Thanks so much for your patience - the summer intensive seriously took it out of me and then after there were crazy meetings for planning and organizing the year ahead.
Final year of school starts in ten hours time...I wish I felt more excited but I would rather have another two months off.
Thanks so much to all of you who reviewed!
I loved reading all your opinions and thoughts and inspiration!
"We should have noticed how quiet things were!" I exclaimed as we ran down the corridor, my pointes swinging from my hands. No one else was around – they would all be on for the opening scene. Or coming off from it. We had no idea how far through they were.
"I should have noticed that the light was off!" Alice replied. "Who did this?"
I shook my head, puffing, "I have no idea." I had thought it was Tanya who'd been in and moved the chair over to the intercom, but it could have been anyone. Jacob could have stormed in
We rounded the corner, the stage door appearing in front of us. People were coming out – the peasant and the Montagues and Capulets in red and blue livery.
"Get out of the way!" Alice called as we pushed through. The opening scene was over, which meant my scene was now. We broke through the crush of people and out into the dark, hushed backstage area. "What are we up to?" Alice asked one of the backstage people as I quickly pushed my toes into my pointe and tied the ribbons in a knot, leave the ends dangling.
"Scene change into the bed chamber."
"Shit!" I cursed, leaving the other shoe off and running to the right wings. The stage was black. It was hard to see which wing I was looking for. There! The back one!
I ran head on and crashed straight into a tall, firm body.
"You're not going on stage tonight," said Seth, still in his peasant costume. I looked up at his gaunt face in the faint light from the other side of the stage. His arms were folded, his eyes resolved.
"What are you doing?" I gasped, trying to push him aside. It was then that I saw her over his shoulder. Leah. In my ball costume, flexing her feet nervously, staring out at the stage as the final props were wheeled on. "Leah!" I hissed. "What the Hell are you doing?"
She looked at me, her stage makeup thick and harsh, "I'm making sure you don't win."
"You don't know the part!" I exclaimed incredulously. "You can't dance this! You'll get thrown out of the NFSI!"
"I don't care," she snapped. "Just so long as I ruin this show and get Jacob's role back."
"Which he deserves," Seth added with a sneer, still not letting my pass.
I spun back around, wanting to get help, but Adela, Danny, Damien, Paul and Robbie had blocked the way back out. This wing was part of the set – wooden walls, not curtains. "You're making a mistake," I said hopelessly.
Seth shook his head, "We're Royals. We take care of our own."
"This won't make things better!" I said, then cut off as the lights began to come on on stage.
"Here goes," Leah whispered, shaking out her arms and legs. The warm lights lit up the sparkling tulle and satin of my dress.
"Jacob wouldn't want you to do this!" I exclaimed. "He wouldn't want you to ruin everything for him! I know you love him, I – " I looked at Seth, the flashing realization in my mind that he loved Jacob, too. "Please don't do this."
Leah gave me a smirk that was so like Jacob's, and made to step into the entrance of the stage.
"Leah!" came a shout from the other end of the wing. And there was thin, scraggly Lauren, grabbing Leah's arm and wrenching her back. She looked up at her without any fear, "If you don't let Bella go on then I will tell Caius and Carlisle what you and Jacob did to Charlotte to get her to leave."
"What?" Seth said, his surprise giving me the perfect opportunity to slip under his arm. The music had started, light and joyous.
"No!" Leah shouted, grabbing hold of me so I couldn't go on.
"Charlotte has promised to testify to Caius," Lauren continued urgently from behind us. "Caius will be forced to expel Jacob without any kind of qualification."
Leah had always been more heavily built than me – she was holding me tightly, her nails digging into my arms. "He doesn't need it."
"He does now," I gasped. "You know he does. He'll never get a job anywhere with his reputation."
"You'll be ending his career," Lauren said. "Let Bella go. Now."
And just like that, I was free. In a split second decision, I ripped the pointe shoe I had on from my foot, the ribbons tearing.
Breathe, I ordered and filled my lungs. And out.
There were many things I had lost in the past few months. Some I had regained. Some still I prayed I would rediscover. Other things were gone for good. The Bella Swan of Force, who had walked up that cobblestone drive with the intention of entertaining a hobby, who had fallen in love with a guy she hadn't even spoken to and who had wanted nothing more than to dance freely – she was gone. Now, I had seen horrific betrayal, by fathers and boyfriends and friends and teachers. I had seen hatred in its purest, most potent form. And I had seen how love could ravish and repair life itself.
But I realized in that moment, as I stepped into the lights, that what I had lost had made me gain something. Something that would stand me in good stead, always. The knowledge that I could be whatever I wanted to be. Edward's girlfriend, a Royal, a Force Third Year, a teenage girl who was hopelessly in love. A technique-burdened robot and a careless, frivolous dancer. A horrible person and a forgiving person. A bad student and a quick study. My personality, just like most, was full of contradictions. And it was only with that knowledge that I realized, in this critical moment, that what Leah had just done did not need to affect me. None of it did.
I could be whatever I needed to be, like a painter picking a particular colour from his pallet. I was stronger now – I didn't need to throw all the colours together into one.
I focused on what Carlisle had told me back at the café. That Juliet was a silly, unconcerned fourteen year old, without a care in the World and yet she was passionate in whatever she did, which was why Romeo was soon going to take her by such a storm. She just poured her heart into everything, uncensored and unyielding, excited by fairytales and taken in by love stories.
And so, I carefully shed away the scars of the day. The sadness, the betrayal and even the deep, coveted warmth of Edward's return. I shed away the memories of a thousand rehearsals. I blocked out the feeling of kisses and embraces, of Leah scratching fingers on my skin, of the sweat on my forehead. And instead, I pulled out the nearest thing I had to what Carlisle had described – my first day at Force, when a minute of dancing from Edward had made me fall for him and a few snarky words from Tanya had made me eternally hate her. When I had immediately taken a liking to Angela and decided Lauren was not to be trusted. Back then, I didn't question. I just felt.
And into this, I threw all the impressions I had had back then of love – all mysterious and epic. For that, I decided, was what Juliet was dancing for. The silly, amazing idea of love.
With a rush of this silliness, I ran onto the stage, feeling my skirt swish around my calves, feeling like all of the World was just one fantastic adventure, waiting to be seen. I spun, the stage lights spinning and spinning with me as I looked up. My stocking feet made me feel less like a dancer and more like a young girl, throwing all propriety to the wind. Smiling was hardly enough – I wanted to laugh!
And then, when I saw Rosalie hastily being pushed out of the wings by Emmett and Alice, the Nurse's costume haphazardly thrown over her prostitute costume, one giggle did manage to bubble free. I remembered when I had first seen her, on that same night – how domineering she had seemed. How they had all seemed like untouchable, unmatchable giants. And now she was demurely sitting down on the chair, giving a grumpy glance in Emmett's direction as her headpiece slipped a little over her eyes.
I grinned and ran over, leaning over the back of the chair with my leg straight up to give her a peck on the cheek. She stood up furiously, with the perfect timing for me to snatch the bear from her.
Laughing, I step-turned away, holding the bear high above me, flashing Rosalie a poke of the tongue as I went.
She narrowed her eyes at me, but there was something in there which told me she realized how much I was giving to the character. Rosalie Hale was, of course, not to be out done. And, surprisingly, her Nurse was so convincing that I almost thought she'd gained fifty pound and twenty years. She bumbled toward me, grasping her tired back and reaching for the bear as I nimbly leapt away.
Teasingly, I crossed back to chair and gave the bear an affectionate kiss, enjoying this game we were playing. Rosalie gave an exaggerated sigh and bustled back over, holding her hands out to me, trying to reason with a sort of familiarity that Leah and I had never been able to attain. The Nurse and Juliet, Carlisle had told me, were meant to be best friends. With Leah and me, the audience had probably left thinking she was a cruel governess whom I hated.
I hugged the bear against my chest, Rosalie and I now facing each other over the chair. She was still trying to reason. A new memory came to me of me as a child, taking some game with my father too far – he was chastising me even as I continued on, not realizing it was time to stop. Now, I escaped from behind the chair and kept going, just like then, taking big, exciting leaps around the room whilst Rosalie was clasping her hands together in a desperate prayer.
Deciding a new game, I tossed the bear away and picked up her hands and spun around with her, like she was the Jack to my Rose and we were dancing on the Titanic – what romance! Meanwhile, she was frantically trying to keep a hold of her head piece as I spun her faster and faster.
The sound of the trumpets, though, made us both stop in our tracks. In perfect comedic timing, Rosalie grabbed the bear and thrust it behind her back and I quickly reached my hand behind my own back and managed to get hold of one of the legs. And so, as Jasper and Alice regally entered through my bedroom door, the audience was laughing raucously at me and Rosalie's secret tug of war.
Treating Jasper as my father was not hard. I had always been close to Charlie, and Jasper had seen me go through a lot himself, always with that calm, constant air. I ran to him, letting Rosalie have the long-forgotten bear, and gave him a whole hearted hug, almost knocking him off balancing.
Alice's look of high importance made me forget she was my best friend, and I decided that Juliet was closer to her powerful, loving father than her cool, fashionable mother. We exchanged a polite kiss on either cheek.
Joseph once again made his entrance and, without a second's hesitation, I remembered my fear of Mike's touch on the first day of partnering. I had been so inexperienced with pas de deux and he had been so enthusiastic.
Remember that the only male figures in Juliet's life are her father and her cousin, Tybalt. And now they're expecting her to just accept Paris as her husband.
I felt the nerves in the pit of my stomach. Joseph offered his hand. I took it, feeling queasy at the sensation of his fingertips on mine. And then he brought my knuckles to his lips. I shook as he kissed them, and then, as soon as he let go I shrunk away, tiptoeing back behind the safe and protective Rosalie. The lack of pointes was starting to get in the way – it was hard to keep in time when I was trying not to slip. But any clumsiness, I knew, could all be covered up by my character – just for tonight.
Jasper was insistently leading Joseph to me, just like Edward had nonchalantly agreed for Mike to be my partner. I pressed myself against Rosalie's back, hiding my face in the back of her wimple. But even she was submissive to Jasper's commands, and had to pull me out from behind her.
Joseph offered his hand to me again. It only took a touch this time and I decided I could have no more of it – the feeling was too foreign. I desperately leapt around my bed chamber again, this time just to feel something normal, and not Joseph's unknown, weird touch.
Eventually, Jasper and Alice had to give up and lead Joseph away. Rosalie hastily went to me as I stood unhappily in the middle of my room. Gently, she put her hands on my shoulders and then, in a move which Leah and I hadn't even dared to attempt from feeling too weird, she gestured to my chest.
I innocently looked down, and all of a sudden realized that I was turning into a woman.
The lights went down with us in that position. Quickly we slipped off.
"That was fun," Rosalie said unexpectedly, giving me a rare smile before she headed for the stage door.
The lights were quickly up on the next scene. I knew Edward would be running on in his cloak and mask from the other side, but my pointes were still behind the stage and I knew one of them seriously needed attention. Thankfully, Alice was one step ahead of me, sitting on the chair which had just been brought off stage, pushing a needle through the satin.
"Thank you," I breathed, only just realizing how out of breath I was.
"Leah left you your dress," she said, nodding to where it lay on the ground, crumpled.
"I'm sorry," I said as I hastily put it on, "I'm distracting you from your performance – "
"You're in the zone," she said, stopping her sewing to zip me up. "Don't get out of it; it's your night tonight."
I nodded and put my hands on my hips, pacing up and down and trying to catch my breath as I listened to the music. Romeo and his friends were sneaking into the party so that he could catch a glimpse of his beloved Rosaline. He, like me, recklessly followed his heart, right into the enemy's house.
By the time I had put on my repaired pointe shoes and gone round to the correct wing, my cue was almost upon me. With my two lines of dancers, I entered. But they were not dancers – they were my friends, dressed in the same short dresses as I was, looking infantile and free compared to the richly-dressed ladies already in the ballroom. I interacted with these friends of mine as I performed my variation. I was still in my own little world of romance novels and silliness, and I didn't care that all these official-looking people were about. I didn't feel their judgemental gazes, just like I had never worried about the audience when I was dancing at the Review. Besides, old people were boring.
The end of my variation was drawing near. I couldn't help the flutter of nerves in my stomach as performed my final chaine turn. A step onto pointe, a turn, my skirt swishing around me, and then down, only to suddenly be facing a breath-taking, tall, handsome man whose green eyes stared at me behind a plain black mask.
My lips parted, my whole body stopping in its lively movements to look at this boy who could somehow make the room disappear around us. My heart thudded in my chest as if for the first time. As if everything before now was obsolete and pathetic – pale in comparison to the vibrant emerald of his eyes. There was no moment for this – no memory. Because this was how I felt every time I looked at Edward. From the first time I had seen him in that studio to when he had walked in at the start of the NFSI to when I had cried out for him at the airport; this was the power of my love for him, laid bare for the whole world to see.
When one of the girls stepped in and offered me the lute, I snapped out of his gaze, taking the lute and sitting down shyly. Because no amount of romance novels could quite prepare me for the feelings stirring in me. And it wasn't just his gaze – it was his height and masculinity; the way he towered over me with his strong muscles and broad chest. Everything about him screamed for me to run away and never let him leave at the same time.
And so I sat on my low stool and began to pluck a twinkling tune. My friends once again began to dance, all spritely and pretty, smiling as they spun and jumped to my music.
But then he came through the two lines, lifting his leg in a perfect arabesque, his arms rising toward me, his eyes set on my face. A smile crept upon his lips as I nervously looked up, and like that, he swept his arms around, turning on the ball of his foot, his leg never dropping as he went around in a glorious turn, as if he were caught in the same inescapable whirlwind of emotion that I was in. And then, as the turn ended, he brought his leg down and looked back at me. I kept playing, trying not to show how my breath was increasing threefold. And so he went on, in a display of strength and control and feeling that transfixed every single person on that stage.
Like Romeo had finally found his love, Edward had finally found the freedom in his dancing again – the pain stopping him from dancing like he once had had eased, and happiness and excitement and sheer joy in each step seemed to flow from him, infectious and unyielding. Jacob could command the eye with 'near perfect' lines and technique, but Edward commanded more – when he danced, he could command people's hearts and toil with their emotions, pulling them into whatever anxiety or ecstasy he was feeling.
He went into the last in a set of pirouettes, the muscles in his thighs showing through his white tights and sweat beading on his forehead, and looked back at me once more. I looked at him hopelessly, still playing. But he had had enough. He came toward me.
Keep playing, I demanded as he approached and resolutely kept my eyes forward. Seeing this, he circled me instead. I could feel his gaze on me – could hear his laboured breathing and feel the movement of each of his steps as a tiny breeze on the back of my neck. I knew the question he was asking – why not? I clearly wanted him…
But then my friends came back on, sweeping him back into a group dance. He dutifully lifted them and turned them but always – always – his eyes returned to me. Like a kid makes sure he talks louder when his crush is in the room, this boy was dancing for me. Me!
Soon enough, though, Emmett charged on in, disrupting the pleasantries of the ball and causing a crowd of disapproving aristocrats to separate Juliet from the masked boy.
But then the ballroom began to clear, Emmett signalling to Edward that he didn't have long. I watched him for a moment, looking around hopefully for me as the last couples left. He spotted me and made toward me. I could not wait – I ran to him, as well, and yet stopped short once we were a foot apart. What was I meant to do? He clearly felt what I did for him but, well…what next?
Then, tentatively, he reached out and ran a hand lightly down my arm. I inhaled shakily at this first touch, which was sending sparks through my skin. His fingers reached mine and my heartbeat spiked. I hastily stepped away, but he was insistent – he wrapped an arm around my waist, another on my inner thigh, and lifted me, letting both me and Juliet soar to the heights of heaven as I leaned back into him, my head on his shoulder.
A vein pulsed in his neck, his eyelids shutting we turned, intoxicated by each other – by this feeling – until the music changed, signalling Gerry's furious entrance.
Edward hastily set me down and with one final squeeze of my hand, he ran out of the ballroom, Mercutio and Benvolio meeting him at the door.
The scene went on, with my only intention now to get through it as soon as possible, so as to be back in Edward's arms once more.
I ran off as soon as Paris let my feet touch the ground. Backstage was so dark after the harsh spotlight. I felt the pats on the back from the corps dancers who were waiting to go on but I hardly saw their faces as I hurried by. Sweat was shining on my chest and neck and I was sure my makeup was sliding off. I thought that this dancing would be easier than Monsieur Repin's way, but it wasn't mindless anymore. The emotional attachment was far more tiring than any one step.
It seemed like no time before I was climbing the step ladder up to my balcony. Below me, the cast was gathering in the wings to see the most iconic scene in the whole ballet. My tummy fluttered as I reached the top. My cue sounded and I stepped out, trying to exhale as I went to the banister of the balcony and gazed out at the black sea of the audience. Carlisle had told me this was one of my weakest moments. After all, I was useless when I wasn't performing a difficult enough step, let alone simply standing still and acting. Remembering his advice, I chanted in my head, Romeo, Romeo – wherefore art thou Romeo? Why must you be untouchable? So out of my league? A third year, a star already, a teacher, a perfect dancer?
Edward ran out of the wings, his great black cloak billowing behind him as he entered the one place it was most dangerous for him to go. He danced below me, touring the stage in a great oval of high, perfect leaps. His face showed all the exhilaration of love and dance – the two things he held dearest. I felt the wide smile on my face and realized there wasn't going to be much acting required for this pas de deux.
As he finally came to rest and extended his hand to me, I didn't even remember all my fears and mistakes from our first rehearsal of this with Carlisle. It felt right – natural. I flitted down the steps, leaping the last three and landing lightly on the stage floor. I ran in a circle, realizing he had disappeared. And then a hand grabbed mine and he was there. I stepped in close to him, bringing his hand to my ribs and staring into his eyes. We paused only for a moment before his expression became cheeky.
He grinned and pulled himself away, throwing himself into another set of jetes and grande cabrioles in a circle around me; a relentless serenade of his feelings. It was then that he looked at his most boyish and wild – something I had hardly seen in him, given our seemingly-constant state of problems. But I realized that this was how I made him feel, deep inside. It warmed me, through every bone and hair until I could do nothing but dance with him, letting him spin me faster and faster on my pointe, my night gown flying up around me and then he pulled me up into his arms, letting me glide along the stage without ever touching it, the air wooshing over my face and body. He lowered me straight onto my pointe and graciously held my waist as I enjoyed every arabesque and attitude, my working leg stretching and bending, languishing in the ease of dancing with a partner who knew exactly how to balance and support and turn me through every little change.
Another lift, each one seeming to be higher and more heartfelt than the last, and then he lowered me down the length of his body. Our breath mingled. His lips – so close…but these feelings were too intense. Like he had once done, I turned and ran away, making for my stairs.
He reached his hand out, stopping me as he sunk to his knees. Unable to stop myself, I ran to him. He desperately wrapped his arms around my thighs, pressing his cheek against the white fabric of my gown, shutting his eyes, begging me not to go. I felt tears prickling, all of a sudden making the moment melancholic. I knew the audience would think that we were realizing that this was real – this couldn't just be childish love. He was a Montague – this couldn't work. But as Edward looked up at me, his green eyes glittering with tears, all I could see was my final glance back at Force, the night I had left; Edward standing in the second floor window. This had been his pain. This had been what he had truly been feeling – the intense, intense need to stop me. He rose slowly to his full height, his eyes never leaving mine as he gently ran his thumb down my cheek. Oh, how I wanted to kiss him then. The need was so overpowering that it was only the indoctrinated beat of Jacob's counting in my head which made me pull away, once again remembering that I was timid Juliet, not the Bella who was yearning for true caresses after every fake, dishonest kiss from Jacob.
The dance could only go on as Edward wore me down to where desperation took over innocence. He spread his arms wide and I ran, turning away from to him at the very last second, so that he caught me and lifted me high into the air, pushing adrenalin through my veins. I hadn't even thought to hesitate with Edward – not like I had with Jacob. I trusted him as he caught me again, raising me up above everything. I stared at the shining stage lights above me like they were stars, all gazing kindly upon us. Edward turned me, holding me at the waist, and my pretend universe gently revolved until we had come full circle. Once more, my toes touched the ground and he was so close. So close…
...but I ran to the front corner of the stage, the conductor's baton waving past. No, no! I couldn't kiss him! But this time, Edward ran after me, grabbing my hand and spinning me round before I had a chance to think. We let go. The music hushed. That was the end of the pas de deux. Now, we were just a girl and a boy. And though nothing had been done, in that moment I knew I was ruined. He stepped forward, breathing heavily. I stepped toward him. Our hands by our sides, he slowly leaned in, filling my vision. His lips touched mine. One touch, and then his hands were picking me up, pulling me to him as we kissed. My pointes scarcely touched the floor. I hesitantly rested my hands on his muscled back and, trying with all my might to stay as Juliet, let him lead me in this new experience. It was torture – like keeping everything bottled so tight that a second more of it would end me. But I could feel him holding back, too. His hands held the sides of my arms tightly, his mouth staying painfully still, as Carlisle had embarrassingly instructed.
Thankfully, the music swayed on and I pulled away, pressing a hand to my lips. Dizzyingly, as if he had put me into a dream, I drifted back up the stairs and onto my balcony. He watched me go, and then turned to the front. He pressed his hand to his heart and looked up into the gods of the audience, so in love that he could not fathom what was going to happen next. I could see his fist, though, clenched just behind him, showing that his tension was not gone.
The stage went dark. The curtains shut on the first act.
My legs shook as I climbed back down the ladder. People were applauding in the wings and, I guessed, in the audience, but I could hardly hear them.
Makeup, I tried to remind myself. Makeup…dressing room…
I made my way into the narrow crossover, which was lit in a weak blue light. I didn't notice Edward charging in the opposite direction until I was about to collide with him. We both stared at each other in shock, my mouth falling open as everything lit up inside me.
"That was – "
It was impossible to resist – he pressed me against the cold wood of the wall and kissed me thirstily, his hands grasping my hips as my arms locked around his neck, pulling him as close as possible. Our tongues battled, our nails dug into each other's hot, enraged skin. And when I had to gasp for breath, he kissed my neck, my cheeks, my collarbone as my fingers tugged at his hair, running down his spine.
"Not here," I breathed, even as I brought his mouth back to mine.
"When?" he demanded, covering my lips in kisses as he lifted me, my legs around his hips.
"Later," I groaned, just as the thud of footsteps and then a chorus of girlish giggles broke us out of our fervour.
"Don't mind us!" exclaimed a girl I recognised from Force. There was a whole load of them, standing at the end of the crossover.
I glanced at Edward. He quickly realized he was still holding me around his waist. We clumsily detangled and moved back against the wall to let everyone file past.
"Makeup," I murmured eventually in the startled silence that followed.
Edward awkwardly cleared his throat, "Ballet belt."
I nodded and carefully stepped past him – one more touch out of sight of a chaperoning audience could have been lethal – and went on my way.
Interval was half an hour, and it took me twenty minutes of that to cover up the blush that had burnt through my foundation. Fortunately, there was a knock on the door to distract me. Carlisle came in, his suit jacket slung over his arm and a grin on his face. "Époustouflante, Bella," he said, giving me a hug. "Breath-taking."
"Thank you," I said, smiling.
"But where were your shoes in your first scene?"
I looked down, wringing my hands as I remembered what Leah had tried to do. It seemed like a ridiculous idea – to put herself on without a clue of the role, just to ruin one scene. But it had been clever, too. Helen and the board would only need the slightest reason – the slightest criticism in one of the reviews – to convince everyone that Carlisle was incapable of running a production. He would be ruined, the production would be cancelled and Edward and I would lose our roles. And if Edward lost his role then his contract would force him to leave on the next flight.
But Lauren, of all people, had saved the day. And whatever promise she'd made to Leah, I would have to honour.
"The ribbon ripped just before I went on," I told Carlisle with a shrug, "The only thing to do was take off the other one."
He nodded and gave me a pat on the shoulder, "Well, I don't think it detracted at all, Miss Swan. I'm sure the next act will be just as magnificent."
I was careful to be side stage before the act two beginners' call this time, and when the audience began to quieten behind the thick red curtains, I slipped onstage to where the big elevated bed was placed. Comfortable as it looked to the audience, it was just the tomb covered with white fabric and pillows. I lay down and stared up at all the rigging above the stage as the overture played, once again having to face my nerves.
"Sorry!" Edward whispered, rushing on from the other side, hastily fixing his shirt to look dishevelled. He climbed up next to me, "Jacob's left his dressing room in a tip."
I smiled, turning onto my side to look at him, "Like yours wouldn't be."
He raised his eyebrows at me as he leaned back on his elbow, putting a hand on my ribs, "I happen to be a very organised dancer, Miss Swan."
I grinned and snuggled into the crook of his shoulder, "Whatever you say, sir."
He began to retort but we heard the curtains being drawn back. "What's the first step?" Edward suddenly whispered, pretending to check that I was asleep.
"Get your cloak and go to the window," I told him sleepily.
I felt his smiling lips as he kissed my forehead, "Thank you."
As I lay there, hearing the soft pad of Edward's feet on the floor, I reminded myself that Edward hadn't performed the whole ballet before – he hadn't even rehearsed it for over a month; his only reference was what Jacob had done. I might have been nervous, but Edward was, for once, the one with less experience. Still, he danced with the confidence of a dancer who knew that whatever step he performed, wrong or right, would look perfect if it was performed with passion. And he had plenty of that tonight.
The bedroom pas de deux quickly became my favourite of all of them, for here it was enough to simply celebrate our love for one another. So many times, he would try to leave only to have me pull him away from the open window. He was unable to resist pulling me into his arms – unable to resist kissing me and holding me. And I just wanted to keep dancing, letting him spin me and lift me high and wrap his arms around me.
But the sun was rising. And we all knew, the audience as well as us, that this could not go on. Romeo had to leave. My steps became more frantic. He gave me a final kiss and I pulled his hands around my waist and rose up into an arabesque, forcing him to support me – forcing him to stay. He tried to step back, reaching up to the sky, but I followed, standing en pointe and twining my arm around his, pulling it back across my chest. He couldn't go. He couldn't…
Edward kissed me cheek, wincing at the pain of having to step away. But I sunk to the ground, my hands at his ankles, begging. Edward looked up in a desperate prayer, his fists clenching, his face tortured. Tortured – just how he had looked when he had tried to explain Tanya's kiss to me. The pain of hurting me had consumed him, and he let it do so again, with me lying at his feet, weeping for him not to go when he knew he had to.
Eventually, he knelt down and lifted me up, his hands the only thing keeping me from falling back down again. I stared at him, stroking his face and thinking that perhaps he would stay – perhaps we could keep dancing?
And so I turned and leapt and pirouetted and then, coming out of the turn, just stopped, my energy leaving me. I put a hand to my stomach. Who was I kidding? Of course he had to leave. I couldn't get in his way or he would die.
Romeo saw this change in me. Tentatively, he came to me, gently turned me to face him. He cupped my face in his hands. Desperate, I laid kisses over his cheeks and lips, possessed as I felt that overwhelming pain that had come last night, when I had told him to go to London. I had wanted him to stay as much as Juliet wanted her Romeo to stay. Eventually, Edward gave me a firm shake by the shoulders, then gently laid one last kiss on my mouth.
Then he tore himself from me, snatching his cloak from where it lay on the floor and climbed out the window.
It was the last time Juliet would ever see him alive.
Already in my final costume, I spent the rest of the show in the wings, watching as Romeo heard of Juliet's death and went to buy the deadly poison. Edward performed every tragic step with such passion that no one backstage was talking – we were all watching with bated breath as he danced his last variation, the bottle in his hand. Alice and Jasper stood next to me, Alice's hand clutching his, both of them watching as he gave his very soul to the final steps. I was lucky to have ever seen such a dancer onstage, let alone be his girlfriend and partner.
The final scene came too quickly. I lay on the tombstone, listening as Romeo fought with Paris. Both of them were gasping as they parried and jabbed. I suspected that Edward was trying not to unleash his full anger on poor Joseph, who, always unlucky, was the Jacob of Romeo and Juliet's love triangle. Except that Paris was just an unfortunate suitor, not a bastard who had deliberately put himself in my path to destroy me and Edward.
With Paris lying dead on the ground, Edward made his way up to me and we began that final pas de deux.
When Edward had performed this with me in San Francisco, it had been with the idea – the knowledge – that we were never going to be together again. I was with Jacob, I still hadn't forgiven him, and he knew he was going to London. All our unspoken thoughts had been poured into that dance.
And so I don't believe that we could have ever danced the death scene as well as we did on that night. But tonight still had the memories of all that pain – we had plenty to draw on, even if it was not so raw. As I gazed down at my beautiful, perfect Edward, stroking his face one last time, I let myself be filled not with sorrow, but with hope. Hope for the future – that we would be strong enough to face whatever was to come next, in London or in the States or wherever our lives took us. Hope that we would at least have the rest of this tour together. It was these prayers that fuelled the final seconds of my performance.
As I clutched my wounded stomach, I traced the line of Edward's lips and then rested my head on his chest, finally closing my eyes to the light.
The final notes played and there was absolute silence. The curtains slid shut. Still, nothing – not a word, not a breath. Not a single clap.
Slowly, I raised my head from Edward's chest, frowning at him. He opened his eyes, his brow furrowed. My heart began to beat faster and faster, nerves burning through me. What if they hadn't liked it? What if Jacob reigned supreme?
I glanced into the wings. Everyone was looking around awkwardly. And there – there was Jacob, looking directly at us, his arms folded, smirking.
Edward sat up, glaring at him, an arm around my waist.
Jacob's shoulder shook in a chuckle, then he shrugged.
I looked toward the closed curtains, as if I would somehow be able to see the audience behind them. But it was so silent that I didn't even know for sure that there was actually an audience there.
But then, from the corner of my eye, I saw Alice turned into Jasper's chest, a tear slipping down her cheek. Emmett was staring into nothing, a hand stroking his stubble, whilst Rosalie was biting her lip, hard.
And then Carlisle was pushing through the crowd in the wings.
"Edward," I whispered breathlessly, because Carlisle was grinning. His eyes were alight as he nodded to us, blowing me a kiss and then shaking his head in amazement. Then, he gestured for us to get up.
Confusedly, we stood. Carlisle waved to the stage manager, who spoke into his headset. My heart was beating like a kick drum now – I could feel it. Edward and I stood hand in hand, holding each other tightly, lest our nerves destroy us.
The curtains began to open, the house lights rose.
And just like that, the Civic Theatre erupted with the cheers and shouts of three and half thousand people. They were all on their feet, screaming and whistling. Cries of 'bravo' and 'brava' could scarcely be heard in the stamping of feet and the clapping of hands – applause that sounded like a hailstorm. It was deafening.
"Take your bows, mes etoiles!" Carlisle called over the raucus – the cast had joined in, too, shouting their delight and jumping up and down. Alice was laughing, tears still streaming down her cheeks as Jasper wrapped his arms around her, grinning unabashedly at us.
I glanced at Edward, not knowing what to say. With a nervous smile, he ushered me forward like the gentlemanly danseur he was, one hand lightly on my back. As soon as we moved, the applause seemed to double. I couldn't even hear myself think as we reached the front of the stage. In front of us, the conductor bowed his head, a grin on his face. The orchestra had downed their bows and instruments and were all clapping.
I could see the faces of the audience now – all the people who had just watched me pour my heart out for the past two and a half hours. An old man sitting by the aisle, pushing up his glasses as he called out. A little girl in a pink fairy tutu in the front row, being held up by her rich-looking father, clapping her tiny hands together. A couple a few rows back, resting their heads together as they clapped. Three women, dressed in elegant attire, were all chattering ecstatically as they wiped away tears. In the back, by the doors, even the uniformed ushers were whistling and shouting.
"Ready?" Edward asked unsteadily, then stepped back for me to curtsy.
I blinked and tried to focus. Left side of the theatre first, I told myself. I realized that one curtsy probably wouldn't do it tonight. I went to the left, raising my left arm to all the people in the dress circle and gods – their volume increased as I did so. Step to the side, one leg behind the other…bend the knees. I lowered, bringing my left hand to my chest. Behind me, Edward would be giving a slight bow, hand on his chest like mine. Rising back up, we went to the right, repeating the same thing but opposite. Hands rose, clapping above their heads as we tried to thank them for a reception we would never forget.
And then we finally came to the centre. I raised my left hand, then my right. They crossed over my head as I lowered down, my dress pooling around me. I brought my arms down in a wide circle, my head bowing and my hands crossing my chest. I shut my eyes for a moment, letting the sound of the audience wash over me for a moment. It was surreal. And so, so thrilling.
I finally rose and Edward stepped forward to take my hand once more. The audience clamoured as we smiled at each other. With a wink, Edward suddenly brought my knuckles to his lips, watching me cheekily as the audience went even wilder. I couldn't help but giggle as he straightened back up and ushered me politely offstage.
Carlisle was definitely good at reorganisation – the rows of the corps filed out as we left, all of them grinning. The audience didn't let them down, either.
Meanwhile, Edward pulled me into a hug, both of us laughing. "I can't believe it!" I exclaimed against his chest as we rocked from side to side, neither of us knowing what to do with the insane energy the audience had given us.
Edward stroked my curled hair, his green eyes alight, "We did it."
We both laughed, our foreheads touching, in our own little world.
"I am not going out there!" It would, of course, be Jacob to break us out of it.
We stepped out of the wing and into the backstage area, where all the soloists were looking on as Jacob, dressed in his extravagant Prince costume, snarled at Carlisle, "This is a fucking joke!"
Carlisle sighed, though he didn't really seem the slightest bit concerned by Jacob's refusal, "Mister Black, I only wish for you to take credit for your performance tonight. Or would you rather the critics start questioning why Jacob Black didn't make his curtain call? Because I will tell them the truth – you were having a tantrum."
Jacob glared at him, "The critics wouldn't have even noticed me."
"Actually," said Carlisle. "The attitude and flippancy you showed on stage had the people sitting around me talking, so I would not be so sure. Now hurry up."
Jacob shot us a glare before he charged past Alice and Jasper and onto the stage.
Alice gasped as he passed, suddenly putting a hand to her mouth.
"What is it?" Jasper asked immediately. Emmett, Rose, Edward and I moved in closer.
"You know how the Prince always stands at the back in his two scenes?" Alice said.
We all looked at each other confusedly.
"Yes," Jasper nodded.
Alice bit her lip, "You know how I was meant to repair the Prince's pants?"
Edward snorted, "No way!"
Quickly, we all went into the nearest wing and watched as Jacob Black, 'second best' danseur in America, strode onto the stage, reached the front and gave a sarcastic, sweeping bow which, as he bent over, exposed his untanned behind, hardly obscured by his thong ballet belt. The rows of dancers behind him suddenly became very still, trying not to laugh.
Jacob grumpily backed up to join a row of other minor characters, unaware of how perfectly he had received his final comeuppance.
"Rosalie, you next," Carlisle instructed soon after, whilst we were all still in fits of giggles. "Since you miraculously doubled as prostitute and nurse." He gave Emmett a look, "Though I don't understand how Leah could get sick so easily."
"That was why Rose was on?" Edward asked as she gracefully curtsied.
"I think it must be flu," Alice said happily. "But I'm sure she'll be better by tomorrow night."
Edward raised an eyebrow at her. I patted him on the arm, "Later."
Soon, Alice and Jasper and Emmett and Gerry had all taken their bows to thunderous applause and, with a wink, Carlisle sent us out for the full company bow. The audience hadn't lost any energy just yet, and they roared as we led the company forward, the girls following me in my curtsy and the boys all in time with Edward.
But it wasn't over. After several whole-company bows, they closed the curtains. The stage manager then opened up a gap – enough for us to get through.
And, with the mastery of a man who had performed thousands in his career, Carlisle orchestrated the curtain calls, starting with Emmett and Gerry and then, after three for Alice and Jasper, he sent us out. The same routine of three curtsies and bows was repeated, then we ran off, only to have Carlisle waved us on for another.
After the third, we came back in with exhausted, satisfied smiles.
"Again!" Carlisle ordered incredulously. "Don't you hear them?"
It was true – they were still standing. We went out again and again and again. The father had to put the little girl down on the seat, where she jumped up to see us, clapping and clapping excitedly. The old man had sat down again, but was still there, shouting for us. I didn't see a single person leave, though there surely must have been a few.
"Keep going," Carlisle commanded. Behind him, Alice, Jasper, Emmett and Rosalie were standing in a line, sticking one finger up for each time we came back. The rest of the cast were all chanting out the number as it rose and rose.
I tried to show the appreciation in my face as we faced the thousands of people. I understood what it was like to clap and clap and clap – you only had to go to a Forks High School prize giving for that. But these people were staying voluntarily, just for us! And there was a part of me that wasn't really sure why. I had been so wrapped up in my own emotions that I hadn't even thought about the audience, and yet here they stood, forty minutes after curtain down on the final scene.
Eventually, the applause began to lower. Carlisle, with his perfect instincts, told us, "One more – make it clear."
And so we stepped out and just performed one curtsy and bow, then stood and smiled for a moment. The applause reached its final crescendo. Edward gave a charming nod to them all and as we turned back into the gap in the curtain, the audience picked up their coats, hands red and sore, voices hoarse, and left, still chattering noisily as we emerged in front of the cast.
"THIRTY NINE!" they all shouted and launched themselves on us in a massive, sweaty hug.
It felt like hours later by the time I finally reached my dressing room. I stared at myself as I wiped off my thick stage makeup and exchanged my dress for normal clothes. My day had been unfathomable. Amazing. Terrifying…
"Bella?" Edward peeked in.
"Hmm," I hummed, turning to look at him as I took out the last of my bobby pins. "Does being my boyfriend mean no knocking?"
"Ah," he said, wandering in, already ready to go in his jeans and coat. "So I'm your boyfriend once more? And even you would have had to be dressed by now."
I smiled, enjoying this relaxed, open Edward, whom I had seldom seen throughout our short history.
He sat down on a box beside me, taking my hand and gently beginning to unwind the sports tape around his mother's ring. My ring… "I can't go back with you tonight – the airline returned my suitcase to the apartment and I don't think Carlisle would appreciate me coming to class in jeans tomorrow."
"You could always wear Jacob's pants," I murmured, though my mind was thinking very differently. I pressed my lips and watched as the little sapphires appeared from behind the tape, "Couldn't we get there and back before the hotel staff lock up?"
Edward nodded, "We could, if I was fast."
"I don't want to leave you," I said thoughtlessly, then glanced up at him, "I'm not clingy, I swear – it's that I just got you back."
He covered my hand with his, "Bella, I know. You're the strongest person I've ever met. No one could describe you as clingy."
"I was with Jacob," I muttered, thinking of all the mushy things I had said to him in an attempt to keep him from getting angry with me. "I was pathetic."
Edward was about to reply when there was a knock on the door.
"Knocking!" I said teasingly to him, before calling, "Come in."
Both of us paused when Lauren walked in, dressed in black. She, too, froze when she saw Edward sitting with me. "Edward," she breathed, but he looked away, his jaw taut.
"Lauren," I said, trying to sound kind as I stood up.
"What do you want?" Edward muttered.
"Edward," she said weakly, stepping toward him. "I'm sorry – I didn't realize that Jacob was doing it all to get back at you. I thought it was just aimed at Bella."
I gave her a look, "I don't think that's going to help, Lauren."
Edward just looked at me dryly, then stood up, "I don't think a few hours is going to be long enough to forgive you," he muttered. "Bella, I'll meet you at the car."
"Edward," I sighed, marching to the door before he could open it. He appraised me with angry eyes, though I knew it was not directed at me. But still, I matched him coolly, "Lauren has tried to make amends; without her I wouldn't have even made it on stage tonight. At least listen to her."
Edward sighed but leant back against the door and gestured for Lauren to begin. Her story was simple – typical, really, to the point where I should have seen it coming. After I had introduced her to Leah, they had become good friends and by the time we had left on tour, Leah had told her about how Jacob had gotten her to bully Charlotte, the previous scholarship student at Aro's, into leaving. It hadn't been pretty – Charlotte had had a crush on Gerry, which Leah had gleefully exploited, making sure she turned all the Royals against her in the process. And from there, it was easy to make her feel so unhappy and hated that she left. So Lauren really had known all along that Jacob was out to get me. It was just that she, like Leah, hadn't known that Jacob was really targeting Edward. But unlike Leah, she cared about Edward.
"But by the time I realized what was going on, you were back here and everything seemed to be sorted out – you were both leads." She was still trying to appeal to Edward, but he was looking resolutely at the floor, his arms folded. "But then when I heard Leah talking about how she was going to ruin the performance by switching your intercom off and seeing how much she could screw up before you worked it out, I realized that I had to do something."
"Why didn't you just come and get me?"
"Because that was literally two seconds before you showed up! And then when Seth wouldn't let you pass, I had to improvise."
I frowned, "But you said you'd spoken to Charlotte."
Lauren gave me a blunt look, "Please, she looks about as robust as wet tissue paper. She would never have told on them."
An involuntary smile had crept unto my face, "So you pretended that Charlotte would testify against them to stop Leah in that critical moment."
"And therefore saved the day," she completed. "And scared Leah off."
"Where is she?" I asked.
Lauren shrugged, studying my sparse makeup collection disinterestedly. "She trashed my dressing area but apart from that, I have no idea. Probably trying to make Jacob feel better – she's disgustingly into him." She looked at Edward, "So? Am I forgiven?"
He still wouldn't look at her, "This doesn't change what you let Jacob do to Bella."
"Edward – " she began, but I gave her a warning look. When Edward was shut off, there was very little you could do.
Lauren rolled her eyes and turned back to me, "Look, I came here to just ask you not to tell Ben what's happened. I don't need him hating on me, too."
Edward suddenly shifted, pushing himself off the door, "I'll forgive you if you tell him."
"What?" Lauren spluttered. "Do you seriously want me to lose the most important person left in my life? Are you trying to ruin all my happiness over this – "
"I'm trying to save your relationship," Edward said, then conceded, "And teaching you a lesson."
She looked away distastefully, "You and your freaking lessons."
Edward put a hand on her shoulder. "Lauren, I have learnt that honesty is by far the most important thing in any relationship. You have to trust that Ben loves you enough to help you through this, like he has so far."
Lauren's glare very soon turned to some kind of understanding between the two of them. They had a connection – the knowledge of what it's like to truly lose someone. And Lauren trusted him because of that. She nodded cautiously, "Fine."
Edward smiled and gave her a quick hug, patting her on the back. She returned it before picking up her bag and opening the door. But she turned to look at me, "Oh, by the way, Bella, I wouldn't get too big-headed. Rosalie miscounted – it was only thirty eight."
I grinned as the door swung shut, "She's like your sister."
Edward sighed, shaking his head, "Let's get out of here before someone else confesses."
The storm raged on outside, but Edward and I sat cosily in his car, the rain tapping against the windows as we drove through the streets of Chicago. It was late enough that there wasn't too much traffic and the city lights drifted by as we followed the black water of the river as it curved around, skyscrapers rising up on either side. I didn't last long – my eyes flickered shut before the Civic was out of sight.
When I woke, we were in an underground car park and Edward switching off the headlights.
"Nice apartment," I murmured.
He turned and smiled, "Do you want to wait here? I can be quick."
I shook my head and unclipped my seatbelt, "I want to see where the Masens live."
Edward grabbed his bag and then helped me out with a bow. We walked hand and hand into a white and grey-themed lobby. Edward waved to the tired-looking concierge at the desk as we passed. He smiled back, then smothered a yawn.
"I'll never know what his job really is," Edward admitted as we reached the elevator. The shiny doors opened immediately and we stepped in. The walls were mirrors and white marble. Edward didn't even think as he pressed the button for the penthouse apartment.
"Ugh," I groaned, leaning back against the rail as we moved up. "We should have visited Forks first – I already can't match this."
Edward grinned and rested his hands on my waist, "I'm sure Forks feels like home, though. This is just a place to crash between semesters at Force."
"But you grew up here," I pointed out. "Before Force."
The elevator pinged and the doors silently slid open. We stepped out, straight into a huge main room. There was a sleek, modern kitchen along one wall, and then a fireplace with plush, low grey couches around it. The dining table was on the right, with a polished glass top and stylish black chairs. But most breath-taking was the huge window which made up the final wall, going from the floor to the ceiling. I couldn't help but let go of Edward's hand and walk to the window, looking out over the glittering skyscrapers of Chicago. "It's beautiful," I murmured, looking all the way across to Grant Park.
I caught Edward smiling in the reflection. "I'll grab my stuff," he said, and went through some sliding double doors on the right, leaving me alone in the main room.
I watched the city for a moment, still bursting with light and life, despite the hour. My mind drifted as I gazed down at a train which was snaking around the high risers. What a day it had been. I felt like I had touched on every emotion under the sun. I had dragged myself through rain and mud. I'd managed to disrupt an entire airport. I had discovered Jacob's scheming and then had plotted my own revenge with Edward finally at my side. And then together, we had finally danced Romeo and Juliet the way they were meant to be danced, and it had been received so amazingly well that it still gave me a shiver of excitement to think of it. And more importantly, I was with Edward. That alone was enough to make me the happiest person in the world.
But now? As I stood here, at the end of the longest day of my life, I just felt perfectly content. Calm. Because, for the moment, I had everything I could ever have possibly wished for. I felt happy and safe and fulfilled and loved. Perfection – this was perfection. It wasn't some unattainable thing that we would always be slaving for. It was simple.
Quietly, I turned from the window and went through the double doors, into Edward's bedroom. His suitcase was on the floor, next to a king-sized bed, covered in black satin sheets. He was at his chest of drawers, pulling out t-shirts, his back turned to me.
Tentatively, I reached out and touched his arm. He spun round, dropping his last shirt as he saw me standing there.
"Can we stay?" I asked, looking up at him unreservedly. "I don't want this to end yet."
Edward frowned slightly, and nodded. And then, I rose onto my tired tiptoes and kissed him softly on the lips.
He pulled back, looking at me with a silent, serious question. I willed him to trust me, saying a thousand words without a sound, like we had always done. His green eyes fixed on mine, he gently wrapped his arms around my waist and returned my kiss.
And T-rated it shall remain!
One final chapter which may or may not include the epilogue will be updated before the weekend's out unless there is an unexpected audition/workshop thingy.
So hopefully it'll be in your inboxes before Sunday night but if not, please don't shoot me!
And please review - let me know all your thoughts on Leah, Lauren, Edward and Bella and, of course, the thirty eight!
Thank you so much for reading - you make writing this the most fulfilling thing I do in a year, though I suppose that seems a little weird.