Bad For You

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4

I've been practicing my routine for an hour now. Coated in a light sheen of sweat, I walk over to my bag and grab my water bottle, taking a greedy swig. It's six in the morning. I let Hannah sleep in and since I didn't feel like waking up my mother and dealing with her so early, caught an Uber to school. It's time like these when I wish I lived on campus.

Among other reasons.

I'm probably the only teenager in the world who doesn't have a license. For some reason my mother was super against it. I once got the courage to ask her why, and she replied I wouldn't need a license when I was living in New York anyway. In the meantime she, Hannah, Uber, or Lyft could take me anywhere I needed to go. Not that I went to a lot of places. If I wasn't at school, the studio, the antique shop, or home, it was safe to assume I'd been abducted.

My life was as boring as they come. Sneaking out to go to Lauryn Hills party was probably the most exciting thing I'd done in years. Speaking of her party...

As I resume practice, performing a series of adagio exercises at barre, my mind can't help but wander to a beautiful dark hair, green eyed boy. Last night I stayed up way too late tossing and turning, unable to get Theo out of my head. He consumed my thoughts up until the moment my body was forced to shut down. Even in my dreams he was there.

"Damnit," I curse as I lose balance. This is exactly what I was trying to avoid. Theo was a distraction that I couldn't afford. A pretty distraction, but a distraction nonetheless.

It's embarrassing to admit, but I have zero experience with the male gender. I've gone as far as a few chaste and uncomfortable kisses with boys I didn't even really like. But an actual boyfriend? Nope. Out of the question. Because boyfriends led to sex, and sex led to pregnancies, and a pregnancy meant my career would be over before it even began.

So I never told my mother when I had crushes. We never gossiped about cute boys or first kisses. And eventually my crushes faded away when my interest in them fizzled out. I've never had strong enough feelings for someone to want to pursue anything further than staring at them and making up cute scenarios in my head while fantasizing about falling in love.

That's why Theo confuses me. I don't know him—not really—yet it feels like I could want more. How is that even possible? Feelings like that don't just happen that fast. That's what the logical part of my brain tells me. But the emotional part is a different story. None of my crushes before had ever given me butterflies or made my heart skip a beat—which was a thing I previously thought only happened in movies and books.

They'll go away, I try and remind myself. The feelings always do.

I walk over to my phone and select a new song to play. The familiar instrumental of Gangsta by Kehlani—the version from Harley Quinn and the Jokers flashback—croons over the speakers. Then I stand in the center of the room.

Développe. Attitude devant. Attitude derrière. Promenade. Arabesque. Smooth and fluid. Graceful but controlled.

I glance in the mirror while going though each adage step, and it's then I notice a dark shadow in the doorway. At first my heart stutters to a stop, then resumes its normal rhythm. Taking a deep breath I re-focus on what I'm doing, ignoring the unwelcome presence.

I need a gangsta...to love me better...than all the others do...

I transition into a series of fouettées, gaining speed as the beat picks up. Closing my eyes I let the music wash over me, propelling my body forward.

You got me hooked up on the feeling...I leap into a grand jeté. You got me hanging from the ceiling...tour jeté. So don't let me, don't let me, don't let me, don't let me down...I shift into a demi plié before pirouetting.

The entire time I'm dancing, I can feel Theo watching me.

It's a strange thing. I hate when people watch me dance, which is ironic because that's what ballet is all about. No one would subject themselves to the physical or mental stress of ballet if there wasn't an audience to appreciate it. I've had people watching me dance my whole life. I've learned to ignore it, to act like I'm alone, because if I didn't there's no way I'd be able to perform.

But with Theo, I don't mind. At least today I don't.

The song fades out and I stop spinning, my chest rising and falling with each intake of breath. I stand there for a moment before twisting around to look at Theo. He's wearing black jeans and a dark grey t-shirt with paint stains. There's another paintbrush tucked behind his ear and he's leaning against the doorway with his arms crossed. I decide to break the silence first.

"Do you actually use that thing or is it just for aesthetic purposes only?" My eyes flicker to the brush behind his ear before returning to his eyes.

Theo smirks. "Sometimes," he replies.

I turn around without saying anything more and do a ronde de jambe en l'air. Theo walks further into the room as I do it again, this time à terre. En l'air. À terre. Repeat.

"I want to paint you."

My eyes widen and I freeze. Paint me? "Like one of your French girls?" I joke.

Theo rounds to stand in front of me and I look up at him. "If you let me," he says, his eyes trailing down my body. "But no necklace. Just those."

I follow his gaze to my pointe shoes.

I can't tell if he's serious or joking. I was joking, but he sounds serious. And crazy. Because there's no way I'd let him paint me naked. Who even asks someone that?

Yet for some inexplicable reason, a strange thrill courses thought me at the thought of Theo painting me in just my shoes.

"Um, no?" I finally respond, hating that it comes out sounding like a question. "That's so...no. Just no."

"You're thinking about it sexually," The corner of Theo's mouth quirks up before his face becomes serious again. "Why do you think Jack painted all those girls naked? It's not because he just wanted to stare at boobs or something. There's plenty of other ways to do that, trust me. No, it was deeper than that. Those girls were his muses and he turned them into art. The curves and lines of their bodies, their facial expressions and movement," Theo shrugs. "You're a dancer. When I watch you dance, I see art. And as an artist, I feel compelled to capture it."

I'm speechless as I absorb his words, replaying them over and over in my head trying to make sense of it.

When you dance, I see art.

I was used to people giving me compliments and words of praise after they'd seen me dance. Wow, you're so good Aurora. That was amazing! I could never dance like that, you're so talented.

But it all meant nothing. Not with my mother constantly in my ear telling me I could be better. Not with my instructors telling me I could fix this or do that. I would never be perfect, no matter how hard I tried. Perfection was simply an unattainable goal I would never be able to quite fully grasp. No one would. But still, we all smiled and pretended we could, pushing ourselves to the brink.

When you dance, I see art.

Art isn't perfect. It's beautiful in its imperfections. Each individual views it differently and it can be interpreted in a variety of ways.

But most importantly, art is real.

My heart hurts in my chest. "Would you show anyone?" I ask quietly.

"No," Theo's eyes sear my own. "I promise, only you and I will see it. And ultimately it will be yours." I hold his gaze, searching them for any hint of insincerity or that he's lying. A twitch perhaps.

But there's none.

As I stand there staring at him, I start to wonder if maybe I'm crazy too. Is crazy contagious? It must be. That's the only explanation as to why I'm even considering letting him paint me naked.

This can't be normal.

"Tonight," I find myself saying. "At ten. The studio closes then and Jim usually locks up, but if I ask he lets me practice until eleven." It was also the only excuse I could give my mother for staying out so late.

"Okay," Theo says simply. "Tonight at ten."

And with that he turns around and walks out of the studio, leaving me standing there wondering whether I'd lost my mind or not.

___

"Hannah, have you ever agreed to do something incredibly stupid?" I ask later that day at the antique shop.

"Oh all the time," Hannah replies cheerfully, playing a series of notes on the piano. "My life is a series of stupid decisions. One of them deciding I wanted to play the piano for a living. The other pining over something I'll never have," she strokes the keys of the Steinway lovingly before letting out a sigh. "Why?"

"No reason," I sit next to her on the bench. "I think I might be certifiable."

"Oh sweetie, you're just now realizing that?"

I hit her playfully and she laughs. "Seriously though, what did you do?"

I bite my lip, contemplating whether or not I should tell her. Hannah looks at me expectantly.

"Okay fine. Just...don't judge me."

"Alright, now you're scaring me."

I fiddle with the zipper on my jacket, raising it up and down as I speak. "Remember Theo?"

"Oh definitely. Hot art boy right?"

I nod.

"What about him?"

"So I...I might have agreed to let him paint me."

Hannah raises a brow. "Paint you?"

"Yeah you know, with a brush and-"

"I know what painting is," Hannah rolls her eyes. "So how did that happen?"

"He asked me."

"And you said yes?" She asks in surprise. "Wow. That's...so unlike you."

When I don't say anything Hannah smirks. "You like him," she says slowly.

My eyes widen. "No-"

"Yes! You have a crush! Aurora has crush, Aurora has a crush!" She singsongs.

"Shut up," I roll my eyes while laughing. "You're such a child."

"Now that I think about it, that's kind of hot," Hannah says. "Letting him paint you and all. Very sexy. You're like his muse or something."

"There's more," I exhale nervously. "I um- I agreed to let him paint me. Naked."

Hannah freezes. "I'm sorry, come again?"

My next words tumble out in a rush. "Well technically not naked. I'm going to wear my shoes. My um, my pointe shoes."

As Hannah stares at me like I've grown two heads, I squirm under her gaze. "You're judging me," I accuse her.

"Damn right I am!" Her words are a harsh whisper. "Aurora are you out of your mind? You can't let him paint you naked!"

I cross my arms defensively. "Why not?"

"Um hello, because you don't know him! He could be like a serial killer or something!"

"Just two seconds ago you were all for it."

"That was before I found out there would be a lack of clothing."

I stand up, suddenly irked. "I wish I hadn't told you."

"What?" Hannah's eyes widen at me incredulously. "Are you serious? I'm trying to help you!"

"Well I didn't ask for your help!" I shout, gaining the attention of a few shoppers. The owner looks up from the register. He's a sweet old man and I feel bad for causing a scene.

"Is everything all right?" He asks in concern.

"Everything is fine," I smile tightly. "I was just leaving."

I spin around on my heel and storm out, ignoring Hannah calling after me.

My behavior is completely irrational. Nothing Hannah said was wrong of course. I shouldn't let some boy I don't even know paint me naked. It's stupid and dangerous, yet I don't care. I've already made up my mind, and I'm going through with it. I can't explain why. Nothing about anything with Theo makes sense.

I don't know what I'm doing anymore.

___


My body is a live wire of nervous energy as I stand in front of the mirror at the studio, wearing only my coat and pointe shoes. My hair is in a ballerina bun and I have on no makeup. I thought about putting some on, but then decided against it. Now as I stand in front of the mirror, I kind of wish I did.

I check the time on my phone. 9:59.

Breathing in deeply I try and calm my nerves. For the thousandth time I think to myself how crazy this is. The longer I stand there, the more I start to wonder if it's too late to change my mind. But I'm already here, and for some reason it's like I need to go through with it. I can't back out now.

The studio doors open and I spin around. Theo walks in carrying a folded easel under one arm, a canvas under the other, and a small duffel bag on his shoulder.

"Hey," he smiles at me.

"Hey," I say softly.

"I'm a little surprised you're actually here. I was sure you'd change your mind."

"I thought about it."

Theo sets his easel and canvas down before dropping his duffel bag on the floor with a thud. I bite my lip as he regards me.

"You nervous?"

"I mean yeah," I shift my feet back and forth from first to third position. "It would be weird if I wasn't."

Theo looks contemplative for a moment. "Yeah, I guess it would. But don't worry," his voice suddenly switches to a very exaggerated French accent. "I am pro-fez-zee-nal, eh?"

I giggle. "Whatever you say monsieur." Then I take a breath and square my shoulders. "So where do you want me?"

"By the barre," Theo says while setting up his canvas on the easel. I walk over to the barre and place my hands on the wood. How should I pose? He never gave me specific instructions. I glance at Theo, who's unzipping his bag and pulling out brushes and paint. Positioning myself so the left side of my body is facing the barre, I assume fourth position.

"That's perfect," Theo says and I look at him. He's staring at me, his head tilted. "But lower your right arm and move your hand to your face, kind of like a caress," I do what he says and he nods. "Yeah, just like that."

I straighten and Theo reaches into his bag, pulling out a small case. Inside is a bright red rose. He walks over to me and gently tucks the flower into my hair.

"There," he steps back. "Perfect."

Holding each other's gaze I reach up and start to take off my coat. My hands shake as I slowly pull the zipper down, the sound seemingly a hundred times louder than it should be. Once I reach the end I pause.

Then I push the jacket off my shoulders.

I'm acutely aware of the rise and fall of my chest with each breath I take. Theo's eyes never leave my face. He doesn't take the opportunity to openly stare at my body or anything. And after a long moment, he turns around and walks back over to where his easel is set up. He picks up a brush and I exhale, getting into my earlier position.

"Try not to move," Theo instructs and I nod, licking my lips. "And relax."

Right. I can do that.

In all my seventeen years on earth, this, this moment, this feeling right here, is the most intimate thing I've ever experienced. To trust someone I barely know, to be open and vulnerable in a way I've never been before. When Theo looks at me, I don't feel ashamed of all my flaws. When his eyes explore my body, I don't feel embarrassed, awkward,
or uncomfortable. Because he doesn't look at me in a creepy or sexual way.

He looks at me like I'm art.

When it's all over I zip my coat back up and stand over Theo's shoulder, examining his work. He turns to look back at me. "What do you think?" He asks.

What do I think?

I think you're someone I could fall in love with.

___


ngl, a lot of inspo for this chapter came from titanic. that is my all time favorite movie in the world, so you already know i had to reference it

*cries thinking about jack*

xoxo, g💓
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