Bad For You

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2

"No one should be awake at this ungodly hour," Hannah gripes as we pull into the school parking lot. "No one."

She shuts off the engine and I climb out, retrieving my duffel bag from the back seat.

"Are you going to the music room to practice?"

"No. I'm going to the library so I can find a quiet corner and sleep until first period," Hannah yawns and starts walking away. "Good luck!" she calls over her shoulder.

Hiking my bag over my shoulder I make my way toward the dance studio. Cold air nips at my skin.. Winters in Michigan were brutal. No matter how many layers I wore, the cold somehow found a way to seep past the cotton and fur, chilling my bones.

As usual the studio is empty when I arrive. Good. One of the main reasons I come this early to practice is because I'm alone. It's easier to dance when nobody's watching, scrutinizing and critiquing your every move. In the dressing room I change into my leotard and tights before putting on my new pointe shoes. Normally I would warm up in my ballet slippers, but I need to break my new shoes in. After tying my hair into a ponytail I grab my phone and make my way back into the studio, connecting my it to the speakers.

I start by warming up on the barre, performing a series of stretches. Knee bend. High fifth. Rond de jambe. Plié bend and stretch. Raised tuck. I move into a tendu warm up, dégages, and frappes. After I'm warmed up I walk on demi-pointe for awhile, rolling into full pointe. It stings, but like everything else that comes with ballet I'm used to it. I learned a long time that dancing en pointe would never feel truly comfortable.

With a sigh I drop back flat onto my feet and walk over to my phone to change the music. I should practice the routine for my recital. That's what my mother would expect of me. It is what she expects of me.

Yet it's not what I do.

I scroll through my playlist and select Elastic Heart. It's rare that I dance for enjoyment. Dancing lost its shine a long time ago when it became clear it was no longer about fun but perfection. After that, every breath I took, every move I made, was carefully calculated. I became numb to it all. All I knew was that I had to be the best.

There was no room for enjoyment.

But in these private moments, when no is watching, I dance for myself. And it's in these private moments where just for a few minuets ballet is no longer about being the greatest. I can dance freely. There's no pressure on my shoulders, no suffocating fear of letting my mother down or becoming a failure.

There's just me. The music. And dance.

I spin and leap around the room, each movement pushing the boundaries of my muscle strength and flexibility. As the music reaches a crescendo I begin to pirouette, alternating between raising my arms above my head or to my sides. I spin and spin, never stopping until the music ends. Then I collapse in a heap on the floor, breathing heavily.

The sound of someone slow clapping echoes throughout the room.

Startled, I look up. A boy is leaning against the studio doorway, a paintbrush tucked behind his ear. His dark hair falls haphazardly across his face and sticks up in all sorts of directions, like he just woke up and rolled out of bed. He has on black jeans and a black t-shirt that stretches tight across his chest and highlights his tall, lean frame. Swirls of colorful ink adorn both his arms. I lift my eyes up to his face. It's weird to describe a boy as beautiful, but well, he is. It's like someone took the the time to carefully craft his face, from the sharp shape of his jawline, to his nose, chin, and eyes, which are a pale green.

I narrow my eyes at him and slowly stand up as he walks further into the room. "Were you watching me?" I ask, crossing my arms over my chest.

"Yeah," he admits without a hint of shame. "I was walking over to the visual arts department when I heard music coming from inside. I'm a kind of a curious fucker, so I wanted to see who was here this early."

"Oh." With nothing else to say I turn around and wait for him to leave. Except he doesn't. He just stands there, watching me. It's unnerving.

I peer at him over my shoulder. "Do you mind?"

"Not at all," he replies. "Please. Continue."

I clench my jaw. Whatever. Ignoring him I lift myself to stand en pointe.

"Does that hurt?"

Exhaling sharply I drop back down to my feet. "No."

"It looks like it hurts."

I breathe in deeply. "I'm used to the pain."

The boy nods like he understands. With a huff I assume fifth position. Counting out the steps in my head I perform two changements, a demi, arabesque, then finish off with a sauté.

"So how do you spin like that?"

And just like that, my concentration is broken.

"Spin like what?" I can't hide the annoyance that seeps through my voice.

"Like how you were spinning earlier to the music," He cocks his head. "On your toes. Shit looks painful."

Oh my God.

"It's called en pointe and I spin like that due to years of practice," I reply. I stand up straight and face him. "You said you were on your way to the visual arts department. I assume this means you have someplace to be."

Translation: please get out.

The boy smirks knowingly. "Ah. You want me to leave."

"Did it ever occur to you I came this early to practice so I could be alone?"

He holds up his hands, backing away. "Noted."

I smile thinly and face the mirror again. Once I'm sure he's gone I exhale and shake out my nerves.

Right. Time to practice my pas seul.

___

"Nice work today in class Aurora. You were really good."

I zip my bag and stand up straight, only to come face to face with Noelle. The smile on her face suggests she's being genuine, but I've known her long enough to know otherwise.

"Thanks."

"However I noticed your shoulders were a little stiff. It's no biggie, just make sure to relax them. I know a great masseuse in the area if you want."

I resist the urge to claw her eyes out and even manage a forced smile. "Thanks," I repeat. "I'll keep that in mind."

Noelle pats my shoulder before twirling around and skipping off, her strawberry blonde ponytail swinging. I zip up my coat before slinging my bag over my shoulder. Girls are bitches. But girls in ballet...

They're something else.

All that girls supporting girls crap? Thrown out the window. Everyone is cutthroat. Everyone wants to be number one. If that means you have to step on the heads of your competitors, then so be it. Passive aggressiveness becomes a language. At the end of the day, ballet is just as much about appearances as it is about actual talent. No one will outright diss you, but you bet your ass they'll find a way to make you feel like dirt at the bottom of their dainty shoes.

I make my way to the dining hall where Hannah is seated at our usual table. She looks up from her phone as I plop down in the seat across from her. "Oh good, you're here."

"What's up?" I take out my lunch, which consists of chicken and vegetables.

"Apparently there's a party tonight at Lauryn Hills house. It's all over Snapchat."

I furrow my brows. "On a Monday night?"

Hannah shrugs. "Rich people am I right? Their parents are practically non-existent."

I roll my eyes. Typical.

Hannah twirls a curl of hair around her finger. "So like, I was thinking maybe we could stop by."

Twisting the cap off my water bottle I take a sip and chuckle. "Good one."

"Haha yeah. Except I wasn't joking."

I pause, fork halfway to my mouth. "Hannah-"

"We'll be home by midnight at the latest!" She interrupts.

I set my fork down. "Even if I wanted to go, which lets be clear, I don't, my mother would never let me. You know I have a performance coming up. She's been even more gung-ho than usual. There's no way I can get away with staying out that late when I have to be up so early."

It was also why I lived at home instead of school. My mother wanted to keep a close eye on me, and she couldn't do that with me living in the residence halls. Hence why I didn't live on campus like ninety percent of the student body. Hannah didn't live on campus either, but that was more of a personal choice on her part.

Hannah bites her lip, thinking hard. Then she snaps her fingers. "You could sneak out. I mean you're all lithe and flexible. Couldn't you just climb out your window or something?"

I laugh. "That's...no. Why can't you just go by yourself?"

"Because it won't be fun without my best friend!" Hannah pouts. I fix her with a stare.

"You don't even like Lauryn Hill or any of her other snobby friends. Why do you want to go to her party all of a sudden?"

Hannah blows out a breath. "I just thought it would be fun," she mutters. "And we could use a break."

I open my mouth to respond when there's a burst of loud laughter across the cafeteria. Distracted I look over. It's the boy from this morning. He's surrounded by a group of what I assume to be his friends, all artsy types with their colorful clothes and hair. Except him. He's the odd one out among the group with his all black ensemble, yet he still manages to fit right in. Someone throws a grape at him and he catches it midair. More laughter ensues and someone slings an arm around his shoulders, jostling him. He grins and for some reason my heart skips a beat.

He has dimples when he smiles and his whole face lights up.

"Hello?" Hannah snaps her fingers in front of my face. "Earth to Aurora?" She follows my gaze, a sly smile spreading across her face. "Oh."

"Oh what?" I tear my gaze away from their table and stab a piece of chicken with my fork.

"He's cute."

I shrug.

Hannah raises a brow before pulling out her phone. A few taps on the screen later she starts reading aloud.

"Theo Knight. Eighteen. Art major."

I choke. "What?"

"Oh wow, he's really good," Hannah ignores me and continues to scroll through what I assume is his Instagram. She flips her phone so I can see the screen. It's a painting. A rendition of Van Gough's Scream, but instead the famous screaming figure has been replaced with Slender Man.

Odd. And Creepy.

The photo has over a thousand likes and hundreds of comments though, and even I can't deny the quality of his work, even if it is a little strange.

"How did you find his account so fast?" I ask, disturbed at Hannah's stalking abilities.

"Through mutual friends. So what's the deal, do you like him or something?"

"I don't even know him."

"So? I don't know know Troye Sivan and I'd still have his babies."

"Troye Sivan is gay."

Hannah groans. "I know, don't remind me. A tragedy if you ask me."

I roll my eyes and glance back over to his table. Theo. His head is thrown back in laughter, shoulders shaking. I frown. When was the last time I laughed like that?

I can't remember.

It's at that exact moment—when Theo's laughter subsides and he happens to look over—our eyes lock. I've been caught staring red handed, but instead of looking away in embarrassment I hold his gaze. I'm not sure how long we're staring at each other before the corner of his mouth tilts up.

And he winks.

"Did you see that?" Hannah squeals. "He just winked at you!"

I quickly look away and try to play it off. "I think he just had something in his eye."

Hannah scoffs. "Oh yeah, like what?"

"I don't know, maybe a dust particle or something."

I don't catch what Hannah says next because I'm too focused on the way my heart is beating and the fluttery sensation in my stomach. I press a hand to it.

What the hell?

"I'll go," I blurt.

Hannah looks at me quizzically. "Go where?"

"To Lauryn's party."

Her eyes widen and she claps excitedly. "Yes! This is going to be so fun, you'll see."

I try to muster up even half of her excitement.

Fun.

Yay.


___



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