Authors: Kathleen Rovner
Jamie shook his head at his sister. “I don’t even know why I worry about you. You’ll punch someone if they don’t do what you want.”
Ethan smiled. “So you will go with me if I find someone to go with Darcy?”
She nodded and wondered why she never felt anything for Ethan. She couldn’t even imagine kissing him. They were too much like a brother and sister.
Her hands shook as her thoughts moved to kissing someone else. Someone with vivid blue eyes and blond hair.
What the hell was wrong with her?
Ethan shrugged. “Not a problem. I already know a guy looking for a date that will be happy to take Darcy.”
“He better not be horrible. I will find a way to make you regret it.”
Jamie and Ethan grinned at each other.
Chapter 3: Recital
ulie held her breath as she finished the last few seconds of her pose. The audience exploded into applause and surged like a wave into a standing position as the curtain came down. Even with the awful, thick makeup on, she floated right through it all effortlessly. The tingly feeling she usually struggled to control came easier in the last few weeks. She somehow flipped it on and off like a light switch.
Backstage she quickly wiped off the makeup and sweat. The other girls talked around her, and several even gave her hugs to congratulate her as she slipped on a dress and tights.
In the large, airy auditorium, her parents and brother waited with a bouquet of flowers. Julie smiled and ran over to give them all a hug, her flats clacking on the white stone floor.
“Did you see that? I nailed it. It felt so easy. I guess that’s what comes from practicing so much. The Academy has to let me in.”
“Julie, that was unbelievable! You looked like you were floating through the whole thing. It was beautiful.” Her brother swept her into a big hug to spin her around.
She caught a glimpse of blond hair in the hallway as Jamie spun her and thought of Mr. Black. Her nails dug into her brother’s shoulders.
“Ouch.” Jamie put her down and rubbed his shoulders. “I wasn’t going to drop you.”
“Sorry,” she said absently. She looked around, trying to see if she could spot him again.
Why would he have been there? She stared off into the direction where she thought she had seen him. The hall bathroom looked deserted.
Julie could have sworn he was there. Now she was imagining him being around. She rubbed her head.
“You look tired.” Dad took her arm and guided her outside and along the street to the parking deck. She leaned into him, letting him take some of her weight. The exhaustion was almost overwhelming. She wanted to go to bed.
“Are you okay?” He looked down at her, gray eyes narrowed with concern.
“It’s all right. I always feel this tired after I dance. It takes a lot of energy.” Julie yawned. “I put everything I have into it.”
“I can see that.”
“Can we still go out to eat?” Jamie asked from behind them. “We were going to go out after the recital, remember? Since Julie won’t eat dinner before the performance. She looks like she should eat.”
Julie rolled her eyes. Her brother was more concerned about his own stomach than hers.
“What do you think? Can you manage it?” Her dad asked.
“Sure, I’ll feel better in a few minutes. I think it’s the usual after–dance lull.”
She bit her lip. It was becoming normal to be this tired lately. She hadn’t worried about it, since it helped her fall sleep most nights instead of reliving the attack. But maybe there was something wrong.
Her mom took her other arm and looked into her eyes. “I should take you to the doctor Monday. If I didn’t know better…”
“I’m fine. Let’s go eat.”
Julie woke lazily, pulling herself away from a wonderful dream. It faded as she woke, but she remembered blue eyes. She was getting tired of fighting off the weird obsession with her substitute teacher. At least if she was dreaming about him, she wasn’t dreaming about her attack anymore.
She rolled over, picked up her phone, and stared at the time. It was 8:07 am! She was usually up by 6:30 and stretching for morning practice at the dance studio by 7:00 on Saturdays. It felt wonderful to sleep in.
“First unheard message.” She threw on some clothes and walked down the hall to the stairs as she listened.
“Jules, it’s Darcy.” She always identified herself, even though Julie would recognize her voice anywhere. “Great job with your recital last night! Sorry Mandy and I couldn’t stick around afterward. My brother got sick, and we had to leave before everyone else. At least he waited until after you were done. Mandy and I wanted to try to get together with you before the dance. Can you come over to my house to get ready?”
As she headed down the back stairs towards the kitchen to grab her jacket, she texted Darcy back to let her know she would come. Darcy was an early riser too. She would get coffee with her. She didn’t bother with Mandy. She would be shocked if she heard from her before noon on a weekend.
“Julie will have to understand,” her father said.
Her foot paused on the last stair before she turned into the kitchen. As a dancer she was quiet on her feet, learning heel to toe as a young child. She overheard things she wasn’t supposed to all the time.
“I know, but it will be hard on her. Should we tell her?” her mother stated quietly.
“You were the one to decide not to tell her, since you know better than I do about how she might feel. Besides, it’s breaking one of the stupid covenants.”
“I know. I know all that, but that was before Jamie. That was before the Academy might be a possibility.”
“No one could foresee Jamie. Everyone assumed…well, you know.” Her father paused. “I still think it was the right decision.”
“If the Academy does want her, what are we going to do? She’s going to want to know what’s going on.” Her mom’s voice cracked a bit. “And Jamie. It is hard on him to keep this from her too. You know how close they are.”
“I know this is hard on you too, but it isn’t safe for Jamie here anymore. We can wait a little longer, but too much more time, and we will have problems. One day Julie will understand.”
Her phone vibrated and made a ping noise as Darcy answered her text. She felt like cursing.
It was quiet in the kitchen now. Her parents might have heard. Julie smiled. “Hey Mom, Dad. I was going out to have some coffee with Darcy. Do you guys want anything?”
She was curious about what they were talking about, but they wouldn’t say anything until they were ready. They never told Jamie or her anything important until they felt the time was just right. There was no point pushing them.
Plus, she felt wonderful this morning. Her recital was over. She did a great job. She deserved to relax today.
She looked forward to the dance with Ethan. He was a decent dancer and friend. Besides, it sounded like Jamie might know what was going on. She knew she could get it out of him. He wasn’t the best at keeping secrets, especially from her.
Dad looked at the time and shook his head. “You are so unlike your brother. I take it he is still asleep?”
“I don’t know.” Julie shrugged.
“You go on, dear. I don’t want anything.” Mom hugged her. Her eyes were glistening like she was about to cry.
“What’s wrong?” Julie watched as her mom wiped her eyes quickly. Her dad came over to put an arm around her.
“I’m fine, hon. I’m so proud of you.”
“So Jamie said you are going to the dance tonight with him and Ethan?” Dad interrupted.
“Um, yeah.” He rubbed Mom’s shoulders. “Ethan and I are going as friends, and he is bringing a date for Darcy. Is it okay if I go to Darcy’s to get ready?”
Her mom nodded once and looked away, blinking.
“Sure, good.” His words pulled her back from staring at her mother. “I’m glad you’re going out. You spend so much time with your dancing. It worries me you’re missing out on things you may regret.”
Julie sighed. Maybe all the secrecy was a newer variation on the same old argument—the one where she needed to act more like a normal teenager.
“You know I love it. You can’t tell me to do what I love in one breath and then act like it’s weird when I choose to do it. I’m not missing out on anything I care about.”
Mom got up and walked out of the room without a word, and they stared after her.
She looked back at her father. He was watching her. His head was tilted to the side, and his dark gray eyes pierced her.
He and her brother seemed to have the same gaze that made her want to squirm, like they could see her thoughts or something, although Dad’s was starker. The combination of gray eyes and darker hair made his stare more forbidding.
She dismissed the idea. If he could read her mind, he would understand her better.
He shook his head a little and ran his hand through his brown hair. There wasn’t a spot of gray in it. “Okay. You know I only ask because I want you to be happy.”
She felt her shoulders relax. “Is Mom okay?”
He nodded. “Yes, she’s fine. There are some problems with one of the contracts she’s working on, and I think it’s making her a bit more stressed than usual.”
She started to ask him more about it but shrugged. She wanted to meet Darcy and enjoy the day. Her parents’ issues weren’t hers. “I guess I’ll see you tomorrow, Dad.”
“Have fun tonight.” He smiled again, but his eyes looked sad.
Chapter 4: Dance, Dance, Dance
ules, hurry up and get down here,” Jamie yelled to her. “Ethan is here too, and we need to go if we aren’t going to be really late.”
“I still can’t believe that you are the surprise date that Ethan set up. Why didn’t you tell me?” She yelled back from Darcy’s room at the top of the stairs. She hopped on one foot to get her other purple shoe on.
“You are the one that wanted to find her a date, and I needed one since I hadn’t asked anyone yet. I think Ethan had the right idea, going with a friend. I am not looking for a girlfriend right now.”
“I’ll make sure to tell that to Darcy.” Julie walked down the front stairs’. Darcy’s house was built like hers, with a formal front stairway made of dark wood. “Where is Ethan anyway? Why isn’t he in here with you? He’s not waiting in the car, is he? Because that would be…classy.”
“Right here.” Ethan came out from the kitchen holding a glass. He grinned and looked her up and down. She smirked at him and did a little twirl, her loose hair spinning with her as she did it. She never wore a dress she couldn’t twirl in, and as a dancer, she wasn’t shy.
She wore high heels but was still short compared to him. Her lavender dress was cut to swish around the middle of her thighs. The front had a fairly modest rounded neck line, but the back plunged down to the bottom of her lower back. She topped it off with long lavender gloves that stretched up to the middle of her arms and a sparkling crystal choker that belonged to her mother.
“Are you sure you just want to be friends?” His voice was a little deeper than normal.
Julie gave him a quick hug and smiled. “Yup, but thanks for the compliment.”
“Too bad. I think we would be good together. You’re so nice.” Ethan sighed and looked at her a little wistfully. “You’re right, though. I tend to get tired of my girlfriends pretty fast. I’d hate not be friends with you anymore. You’re one of the only girls I’m friends with.”
Jamie cleared his throat. “Can you stop trying to get my sister to go out with you so we can leave?”
“Sorry, man, but she is kind of cute.”
Her brother rolled his eyes. “You know you’re wasting your time. Just feel lucky she’s blowing you off, or you and I might need to talk.” He looked serious when he said this, but his friend didn’t seem to notice.
“Darcy, are you ready yet?” Julie yelled upstairs.
“Sorry.” She poked her head out of the doorway. “I’m trying to finish my hair. Hey, Jamie, glad you’re my date. Takes the pressure off. Another second.”
“Not sure I like her saying that. Shouldn’t she want to impress me a little bit?” He frowned.
“You can’t have it both ways. Look, I need to ask you about something since we have a minute. Maybe even longer, since Darcy has to fiddle with her hair.” Julie waited until he was looking back at her.
“Why are Mom and Dad worried about you? What kind of trouble are you in now?”
Jamie raised his eyebrows. “Why do you think I’m in trouble?”
“I heard them talking this morning about something to do with you and it being dangerous.”
He wouldn’t meet her eyes. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. You must have heard them wrong.”
She opened her mouth to speak, but before she could start working on him, he waved his hand in front of her.
“Julie, I’m not going to talk about this now. We’ll talk tomorrow, okay?” Jamie looked up the stairs and smiled.
Darcy walked down, wearing a short red dress that fit her curves well. Her glossy black hair flowed down her back in waves from where she had pinned it back from her face. Julie wished she could pull off red that well. “You look great!”
They arrived at the hotel and waited in the valet line under the covered entrance. The brick hotel was only four stories high, with a few trees planted outside to disguise its 1970s blockish exterior.
Ethan handed the keys to his black convertible BMW to the valet. While the building wasn’t tall, it was sprawling, and there were several ballrooms being used tonight. Kids dressed for another school’s dance headed off to the opposite side of the building. They walked inside, following the signs to the ballroom for the Spring Dance.
Whoever the school hired to decorate did a good job. It was like they were stepping into a magnified garden of giant brightly colored flowers and plants. Since the flowers were so large, there weren’t that many, but they were grouped together for effect. The lights were dimmed, and soft strobe lights pulsed around the ceiling. Bubbles floated everywhere. Ethan pulled Julie across the dance floor to a grouping of chairs and couches, partially hidden by the giant flower sculptures.