en pointe — chapter 13: grande

swearing, moderate sexual references. 

grande [ grahnd ] : a classical ballet term meaning “big”; grande jete.


God, I’ve always hated airports.

It sets me on edge: the robotic voices echoing through the gates, the organised chaos of thousands of travellers. Today, it’s louder than I remember, thoughts of the Grand Prix storming in my head, the judgement of all my work just a mere day away, amplifying everyone’s anxieties and making it all my own. My knee jitters uncontrollably. Vicky and Taylor—and Darcy, chaperoning—are in the Flagship First lounge, drinking champagne. Mako, Sasha, and Misha gather around me in the seating bay straddling Gate 14 and Gate 15. They say nothing, but I know that they don’t want me to wait alone, and I’m grateful. Misha is relaxed, arms thrown over the back of the seats. The other two sit quite stiffly—the air conditioner is struggling, and the plastic chair sticks to my legs. LAX shimmers in early summer waves. Nearby, a mother tries to soothe a crying baby. My partner gently presses a hand down on my knee. It’s only a brief reprieve.

Flagship First. An attendant crackles over the intercom, and collectively, the people of Gate 15 awake. My friends stand together, and I’m drawn up with them. When I pull back at Mako’s hand, he turns to look at me expectantly.

“She won’t agree to it,” Misha says evenly as he passes, his golden eyes catching mine for a second, and Mako waves an impassive hand at him.

My partner twines his fingers with mine, imploring. “I could still get you into first class now, Eva.”

“The plane’s full.” I laugh. “What are you gonna do, kick someone out?”

He tilts his head. “They can be easily compensated.”

I stare at him. “Or you could give someone your first class seat and switch to economy.” The flight attendant echoes across the waiting bay again. Flagship First. He arches an eyebrow. “Or not. Never mind. Your gangly legs would be cramped anyway.”

“My legs are not gangly,” Mako says, offended, but he squeezes my hand affectionately before letting go.

“See you in New York,” I say, and watch as he strides across the gate. Knees tuck, suitcases shift, gazes draw his path. It isn’t just his tall and striking beauty, but the certainty, like his mother, and the sight of it grates against my knowledge of his soft eyes and hopeful kisses. I suck in a breath, muster a smile as Sasha waves from the line, alone in the race of my thoughts again.

I’ve flown three times in my life—twice to visit my great-grandparents, Fern and Christopher, in a quiet, forested valley somewhere along the Oregon coast, and when I was twelve, to visit their final resting places by the sea. It’s never been a pleasant experience, to be pulled from the earth and ocean, trapped in a metal bullet dripping aviation fuel, where I’m forced to stay still for hours on end. I watch a David Attenborough documentary, but it makes me sad, so I turn off the screen and gaze out of the window. The arid deserts of Colorado glide far below, mesa canyons snaking through gold. I wish Mako was beside me. The drone of the plane is loud. I’m restless. I want to bury my face into his calm and tune out everything else.

Eventually, the plane descends into clouds gently suffused with the fading sun. A delicate crescent moon hangs to the east. I lean forward to look at it, but then we break through the belly of clouds, and New York City emerges. My heart skips a beat. For the first time, my anxiety is eclipsed by excitement. You’re almost there. JFK is busy, and fucking slow. By the time I reach the pickup zone, guided by Mako’s mildly concerned voice over the phone, my lungs wheeze and my temper crackles. There are two black Mercedes waiting—part of the first class service, apparently—with the troupe gathered beside. A chauffeur takes my suitcase with thinly disguised impatience.

“What took you so long?” Vicky says irritably.

“You know what?” My temper flares, but before I can do anything, Darcy pinches my elbow and corrals me into the backseat of a Mercedes, tsk-ing in a way that sounds remarkably like my mother. I brew furiously in the leather seat for a few minutes. The Mercedes draws quietly out of the airport and towards Manhattan. Despite my mood, and the absence of the iconic skyscrapers yet, I press up against the glass. You’re here, I tell myself, the place where all your dreams lead to.

The Solstice Hotel is in the Upper West Side, standing on the edge of Central Park. At this time of evening the beautiful foliage is dark, the iron lanterns at the gates flickering to life, so I resolve to wander the park sometime later and settle for gazing over it from the hotel penthouse. I have a sneaking suspicion that Mako upgraded our room, because even this sort of luxury is above the academy scholarship, but I’m too wired up to care. My nerves buzz. I lay on the bed and stretch my legs, aching for something to ground me. It’s ages until Mako finally emerges from the ensuite, his hair tousled and a little damp, skin glowing, gray sweatpants loose around his hips. I don’t catch myself staring until he clasps his suitcase shut and turns, his brow arching. I flush. “You’re wearing that on purpose!”

He straightens up and smiles. “The entire purpose of my wardrobe is sexy. Are you really so surprised?”

“You’re ridiculous.” I stretch out my leg, poking him in the thigh.

“And you,” Mako catches my flailing ankle as he kneels on the bed, “are terrible at seducing.”

“But it’s working.”

My partner laughs, his hand gliding along my calf, pushing me down. I settle back on the pillows, sighing when he kisses me, just under my ear, warm, and gentle, as he pins my wrists to the bed. I don’t mind it, usually, but tonight when my body is raring he’s taking his time, his kisses working slowly down my throat, frustratingly slow. Even as his mouth finds the sweet spots and my eyelids flitter, I fight for concentration. He parts from my skin, then, and smiles knowingly.

“Don’t you act so cocky,” I say breathlessly. “I’m only letting you be on top.”

He tilts his head, examining me, the corner of his mouth quirking. “Is that so?”

It takes me exactly two seconds to throw him off balance, roll over, straddle his hips. He looks up at me, wide-eyed with shock, before he pushes himself up on his elbows, something new dancing around his lips. “You forget, Hayashi.” I shake my hair back and smile, freeing my shoulders, running my fingertips along his jaw, nudging his handsome face upwards. I relax into the solidity of his body. Whisper a promise into his parted lips. “My will is just as strong as yours.”

***

The sidewalks of Manhattan are busy with commuters already, a rollicking river that we get yanked into—dodging silver street carts, swinging briefcases, construction scaffolding at every corner. People, people, so many people. I squeeze the half-folded tutu under my armpit, desperately trying to not let it slip. There must be a pattern, a seven thirty routine to it, but it’s privy to the New Yorkers, and I get buffeted around ceaselessly. After a perilous crossing of Broadway, Lincoln Center rises from the morning rush. An enormous Grand Prix banner hangs from the arched face of the theater—David H. Koch, I remember, where the New York Presidential Ballet resides—and a thrill of excitement shivers over my skin. The foyer is bursting with dancers and tutors and parents, barely organised into lines by ropes. If the semi-finals were chaotic, it’s nothing compared to this. I hear my name through the din and drop everything. “Mama! Papa!” I leap into their arms. They look ruffled and tired—Mom hates planes just as I do—but they laugh. Her blue summer dress is a reassuring piece of California; the familiarity of home in the brisk pace of New York. The tickets for the Prix were ridiculously expensive, which on top of the flight and hotel made us all cringe, but I’m glad they insisted. Dad gives me a paper bag, which I peek into and see a bagel, laden with cream cheese and salmon.

“Nervous?” Mom fusses over a stray hair escaping from my bun.

“Very,” I admit, bouncing on the balls of my feet. “But I’m super excited! It’s amazing, isn’t it?”

We look up together at the crystals dripping from high above, sparkling in the morning light. Darcy calls my name, my abandoned things in her arms. The troupe is already waiting in line. Halfway to the table of receptionists, handing out the papers with our competition numbers and names. “I have to go now!” I kiss their cheeks. Mom waves at Mako, who brightens and waves in return. “Love you! Bye!”

When I slip into the queue, someone is speaking to Mako. Not a competitor, a spectator—gorgeous, in a crisp shirt and slacks, he looks a little older, although it might be the hair, white as January frost and muddy at the roots. “Pominova. Coming back to claim the crown for the third time in a row,” he says lightly. “You could be dancing principal roles at a lesser company by now, and yet… you’re still here.”

“I’m aware, Laurence,” Mako says tautly. The faintest flush of humiliation rises under his skin. “My mother thinks I should still be in training if I can’t get the contract at the Prix.”

“Mother’s word is gospel. Has Los Angeles done you better?” He pauses, his grey eyes searching my partner’s face, and lays a hand on his shoulder. “I’ve missed you.”

There’s a sudden pinch in my chest, the feeling that I’m intruding on something, and I remember that there’s history in New York that I have no idea about. I clear my throat loudly. His gaze jumps to me—soft, cloudy sky before, it now darkens.

Mako glances back at me, his expression breaking open. He takes Laurence’s wrist and removes it from his shoulder. “This is my partner, Eva.” The word partner is layered with more meanings than pas de deux, and I can tell that Laurence reads every one of them.

“I thought you were dating a guy in public for once,” he says, after a long silence. “West Studio. Damien Lykaios. Or did that mean nothing?”

The thought of how exclusive these rich kids must be to gossip over a continent briefly crosses my mind. “That was two months ago.” Mako’s voice is guarded again, cool and careful.

“And here I was, thinking you’d finally come out of your masculine closet.” The reply is equally cold. “You haven’t changed.”

“This has nothing to do with that.”

Laurence just looks at him for a while. “It never does.” And then he turns, but he doesn’t disappear in the crowd, his January hair leaving bright and burning.

I wrench my gaze from him, unsettled. Questions agitate my tongue, but Mako turns his face away, tension pulling up his shoulders. Later. The troupe moves steadily through the reception and briefly into the theatre for a welcome, before we part ways in the blockwork maze of backstage. I find a spot for one in the second dressing room, and dump my makeup box in relief. Sasha is a little further away, having negotiated her way into a coveted mirror spot.

“Excuse me.”

I look up from my pointe shoes. A girl stands in front of me, wearing a blue academy blazer over her leotard, an elaborate Z embroidered on the pocket. Her entrant number is underlined by Albrecht. She’s very beautiful, but in a 90s heroin model way. Brittle arms and dark eyebags. The paper bag is sticking out of my duffle. I shove it out of sight. Why do I have a bagel?

“You’re the girl who won the California semi-finals, right?” She tilts her head, her curtain of pale hair falling to the side. “I won New York.”

“That’s me.” I hoist myself up onto the counter, wary. She’s got a full inch on me, long-legged, the perfect classical ballerina. It’s obvious, all of a sudden, the careful sweeps of her gaze, analysing the shapes of my feet and waist, sizing her biggest competitor up.

“You’re a unique ballerina.” She taps her chin. “You actually have boobs! I’m jealous. Pominova must love that.”

The hot flush creeps over my face before I can stop it. The eyes of the dressing room flicker towards me, prickling on my skin. No. No one is looking. I cross my arms, hiding my chest. Pominova and Z clicks too late in my mind. “Right. You’re from Zahkarova Conservatory.”

“Mm. I knew your pas partner well.” She leans in close and smiles. Her hair smells like roses. “It was nice meeting you, Kingston. See you at the master class.”

When she leaves, I throw the bagel into the bin. The guilt cannot eclipse the nausea. I press the number to the front of my leotard. My fingers slip on the safety pin, and a tiny prick of pain flashes above my ribs. Calm down. The corridors are thick with dancers and hairspray as I navigate to the theatre stage, awash in bright light. The first master class is the chance to get a feel of the stage, as well as for the directors of prestigious schools and companies, scoping out talent before the competition. I can sense them watching from seats, silhouettes in the first few rows, writing notes on clipboards. I stand at one of the portable barres, my feet open in first position. A ballet mistress takes center stage. I focus my gaze firmly in front of me. On the shadowed judges. But I glimpse the other girls around me, moving gracefully in the corners of my eyes. Legs unfolding to the sky. Feet pointing in high arches. A-cups, the line from their throat to navel slender and unbroken. Ribs patterning leotards. Delicate and swan-like. My tights stretch over my bloated thighs. No. I push my leg up further, right by my ear, looking away from that Zahkarova girl that my partner must have fucked before. God. This is not the time.

One hour and half passes quickly, the senior males taking over for their masterclass. I spill through the labyrinth of stretched-out legs and foreign tongues, past rehearsal spaces full of dancers pirouette-ing in costume, until I burst into a narrow hallway, occupied by a single chair. Quiet. Merciful. I slide my heel onto the chair and sink down into splits, pushing hard over 180. The pain sharply brings my racing thoughts back to earth. Why did everything have to come back now? I squeeze my eyes shut, burying my face into the darkness of my thigh, trying to calm my heaving breaths. Drown out all the whispers I thought I had sunk years ago.

Sasha finds me. Come, Kingston. The words are brief, but she links her arm through mine reassuringly, her smile understanding. Fortitude. We return together to prepare for the ensemble division, trying not to elbow people in the dressing room, pinning the gold laurels to each other’s buns. By the time Darcy gathers the troupe backstage for her final pep talk, Mako and Misha have finished their masterclass, hurriedly draping their chiton costumes, and there’s just enough time to squeeze hands before we dance.

Kitri and Basilio wait in the darkness of the wings. Illuminated in the stage lights is the Zahkarova pas de deux, and I scrutinise them, my nails digging half-moons into my palms. Albrecht is Odette: pure and ethereal, a crown of white feathers circling her head, her fragile arms and sharp collarbones evoking the swan queen. Her technique is familiar, measured grace, the particular Russian method that I characterise with Svetlana Pominova, and more intimately, her son. Perfection. Her partner, Siegfried, lifts her above his head, light as a feather. My stomach clenches. He makes it look so easy. What if… Beside me, Mako shifts. He clasps my face, urging me to meet his eyes. “Nothing,” I say, but the word tips off balance.

Mako glances out to the stage, where Albrecht lands silently from the second lift, to an enthralled shower of applause. “I’m not going to drop you,” he whispers, his fingertips curling gently in my hair. “I promise. Remember the first time we did that lift?”

“I remember, nerd. You were reading your economics textbook in studio.” I poke him in the ribs. He pushes me back indignantly, but I close my eyes and picture that very first feeling of lightness, his hands strong under my hips, our trust strengthening the hundreds of lifts leading up until this moment. My shape means nothing in our partnership. I breathe out slowly, my doubts going up in blazing determination. “We’re going to kill this.”

My partner smiles his beautiful smile, offers his hand, and I meet him halfway.

It’s eight o’clock when the first day of the competition draws to a close. Back at the hotel, I shower the blood down the drain and ice my calves and swallow three ibuprofens, hoping it sinks in quickly. Even the euphoria of our pas de deux cannot mask the pain of it. My partner is sitting on the balcony. When I slide the door open and step into the New York evening, he tips his head back against my ribs, his hand finding my waist in concern.

“I’m fine,” I answer, kissing the top of his head, and settle down beside him. He automatically pulls my legs into his lap, running his fingers gently over my ankles and calves, checking for any swelling and stiffness. I pick up the bottle of pills resting beside him. No label. I give him a pointed look.

“It’s just Xanax.” He lifts his chin to the city lights, sparkling all around us. “What do you think?”

I listen. Subway lines rumble faintly; hollow, shaking the ground. Honks and screeches, too many at once. The summer wind is warm, bringing with it a million different smells. And there’s so much life, energy, buzzing at my nerves in a way Los Angeles never does. I almost want to close my eyes against it. I can’t quite describe this feeling to him, so I settle for something painfully obvious. “It’s very loud.”

“I like it,” Mako says quietly. “It’s never silent.”

He searches for something in the skyline, full of memories unknown to me. I move deeper into his arms, into the after-shower grapefruit scent, and the quiet I like better. “Zakharova is there.” He points into the heart of the city, where the lights swell up against the great swathe of darkness which is Central Park. “7th Avenue. And there—” his fingertip moves along the southern edge to where the tallest skyscrapers are, “—is my penthouse. Right at the top of the one with the spire. My father gave it to me when I turned sixteen, and I used to throw parties in it every sixth or seventh night.”

I squint. It’s much further up than this little hotel balcony, and I wonder what it’s like to inhabit such a height. Nearby, I can see a slender and unbelievably tall skyscraper—maybe three quarters in construction—massive cranes shifting and blinking red around it, in spite of the hour. The steel skeleton is half exposed to the night, raw and ribbed, a skin of ghostly glass panels crawling upwards. It’s ugly.

“Tell me about Zakharova,” I say.

He’s silent for a while, frowning, massaging out some of the pain from my muscles. “You mean this morning.”

“Laurence seemed unhappy with your choice in me.”

“It’s not you.” A troubled shadow passes over his face. His hand comes to rest around my Achilles. “My mother sent me to New York when I was twelve. Zakharova Conservatory is ruled by the same Russian etiquettes and traditions she had taught me, but the city… it was nothing like I’d experienced before. Never silent, or dark, or still. Life right there in my hands. Secret pleasures, even in the shadows. It was overwhelming to realise there were an infinite things just as beautiful as the sakura. And Laurence… his beauty more.”

“Your first,” I guess.

His eyes are distant. “Many firsts. He was one year older, in the same class division, so we danced together, explored nights together. He’s always wanted more, for me to be less secretive, but…” His brows furrow. Shoulders draw inwards. The words whispered so fragile they’re almost carried away by the wind. “I’m not meant to be like this. The perfect male dancer… I always wanted to be the prince, meant to be, growing up. Handsome, masculine, and powerful, the hero who falls in love with a girl. Not anything other. Not van Rothbart, or Iago. Not…”

“The villain,” I finish, and lightly touch my fingertips to his jaw, turning his face towards me. The classical male, and the silent, delicate ballerina. It’s always been like this in ballet, centuries-old beliefs, queerness and feminity only allowed to awaken in the villains. “You are not. Tradition can always be written over. You have a choice.”

“Do I?” He asks quietly.

And I remember his marriage spelled out in years to come, and I don’t really know what to say. I tuck my arms around my knees. “You know, Laurence sounds like Misha.”

“Misha.” He smiles softly, his gaze fixed on the blinking lights of cars far below. He’s quiet for so long that I think the conversation is over, but then he shakes his head. “There’s no one quite like him.”

The night murmurs, and the candle flickers. It’s getting late. I cradle his head and kiss his temple. His pulse beats slowly under my lips. I feel the sleep creeping over him. “How many did you take?”

He closes his eyes, rests in the curve of my shoulder. “I know my limits.”

It does not reassure me as much as he thinks.

***

Early in the morning, just after our second masterclass, I clasp together the hooks on Sasha’s Sleeping Beauty bodice. It’s solo division day, so the sardine-tin dressing room is packed with tutus, coffee cups, and impatient dancers, it’s difficult to maneuver costumes without smacking someone with hard tulle. Albrecht passes behind us on the way to her solo. I glimpse her reflection in the mirror, still otherworldly in her white feathered tutu. She sees us, and pauses. “I heard that LAAPA was progressive.” Her voice prickles at my skin. Ignore her. She looks at me and then lingers on Sasha. “But I didn’t know they had stooped this low.”

I whip around. “Go fuck yourself.”

Sasha grabs my arm. I turn to look at her. Her expression is the composed, regal mask she puts on before dancing—determined to prove herself. “I’ve earned the right to be here in the same way you have,” she says evenly, but there’s a warning edge to her voice. Albrecht must sense it, because her mouth twists but remains silent, and she turns on her heel.

“Elitist bitch,” I snap at her retreating back. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Sasha says briskly. She straightens the beading on her tutu, but under the careful gesture I sense she’s been shaken, unseating the stage nerves she had worked so hard to compose. “I got used to girls like her a long time ago.”

I take her hand and squeeze bracingly. “You’re the best Aurora I know.”

She smiles, taps my nose, affectionate. “And you, are the best Kitri. Come on. Let us not be late for your solo.”

The stage hand corrals me alone into the dust-mote shadows behind the wings. The announcer’s voice reverberates in my chest. Evangeline. My heart beats just as loud and painful. Everything balances on these final three minutes. The first notes of the music begin. I flick her fan open. Take my first step into the blinding stage lights. Fire and energy: the girl who can do anything. Kitri.

The Grand Prix gala and awards are at six o’clock. Which gives me two hours to not look like a peasant. At the bottom of my suitcase, folded carefully in paper, is a black cocktail dress with bows. I shimmy from my tank top into the satin, slick my hair into a bun, put on crimson lipstick. When I stand in the mirror, the reflection feels almost not myself, but someone wealthy and beautiful, a perfect piece of elite ballet society. Almost.

Sasha knocks gently on the door. She’s imperial, in a suit and crown of gilded leaves. “Kingston! You look exquisite.” She drops a kiss on my cheek. “Solano is taking ages to get ready, don’t mind him.”

I laugh and hug her. “Thanks for letting me borrow the dress.”

Mako stands in front of the bathroom mirror, frowning. His suit is black and perfectly tailored, fitting sleek over his shoulders and tucking along his waist. A Rolex glimmers darkly on his wrist, the delicate filigree mechanisms in rose gold. He straightens and restraightens his narrow tie. I can just sense the tremor of his hands. His gaze flickers to me in the mirror, and he turns, leaning on the counter, gently touching his forehead to mine. “You look beautiful.”

“So do you.”

Misha appears just in time to leave for the taxi. He’s striking—in a blazer embroidered in golden filigree, his eyes glittering in crimson jewels and gold stardust. Droplets of rubies are fastened to his ears. A gift from his best friend, I remember. He meets Mako’s gaze. Self-conscious, for the briefest second, but when Sasha links her arm through his and Mako smiles, it’s gone in his light.

In the timeless depths of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, there is a glade of blossoming trees. My heels come to rest at the archway. No, not a glade—great branches of white almond blossoms, hung from the vaulted ceiling somewhere above, dripping between tables laden with candles. It’s real, impossibly, because the air is sweet and petals drift down around our feet. The last vestiges of spring, even amongst the marble statues sculpted by hands long withered to dust. The gallery is sparkling with cocktail dresses and cufflinks, the murmur of finalists and ballerinas and artistic directors and wealthy patrons. I slow to a stop under an enormous crystal chandelier, beside the stillness of my partner in the tide of people. His gaze is lifted to the dream above.

“Are rich people galas always this crazy?” I slip my hand into his, folded behind his back.

He squeezes my hand, eventually looking down at me, his smile gentle. “It depends on the patrons. My mother sponsored the gala this year.”

It’s too beautiful for Svetlana Pominova. I guess this is how ballerinas see her: a work of art, ethereal and slightly otherworldly, not the soft things crushed beneath her feet. The frown settles back upon Mako’s face again as we move through a series of fluted Greek columns to the tail of the gallery. Oil paintings in heavy gilded frames tower over a little podium stage. My stomach knots again. The past three years point to an end on that stage; it’s right in front of me, now, the place where my dreams will come to life or die. To the left is the judge’s table, trophies shining in rows, one that’s taller than the rest: the Grand Prix. The pressure on my fingers increases, and my heartbeat grows louder as the guests quieten. Junior division. Scholarships to London and St Petersburg and Havana. I catch some of the names time to time when I can hear above the thudding of my heart. Senior ensemble; Los Angeles Academy of Performing Arts. Sasha accepts the bronze for us, beautiful and beaming. Applause rises and falls. Mako and I take first for pas de deux—by the time I descend the stage, the gold trophy is in my hand, my partner’s hand tight in my other, my face hurts from smiling, but still, time skips and skips and yearns to race ahead.

Third place. Yuhue Lee, Korea. I close my eyes against the deafening claps.

“Second.” The microphoned rustle of a page flipping over; an everlasting pause. One of the directors ascends. “Evangeline Kingston, United States of America.”

Silver! I vaguely register Mako nudging me forward, my feet stepping up. I bow my head, shaking the director’s hand, accepting the silver trophy. “Brooklyn Heights Ballet.” My heart soars. Pinched between his index and middle finger is a business card. The edges are gilded. Written in swooping silver letters is Brooklyn Heights Ballet. An email address, number of digits, and somewhere in New York is printed underneath. Holy shit.

First place goes to Alexandra Albrecht. She smiles at me as she takes center place, quick and sharp, but it can’t puncture the elation ballooning in my chest, and I smile back at her. Who cares that she beat me? Albrecht was wrong, I was wrong; despite my thighs and breasts my dancing had prevailed, proven to everyone that none of it matters after all. I cradle the trophy, the silver cool against my sternum. All my fear was for nothing.

The Grand Prix goes to Mako Pominova Hayashi. For the third time, I remember Laurence saying. He accepts the position with easy grace, but through the applause I can feel the anxiety twisting under the poise of his smile, my chest just as tense, so I close my eyes, almost unable to bear the weight, until I hear it: New York Presidential Ballet. Thank fuck. I start towards Mako, and he catches my gaze, his eyes burning bright with relief, but the tension of the evening breaks open into the gala, the NYPB director clasping his hand, patrons and ballerinas wanting to converse, and he’s lost from my sight.

“Evangeline Kingston?”

I turn. The artistic director of Brooklyn Heights Ballet. I get a proper look at him, now that the chandeliers aren’t spinning. Late fifties perhaps, in a grey tweed suit that matches his salt-and-pepper hair. The director smiles curtly. “You have great potential for our company,” he tells me in a low voice. “One of the greatest I’ve ever seen in a young ballerina. I’d like to offer you a corps contract starting this September. Give us a call once summer begins, and we can organise the details.”

“Thank you.” I press down the urge to bounce like a kid, just until the director leaves. Greatest potential. My partner finally appears from the crowd before me, breaking into a radiant smile. I crash into him, and he sweeps me upwards. “Congratulations!”

“Thank you,” he whispers. For everything. I touch my fingertips to his cheeks, brushing away the tears, and he laughs in a choked sort of way, pressing his forehead to mine. His joy flaring together with mine is overwhelming. The world feels very small now, just the two of us in a tempest of gold. “I’m sorry. I know you wanted it too.”

“A long time ago.” I hesitate. A feeling gnaws at me uneasily, but it’s not anger, or jealousy. I clasp his face and gaze into his dark eyes. “You’ve always been the better dancer. You deserve this more than anyone. More than anything.”

“Mako,” says a voice that isn’t mine. He pulls away from me. Svetlana waits, in midnight black, with who must be his father—Japanese, a tall and handsome figure in his suit, the same sculpted bones, but with a five o’clock shadow and none of his son’s sweetness. He does not smile. Svetlana extends her hand, palm up, gleaming with diamonds that looks just like the ones in Cartier’s secret room. Mako straightens. “Come.”

My partner glances back at me, once. I try to smile and watch the Hayashis leave, parting the glittering crowd, until a waiter passes by carrying flutes of champagne and they disappear. Is that why this dream faded? I can’t ignore the feeling now. Or did you give up because you wanted him to be happy? The Brooklyn Heights Ballet card bites into my closed palm. I press it flat against my chest. No, I think firmly, but then I remember his tears glistening on my fingertips and I can’t argue with myself anymore.

Mom and Dad are waiting in front of the museum, sitting together on the edge of a fountain, splashing quietly in the evening. I knew it, Mom leaps up to meet me, sandwiching my face to pepper with overjoyed kisses, her eyes sparkling. I give Dad my two trophies for safekeeping—when I finally return home to Malibu, they will be gleaming on the shelf beside my regional medals, in their rightful place. My chest pangs, wanting to show my parents the glade of blossoms, but they’re allowed there much less than I’m pretending to be. Dinner is served, fine china, fleeting courses. Fig and goat’s cheese dripping in honey. The sweetness is heavy on my tongue, but it doesn’t matter, not when I feel lighter than air. People laugh and dance and toast martinis under the chandeliers. Tuxedo jackets are discarded on chair backs, crystalline gowns sparkle to and fro. Misha raises his negroni, red as the sunset blazing over Central Park. “To the Paris Opera Ballet,” he says, inclining his head to Sasha, who returns the gesture in their routine playful theatrics, “Brooklyn Heights, La Scala—and of course, crown jewel, New York Presidential Ballet.”

Glasses clink together, Sauvignon Blanc to sparkling water, a picture texted to Piper, and before I can think about the continents and oceans between each name, we dance. I spin in Mako’s arms, my hands looping through Sasha’s elbow and then slipping over Misha’s shoulders, then someone I don’t know and we lose sight of each other for three or thirty minutes, diamonds and bruised feet and red wine. I collapse into my dinner chair to catch my breath. The digits on my phone blink 11:03. My heels hurt. I should be exhausted, after the pas de deux and solo and gala dinner, but I’m running on pure exhilaration, mine and everyone’s around me. My partner finds me. His tie hangs loose around his neck, his shirt unbuttoned by two. The cocktail in his hand is pale pink, rimmed with salt and grapefruit slices. I can tell he’s drunk because his cheeks are flushed, but when he speaks, his voice is as calm and steady as ever. “Would you like a paloma? I requested no sugar.”

“Oh, just a little taste.” Bitter from the tequila. “That’s pretty good.” He flutters his hand, but I give him back the glass with a laugh. “Trust me, I’ve only been drunk once, and you do not want to see it. I rocket off the fucking walls. Even more than usual, I mean.”

“Is that possible?” He tips his head, amused, and laces our fingers together. The tension I’ve always felt humming under his skin is gone. “Dance with me.”

Twilight leaves soaked in rum and midnight arrives in a quieter fashion. The younger dancers have long since departed, leaving the rich patrons and soon-to-be corps dancers; the tabs at the bar are spilling over. I find my partner again. He stands on a balcony, a shadow against Central Park’s less familiar shadows and Manhattan’s dazzling lights beyond, his empty glass resting on the balustrade. The tequila is fading from his cheeks and the energy from my body; a question arises in my mouth, but I don’t yet break the peace. A night breeze whispers through the grove of trees below. Flutters at his hair. “My parents invited me to fly back with them to Tokyo.” Mako smiles, his gaze distant among the ghosts of stars over New York. “Two weeks. There’s a new hotel opening, and they want to show me the ropes.”

And I understand for the first time. He’s happier and lighter than I’ve ever seen him. Fury rises, sharply, in my chest. I want to scream at Svetlana and his father, fuck you fuck you fuck you, and a slightly younger Eva would charge with her anger raised high, and yet… the words simply barb my tongue before I pull them together, into a shape that won’t shatter his delicate happiness, snuff out the stars in his eyes. “But…” I struggle to rein in my voice. “Why haven’t they asked you before?”

He slowly traces a finger along the salted rim of the glass. “My family runs an international company. Work comes first. You know this well enough.”

“That’s not what I mean.” I grab his arm. “Mako-”

“What were you going to ask me?”

I breathe out slowly. You can’t destroy it. “Just… if you wanted to stay at my house over summer.”

He mellows. “I’m sorry. My return is directly to Harvard. I’m finishing my degree there in summer school. The flight to Narita leaves on the second of May.” I can’t think of anything to say to this, and the silence stretching between us bows his head. “You don’t need to make me any promises, Eva. Your next partner might be even more jacked than I am.” My partner nudges me, hands in pockets, a wry smile tugging at the corner of his mouth, but he can’t meet my eyes.

“Impossible.” I poke his bicep. “Stay in Malibu, for the last few days. I’ll teach you how to surf. And when you come back you have to show me around New York.”

Mako finally turns to me, eyes hesitant and hopeful, and I see all his worries of the passing hour melting away. He slips his arm comfortably around my waist. “You just want to see me fail spectacularly.”

“And why would I want that?” I settle against my partner, and he smiles, shaking his head. In the silence of victory it’s just us, the moths fluttering around the lanterns, the midnight piano notes drifting from the gala; and somewhere, somewhere in the lights of New York, my life as a ballerina begins.


We are finally nearing the end of Act II ❤ One more chapter with Eva’s family in Malibu before we get into the act I’m most excited for! Sorry about the lengthy paragraphs, but the pictures are steadily getting more intensive and I physically can’t make any more than this 😅

In real life, the Youth America Grand Prix is much grander in scale and spans about 7 days, including a welcome party, contemporary division, three rounds, scholarship classes, and “grand defile” rehearsals (a final performance with all the competitors). For storytelling purposes, I compressed this into a simpler 2 days, but it still follows the basic ensemble-pas de deux-solo competition structure integrated with master classes, plus the awards ceremony and gala at the end. The gala is less fancy and held at the theater in real life, but I spontaneously ended up going ham with the set haha. If anyone wants to see how the process Eva has gone through actually operates, I highly recommend the First Position documentary (you can watch it for free on Documentary Area)! It’s a very interesting look into the competitive ballet world 😊

8 Comments

  1. I really enjoyed this chapter, Lila. And my mind is going a mile a minute wondering what will happen next. The work you’ve put into this is beyond amazing. Your pics are so stellar! And the poses and sets, too. As far as the paragraphs, I thought the lengths were perfect. I’m so excited for Act III!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Kymber 🙂

      It’s good to hear about the paragraph lengths. I’m aware the overall word count of the chapters is getting very long, however, so I’ve decided to chop future chapters in half!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I just love the story, it keeps you on your toes (couldn’t help the pun 🙂 ) I’ve checked out the Youth America Grand Prix, and it’s competitive, indeed. You’ve really succeeded in describing the athmosphere and the pictures… there’s no words describing your set-ups! Can’t wait for the next chapter,

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Freja! I love that pun 😂 I’m happy that you think I captured the intense atmosphere accurately. Much of it draws from my own competition memories but I imagine the YAGP would be tenfold!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Bruh… I have a lot of thoughts, and honestly I’m not sure if they’re the ones you expected me to have. I had the feeling that I was going to side with Mako/against Eva in the impending DOOM, but now I’m really not sure. It’ll depend entirely on the context, because this chapter put me in a place I didn’t expect. Tbh, I really was struggling at the very beginning, and it sometimes felt hard to read (I mean about the actual events happening not that the writing was bad, just to be clear), because it was giving me major fish-out-of-water vibes. I think what sort of set the tone for me right off the bat was when Mako asked Eva to come with him to first class, which ofc she refused, as is brand Eva, but somehow in reverse it feels so much worse? When Mako wouldn’t give up first class to sit in economy with her. Maybe there were more factors informing that decision, but it really made me wonder if he would. And I think that comes back up near the end of the chapter and makes me really question what Mako will and will not do for her. I still feel like this is relatively early on in their relationship, but it’s entirely possible this issue crops up again. Anyways, the separation between Eva and her group of friend, including Mako, felt really obvious here, to the point where I felt a bit isolated reading her perspective. Even when the other three would come in and out of scenes, it all felt lonely.

    The Laurence scene ones again drives it home how much the readers, and Eva, have left to learn about Mako, and the Al scene (I’ve no idea how to spell her name lmfao) made my blood boil and got me feeling that sense of isolation again. Like Eva is really struggling on her own here, and that makes me relate to her hard. I think that’s a personal thing, because I connect to that feeling of isolation. All of those thoughts going through her head broke my heart. When she starts to feel self-conscious about her build and body structure, it’s disheartening, and I just wanted to fly in and save her. When she throws away the bagel and hyperfocuses on how skinny the other girls are made me want to shake her, but it’s a sad shake, not an angry shake lmao. I had such dread after this scene, thinking it was going to affect her dance after all. I was still stuck on the “being dropped” theory (I still am), and was 100% certain it was coming, but was surprised to see everyone made it through the chapter in good health.

    Jumping to the end though, I wasn’t sure how to feel about the final exchange. You made it seem like it was going to be something horrible, but it didn’t feel that way to me? It’s sort of what I expected would happen. It made sense to me that they’d split off to do these separate things, because they’re both very focused on their lives. It does seem like Eva’s trying harder to make this relationship into a lasting thing, and I think we’re starting to see a little bit on Mako’s self-fulfilling prophecy taking shape as he’s already submitted to going off to Japan and doing this whole song and dance with his parents. But at the same time, him wanting to finish school and such just makes good sense, and I don’t fault him for that at all, and neither should Eva, honestly.

    Her reaction to getting second place, and getting the contract to the Brooklyn school felt very natural. I understood it as her aiming high and wanting to get the NY ballet contract, but after being in this highly competitive space for a while, I think she *would* be just as happy with what she got. So, I’m a bit torn on the idea that “gave up” so that Mako would get it. It makes sense to me that her priorities might shift because of her feelings for Mako, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, in and of itself. But I wonder if she doesn’t go down that path of thinking she sold herself short for “some guy”. I really don’t feel like that lines up with the person she’s been up until now, but then again. I can’t really say I know the full depth of her. She does have a natural caring and nurturing side, she’s emotionally driven, even if she’s competitive, and her understanding of what it meant for Mako could very well have shadowed her own ambition. But she’s also just this homegrown California girl, raised by good, kindhearted people, so… idk I’m really split on this. I guess I’ll just see how this one pans out and if she actually comes to think anymore about it, whether negatively or positively.

    Anyways, ima just gush about the things I really loved in the chapter. THERE’S NO ONE QUITE LIKE HIM. You’re DAMNNNNNNN RIGHTTTTTTTTT. This line didn’t break my Mishako heart, but Mako might… in chapters to come. The “It’s very loud” line juxtaposed against Mako’s “I like it. It’s never silent.” reminded me of that Gatsby scene. I might have drawn this comparison before somewhere else, but it gives me the same vibe as when Jordan says “And I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.”, it has the same weight to it, because she’s the rich and privileged one while Nick is the more average Joe from a middle class family, and Eva and Mako have a similar dynamic. Funnily enough, I just wrote a scene in ACV where Varya is making a similar point, where when it’s quiet, the thoughts are too present, and he focuses too much and it overwhelms him, but when things are chaotic and hectic, he is freed from the pain of having to think too much or too hard. I wonder if Mako doesn’t feel similarly, considering all he has to deal with. But I like that it has a double meaning, because it ties into Eva’s ADD and her being overstimulated by the chaos of the city as opposed to what she’s used to; being soothed and calmed by nature.

    I also just really loved when Eva is thinking about the building and says that simple “It’s ugly.” It’s such a small line, literally, but I loved it because it’s SO appropriate lmao. It fits the scene, it fits her perfectly, and it’s just a great commentary on the industrial jungle that is Manhattan. [scrutinise them, my nails digging half-moons into my palms] absolutely beautiful description, never thought of it that way but that is exactly how it be, really love that imagery. [Beside me, Mako shifts. He clasps my face, urging me to meet his eyes. “Nothing,” I say, but the word tips off balance.] I love that exchange a ton. That unspoken understanding that passes between them is a lovely touch, really signifies their bond is so deep, and the way you can sense that Eva is holding back, or lying, just with the lilt of her voice on a single word. Absolute perfection.

    Speaking of perfection, BRUH THAT LAST PICTURE WHAT THE FUCKKKKKKKKKKK I have to make a breathtaking folder of my own JUST FOR THAT PICTURE. The most beautiful thing I ever saw. If I wasn’t borderline obsessed with Yeryn I would kick them off one of my screens and set that photo as my desktop bg because holy shittttttttt. The color, the glamour, the SYMMETRY :yehhearts: a perfect picture, I do declare. Honestly all the pics were on point, even if some gave you trouble, they turned out great. Love the suit one, with misha and sasha in the back looking like LITERAL GODS (Evako are ok too, but I’m still going down with my Copelano ship bye). All the party shots look so glamorous and luxe, I’m positively LIVING. And the way you wrote the wildness of the party and the euphoria of them all winning was so, so well done, and very Eva-esque.

    Did Sasha get into the Paris ballet and Misha into La Scala? (I had to google that), or did I misunderstand that line? It made me sad when I read the “continents between those names” and it was bittersweet, really. Like they’re so happy, but this new chapter means so much distance and inevitably weathering bonds. You can see how tangible it is that this is them really coming of age, or rather, into this big new chapter of their lives. Incredible stuff dude, really well done. The work you put into this chapter does not go unappreciated.

    But now my comment is a jillion lightyears long and there’s so much stuff I haven’t touched on, so I hope Amy and Aymay will pick up my slack because I’m running out of brainpower LMAO. Aside from wanting to just punch everyone in this chapter (Mako’s bitch mom and bitch father, looking at you). Cherry and Gabriel being so damn cute and quaint and just as out of place as their daughter LOL. A lot of lovely moments in this chapter (not talking about THAT scene because how dare you, you horrible babber my poor virgin eyes). I am really REALLY interested to see how this will continue on from here. Things are about to get wild, I already know. I hope we won’t have to wait 9 months for the next chap :totallyfine:

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bruh. LMAO we’re definitely reaching the point where the characters start making questionable decisions, so I’m expecting everyone to have somewhat different opinions/interpretations :tradeoffer:

      Honestly same, some of this chapter was hard for me to write in the “this is painful” sense (I almost deleted the throwing out bagel part, it made me physically cringe). In the airport scene the Hayashi part of Mako is really beginning to appear. The act of compromising someone else for his own gain is a normalised attitude that he learned growing up as a billionaire-child. His taught sense of ethics and morals is very different to Eva. I think Mako’s reaction to her suggestion has more to do with the sheer absurdity of travelling in economy, below his sense of power, than his willingness to do so for her. Ultimately, if it comes down to him making the decision between sacrificing luxury to spend time with Eva, he would make that small sacrifice. Whether he would make that sacrifice in more critical situations, and how his ethics apply to who he loves, is definitely another question that arises later on.

      I keep spelling Albrecht wrong, I didn’t realise until late that I’d written Albercht on her competition number LMAO. Either way, she’s a bitch, and representative of what the culture of Zahkarova is like. Your feeling of isolation reading is exactly what I feel writing her, honestly. Eva’s perspective is so insular. When I put her in friend group situations, despite my efforts to make her interact, she naturally tends to stay disconnected while the others form stronger bonds (mainly with Misha). But the separation becomes very obvious when she’s under pressure and begins shutting down to try calm herself. I was wondering what you would think after Eva succeeded in the finals without getting grievously injured :pepehmm: All I will say is that her lack of failure now leaves much broader capacity to do so in the future. 

      Exactly, the awards and a prestigious company contract is spectacular enough achievement for Eva (her family will be nothing but proud, ofc), and I don’t think she gave up on her initial NYPB ambition for the sake of Mako either. The only effect her romantic feelings really had was her happy-not-jealous reaction to him getting NYPB, and earlier in the year, not continuing to be salty that he was the better dancer. But it was a concern for her that she *might* have or will compromise her ambitions for a boy, since that’s the reason she was adamant against a relationship with Mako in the first place. So yeah, we’ll see if she thinks more of this potential issue later on. 

      I failed at reading The Great Gatsby RIP but I don’t think you’ve made the comparison before, it’s nice and on point. Mako does feel similarly to that line and also Varya’s thought about chaos freeing him (ACV w h e r e). He’s constantly seeking out the wildest physical and emotional highs to escape facing the pain of his reality. Which is partly what Misha and Eva feel to him, and also partly why he’s such a massive hoe >.> 

      THANKS BRO I’m happy you like those lines and the pics ❤ Jade biggest fan of everything to do with this Met build LOL, my greatest achievement. I appreciate the work appreciation. I’m actually quite pleased with how 90% of the pictures came out, even if I have grief with the writing I can look at the visuals and be satisfied with the knowledge of how thoroughly crafted they are. Yep, Misha got into La Scala Ballet in Milan, and Sasha into Paris Opera Ballet. They’re all growing up and departing alone into the unfamiliar world of the profession, and the distance will for sure mean the strength of certain friendships will fade, even if they can communicate online, the intensity of professional dance will be very consuming. 

      Your fake virgin eyes are gonna get attacked one more time during Evako honeymoon period, you’re welcome. I’m surprised you even have anything more to say after this record-breaking essay LMFAO. Hopefully with chapter chop chop we can get Chapter 14 in two or less months, midsemester break is coming up soon. Thanks for the thoughtful and interesting commentary as always dude, I had such fun reading it ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Me, no longer certain about anything except that your descriptions of NYC are spot on. LOL.

    “construction scaffolding at every corner.” Accurate af.. and when it comes down after years or appears suddenly, you no longer know where you are!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. LOOOOL sorry I know the chapters are kind of overwhelming 🤣 I’ll be cutting the lengths in half for upcoming chapters! It’s awesome to hear that the NYC descriptions are accurate, coming from a real New Yorker! I’m doing a lot of research on the city, so hopefully Eva’s experience in it will remain ~fairly~ realistic.

      Like

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