w — swearing + homophobic slur + strong sexual references (nothing explicit).
pas de deux [ pawh du duh ] : “step of two” , partnering.
The pieces of the morning drift together in the lazy, unhurried way mornings like to do: sunlight, gentle and new across my back. A swallow singing in her nest above my window. The warmth of another heart beside mine. Palm leaves rustling and whispering against the glass. A mellow and even breath against my temple. The hiss of engine brakes along the dusty street below. The weight of Mako’s arm draped loosely over my waist. Our legs tangled together. My head resting on his shoulder. I peek at him. He’s still asleep. Porcelain, in the morning light. A Greek statue, handsome and divine for eternity, if not for the steady rise and fall of his chest. I stretch and twist and pleasure in the pip-pop of my joints, reaching out to the very tips of my fingers. The temperature is just right—like floating in a summer sea—so I lay somewhere between the soft quilt and cradle of his body and dreams and waking. There’s no need to break the spell. I haven’t awoken like this since the last break at home, in my childhood bedroom with the blue sea glass lined up on the sill and the cockle shell windchime tinkling in the garden. Even though I’ve been here for five months, winter blanched the concrete of the academy dorm cold, and it’s never quite comfortable. It’s never home. I brush my hand across Mako’s cheek, and he shifts, his consciousness glimmering. I nuzzle into him happily as his eyelids flutter open. “Good morning.”
He smiles sleepily, and lightly nudging his forehead against mine, murmurs, “Don’t you have a test?”
I rocket upwards. I grab around the bedsheets and search for my phone wildly. The digits blink at me offensively. 8:53. A missed call from Sasha. “Shit, shit shit!” How the fuck did I sleep through the alarm? I leap off my bed and shoot into the bathroom. I splash cold water on my face—gasp at the shock—and tug a brush through my hair. My elbow smacks into the ceramic sink and I utter a fresh stream of curses. The half-rolled tube of toothpaste topples to the floor. I leave it there. I don’t even change. Pajama party calculus test, I don’t care. When I dart back out, Mako’s sitting up and leaning back into his arms, narrow-eyed in the bright light, a laugh playing around his mouth.
“What time is it?” He raises his hand to block the sun, his words softly blurring together.
“Almost nine, so I gotta run. Catch up on your precious beauty sleep.” I lean down to pat his head and he pushes at me gently.
“Shut up and get to class, Eva.”
“Fine, fine! See you later.” I quickly kiss his forehead, catch his smile begin to glow in surprise, grab my pencil case, and then dash through the door. Wait. Did I just-
Luckily, I manage to make it to classroom just before the test begins. I glance around—half the class is in this room, and none of my friends—and fly into an empty chair. The calculus teacher pauses in giving me the paper to raise an eyebrow. I just breathe out a sigh in relief. The moment of ease is shattered when I click my pen and turn over the first page. I try to remember how Mako explained the equations last night, and not the way we had nestled together, or the way I could feel his lean muscles under the knitted sweater. No. Stop thinking about him.
The test is over in an hour, and to my immense surprise, I feel like I haven’t completely bombed it, unlike every maths test ever. The second class is English, so I head straight to the co-working space with pajamas and messy hair. Piper and Sasha are sitting at our table in the back. The latter looks refined as always—I already know she’s gotten the top mark in class—but Piper looks a little frazzled, which makes me feel slightly better about my disheveled state. She sneaks me something wrapped in brown paper that turns out to be a zucchini muffin.
“I thought you might be cutting it fine with studying,” she whispers.
“Thanks, Pipes.” I hug her, and devour the muffin cold. The English teacher plays the film we have been analysing for the past couple of classes. It’s Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, which I only half listen to because the story is quite as ridiculous as the ballet. Instead I think of my partner, who must have awoken and gracefully departed my dorm by now, doing whatever he does when everyone else is struggling in high school academics; listening to his Harvard lectures, frowning in that deep concentration which creases his brow. Misha arrives and slips along the wall as discreetly as one can do in hot pink cat-emblazoned trousers.
Sasha looks him up and down. “Solano, why are you wearing Hello Kitty pajama pants?”
Misha juts out his hip. “It’s called fashion, sweetie, look it up.”
“They’re super cute pants!” Piper says enthusiastically, and then gives him a stern look. “You didn’t get any sleep, did you?”
“Wrong. I got a very healthy ten minutes.” He yawns very healthily and sprawls onto the bench. “My brain is actually fucked, dude. Why don’t you look as dead as I feel, Eva?”
“Mako was helping me last night.”
He is suddenly awake. “What time?”
“Until like… three. We slept together. No,” I say hastily, when Piper splutters on her water, “we fell asleep together. We didn’t even kiss or anything! I mean, why would we- I don’t even like-”
“You like his abs,” Sasha points out.
Misha saves me. “No way,” he says incredulously. “His sleep schedule is from nine-thirty to six.”
“Well, he was rather grumpy.” I tap my chin. “It was cute.”
He studies me, clear and curious. “No. I mean he doesn’t let anyone mess up his schedule.”
I blink. And shrug. People keep saying my partner should be doing this or that, and I neither know or care about why they expect certain things from him. I wonder if Misha will say anything more, but the English teacher hushes us, so he merely smiles to himself in a knowing sort of way.
Romeo and Juliet die, the credits roll, and we’re meant to begin working on our film analysis essays for the rest of class. Sasha examines the pages of notes she had been scribing throughout the film. I ignore my nonexistent notes and turn. “Pipes, have you found a nice place for your birthday?”
“South Coast Botanic Garden.” Piper perks up. She’s been searching for cherry blossoms, a rarity in the city. “It’s in Palos Verde.”
“I’ll drive,” Misha says brightly. He likes driving the off-peak highways of Los Angeles, the top of his crimson Ferrari down. “Forty minutes from here. I know the place well.”
The fifth of March, a Sunday swimming in Californian sun, Misha picks us up from the academy. Mako sits shotgun, cool and carefree in sunglasses. Piper and Sasha and I sit in the back of the Ferrari. I stretch my arms above my head and enjoy the warm wind whistling through my hair. Time to time, I glimpse the ocean. It tugs at my heart. Palos Verde is perched neatly upon a rugged coastal peninsula. We drive through emerald golf courses dotted with palm trees, horses trotting around equestrian fields, mansions where the wealthy Angelenos travel to reside on weekends. Misha tells us that he spent much of his younger years here, in a distinguished private school, and points out his family estate. It’s a Mediterranean villa partially hidden by cypress and olives and lavender gardens, like it was plucked straight from the Italian countryside, except for the glass and steel extensions—art galleries, he says, for his curator mamma and papà—and the smoggy skyline of Los Angeles in the distance. I forget that he’s rich, too.
The botanic garden is just as sprawling as the neighbourhood, and it takes us a while to navigate to the cherry blossoms. Mako and I walk ahead, the visitor map unfolded between us. Just past the roses. I see the grove appear, like a dream, over a gentle hill. His eyes are sparkling with excitement, a pure and unbridled joy that catches at my lungs. I follow him under the delicate, arched boughs, flowering with a thousand cherry blossoms: tiny and fragile and of the palest pink. He stands with his hands in pockets, his face tilted upwards. A smile is glowing upon his lips as the afternoon sunlight does through the crown of the trees. I slow to a stop beside him. We are still, and silent, and listen to the wind playing amongst the flowers.
“The sakura was the time I looked forward to every year in Tokyo,” he finally murmurs. “It still is, although the American flowering is nothing in comparison. You should see it—from the barren winter, the sakura flourishes through Japan with the first breath of spring, turning all the cities and villages and countryside pink.”
A petal flutters through the air, weightless, and settles into his cupped palm. “Fourteen days. The flowers are fleeting, before the wind begins to carry the petals away.” He regards the petal, a sadness gathering quietly in his brow. “I used to cry after it, as a child. For a thing of such beauty would die so quickly. The life of the flowers snuffed out as if they meant nothing. And yet… every year, no matter how harsh and dark the winter is…”
My fingertips search for his, brushing over his knuckles, and our hands lace together. “They blossom back to life.”
Piper joins us, some seconds or minutes after, wonder brightening her face. She chooses a spot tucked under a particularly full-blooming tree, so we lay out a blanket and arrange ourselves amongst the falling petals. I draw my legs to my chest, deeply enjoying the warm tranquility and the midnight satin of Mako’s shirt against my skin. Sasha unboxes a strawberry shortcake and lights the seventeen candles with a practiced flick of a match, and we sing a little, before Piper blows them out. I smile as she makes a wish. I apprehend the cake as she cuts a generous slice. It beckons with pipings of snowy white cream, and the strawberries are glazed with sugar syrup, so they glisten like rubies in the three o’clock sunlight. Misha cuts two matching slices, one which Sasha fusses over with oh, alright, just for a special treat. How many calories must there be? I shake my head to rid the thought, and allow myself a sliver of cake, pressing down the churning guilt in my belly. I slowly lift the fork to my lips. The chiffon sponge is like a cloud, a drop of vanilla, the cream fresh and light—and the strawberry bursts upon my tongue with all the bliss of summer. My shoulders relax. Mako is watching me warily, and I offer a tiny cube of cake to him. “Share with me.”
He shakes his head, wide-eyed and hesitant. “What… does it taste like?”
“Like heaven.” I sigh, and then frown. “Haven’t you ever had birthday cake? When is your birthday?”
“The twenty-first of December.”
I’m dismayed. “Oh, I missed it!”
“You didn’t miss anything,” he replies firmly. “And yours?”
“June first.” I happily bite into another strawberry. “Try it, just this once. A few calories won’t do anything.”
I blink at him, remembering that one stormy night in my dorm, and rest my plate to brush my fingertips across his cheekbone. His eyelids flutter close at my touch, and in quiet habit, he presses his face into my palm. “Your mother isn’t here,” I say softly. “She can’t dictate or see what you’re eating.”
“It will show,” he whispers, and turns his face away from me. The conversation is over.
Time is slipping through my fingers. As spring gathers a bouquet of glorious days for summer, I find myself surrounded more and more by concrete and mirrors. Simple—these moments with my four friends—but they bring me peace, soothing the strain in my body. This will likely be my last true moment of relaxation until after New York. Beside me, Sasha drinks elderflower sparkling water from a flute, pressing open Wuthering Heights with her left hand. I take pictures of the flowers above and our little picnic and message them to Mom. She replies with a pink heart and a video of Senor Papperino, lanky in his teenage doghood, playing amongst the hyacinth and snowdrops and crocuses in our garden. My chest aches. I rest my phone face down and curl my fingers in Mako’s shirt. He’s lounging on the blanket, leaning on his elbows, watching Piper and Misha as they improvise a dance. His chin keeps edging down. He’s tired.
I tap my knees. Mako looks up at me. The slight tilt of his head and furrow of his brow tells me he’s assessing an unfamiliar situation. He’s not like me, running into his arms without a thought, or Misha, adapting to the flow of every situation like a leaf in a sparkling stream. I have come to realise that his slight awkwardness to my touch is out of uncertainty, for something he’s never experienced before.
“Lay your head,” I whisper. “Rest.”
My partner hesitates. Settles down and rests his head on my leg. I brush that flop out of his forehead, smoothing back his silken hair, over and over again. He relaxes, the uncertainty melting into quiet contentment. I wonder what his childhood in Tokyo was like. I imagine a little boy wandering alone underneath the sakura trees. For some reason, I can’t imagine Svetlana beside him. She is too cold, too foreign, to exist in a dream of such softness. I see the blossoms reflected in the darkness of his irises, and sense the sleep wash over him as he closes his eyes. I feel his happiness run through me, clear as water. It fills up my heart as surely and familiar and beautiful as if it is my own.
The sunlight deepens, the gardens slipping into a quiet evening, and we roll up the blanket and pack everything into the picnic basket. Sasha gives sleepy Piper a piggyback, and both of them giggle as we pass through the flower beds. Misha lopes ahead to the Ferrari. His keys jangle around his pinky finger. The carpark is half empty now, the visitors slowly trickling away into the dusk.
“Solano!” The speaker is leaning lazily on a sleek sports car, two spaces along. A blonde guy, who for all intents and purposes, looks like a Logan. He’s perhaps a little older than us, jacked up like a football player, dressed in khakis and a navy button-down, arms crossed with the confidence money tends to give you—every bit the spoiled trust fund boy.
To my surprise, ever-friendly Misha doesn’t acknowledge him. He walks a little quicker, but the guy pushes himself off the car and intercepts him.
“How are you?” Logan continues. “I haven’t seen you since last year! Wearing makeup again, I see.”
“Leave me alone,” Misha says quietly.
“Should I be surprised? I hear that you’re at a right proper ballet school now.” He smiles, but his tongue curls a sneer around the word, like it’s dirty. “Tutus and leotards, is it? You must feel right at home fucking around with all those fags.”
What the fuck? Anger stabs my chest and I surge forward, but Mako is already there; swiftly anchoring himself in front of Misha, on the defensive. For all the vehement arguing and outspoken justice for his best friend—for the first time, Misha is silent. Logan steps back. Recognition flashes in his eyes, and something about his arrogance crumples, shrivels, until he looks just like he is: a coward, picking on people smaller than him. “You’re a Hayashi.”
Mako folds his hands behind his back. “I know what you did.” Each word is slow, and calm, but they sweep over me like a cold front. The gathering of a December storm. It feels familiar.
“I didn’t- I didn’t do anything.”
Gaze unwavering, he speaks to Misha now. “All you need to do is tell me his name.”
He looks like his mother.
A silence. Misha locks eyes with Logan. And then he shakes his head. “You are far too honourable,” Mako says softly, but he turns and holds his best friend by the arms and lets the other guy slink away to his car. Sasha and Piper rush over to Misha’s side, but I hesitate, confusion rollicking in my belly, the chill lingering on the hairs of my arms. I glance at Misha, his head lowered; at Mako, his expression of concern again, and at the retreating back of whoever that asshole was. I have half the mind to throttle him as well.
Rosaline is the first love of Romeo. He’s a player, in the opening scenes, flirting and chasing after the village girls, and Rosaline is the coy center of his attentions. Then he glimpses Juliet, the universe slows to a still, and Rosaline is forgotten. Their rehearsal with Darcy is just after Paris and Juliet. I collapse onto the hallway bench with Nicholas and let the other two go in. I catch Mako’s hand as he passes. A quick and reassuring squeeze. He smiles, but I sense his anxiety. Dancing with her again pains him. Vicky just wears her expression of perpetual annoyance as she follows him into the studio.
Nicholas gazes after their wake long after the door has closed. “I have been trying to figure this out for the past month,” he says, out of the blue. “Are you in a relationship with Hayashi?”
I laugh. “He’s my pas partner.”
He ponders. “And I suppose you wouldn’t go on a date with me.”
“Oh!” I blink, confused. “Nicholas, you’re nice, and you’re handsome—what’s with you ballet boys, for fuck’s sake—but no, I’m sorry.”
“I thought not.” He shakes his head with a good-natured smile. “You weren’t reacting to my flirting at all.”
Wait. “You were flirting with me?” I say blankly.
He laughs at that. I sit awkwardly. For the past month? I suppose Mako openly kissing Damien might have been confusing, but… do we really look like a couple? The idea throws me off.
Nicholas breaks my dazed silence. “Hayashi has an enormous crush on you. I was surprised you haven’t noticed, but now I see. Tell me, why do you refuse to admit your feelings?”
“I don’t like him in that way.” The words feel clumsy in my mouth; roll false and empty over my tongue. “I… I shouldn’t. We have such a wonderful partnership, and friendship. Everyone says how wonderful romance is, too, but it’s so much easier to go wrong. What if we mess up and fight and destroy our chances at the Grand Prix? I can’t risk it. And I don’t have time to prioritise another person, jealousy and drama, let alone make him my entire world. Mako doesn’t either. I don’t want him to stress out even more with organising romantic dates and gifts and surprises like for Victoria. I don’t even enjoy things like that.”
I shut my mouth, a deep flush burning in my cheeks. Why did I say that? And why to a guy I just rejected? Fucking hell, Eva.
Nicholas listens to this in scholarly thought. “You know,” he says slowly, “most pas partnerships are nothing but professional relationships. A good one is a seamless part of daily work, a normal one a difficult and frustrating back-and-forth between two opinions, and at worst, a battlefield of great conflict and mistrust that can’t be hidden by their dancing.”
“Misha and Vicky used to be partners,” I remember. “They would never stop fighting. It was kinda over Mako, but mainly they just hated each other.”
“Ballerinas are independent and strong-willed. You recognise this. It’s difficult to expose a dangerous vulnerability to another. Once in a blue moon, however… two dancers are partnered who understand each other to their very souls. Their dancing fits together in such a specific way that it creates a balance even more beautiful than the individual parts.”
“Like Fonteyn and Nureyev.” I smile, remembering the prima ballerina and ballerino, wonderful in their own rights, but ethereal when brought together, as if they were one celestial being.
“It’s more than that. It’s deeper. Because no matter how good your professional conduct is, if you aren’t compatible emotionally, the dancing will never work. Trust, respect; the willingness to listen, and learn what the other has to teach. It’s natural, existing side by side. To know what the other is saying without uttering a word.” Nicholas sighs. “I hope that I will find such a partner one day.”
I watch the sunlight flicker cloudily on the walls. Trust. I turn to him, thoughts racing, and pat his arm. “I’m sure you will.”
He stands up, shakes out the cuffs of his crisp white shirt, clasps my hand in his gentlemanly way. “I haven’t known you for very long, Evangeline Kingston.” His hazel eyes are honey in the sunlight. “I do know, however, that you fight against tradition. That you refuse to accept what you believe is wrong in the status quo. You always write your own story, no matter what others expect.”
“So why not for this?”
Pas rehearsals creep slowly from evenings into nights. The sunlight hours are taken up by the many crowd scenes of Romeo & Juliet, the dancers from West Studio and District Ballet travelling five days a week to polish the final details. Misha disappears into the fashion studio entirely. The academy fashion department is assigned to help costuming as an annual project, so he’s lost in a flurry of chattering students. He’s said nothing about the confrontation. I get the feeling that he’s purposefully burying himself in the frantic chaos of last-minute tailoring and embroidering. Mako says nothing as well. I almost forget that winter storm. There are competition rehearsals, too, for my Kitri solo and pas de deux and troupe ensemble. So, the studio slots with Romeo and Paris are shunted further into the fading light—and this work in tandem with academics means that my free time is whittled down to eating, precious snippets of conversation with my siblings, and the never-ending labour of physical maintenance.
“Mako, you really need to loosen up.” I run my hands over the carved bone of his shoulder blades, feeling the tension underneath. “Your posture is too stiff and straight. Stop thinking so hard. It’s more than transitioning from perfectly calculated stills, you need to be reacting more to me. Acting more. This is storytelling, remember, not a competition routine.”
He sweeps his arms down from their graceful position. There is panic prickling below his skin, a million feverish thoughts, frustration mounting underneath his calm beauty. It has been, for a while now. I can’t imagine how much more stress his university lectures are piling on. He paces around in front of the mirror, trying to adjust his movements, force them to be softer and dreamier, again and again and again. “God. Why can’t I do it?”
“You’re trying to go against deeply ingrained training. It’s alright. We have time.”
Mako works his jaw, staring at his reflection like he wants it to shatter. “There’s only two weeks until opening night.”
“We can do this,” I say firmly. “All you need to do is look like you’re in love.”
He stills. A silence falls around his being, his voice whispering like snow. “I don’t know what that’s supposed to look like.”
The reassuring words catch in my throat. “Mako.”
He squeezes his eyes shut, tears a hand through his hair. “I can’t. I can’t.” His breath comes short; sharp. “Why can’t I do anything right?”
“Mako.” I am swift, reaching up to clasp his face and draw him away from the mirror. “Listen to me. Listen to my lungs. Breathe.”
His chest heaves and heartbeat hammers against my fingertips, in his temples, a bird trapped in a golden cage. Slowly, his breathing comes to match mine.
I gaze at him for a long time, thinking of the prima ballerina who is beautiful and cold and every part of her in perfect discipline. “You’re scared of losing control,” I whisper. The answer is small in his silence. I gently curl my fingers in his hair, wondering. “Have you ever tried contemporary dance?”
Mako shakes his head.
“No, I suppose not. Your old school must have only taught traditional ballet.” An idea begins to flicker in my mind. “Do you know the principles?”
He hesitates. “It’s much more grounded.”
“Gravity,” I say. “It’s guided by physics. Ballet is always fighting against the natural laws, dominate and control them, resisting the downwards force in every elegant curve of our bodies.”
“A constant downwards acceleration of nine point eight one metres per second,” Mako says very quietly, the corner of his mouth twitching up. This is something he can understand. I smile, relief blossoming in my chest. He’s okay.
“In contemporary, we let that force navigate us. Work together, not against. Form a balance between our wills and the will of nature. Like how the tides follow the moon, and the moon follows the ocean. It shapes my body; my breathing regulates the balance. That’s how I dance. How I feel. And it always requires letting go of control. To let something else guide you.”
He sighs, grounding his heels into the floor. “I… think I understand.”
“Why don’t we try improvisation? You can’t think, that way. Muscle memory will take over.” I unclasp my hands and his head turns instinctively to follow the trail of my fingertips. I scroll through my playlist for a contemporary song. Swan Song. I return to my partner. He always looks so fragile, eyes closed, the fathomless black storm hidden by his moonlight skin and full lashes.
“Let go of your fear.” I rest my hand on his chest, right over his heart. “Listen to my touch. Follow me.”
His hand covers mine. “Gravitational pull,” he murmurs, and opens his eyes, to a clear and calm night.
Muscle memory is a curious thing. For something to become so intimate and known to you that it becomes part of the body’s natural rhythm, without thought or desire—it hits me now, how wondrous it is, as I unfurl myself to the song, and Mako follows me, his body counterbalancing, his limbs finally relaxing and intertwining with mine, his hands slipping into their place on my waist as I turn swiftly, effortless, our bodies moving together like water. All the steps are ingrained, Juliet and Kitri and Romeo and Basilio, but they flow and swirl and become, a pas de deux woven into my blood yet one I have never danced before.
And then I’m kissing him, his lips soft and sweet against mine, tasting of mint, and his warmth spreads all the way to the tips of my fingers and my toes. When we finally breathe, swaying a little, his lashes are fluttering in surprise and a blush is glowing across his cheeks. I blink rapidly, and plant my feet, trying to steady myself in my shock. My face must be just as bright, cupped like a jewel in his palms. He searches my eyes, drawing his thumbs along my cheekbones, and the steady motion calms me.
“Harrington,” he murmurs. “Wouldn’t you rather…”
“You always worry.” I regain my footing and patter my fingertips lightly across his chest. “Nicholas asked me out yesterday. I rejected him.”
He nods slowly, thinking.
“We talked about this last week,” Mako says, brushing a strand of hair back from my face, and then he tips his head, his smile crooking into something mischievous. “He said something about you having a very obvious crush on me.”
“Oh.” I square my shoulders and jut my chin, fighting to keep my face from blazing, my words from stuttering the way my heart is. “Funny. Nicholas said something about you having an enormous crush on me.”
We stare at each other, and then his serious expression breaks into shimmering laughter, and I laugh, and Mako ducks his head and kisses me, his hand gently folding around the nape of my neck. His touch is ever so familiar, but there are new places and new ways his skin presses to mine, and I welcome it.
My partner circles his arm around my waist and pulls me against him. Something sparks as he deepens the kiss, running his tongue along my bottom lip. I break the kiss with a gasp. Both of us laugh a little again, and he rests his forehead on mine.
“Too fast?” He whispers.
“No, I just… forget that you’re not as innocent as you seem to be.”
He shifts, and I feel him smile, just slightly. “Hm.”
I tug him backwards until I feel concrete against my back, and then I lock my legs around his waist, letting him crush me into the wall. He darts kisses down my throat and nips lightly at the sensitive skin, and I buck against him, wanting more. My hands slip under his shirt, exploring the taut muscles in his abdomen. He tenses; a sharp intake of breath.
“Not here.” Mako pulls away with a groan, and I force myself to breathe, my skin buzzing with electricity. His heart is beating hard against my ribs.
“Your place?” I whisper, trailing my finger across his lips, pink and starting to swell from the pressure. “I don’t want to scar Pipes forever.”
He laughs quietly, gazes up at me in quiet happiness, and gives me an answer, kissing my fingertip and then my lips again, lifting me up higher.
Los Angeles is drunk on the night, and it glitters and winks blackly in the glass. The tile is warm under my heels. I smell of his grapefruit soap. He gives me a spare toothbrush. A soft towel is wrapped around his hips. He holds a blow-dryer in one hand and runs the other hand through his hair, working it into that perfectly styled flop.
I poke him. “You know I’m just going to mess it up, right?”
Mako hands the dryer to me. “I like your new haircut,” he murmurs, and smiles in that shy, flustered way when he says something he hadn’t planned to say. “It was the first nice thing you said to me.”
I search my memories, and brighten. “Oh!”
“Mm. It made me consider the possibility that, perhaps, you weren’t an absolute brat.” He smoothly avoids my indignant jab, laughing, and he gathers me briefly into his arms to kiss my forehead before we settle back into the routine.
I try to ruffle as much dampness out of my hair. I switch off the dryer and comb my fingers through the mess. In the ensuing quiet, I gaze in the mirror. I was too distracted before by Mako stripping his clothes off to notice anything about the ensuite, but now, I take the time to examine the space. His bathroom is nothing like what I’ve been in before—black marble and minimalist lines, a polished vessel of a bathtub and matte taps, soft and moody lighting. I don’t know architecture like my cousin Kiya does, but I feel the weight of what must be incredibly expensive design. That, and the ensuite being twice the size of my dorm. I skim my fingers over the counter. It’s cold to the touch, an inky marble veined with milk-grey swirls. I look at him, shoulders winged as he leans over the sink to brush his teeth. The shower. My hands followed the hot rivulets of water that ran over his muscles, like how great rivers carve into the earth. His hair slicked darkly against his forehead, the luxurious arch of his neck as he tipped his head back. The heat of his skin as it slid against mine. I blink away the memories and breathe deeply. Calm down. I catch Mako looking up at me in the mirror, a knowing smirk flickering at the edge of his mouth, and my cheeks burn even brighter.
I sit on the counter and lazily kick my legs. Mako opens a cabinet and lines up a series of skincare bottles. I gingerly touch them, their shimmering pearl casings and lids of what must be real brushed gold, running my thumb over the labels. Chanel. La Prairie. Cle de Peu. This is not my drugstore moisturiser that I slap onto my face at the dorm. Each of these tiny bottles must cost hundreds of dollars. I draw my hand away from them and settle for just looking at them instead. Retinol. Toner. Serum. Oil. Eye Gel. Creme. What the fuck. There are many scientific words I can’t understand, but one simple word keeps on popping up.
“Anti-aging?” I quirk my brows.
“My mother taught me this routine when I was twelve,” my partner says, smoothing a cream—I read the label and learn that it’s imbued with a rare koishimaru silk—along his jawline and his neck. “It’s best to start young. Why do you think she has perfect skin?”
Botox? I almost say, but I guess someone as elegant as Svetlana Pominova would upturn her nose at plastic surgery. Mako crooks his finger at me, and I lean forward. He lightly grazes his finger across my cheek, and my eyelids flutter at the cool touch of the gel. Fifty dollars absorbed into my skin, just like that. I try not to think of the money and enjoy the facial massage instead. “This seems like hard work,” I admit. “Having to do this routine every morning and night.”
He tilts his head and smiles slightly, his gaze and fingertip following the arch of my brow. “Being astronomically sexy all the time isn’t effortless, you know.”
I laugh and smack his arm softly. He twists the gold cap back on and that must be the end of his elaborate skincare routine, for he organises the bottles neatly back into the cabinet, in the order of application. Then my partner returns to me, grounding his palms either side of my hips, and leans in to press his lips against mine. I sigh and happily kiss him back. He’s a good kisser, sure and steady. Why did I deny this for so long? Thanks, past me. Mako draws back and studies me. I can see the thoughts brewing in his dark eyes. I squirm under the intensity of his gaze. He’s a lot more experienced than me. I can tell from the way his hands made easy work of me in the shower. I don’t know why it surprised me, I already knew, it’s just… I’m used to being the dominant one, in all my past summer flings. I like being on top.
“I know what you’re thinking,” I say bravely.
His smile slants. “Hm?”
“Quit planning and just get on with it.”
He pulls me off the counter and through a door, into a bedroom just as dark and sleek. Somewhere along the way, the towels unravel and slip to the floor. I tumble onto the bed and feel cool grey silk against my bare skin. He takes his time, exploring in the dim glow, slower and gentler than in the heat of the shower. He kisses my lips deeply, the sweet spots on my neck, the sun freckles on my shoulders, the dip of my sternum where my venus pendant usually rests, and then everywhere else. Fuck. The silk bunches in my hands. Each one of my nerves spark at the rough pads of his fingers and his tongue and every atom of my body quivers. The flash of a silver wrapper tearing. His weight pressing me down. I feel him, throughout my entire body, the lithe muscles in his back working under my palms, his hips rocking mine in an intoxicating rhythm. Somewhere in the dazed heat of my mind, I think how of all the times I’d danced with him, I’ve never been so aware of his body before. I arch against him, and he reacts to my movement naturally. My gasping breaths are his. The beating of his heart is mine. We are perfectly synchronised.
Afterwards, I run my fingers over the squareness of his jaw and the bow of his lips and the hollows of his dimples, the ones that twinkle when he’s happy. They are twinkling as bright as stars.
“Pas de deux,” I whisper.
He smiles, his words murmured in a kiss. “Pas de deux.”
Eva: I can’t risk catching feelings for Mako 😤
Eva: *makes absolutely zero effort to stop cuddling and getting herself into increasingly romantic situations with Mako*
Eva: *falls in love with Mako*
Her tomfoolery aside, I’m super happy that this chapter is finally here! It’s been maybe three years since I began planning this story, so it truly feels like forever for Evako to reach this point in their relationship. It also meant that I had to face my greatest enemy, The Sexy Scene, but I tried not to straight up cut it out or make it mild-butter-chicken-with-garlic-naan level spicy (my default reaction) because Eva wouldn’t allow that, so her sensory depth really turned around to kick me in the ass on this one. I hope you enjoyed the *attempt* lmao.