I'm in love for the first time. Don't you know it's gonna last? It's a love that lasts forever, it's a love that has no past.
"Don't Let Me Down" - Phoebe Snow
She always swears that this is time is different. It's like that every time she gets a crush, a flurry of little butterflies stirred up in her stomach. It's the only feeling that even starts to rival the rush she gets when she dances, and it amazes her. And it's always different, she swears, it's always different.
Except that it isn't, not really. The feelings start out small and almost always all in her imagination. It begins because of a shared look that could be interpreted a million different ways or a slight brush of hand in passing that she thinks just has to mean something. She has their whole love story written in her head before he has ever spoken the first word to her, and it doesn't matter if it's the shop boy carrying out her mother's groceries or the kid who sits next to her in math class or the older dancer who rules her new dance academy with his perfect smile and the toss of his perfect hair.
The only time that she really gets it right, this whole being different thing, is with Christian. They start off particularly horribly when she accuses him of being twisted enough to pass rumors about her around the school and he blows her off because he really and genuinely doesn't care. And when they are partnered up for pas de deux, she tries to make the best of an awful situation and he goes through the movements as a means to an end. It's only after that stupid dog that she gives into what she has been ignoring for months and finally accepts that yeah, okay, this was going to change her entire life.
It works for awhile and then it doesn't. They break up and he starts sneaking around with Kat and she breaks her back. They don't talk for weeks while she is at the farm and she tries to ignore them both when she comes back to Sydney. She decides that she likes Ben (and pretends that it's different again) while he chooses to believe that thing with Kat are still working even though everyone can see plainly what is going on. They all go ice skating and Kat tells Tara later that they broke up. And then Sammy dies and Tara loses track of everything that she believes in.
She takes the summer, that long summer, to breathe on the farm. She spends warm afternoons with Kat in the sun, just having fun the way two girls their age should. They take the occasional class at her hometown studio and even take a weekend here and there to go visit Abigail. She speaks to Ollie, she speaks to Ethan, she speaks to Ben, but there is complete radio silence from Christian. No one has heard from since he took off with his father and she is the only one who is surprised.
He finally shows back up at school two days after Third Year starts, looking a little older and a little tanner than she remembers. Ms. Raine tells them that they can pick their own partners this year since it was time to specialize, and Tara is visibly disappointed when Christian goes back to Abigail. Her friend looks almost apologetic as she passes her by when Ms. Raine calls them to the front of the room, but after a year of partnering together, she knows there is a familiarity there. The two of them move perfectly together, and Tara is mortified when she walks into a private studio three weeks later to find them kissing.
She spends another month reliving the whole Kat/Christian debacle of Second Year, avoiding them at all costs despite their - and Kat's - constant pleading. It's only when Ben corners her in a room and locks the door firmly behind him that she is forced to listen to any of them. Tara reminds herself yet again why she's glad that she hadn't continued that thing with Ben after Third Year had started up. She crosses her arms over her chest as she stands in the corner, just on this side of sticking her fingers in her ears like a foolish little girl just to avoid hearing them talk.
"Alright, enough," Abigail snaps as she steps forward and right into Tara's face. "We have been apologizing and trying to be nice for five weeks now and I have had enough of it! We have said we're sorry, and if you would listen for three minutes, you would have figured out a long time ago that it meant absolutely nothing."
"But I saw you...!"
Christian held up his hand to stop her short. "Just listen, Training Bra," he demanded. "First of all, even if it did mean something, you have absolutely no right to be angry at Abigail or me. The two of us were very single at the time, and you and I hadn't been anything in six months. Neither of us betrayed you anymore than you betrayed me by hooking up with Ben last year. You and I were both free to do whatever we wanted."
Abigail looked at her and shook her head gently. "And the night that you walked in on Christian and me? We were both messed up, Tara," she added. "Sammy's dad had just called me to tell me that they were finally cleaning out his bedroom at home. There were some things he thought that Christian and I would want and a few things he wanted me to bring back here for you and Kat."
"We were both crying and I went to hug her because seeing Abigail cry is really quite scary," he grinned at his ex-girfriend and then over at his partner. "I mean, it's weird that she has actual, like, feelings. You and Sammy always swore it, but seeing it like that, I don't know. We were both lost and alone and scared and confused. It lasted all of fifteen seconds maybe, most of which you saw."
"And after you ran out, both of us admitted that it had been a fluke, a twisted mistake that we would never repeat," Abigail assured her. "Christian just understood something that no one else had been able to get and we got caught up in it. You of all people should know what that feels like."
"But Kat and I lost him too, we were his best friends," Tara argued. "We would have understood."
"You two had each other," Christian said, shaking his head. "In the days after and all summer long, it was just the two of you. There was no way that either of us could break into that."
"And you weren't his only best friends. Christian and I mattered to Sammy, and sometimes, I don't know, it was like you two acted like you had the market cornered on grieving him," Abigail explained. "We lost him, too, we all did. Christian knew how I felt about Sammy and how he felt about me. When I started thinking about moving on, I needed someone to tell me that it was okay."
"So you moved on with my...with Christian?"
Abigail brushed her hands over her face as she let out a muffled scream. "No, Tara, not with Christian," she muttered. "If you had spent any time paying attention to anyone but yourself, you would have realized that Ethan and I are together. I had - I have - feelings but it is definitely not for Christian. No offense."
"None taken," Christian shrugged with a grin. "You two are kind of cute together, and Tara, she's actually happy again."
"We all make mistakes, Tara, and I am probably guiltier than most," Abigail admitted. "But don't sit here and pretend to be perfect because you are far from it. You made one yourself once upon a time, and I seem to remember that it turned out pretty great. You don't have to forgive me, I don't really need it anymore. But Christian, well, I think he could use it. You know that he loves you, and you know that you love him. Just get over it - all the drama - and be together. Otherwise, you need to let go because it isn't fair to him. We might not be friends anymore, but my partner here has become my best friend. I won't let you ruin everything I've helped build."
"Oh, Abs," he teased with a mocking tone, his hand over his heart.
"Can it, Reed," she snapped back before bumping her fist to his. "I'm gonna go catch up with Ethan. I'll see you later in class."
The door slammed behind her as she left them alone in the studio. "You know she really cares about you," Tara said. "I've never seen her be that loyal to anyone except herself."
"And you and Kat," he countered. "When Kat and I started out last year, Abigail let me know exactly what would happen if I broke Kat's heart like I did yours. She's changed a lot, Tara, you should really think about opening up your eyes a little to see that."
"You're still defending her?"
Christian shrugged. "Yeah, of course, she's my best friend, Tara," he said, repeating Abigail's sentiment earlier. He wasn't sure when it happened but it didn't make it any less true. She was important to him. "I was also pointing out that she is right. I still love you."
"You still love me?"
"I'm still here, aren't I?" he asked rhetorically. "You were my first love, Training Bra. That kind of thing could last forever if you let it. I don't really have any intention of stopping it. That call is all on you. Until then, I love you."
Tara had tried to move on from Christian. She had thrown herself into an innocent relationship with Ben that never really went anywhere. She had tried to focus on her dancing and rising to the top of Third Year. She had worked on being a better friend to Kat, a better daughter to her parents, a better student for her instructors. She had tried all those things and not a single one had worked. The only thing she had left was to accept that maybe she wasn't supposed to move on.
"I love you, too," she whispered as he closed the distance between them.
He framed her face in his hands and kissed her soundly. She felt him smile against her mouth as he pulled away. Maybe all those times before hadn't been quite as unique as she thought, but she had a feeling about this one. This time she was certain it would be different, and different, it was.