me.
Something catches my eye and I turn, pulling out a long sleeved colorblock tie front top. "Oh. This is cute."
"Don't try and change the subject!" Hannah yanks the top from my hand and throws it in the cart. "Tell me everything. Right now."
"Well..." I go into a PG13 version of last nights events, with Hannah interjecting every other sentence with gasps, wide eyes, and commentary.
"I can't believe it," Hannah sniffles. "Your first real sexual experience. I feel like a proud mom."
I scoff. "Shut up. Don't act like you've got loads of experience under your belt."
"I don't. I'm now living vicariously though you."
"Trust me, you do not want to live my life."
"Maybe not the scary Black Swan part, but definitely the has phone sex with a hot guy part."
I roll my eyes and Hannah laughs.
"Alright," she places her hands on her hips in a superhero stance. "Time to hit up the fitting rooms."
I glance at our cart, which is threatening to either tip over or buckle from the weight. "I understand we're thrifting so the clothes are significantly cheaper, but still. That's a lot of stuff. It's going to add up."
"Well we're not going to buy everything silly. More than half of these items will be eliminated. Everything always looks cute until you try it on."
Right. Of course. How silly of me.
Later that evening I wander into the living room, where my mother is watching one of my old recitals on tv. She used to video record all my performances and watch them back to see where I messed up and where I could improve, kind of like how football teams watch playback tapes of their games.
The recital she's watching now is from when I was seven. I performed a variation to Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. I'd been particularly proud afterwards, thinking it was one of my best dances yet.
Until my mother told me I'd done horrible.
She made me sit down and re-watch it over and over again, pointing out every little mistake I'd made. My arms weren't high enough. My knees were locked on a pirouette. My toes weren't pointed. I wasn't turning my head. By the time she'd finished screaming at me, I couldn't see past my own tears and I never wanted to watch that performance again. Seeing it now causes my shoulders to stiffen.
"Hey honey," my mother switches off the tv. "I was just watching some of your old recitals."
"I can see that," my voice is tight.
"You know I've been thinking."
My body becomes rigid, tension uncoiling in my belly.
"Jacquelyn was telling me how Noelle might join the San Francisco Ballet after graduation."
I suppress an eye roll. Of course she was. I'm not sure who's worse: ballet moms or soccer moms.
"I was talking with some of the other moms too," my mother continues. "The competition is tight. Ballet companies just aren't hiring like they used to."
"Tragic," I mutter under my breath, unsure where she's going with this. Whatever it is, it's probably not good.
I'm proven correct by her next sentence.
"If we really work hard this year, you might just be able to skip Juilliard."
My heart sinks, like someone just tied a stone to it and tossed it in the river.
"I've got it all planned out," my mother's voice grows excited. "We'll sign you up for extra recitals outside of school so you can really pad your resume. The more experience and exposure, the better. And then during the summer you can train at another studio."
As her words resonate through my skull, I start to feel lightheaded. "But what about Juilliard?" I croak.
My mother furrows her brows. "What about Juilliard?"
"I thought-" there's a rushing noise in my ears. "I thought Juilliard was the plan-"
My mother stands from the couch, interrupting me with a laugh. "Plans change honey. Besides, Juilliard was only a stepping stone to advance your career. A means to an end. And we don't even know if you would have gotten in. But if you're hired directly by a ballet company, then poof. We save time, money, and stress. The end goal is still the same, and you'll get there much quicker."
But I thought I'd have more time...
"You should be happy," my mother squeezes my shoulders with a beaming smile. "This is what we wanted."
No, this is what you wanted. I never had a choice.
"How are you going to even afford another studio?" I push out. "What about the house? Bills? My school tuition-"
My mother waves off my concerns. "Don't worry about that. I'll pick up more shifts if I have to, get another job. All you need to do-" she bops my nose playfully. "-is dance."
All you need to do is dance. Dance, dance, dance. Dance until you die.
"I-" I step back. "I think I need to lay down."
Immediately my mother begins to freak out. "Why? Are you okay? Are you sick? Do we need to go to the hospital?"
If this were a normal situation and she were a normal parent, her reaction would be touching, albeit a little annoying. But as it stands, she's not as concerned for my well being as she is my ability to perform.
Because if I'm sick, then I can't dance.
It all leads back to that one thing.
"I'm fine," somehow I manage a small smile. "Just tired, that's all."
"Okay," my mother's voice is wary. "Go rest. We'll talk more later."
Without another word I turn and head to my room, shutting the door behind me and sliding down against the wood. My chest hurts. It feels like I can't breathe, like all the air is being sucked out of the room. I'm gasping for breath but I can't get any air through my lungs. My phone starts ringing on the floor next to me, and through my hazy vision I glance at the screen.
Fumbling for the device I answer before it goes to voice mail. "Hey you," Theo's voice greets me playfully though the speakers. "What are you up to right now?"
"I can't-" I wheeze. "I can't- I can't breathe."
"Rose?" There's noise over the line. "Are you okay? Rose?"
But I can't respond as my panic grows, every attempt to take in air failing until I'm left for gasping for breath. I can hear my heartbeat in my ears and I'm choking, I can't breathe-
"Rose listen to me," Theo says firmly. "Listen to my voice."
"I can't," I choke out. My body is trembling. I feel sick and dizzy. Is this it? Am I dying?
"You can. Just focus on me. Focus on my voice. Close your eyes."
I squeeze my eyes shut.
"Focus on breathing. In," Theo draws in a breath." "Out," he breathes out. "It's okay. You're okay."
In. I breathe in deeply. Out. I exhale. Theo continues to murmur soothingly over the phone as I take deep breaths, reassuring me that I'm fine. After some I finally calm down, my breathing returning to normal.
"You good?" Theo asks.
"Yeah," I nod even thought he can't see me. "I'm good."
I worry my lip. "Um how did you- I mean how did you know what to do?"
It's silent for a moment. "I used to have panic attacks a lot," Theo says quietly. "As in every other day. I learned to cope but...it never gets easier."
A panic attack? Is that what just happened?
I gulp. "I've never- I've never had a panic attack before," suddenly I'm fighting back tears. "It was so scary Theo. I thought I was dying."
"Yeah...not that any of them are great but the first ones always a bitch."
"How did you learn to cope?" I whisper. It was hard enough suffering through one, I couldn't imagine having them every other day. I would go crazy.
"Well the more often I had them, the more I recognized the signs. So I would go through pretty much what I went through with you, but with additional steps like mindfulness, having a focus object, or picturing a quiet, happy place."
As I listen to him speak, my heart feels heavy. What happened to you Theo? The words are on the tip of my tongue, but I bite them back. He's obviously been through a lot, and the last thing I want to do is re-open painful wounds.
"Do you to talk?" Theo suddenly asks. "About what um- what caused your panic attack?"
I contemplate his question for a moment. "No," I shake my head decidedly. "I don't."
"Okay. That's fine."
"Is it? I thought you're supposed to talk about these things."
"Well yeah, but sometimes that does more bad than good. Contrary to popular belief, you don't always have to talk about it."
I sigh. "My life's a mess and I think I'm slowly losing my mind. You should probably run while you can."
Theo chuckles. "You're forgetting that I lost mine a long time ago. A little crazy doesn't scare me."
I laugh, feeling better again. How does he do that? How does he manage to make all my worries and fears disappear, like they never even existed in the first place? Even when I'm on the edge, he manages to pull me back up despite his own demons weighing him down. How is that possible? How can someone who's suffered so much still manage to smile everyday and make others laugh?
Truly, Theo's strength is beyond words.
"So why did you call me?" I ask, stretching my legs.
"Well I wanted to invite you to this thing with my friends but-"
"Yes," I respond without hesitation. "I'll go."
"You sure? Because if you're not feeling up to it-"
I interrupt him before he can finish. "I'm more than feeling up to it. Besides, getting out of the house is exactly what I need right now."
"Cool. I can pick you up at your house."
"Okay. Um also, if it's a group thing do you mind if I text my friend and see if she could come?" The thought of meeting his friends makes me nervous, and it'd be great to have her support.
"Yeah, that's totally fine. Listen, I gotta go shower and get ready but I'll be at your house within an hour. Just text me your address and if your friend is coming or not. I can pick you guys up."
I agree, and after we hang up I send him my address before texting Hannah.
Me: wyd rn?
Hannah Banana🍌: having an existential crisis. wbu?
Me: theo just invited me to hang out with him and some of his friends
Hannah Banana🍌: *intense squealing*
Me: do you wanna come? he said he can pick us both up
Hannah Banana: omg fr?! wait, but i have homework😞
Me: it'saturday, you can still do it tomorrow.
Hannah Banana🍌: true. besides, i wasn't really going to do it anyway, i was just going to pretend i was while simultaneously putting it off until it was too late
Me: i'll text you when we're on our way
Hannah Banana🍌: okay! also is there a dress code for this thing?
Me: idk, he didn't say. cute and casual?
Hannah Banana🍌: always a safe bet. see you soon!
I stand up and stretch before quickly hopping in the shower. Deciding to wear some of the new clothes I bought from today's earlier shopping trip, I select a pair of vintage high waisted mom jeans and pair it with the colorblock tie front top I picked out. Since my boobs are so small I'm pretty much flat chested, I don't necessarily need a bra. However I wear one anyway because I don't want to accidentally flash my tits or anything. Thankfully most of the bras I own are low-cut strapless bras, so it doesn't show under the top. Then I curl my hair using a curling wand and brush it out so it falls down my back in soft waves. I debate on whether to wear makeup or not, eventually deciding some mascara, a cherry tint to my cheeks, and lipgloss won't hurt. After putting on my shoes, I'm finally ready. I give myself a quick once over in the mirror before shrugging on my coat, and grabbing my phone, wallet, purse, and keys.
That's when I realize one teensy, weensy problem.
I pause halfway out of my room and check the time. It's almost eight o'clock. Although tomorrow is Sunday, my mother doesn't like it when I stay out late, unless I'm rehearsing. I bite my lip. Theo will be here soon. I need to think of something.
She's not in the living room or kitchen when I check, so I knock on her room door before poking my head in. She's laying on the bed in her pajamas with her computer on her lap, face scrunched up in concentration.
She startles and looks up. "Oh. Aurora. You scared me."
"Didn't you hear me knock?"
"I was too focused," she gestures toward her laptop screen. Then she frowns. "Why are you dressed up? And are those jeans?"
Ignoring her second question, I school my features so they're as casual as possible. "Hannah invited me to go see a movie with her."
My mother checks the time. "Don't you think it's a little late?"
"It's not that late. Besides, everyone goes to the movies at night. That's when it's fun," a thought occurs to me. "Aren't you supposed to be working tonight?"
"I have the night off."
"Do you really think you can afford to take nights off?" After her announcement earlier, the last thing she needs to be doing is taking nights off, and a Saturday one at that.
"How about you mind your business and let me worry about my job?"
"Okay, sheesh," I mumble. It's probably not smart to piss her off when I want something from her. "So can I go?"
"Hmmm," she thinks for a moment. "Fine, you can go. Just be home by eleven thirty."
"Thanks," I quickly shut her door before she changes her mind and rush out of the house to wait for Theo. It's freezing outside, yet I can't stop myself from bouncing up and down excitedly. He pulls up a short while later.
"Hey," I open the door and slide into the passenger seat with a smile.
"Hey," he grins. He has on a brown corduroy sherpa jean jacket with a black shirt underneath and dark blue jeans.
"Are you going to tell me where we're going this time?" I ask while buckling up.
"Nope," Theo smirks. "But I can promise you this: it's legal."
it's 4am and i'm sleepy...goodnight 😴