I always kind of entertained this fantasy, when things were really bad.
Even back then, I knew it could only ever be a fantasy, so I never got too hung up on it or anything. But if practice was especially hard, or if a performance went especially wrong, or if I was just in a really awful mood, I'd think about what I'd say to Miss Suzume right before I quit.
Before this year, though, quitting dance was so far away from a possibility that it might as well have been taming dragons, or catching ghosts, or something equally never gonna happen. So I'd think about what I'd say in a perfect world if I could get away with anything, enjoy that fleeting moment of imagination, then put it behind me and get back to work.
Still, in my mind, it would all happen in the middle of a competition. I would miss a turn or something and catch her eye in the audience, disapproving and hateful and judgmental or whatever, and I would just stop. Cut off the music with an imperial wave of my hand and the audience would gasp at the audacity a dancer would have to cut off her own performance. Then I would snatch a microphone (because in my fantasy, one would be handy), and I would yell into it what a hateful bitch she was. And I would tell the audience in ringing tones that she told us to starve ourselves and hate ourselves and hate each other, I would let her and everyone watching know how she couldn't make it on her own and that's why she was always so awful to us who still have a chance. Then I would storm off the stage, punch her good in the face, and say something triumphant like, "You have no idea how far I'll go without you." Or maybe, "Fuck you." And I'd leave to a standing ovation.
In my mind, it was always dramatic.
In reality, it happens in the hallway, and no one else is there. There's no handy microphone and no music playing that needs to be silenced by my hand and authority.
Instead, she's got a clipboard full of notes coming out of her office, and I'm leaving the contemporary studio where I've been honing my routine for the senior showcase. And it's not like I haven't seen her since I quit ballet and joined the contemporaries and started my apprenticeship at KCA. We've had plenty of interactions since then and there's nothing about this moment that would suggest we're about to have it out, for real.
Just a feeling. Something in my stomach warns me that it's coming now, and it won't be the fuckfest it was in my fantasy, but it'll be something, and here's my chance. Say it. Speak. Act, do it now.
I pause when I'm right in front of her. She looks down at me, same as she's always done from behind those expensive frames, and I take a look at her, a good hard look, and I notice things I never before paid attention to.
She's getting older. There are wrinkles now on skin that used to be smooth and flawless, pulling between her brows and at her lips, almost like laugh lines. And I don't think I've ever seen her laugh and I try and think about what she must be like outside of the studio, outside of her domain where she has to rain down fire and brimstone to get results from us. Maybe she's married. With a family. No ring on her finger but dancers can't wear jewelry. Maybe she has kids. Maybe she reads to them, laughs with them.
"Miss Suzume," I say in greeting.
The sneer on her face contorts any possible laugh lines into her trademark expression of deepest disapproval, and I'm reminded of why I dislike her so much.
"Sakura," she returns, my name like a swear on her dark painted lips. "Get out of the way."
But she's not my teacher anymore. And I think about how much power I've given her over the years, and I remember how she used to terrify me. How that sneer made my chest ache. How she pushed me and how far she pushed me and what she nearly made me do, and it all seems so silly.
So, so fucking silly.
I step aside, but I'm not finished. The words that come from my mouth are born of a maturity I don't think I ever would have acquired before this roller coaster of a year, and they make Miss Suzume stop dead in her tracks.
"You know, I feel sorry for you."
She whirls around to face me again, disbelief and amusement on her face, and I just look back at her, impassive.
"You feel sorry for me?" she scoffs with a mean little laugh. "You, the idiot who threw away her entire career, feel sorry for me?"
A comment like that last year would have crippled me. But now I see the falsehood in it. I see that just because it's coming from my teacher doesn't mean it's gospel. There's a disparity here that I'm just now recognizing and I want to punch myself for missing it all this time.
"Yes," I reply steadily. "Because I'm not throwing anything away except something toxic. And you, you're trapped in all this shit and you don't even see it."
"What do you mean, you little…"
"See, that right there. You spent all that time tearing us down, scolding us, mocking us, insulting us, driving us crazy…you turned us against each other, made us resent each other, all of us. And think how high we could have gone if we'd been friends?"
"This tired little speech again?" Miss Suzume laughs humorlessly. "You think you're the first? To up and quit ballet and decide post-mortem that you know so much better? Don't forget, Sakura, I made you. I made you. I made you everything you are. That perfect technique, that flawless execution, the flexibility, the bend, the agility, the stamina, the beauty, all of that, all of it was me. Don't forget where you came from. That raggedy little YMCA studio, I pulled you out of that and made you a ballerina. And you have the nerve to look at me in my face after spitting on everything I worked so hard for?!"
I grin, and it infuriates her. I can tell by the way her bony fingers grip the clipboard so hard her knuckles bleach. I'm breaking her sterling composure, and it feels good. Because I used to believe what she's saying, and now I don't. I used to think I owed her everything, and now I don't. I used to think that I had to succeed for her sake, and now, it's only me on the horizon.
"You taught me," I concede. "You trained me. But you did not make me. You sightless, soulless, heartless bitch, I made it on my own."
I take a step closer, driven by this mad, incalculable adrenaline. I'm riding a high, finally saying what's been in my heart all this time, and all she can do, this former villain, is quake with anger and take it up the ass.
"I got the scholarship here in the first place," I inform her. "I practiced and learned and grew when you were too busy forcing us to kill ourselves with dieting and hate each other when we should have been helping each other. I improved and eventually, I realized that ballet was ruined for me, but dance wasn't. I'm not a ballerina anymore but I'm still a dancer, and a fucking good one. I've got a future that's bright and limitless and it's all thanks to me."
I take another step and I can tell she wants to hit me. I almost welcome it, because if she does, I'm gonna kick her fucking ass.
"You have a company full of talented dancers who need someone not just to teach them and train them, but to understand them," I tell her harshly. "Someone with a heart. Someone who realizes the pressure they're under and wants to help them through it, not put them through so much that they break themselves. You knew. You knew Hinata had a problem and you didn't do anything about it!"
This time, she swings, but I'm ready for her. When her hand comes close to my face, I catch her wrist in midair. The clipboard clatters to the floor, papers go everywhere, but I look into her mean little eyes wide with rage behind those expensives lenses. And I make sure my face is as mean as hers.
"You will never put your hands on me again," I whisper, a deadly promise. "I'm long gone, Miss Suzume. Let it go. And from now on, you take those girls in that studio and you ease the fuck up on them. Flowers can't grow without sunlight."
By now, there's an audience, and I don't realize how long they've been there. Apparently Miss Suzume was in the middle of a rehearsal with the other girls from Studio A, and they must've heard us in the hallway, because they're poking their heads out of the door watching and listening. I glance over at them and they're all staring at me, wide-eyed and slack-jawed, and I know they must be surprised that I'd bother defending them after the way they've treated me.
Where there was once sadness and resentment towards them, though, now there's only sympathy. Because they were trained to work against me, and I against them, and it wasn't their fault.
I let Miss Suzume go and straighten my bag on my shoulder. "Thank you for training me," I say with a smile. "Good luck. Now get the fuck out of my way."
In shock, she steps aside, and feeling unbelievably light, I march past her with my head held high. I don't give the other girls another glance because I've made my peace with the past and that includes kissing it goodbye.
"Where you gonna live after graduation?" Sasuke asks me that night.
We're in his apartment. He's drawing something complicated-looking in his sketchpad and he doesn't look up at me; I'm on the floor, halfway through my third slice of pepperoni pizza and loving life at the moment.
"Hmm?" I ask, not really listening.
"Living. After graduation. Where."
"Oh. KCA has student dorms and everything. Private. Like KPAA, only bigger, I think. But it won't matter, I'll be traveling a lot."
I will. Now that the future isn't limited by ballet, I'm a lot more employable as a dancer. There's a lot more I can do, because I have ballet training but an expansive repertoire. Hip-hop. Contemporary. Everything from Broadway to music videos, it's all open to me now. Tsunade's excited to take me on the road with her company.
"Doesn't matter, you still need somewhere to stay when you come back," he says definitively. "You going back home?"
Home refers to Suna, but there's nothing there for me now. Home is Konoha, for better or worse. I think he knows that.
"Nah, I'll just stay in the dorms."
He smirks. "Good."
But it brings up a subject in our friends-first, relationship-later arrangement that we haven't yet discussed. A little nervous now, I set down my slice of pizza and look up at him from the floor.
"How's that gonna work, Sasuke?" I ask him quietly.
He pauses in his drawing and looks back at me. His fingers are smudged with charcoal and there's a little on his cheek, too, like he rubbed his face by mistake. My stomach tightens with dread, because a look of understanding passes over his face, and his eyes darken.
"How's what gonna work."
"This. You. Me. Us. I'll be gone a lot, you know. Traveling. And you…you have the shop now. You're pretty established here."
It's a real concern. Most relationships are torn apart by distance, it's why a lot of dancers don't get married until their careers are over. There's physical distance, and then the jealousy that happens when you don't know where your significant other is for sure, or what they're doing, if they miss you. Sasuke and I are on thin ice as it is.
He sighs and sets down his sketchpad, then grabs my hand and pulls me over to him. Now he's sitting on the end of the couch and I'm kneeling in front of him, between his legs, unsure of what he's about to tell me. If he's gonna break it off between us before it's even started.
"It'll suck," he tells me flatly. Defeated, I drop my gaze, stare at the floor. Panicking, I realize I'm close to crying. Tears are working their way into my eyes because damn it, I got my hopes up for this.
I thought this time, we'd make it. I thought this time, it would…
He tips his finger under my chin and lifts my face up to meet his. There's that intensity in his eyes that I fell in love with months ago, and he says, "It'll suck, but I'm not gonna stop you from making your dreams come true."
"I'm not one of those insecure dickheads who can't handle a successful woman," he scoffs arrogantly. "What I said that night, I meant it, so quit fuckin' worrying about shit that doesn't matter."
Kind of gleeful with his snarky response, I smile up at him tentatively and murmur, "So you'd be fine…when I go on the road? I'll be back in town here and there but it won't be steady, I won't be able to tell you when and where I'll be all the time, and…"
"I wouldn't work this hard for you if I didn't think you were worth it," he interrupts, half-annoyed and completely sincere. "I'll go with you when I can, and we'll make the most of it when you're home. That's it. Knock it off."
Because I don't want to cry with happiness like some movie queen, I turn a tricky glare on him and fold my arms.
"And how do I know you won't hook up with some gorgeous tattooed woman while I'm gone?" I demand, fighting a smile.
Sasuke chuckles and does something I'm not ready for. His hands drop to my hips and in one movement he lifts me off the floor and onto the sofa, shifting so my legs are wrapped around his waist. With a squeal I grab his shoulders for balance and he just looks up at me with his dark hair falling messy in his dark, playful eyes.
"You show me a tattooed woman more gorgeous than you," he says, "and we'll worry about it then."
The proximity between us (or lack thereof) and the heat that's gathering between my legs and his scent, like whiskey and sandalwood, make me dizzy. I think about that kiss, the violent one where I hit him and cut my own knuckles on his jaw. I think about how it wasn't enough, how I should have gone farther, and what's stopping me now? We just talked about the future, a future that's coming whether we're ready or not. He's serious. I'm serious. I'm tempted. I want to kiss him.
It's inevitable, you know it is, I think, drawing closer, close enough to notice the faint shadow on his jaw from where I punched him the other night. We already talked about it. The goal is getting back together. And we've been spending all this time together working on the friendship part of everything…he's telling you he'll wait while you go on the road like it's nothing…you want this, you deserve this, you…
But I lean back and try to calm myself down instead. We're almost there, but there's no sense in rushing it. Still have things to work on.
His expression relaxes and he doesn't fight me when I slide off his lap and onto the seat next to him instead. A few moments of silence pass and then I start giggling.
"So," I say conversationally, "what's your favorite pizza topping?"
And Sasuke rolls his eyes and picks up his sketchpad and mutters, "Anything but pineapple," and then he's chuckling, too.
"Are you sure you wanna do this?" Ino asks me, and she sounds as skeptical as it's possible for a human being to sound, and she's standing in the universal position of 'I don't think you've thought this all the way through': hands on her hips, one eyebrow raised.
"'Course I am."
And I am, there's no question of that.
"Like…really, really sure?"
"Ino don't you think this is fucking brilliant?"
"Yes. I do, actually. I think it's the most badass thing you've ever done up until this point in your life but that doesn't mean you're actually gonna go through with it."
"You said the same thing when I cut my hair off in middle school," I remind her lightly.
"Yeah and you grew it the fuck back out!"
"You like it longer, admit it. So do I. More I can do with it."
"Stop changing the subject!"
"Look. You're my best friend and I love you but I really need to focus on this right now. Okay? Just…tell me how good an idea it is and get the hell out of my sight."
Ino sighs, annoyed with me but indulgent, because she's not stupid and she can read the 'not-taking-anyone's-shit' all over my face.
"I mean, the song itself is…pretty amazing. You could do a gorgeous ballet piece to it."
"That's not who I am anymore." I'm beaming as I lace up my ballet slippers and hop to my feet. "Soft and smooth and sweet…boring. Not for my end of year dance. Not for the one thing everyone will always remember. This is my chance to make a statement."
"I think you've got that part down pat," Ino says dryly. "As in, you might've told your best friend that you're on a first name basis with THE TSUNADE."
"Come on, I told you I was going to KCA for extra lessons, you knew that."
"Again, you didn't tell me about THE TSUNADE except like a fucking afterthought. Like, 'Oh, hey Ino, how was hip-hop? My day was fine, THE TSUNADE showed me this boss-ass aerial and is it cannoli day in the dining hall?' Bitch I call you if I buy a new color nail polish and you couldn't even let me know that…"
"Oh my GOD, Ino, just shut up. You're right. I should've told you blah blah blah but I didn't want it to sound like I was bragging or anything."
She huffs, still annoyed that I would diminish my accomplishments to her, and to an extent I understand it. I hand her the iPod that's tuned to the specific song I was referring to, the one that I'm going to dance to at the spring showcase.
"It's coming up soon, really soon," I tell her flatly. "And I'll help you with your hiphop routine, I swear…but I need you to help me with this."
She looks stunned, and I'm not surprised; the last time I danced with her or tried to get her help was when we were both in the ballet program, and that was quite a bit ago. This invitation doesn't seem like much to anyone else, but Ino knows how huge it is that I'm reaching out to her.
"You want me to help you with this?" she asks, dumbfounded.
"You look stupid with your mouth hanging open," I inform her nastily. "This has to be a total secret, understand? Just you and me. No one else knows, not even Tsunade. Not even Sasuke."
At the mention of his name, she adopts a wicked, knowing little smirk and I hate her so I ignore it.
"Why a secret?" she asks suspiciously. "I mean, yeah I'll help you, of course and I need your scrawny ass to help me with my back bends but why so hush-hush? You planning something, Big Head?"
And I grin, picturing everyone's reactions when I blow them the fuck away at the showcase. I've got the perfect song and the perfect remix in mind. The choreography's coming to my head naturally. I'm excited. I'm ready. I can't wait to start.
"Because I've decided to make the most of what little time I've got left here," I say. "And I want to make sure that when I leave this place…
"They're going to fucking remember Sakura Haruno."
note.. well i misjudged myself and underestimated my own verbosity. so after this, there are three chapters and then it's ovaaa.
in regards to everyone freaking the fuck out about the new manga chapter: chill. all right. chill. because cpr is about the unsexiest thing in the universe.
see you next time :)