Bad For You

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5

“Maybe just cinch the waist a little tighter."

The tailor nods and pulls the corset. Hard. I wheeze.

"Mother I won't be able to breathe," I try and reason with her. "And if I can't breathe, I can't dance."

My mother frowns. "It shouldn't be that tight," she worries her lip. "Maybe you've gained weight. You have been keeping to your diet, haven't you? Harvey specifically said-"

"I know what Harvey said," I snap, cutting her off. The tailor gives me a sympathetic look and I force a smile.

"Okay, relax honey," my mother attempts to reassure me. "I just want you to look good tomorrow, that's all."

It was Friday afternoon and I was at my last costume fitting before my recital tomorrow night. It had also been two days since I'd let Theo paint me in the dance studio that night. Since then, I had neither seen nor spoken to him. I was too consumed with my upcoming performance, school, and my usual ballet training. But as promised, he let me keep the painting. I kept it hidden so my mother wouldn't find it, and every night I would stare at it in awe. Though I knew little to nothing about art, I knew enough to know he was amazingly talented.

Plus it gave me a secret thrill knowing I'd done something like that behind my mother's back.

I hadn't spoken to Hannah either, though not for her lack of trying. I wasn't mad at her, and I'd gotten over our argument fairly quickly, but I didn't feel like dealing with the situation until after my performance.

After we left the dance shop and my mother was on the road she glanced at me. "Do you want me to drop you back at school so you can go over your routine a bit more?"

I shake my head. "No. I'm tired."

"Okay," she nods and doesn't push it. In the past she would've, but my school ballet instructor Francis, whom she trusted wholeheartedly, had also emphasized it was important that in addition to practice I got enough rest. His word was law, and she never questioned it. He was a retired professional dancer, and had been apart of and worked for several famous ballet companies including the American Ballet Theatre, The Royal Ballet, and New York City Ballet.

During dinner my mother went on and on about tomorrow, how excited she was and how I was going to do amazing. I let her talk because then I didn't have to, nodding and smiling along. After dinner I went to my room and decided to call it an early night. After brushing my teeth and slipping into my pajamas I climb into bed.

Try as I might, sleep does not come.

First I stare at the ceiling hoping. Then I start counting sheep. When that doesn't work I roll over, grabbing my phone and headphones from my nightstand. Laying back down I stick them in my ear and decide to listen to the song I would en dancing to, Once Upon A December.

Ever since I was a little girl, I'd been obsessed with Anastasia. Everyone always loved Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty, but Anastasia was my favorite princess. I must have watched the movie over a hundred times. When I was six, my mother surprised me with tickets to go see the ballet. One day, when I'm apart of a professional ballet company, I would love to perform in the ballet itself.

Dancing bears, painted wings. Things I almost remember. And a song, someone sings, once upon a December...

I hum along, singing the lyrics quietly. When the song ends I replay it. Eventually I drift off, my dreams filled with horses and silver storms.

___


"Warm ups ladies and gentlemen! Let's get that heart pumping and blood flowing!" Francis raps his cane on the floor. Backstage is a flurry of activity as those who will be performing tonight get ready. Tensions are high and the air crackles with nervous energy. You'd think after all the millions of recitals I'd done I'd be used to it, but each time was just as nerve-racking as the first.

While I'm on friendly terms with some of the girls and boys in my class, I'm not actually friends with any of them. Hannah was my only real friend. So I stand alone while I warm up, taking deep breaths as I stretch. When I spot Noelle approaching with two other girls in our class, Lucy and Priyanka, I hold back a groan. Priyanka was nice enough but Lucy was a bitch. She'd had a grudge against me ever since freshman year after I landed the lead role over her in The Nutcracker.

"Hey girly!" Noelle says cheerfully. Priyanka also says hi but Lucy only gives me a sugary sweet smile that doesn't quite reach her eyes.

For the sake of tonight I paste on a fake smile. "Hi guys."

"Are you nervous for your variation?" Noelle asks. "Gosh you must be under so much pressure. My mom was talking to your mom, and she told her you were applying to Juilliard this year."

"You're going to college?" Lucy snorts. "Well that makes sense. Not everyone is good enough to join a real ballet company straight out of high school," she gives me a sympathetic look. "Don't be too hard on yourself."

"I have like, several ballet companies that are interested in me," Noelle adds, flipping her hair. "I don't know how I could ever possibly choose one."

"I'm applying to Juilliard too," Priyanka smiles at me, and I give her a genuine smile in return.

"Aww that's too cute!" Lucy exclaims. "Both of you at Juilliard together!"

"Oh sweetie, you're looking a little pale," Noelle frowns, and I'm almost fooled by the touch of concern in her voice. "I hope you've been eating enough. We wouldn't want you to faint on stage again."

Lucy snickers.

This is what happens when you attend all of the same ballet schools as your peers growing up. Keeping my voice calm I reply, "That was in seventh grade."

"I know sweetie, but things like that, they stick. Anyway, break a leg!" Noelle winks before prancing off and Lucy follows after her. It's supposed to be an expression for good luck, but in this case I think Noelle actually wants me to break my leg. If I broke my leg I wouldn't be able to dance, and if I couldn't dance then that's one less competitor she had to worry about.

Priyanka lingers behind. "Don't listen to her," she pats my arm. "You're gonna be great," then she leans in close and whispers. "Between me and you, I think they're just a little bit threatened."

I chuckle. "They shouldn't be. I have no interest in stealing their spotlight."

Priyanka shrugs. "Yeah well, you know it works. Anyway break a leg."

"You too."

After she's gone I blow out a breath and walk over to where my duffel bag is thrown with all the rest of the other performers stuff. I fish out my phone and earbuds, selecting a random song before prancing in place and stretching my arms.

It's almost time.

___

"And next up we have Aurora Briar Montgomery, performing to Once Upon A December."

As the audience claps I close my eyes and quickly recite the dancers prayer.

Dear angel, ever at my side
Be there today, my feet to guide
Help me dance high and light and free
So everyone will be proud of me
May the judges be fair
And the stages be spacious
In wining and losing let me be gracious
So that every dance I'll remember with pride
And angel, please keep my shoelaces tied

I pas de bourrée out on stage to bright lights and clapping, assuming fifth position. As the music starts I start to imagine myself dancing anywhere but here.

I'm standing on stage in an empty theater, wearing a pale green camisole ballet dress. One by one the theater lights dim until only the stage light remains. Somewhere in the distance the piano starts playing, and I recognize it as Fur Elise. I begin to dance, my body moving gracefully as I execute one perfect move after the other.

Suddenly I'm joined by an array of dancers. We all move in tandem, our feet light, practically gliding along the polished wood. As I'm in a fourth arabesque someone's arms wrap gently around my waist. The music slows and I peer over my shoulder. A handsome danseur smiles at me and I smile back. We begin to dance in a grand pas de deux, starting with an adagio. He holds me steady while doing a penché and from there we transition into a partnering lift. The two of us twirl around the stage while the other dancers perform in the background, moving into our solo variations and eventually finishing off with a coda.

Not once do I ever get tired or my smile slips. This is my version of heaven. Where I can dance forever and ever, with no pressures, fears, or worries.

I'm finally happy.

I smile brightly as I end my variation in fifth position. The sound of thunderous applause rings loud in my ear, accompanied by enthused whistles. I curtsy, my eyes scanning the crowd. Of course my mother is in the front row, standing as she claps and wearing a proud smile on her face. Next to her are Hannah and her parents. Hannah puts her fingers in her mouth and whistles loudly. Even though we're not on speaking terms I'm glad she came.

Then my eyes spot a family pair of green ones in the audience and my heart beats loudly in my ears.

Theo is wearing his usual trademark grin, dimples on full display. As our gazes lock he dramatically mimics the chefs kiss motion. I can't stop the stupid, cheesy smile from forming on my face or the laugh that bubbles out of me. He came to see me. I had no idea he would. I'd barely had time to even think about him the last few days.

But he was here anyway.

It feels like I'm on cloud nine as I practically float off the stage. I'm barely listening to Francis as he praises my performance. All I can think about is Theo. Will he stay afterwards? Will I get to see him? Talk to him? The rest of the recital passes by in a blur, and when it's finally over I'm the first one packed up and out the door. My heart thunders in my chest as I push through the crowded auditorium lobby in anticipation of seeing him, but I'm quickly bombarded by my mother.

"Honey you were great!" She kisses my cheeks and squeezes me in a hug. "I'm so proud of you."

"Thanks," I crane my neck to peer over her shoulder as she presents me with a boutique of roses. Just then I'm pulled into another hug by Hannah's mother.

"It's so good to see you Aurora! You were great," she hands me another boutique of flowers.

I smile. "Thank you." Mrs. Hill was always so sweet and supportive.

I greet Hannah's father next, and many other people come over to congratulate me and tell me what a wonderful job I did. My mother kisses my forehead and tells me she'll be waiting for me in the car before leaving with Hannah's parents. As the lobby clears out Hannah tentatively approaches.

"Hey," she says softly.

"Hey..."

She holds out her hand, presenting me with a single white lily. I smile and accept it. Once, a long time ago, I complained that the only flowers I ever received after recitals were roses, and I wouldn't mind something else, like lilies. Ever since then, Hannah always went out of her way and gave me a lily after every performance. I carefully tuck it among one of my bouquets.

"You were great," Hannah says. "Not that I ever expected anything less."

I laugh. "You have too much faith in me."

"What are best friends for?" She grins, her smile fading. "Um, I just wanted to say-"

"Hannah I'm-"

We both stop and laugh.

"You first," she says.

I take a deep breath. "I'm sorry I was bitch. I shouldn't have lashed out on you like that. You were just trying to look out for me and I...I was being dumb. And stupid. And just incredibly thick headed."

Hannah smiles wryly. "Yeah. You were. Not even gonna deny that."

"So...forgive me?"

"Already forgiven."

We hug and it's like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders. The past few days had been miserable without her. Fighting with your best friend sucks. Now that the performance is over and we've made up, I feel as light as air.

When we pull back Hannah waggles her eyebrows. "Now tell me everything."

I furrow my brow. "What are you talking about?"

"You know exactly what I'm talking about!" She lowers her voice to a whisper. "Did you actually go through with it?"

I blush and Hannah squeals. "No way! You actually did! I know I was against it but I have to know...what was it like?"

"It was nerve racking," I admit. "But so thrilling. I've never exposed myself to someone like that, you know? And Theo was a total professional. He didn't sexualize me or anything. It was all very intimate. I swear, I thought my heart would pop from my chest."

"Woah...so can I see it?"

"See what?"

"The painting of course! Or does he have it?"

I shake my head. "No, he gave it to me."

"I can't believe you let a boy paint you naked," Hannah stares at me in awe. "Lately you've been like a completely different person. This is so out of character for you," she grins. "But I like it. Just don't go hopping on the back of a random guys motorcycle for a joyride."

"No promises," I grin back, just then noticing the lobby is now mostly empty, save for a few stragglers and employees. My smile fades.

Hannah frowns. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing," I sigh. "Well actually, Theo came. I wanted to see him after the performance, but he's probably long gone by now."

"Wait he actually came to see you perform?" Hannah's eyes practically pop from her sockets. "He totally likes you."

"You think?" I know I shouldn't, but I dare to hope.

"Yep," Hannah pops the p. "And you like him," she singsongs. "Don't even try to deny it."

I bite my lip. "Hannah I'm kind of scared."

"Why?" She asks. "You have a crush! Crushes are fun! Well, until, you know, you get crushed."

"But this feels like more than a crush," I whisper.

Hannah's eyes widen as she stares at me. "Oh shit," she breathes. "You really like him."

I nod, a lump suddenly forming in my throat.

"Oh. Wow. I...wow," Hannah repeats. "Okay well, don't panic. You should do something! I mean, it's the twenty-first century. Girls make the first move all the time," she snaps her fingers. "I know! You should follow him on Instagram."

"I don't know..." I trail off. Hannah links her arm through mine and together we head out to the parking lot.

"Ask your mom if you can spend the night," she says. "I think we're long overdue for a sleepover."

___



i imagine i'm a ballerina while writing and pretend i'm even half as good as aurora is

in reality i can barely do tiktok dances

xoxo, g💓
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